Traditional vs Self-Publishing: We Aren’t That Different After All

You can draw a line in the sand and announce that one side belongs to traditionally published authors and the other side belongs to self-published authors and feel the earth shift beneath you as the groups make haste to their designated post. A few will dance on both sides of the line earning disgusted looks from the hardcore supporters of either side.

I have had the dubious ‘pleasure' of speaking to people in both camps, people who are so convinced that their way is the right way that the planet could crumble to dust around them and they wouldn't notice, so occupied as they are with banging on the table with their fist, crying out that their side is the right side and that anyone who believes differently than they do is a criminal.

That line drawn in the sand is one that all writers should take a moment to erase. Go ahead, scuff it away with your shoe. If you don't like shoes, like me, go ahead and get your toes dirty.

It won't hurt you, really. I promise.

There are no differences between a self-published author and a traditionally published one. The traditionalist isn't some mutant creature trapped in the cage of corporations. He or she is a writer, someone who loves putting words to the page for you, the reader, to enjoy. They are someone who wants to get paid for their hard work and effort.

Sounds a bit like a self-published author, doesn't it?

If there is a difference, it is a matter of perception. It is the difference of the mountain the traditionalist scaled versus the one the self-published author did.

Behold, the Rockies.

Rocky Mountains

Not far away from where this picture was taken, another mountain rose up toward the sky, its peaks covered in mist, a valley of gold and green cutting to its base.

Like on this mountain, grass and trees made way for snow-capped tops where raw stone stubbornly refused to let the wildlife take root.

Las Vegas - Day 4 218 - PM

These are two different mountains, but they tell a very similar tale. One felt the cold touch of fall sooner than the other, but they are the same thing — mountains.

No matter how you decide to get your readers out there, you are the same thing. You're writers.

What every writer needs to consider, closely and carefully, is the lesson that the traditionalist learned long ago:

Good isn't good enough.

So, you've drafted a story. You want it to reach your readers. You want to show it to the world. You want people to support you by buying your stories.

The traditionalist wants that, the self-published author wants that. Anyone who wants to make a career from writing wants that.

So where does the difference lie?

The traditionalist is forced to go through the rigors of editorial until their effort is good enough for the scrutiny of a business whose job is to make money — money for themselves, and money for their authors.

Self-published authors have to force this activity upon themselves.

We're not so different after all.

Some authors just have an overseer with a whip hovering over them, poised and ready to strike, asking for perfection.

They aren't just asking for perfection, they're getting it. They're getting the perfection readers want. Self-published authors — even many traditionalists — will scoff at the quality of the writing around them.

It's time to face the piper: The Reader is the prime authority on what perfection is. Not you. Not even your editor or agent. You may night like some of the stories written today, you may view the quality of the writing as garbage, but it's time to face facts. The stories are successful, people buy them, and people want more of those stories.

Self-Published Author, next time you go to mock the traditionalist, consider that. They're writing stories that readers love and want to read. They're getting the support they need to tell those stories.

Traditionally-Published Author, next time you lift your chin and stare down your nose at the self-published author, remember that there are many of them who didn't go that route because they weren't good enough — they went that route because they are good enough.

Yes, there are many self-published authors who need to learn professionalism. There are many who need to hire a good editor to help them improve their stories.

There are quite a few who already do that, who invest as much time and effort as you do to make their stories the best they can be.

Self-published author, you might not like the business of writing, but this doesn't give you any right at all to mock the efforts of someone else. Especially not when you play the same game to gain readers, but you play the game in a different way. The same applies in reverse, to the Traditionally-Published author who works just as hard to gain their readers.

Your way isn't the right way, it is just a way. With the evolution of the publishing industry, the old days of traditional publication are all but gone, morphing into something completely new. Pioneers of the self-publishing movement do the same thing traditionally-published authors do:

They write.

Which mountain did you climb to earn the worn badge of ‘author'?

Leave a Comment:

LJ Cohen says April 2, 2013

Whichever one will get the right project in the hands of the right reader in the right way. 🙂

Will Hahn says April 2, 2013

Terrific article with a sentiment I need to hear, probably about once a month when I’m leaning toward the sulks. Like now!

The difference for me between trad-pub and e-pub: only the latter has led me to publish anything. I gave it the college try with publishers and agents, and to my jaw-dropping astonishment, they passed. Honestly, felt more to me like pissed. But an unambiguous “not for me” which is pub-speak for “oh hell no”. Off I went to learn about e-pub and it’s 200k later. Nearly a quarter-million published words, another 2-300k waiting in the wings, and- oh yes, I’m happy.

I was struck by your insistence (or maybe acceptance) that editing from a trad-pub creates improvement, much less anyone’s perfection. What is is you do again for a living? :: grins :: I deal with editors regularly as an analyst, and I feel they perfectly display the picayune dedication that gets all the grammar flawless and kills the piece. If a publisher brings me to an editor and the demands for rewrites start, we’ll see what happens. I’m not optimistic.

But the big thing, to me, is you mentioned the key word only once. AGENT. E-pub is fun, self-training to write can be fulfulling. But the the self-pub route gets you, for free, to be a drop in the ever-growing ocean.

Perfection means nothing if the readers cannot find you- and they don’t have all day. And you- you’d really love to be writing, not trying another vocation you know nothing about. Marketing the work is a full-time job and I really wish someone would sail through my window on fairy wings with a wand and… um, do that job for me.

Likely, not. But THAT’s what I envy about trad-pub, not a gauntlet of editing in hopes of pleasing a reader. I feel perhaps stupidly confident that the reader will like my writing. They just have to find my drop.

    RJBlain says April 2, 2013

    When I’m not writing my fiction, I’m an editor (unaffiliated, I work for either hybrid or self-publishing clients) and a copywriter by trade.

    There are bad editors and there are good editors. Not all editors hired by traditional houses are good ones — but there are many good ones out there.

    That said, if your story relies on poor writing quality to ‘be alive’, it isn’t going to be a story I want to read. Editors need to match with the writers they work with. Editors should be doing more than just fixing grammar errors.

    The harsh truth is that the vast majority of writers do not make the amount you say you do — whether by self-publishing or traditionally publishing.

    Editing can improve writers on either side of the fence. I don’t like buying unedited works. The story quality just isn’t there. Editing is more than cleaning up grammar, it’s creating a story that is fun and engaging to read.

    Just my two cents, of course.

      Will Hahn says April 2, 2013

      Thanks RJ, fully agree. I realize from your comments I made a horrible mistake- sloppy writing, ack!!! I used the 200-300k to talk about my WORDS published, not MONEY! Gracious no, I would be at least a bucket in the ocean if I made six figures.

      And just cranking out a lot of words is no measure of quality either. But my point- I wrote a story and tried to get trad-pub interested. Zip. That’s where it would have stayed without e-pub. I was soul-drained by the effort of asking agents and pubilshers to show a scrap of interest. Only when I saw that I could damn them and just put it out there did my spirits revive.

      And don’t worry about the editors I deal with- it’s business writing, which is a nice way of saying that every dram of color or spark of life must be crushed from it before any paying client sees. Perfection of a sort I suppose.

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