A question on a forum I hang out at asked if people planned to publish their stories through traditional publishing methods or indie publishing (also known as self-published). It got me to thinking about just what it means to make the decision between the two, so I decided that I would do some more looking into this.
Note to game designers, you should read this as well, since as a hopeful game designer my focus here will be on the pros and cons that would hit both fields.
Why do people seek traditional publishing for their work?
Traditional publishers, rather for novels or games, bring a level of respectability. For many long years we have been trained to think that, if you were a writer, you needed to have an editor to make your writing worth reading, and a publisher that could find people that would pay for a copy of your work.
I think this process was best summarized by John Steinbeck in a letter to his friend Pascal “Pat” Covici:
As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions—editors, publishers, critics, copyreaders, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.
The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.
No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.
The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.
It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?
You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.
Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.
The book’s too long. Costs are up. We’ll have to charge five dollars for it. People won’t pay five dollars. They won’t buy it.
My last book was short. You said then that people won’t buy a short book.
The chronology is full of holes. The grammar has no relation to English. On page so and so you have a man look in the World Almanac for steamship rates. They aren’t there. I checked. You’ve got the Chinese New Year wrong. The characters aren’t consistent. You describe Liza Hamilton one way and then have her act a different way.
You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.
My grandfather did.
Who’ll believe it.
No children ever talked like that.
WRITER (losing temper as a refuge from despair)
God damn it. This is my book. I’ll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?
Let’s see if we can’t fix it up. It won’t be much work. You want it to be good, don’t you? For instance, the ending. The reader won’t understand it.
Yes, but the reader won’t.
My God, how you do dangle a participle. Turn to page so and so.
There you are, Pat. You came in with a box of glory and there you stand with an arm full of damp garbage.
And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He is called The Reader.
He is so stupid you can’t trust him with an idea.
He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
He will not buy short books.
He will not buy long books.
He is part moron, part genius and part ogre.
There is some doubt as to whether he can read.
When a writer sends his work to be published in a traditional manner, he is opening up to the world of critiques and requests for changes that will make his vision better fit to the desires of the publisher. One of the reasons I see people give for why they chose to self-publish their work is to maintain the freedom to do what they want with their story and not have an editor or publisher tell them that it has to be changed in some way if they want it to be published.
Writers have suffered this attack on their creativity for many long years because it was an accepted understanding that you had to be published by a traditional publishing house if you wanted to be a writer. Writers, real ones, simply did not publish their work on their own.
I think, having watched the debates over the years, that it was first seeded in the days of the vanity presses. Companies sprang up and advertised in writing magazines that if a writer sent them their story and a set amount of money, then the vanity press would print, bind, and send back a certain number of books ready for the writer to sell. Writers were encouraged not to consider such measures, because it meant they paid (usually a lot) for their story to be published. And since they were then responsible for marketing and sales they would most likely only sell a few copies, if any. Writers were urged to work on their stories until they were as perfect as possible, until a publisher would print the books for them.
Today the Internet has made vanity publishing something I rarely hear anymore. Yes, you can still pay to have copies of your book printed, bound, and mailed back to you. Most writers have found better ways. Sites like Amazon, and devices like e-readers, have made it possible for anyone to publish their own books. I have seen books that were put up on a website for people to read, the author gaining “royalties” from the advertising on the side and top of the pages. (I’ve even considered this myself a few times)
So, in today’s world, what are the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs indie publishing?
|Traditional Publishers Means
|Independent Publishing Means
|Advance for bills while you write
||Find money to pay bills so you can write
|A marketing department
||You do the marketing
||Can you draw?
||You need to find stores to sell through
|Could assume a lot of the rights
||You maintain all rights to your story
|They publish books when they are ready to
||Your can publish your story when you want to
|Standards on book quality and content
||You have to decide when your book is ready
There is obviously a lot more to the decision than this, but such topics are not easily condensed into a brief article size. Given how important this decision is, and my own efforts to decide on my own decision, I will give this topic a regular home here, probably its own section in the menu bar.