Why “Self or Traditionally Publish?” is a Dumb Question

Bookshelf Q. Battler here.

BQB sounds off.

BQB sounds off.

Self vs. Traditional Publishing – Which route should I take?

For awhile now, I’ve read posts that begin with this very question from a number of bloggers.

Apparently, there’s a lot of folks who feel this is an either/or proposition.

Allow me to provide my take on the issue by posing these questions:

  • Should I continue working a day job or should I put all my time and money into buying and scratching lotto tickets?
  • If a nice woman comes up to me tomorrow and expresses an interest in going out on a date with me, should I take her up on the offer or should I tell her to hit the bricks because Scarlett Johannson might (I repeat “might”) knock on my door and demand my sweet, sweet lovin?
  • If I enjoy telling jokes to people, should I continue telling them or should I wait until I’m cast on Saturday Night Live?
  • If I get a part in a local community theater production, should I take it or should I wait to see if George Clooney calls me to ask me if I’ll take a part in his next film?

What?  You get the point now?  No.  No I don’t think you do.  I think we need some reinforcement here:

  • If I like the way the sun feels on my skin on a nice summer day, should I take a nice stroll on the beach or should I wait to see if the sun will come into my house?
  • If I’m hungry, should I make a sandwich or should I wait and see if Emeril will show up at my door and cook me a three course meal?
  • If, by some God inspired miracle, Scarlett does knock on my door, should I go on a date with her or should I wait and see if Charlize Theron and Katee Sackhoff show up and propose some type of triple arrangement?
  • If the Constitution is somehow altered to make me Supreme Ruler of the United States, should I take the position or wait to see if I’m crowned Emperor of the World?

All right, you get the point.

Yes.  If you’re a new writer and a traditional publisher offers you a legit deal, you should go for it.  But here’s the problem:

  • I’d like to be an astronaut.
  • I’d like to be the leading man in a Hollywood blockbuster movie.
  • I’d like to look like Channing Tatum while having George Clooney’s sophisticated style.
  • I’d like to have a bajillion dollars.
  • I’d like to be King of a Small Island (because to go any bigger is too much of a headache)
  • I’d like to be a pro-athlete.  Football, basketball, hockey, doesn’t matter.
  • I’d like to be date a famous actress.
  • I’d like my face on currency.
  • I’d like to rename the Moon “Bookshelf Q. Battle Orb.”

I’d like to do and/or be all of those things.

The odds of accomplishing them?

About the same as getting your book selected for a big time publishing deal.

OK.  You got me.  There might be some slight exaggeration here.

The Moon will be renamed Bookshelf Q. Battle Orb before I get a publishing deal.

The tech isn’t here that will turn me into an astronaut, football player or a Hollywood leading man.

The tech is here to help me put my writing out into the world.

Here’s my question:  Why does self or traditional publishing have to be an either/or proposition?

Honestly.  It’s like Traditional is my Mom and Self is my Dad and they’re a divorced couple competing for my affection:

ME:  Mom, can I have a book deal?

TRADITIONAL/MOM: Do you think you’re ready, dear?  I don’t really think you’re ready.  By the way, your father is spoiling you and you should hate him as much as I do!

ME:  Dad, can I have a book deal?

SELF/DAD:  Sure!  It’s our special weekend, buddy!  Publish all you want!  Eat cookies for breakfast too!  I don’t care!  It’s up to you! Control your own destiny!  Oh and don’t forget, your mother is a contemptible shrew whose sole purpose in life is to crush your hopes and dreams so stick with me kid!

ME:  ARGH!  Can’t you guys just get along?  Don’t make me choose!  I love you both!

Does self publishing guarantee success?

Well, first off let’s define success.

What’s your goal?

  • Make nothing but be happy just knowing your writing was put out into the universe? (Even if only 3.5 people read it?)
  • Make a little beer money?
  • Make a nice second income?
  • Make enough to support yourself?
  • Make enough to support yourself comfortably?
  • MAKE ENOUGH TO BE ON THE COVER OF FORBES AND HAVE YOUR BOOK TURNED INTO A BLOCKBUSTER AND YOU LAUGH AT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO MADE FUN OF YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL AS YOU WALK THE RED CARPET!  BAH HA HA!  YOU STINK, LOSERS!!!

With little to no effort, you can accomplish the first and second with self publishing.

The rest require work.

Should you get your hopes up?  Should you assume that self publishing will make all your wildest dreams come true?  That it will fill your pockets and turn you into a Hollywood insider?

Of course not.

However, I’m happy that blogging has provided me with 3.5 readers.  If I ever make a few bucks that’d make me happier.  If I earn a second income, that’d be great too.

I’d dance the Texas two-step if, God-willing, this leads me to become a millionaire, but I don’t expect that and you shouldn’t either.

