Recently a friend of mine (not in publishing) asked over lunch if self-publishing is still frowned upon. It took me by surprise, as this is someone who generally avoids discussing the writing realities of publishing, and generally geeks out over books with me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by the conversation. It’s one I know can and will happen when I least expect it.
If you remember a few years ago, self-publishing sometimes resulted in a knee-jerk reaction by those in publishing. It wasn’t meant to offend, but having been deep in the trenches of traditional publishing, it was a development that was experiencing many growing pains. Thankfully we’re at a phase now where we’re willing to engage in a healthy conversation on self-publishing. It is understood that each writer must determine each book’s path (in advance) versus assuming every book needs to be published through a traditional house.
One of my favorite books from a few years ago was How Music Works by David Byrne. Admittedly I picked up the book because 1) it was published by McSweeney’s and 2) I’m an unapologetic and obsessive fan of all-things Talking Heads. I’ve been recommending this book to everyone since then.
One of the big conversations presented in this book is in regard to when musicians took the figurative reins in the music industry—specifically when they stepped away from the music companies and produced their own albums. They wanted creative license, and the chance to experiment without the stress of a corporate identity possibly holding them back. Some musicians moved away from traditional music companies, transitioning out on their own as producers. But Bryne also pointed out some of these artists already had an established audience (e.g., Aimee Mann), that going the route of independent producers could be a different experience for newer musicians without a built-in audience.
Byrne also presented a valuable argument many writers would appreciate, in which it’s important to recognize those who are creating new content (in music) as a hobby (because they enjoy it) versus those are who creating new music professionally. It essentially came down to a combination of an artist’s experience, talent, and willingness to grow their audience and outreach. It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy the process without the pressure of becoming a full-time musician. It’s okay to keep the day-job.
This is a healthy discussion to have as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the process, where one takes the steps to fine tune their writing and improve their story telling. The reality is that not everyone who writes regularly will have their books published by a traditional house. This is in part due to the large number of people who query agents and editors on a regular basis, when publishers will only print a certain number of titles every year.
While many writers will find publication at traditional publishing houses, other writers may pursue the possibilities of self-publishing selective works. Yet, they may also continue to shop more commercial ideas to publishers (we call this a hybrid approach).
In the end, it’s important that any writer writes the best book they can write, that they provide the necessary time and patience while a book is seen to publication, whether the book is published traditionally or independently. Not only will readers appreciate it, but hopefully it’ll be a special experience for the writer, one that will open new doors for publication, no matter what route is chosen.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner & literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.