I was reading in a writing forum about whether it’s okay to self-publish or not, and specifically, whether self-publishing will keep you from eventually landing a traditional book deal. One of the arguments put forth in favor of self-publishing included these lines of reasoning:
It seems to me that if you self publish, and get a few thousand copies out there, you will be much more interesting to agents and publishers. They will know that you have a product that already sells. And they will see how motivated and involved you are in selling a book – something that is necessary even with a big house contract.
In addition, when its time to sit with a publisher and talk about contracts and an advance, you will have a lot more leverage. You will be able to show that you will already make X amount of money without them, why would you accept less?
I think its becoming more and more common today for authors to use self-publishing as a path to more traditional publishing.
Beside all of that, while you are waiting for the Big Contract to appear, you will be making money, getting your work out there, controling every aspect of your book, and having fun doing it. Its a lot of work, yes. But its fun.
Apparently, the person who posted that has self-published something. Otherwise, he wouldn’t know how much “fun” it is. But here is my response:
Does getting a few thousand copies of your work out there really make you more interesting to traditional publishers?
I’m not sure about that. If your book is quality, then I think that’s still going to be of greater importance than how many copies you’ve sold. Anyway, how will your traditional publisher know for sure how many copies you’ve really sold? They’d have to take your word for it. The question is, will they?
“You will be able to show that you will already make X amount of money without them, why would you accept less?”
Two things trouble me about this mentality:
First, if you self-publish, even if you sell a thousand copies, depending on how much you’ve spent, you still may not have made near what their advance would actually be if they did offer you one. So it’s possible that if your earnings are less than their typical advance, they might be motivated to give you less money if they do offer you anything for your work.
Secondly, if it’s true that self-publishing is proof that you don’t need them, I’m not sure why you’d expect them to want to work with you: why bother taking on a client who feels that you’re unnecessary in their career? If I were a publisher and felt that a writer was of that mindset, the last thing I’d do if offer a book deal.
If it is becoming more and more common, that’s not automatically a good thing. A friend of mine recently self-published her novel. She maintained “full control” of her work, and paid thousands, including a $500 editing fee that basically gave her a spell-check: her manuscript, which was replete with grammatical errors going in, is still replete with the same errors after the “professional edit.” She would have to sell more copies than she’s likely to sell just to break even with what she’s spent getting her book published. If she’d taken more time honing her skills and landing a “real” deal, she’d have been working with people committed enough to her work that they’d have paid her for the opportunity to get her work in readers’ hands.
I’m not saying all self-publishing is bad, but I think a good deal of it is. Getting “in” the traditional way is difficult, but often, I think, it’s worth the wait and the struggle. You’re much more apt to learn more as a writer working with people who take some of the control to help you shape a more salable end product, than you are to go it blindly alone, convinced that your way is the right way and hoping that your readers will agree.
I’m sure scam artists pretending to run on-the-level vanity presses are pushing that “keep full control of your work” mentality as hard as they’re pushing the old “traditional publishers are only out to make money for themselves” sell.
If you self-publish, you do keep control, and you are 100% committed to making your book a success because you have 100% of the financial stake in doing so. If you go with a traditional publisher, which means you’d have someone paying you for the work you’ve done, then you’d still have a financial stake (in terms of earning out your advance and making royalties plus the chance of a second book deal), but so would your agent and publisher, who likely know more about publishing and book promotion than a novice author does.
When I do that math, the answer seems pretty simple to me.