Self- vs. garden-variety publishing

As I move closer to being ready to take my first book to market, I’m thinking a lot about self-publishing vs. traditional/trade/regular-flavor publishing.

I’m no expert. I’m the farthest thing from an expert. But I do have a body of experience from my regular job as a screenwriter, and I love to google things. So here are my top-line conclusions:

The three major benefits of traditional publishing, as I see them, are as follows:

1) The validation. They love you! They really love you! They love you so much they’re willing to give you money!

2) All of the details of getting your book to market are someone else’s problem.

3) You don’t have to do any marketing or self-promotion, and writers like that. If we were good at self-promotion we probably wouldn’t be sensitive nerds!


Everyone’s decision-making matrix about this will be different, of course. Mine is this:

1) re: Validation: I’ve made real money with my writing. It feels amaaaaaazing for the first five minutes, and then fades. As I’ve spent more years as a professional writer, my perspective on this has really changed. I used to desperately want the validation, and I used to have a lot of unfounded beliefs about how other people, the gatekeepers, could totally spot a winner when they saw one. I don’t really believe this anymore. I feel like as long as you are doing professional-grade work, basically nobody knows anything, and literally the only thing you have is your own gut instinct about whether or not what you’re writing is good. So I am not very interested in the validation aspect at this point. I am, however, quite interested in reaching an audience with a work as I intended it to be.

2) I think screenwriting has been helpful in pulling back the curtain about art and commerce. I am not really sufficiently afraid of the details of formatting, editing, covers, and so on, to feel that it’s necessarily worth it to hand over my work to someone else to manage. I’m pretty sure any reasonably bright person with a good manuscript can do some digging and hire a couple of professionals whose taste aligns with your own. For myself, I am actually kind of excited about this kind of soup-to-nuts control over my product. Sink or swim on its own merits? I’ll take that bet.

3) I do find this stuff a little bit daunting, but frankly, my perception is that it’s the rare new writer in trade publishing who gets a free ride to the top, anyway. I suspect that a lot of people find themselves unhappily ignored. At least in self-publishing, this dynamic is explicit and up front: when you don’t have a vague expectation that someone else is magically managing everything and making your book a bestseller, hey, it’s daunting, and it’s a lot of work, but at least you aren’t going to be wildly surprised by the outcome.

All of that said, I’m not entirely set on either course of action yet. I do think, right now, that I’m leaning pretty strongly toward self-publishing. I think I could bring a pretty excellent racy contemporary romance to market for about 3k or a bit less, and I can imagine a pricing structure that will make it pretty possible to cover that nut fairly quickly.

So those are my thoughts, written out mostly to check my own math. If you’re interested in some logical, serious writing about this kind of stuff, I highly recommend David Gaughran’s books on digital self-publishing. You might start with Let’s Get Digital.


One thought on “Self- vs. garden-variety publishing

  1. This is the same question that I continue to face as I look at my completed books. Possibly one of the reasons that I have just been sitting on them for so long. I have finally started sending them out to publishers. I am interested to hear about your success, no matter what road you choose.

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