Traditional or Self-Publish?

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I retired from a thirty-five year financial industry career on October 25, 2013, to pursue the lifelong dream of being a writer. When I tell people about the change, the first question they ask is typically, “So, are you published?” They have no idea what a loaded question that is.

I suspect for most people, “being published” means getting an agent, “pitching” a book to one of the few remaining major publishers, receiving a big advance once the book is accepted, and then finding the book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. That’s the way it’s always been done, and where I initially focused my efforts.

“Self-publishing” typically involves Amazon and Kindle publishing. The better version of self-publishing involves the writer producing top-shelf work, and then using professional designers and editors (striking out on their own after careers in the big publishing houses) to produce a book that rivals or exceeds the work from traditional publishing.

Donald Maass defends the status quo, the traditional publishing system. Joe Konrath makes a strong counter-argument, taking apart Maass’s argument. These two articles serve as a starting point to frame the traditional vs. self-publishing argument.

In the end, we see the bloated traditional publishing behemoth trying to hang on to the last vestiges of what was, and making strategic missteps that will hasten their demise. Like Hollywood producing only certain formulaic big budget movies, traditional publishers pass on quality for “what sells.” It’s no secret that many of the biggest selling names produce less than the highest quality work.

We’ve seen this evolution play out repeatedly. Think about how record stores were replaced by iTunes. My daughter recently moved to her first apartment, opting for on-demand Netflix over traditional television. The financial business is moving from high-cost, stuffy advice/sales models to low-cost, consumer friendly, easy-access model. Publishing is following a similar track.

I’m not sure of how long this will take to play out. The traditional publishing business won’t disappear overnight like, say, Borders Books and Peaches Records. But over time, they will begin to resemble the small re-sellers of vintage records and CDs. As a new author, I want to be in front of the wave, and not behind it.  (OP 2/7/2014)

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