Damien G Walter has been thinking about self-publishing, reassessing the established wisdom that self-publication is de facto a bad thing.
To date, self publishing has been a bad idea. People without the necessary skills and experience full prey to vanity publishers. Writers with some talent but who are still learning can expose their work too soon. Excellent writing can find itself swamped among the dross that is self published every year and no one bothers to go looking for it. The general wisdom on self publishing for anyone who aspires to become a professional author has been… don’t.
Walter goes on to point out that the landscape has changed somewhat in recent years, with rising stars such as John Scalzi and Kelly Link owing some portion of their success to self-publication of one stripe or another, and with the publishing industry suffering at the hands of market forces.
The main argument against self-publication is that it usually results in work that will harm the author’s reputation: rip-off vanity press jobs, or simply work that isn’t ready for publication which would have benefited from more revision and/or editorial input. These problems apply more to the beginning author, though; the point has been made before that an author with the stature of Stephen King could probably self-publish with a great deal of success (not to mention a bigger profit margin). But the principle appeal of self-publishing for a new author with genuine skill is the opportunity to start building an audience and having readers engage with the work… and that’s not so easy a benefit to dismiss.
If the general wisdom about self publishing has been ‘don’t’, its likely that wisdom may change to ‘do – but with great caution’. There has always been a role for self publishing, but as that role grows, the provisos that accompany self publishing will grow all the more important. Authors will need to be aware that self publishing means more than just having a book printed. It means being an editor, a distributor and a marketer of your own work. It means investing in yourself in exactly the way a good publisher invests in their authors, whilst taking the risks a good publisher also takes. It means understanding the arc of your own career as a writer in the same depth that good editors and agents do. And most of all it means having an honest and accurate understanding of the quality of your own writing, maybe the hardest thing of all.
For most self publishing will continue to be a mistake, but for writers with enough talent and determination it is already becoming an important part of building a readership, one that for many writers it will be a mistake to simply dismiss.
For what it’s worth, my work as a music reviewer has exposed me to a similar evolution in the music business; it’s easier than it has ever been for a band or soloist to record their work and make it available to anyone. As with writing, many of them jump the gun and release before their work is up to a standard where it can survive against product recorded and promoted by the established labels… but there are the occasional success stories, be they out-of-nowhere newcomers or established acts turning their backs on an exploitative system.
This contrasts with our recent post on comics self-publishing, where Jim Munroe pointed out that the stigma against self-published works in the comics field is minimal by comparison to the literary field, and suggests that it may be because it’s easier to discern the quality of comics ‘at a glance’.
Will we see a change in attitude toward self-publishing in years to come? I think it’s inevitable, though it will take time… and the sheer mass of terrible self-published work (much of which Futurismic receives email about on a daily basis, I might add) will do much to slow it.
But economics may provide an accelerating force; all bets are off on how things will look in five years’ time. So, writers in the audience – published or otherwise – have you self-published, or considered doing so? And what factors influenced your decision?