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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