INTERN has been following the self-publishing versus so-called “legacy” publishing debate for some time now, and is fascinated by how emotional the conversation has been, and how full of colorful personalities.
On one hand, we have Team Indie, who argue that publishers are blundering, outdated, inefficient dinosaurs who make an increasingly poor value proposition to authors. Not only will traditional publishers make a mess out of editing, designing, and promoting your book, Team Indie claims, but they’ll squeeze you out of all but a measly royalty on what books they do manage to sell.
On the other side of the field, we have Team (airquotes) Legacy, who fire back that most self-published books are poorly written, poorly designed, couldn’t-pay-me-to-read-‘em buckets of word-vomit not worth their ever-so-clever $1.99 price point on Amazon.
As a person who recently signed a book deal with an old-skool publisher, INTERN is naturally quite curious to know who’s right. Would INTERN have been better off if, instead of querying agents and going on submission, she’d hired a cover artist and slapped that sucker on Amazon? What has she gained by signing with a publisher, and what has she given up? Are there subtle benefits and drawbacks the indie-vs-legacy debate has overlooked?
Keeping in mind the fact that INTERN’s first novel isn’t due to be published until summer 2013, here are the benefits and drawbacks INTERN has noted so far.
Some proponents of indie publishing claim that Big 6 publishers hardly take the time to nurture new authors or edit their books. INTERN’s Big 6 editor has been unfailingly helpful, available, insightful and patient as INTERN has clawed her way towards a final draft (the fact that INTERN has a novel deal at all seems to indicate that Big 6 publishers are still willing to take on semi-feral young writers and nurture them into readability, which is another post entirely).
DRAWBACK: Requiring patience
Prior to this book deal, INTERN (like many young writers) was in the habit of spewing out a manuscript, tinkering with it a little, then ditching it for a brand new one. Being made to stay at the dinner table until every last pea is cleaned off her writerly plate has been a good thing—an initiation into the discipline of truly finishing something for public consumption—but some days INTERN wonders what it would be like to simply fire off a novel, e-book it warts and all, and move on to the next one. Maybe nobody would notice the missing subplot resolutions or the hokey ending! Maybe it would have sold just fine three drafts ago, and INTERN would be a Kindle Millionaire by now instead of slaving away on yet another one! It’s possible! (alright, INTERN—finish those peas!)
Book advance is putting tofu in INTERN’s fridge.
Book advance means that INTERN’s novel needs to sell an intimidating number of copies in order to earn out. Whereas if she self-published, INTERN would consider herself to be ballin’ out of control if she sold 50 copies, and she wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s money/career riding on her book.
BENEFIT: Social cred
Not gonna lie: having a Book Deal with a Big Fancy Publisher is a useful thing to have in your back pocket. Even though an alarmingly small percentage of the population actually buys novels, an alarmingly large percentage of the population seems to look favorably on novelists themselves, for reasons INTERN cannot fathom. It’s like being acquainted with an asthmatic baron or the heiress to the fortune of a vaguely recognizable brand of baking powder; people get some obscure pleasure out of the fact that a real, live baking powder heiress is renting their (moulding and uninhabitable) apartment.
All INTERN knows is that crotchety relatives, overworked librarians, and potential landlords have gone from regarding INTERN with suspicion (dirty hippie!) to friendly interest (Actual Writer!) if/when she mentions her publisher. God knows this shouldn’t be a factor in anyone’s self-publishing vs legacy publishing decision, but it’s not nothing either.
DRAWBACK: Wait times
As a zillion people have already pointed out in a zillion places, traditional publishers can take a really, really long time to publish a book. Does INTERN wish her novel could appear in bookstores this summer instead of next summer? Of course! She’s impatient! Hell, by next summer INTERN will be an old lady. If INTERN was self-publishing, she could publish her book as soon as the final copyedits were done. No struggling to explain to baffled relatives why the book’s not coming out for a whole other year after it’s finished. No thinking about how freaking OLD and, like, WIZENED she’s going to be when she can finally hold a copy in her hands.
INTERN’s first novel is still early in the publishing process, so she can’t speak to indie publishing’s claims about bungled copyediting, nonexistent promotion, etc. etc. What she CAN tell you is that she has a better novel now than she did when she went on submission (this doesn't mean one can't arrive at an equally strong draft strong through other means and self-publish; just that, in INTERN's case, going through the traditional route has been helpful.)
What do you think of the publisher-bashing going on at some of the indie blogs? Can we all just get along? Is either option inherently worse or better, or is it a matter of what's the best fit for each author? Have you ever wondered if your book would have done better or worse if you'd gone a different route? INTERN wants to know!