There seems to be a fairly common misconception that traditionally published writers are “against” self-publishing aka indie publishing, dismiss it, don’t understand it, are afraid of it, etc.
I assume that erroneous impression is created by the most-discussed, most-visible (and most misinformed) commentaries from traditionally published authors—the comments that characterize self-publishing as destroying literature, books, publishing, and civilization itself!
However, speaking as a traditionally published writer (I’ve sold about 30 books to about half a dozen publishers over the years and am currently under contract), most of us are a lot smarter than that—indeed, most of us have had to be very smart to survive (let alone occasionally thrive) for years in traditional publishing.
More to the point, most of us are self-publishing. We’re elbow-deep in it, and we’re very excited about it. Indeed, Novelists, Inc. (Ninc), the professional writing organization I belong to, has focused much of its annual conference and its monthly journal, Nink (for which I’m a columnist), on self-publishing for the past 2-3 years—precisely because it’s such an important avenue for the working writer.
By way of disclosure, I was very skeptical about self-publishing in 2009, when strangers first started talking about it to me, precisely because I had by then endured 20 years meeting people who knew absolutely nothing about the business, telling me that by spending $12,000 to vanity-publish their novel (so they could corner total strangers like me and urge us to buy it), they were making a much smarter choice than I was by licensing my books for decent money to publishing corporations with national distribution. The fact that, of the two of us in those conversations, I was always the one making my full-time living as a writer and they were always deep in the $ hole, rarely altered their position. That sort of consistent experience for 20 years does make you a tad skeptical the next time someone with shaky social skills turns up and starts screeching at you about how their self-publishing venture is brilliant and you’re just an idiot—a dinosaur! a house slave! a tragic wretch! a Whore of Babylon!
By mid-2010, though, I personally knew several experienced pros (my dad, Mike Resnick, being one of them) who were electronically self-publishing their reverted backlists and making good money that way, which took care of my skepticism. So I started researching how to do this myself, and I self-published my first backlist book in January of 2011, followed by 17 more backlist books, with 4-5 still left in my production queue now. After those remaining titles are e-published, I plan to experiment with self-publishing frontlist (as well as with POD, producing some audio editions, crowdfunding, and other exciting possibilities).
I also intend to keep licensing books to my traditional publisher, DAW Books, where I am very happy—and where I have, in fact, just signed a contract for four more books.
A lot of traditionally-published authors are self-publishing, and have been doing so for 2-3 years now. Most of the writers I know, which is hundreds (alas!), are self-publishing.
Here’s a typical example of why self-publishing is such a great development for the traditionally published author:
- In 2010, the earning life and market potential of all my backlist books was completely over. Nothing of mine released prior to 2009 was in print, none of it was earning a penny anywhere, and none of it was realistically viable for re-sale to publishers. And in traditional publishing, this was a typical position for a writer. Few people besides bestsellers had a backlist that stayed in print and earning for more than a few years.
- In 2011, I started self-publishing those backlist novels as ebooks—and promptly started earning income from them again, as well as hearing from new readers who’d never found my work before.
- In 2012, these same books, which had been dormant for years, accounted for one-third of my annual income as a full-time self-supporting writer, and they were a crucial factor in my being able to buy a house last year.
This is a typical example of why every traditionally published author with the sense that the gods gave to overcooked broccoli (and that’s most of us) is thrilled to death with self-publishing and elbow-deep in our own self-publishing programs.
A friend of mine who I helped walk through the early steps of self-publishing backlist gave me an extremely generous housewarming gift when I moved into this house in October, due to having made more from self-published backlist sales last year than from frontlist publishing advances. Another friend of mine earned over $40,000 in two months with a couple of backlist books that soared up the ebook charts. Still another friend of mine earned $25,000 in three months with just one old backlist book. A number of my friends made more money on their self-pubbed backlists in 2011 or in 2012 than they’ve ever made, in a given year, from their traditional publishing careers.
So of course we love self-publishing!
And that’s just backlist. Just the old books that were just lying around on the couch eating brownies and pizza all day, not earning their keep anymore—until the e-volution!
Another crucial way that self-publishing is good for writers who work with publishers is that now we can publish and earn from everything we write. No more projects will sit gathering dust in a trunk for years (as, for example, my Esther Diamond series did) because no publisher wants it. Therefore, many of us have new projects we’re working on which we have not focused on before because we knew we wouldn’t be able to sell them to publisher. This is what we do for a living, so we usually couldn’t afford to spend months writing something we knew wouldn’t get a contract. Now, however, everything we want to write has earning potential and can be marketed directly to readers, so we have more creative freedom and more earning potential than we’ve ever had before. We love this!
Also, precisely because we have more options for earning income with our work now, we’re in a much stronger negotiating position with publishers than we ever were before. Unless you were a bestseller or had a very hot project that multiple houses really wanted, a publisher negotiating with you always knew that you were extremely unlikely to walk away, because you couldn’t risk not earning income by deciding that something was a dealbreaker. Now, however, we always have another viable option, and that puts us in a much better position in negotiations. Publishers have been slow to recognize this, but we are now seeing the first faint glimmers of reality beginning to dawn on the industry and certain “non-negotiable” and “industry standard” clauses s-t-a-r-t-i-n-g to shift slightly in some instances. (It’s a process…)
So whenever some poorly-informed writer with a big media megaphone claims that self-publishing is destroying literature, I ask you to keep in mind that such statements are no more representative of traditionally published writers than is a statement by some politician claiming that women don’t actually want equal rights and equal pay.
* Housekeeping note: This isn’t my actual website (yet). It’s my practice site for learning WordPress, with which I keep meaning to rebuild my actual website. (Actually, now that I’ve committed blog here, I guess this is my blog.) My actual website, which has no blogging or commenting functions until I get around to rebuilding it, is at: http://lauraresnick.com/