Last week I declared my reluctant independence from traditional publishing, which,, to be honest, was a little like saying, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” In the meanwhile, I’ve been reflecting on that decision and have stumbled upon several revelations that I’m sure were long ago discovered by those who have made the switch before me. First off, I’ve realized the majority of my reluctance was driven by ego, an adherence to tradition, and a prejudice driven home by legacy publishers and its authors including myself. I’d not only accepted but had deeply inculcated the notion that independent publishing was merely an exercise in vanity and that no other model was acceptable. In truth, the more egregious act of vanity is to suggest that the old paradigm is the only acceptable one and those who find alternative methods are somehow inferior. Whether it has been arrived at through a self-serving reassessment driven by necessity or it is the result of research and recent experiences, I now see the ignorance and outdated nature of my earlier thinking.
This is not to say, however, that the traditional model does not have it’s advantages or that it hasn’t been good to me or other authors. I will be forever grateful to the opportunity and dream fulfillment I was afforded through that model. And as I venture out on my own, I know I will miss many of its offerings. Primarily, I miss the prestige of being with a big New York publisher, but there are several additional, practical benefits I must learn to do without. I’ll miss the professionalism and talent of publishing house editors. Their skills and attention to detail truly shape, fine tune, and provide the finishing touches to their books. Now, I must be my own editor with the assistance of other author friends, but what I gain is complete ownership of my novels’ success or failure. I obviously will miss the guaranteed advance money; now, I must earn my keep entirely on my own and on the basis of sales alone. However, the amount of advance money being parceled out to non-A-listers continues to diminish, and the royalty rate is much higher in independent publishing. Either way, this is a minor concern for me. I really don’t stand to or intend to make much money from my writing. Mostly, I will miss the distribution power of a Big Six publisher. Their ability to place books in bookstores and libraries is extensive and nearly impossible to match; however, the presence of brick-and-mortar bookstores is all but disappearing as an increasing number of readers purchase their reading materials from online bookstores. This is an audience I can reach as effectively as if I were still with a large publisher. A hard reality is that only well-established and high-earning authors can rely on publishers for extensive promotion. The rest of us must rely upon our own wiles to market our books even when under the aegis of a large publisher, so that has not changed.
The greatest gain of this endeavor is freedom. I no longer have to kowtow to the wants of agents and editors, who understandably limit much of their energy to finding and promoting those books that reek of potentially blockbuster sales. Now, because the risk is entirely mine, I can pursue the projects and write the books that I want to write and allow a free and democratic meritocracy determine the value of my work with the purchases or lack of purchases by the reading public. I can live with that. Ultimately, I’d love to work with traditional publishers in the future and pursue a course of hybrid publishing, but if that doesn’t happen, I will not be forced to the sidelines. I can still get in the game.