by Will Viharo
Authors always appreciate artistic autonomy, but not everyone is willing to exchange that in return for the benefits of association with a larger, professional entity that provides struggling writers with support, connections, and cachet appeal.
I’ve learned the hard way that the sacrifice of my creative freedom is not worth the trade.
But I can only speak for myself, which is exactly one of the reasons I’d rather just go it alone.
Not too long ago I swore off ever self-publishing again after some of my earlier DIY titles were reprinted by a small, upstart press.
But then that company suddenly went under, only months after it was founded, which sadly is a common occurrence, given the difficulty of most entrepreneurs in this business to compete with the majors and even other minors for a shrinking audience.
Rather than allow it to take my precious books with it, I salvaged and immediately reissued them under my own imprint, since I had retained all rights to both the exterior and interior content.
I’ve had many similar disappointing experiences with the traditional publishing route. At this point I’d actually rather retain control of my own work, even with all the obstacles.
The self-publishing stigma remains, despite its dominance in the marketplace, which is entirely relative. Traditionally published authors have many strategic marketing advantages over selfie authors.
For one thing, it’s much harder for indie writers to get reviewed (unless you pay for the privilege) on even a low profile literary blog, much less be taken seriously by the professional community in general.
That outsider perception only changes if your self-published book is successful, meaning from a commercial standpoint. But even those rare cases are acknowledged as the exception to the rule, not overall validation of the DIY industry.
A Personalized Prism
However, in my experience (and all individual publishing histories are unique, so keep that in mind while proceeding on your own path), there isn’t enough difference between self-publishing and being published by a small press to make it worthwhile. You might have access to more reviewers via the establishment grapevine, but most bookstores will still refuse to stock your books, except possibly on consignment, which means you’ll make practically no money, anyway.
In terms of publicity, prestige and profits, having someone else’s brand on my books didn’t earn me anything I couldn’t just generate on my own. They just get a cut of an already miniscule pie.
You make much more money if you just do it all yourself. It’s worth the effort. At least to me.
But again: this is all highly subjective, varying according to one’s own personality and agenda. I’m a lone wolf by nature. My novels are different than anything else out there, blending genres freely, therefore difficult to market to a mainstream audience. So I don’t even bother with agents and publishers anymore (and trust me, I’ve tried that, too, for years, coming close but ultimately not connecting).
Now I take my stuff directly to the readers, bypassing the slow, often creatively stifling system and eliminating the “middle men” that either don’t understand my work, or would rely on me to do most of my own promotions anyway.
Even though I have a pre-existing public platform and brand name, it’s very hard to get attention for my books, given my stubborn independence and the overwhelming amount of competition from all quarters of the spectrum. My point is if I let someone else do it, it’s no easier. I had to learn this hard lesson for myself.
I also eschew most of the drama that plagues many subcultures, including indie publishing, which unfortunately seems to thrive more on competition than camaraderie, with various groups of authors regularly reviewing each other’s books on Amazon and their blogs, and mutually sharing news of fellow authors' book via their own Facebook posts, but basically ignoring anyone that’s not part of their social circle.
This is certainly not a knock against that practice. This type of exclusivity is true in any business, large or small. Tribalism is instinctive. But it goes against my own admittedly iconoclastic tendencies.
I’m more comfortable operating as a lone wolf, rather than running in a pack. Both options have their pluses and minuses. You need to decide which works best for you. There is no right or wrong choice, as long as you’re being true to yourself. And it’s always a good idea to network with fellow authors, any way you can, even it means stepping outside your normal comfort zone.
Both the upshot and the bottom line for me is this: instead of claiming I’ll never self-publish again, my position now is the opposite, meaning I plan on self-publishing from now on. Which actually means: at least for the time being.
It's best to remain open to all possibilities.