You can be too even-handed

So I'm all jet-lagged and kid-weary and my nose keeps bleeding, but I'm going to post here anyway because when I came back I caught up on all my blog reading, and a couple of things stood out to me.

The first was a post by Dean Wesley Smith where he suddenly gets all agnostic and says that traditional publishing isn't so bad after all. (I guess that's true provided you can find a publisher willing to give you a decent contract--the only problem is that Smith can't.) This was written to agree with a post by Nathan Bransford, who seems to have decided that this is a good thing to harp on.

The other is a post by Robert Bidinotto (via PV) on the many, many advantages of self-publishing.

Compare and contrast! What bothers me about this whole, "Hey, guys, let's not harsh on traditional publishing; it's a big world and there's room for all kinds of people in it" thing is that it implies that the many, many advantages of self-publishing don't exist. Everything's groovy, everyone's special, everyone's children are above average.

Bullshit. There are serious issues with traditional publishers, not the least of which is that many of the industry leaders are being sued by the federal government and several state governments. Which happened because they looked at the future and couldn't see themselves in it. That is A Bad Sign.

One of the reasons why I liked Amanda Hocking's thought process about accepting a traditional-publishing contract was that she was very aware of what she was risking by doing so. She wrote (emphasis added):

[L]et's be honest - if I self-published the Watersong series on my own, I could probably make $2 million within a year or two. Five years tops. I am fully aware that I stand a chance of losing money on this deal compared to what I could make self-publishing.

She also noted that she probably wouldn't have taken the deal if she didn't have the safety net of several self-published books. She's not deluding herself that it's all going to be puppies and ice cream and unicorns: She's got enough income from self-publishing and her advance was large enough that everything could go to hell with her publisher and she'd still be fine.

Does that describe you? Does it describe most writers?

What troubles me about talking about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing like it's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other is that the people who will actually believe that are the new writers who know nothing about the industry. And new, non-celebrity writers are the most likely to not get anywhere: They are inherently undesirable to agents and publishers because they have no track record, and they're not the ones who will be getting the decent contracts.

I was a "new" writer when I started. I spent some six years trying to get something published traditionally. And I had absolutely nothing to show for it in the end--not a single thing. It was a complete waste of my time and money (and yes, it does cost money). And I've been writing professionally since 1992.

I decided to self-publish in Christmas of 2010. By January 2011, I had a book up. It was kind of a mess, and I had to fix a bunch of stuff, but fix it I did, and it now looks pretty good.

It's a year-and-a-half after I put up my first book, and I'll have another book up in a couple of days. So: Two books down in a quarter of the time it took me to get absolutely nothing done in the traditional model. Yeah, I haven't had big sales (nor did I expect them), but I have had some, which is better than having absolutely nothing.

And I have a book out. That's not just good for the old ego--since I have that book out, I can leverage it to sell my second book. Trang is a tool in my toolbox that I didn't have before. I'm in a better position now than when I released Trang a year-and-a-half ago, and my position will only improve as I release Trials and then Tribulations.

Hopefully that won't take six friggin' years, but even if it does, it will be six years that produce four books, not six years with absolutely nothing to show for them.

The thing is, as a new writer, even if you have your sights set on being traditionally published, you should skip the damned agents and self-publish! Again, look at Hocking--hell, look at the example Bransford cites as proof that it's all One Love in the world of publishing. The traditional process did absolutely nothing for these people. They got their contracts by self-publishing.

Self-publishing is productive. When you self-publish, you produce books. These books have value in the market--maybe not a lot of value, but still a lot more value than a fistful of complimentary and conflicted rejection letters. These books will sell your other books. These books will get you a contract, if that's what you want.

The rejection letters where people talk about how much they're looking forward to reading your book when it comes out? Amusing or irritating, depending on your mood, but totally worthless.