We live in a time when the planets seem aligned to give everyone the power to self-publish their own book. Between ebooks and print-on-demand services anyone with a story to tell and the time or money to format a manuscript and slap together some cover art can publish their own work without any help from traditional publishing houses. Despite the potential to take charge of my own publication destiny, I have (thus far) chosen not to.
In 2014, an estimated 458,500 books were self-published in the United States, representing a 437 percent increase since 2008. That is a huge, mind-boggling number or titles. Everywhere you turn, stats and anecdotes seem to be pointing toward a self-publishing utopia just over the horizon. You have the power. You are author, editor, cover artist, publisher and publicist. But for all the hype, I’m still not convinced it’s for me. Here’s why:
There are a lot of excellent books that are self-published. I’ve read many and plenty of people I know have done it. But for every good self-published title, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of terrible ones. You know the ones — clip art covers, typo-ridden text, indecipherable plot, wooden dialogue. The trouble with doing it all yourself is that you don’t have anyone to tell you that it isn’t ready. That is partially the fault of the online self-publishing culture, which encourages you to crank out the books as fast as you can, with no regard for the quality of the finished work.
I don’t want to be published for the sake of being published. I want to be published because I spent years at my craft, writing the best novel the world has ever seen. To do it right takes years and input from test readers and editors with different perspectives. And though I could probably create an acceptable cover on my own, I’d much rather leave it to a professional. That’s time better spent writing.
For all their flaws (and there are far too many to list here), traditional and indie publishers still serve an important role as gatekeepers and as a quality control mechanism for the reading world.
2. I’m Building a Career
My dream is to make this writing thing a full-time gig. I want to be a novelist/playwright/essayist and pay the bills with words. And I could jeopardize that goal by jumping the gun. I have that luxury. I’m at a point in my career where I can afford to take my time and get really good at what I do. Sure, Fitzgerald was a year younger than me when his first novel hit the shelves, but Mark Twain didn’t publish Tom Sawyer until he was 41. There’s no need to rush.
My tune might change in the future, but for now, I just don’t think I have the resources or the skill to go it alone. Other writers do it well, but I’m just not that confident…yet. I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. Is self-publishing really a good choice? I leave it up to you.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma who sometimes disproves his thesis even as he’s making it. This blog, of course, is self-published, as are many flash fiction pieces on this website. You can also see my unfiltered, unedited thoughts on Twitter.