As I posted on my blog last month, I have been strongly considering starting my writing career by self-publishing my first book instead of trying to traditionally publish it. My reasons are varied for that decision, but it all stemmed from the research I’ve done into the topic. Beyond the consistently soul-crushing experience of submitting your manuscript, my resources also lamented about the lack of unilateral marketing and promotional support, perhaps one of traditional publishing’s greatest benefits in the past. When compared to the portion of the revenues a traditional publisher will take, it seemed foolish to give up so much money in return for little more than a publisher’s seal of approval (which arguably is a worthwhile benefit, in itself).
My wife, a librarian, remains an proponent of traditionally published works. Rightly so, she feels that published work is more refined, more polished and usually more professional. While there are a multitude of incredibly talented and successful self-published authors, the ability to self-publish you own novel removes a lot of traditional gatekeepers (agents & editors in particular) that ensured only well-published works ever saw print. She has read enough poorly written and horribly edited self-published works to convince her that this was the common level of quality for much of the available library of self-published works.
For myself, it has always come down to a number of factors. As a new writer, I’m of course terrified of rejection. However, as a niche writer (Steampunk is not as lucrative as say.. YA Fantasy or Romance) I am already resigned to a certain level of rejection. Plus, I also see the inherent benefit of having professional agents and editors reviewing your work, even if it ends with them not pursuing it. The onus on me is to selectively pick the agents I contact so that I am not being reviewed for the quality of my work, not the genre I write within. More importantly. having marketing support has always been a big draw for me and the realization that new SF/F writers rarely get much true support from publishers and are left to promote their novel by themselves was a huge disappointment for me and one of the prime reasons I’d moved more deeply into the self-publishing camp. Finally, I’ve always though there was a sort of romance to self-publishing -forging your own destiny, independent on any other agency- that really appealed to me.
That being said, my thoughts on the subject are still in flux. Every author craves validation and being traditionally published certainly carries with it a definite enormous amount of literary cache. I cannot deny that I would really like that, even if it means I forsaking control of my own destiny. Furthermore, having representation can be essential if you works truly become popular and having an experienced professional working to promote my interests would be a definite boon.
I recently read an article by Chuck Sambuchino on the subject of self-publishing where he makes a number of keen observations about the perils of prematurely self-publishing. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already suspect and luckily his advice (try traditional publishing first) was already something I was planning on doing at first, at least while I build up my marketing platform (an endeavor I’ve been working on for the better part of a year now). The best advice in the column is when he discusses the danger of attempting to self-publish and failing, then taking your manuscript to an agent; there is a message that sends and it’s one I’d very much prefer to avoid sending. I strongly suggest reading it.
For me, it all comes down to this: I just want to get this book out there, into the wild and wide world. It’s certainly been a long time coming and I really don’t care if its traditionally published or self-published. However, like a proud parent, I want the best for my manuscript. For the most part, I still believe that traditional publishing will give me the greatest opportunities for my novel(s).
For the time, I’m going to step back and take a deep breath. My target goal right now is simply to complete the manuscript. It’s frustrating I’ve been so close for so long now, but I have faith I’ll get to that point soon. That’s not to say that this is not important nor something to be actively considering. The same would go for marketing. These considerations must be made before the novel is finished, but I’ve given myself ample time to make decisions and I am confident in my current course, for publishing and for marketing. This gives me enough room currently to breath.