August 16, 2016

Self or Traditional: Choosing Our Publishing Path

Pile of screws with text: Publishing: Thinking of Doing It Yourself?

Not so long ago, a sharp division split the writing community. An “us vs. them” attitude drove some authors to choose sides among two camps: traditional publishing and self-publishing.

In fact, many would say that division still exists. However, from my perspective of watching the industry over several years, the current attitude doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it used to be.

The many successes of self-published authors—including awards based on quality measures—have proven that self-publishing isn’t a “lesser” path by any means. Hybrid publishing—when an author chooses to publish some stories traditionally and other stories independently—has won converts from both sides, illustrating that there’s no “one size fits all” for every project.

At the same time, new writers enter the field, and every day, experienced writers finally reach their ready-to-publish stage—all potentially questioning which path they should take. What advice do they encounter?

Which Advice Should We Trust?

The semi-permanence of the internet means that posts with pros and cons of our options and advice on tips and tricks can stick around long after the information loses validity. Articles conflating self-publishing and vanity publishing (paying a company to “publish” our work, typically without distribution services) still exist out there.

Even though the division between the self-vs.-traditional camps isn’t as deep or as rooted in an attitude of superiority as it used to be, we can still easily find articles advocating one path by being dismissive or insulting of the other.

Facts can get twisted, opinions can be stated as facts, and contrary information might not be revealed at all. So when we’re researching our options and seeking advice, we need to be aware of the source.

  • How old is the information?
  • Does the advice still apply to the current industry landscape?
  • Can we separate facts from opinions?
  • What path did the article’s author choose?
  • What is their agenda? Etc., etc.

Agenda? Does Everyone Have One?

In our books, we often try to share a message. Maybe our story’s themes attempt to get readers to think a certain way by teaching a lesson or by demonstrating one of life’s truths. Or maybe our characters explore a certain perspective on the way to proving it true or false through storytelling.

And if our fiction writing has an agenda, we can bet the non-fiction format of blog writing has even stronger messaging. The agenda is whatever an author of an article is trying to accomplish by sharing their thoughts.

When it comes to publishing advice, even the most seemingly unbiased, informative blog post might contain persuasive arguments. Those arguments are an attempt to convince readers of something.

Are Agendas Always Bad?

I’ll be honest. I try to convince people of certain things all the time in my posts. *smile*

I try to get my blog readers to believe that their stories are worth telling, that self-doubt doesn’t have to hold us back, that it’s important to be aware of our goals so we can work to reach them, that we’re capable of improving our skills, etc., etc.

In other words, an agenda isn’t necessarily bad. My agenda is to push back against bad writing advice that can make us feel like we’re doing something wrong just because we use a different approach (i.e., writing by the seat of our pants isn’t the fast track to failure).

I try to be transparent about my agenda because I want everyone to be able to make up their own mind about whether my advice or insights applies to their situation. No one should follow my path just because they’re taking my word for it. *smile*

Publishing Path Agendas

When it comes to publishing paths, the division between traditional publishing and self-publishing has made these agendas more pushy than some other writing-relating debates. I’ve seen many blog and forum posts on both sides outright state that those on the other side are stupid for their choices.

Yet we must remember that we all approach writing and publishing with different processes, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. So what makes sense to us isn’t necessarily the same choice that would make sense to others.

In addition, as the industry continues to change, the right choice for us might need to adjust. New tools, resources, or benefits could balance out our weaknesses or the cons of a path we’d previously dismissed. Or as we work on new projects, the right choice for our last book isn’t guaranteed to be the right choice for all future projects as well.

My Publishing Path “Agenda”

Here at my blog, I’ve tried to remain publishing-path neutral. That means that while I have my opinions for my own situation, I don’t try to convince others to follow in my path.

My agenda—if it can be called that—is to provide information so everyone can make the best decision for them. I encourage others to be aware of their goals so they can choose the best strategies to reach those goals. Informed decision-making is my goal.

