Reevaluating the Briar Patch

I have--to this point--been consistent regarding my opinion of self-publishing and its relevance to my own career. That opinion has not been very positive. For all the anecdotal examples that are bandied about the internet of self-publishing success, the majority of self-published work (in my own anecdotal exploration) is atrociously bad. Of course it is. There are no quality controls on self-publishing. You write it. You publish it. It's out there. It is only as good as your talent, skill, and editing can make it.

Conceding this front, the "self-publishing is the New Publishing" argument has moved to revenue. I've seen Amanda Hocking's name everywhere, but nowhere have I seen an assessment of the quality of her work, only that she's made a lot of money. And despite some popular blogs claiming that the one proves the other, here in this blog we know that to be a load of crap and will not tolerate the claim during intelligent debate.

Having friends who have already self-published, my pursuit of traditional publication was immediately met with questions of why I just wasn't self-publishing. My assertion (and one I continue to make) is that pursuing traditional publishing makes you a better author. While I've always been the best in any group environments I've participated in (classes, organizations, writing groups), this is the big wide world here and the internet has brought the best together. I am not the cream of that pile. Not yet, at least, but that's where I want to be. Self-publishing offers no hurdles, no comparative challenge for me to improve or a yardstick in which to measure that improvement. I want to query, find an agent, and sell my book preferably at auction because I have improved to the point where my work is something worth arguing over.

There is the persistent briar patch of writing and rejection, however. Writing is subjective, every agent will tell you (often including it in their form rejection). It may not be that your query or your book were bad so much as it was it simply didn't appeal to them. With the dwindling number of fantasy agents out there (not counting urban fantasy because I don't write it), the sample size is incredibly small. If your book doesn't appeal to twenty people, you're pretty much done with that cycle.

At the same time, it's an easy excuse to avoid looking critically at your own work. Was it simply a matter of taste or were you not good enough? Was your query bad? Was your book bad? Are you writing derivative, unoriginal work? Are you cliche? Irrelevant? Contrived?

It is a fine line between losing to subjectivity and losing to not being good enough (a line I find most people miss, opting for the latter scenario rather than the former).

Elsewhere in the briar patch is consistent theme or style. Do you pursue stories that run against the grain in that it could find an audience but has greater difficulty finding an advocate in a diminishing market? Are you simply too outside what is accepted? You see that one a LOT. But does that mean it can't be true? Again, a thorny question with an answer that could be one side of the coin or another.

Self-publishing as a response to rejection is avoidance, I think. The answers could be true that you are good enough and just too far out there but that a market awaits you if you only had a chance. Absolutely. But too many people use those excuses for me to ever make such a claim and actually believe myself.

That brings us back to the Konrath/Hocking Paradigm. Self-publishing as a form of superior revenue generation. There's too much anecdotal argument here for anyone not to cling to whatever argument they want to believe. But given the sheer volume of self-publication, I think if it were the superior money maker across the board, that picture would be clearer to all who looked at it.

There's a but to this. You've known it was coming since my first sentence. My company made an announcement on Thursday, one I don't know was public or internal so I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say, i've had a long-standing opinion of where publishers needed to go to survive the ePocalypse, forming their own markets and improving author royalties on ebooks. The announcement effectively turned us in the opposite direction.

Now, I'm not running around with my arms above my head saying publishing is doomed. For all its glacial pace publicly, privately publishing moves very fast. New ideas begin and die before they ever come to fruition. Five different strategies for the same solution may begin simultaneously, allowing the strongest to survive. This new direction may not make it out of the year. But if it does, if it becomes the norm, I may throw my hands above my head and start saying publishing is doomed.

This is an important moment in publishing's evolution with powerhouses positioning themselves for the future of the industry. For the first time in the past couple years, this is the first time I've seen one of the big six intentionally adjust its strategy in a way I feel cedes market positioning to a rival.

If it continues down this path, the pressure will cause the company to buckle. Amazon's 70% will represent nearly three times the royalty rate offered by traditional publishers while securing its massive dominance of the book market through digital distribution.

Sure the 70% thing's been going on for awhile, but this new pivot has caused me to sit up and take notice. In addition to becoming a better author, I've been pursuing traditional publishing with the expectation that the industry would win out in the end. This is the first sign that I might have bet on the wrong horse.

As such, for the first time ever, I'm genuinely considering self-publishing as a viable course for my career. I'm still querying agents and pursuing traditional publishing, but I'm open to alternatives. I just have to walk through the briar patch and answer some hard questions.