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TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published

At a recent writers’ conference, I was in grand company. I met a lot of cool people. Almost all of them were traditionally published authors. I watched them ask questions of panels of publishers, agents and editors.

Here’s what I noticed:

1. They don’t want to change along with the rest of the publishing landscape.
Inertia is powerful, even in broken systems. And why should they want to change? Things haven’t actually been good, but they didn’t have to worry about things they have to worry about now with the DIY route. It used to be that they were expected to write, mostly to the exclusion of all else. That was job #1 and everything else was supposed to be, in theory, someone else’s job. However, many authors have already felt this pressure change because more and more book promotion and publicity duties have been unloaded on them by publishers.

2. Some of them are excited to self-publish. Either they had bad experiences with agents and traditional publishers or they simply want more control of their books. Their out-of-print books and their unpublished books may have new life as self-published works. The digital revolution, to these authors, is an opportunity. (Also, some DIY authors see self-publishing as their way into legacy publishing.)

3. Some are still wringing their hands, aggressively…as if that will turn back time. Like the music industry, Blockbuster, milk men, buggy whips and enjoyable air travel, there was a lot of nostalgia in that room. But nostalgia isn’t an argument against the proliferation of ebooks. It’s sadness at loss and change. They mourn the loss of some of the perks. Though many authors complained about the six city book tour and hanging out in bookstores ignored and unnoticed, admit it: all those bookstore signings had cachet. Book signings were part of the dream of being published and it was nice to rely on the publisher to pay for the trip.

4. Some traditionally published authors denigrate indie authors.
That’s understandable. I admit, many self-published books are, at the very least, utter crap. Not just to my taste! Crap! If careless authors call themselves authors, their old world club is no longer quite as special in the new world. However, blanket condemnations are pretty silly. Writers on either side of the divide are amorphous and as unified as a herd of cats. That’s part of our charm.

5. I found many authors I listened to weren’t angry at indies. They weren’t pointing fingers with nonsense “pay your dues like I did” rhetoric. Instead, they were worried that they themselves couldn’t adapt. Look at the demands on the self-published: write, revise, edit, review, format, upload, distribute, promote, market, repeat, improve and next time so it all faster. So much for self-publishing being the lazy way to get published. The mantra is, “When will I have time to write in this environment?” Indies worry about this, too. Though more books will be published digitally, somewhat fewer may be produced per author. As my self-published author friend Jeff Bennington observed recently, half of his time is spent writing and the other half is spent marketing. Somewhere in there, Jeff mixes in a job and probably eats and sleeps a little, too. There’s simply so much authors have to do to have a chance at getting noticed (and perhaps even getting their books bought.)

6. Some view digital publishing as part of the decline of literature. Hm. That’s an interesting one. The digital revolution propagates more books conveniently therefore there are many more books out there. If you are very concerned about the difference between low brow fiction and vaunted literature (say “literature” with a royal British accent), then go write some literature, you big baby. If it can’t be found amid the din, that doesn’t mean it’s not available. It’s means you can’t sell it. If the argument is that you don’t like the taste of the hoi polloi, that’s not digital publishing’s fault. That’s your fault. Or maybe it’s the educational system’s fault. Or the human brain isn’t as good as you’d like. You can blame readers, I suppose, but that’s a rather unprofessional stance. Most people who claim their stuff is good but out of step with their fellow humans are really just writing stuff that can’t connect. On the other hand, lots of people (well…English majors) will love you high-lit writers after you’re dead. So there’s that.

7. Some traditional authors are very concerned about the change in gatekeepers.
It’s not a small group of editors anymore. The market is the gatekeeper. Democracy can be scary because the group may go where you don’t want it to go. There’s still a very strong market for vampire books and bodice-ripper romances and yes, even the Jersey Shore, for instance. If actual readers don’t want your fiction, there might still be a market for it with traditional publishing (which, by the way, isn’t disappearing completely) but traditional publishing is less adventurous the bigger the press. You’ll have better luck with a small press or DIY. It’s as if the kids who ran the chess club suddenly had to contend with a bunch of dumb jocks getting a voting membership…and the lunkheads want a kegger.

8. Authors want reassurance that bookstores will survive. What am I? A freaking miracle worker? You want a combination of Harry Potter and Merlin to fix it so more bookstores won’t die? Magicians are on film, TV and in books. Hey! I love bookstores, too! But that’s more nostalgia. (See point #3.)

9. Many authors will carry on with their traditional publishers. They got in early and they got in good and they’re going to ride that train right to the end of the line and hope the fuel doesn’t run out. Yes, they wonder about the pittance publishers are throwing them with regards to ebook royalties (or wonder how well those sales are recorded.) Yes, they’ve had spats with their agents. But a broken system isn’t a dead system and there is…eh, has been…much to recommend it.

