Self-Publishing is Dead

Sad toddler in a libraryThere. I said it. Self-publishing is dead.

But before you all scream and throw fire balls at me, read on.

The publishing industry is changing. Dramatically. Daily. I’m not saying anything that everyone doesn’t already know. But I see a lot of folks trying to describe what is going on in terms of a model that worked 20 years ago. The vocabulary of publishing needs to change to match what the industry is doing now.

Self-pub·lish·ing: noun |sĕlf-′pŭb-lĭsh-ing

  1. see vanity press.

An acquaintance of mine self-published a book about 20 years ago. He paid around $10,000 to have a bunch of books printed and placed in his garage. He had sent it to me for “editing” before it went to the printer and I was horrified. When I made suggestions, he explained that he didn’t need proof-reading because his non-native-English-speaking wife had already proofed it. She was smart, so clearly her edit was sufficient and my comments were just picky. So, I limited my comments to developmental edits. Again, he explained that the beta readers had all loved it. I surrendered and never worked with him again. I have seen it referred to online as one of the worst books ever written.

What he wanted was for me to tell him it was wonderful. That is vanity press.

He self-published. He did everything himself. He did have a “publisher” of sorts that helped him format his book so that it came close to the way it should look. The publisher didn’t read the book. They did no edits. I think they hired a kid to draw the cover—because it looked like a child’s drawing of an 80s video game.

I’m not sure whatever happened to all of the books. I know he sold less than 50.

That is self-publishing. That is vanity press. If you are still using a vanity press in today’s publishing world—stop. Self-publishing is dead.

tra·di·tion·al adjective trəˈdi-shən-əl

  1. a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time

Of course, by that definition, traditional publishing is dead as well, but work with me.

I see many articles that discuss self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. That is an over-simplified view of a field that is expanding and evolving. This isn’t a dark time for writers—it’s a renaissance!

Traditional publishing is not what it once was. There are five major publishers in the United States. Yes, they have a number of different imprints, but really, it is down to five solid traditional markets. There are hard-working agents who want nothing more than to take your book to the next level.

in·die noun |΄ĭn-dee|

  1. an obscure form of rock publishing which you only learn about from someone slightly more hip than yourself.

Writers today have options that were not dreamed of 20 years ago. A modern book is a team effort—regardless of how it is published—if you are doing it right. Developmental editors, content editors, line editors, graphic designers, book design artists, agents, publishers, distributors, and even marketing professionals—to name just a smattering of available associates—all make up the tribe necessary to raise a book to maturity in today’s market. And modern writers have real, valuable distribution options regardless of how they publish—traditionally or independently.

There are indie publishers, small presses like the one I run, eager to help new authors. Writers can shepherd their own projects all the way from idea to publication without the help of a publisher at all. The spectrum from indie to traditional press is not cut-and-dried, and there are pitfalls and risks for writers in every colorful phase of that spectrum.

geek noun | geek

  1. The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult

  2. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

  3. an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>

Who am I to be so bold as to say that I can tell writers how to succeed? Well, first of all, I’m generally a very quiet geek. I watch. I listen. I read. I work with the technology. I test. I play. But I also have friends who have succeeded in every form of publishing—and many who have not—and I watch and study what they have and have not done. Over the last few months, I’ve been slowly formulating my thoughts on what has made the difference.

Here are some of my conclusions:

Traditional publishing isn’t dead. It isn’t even sick.

Small publishers and indie presses are doing fabulous work.

Indie authors are thriving.

But self-publishing is dead.

Long live the indies!

note: definitions stolen or adapted from the Urban Dictionary, the online Webster’s Dictionary and Dictionary.com.

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