Last week, I shared a post on Facebook (dating from March 2016, so it wasn’t new) from the Guardian’s Books Blog by Ros Barber who explained why she doesn’t want to self-publish. It was in response to the many comments she received on her own blog following a post she’d made about the derisory incomes authors earn these days, even those who are traditionally published. She was making the point that we’re not all offered the six-figure advances that many readers think we are. (Heck, we’re not always offered an advance at all these days!)
She was inundated with recommendations that she should self-publish instead, so she used the Guardian’s blog to explain why she doesn’t want to do this.
The comments people posted on my Facebook timeline, having read this shared post, were really interesting. I was intrigued by how the debate developed. Some people commented that traditional publishing was good, self-publishing was bad, while others argued the opposite.
As a writer who’s been on the UK bestseller lists with a traditionally-published book (and written several other traditionally-published books), and one who has also self-published some of his work, I am a little surprised at how polarising the debate became. It was as if you could be one, but not the other.
Hybrid authors are those who do both (and, indeed, the next piece in my Business of Writing column in the October issue of Writing Magazine tackles this very subject).
of course, here are pros and cons to both. One form of publication is not the panacea we all dream of.
I take the attitude that it all depends upon the particular project that I’m working on, the market it fits into, and how big the potential audience. It’s a lot easier to self-publish (and market) non-fiction. Marketing fiction is more challenging, but that goes for both self-publishers and traditional publishers.
I spent three weeks on the UK bestseller lists with One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human because it was traditionally published by Hodder & Stoughton, who not only had the distribution systems to get it into Waterstones branches, but also the ability to get it placed by the till points.
When it came to deciding what to do with my The Complete Article Writer, I tried to interest traditional publishers, but most felt that the market wasn’t big enough for them to make a decent profit from the venture. So I opted to self-published. Have I been on the bestseller lists with this? No. But then I don’t have an entire marketing department pushing this out into every possible outlet. Have I sold several hundred copies of this book? Yes. Copies that I wouldn’t have sold (and income I wouldn’t have earned) had I given up when the traditional publishers said no.
There’s no right or wrong way to be published, only a right or wrong way for you, for this particular writing project. Publishing isn’t binary.
But, perhaps, what I found even more interesting, is that fact that nobody commented on another Guardian book blog I shared immediately prior to this post about the pernicious discounting of books.