Saturday, September 27, 2014

Being Productive (And A Comparison Of Traditional And Self-Publishing)

Well, hello again, fellow digressors. I hope you have all had a pleasant day/evening. The weekend has just begun, and I hope you have some awesome, productive (or at least enjoyable) plans to look forward to. 

Today I actually managed to be somewhat productive. Sadly, I did not build a teleporter or a time machine. Not yet, anyways. I'm still working out a few of the bugs. Instead, I finished writing another vocal song that I'd started a few weeks back, and came up with music for it. That might not sound like a tremendous accomplishment, but I only write about one or two songs per year to completion, so it's nice to actually finish one and be able to share it with others.

Am I sharing it here? No, at least not yet. Maybe sometime when my brain is fried and I can't come up with an interesting blog post topic, I'll cheat by uploading a recording of the song. Because I am such a wonderfully dedicated blogger.

My evening was not so productive, but it was relaxing, nonetheless, and I am closing it out now by trying to write a proposal letter for one of my novels. Of course, "trying" is the operative word there. My distractible brain would much rather play a game, or make a character quote picture, or log onto Blogger and write a post for you lovely people.

But of course, my conscience tells me that I ought to do what I set out to do in the first place, so I shall compromise. I don't know enough about writing proposals to give you all a comprehensive presentation on how to write one effectively. In fact, I have never before written one. Something -- call it wisdom, laziness, or cowardice, whichever you like -- held me back. Instead, I chose the route of self-publishing for my first two novels.

So, since my digressing brain is not particularly interested in writing a book proposal tonight, I shall present to you my views of traditional and self-publishing, respectively. (Let us see how well I focus until my brainpower fizzles for the evening.)

Traditional publishing gives us most of the books we read every day (or every week, month, or year, depending upon your personal reading habits). It is the dream of almost every aspiring author to write the next great novel, find a great agent, submit said manuscript to some prestigious publisher, and become a widely-read, respected author. Many a scribe has sighed and lovingly brushed the dust off of their favorite book, and said to themselves, "One day I will be on the New York Times Bestseller list and the whole world will read my books. I wonder what I'll say when they interview me on television. What would be a good color to wear? Maybe I should get a haircut beforehand..."

Or is that just me?

Actually, I'm more likely to sit hugging my favorite book in a corner and stare in terror at my laptop while feeling guilty for being too much a perfectionistic coward to actually send anything to a publisher than I am to pick out an outfit for my hypothetical interview on the Tonight Show. Many self-published authors have noble reasons for choosing their path, and cowardice plays no part in their decisions. Or at least, I assume those people are out there. I'm still not convinced that it's possible to be an author of any caliber without wanting to run in terror from potential readers a few times. Me, I'm terrified of publishers. Of course, this fear was not the primary reason driving my decision to self-publish, but it did come into play a bit.

I think the primary reason that most authors aspire to being traditionally published is that it demands respect. When your book sits on the shelves of Barnes & Noble with a publisher's logo on its spine, it broadcasts to the world that this book is viable. Extensive work has been employed to write this book, edit it, and prepare it for public consumption. (Consumption in the sense of reading and enjoying it, of course. Please don't eat books. That's just disrespectful.) There are some books out there (which shall not be named here) which perhaps do not deserve the credibility that such presentation gives them, but nonetheless, just the fact that the novel has gone through a credible source is enough to inspire confidence in potential readers.

The primary reason authors get into self-publishing, I believe, is the freedom and ease-of-access involved. It can be as easy as creating a cover (preferably with the help of a professional designer) and uploading your book file to an online retailer to be made available within days. Some services, such as CreateSpace or Lulu, offer print-on-demand services, as well as editors, artists and formatters for covers and interior layout, all for a fee. These services can be utilized to produce a product of equal quality to any traditionally published book you might find at your favorite bookstore. Additionally, there are no contracts involved, and you are fully in control of the pricing and distribution of your work. You answer to no-one, and you reserve all rights to do with your work as you please. And, perhaps best of all for the timid folks like me, there is no middle man, no-one barring you from getting your work out to the world as soon as you can come up with the resources to publish it. 

I have heard many arguments on the topic of whether traditional or self-publishing is best. Speaking as one who has considered both routes extensively, I don't believe one is universally better than the other. Some authors will find that traditional publishing is the better option, while others might find that self-publishing more effectively serves their purposes. It is all in what you hope to get out of the publishing experience, and what you are willing to put into it. Here is my in-depth, highly informed analysis of the two options and how they compare to one another. 

At least, it would be in-depth and highly informed if I were an expert on these issues. Sadly, I am not. But here goes nothing: 

Traditional Publishing 

As I stated previously, traditional publishing offers credibility. However, this credibility comes with good reason: It is tremendously difficult to get published by this method. There are certain expectations of quality which must be met, and these expectations differ between publishers. A book might be intriguing, well-plotted and well-executed, and still be rejected on the basis that it does not meet the needs of the publisher to which it was submitted. In the same way, a book which is rejected by one publisher for being too outlandish might be accepted by another for its fantastical feel. 

