The first thing you learn as a writer is that writing is the easy part; getting published is the long slog.
When Amazon embraced ebook technology and opened their format to self-publishers, ebooks exploded into popular culture, taking the publishing world by storm — and many by surprise — with its rapid growth. New writers see in the ebook format a way to bypass the gatekeepers and build their own audience; established publishers see a new revenue stream with miniscule manufacturing costs.
But the decision to self-publish shouldn’t be a quick one for the new writer. Traditional publishing — called “legacy publishing” — has much to offer, including editors who will push you and your manuscript to reach its fullest potential before releasing it to the world, and a publisher that takes on the financial risk of printing and distributing your book and who, at least in theory, will do everything they can to market your book and encourage sales. That is, after all, how they make their money. A publisher also provides a new writer with instant credibility — your work has been vetted and critiqued — and access to reviewers.
On the other hand, the publishing industry is in disarray. Distribution channels are controlled by a small oligarchy — in Canada, it’s pretty much a monopoly, with Chapters controlling approximately 70% of print sales — forcing small bookstores into failure and more than one publisher into bankruptcy. The “BookNet Dictatorship” encourages publishers to abandon talented but poorly-selling new authors instead of nurturing them as publishers would have done so in the past; and government grants and protection policies that encouraged our literary development are now under threat by a government that simply doesn’t see the value in our literary history, or doesn’t read books.
The result is that most legacy publishing has thus become like Hollywood: only safe, already-been-done stories (and a plethora of franchises) are deemed commercially viable, and if a trend develops publishers want to jump on the bandwagon instead of nurturing new ideas; you’re only as good as your last project; most agents will only talk to you if you come recommended by a current client; commissioning editors often only accept work they personally like rather than taking a more objective stance; monopolies are controlling distribution; politics abound; and independent creators must rely heavily on government and private foundation grants to get their projects made, and then only a handful of public venues exist through which to sell the results.
Ebooks are challenging all that. A writer can now, with the power of the Internet and social networking, market themselves if they’re willing to put in the time and effort; and as the stigma of self-publishing is lifted by more and more success stories, and by the decision of some established authors to self-publish, mainstream reviewers might rethink their position on lumping us all together as publisher rejects who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Yes, I wanted, absolutely, the affirmation of a legacy publisher. Yes, I would rather not be burdened with printing and distribution because that’s time I could spend writing. Yes, I would rather someone else handled the marketing. BUT I felt I would spend as much time or more trying to find that elusive literary agent, who will then spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to find that elusive publisher, who will then reject or greatly limit distribution of my second book if sales of my first book are not spectacular OR I could spend the same amount of time promoting my book myself.
I’m confident in my abilities, made good use of readers’ feedback (my novel, Baby Jane, went through four drafts before I felt it was good enough to release), and I produced a quality cover. I didn’t feel that self-publishing was my only option; I felt self-publishing was my practical option.