Is self-publishing like playing the lottery?

It's probably not going to shock you to hear that I think the answer to that question is no.

Traditional publishing, I would argue, is at this point very much like playing the lottery. I do not play the lottery, or roulette, or any game of chance that requires my money--or my time and effort, which also cost money--where the odds are stacked against me. (I like fire, so if I want to throw my money away to no purpose, I can always take it out back and light it up--I know I'll enjoy that.) My attitude towards lotteries is why I avoided creative writing for a long time and why I gave up on traditional publishing--any field where someone can write "I look forward to reading this as a published book.... It will be a welcome addition to the literature on slavery" in a rejection letter and not be hauled off to an insane asylum is a field I want to avoid.

Traditional publishing is not a meritocracy. It is a lottery.

Self-publishing--well, that, I feel is much less driven by luck. It seems like there really is a formula: Produce a large number of decent titles, actually put them on sale (crucial step!), and market them appropriately; see a payoff. You don't have to sell a ton of copies (because relying on writing a blockbuster is even dumber than relying on buying a winning lottery ticket).

You might notice that that is not at all what I'm doing--I'm slowly cranking out these loooong novels one at a time and not really marketing at all (although I'll market more once Trust is out. Probably). And I have the puny sales to prove it! It's all kind of academic to me, since my income comes from elsewhere--and yes, I used to hate people like me when I wrote for a living! God, they were all, blah-blah-blah never mind the market, don't you have a trust fund/fuck buddy who works on Wall Street to support you? I wanted to punch them in the face so bad!!!

Ahem. Anyway, I haven't lost an appreciation for being able to actually make a living just from your writing. So just because I'm not doing the things that would help you make a decent living self-publishing, that doesn't mean they aren't things you should be doing, if you want or need to make a decent living self-publishing.

Who is actually doing these things? Well, let's take a(nother) look at Lindsay Buroker's blog! She'd never been traditionally published. She did write for a living, but she wasn't writing fantasy fiction, so it's not like she had this built-in audience. She started in December 2010 with a novel and has been adding titles ever since. And hey, as she puts up new titles, the sales of her old titles grow, and while she's not a gazillionaire, she's doing pretty well. It helps that she's a savvy marketer, but she's more than happy to share her ideas, and they don't look like things that are impossible to replicate.

Under the old system, you could write a great book, and it just didn't matter. It would never see the light of day, and you wouldn't make a dime. Now it's definitely going to see the light of day, and while your sales might not be enough to interest traditional publishers, they may be plenty enough to satisfy you.