Most publishers expect authors to use a literary agent, who must be carefully selected and promised a commission in order to even get your manuscript a second look from a publisher, much less a letter of acceptance. It is not an endeavor for the faint of heart, and succeeding in it is surely a feat to be celebrated. Once you have gotten that letter, a contract must be drawn up and agreed upon, and once the rigors of editing and design have been completed (in which areas I am uncertain how much the author is involved, since I've never gotten that far), your book is officially published. The list price is set by the publisher, and you get your agreed-upon royalties if/when the books start selling. The level of involvement past this point seems to depend upon the publisher, but although many (especially smaller publishing houses) expect a fair level of marketing participation from the author, it is still at a less significant level than for a self-published work. 

The publisher owns your work, but that means they also pay for the print runs, distribute copies, and take care of a lot of the nitty-gritty details that you might not have time to handle. This restricts freedom to some extent (and this extent varies depending upon which publisher you use), as the publisher reserves the right to change things as they see fit (or send it back to you to be changed, depending), adjust list prices, determine distribution, and so forth. And once you have signed your book over to them (as far as I can tell, being on the outside), it essentially belongs to them, though of course it remains your intellectual property. The world of traditional publishing, overall, is challenging to get into, and may not offer all the freedoms which some authors would like, but garners respect and requires a lower input of resources and energy to maintain. 


Self-publishing often gets a bad rep because, as previously stated, there is often no middle man. It is easy to get your work out there. You could invest the capital to print physical copies of your book, or just upload the file to an online retailer for free. You could even do your own editing and cover design (not recommended, but some people like me do it). Sure, formatting is a pain (BELIEVE ME), and producing a quality cover can be challenging, but you can do it, and you can get away with it, even if what you're submitting is trash. You could be a dedicated author who pours his heart into everything he produces and does his best to ensure that his work is polished to perfection before releasing it to the public. But you could also be some high-school kid who pounds at a keyboard for a weekend, decides he likes what he's written, and uploads it to an online service on a whim.

The only way the reader knows which product they stand to consume is by word of mouth, or by taking a chance and reading your work for themselves. Many readers are simply unwilling to take that plunge, though self-publishing has gained more respect in recent years, and does not hold quite the stigma it once did. This is why marketing well and garnering reviews is so crucial for self-published authors. Readers are much more likely to take a chance on an author they know and who comes well-recommended than on one they only discover by accident whilst browsing through the new releases on Amazon. Don't misunderstand me -- self-publishing can be a very rewarding route to choose, and it is much easier to get into than traditional publishing. But it also requires a significant investment of your time, energy, and resources to get much of anywhere. 

On the other hand, with self-publishing, your work remains entirely your own, with no contracts involved, no-one choosing the prices for you or making all the decisions that you might prefer to make for yourself. And while publishers may be reluctant to publish a book which has previously been released via self-publishing, some may still accept it, and as the work has never been signed off to a third party, you are free to do with at as you wish. You are your own publisher, with all the freedoms and responsibilities that job entails. 

Recently, a friend of mine who plans to pursue traditional publishing joined a critique group, and was encouraged by other members to try self-publishing instead because it was easier. On one hand, it is encouraging to hear self-publishing presented as a viable option, while back when I was looking into publication options for my own books, any expression of my intentions to self-publish might well garner looks of horror and lectures on why it would never work. On the other hand, I have to laugh and shake my head a bit at the assertion that self-publishing is either easy or a superior alternative to traditional publishing. In the same way, I am disappointed when people claim that self-publishing is the lazy alternative and that traditional publishing is the only way to go. 

In my mind, they are both worthy options. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish in your publishing journey, and what measures you are willing to take in order to succeed down the road you've chosen. 

Am I glad I self-published? Yes, I am. I have managed to sell some books and, by God's grace, have even garnered a modest following. I am not the most dedicated marketer in the world, and there are some things I wish I had done differently, but overall, it has been a rewarding, worthwhile experience. (Seriously, though, having friends randomly stumble upon chatrooms full of Sehret fans makes my heart very happy.) 

Would I ever seriously consider publishing traditionally? Yes, I would. In fact, I am already taking the first steps towards taking that leap of faith. My perfectionist brain sneaks behind my back and feeds my cowardice with fears of rejection and assurances of my own inadequacy, but the road seems a worthwhile one, and I am determined to walk it, no matter how terrified I may be. (And hey, if I get a book deal out of it, all the better, right?) 

"For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and love, and of a sound mind." - II Timothy 1:7, KJV 

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." - Philippians 4:13, KJV 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go plan my speech for when they call me for that TV interview. Hey, I've already picked out a publisher and started planning my proposal letter. They'll come breaking down my door any day now, won't they? Of course they will. Now to pick out an outfit for that interview... 

...But of course... I digress. 


  1. This is a great post! I'm hoping to publish traditionally, but I can definitely respect both options - I think it's so cool that you've self-published. It does seem like it takes a lot of work.

    Oh, and I'm loving your blog so far. You've already made me laugh :-)

    1. Thanks, Aimee! :) I'm glad you're enjoying the blog so far. Like I said in the post, I don't regret self-publishing, but it can get expensive and time-consuming, so I can definitely see the benefits of going traditional.