Which is best, to self-publish your book or go with a traditional publisher?
My answer is always: “Depends.” (And no, I don’t mean those undergarments for the elderly.) IMO it depends on the type of book and the writer. Over the years I’ve run into many men and women who have written a memoir. The story might be theirs or it might be an ancestor’s, but each writer is sure it should be a book. Thing is, as important and interesting as this story might be to the writer, a traditional publisher is going to ask who, other than the writer’s relatives and friends, will buy the book. If it’s less than 5,000 people, it’s doubtful any publisher (especially the larger publishing houses) would even consider the story. There are exceptions, of course. Memoirs about a well known person or a story with an element that an editor feels will catch readers’ interest. Most memoirs probably should be self-published and given to friends and family. It’s a great way to preserve family history. And nowadays that’s easy to do through e-books and Amazon’s
Create Space. No more having to go through a vanity press, pay for the book to be published, and figure out where to store the 1,000 copies you had to buy.
Same with non-fiction craft and hobby books that might have a limited audience. With publishing houses, it’s the numbers that are important. They’re out to make a profit. So niche books, especially in cases where the writer knows how to make the book available to the people connected with that craft or hobby (such as craft shops and organizations that promote the hobby), might do best if self-published.
But what about fiction?
Here’s where I start to question the wisdom of self-publishing. First off, I wonder what it was about the manuscript that didn’t interest an editor. I’ve picked up way too many self-published books that needed serious editing. This occurs even though the writer says s/he paid an editor to edit the book. (Many are just plain boring, often due to wordiness or repetitions, and some are riddled with grammar and spelling errors as well as errors in facts.) I’m not sure if an editor who’s paid by the writer will be totally honest. If I’m charging the writer $3 a page, will I tell the writer s/he sucks?
What’s really bad about these poorly written self-published books is they make readers wary of all self-published books.
So how does a writer get a publisher? The NY publishing houses are looking for blockbusters (so they can take home big salaries) and are impossible to break into without an agent, but I think it’s always worth the effort to try them, and if you don’t succeed, there are lots of small publishing houses that offer editing and will pay the writer (maybe not much) to publish a book. They’ll work with the writer to make sure the book is well
written. (Their reputation depends on it.)
Also, once a writer self-publishes a novel, how does s/he get it out to the public? Yes, PR has become a necessity for all writers, but at least a publishing house can give the book a wider distribution, often sends a catalogue to bookstores and libraries across the continent, and can get it looked at by the big name reviewers.
We hear success stories of self-published writers who sell millions of books or do really well from their sales. We always hope we’ll be one of those writers, but I’ve noticed a lot of the successful ones are very savvy PR people who spend a lot of time promoting their books. Not all writers are like that. I know I’m not.
I think it’s great that we have self-publishing as an option, and that it’s now easier to do, less expensive and has more exposure, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to go if you’re writing fiction. At least not until you’ve exhausted all other options.
What do you think?