I hope I’ve never made anyone feel less for their decisions, but I also know I’m not perfect. So before I go any further, I want to explicitly state that if a path is working for someone, that’s the right path for them, no matter what my personal choices are.

That said, I’ve chosen the self-publishing path for myself—so far. And as part of my usual sharing of what I learn, I’ve amassed more posts here than I realized with a focus on indie publishing.

Exploring My Self-Publishing Articles

I never wanted to focus so much on self-publishing articles here that other writing, craft, and publishing topics were cheated. However, my years of blogging and my indie-focused guest posts at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University have added up anyway.

So for those of you who do want to learn more about the self-publishing path, I have a new link collection for all my self-publishing-related posts:

Self-Publishing Your Story

Self-publishing insights, tips, and techniques. Sample topics: my Fiction University guest posts about Indie Publishing Paths, cover artist and editor selection advice, formatting issues, creating print versions, etc.

This link now resides permanently in my “For Writers: Tips & Advice” sidebar, as well as on my For Writers page, where I have link collections for many of my blog topics:

As a relative newcomer, I’m far from an expert on self-publishing, but I try to share everything I’ve learned. I hope this information helps everyone make those informed choices for what path will make the most sense for our situation and our goals. *smile*

Do you think the us vs. them feeling for traditional vs. self-publishing has abated over the years? Have you seen recent posts that assert one choice is unequivocally better than the other? What agendas do you see from writing and publishing posts? Do you agree that agendas aren’t necessarily bad? Do you have any suggestions for my blog as far as organization or self-publishing topics?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Barry Knister

Hi Jami.
The only writers in a rational position to freely choose to self-publish come in two forms. 1, the established commercial writer whose followers will stick with him/her when the writer goes indie to improve the royalty rate. Such writers gain the advantage of the marketing of their work that’s already been done by a commercial publisher. 2, the young writer who has grown up with social media, is comfortable with it, and knows how to promote his/her work.
IMO, other writers don’t “choose” the indie road. It’s chosen for them by commercial gatekeepers who shut them out.

Davonne Burns

I do think, especially within the last couple of years, that the us vs. them mentality has lessened. I think people are realizing that both have their pros and cons and it’s all about what works for the individual. Of course there are still some who are staunch advocates of one over the other but I’m seeing them less and less.

I know I definitely have an agenda with my blog; encouraging diversity in whatever form that takes.

Laurie Evans

I’ve actually been a bit concerned lately at some of the incorrect information I’ve heard from people about self-publishing. Some of the info is *old*, and by old it might only be a year old, but things change at lightning speed these days. Some people seem to learn about self-publishing, and then repeat what they’ve heard for years. It really pays to keep on top of the changing technology and methods.

Clare O'Beara

Yes, changes occur. Usually to make publishing your book more user-friendly for authors and readers.
If anyone is still thinking of paying a service to publish their book – which is not how it should work – I advise that they google this service with the words ‘problems’ or ‘complaints’.

Julie Glover

In the time I’ve been writing, I’ve seen a real flip from more people I know saying that self-publishing is a hack way to do things to more people saying self-publishing is the only way to go. Frankly, I ignore both extremes, believing the answers depend a great deal on the kind of writer you are and want to be, the genre you write in, your goals for your writing career, etc. Thus far, I’m pursuing a traditional path, although I’m certainly in favor of self-publishing some stories. Basically, my goal is hybrid author, which is where I think I’d be most happy — sharing the load on some projects and having more control over other projects.

And by the way, you’ve done an excellent job of remaining neutral and encouraging. I think your self-publishing path has been perfect for you, though, and your books are high quality and well worth reading.

Evie K Whit
Evie K Whit

I appreciate your blog posts. I agree, it all depends on goals and expectations. There are advantages and disadvantages to both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Thankfully, more writers are seeing this to be true. Unfortunately, it means earning a living writing is just as challenging as ever.


[…] big question: self or traditional publishing? Jami Gold discusses choosing your publishing path. And if you choose to be a hybrid author and use both, Sangeeta Mehta reports on a conversation […]

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