War of Words: Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

Hi, folks–

R.G. is still trying to find the lost tomb of whomever, so here I am again. I caught this blog yesterday by groovy author (and Penmonkey!) Chuck Wendig, over at his “Terrible Minds” site. It’s called “The Publishing Cart before the Storytelling Horse,” and in it, he wants to know why people fight over traditional vs. self publishing. Mr. Wendig, it should be noted, has self-published some of his work, so bear that in mind when you read his blog.

The short answer to this blog’s title is: There is no war. There shouldn’t be. Who cares how you get a great/quality story to the reading public?

So let’s talk about this a bit more…

That said, the core of Wendig’s message is: Time to upgrade the discussion. Rather than those in one camp dissing the others, how about…

Instead of trying to convince people to self-publish, it may in fact be time to help people self-publish well. While self-publishing may by this point be a proven path it doesn’t remain a guaranteed path. In fact it’s no such thing: I know several self-published authors out in the world with great books, kick-ass covers, and they are certainly not selling to their potential. In fact, if they continue to sell as they appear to sell then I would suggest these books would have done much better had they been published — gasp — traditionally.

Indeed. Help people self-publish well. That’s key, I think, to changing the tenor of the debate which, I think, shouldn’t even BE a debate. As writers, should we not be helping each other and exploring new models and striving for the best kinds of storytelling and the best quality writing each of us can produce? There’s a fake fight, here, and Wendig, I think, nails it. This isn’t trads vs. selves. Whichever route you go in terms of publishing, it’s not “worse” or “better” than anyone else’s route. You do what works best for you at that time. And hopefully, you’ll keep growing and keep building community with other writers.

Wendig also suggests that we

…take a step backward. Here’s another problem: maybe we should stop putting the publishing cart before the storytelling horse. In self-publishing, I see so much that focuses on sales numbers and money earned, but I see alarmingly little that devotes itself toward telling good stories… .Any time you hear about the major self-publishers, it’s always about the sales, the percentage, the money earned. What’s rare is a comment about how good the books are. When the narrative was all about Amanda Hocking, everybody was buzzing about her numbers, but nobody I know was buzzing about how good those books were. Focus less on the delivery of the stories and more about the quality of what’s being delivered.

We could extend this argument to traditional publishing, as well, in some cases, but consider Wendig’s point before you freak out and accuse him of dissing self-publishing. Remember, he, too, self-publishes some of his work.

And something else that Wendig notes needs an overhaul is attitude:

Traditionally-published authors are not slave labor. They’re not idiots or fools. They’ve not made “the wrong choice.” You went one way. They went another. Sometimes your paths converge; other times, they do not.

I agree with that assessment. The fact is, whichever route you go in terms of publishing, do it because you’ve thought about it, you’ve weighed the pros and cons, and you’ve determined what would work best in your life at that moment. Traditional vs. self publishing isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a “war” between people who proclaim their choice is the best vs. other people who proclaim the same thing. Ultimately, whichever publishing model you choose should be based on what works for you.

Currently, I’m working with traditional publishers. It’s something that works for me and my schedule at the moment. Does that mean I think self-publishing is stupid or wrong? Absolutely not. Let me make that abundantly clear. Self-publishing works for some people. It doesn’t for others. Still others do a mixture of self- and traditional publishing. And others move from traditional to self-, and then there are those who go from self- to traditional. It’s not about which is “better.” It’s about what works for the individual author, and it could change for each author as circumstances in her life change.

As Wendig says, there is no self-publishing vs. traditional publishing fence between us as writers. A good book is a good book, no matter how it’s published. So how about we instead help each other tell great stories rather than diss the vehicles that bring them to market?

That’s the kind of ride I’d like to see.

Happy reading, happy writing, happy publishing (no matter how you do it)!


  1. I think the problem, Andi, is that since the beginning, and to some extent, it still happens, traditionally published or contracted writers have indeed looked down the nose of indie authors. They most definitely have said that self-publishing was junk and only those that had been turned away or deemed not worthy were the only ones self-publishing. And some didn’t voice it but still think it. That really stuck in my crow.

    Many contracted authors still feel that way. Thank God self-publishing has proven to be a winning alternative or at the very least, a viable and attractive alternative. In lesfic, sometimes publishing with one of the micro, POD presses is not any better at all than self-publishing. I can say that with certainty. I have been through many different publishers and am now happily self-publishing and will never, ever go back to a contract unless one of the big, NY publishers comes knocking on my door. And they won’t because I’m not looking for them.

