Be traditionally published or be damned?

Self publishing is not a new phenomena.   Eighteen years ago, I used to work part-time in Books Etc in Canary Wharf.  Every Saturday without fail, a writer would come into the shop and ask if we would stock his book. Every week, I was told to tell him ‘Thanks but no thanks.’  From what I remember, it was a book about the local history of East London and he had published it himself. Which meant that he had probably worked his way through the Yellow Pages to find a printer who would physically print his book.  Anyway, his persistence paid off and my manager agreed to stock his book.  His book consistently sold out.  It got to the point that we were calling him and asking when could we have more copies.  Now, almost twenty years later the self-published or indie writer doesn’t have to pound the pavements and beg for his or her book to be stocked.  Once you’ve uploaded your book to KDP and co, your book can be available to the world within 24 hours and you’ve saved yourself some bus fare and your shoe leather.

So, you’re published.  Your book is available for 99p or £3.99 as an ebook.  It’s even available for a little bit more as a paperback.  You can have a copy on your bookshelf and your mum has something to show off to her friends.  But just because you’ve chosen to self-publish, are you misleading the public?

Now, the reason why I ask the question is this.  Today, I was scrolling the message board of a Facebook writers group and someone had the cheek, the sheer audacity  to suggest the following about self-publishing:

  1. The work is devalued because it has not survived the gauntlet of commercial vetting.
  2. The necessary ‘standard’ has not been met because you have self-published.
  3. As a writer, there is no sense of achievement until you have been traditionally published.
  4. For a self-published writer to say that they have  a “published book” is an attempt to mislead the public as to its “vetted nature.”

Now personally, I think that the person who made these observations, is entitled to their opinion, but quite frankly they were bang out of order and ignorant.

Whether you are a self-publisher or have a contract with Random House, writing is bloody hard work.  It takes discipline and a lot of tea. However, writers make the decision to self publish for a variety of reasons.  They may just like the idea of having full control over their choice of cover designer, editor or how they run they’re marketing campaign.  It could be a purely monetary decision i.e. a greater share of the royalties.  Finally, the reason to  self-publish could be simply that you submitted your book to agents and publishers without much success and you decided to try a different route.

Self publishing is not an easy process.  If you want your book to be a success you will put the work into finding an editor and making sure that your book has been proof-read.  Your book will have been in the hands of beta readers who won’t hold back on giving an honest critique of your book and you would have spent time compiling a marketing campaign for your book.  After the self published writer has done all of that, how can you possibly say that the necessary ‘standard’ has not been met?  How can the self-published writer not feel a sense of achievement after they finally upload their book and see that it’s now available for sale and that someone has actually bought it?

Your decision to self-publish does not mean that you are selling an inferior product and it definitely does not mean that you’re misleading the public in anyway.   To make that suggestion is both ignorant and insulting to not only the writer but also the reader.  I’m pointing out the obvious when I say that I have read both traditionally published and self-published books that have made me despair for the written word and wish that I could erase the book from my memory.  However, I have also read books that have stirred every emotion within me and feel absolute regret and annoyance because I have reached the end.

I would say that the self-published writer has survived the ‘gauntlet’.  Albeit that gauntlet is one of our creation, it doesn’t mean that our work is devalued and it definitely doesn’t mean that we’re prohibited from saying that we have ‘published’ a book.


9 thoughts on “Be traditionally published or be damned?”

  1. Seriously you could not have said it better. I just recently decided to self publish. Why? Well because I believe that my work is worth something and I just dont feel like begging anyone to take me on. To have to practically beg agents is just insulting to me. Especially after how much work I put into it. right now I am just deciding on editing and I will trust that my blood, sweat, and tears will pay off. Thanks so much for this post!!!


  2. Very well said, thanks for sharing! I particularly liked the ‘It takes discipline and a lot of tea’ part. 🙂 The amazing thing is that even for traditionally published authors, they are still asked to do the marketing and promoting of their book and they are not guaranteed that sales will be high. It’s lovely to find your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I feel the same way. When I first started self-publishing I used to get really angry over comments like that but these days I just shake my head and keep writing. Things have already changed long ago. Who has time for people who still keep their heads in the sand?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As one who has been self publishing (and has been published by traditional houses) since the late 1970’s, I think it worth remembering that the economics of publishing are seriously different today than decades ago (pre personal PC and publicly available web access). Today, the barriers to entry (BTE) would be considered zero or close to it…and hence we have an enormously competitive, global marketplace. The traditional houses are no longer the “end all, be all…” holding the fate of the pool of authors or aspiring authors in their pocket. The talented, persistent and wiley self motivated writer often ends up in direct competition with those they once would have “gone begging to”…

    Bottom line: the modern publishing economy calls for a different mindset than that of past decades (or centuries); and each author can and does potentially hold their fate in their own creative mind and energies in their hands.

    Great post.

    C. L. Smithwick


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