Friday, September 3, 2010

The Big Publishing Show

If you're writing for anyone other than yourself and your immediate family, you've probably become aware that there's a teensy debate raging about the merits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Never before have authors possessed so many options for getting their work in the readers' hands (or on their screens), and never before have those options elicited so much debate. Since my humble output has received only the smallest placement in both camps, I'm happily agnostic about the situation at large, content to munch my popcorn while the pundits line up their arguments.

On the self-publishing side is Michelle Davidson Argyle of The Literary Lab with her ongoing series
"Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think." In her first post, she writes:
Fences. In writing there may be no fences, but in publishing, there is no mistaking their presence. Fences and gates. Think of it this way: two corrals leading to the same pristine, beautiful pasture. The corrals are exactly the same. And, let me state this again: they lead to the exact same pasture.

Today I'm talking about a very sticky subject, one that I've seen people arguing about quite passionately. I'm not here to say that self-publishing is better than traditional publishing or the other way around. I do not feel in any way that one could possibly be any better than the other. Want to know why? Because, once again, they lead to the exact same pasture. The only difference is how you get there. Some might argue that the pasture is different, that self-publishing isn't publishing at all, but I'll tell you what -- getting your work out there for sale, marketing it, seeing people read it, rate it, love it, hate it, talk about it -- that's publishing. If you deny that, you're on some sort of crack. Traditional. Self. I'd like to try both, thank you very much. The beautiful thing is that I can.
Meanwhile, Paul Carr at TechCrunch.com offers the traditional view:
If I were a commissioning editor in a major publishing house, I'd be feeling a little unloved right now. Like the wife of a guy who runs over his neighbour's cat: why does everyone hate me? What did I do?

Maybe hate is too strong a word: hate is when you hope that someone will burst into flames and die. The current feeling towards publishers isn't quite that: no one wants them to combust -- it's just that, well, they wouldn't urinate on them if it happened. ...

[A]s I read the crowing of Godin, Connolly and the various other authors who are suddenly turning their backs on their publishers and going solo; and as I hear the rising chorus of abuse directed at the women and men (mostly women) who toil in the world's -- I dunno? Third-? Fourth-? - oldest profession -- I'm pretty sure which side of the barricades I belong on.

You see, I love my publishers. Absolutely adore them. Couldn't live without them. Furthermore, I think anyone who willingly abandons theirs in favour of self-publishing, is either delusional, a peremptory jackass -- or both.
Got your Jiffy Pop in the microwave? Great, because it's quite a good show ...

(Picture: CC 2009 By
DawnVGilmorePhotography; Hat Tip: How Publishing Really Works)

10 comments:

Deka Black said...

Interesting, no doubt. I only hope all people keep his good manners when talking about this.

Loren Eaton said...

Well, I should hope they would here. Manners are a prerequisite at ISLF.

Deka Black said...

I say it only as precaution/hope for it, that's all. ;)

Chestertonian Rambler said...

The things I've read that make the most sense say that unless you are an incredible businessman, have a degree in marketing, have contacts with all the major bookstores, and are married to an immaculate editor/copy-editor, then ideally you need a publisher.

On the other hand, this may not apply to those at the bottom or (more rarely) those at the top of the food chain. In the speculative genres (SF/fantasy), at least, many books were first self-published, sold well enough to attract a major publisher, and sold exponentially better once they were bought by the publisher. And of course if you're Tom Clancy or Stephen King, you can do whatever you want (though most authors of that caliber, including those named above, keep with traditional publishers).

But quite simply, I can't buy any categorical criticism of editors. True, artists tend to have fragile egos and a good book can be ruined by even well-intentioned critiques, but people who are editors are generally in it for the love and not the money (which is next to non-existent), trying to keep books selling in an increasingly digital/cinematographic age. And for most authors, the services they provide are invaluable.

So I guess self-publishing can be defended, but as it is practicable at this moment, it is not any threat to publishers. Instead, books that actually reach a large audience through self-publishing end up with traditional publishers, who realize belatedly that they might've missed a diamond in the rough.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

However, I love the line "both traditional and self-publishing are capable of putting out a piece of crap." One needs only look at one test-case: Eragorn was self-published, sold thousands of copies, was traditionally published, and sold millions.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Thanks for this, Loren. I personally cannot stand to read anything that defends ALL self-publishing or ALL traditional publishing. It's certainly not a one-or-the-other scenario. Some writers do both. Some writers do one only. Writers do what works for THEM, and if it ends up not working they can move on and figure out what to do next.

I think if a writer has the means and talent and drive to self-publish, they can do well and be happy with what they produce. Most writers, I think, would benefit from a traditional publisher simply because they don't want to deal with all the nitty gritty aspects themselves. That, and most writers want tons of sales and attention and you don't usually get that by self-publishing.

Loren Eaton said...

CR,

The things I've read that make the most sense say that unless you are an incredible businessman, have a degree in marketing, have contacts with all the major bookstores, and are married to an immaculate editor/copy-editor, then ideally you need a publisher.

This seems pretty right to me. Self-publishing is a lot like entrepreneurship: To be successful, you need to put in a lot more effort than is immediately apparent. Still, I'm glad the option is around. Publishing can be driven entirely by fads. (Zombies and werewolfs and vampires, oh my!) It's nice for people who don't necessarily fit into an easy marketing niche to have other paths. Ever read about how Dune came to be?

Loren Eaton said...

Michelle,

I like your nuanced position; it's a good one to take, I think. Lacking much experience with either option, I'm really not sure where I fall.

S.D. Smith said...

I love the phrase "happily agnostic," and feel that describes me as well. One day I'm a lot on one side, one day the other, but mostly just interested in how people are doing it and what value there is for em as a reader and a writer from the various dispensations of both models.

I am a dispensationalist.

Loren Eaton said...

I am a dispensationalist.

I am definitely going to quote you on that. And steal it for my personal repertoire.