Over the past 10 or so years working in publishing, I’ve watched self-publishing go from being the unwanted step-child in the publishing world to a full-fledged member of the family. Where there used to only be a stigma and a subtle pressure to pursue another path, now there are hundreds of blogs like ours (though of course I think ours is one of the best!) which offer assistance, support, encouragement, and resources to self-publishing authors of all shapes and sizes. It’s hard to believe now, but for a long time it looked as if self-publishing was doomed to be nothing more than a passing fad–a product of its time, not a shaper of the future.
Luckily for everyone, we know better now.
The statistics don’t lie! More and more people choose self-publishing every year, including authors that were traditionally published in the past. Many authors are finding that the freedom of self-publishing is like a breath of fresh air, a way to retain rights and privileges which we didn’t even know, once upon a time, that were ours to do battle for. But with traditional publishing so far in the hole–financially, and sometimes even ethically–an increasing number of hopefuls are taking inventory of their options and discovering the rich, diverse, and author-centric notion of self-publishing.
It doesn’t even have to be an either-or proposition, these days! Yes, many authors start out as traditionally published midlist authors and turn to self-publishing for the rights, privileges, and creative control. Authors looking to experiment with form or push the boundaries of genre are frequently among this number. But there’s also a goodly number of authors who start out as self-published authors and move into the world of traditional publishing once they prove that their books can sustain the kind of financial and editorial pressures that the Big Five inevitably exert. It doesn’t hurt that these authors are usually a little older, a little wiser for their self-publishing experience, and they drive hard bargains in their author contracts with the traditional publishing houses.
But there’s also a messy, all-over-the-place third group of authors–authors who maybe start in one camp and move to the other, then back, then dabble in something else altogether, and who don’t feel tethered to any one kind of “successful trajectory” with their publishing process. This is the future, I think. This is what I like to see. These are authors who know what they want, and who are willing to “shop around,” so to speak, and create a publishing experience which suits them and not some third party. If we want to hold traditional publishing accountable–this is the future. If we want to keep competition high and costs low in self-publishing–this is the future. If we want to keep satisfying our ever-increasingly-voracious reading public satiated with fresh, unexpected, and diverse literature–this is the future.
And yes, the future is messy.
But then, any mother of toddlers or teenagers could tell you that.
For now, it looks like the way forward is to keep demanding those aspects of publishing which benefit the authors the most. With self-publishing, authors keep their book rights, control what changes are made to their book and/or title and keep more of their book royalties than if they choose to publish through a traditional publishing house. Traditional publishing, on the other hand, still packs a mighty wallop in terms of distribution reach and marketing muscle–although, it must be stated, that this is a gap which is rapidly being closed by self-publishing companies looking to expand their portfolios and service offerings. Self-publishing is now an option that is embraced by much of the publishing community, and while self-publishers are learning rapidly from their traditional forbears–after all, they came into being as a direct response to the failures of the Big Five–the traditional publishing houses are slowly but steadily learning from these smaller, more nimble, more innovative cousins.
I guess what I’m saying is … there’s a lot to look forward to in the world of publishing as we stare down the long path into the 2020s. Yes, it’s a messy future. But it’s a future with plenty of room for me and you.
You are not alone. ♣︎