I was recently pitching an article about the self-publishing phenomenon, and my research for the pitch has led me to a few insights about the "traditional vs. do-it-yourself (DIY)" discussion that seem well worth sharing.
In 2010, my three volume encyclopedia Spaceflight: A Historical Encyclopedia, was published in both print and in a proprietary electronic edition by Greenwood Publishing, an imprint of ABC-CLIO Inc.
Notice there is a 10 year gap between the publication dates — a good indicator of just how much patience and persistence might be necessary in order to find and complete a traditional publishing arrangement.
One other insight from my own situation: in both cases, I initially received a publishing contract from a publisher with whom I could not negotiate a suitable arrangement, and I then signed a deal with a second publisher.
So the traditional route can be very much a long and winding road, with time-consuming detours along the way.
In researching my pitch about DIY book publishing, I came across some wonderful stories about authors who were grateful to see their work in print and pleased with the sense of ownership that self-publishing provides. On the other hand, I also encountered stories of self-published authors who felt disappointed by the failure of their work to succeed financially, or to generate much interest among potential readers.
The take-away? To a very large degree, your satisfaction with self-publishing is directly related to the goals you set for the work at the start. If you want to get your writing read by an audience who can enjoy it or benefit from it, you need to know who those folks are from the beginning — at least in general — and you need to know how to get your work in front of them.
So it seems at least at this point that the most logical reason to choose the DIY approach is to do so only in cases where the work is likely to have a limited but easily identified readership. For example, if someone were writing a history of her local community, it might be logical to self-publish and then market to area residents and organizations...
The Real Deal
So although a lot of people posit the trad vs. self debate as an issue of legitimacy vs. instant gratification, I think the real issue is about the underlying values you have as a writer.
For me, the divide between traditional publishing and self-publishing goes back to the very start of my writing career, when ‘self-publishing’ meant Vanity Press, with visions of driving around with stacks of books in your trunk, selling your precious words by the shovelful in the parking lot at Giants Stadium or something...
Nowadays, with nearly 30 years of seeing my name attached to things I’ve written, and now having the two published books, the sense of satisfaction I feel when I look at my byline in print or online is the result of knowing that having it there represents the faith an editor has placed in my abilities as a writer, or researcher, or reporter.
For me, writing for a “traditional” publisher of any sort of project (book, magazine, online video, etc.) is kind of like wearing the jersey of your favorite team — it’s not just the logo or the colors or the economics of the thing; it’s what it says about the relationship, and how it makes you feel beneath the shirt.
And anything I should eventually choose to self-publish would represent my desire to communicate directly and efficiently with those readers who most want to read that particular writing. Knowing that I am reaching my audience with work whose merits we both recognize would probably be the most compelling argument for me to publish my own work.
So what about you? Would you be willing to ‘hold out’ for a traditional publishing deal even if it meant waiting for years before seeing your work in print (with no assurance along the way that it would necessarily ever happen?) — or are you ready to publish your own book, even if it means settling for a very small readership and maybe no financial return?
Either way, get started today! The longest journey begins with a single step...
© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
And on the same topic: