For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be a writer, and I have been. If you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and words flow out into story or poetry or screenplay form, you’re a writer. I never had dreams of being a traditionally published writer, at least not in the sense of doing book tours. I just wanted to be able to hold my book in my hands and know other people are reading it. Not long ago, I showed one of my friends my proof copy of The Reanimator’s Heart, and they said something along the lines of “It’s a shame no traditional publisher has snapped you up yet.”
It sort of took me aback because I haven’t had the desire to be traditionally published in a long time. I haven’t even tried because, frankly, I don’t want to. There’s a multitude of reasons as to why I haven’t tried to be traditionally published after self-publishing seven, almost eight books. I think a lot of people see self-publishing as a sort of last resort or desperation route, but for a lot of us, this is the way we have purposely chosen to go and will continue to go. If you’re curious as to why I have decided to forgo the traditional route, here are some reasons:
- Traditional publishing is imploding/turning into a monopoly. If you follow book Twitter or have read business news, you might have seen how the big 5 has become the big 4 and is inching toward the big 3. This is terrible for competition, editors, diversity, agents, and of course, authors. The whole trial regarding the merger has further soured my feelings toward publishing as the administrators are acting like they have no idea how the industry works, which could be them playing dumb or actual ignorance on their part. Neither of which fills me with hope. On top of this, smaller publishers or imprints get gobbled up or shut down in order to funnel money into the larger publishers.
- Advances are getting smaller and more spread out. Is the money in traditional publishing worth it? If I was able to not work between books, yeah. At this point, most writers are making less than money than they did ten years ago in terms of advances. They tend to be smaller and have gone from being in three parts to five parts, which means you get less money over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, bills do not wait for your five part advance. At this point, my monthly growing income from my books is more reliable, and in the future, the hope is that my monthly income will be enough to live off. The sad fact is that traditional publishing is also becoming less livable.
- Publishing with a small press can be a good way to screw yourself over. The biggest issue is they tend to implode. We saw this happen a lot during the mid 2010s with queer romance publishers. They started to fold, stopped paying authors, ghosted them, and then wouldn’t give them their rights back. I saw this happen to multiple people. The other issue is that some smaller presses don’t do a very good job. Someone I know published with a university press and the book cover was horrible. I am not a stellar graphic artist, and I could have done better. They looked like they were made in paint by someone who gave zero shits. I cannot imagine they did any marketing for these books, yet they still collected this author’s royalties and did them no favors by giving them an unmarketable product with a genre-ambivalent cover. Being set up for failure by someone else in order to be recognized as “traditionally published” by the establishment feels pointless.
- My book lives and dies by my choices if I self-publish. The big takeaway here is my choices. I pick the cover, I make the blurb, I market the book, etc. I don’t have to worry about someone else picking a hideously ugly cover or doing no marketing for my book. If the market changes, I can buy a new cover for my book, I can alter the blurb at a moment’s notice, and I can set up ads for my books whenever I want. I don’t have to have my marketing blessed by authorities, and best of all, I can rant about whatever I’m working on because I don’t have an NDA stopping me. Do traditional publishers have a longer reach in terms of marketing? Sometimes, but with new authors who aren’t being promoted as they next big thing, not really. Publishers are getting cheaper and cheaper with marketing and small presses don’t do a whole lot in that regard.
- The immediacy of self-publishing and lack of gatekeeping. I can literally finish proofing my book and slap it online as soon as I’m done. I don’t have to wait 1-2 years for it to trickle through the system and that’s after potentially waiting years for an agent to think I’m worthy of their time. Everything in self-publishing is on my schedule, and if I need to take longer due to unforeseen circumstances, I can. Part of why I initially started self-publishing was to avoid the gatekeeping in traditional publishing. Back in 2014, publishers were trying to straight-wash queer media, and while that’s less common in 2022, we definitely still see certain marginalized stories get pushed to the sidelines or not get marketing. If I want to write a trans character or an autistic characters, no one can tell me the character makes the book unmarketable.
I could go on about more minute reasons, but these are probably the top five reasons as to why I’ve decided to continue self-publishing and not really look at traditional publishing. It just isn’t worth the time and energy investment when I can do a lot of the same things myself and reap the benefits without having to pay a middle man. Plus, self-publishing is a viable option in terms of being able to live off your writing. Nothing is a guarantee, but it’s something to work toward, especially after seeing other self-published authors find success.