This past year while promoting my latest two books, Boys and Sammie & Budgie, I was asked quite a lot during interviews, “Would I go with a traditional publisher for my next book?” Having taken the indie route and self-published some of my fiction work, I initially thought this question to be intriguing. Could I relinquish all the control I have as a self-publisher and opt for a traditional publisher to take control of my new book’s life? My initial response was, “Sure! Why not?” Then on further reflection, my thought was, “Well, I don’t know.” What a conundrum!
I decided to research this issue and I found that there were drastically different opinions on this: traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Many authors still tout the traditional publishing model as the best way to go, particularly if you want to be taken “seriously” as a writer. One author, Ros Barber, declared that she’d rather starve as a traditionally published author than risk appearing amateurish as a self-published author. Another author, Hugh Howey, favored self-publishing because he spent less time jumping through the hoops of the traditional system and instead published straight to the “real” gatekeepers: the readers. Both writers have a point. Ultimately, aren’t they both trying to accomplish the same thing? They both have the desire to be published writers. Arguing about the method of publishing is like arguing about the best way to get from Texas to California: budget airplane ticket or expensive automobile. Would you rather fly cheaply or drive an expensive car? Who cares! I just want to get to California. Most writers just want to publish their work for the world to read.
I think the better approach to this dilemma is to figure out other factors that influence the writer in you. Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Or do you like to focus only on writing? Does marketing your books sound appealing to you or does it make your brain hurt? Does graphic design and typesetting sound fun or does it turn you off? How involved do you want to be with the life of your book? Do you want to give it to a publisher then walk away, trusting that they have editors and graphic designers and marketers? Or do you want to follow it down the long tail of its distribution, getting involved with the book cover design as well as marketing and promotion? Like discovering your love language for a successful romantic relationship, figuring out some of these personality traits in your writer-self will be important in deciding the publishing route you should pursue.
For me personally, I had another career that grew in tandem with my writing career: webmaster. In all the years of designing websites, I acquired many different skills and a lot of computer application expertise. Graphic design? Yes, I have extensive experience with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Typesetting and fonts? Yes, I have experience with Adobe Acrobat Professional. HTML? Well, of course, I’m a webmaster! Did you know that the ePub format of eBooks uses HTML and CSS as formatting? I discovered this while learning how to create eBooks. I also discovered that many of the skills and tools I learned as a webmaster translated to creating eBooks and formatting paperbacks. Create styles for formatting the HTML in an ePub? Turns out I knew how to do that. Embedding fonts in a PDF for on-demand printing? Turns out I knew how to do that, too. Self-publishing was a path I could nimbly pursue, using the skills I developed as a webmaster as the skills I needed to publish books, whether as eBooks or in print. What if you do not have these skills and are reluctant to acquire these skills BUT you still have that entrepreneurial spirit? Then delegate these things to skilled contractors. Although self-publishing sounds complicated, there is a wealth of information on the internet to help you as well as professionals–graphic designers, editors, proofreaders, and promoters–willing to perform some of the publishing tasks at very reasonable rates. Does this sound daunting to you and you just want to write? Then maybe traditional publishing is the way to go for you. Time to start writing those query letters!
Or, you may turn out to be a hybrid author, one who pursues traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. I fit more into this category as I have had work published in literary journals as well as major-city newspapers and alternative weeklies. I had a literary agent pursue a deal with a non-fiction humor book. I’ve written hundreds of query letters. I’ve received paychecks from publishing companies. And, I’ve published books through my own imprint: Mutt Press. I know everything about the publishing process from writing to editing to proofing to typesetting to book cover design to print layouts to eBook coding to book distribution to marketing and promotion and… WHEW! Would I accept a traditional publishing deal now? Sure! I have a lot to offer a traditional publisher and would make a great partner. Would not getting a traditional publishing deal keep me from publishing books in the future? No, I’ve successfully done it on my own.
Look, I understand that most of the articles you’ll read on the internet about traditional publishing versus self-publishing are, at their core, about monetizing your books. People really are curious about writing books as a career. And why not? Sounds like a fun career. Scott Semegran, bestselling author. Has a nice ring to it, right? But let me tell you, if what you want is to make money, then a writing career is not really the best choice. I mean, there are thousands of easier ways to make money than writing books. And even traditionally published author Ros Barber decries her financially depressing writing career while peering at the self-publishers of the world with her jaundiced world-view. Even so, she wants to write, as a lot of us do. We, at our core, are creative creatures. Creating art, writing books, playing music–these pursuits are what make us human. And to debate about the best way to make money while creating art is like putting the horse in front of the cart, or debating about the best mode of transportation when arriving at your destination is really the point. Business-class airline? Or a convertible with a manual transmission? Who cares… the goal is CALIFORNIA!
The world needs more writers, whether it’s in fiction or non-fiction or journalism or bloggers or whatever. And, right now, there has never been a better time to be a writer because the paths to publishing have never been greater–EVER! If you have a love for writing and you have a dedication to the craft of writing, then I am certain that sometime in your future, a financial incentive may present itself. And most successful writers will tell you this: love writing first. There’s nothing more important that I could impart to you than that. But just as important, there are multiple ways to accomplish becoming a writer. Going to graduate school at an elite university will not magically turn you into Michael Chabon. Inversely, simply uploading a manuscript to Amazon KDP for the world to read will not transform you into Amanda Hocking. You have to put in the work to develop your mastery of writing, however you decide to accomplish that.
So, what publishing path are you going to pursue: traditional publishing or self-publishing? Whether you decide to write query letters to literary agents or create a Lulu account and upload your manuscript, just get to it. What are you waiting for? Fulfill your dream. Be a writer. I look forward to seeing you on a bestseller list someday.
Scott Semegran lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, four kids, two cats, and a dog. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. He is a writer and a cartoonist. He can also bend metal with his mind and run really fast, if chased by a pack of wolves. His comic strips have appeared in the following newspapers: The Austin Student, The Funny Times, The Austin American-Statesman, Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, Seven Days, The University of Texas at Dallas Mercury, and The North Austin Bee. Books by Scott Semegran include Sammie & Budgie, Boys, The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood, The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, Modicum, Mr. Grieves and more. He is a Kindle bestselling author.
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