This post is part of the Indie Life bloghop, brought to you by the Indelibles.
Serious question: Should you advocate for self-publishing? Or traditional-publishing? Or take the "all routes are equally good, fine, acceptable" non-advocating path?
(By "you" I mean "me" and other multiply published authors who are dispensing advice to new writers.)
Caveat: This entire post applies to fiction writers who want to make a career with their writing. (People write for many reasons; all are good. But many fiction writers want to make a career out of their writing, either full or part-time, as opposed to writing solely for hobby purposes. This post is for those writers.)
Idea: Indie First
Hugh Howey fired an idea-salvo with his recent Salon article, where he advocated Indie First (TM, in Hugh's name), namely that every new author, starting their career in 2013, will have the best success going Indie First. This is hardly the first time Hugh has said this, but as his star continues to rise, it's getting more notice.
From the article:
Idea: No One True WayChuck Wendig fired an anti-idea-salvo with his rebuttal to Hugh's article, where he said that there's No One True Way, basically advocated the non-advocating path.
From Chuck's rebuttal:
Chuck's counter to Hugh's idea isn't really a straight counter. Chuck says not everyone wants to indie publish and, hey, trad-publishing is cool too (BTW anyone who thinks that indie publishing is more work or costs more money than trad-publishing needs to read this). He adds that, for him personally, trad-publishing has made him more money over the last two years. Hugh's point was that indie publishing is more likely to pay the bills for most people, not that some people (like Chuck or Hugh) may make more money on one path or the other.
After some serious response on the Kindle Boards to Chuck's rebuttal, he rebutted again, this time saying... basically the same thing. Only with more detailed reasons why someone would not want to self-publish (for reasons unrelated to money). (You can read mine and Chuck's sparring over there.)
From Chuck's article: "When you say something is best, you're speaking in terms so simplistic they're meaningless. Best how? Best for money? Readership? Respect? Happiness?"
Actually Indie First isn't meaningless at all. It's very specific and powerful (which is why it has such traction): Indie First says it's best for money. No one can tell you what will make you happy. But a whole lot of writers DO have best for money as a pretty important criteria, simply because they want to earn a living with their writing.
Eventually, in the comments, the sticking point did come down to this: Chuck doesn't think that authors should advocate one path or another and doesn't believe that indie publishing offers the best option for making money for authors.
Fair enough. That's the No One True Way position.
This has basically been the mantra for... well, pretty much ever, at least for serious fiction writers wanting to make a career out of their writing. In the past, this was based on the facts on the ground at the time: publishers had a lock on distribution and indie publishing consisted mainly of doing a small print run on your own and handselling your books. Now, the facts on the ground have changed. Indie publishing connects authors to readers around the world at virtually no cost (in distribution). However, the mantra is still there, with the idea that indie publishing should be a last resort or no resort option.
Idea: The War of Ideas is Good
A war of ideas benefits authors, because competing world-views are forced to fight it out, hopefully illuminating the flaws and merits of each (great thread on the Kindle Boards for more on that). We need people like Hugh Howey espousing Indie First, as a counter to the weight of history that said indie publishing was the death-knell of an author career. The No One True Way approach basically says All Ways Are Equal, Figure It Out For Yourself. It's Switzerland. Which is nice and has pretty scenery, but doesn't actually help authors trying to make a decision about their careers.
Where's the Truth?
Here's what I know:
- I have friends with traditional (big and small) publishing contracts.
- I have friends who are agented and on submission.
- I have friends who indie publish with success everywhere from barely breaking even to NYTimes bestsellers pulling down six figures a month.
The truth: there is no hard and fast data. We can wait around for a survey that's flawless or for years of experience to roll in... or we can take reports on the ground right now about what authors are experiencing and try to learn from that.
In that vein, this is what I'm seeing:
- Friends who can't land an agent but can pay their house payment with indie publishing.
- Friends who were agented but couldn't land a trad-pub contract, go on to make six figures a year indie publishing.
- Friends who never pursued trad-publishing supporting their families with their indie published works.
- Friends who are multiply trad-published and score a 3-book deal with a major NY publisher, but who can't quit their day job.
- Friends with small press contracts who contemplate leaving writing because they can't make any money at it.
The idea that you can make money in indie publishing doesn't come from a vacuum - it comes from author after author actually doing that. And telling other people about it.
I used to be a No One True Way advocate. And I still believe that, in 2013 in some cases, traditional publishing is still the best choice for a book or an author. An author might chose that path for personal reasons, like wanting to win on the hardest setting. Or a particular book (say, middle grade) may not fare well in the indie market, because traditional publishing still has a lock on paper distribution, where most middle grade books are discovered (for now). I respect any author deciding to pursue publication by any means - it's a brave, fine thing you are doing. Each author has to decide for themselves what their goals are, what will make them happy, and how to go about that. (Note: Hugh and Chuck BOTH are hybrid authors).
But these days, I'm leaning toward Indie First advocacy. Why? I'm not saying, "I did it this way; you should too." I'm saying, "I see far more writers paying the bills with their indie publishing than in trad-publishing."
And when I see people living their dreams with indie publishing, and I don't speak out about that? It feels like pulling up the drawbridge after me. And that's the last thing I want to do.
The revolutionary idea here is that, in 2013, starting with indie publishing may give you a better chance overall of making money with your writing.
And that's something worth advocating.
Because being indie doesn't mean going it alone.