So I guess I don’t understand the argument of “Well, there’s only been a few major self publishing success stories so don’t bother.”

Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey have some fabulous stories, but people who make a few extra bucks and get to enjoy doing what they love?  That’s certainly a form of success too.  It might be a low level success, but if it makes you happy, then it makes you happy.

I don’t understand this all or nothing “if you don’t get a guarantee that your book will become a blockbuster then why bother” attitude.

Self-publishing isn’t a free ride, but it offers you something that the traditional world doesn’t:

A shot.

You’ll still need to work hard.  You’ll need to build your platform, reach out and obtain an audience, build a mailing list, and, above all else, write and publish a quality product.

And even then, you might and/or most likely won’t become a household name but a) hopefully you’re happy with the above discussed lesser forms of success and if you aren’t then b) at least you gave it a shot.

The traditional publishing world, more likely than not, will be closed to you.  The self-publishing door is open.  The readers inside that world may or may not be interested, but why not give it a go?

Meanwhile, if you get a traditional contract that’s great.  You should always explore your options.  Polish your work. Query agents.  Seek that traditional deal.

I’m not here to knock traditional publishing.  “Famous writer” is a highly sought after job.  Many people want it.  Traditional publishers and agents are bombarded with author queries all day long.  They only have so much time to take on so many projects.  They can’t please everyone.

Agents and publishers have to go with the projects they think will work best for them.  They’re in a business. That’s all there is to it.  Don’t take it personally.  Don’t hate on others who’ve “won the publishing lottery.”  Other people doing well does not make you do poorly.

Wait a minute, BQB.  What if I start self-publishing my work and then traditional publishing knocks on my door with a better deal?  What then?  Bet you didn’t think of that smart guy.

I did.  Let me ask you:

  • If I make that baloney sandwich and then Emeril DOES knock on my door with a fresh snappy lobster to cook for me, should I slam the door in his face or just put the sandwich in a ziplock bag and save it for later?
  • If that nice woman from before turns out to be a weirdo who wants to bedazzle all my shirts with cat designs and lock me in her crawlspace, should I keep seeing her if Scarlett DOES ask me out?
  • If I do scratch that winning lottery ticket, am I required to keep working a day job and therefore must never spend my newfound millions on world travel and chalices to eat my cereal out of?

In short, if that traditional publishing miracle deal does happen, you can always shift gears to embrace it.

But BQB, if the traditional publishing world isn’t interested in my work, what do I do?”

Well, let me answer that question with these questions:

  • If that non-famous woman who was interested in me (see above) dumps me after a few dates, should I lock myself in my bedroom and listen to James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful on a continuous loop or should I get back on the proverbial horse and ask another woman out?
  • If I can’t find the ingredients to make a sandwich in my kitchen, should I just go hungry or should I go buy some bread and baloney?
  • If I scratch two cherries on my lotto ticket and a lousy lemon on my third square scratch, should I go to work tomorrow?
  • If my car breaks down, should I buy another one I can afford or should I just walk everywhere in the hopes that one day I’ll win one on a game show?

I think you get the point.

Let’s come together and be friends, traditional and self publishing worlds.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing.

To rename the Moon the “Bookshelf Q. Battle Orb.”

Oh and success.  Lots of success.

Don’t make me choose.  There’s plenty of Bookshelf Q. Battler to go around.

Nerd with a bullhorn image courtesy of a shutterstock.com license.

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38 thoughts on “Why “Self or Traditionally Publish?” is a Dumb Question

  1. ShieldCrest says:

    Reblogged this on ShieldCrest Publishing Limited and commented:
    I like the analogies here, puts things in perspective and I think it’s a good way to approach getting you work out there in to the big wide world – Well put, thank you 🙂

  2. juliekrantz says:

    Good article, bookshelfbattle–nice to wake up to on a dreary Monday morning!

  3. sledpress says:

    I also note that at least my self-published book remains my intellectual property and I can do what I want with it, whether my some miracle I sell it to a traditional publisher, the movies, or self publish it again with another POD company that I like better. So it’s sort of like you can boink the everyday woman who likes you and still have an option on Scarlett Johansen. (Actually my sweetheart says this is the Rule of Five — you can have a short list of wildly unavailable people that it’s OK for you to do if a miracle happens and then become available. So far the only one on my list is Bryn Terfel.)

    • Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic but on the flip side, the everyday normal woman could turn out to be the best thing for me. I may end up ridiculously happy with her and when Scarlett finally knocks on my door I’ll say, “No! No Scarlett! You had your chance! Away with you!”

      I guess you could apply Bryn Terfel (Welsh singer? Had to google it) to that scenario.

      A few self published authors have found success to the level where they’ve said “No thanks” to traditional.

      We shouldn’t choose a path based on a handful of success stories on either side but it’s great to have options and they shouldn’t cancel each other out.

