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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Authors Hating On Each Other -- What's Up?

I've been reading a lot of rather heated exchanges between authors on the web lately concerning the issue of whether traditional publishing is better than self- or indie-publishing. I have a few observations and one major conclusion.


Each method of publication has its strengths and weaknesses. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list. But just by way of example, here are a few characteristics of each publishing route that usually apply:

Traditional Publishing:


-- Established distribution channels.
-- Established marketing and review channels (e.g. access to pre-release reviews in well-established industry pubs like Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc.)
-- Established access to brick and mortar book stores.
-- Access to cost-effective printing formats such as mass market paperbacks.
-- Established editorial, artistic and promotional staffs to support your book.
-- Front money to take advantage of all of the above.
-- Author advances, many of which will never earn out.


-- Less direct author control over the publishing process (including design, content, print format, etc.).
-- Lower commission percentage on unit sales.
-- Less control over pricing and web availability.
-- Can be very difficult to obtain a traditional publisher, or even a literary agent to represent your book to one.
-- Takes a longer time to publish via traditional route than via self- or indie-publication.

Self- and Indie-Publishing:


-- Total artistic and design control of your book.
-- Fast publication time-line.
-- You can publish your book in eBook formats and sell anywhere on the web.
-- You set book prices.
-- Higher commissions on unit sales.
-- No contracts or commitments.
-- Easy to change/correct content (especially if printed POD).


-- No one to share the financial risk of publishing your book.
-- No one to help with design, layout, editing or marketing. (Either you learn how to do it yourself, or you hire these services.)
-- No established system for credible, independent book reviews.
-- Many barriers to getting your book into brick and mortar stores.
-- No established distribution pipelines.
-- Continuing stigma in many industry and reader minds over "vanity publishing."
-- Very challenging to distinguish your book from the slush pile of less marketable self-publications.

Okay. So those are some of the differences between the publishing approaches. But is there a need for those who have published traditionally to resent those who choose to self- or indie-publish? Or vice versa?

If an author is not successful at getting a literary agent to represent his/her book, does that mean the book wasn't "good enough," or that s/he didn't "work hard enough"? Sometimes. But certainly not always.

If an author is successful at engaging an agent, and successfully publishes via the traditional route, does that mean they were "lucky"? Or that their book is of higher quality? Sometimes. But certainly not always.

If an author leaves his/her publisher to self-publish once the author has become famous or established, is that "disloyal" to the publisher who supported them? Or if a publisher publishes five of an author's previous books, then declines to publish another, is the publisher being "disloyal" to the author?

My understanding about the publishing business is that it is, indeed, a business, not a charitable undertaking. If an author's books don't make money for the publisher, barring a contract to the contrary, I don't see any reason why anyone should berate the publisher when they decline the next book.

Likewise, if a publisher and author have not contractually agreed on publication of an author's future books, I can't see where the publisher has a legitimate complaint when the author decides s/he can make more money in his/her own publishing business. Yes, the publisher took a chance on the author by publishing the first book(s) -- in hopes of making a profit. But the author agreed to forgo a large measure of creative control, marketing control and commission percentage in exchange for the publisher's investment -- also in hopes of making a profit.

In short, it was a business deal. Each party gave and got something.

What happens in the business world if a contractual relationship is not working for both parties, when the contract expires, the parties either renegotiate a new contract with which they are both satisfied, or they part ways. Yes, there can be hard feelings on both sides. But to call one party culpable when a contract terminates by running its course is legally absurd.

My perception of the animosity that exists between some traditionally published authors and some of their self- or indie-published counterparts is that it is partly founded on envy. Each wishes, to a certain extent, that s/he had some of what the other has.

And it is based partly on a perception that the two methods of publication are deleterious to one another. This point remains unproven. The publishing industry is in upheaval. Only time will tell whether either publication method is preferable.

In the meantime, it would really be nice if all of us authors could refrain from vitriolic exchanges between one another about our chosen paths to publication.

My philosophy has always been that writing is a cooperative endeavor, not a competitive one. Writing is stressful enough without having to be abused by other writers. Don't you think?

That's it for today.

Thanks for stopping by.



  1. Hey, John. This is my first time by your blog (I followed your link on Twitter) and I really like this post. It's fair-minded and thoughtful, plus your describing the pros and cons, rather than just slinging more mud was really helpful.

    >>>My philosophy has always been that writing is a cooperative endeavor, not a competitive one. Writing is stressful enough without having to be abused by other writers. Don't you think?<<<

    Absolutely. :)

  2. Er--can you please insert a comma for me after "mud." Thanks. ;)

  3. Dear evbishop,

    Sorry I can't insert your comma. But typos are okay in blog comments -- at least on this blog.

    I appreciate your input. And thanks for stopping by.



  4. I followed you here from your twitter link as well.
    I prefer to look at it from the standpoint of what I'm trying to achieve. My first book I decided to go the self publishing route with so I could get a feel for the process. It wasn't a novel (just a small collection of short stories) and I knew no established publisher would even look at it. It was mainly for friends and family. Now when I do get around to finishing one of my novels, I will most likely go the traditional route. For smaller things though, I will stick to self publishing.
    There is no right way or wrong way to get your material published. It all lies in what your end goal is and the audience you're trying to reach.

    John Pender

  5. John,

    You make some good points. I especially like the following: "There is no right way or wrong way to get your material published. It all lies in what your end goal is and the audience you're trying to reach."

    To that I would add that it depends on your own skill sets and how much time you want to spend learning the "non-writing" aspects of publication.

    Thanks, John, for stopping in. Cheers!

  6. Hi John,

    Lovely, thoughtful article. Thanks for posting it.

    One other difference I have noted between the two routes has to do with intended audience. Big publishing houses are great with mainstream marketing of established genres. Not so good with targeted marketing to niche audiences, which may be geographically scattered, and not easily targeted via standard marketing methods. So, depending on your intended audience, your sales numbers could be much better -- or much worse, if you go the traditional route.

  7. Very good point, Larisa. You have to be able to get your book to your readers. Self-pub handles some niches better. Traditional pub has advantages for the masses, assuming you are able to get your book through the publisher's door.

    Thanks for stopping by. John