The self-pub v. traditional publishing “debate”

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This is making the rounds, so let me offer my view:  Anyone who tells you they have the way to becoming a successful writer is selling you snake oil.  Further, such a person is probably preying on your dreams/ambitions for their own purposes.

Consider:  there are many writers who’ve had success with self-publishing.  Too, there are many writers who’ve had success with traditional publishing.  So what can we conclude?  Well, nothing.

Joe Konrath appears to have had great success as a self published author, so you should do what he’s done, right?  Otherwise you’re stupid.  But wait, George R.R. Martin has had enormous success via traditional publishing, so you should do what he’s done, right?  Otherwise you’re stupid.

You see?  There is no secret sauce.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.  Every writer’s path is different.  Always.  Forever.  A successful writing career for each successful writer isn’t built on the story delivery mechanism. That’s incidental.  It’s built on an idiosyncratic blend of talent, luck, timing, and perseverance.  And the blend that works for you (or for me or anyone else) is going to be unique, and anyone who preaches that their way is the right way just pegs themselves as a fool.

I look around the industry today and see lots of interesting things happening.  Matt Forbeck is doing exciting things with Kickstarter, self-publishing, and traditional publishing.  Likewise Chuck Wendig, Tobias Buckell, and Jim C. Hines.  All are successful by any measure of the term, but the way each got there was different and none of them purport to be dispensing wisdom from on high about how you should get there (I also try to avoid those kinds of pronouncements, for the record).  And that’s as it should be.

Look, it’s a great time to be a writer.  Lots of interesting things are happening in the marketplace.  So drink it in and figure out what’s right for you.  But beware the prophets of the One True Way.

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve been making this point for quite a while. My latest blog was about how there are many road to Oz, and Oz means different things to many people. I’ve had great success in both traditional publishing and self-publishing, outselling most of those names you list above.
    I do draw the line though at Mr. Buckell calling people a profane name on a blog with comments disabled. I pretty much much put him in the camp of those he lashed out at.

  2. Agreed on all counts. I think a big part of the problem with the current climate, though, is third parties attributing “One True Way” demagoguery to authors who really aren’t trying to take on that role. Konrath has never said “There’s only way to success and if you do what i do, you’ll be successful,” yet there’s a whole lot of people accusing him of such. I think the one salient point that he, Dean Wesley Smith, and others have made is that the current period of change in publishing is one that breeds fear. That climate of fear is the bigger culprit behind this increasingly rancorous debate.

    • Oh, I don’t know about that. If not Konrath in particular (I haven’t read his blog in a long time, so I don’t know what he’s been saying recently), certainly there are lots of proponents of self-publishing who claim that “legacy” publishing is for fools.

      • He’s not saying it’s guarantees success.

        But he is very clearly saying it’s the smart way, and any other way is the author smacking himself in the face.

        — c.

  3. I know there self-publishing proponents who do say so; i just don’t think they’re in the majority of the self-publishing writers who are saying “This is my experience, come to your own conclusions.” Barry Eisler actually has a good guest post that just appeared on Konrath’s blog, where he talks about this very subject. It’s worth a read, but to quote:

    “In fact, I can think of many legitimate reasons an author might want to go the legacy route (and the self-publishing, and Amazon-publishing ones, too), and here’s an online conversation I did with Amanda Hocking and agent Ted Weinstein discussing several of them. I’ve repeatedly said that for me, publishing is a business, not an ideology, and I don’t think it’s legitimate to criticize someone’s tactics without first understanding his objectives. The key is not your chosen means (legacy, self, Amazon), but rather the degree to which those means maximize your chances of achieving your objectives.”

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