The Chosen One

To pub­lish tra­di­tion­al­ly or to self-pub­lish?  That seems to be the ques­tion at the fore­front of writ­ers’ minds of late, if the writing/publishing blog-o-sphere is any indi­ca­tion.  I’ve been rumi­nat­ing on the top­ic for the last few weeks, and final­ly decid­ed to set some thoughts down.

The big hoopla right now is, of course, over Aman­da Hocking’s suc­cess.  She’s the poster child for the self– or indie pub­lish­ing route, hav­ing sold over 900,000 copies of her books since 2009, all via Amazon’s Kin­dle.  For us writ­ers not (yet) part of the Old Skool sys­tem, her suc­cess is, we’re told, our suc­cess.  What she’s done, we can do.  No Big Six Hous­es need apply.  Right?


One of my favorite entre­pre­neurs and mar­ket­ing mavens, Seth Godin, took a recent dive into the Indie Pub­lish­ing fray (he swims in it reg­u­larly):  “Reject the Tyran­ny of Being Picked:  Pick Your­self.” In it he posits that the big pub­lish­ers, “… the gatekeepers–the pickers–are reel­ing, los­ing pow­er and fad­ing away. What are you going to do about it?

It’s a cul­tural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the per­mis­sion and author­ity that comes from a pub­lisher or talk show host or even a blog­ger say­ing, ‘I pick you.’ Once you reject that impulse and real­ize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charm­ing has cho­sen anoth­er house–then you can actu­ally get to work.”

As much as I reg­u­lar­ly love Mr. Godin’s insights, I’m not sure this one works for me.  There are many excel­lent rea­son authors seek to be pub­lished by tra­di­tional hous­es, ones that go far beyond “it’s the way it’s always been done,” or hav­ing an “author­ity” val­i­date their work.  In fact, being cho­sen by an agent, an edi­tor, a pub­lish­ing house … that’s only part of the equa­tion.  Authors also choose.  And that’s what turns the process into a part­ner­ship.

The world of tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing is pop­u­lated by peo­ple who know what has sold, what is sell­ing, and what will prob­a­bly sell in the future.  They know how to sell.  It’s their job to know, and it’s that acu­men, that abil­ity to spot good–or at least entertaining–stories, and get spines on shelves that com­pletes the loop, secur­ing them, their hous­es, the agen­cies and the authors a pay­check.  That’s their CV.  That’s how we choose them.

Tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing brings some­thing to the table.  It seems to me that it’s up to the author to decide if what a house offers is right for them.

Ms. Hock­ing just signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press.  On her blog, she explained:

Tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing and indie pub­lish­ing aren’t all that dif­fer­ent, and I don’t think peo­ple real­ize that. Some books and authors are best sell­ers, but most aren’t. It may be eas­ier to self-pub­lish than it is to tra­di­tion­ally pub­lish, but in all hon­esty, it’s hard­er to be a best sell­er self-pub­lish­ing than it is with a house.”

As far as I can tell, pub­lish­ing no longer has to be either traditional/or self-.   It can be a both/and depend­ing on what the author wants out of it.  We’re in an age of pub­lish­ing options, and those options are grow­ing every minute. There seems to be no right answer, there seems only to be the answer that is right for you when the time is right.

What’s impor­tant to you?  What draws you toward self-pub­lish­ing, indie pub­lish­ing or tra­di­tional hous­es?  What makes you shy from one or the oth­er?  What do you want out of pub­lish­ing?  I’d real­ly love to know.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kath Jeremy Franklin
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 15:57:59

    Why lim­it your­self, I say. The options exist and they all seem to be flour­ish­ing. The bet­ter ques­tion may be, which avenue aligns more close­ly with your own vision of being a pub­lished author, and which one will serve your needs? Not only do large hous­es have the acu­men (as you say), the struc­ture of a pipeline, but they also have a great love for words and sto­ries — a team for you to join, hope­ful­ly with skilled edi­tors. Maybe a skilled and sea­soned men­tor or two? And on the oth­er hand, self pub­lish­ing could be an impor­tant way to get noticed by said big hous­es. I am a fan of options, and keep­ing them open. I guess I will know more when I fin­ish my own writ­ing project.


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