    If you sign with a micro POD publisher, you get no advance. You’re lucky if your book is released on time and with minor fan fare. You have no idea how much marketing or promotion they are doing. Who is getting review copies? Most of the time, they depend on you, the author, to do your own promotion and marketing. In my eyes, you can do the same thing and not share your creation with a publisher and reap all the profits for yourself.

    The one thing I always, always recommend is that each author invest the time to research. Talk to indie authors. Ask some authors of smaller presses how their experience has been. Forget the sales and money aspect of lesfic writing. There isn’t any. Well, not lots of it anyway. LOL. Keep in mind that with self-publishing, the rewards in sales will be in the long run. But you will earn your investment and get the benefits as well. And the other important item I always bring up to those authors interested in going indie is that they MUST put their best book out there. Don’t publish without proper editing. Don’t rush your book. Get a good editor or multiple, trusted beta readers. Your indie book has to compete with the best of them so make it as good or better, including a professional looking cover and book design. In other words, just because you’re an indie author doesn’t mean you get to cut any corners.

    Sorry, I got long-winded. But the way I see it, the indie author has always been stigmatized by the so-called “legitimate authors.” It is they who need to extend the olive branch.


  2. Hi, Patty. Did you read Chuck’s post? If not, please do. And keep in mind, he’s a self-published author, too.

    I’m not fighting this battle, because there isn’t one. It’s like walking into a bar near closing time and listening to a couple of drunk guys try to one-up each other. The only thing I want to see is good stories, well-edited, with good covers. I don’t care how they get to market. And for the record, I’ve taken my share of disses from self-published authors, too. Do I care? No. It certainly doesn’t stop me from offering my help with edits or trying to find resources/links/networks for self-published authors–even those who diss me. Why? Because we’re all in this together as writers and, ultimately, as readers. There’s no war. So why make demands on a perceived enemy? Write, publish, and help if you can/want to. Or just do your own thing and if you get dissed, so? Why should you let that affect you? Keep on writing and publishing and networking. There’ll always be assholes, after all (or a couple of drunks in a bar). You don’t have to engage them. You can order whatever you want and get another table. And if they follow you, well, there are plenty of other bars, and plenty of other patrons. 😀



  3. Andi,

    It definitely isn’t right for any author to diss any other author for their choice in the path to publication. It’s a tough enough road, right? We know that. Of course I read Chuck’s post. And he is absolutely right when he says it isn’t about which is better. I’ve said that myself.

    The point I brought up is that when self-publishing was still in its infancy, many, many (too many) contracted authors turned their noses at self-published authors and deemed them not worthy of consideration. That was not right. I am so happy to see that things are much better.

    Still, the scent of stigma lingers in the air, ever so slightly. I’m just glad readers don’t give a darn. LOL.


  4. Andi, I agree there is no need for a battle here. Traditional publishing works great for some people. For others, indie works better. And a mix sounds great, too. I was a bit (a lot?) nervous about my decision to forgo a contract and go indie. That was about a month and a half ago.

    Oh boy.

    Did I ever make the right decision by going indie. I am loving the freedom and flexibility. And the royalty money, too! Formatting/putting out the first work is a learning experience, but after that, the process is much smoother.

    I’ve had to contend with readers who think my work is inferior when they first hear “self-published.” I’m happy to say that they bought my book “Strange Bedfellows” anyway and loved it. “Strange Bedfellows” has gotten raves everywhere. My hope is that all indie authors treat their work properly.

    Will that happen? Of course not. Some indie works will be awful. But I AM enjoying being indie.


  5. Seems to me he’s saying that traditional publishing has as many pitfalls as self-publishing and that the point is not HOW you publish but WHAT you publish.

    I’ve read crap put out by a publisher, I’ve read great stuff self-published.

    Which route you take is up to you and what you want to do in terms of your own hard work. But you have to start with a good, well-written story. The end. If it isn’t any good, it doesn’t matter how it is published. You can hope that a traditional publisher will provide you with an editing savant. But chances are, if it was crap they accepted, it’ll be crap they publish.

    “We should all be helping one another tell great stories.
    Let’s talk to one another not as publishers, but as writers and storytellers.”



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