10. Indies and the traditionally published agree: its about the writing.
We all love good books. We may be dubious about how it’s delivered, but the core product is no less valued on either side of the divide. The concerns about the delivery and quality may vary, but we’re all writers and readers.

It used to take a powerful store of hope to be a self-published author. Now more faith is demanded of my traditionally published friends.

Filed under: authors, DIY, e-reader, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Top Ten, Writing Conferences, , , , , ,

32 Responses

  1. margaret y. says:

    Every single traditionally-published author I know has a little self published something-something on the side. Yes, they are riding the traditional train until it crashes, at which point they will happily jump to the other track. Can’t blame them, it’s just smart business.

    • Chazz says:

      Glad to hear it. Agreed that’s smart business and I’m not blaming anyone. Having an indie project isn’t common among the authors I know, but perhaps I was enjoying the company of an older crowd who weren’t into it yet.

  2. Lisa Nowak says:

    Hi five, dude!

  3. Lisa Nowak says:

    Ugh. Obviously I can’t spell tonight. Make that “high” five. 🙂

  4. Rob Kennedy says:

    I just love it when people make statemets like ‘many self- published books are just crap, show me the proof, don’t just make baseless statements.

    • Chazz says:

      I suppose I could fall back on, 90% of everything is crap. Or I could say, read a bunch of self-published books. Don’t know how I could possibly prove it to you. That doesn’t make the statement baseless.

  5. GazHunter says:

    I self-published when the publishing company who had asked me to write went belly-up on the week my book was due to hit the shops. I have no idea how the book would have been marketed or how well it would have sold had it been *mainsteamed*, but whilst it hasn’t exactly flown off the shelves as a Self-Published work it has sold over 1,000 copies and is still selling 30+ a month…I think this is reasonable for a first attempt, and it allows me to control the product, the marketing and the contend so much more tightly.

    Would I like Trucking Hell to go to a mainstream publisher? Hell yes.
    Do I regard myself as less of an author because of Self Publishing? After good reviews and over 1000 sales, no. No I don’t.
    Would I Self publish again? Yes, I’ve done it twice, and am finishing book three as we speak…

  6. Anne Lyle says:

    I’m one of the commercially published (well, soon to be) authors who just doesn’t have time for all the work involved in self-publishing on top of a day-job. I’d rather make a small but guaranteed profit _and_ have someone do all the “book packaging” work for me, at least at this early stage of my career. In five years’ time, who knows – things are changing so fast!

    On the other hand I’ve been picked up by a smallish, innovative press who are taking the changing landscape in their stride. I would really not want to be with one of the big publishers, many of whom can’t seem to get their heads around sensible ebook pricing and online distribution.

    (BTW, if you’re going to hang out with writers…it’s “cachet” when you mean prestige, not “cache”, which means “hoard” 🙂 )

  7. Chazz says:

    Hi Anne.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to write a comment. It will be interesting to see how the industry grows around DIY. Many indies are doing it all themselves, which, as I noted in the post, is a lot to handle. Some agents are morphing into services which facilitate the self-publishing process and there’s a lot of debate about how that should or should not evolve. Much of the currently available outsourcing is inexpensive for authors who don’t want to deal with graphics or formatting issues. I suspect these options will grow as more authors feel like they just want to write and get off the pubbing infrastructure treadmill.

    Thanks for the spelling correction. I shall remedy that. Actually, I know the meanings of cache and cachet and also cashew. (I don’t sweat blog post blips because hey, like you, I’m busy writing books.)

    “If you’re going to hang out with writers…” Hm. I’m going to choose not to take offense.

  8. […] TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

  9. e6n1 says:

    Self-publishing is not the problem – it’s the misconceptions around it. A lot of new writers are not aware of the attendant duties and think they just have to write the book. Add in promoting the book (and possibly selling it out of the boot of your car if the book is a dead tree version), designing the cover (like cutting your own hair- it’s possible to do it but not advisable), self-editing, proof-reading, contacting distributors.
    It’s best to wait and see how options and alternative routes will evolve – like those outsourced services you mentioned in the above comment.

  10. Reena Jacobs says:

    Great article. Things are changing, and uncertainty is scary. On the other hand, I think self-publishing is a good thing for traditional authors, especially those in the mid list and below.

    For so long, the power has been in the hands of agents and publishers. Authors pretty much took what they could get, because that’s all that was available.