      • sledpress says:

        Google Donna Barr+self-publishing — there’s a lady who has made the most of it, and whose output is so unusual and quirky that I cannot imagine her ever being well served by a publishing middleman.

        Bryn is the Bad Boy of operatic baritones, in so far as the roles he likes to sing, though I hear he’s a real straight arrow and family man. But that’s Art — you get to be everybody and still keep a clean conscience. And the fans can dream too. At the risk of digression:

    • Inge H. Borg says:

      Thanks for a wonderful snippet of Don Giovanni.Must check out more arias by BrynTerfel.

  4. isilkemp says:

    Reblogged this on Dakota Kemp and commented:
    I just can’t get enough of this guy. Bookshelf Q. Battler is back to serve up more common sense – as ever, in the most entertaining of ways. In this post he addresses one of the most controversial topics in the publishing world for all of us lowly authors. If you haven’t seen his blog, swing by and check it out!

  5. Jools says:

    Self or traditionally publish? What? You mean… there’s a… a… choice? You mean, I can actually… what… choose… to be traditionally published? What? Like, just hop on the bus one day and pitch up at an agent’s office and, like… get a contract? Geez, I never realised!

    Great post on a subject close to my heart. Your frustrations exactly echo my own, BB.

    • Thanks. I don’t mean to knock anyone but so many of these posts assume that traditional is a foregone conclusion/option – that book deals are growing on trees and you have all these choices to consider.

      • Inge H. Borg says:

        Whoever thinks trad book deals grow on trees must never have gone through the tedious (and at times insulting) process of sending out QUERY letters. While self-publishing unfortunately opened up the floodgates to all sorts of (well, I’m a lady, so you put in your own word), it has allowed many, many good writers to follow their dreams.
        Thanks for a fun article that puts forth the reality of publishing; self-, or otherwise.

  6. Road to Servitude says:

    This is a great way of looking at it. Helps me feel I’m not wasting my time, as I have got something of my own I’m self-publishing out soon…

    I think that people who await the Messiah, or Maitreya, or Second Coming, or Mahdi, or any other somewhat analogous person or event, are normally advised to keep busy in the meantime.

    While publishing a book is not necessarily on such a grand, cosmic scale, it’s probably worth remembering this.

    • Thanks. No one expects the baseball player to get to the majors without starting out on the high school team or an actor to get to Oscar night without being in a local play or two but somehow authors are expected to come out with the grand slam right away or don’t bother.

      Hopefully, the tech will change all that (thus far it has).

  7. Salvageable says:

    Thank you for telling it like it is, BQB. I needed this encouragement right about now. My only question is… are you really allowed to make this much sense on the internet?

  8. rogerdcolby says:

    This is such a great post. I love your analogies. Everything you have written here is absolute truth! I have been self-publishing for years and still enjoy the thrill of seeing reviews of my books online, good or bad.

    • Thanks. This happens often with new tech. We yell at Siri when she messes up, forgetting the fact that only a few years ago our cell phones couldn’t talk to us at all.

      While self-publishing has technically been available for a long time, it took years of brave pioneers giving it a go and companies like Amazon supplying the marketplace. So really, it’s only been a viable option for a few years.

      People have short memories and they forget the days when people spent their time writing novels in the hopes that maybe an agent might send them something other than a standard form rejection letter.

      Now all those days are forgotten and people coming fresh to the publishing game apparently think there’s some sort of choice.

  9. An entertaining read with loads of valid info – and you are 100% right – its not an all or nothing game – don’t close yourself off to any options. As you say, self publishing is a shot – and a very good one at that.

  10. sharelysae says:

    Well written and informative, and gives me more confidence that the path I’ve chosen isn’t the worst mistake I’m ever going to make.

  11. Ana Spoke says:

    Thanks, I laughed out loud…I have finally come to my senses after a year of asking out Brad Pitt and scratching lottery tickets. Here’s to little Sauvignon Blonc money!

  12. What a great post — puts things in perspective! HOWEVER — it’s worth noting that the vast majority of authors who are traditionally published don’t sell very many books either. Midlist authors at major publishers still aren’t supporting themselves through writing, for the most part.

  13. Reblogged this on Bookshelf Battle and commented:

    I always thought this was one of my better ramblings…

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  15. I have just read this and love it. It is so freaking obvious but so few get it. I am currently doing the self-publishing thing. I have it planned and it is a slow process but I have nothing to lose and along the way I get to read humorous and insightful things all the time. Thanks for the follow. We’re probably on different planets but so what?

  16. Rebecca says:

    Reblogged this on novel2screen and commented:
    Another Word Press blogger dispensed this bit of wisdom this week. Spot-on, really, and worth a read if you’re interested in publishing your work.

  17. Rebecca says:

    Awesome advice. Just reblogged it. 🙂

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