The pace of change is truly remarkable. Well, at least in the publishing industry, it is. Imagine a long, long time ago––say, 2005. You're at a dinner party and introduce yourself as an author. "Wow, how exciting," your new admirer exclaims. "Who's your publisher?"
"Oh," you begin with trepidation, "I...uh, I published it myself." Your eyes drop to your cocktail as you exhale with embarrassment.
"Oh, I'm sorry," your newly resigned fan says. "You couldn't get a real publisher? How long did you try?"
And so it would go as you try to decide if you should feel pride in your accomplishment as an author or shame in the fact that you had to publish it yourself with a vanity publisher. Before you can decide your new friend has vanished.
But...that was then.
As Bernard Starr recently penned in the Huffington Post, "traditional" publishing is now the new "vanity" publishing. Thanks in large part to Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Lightning Source, among others, it's not only easy to be an author and publisher today, but it's more lucrative to do it yourself. So, why the disdain regarding "self-publishing" (particularly from the establishment of book reviewers, etc.)? Well, in an age when ANYONE can be a publisher or author, ANYONE will be. Not surprisingly, that often results in poor quality as, let's face it, many books/authors were rejected by traditional publishing for a reason.
Having a book published by a traditional publisher does not guarantee success by any stretch of the imagination. What it does guarantee (almost always) is a thorough vetting process to determine that the quality of the writing, formatting and design is of a high-level and worthy of a read. After all, how many self-published authors on Amazon have professionally edited their $.99 books? Not too many, I fear, and it shows. Hence, the reluctance of professional readers to take it seriously.
Why I Self-Publish
As for me, I have published traditionally, twice with McGraw-Hill. Both times it was an excellent experience. My editor was fantastic and the end-result was a very high quality book. But, those were business books. Still, as I demonstrated in those experiences, I'm more than comfortable with both the quality of my writing and the contractual negotiation process required by traditional publishers.
Now, I write for the agrarian community. A community that I have communicated with and cultivated through our Facebook pages (8,000 followers), opt-in email list (11,000) and the Farm-Dreams farmcast (200,000 annual downloads). One of the most valuable things a publisher can offer a new author is access to a market. In my case, I have a platform to start with.
The second reason I embrace self-publishing is speed. I can determine how quickly I want to publish work and when I want to release it. With traditional publishing, if I pitch a concept on January 1 it may be accepted and negotiated by April 1. It will be slated for the spring catalog the following year, meaning fifteen months or so after the pitch. Going alone, I can get that book into readers hands MUCH sooner. As an author, I'm interested first and foremost in the reader experience. I feel that independent publishing helps me to better serve the readers who enjoy my work.
Finally, it is more lucrative (on a margin basis) to self-publisher. This is why you may have heard of authors TURNING DOWN $500,000 advances from traditional publishers to publish on their own. Of course, you will achieve more reach with traditional publishing, no question. But at what cost? That's for each author to decide.
My books are well researched and professionally edited by those currently working for traditional publishers. Then, a cross-representation of beta readers review the manuscript. They assess the story, look for holes in plot or character motives and even assess the font and formatting. Finally, covers are professionally designed for print and eBooks, and, in short, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. If you are a self-published author reading this, PLEASE make that commitment to your work. We owe it to readers and reviewers to produce the highest quality work possible. If you're a reviewer or reader, know that I take this seriously and work hard to make sure you can get lost in the story, and not in the typos.
For me, the choice was easy. I self publish not because I have to, but because I want to.