    Now there are options. Don’t like the contract being offered, take your chances elsewhere. Try self-publishing. Already because of self-publishing, agents and publishers are changing the way they do business. It’s only been a year since agents were discussing raising commission from 15% to 20%. Those talks ended. Instead, agents are talking about how they can work better deals for their authors (which also increases the $$$ in their pockets) and ways they can tap into the indie market. Likewise, some publishers are being less stringy with their royalty rates, at least on the digital side.

    These changes happened because self-publishing has taken root.

    Yeah… change is scary. Yet at the same time, the balance of power between authors, agents, and publishing companies is shifting. Authors no longer have to feel like they’re taken hostage by the system.

  11. Toni says:

    Reena has some great points above — the most inspiring thing about self-publishing is the power that it gives individual authors. They no longer have to wallow in unpublished hell for the majority of their lives. If they believe in what they are writing and are willing to put some darn hard work into editing, designing and marketing it, they can find success.

    That being said, however, I do think many authors come into the self-publishing process with unreasonable expectations of a breezy publishing process and immediate success without doing the marketing legwork. That may happen for one or two, but it’s not the norm, by far. For those looking for a quick buck, traditional publishing may still be their best route. But, as we all know, that’s far from quick, itself.

    Definitely some great points to think about, Chazz. Thanks for the post!

  12. TheSFReader says:

    Reena is right, but “Now there are options. Don’t like the contract being offered, take your chances elsewhere. ” can also be extended as “Don’t like the contract, negociate it.”, in a way that was not possible a few years ago.

    In fact, Publishers should NOW begin changes from a position of product-seller to that of service (to the authors) seller.

  13. Karen Magill says:

    I’ve self published two books and a couple of months ago I sold the Turkish rights to the first one. So now I will be published in Turkish – not that I will be able to read it – and English. So I am approaching other countries to see if there are publishers there who would be interested. I am trying to go the traditional route with my third book but we’ll see what happens.

    • Reena Jacobs says:

      I would love to know how to get my works published in other countries. Have you blogged about it, Karen? I’d be interested in reading your post on the matter if so.

      • Karen Magill says:

        I haven’t blogged about it. My blog at blogspot is on Vancouver. What happened was that the publisher contacted me. I guess she had read the blurb at Amazon kindle. Or somewhere like that. I found a site called Publishers Global that has a listing of international publishers. I send a letter describing my project and if they would like to purchase the rights for whichever country they are in. A couple of places are looking at the book now. It is called The Bond, A Paranormal Love Story.

  14. Chazz says:

    That’s wonderful, Karen! Congratulations. Your experience is particularly interesting because not long ago I read a blogger who said that could never happen and foreign rights would always be off the table for indies. The next objection will probably be “that rarely happens.” Sigh.

    Similarly, I read someone denigrate self-published authors’ aspirations if they think they’re going to be the next Konrath, Hocking or Locke, because that level of financial success is not the norm. That’s the sort of Debbie Downer commentary that drives me crazy. Not everybody in trad publishing is going to be Stephen King, either. Imagine if Amanda Hocking had been convinced that she was never going to be Joe Konrath so “Forget it, kid. Keep it in the drawer or keep submitting to publishers who don’t get your work.” Alas. That would have been quite a loss to her and her readers, wouldn’t it?

    There’s a lot going on in the self-published world that is competing with the traditional world of publishing. I had hoped, through this post, that some people on the fence might see that the divide between the two isn’t so great after all. Your experience supports that notion.

    Thanks to all who have commented. Fighting deadlines, I’ve been so deep in writing this week, I’ve limited myself to curating through the Writing and Reading Scoop it! site (link’s at top of page).

    Be back soon. Writing and revising madly. 🙂



  15. […] The divide between the published and the self-published At a recent writers’ conference, I was in grand company. I met a lot of cool people. Almost all of them were traditionally published authors. I watched them ask questions of panels of publishers, agents and editors. Source: chazzwrites.wordpress.com […]

  16. […] Writes Skip to content HomeAbout Chazz ← TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published 07/24/2011 · 15:26 ↓ Jump to […]

  17. […] Top Ten Differences Between the Published and the Self-Published – Robert Chazz Chute discussed the main reasons that separate the two groups. Ending quote: ”It used to take a powerful store of hope to be a self-published author. Now more faith is demanded of my traditionally published friends.” […]

  18. This is a great article. I feel that I’m entering the publishing world at a very exciting time. Anything is possible right now. And, as an Indie writer, I feel that there are less constraints on me than even 5 years ago.

    Thanks for this encouraging post.

  19. It’s like asking do you like Mexican or Chinese food. It’s all eating. It’s all food. Embrace what you like – eat both. Do what works. There are certainly flaws and perks with both.

    C. Hope Clark

  20. Love this! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

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