What Do You Want From Your Traditional Publisher
(A Self-publisher’s View)
Feel like I’m at an alcoholics anonymous meeting, but here goes: I’ll hold my hand up, I’ll admit – I self-publish. My first book, a steampunk sword and sorcery crossover, went live on Smashwords last week. It won’t be long until it’s on Amazon. By the time this posts, it might be already. I self-publish.
And yet: most people shouldn’t.
If you take the writing + publishing aspects out of the equation, you can see what I mean much more clearly. Consider plumbing, for example. Some plumbers work for enormous national plumbing companies. Some work for small, local plumbing companies. Some have a van, a website, and do it all themselves.
And yet (with the exception of cowboys) they can all plumb in your bath, unclog your drain, or do whatever it is that plumber’s do. There isn’t one type of plumbing that is better than the other, but there are some types of people who fit more fully on one side or the other.
And there are far more people on the working for someone else side.
I had to self-publish. My novels sit at around 50k words, and it’s really hard to get them placed. I was never gunning for a big six publisher anyway, and an e-press would take away rights to my books whilst offering very little in return.
Not everyone has to self-publish. Some people genuinely want to, they enjoy the business side of things as much as they enjoy the writing. But some people just want to write, and write, and write. Neither of those groups are wrong and, to be completely honest, there are bad writers in both camps.
If you’re not sure which side will suit you better, then consider this advice: think carefully about why you want to self-publish. I honestly believe it is harder than traditional publishing, because more rests on your shoulders. If you screw up, you can only blame yourself. If your book is badly edited, well, you hired that editor. If your reason for self-publishing is to make a quick buck, save time, skip a few steps in the publishing process, because you’re just fed up with the whole querying thing, or everyone else seems to be doing it, then I’d urge you to reconsider.
Let’s be honest: it is highly unlikely that the next JK Rowling or Stephen King will be an indie. Think of all the things a traditional publisher can give you; an advance, in-house editing, marketing, distribution, inside-industry networks (ie reviews – really hard for a self-publisher to find), and the guidance of someone who has done this lots of times before.
At the end of the day, I believe it is a reader who validates a writer’s work by deciding whether they liked it, or not. That is the only criteria you have to fulfil to be a good writer – if someone, somewhere (not your mum) thinks you are. I don’t think writers need publishers for “validation.” But I can see a lot of things that writers do need publishers for.
Ask yourself one question, right now. I would love for you to take your time, to truly think about this, and to post your answers in the comments. I think the answer may well help you and your future publisher get the best working relationship you can.
In a world where anyone can publish a book, what do you actually want from your publisher?
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