Self-Publishing: The New Dream Or Just A Stepping Stone?

Once upon a time, self-publishing held a certain stigma. Self-published authors were looked down on by the world at large and laughed at behind fake smiles as people sneered “Guess they couldn’t hack it in the real publishing industry.” Those authors were usually doomed to low sales and obscurity unless they happened upon the right person at the right time or the right marketing tool at the right price. And, historically, self-publishing was expensive and entirely out of the author’s pocket. This all adds up to one big black cloud hanging over the definition of “self-published” even though the climate of the industry has changed completely.

With the technology boom and the rise of the all-powerful internet, self-publishing has become a possible platform from which to launch yourself on the world and a handful of authors have done this successfully. One of the privileged few? Debut author Darcie Chan and her book The Mill River Recluse

I found this article online about Darcie’s rise to fame and fortune. While, today, her story isn’t exactly unique, what struck me was this section of the article:

While she would love to write full time, for now, she still sees writing as more of a hobby. When people ask her what she does for a living, she says she’s a lawyer. But she’s still holding out hope that a publisher will buy “The Mill River Recluse,” edit it and sell it in brick-and-mortar stores.

A little surprising, isn’t it? But maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked. After all, one of the main draws toward traditional publishing for me is the dream of finding a talented, devoted, invested editor who will help my writing grow and become better than I ever could have made it on my own. However, I have to say that if I’d made over $130,000 before taxes I’d probably hire an editor and invest in printing physical copies of the book. Or maybe find a smaller independent press to partner with on the physical printing and distribution. But that is beside the point.

Authors can obviously find major success with self-publishing, especially digital self-publishing, but is this the new dream or do most simply see it as a stepping stone to what they really want: the validation of publication by a recognizable brand like Little Brown, HarperCollins, et al.? According to the article,

A few major publishers made offers, but none matched the digital royalty rates of 35% to 40% that Ms. Chan makes on her own through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Typically, most publishers offer print royalties of 10% to 15% and digital royalties of 25%. Simon & Schuster offered to act as a distributor, but Ms. Chan wants the book to be professionally edited and marketed…. Ms. Liss [Darcie’s agent] says that the offers from U.S. publishers so far don’t improve much on what Ms. Chan is making on her own…. “I told Darcie, at this point you’re printing money. They’re not. Go with God, we’ll sell the second book,” Ms. Liss says.

It’s an interesting issue and I don’t think anyone can see the big picture yet, not until the landscape stops shifting. By the time we emerge from this major transition period, my guess is that the publishing industry will be completely transformed. At least, I kind of hope it will be because otherwise it might be doomed to go down in flames as the next generation of blockbuster authors gives up on the NY houses entirely and shoots straight for the digital market. However, I have been wrong in the past. What do you think might happen? Is self-publishing going to continue to be a stepping stone into the more traditional publishing world or will it become the new dream?

2 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: The New Dream Or Just A Stepping Stone?

  1. Sera Phyn

    Very good point. Innovation is definitely key, but the long-term strategies of many big houses are still in flux. They're shifting but I don't know if, like my once-beloved Borders, they're going to pull through in time. From what I've seen most forward looking analyses are like weather reports: a good tool that helps you plan what to pack, but often wrong.

    I think I'm just hoping there won't be a sudden collapse of multiple companies that creates a vacuum in the industry as a whole.

  2. Anthony

    Nice post, but I'm going to have to part ways with you here:"It's an interesting issue and I don't think anyone can see the big picture yet, not until the landscape stops shifting."I disagree. I believe there are people out there that have offered a forward looking analysis. Shifting landscapes isn't much of a hindrance if you take a step back and realize what makes winners and what makes losers in today's high tech world:Innovation.It's pretty clear who is innovating and who is not.Plan accordingly. :]


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