by Jane Steen, 10 Minute Novelist, self-published author
I self-published my first novel in 2012, and since then I’ve published two more full-length novels and a short story.
Despite the attitude of some writers (and, alas, some readers) that self-publishing is a second-best solution, I couldn’t be happier.
I love the flexibility and freedom to write what I like. I relish my control over my rights and decision-making. I love getting my income monthly. In short, I’m the happy sort of self-publisher who’s not the least bit interested in getting a traditional publishing deal or being represented by an agent. I have self-published and I’m glad I did.
And yet, I’m still a big fan of the traditional publishing industry. Here’s why:
– I think many writers need the traditional framework. Being a career indie involves so much more than just perfecting your writing skills. Yes, you have to be a good writer—and you have to be passionately interested in the process of producing a quality book in various formats, climb the learning curve of marketing, be ready to learn about rights and legal issues, and think like a small business owner. If one of those skill sets is lacking and you can’t afford to hire top tier professionals to do the job for you, sooner or later your career is going to stall or fail. I believe that’s why so many successful self-published authors end up in the traditional environment. And you can’t ignore the desire for the feeling of validation being picked up by an agent or publisher brings. It’s not something I happen to worry about, but I totally understand it in other writers. I want writers to thrive in whatever way works for them.
– The legacy. Traditional publishing gave us nearly all my favorite authors and largely shaped today’s book world. The industry established best practices and standards that are still useful for indies. Its deep pockets and tight hold on the hearts and minds of many influencers may irritate some indies, but to me that framework is a valuable asset. Savvy self-publishers are in this for the long haul, and are willing to use all the footholds the traditional industry is unwittingly providing to further their career. We may feel sometimes that we’re on the outside looking in, but we need to remember that for most readers, authors are authors. All we need is good writing skills, high standards, and patience (and maybe a tiny bit of luck).
– Bookstores! There are many reasons why bricks-and-mortar bookstore sales don’t really work for self-publishers, and I can live quite happily without seeing my books in the window of Barnes & Noble. But as a reader, I just love visiting bookstores, and try to buy at least some of my books in the real world. Bookstores, if done properly, sustain and encourage a culture of reading, and what author can object to that?
– Libraries! Like bookstores, libraries are part of an ecosystem that’s closely tied into traditional publishing. It’s true that librarians are probably a little more aware than bookstore owners of the value of self-publishing as part of that ecosystem, and some libraries are even becoming publishing centers themselves. But like bookstores, they’re part of a reading culture that we should be encouraging and sustaining. We need people to be readers.
“Savvy self-publishers are in this for the long haul, and are willing to use all the footholds the traditional industry is unwittingly providing to further their career.” — Jane Steen, 10 Minute Novelist
– Agents, editors, and other bookish people. Most of them are passionate advocates for good writing, and I love them for that. Quite a few of them now work with and for the better self-publishers, and there’s no reason why those relationships shouldn’t continue to develop and deepen over time. Which doesn’t mean I’m saying agents and editors should be supporting self-publishers as some kind of literary duty. Like all businesspeople, agents and editors should and do pursue their own business interests. But their love of good writing and good book business must inevitably draw them closer to the better indies over time.
– Marketing dollars. Big publishing has lots of those, and it spends them on advertising books. When people read books, they generally want to read more books, and sometimes those books are written by indies. As long as large publishers are still able to get people excited about reading as opposed to watching TV or playing video games, they’re doing all self-publishers a favor. And a portion of those marketing dollars goes into bookstores in the form of co-op arrangements, and I want bookstores to thrive, as explained above (even if I’m not at all sure that co-op arrangements are ethical—but they’re a longstanding practice that’s unlikely to disappear).
– Hybrid authors. Traditional publishing is a good training ground for authors who have self-published either as a way to supplement their income, or because they’ve realized that the indie model will work better for them. The only reason I’d be tempted to accept a traditional contract would be to learn that side of the industry from the inside, and work with editors and other professionals I might not be able to afford as a self-publisher. Given the right circumstances, that just might be worth paying for—and I would consider the loss of my rights and potential income a payment. Hybrid authors also have a perspective and a level of knowledge that those of us who’ve never tried for a trad contract can and should learn from.
So I honestly don’t care if the traditional publishing industry isn’t welcoming us indies with open arms.
Like all indies, I would like to see a more accepting book world, but I accept that change is going to happen very slowly. In the meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy all that the traditional industry has to offer me, and I rejoice at every positive item of publishing news.
O traditional publishing industry, may you live forever.
Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.
Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.
Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in East Sussex, UK. Her book, House of Closed Doors can be found here.