A (Somewhat) Passionate Defence of Self-Publishing

It’s no secret that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to books. I prefer print to digital, look down on e-readers, and revere well-known publishers’ logos on the spines of my novels. For someone who started her writing, editing and publishing on Wattpad, this is very high-handed of me. So I’ve been trying to actively change this mindset.

To my surprise, it hasn’t been difficult.

Six months ago, I started freelance editing and I’ve read a lot of manuscripts in that time. Most of my clients are predominantly in the self-publishing sphere. Some of their manuscripts are first drafts; some of them need one last set of eyes before hitting the shelves. And yes, some of them are terrible, but quite a few of them… aren’t?

This cognitive dissonance is strange for me; I’m still struggling to accept that self-published doesn’t mean that it’s bad. People, including myself, have looked down on self-publishing because it’s seen as the “easy” route, or that self-publishers write “low-quality” work and don’t care about good storytelling.

But the truth is, your route of publishing isn’t an accurate judgement of skill or quality. There are pros and cons to both traditional publishing and self-publishing, and you’ll need to decide what works best for you and your book.

I read somewhere that “the biggest reason why people still pursue traditional publishing is ego.” I think we need to start shedding that ego and take self-publishing more seriously.

For starters, self-publishing is difficult and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. As a self-publishing author, you’re a writer and you’re in charge of cover design, editing, formatting, marketing, sales, rights, reviews, promotion materials and everything else that would otherwise be taken care of by your publishing house. I immensely respect those who can juggle all these responsibilities and still produce books people want to read.

And that’s just the thing: people really want to read these books. The self-publishing market share is growing, particularly with regard to ebooks because it’s cheaper and more convenient for voracious readers. Consumers, especially those who like genre fiction, enjoy ripping through stories quickly. Who are we to stop them?

Plus, self-published authors see far higher royalty rates. Where a traditionally published writer might strike gold and hit a 15% royalty rate on their book’s cover price, self-publishers receive 60-70%. And before anyone starts moaning about how “books shouldn’t be about making money” — you’re wrong. The publishing industry is a business and, like any other, it needs to be profitable. You might not like it — I certainly didn’t — but traditional publishers rely on bestsellers to survive, and most authors never even see royalties. In fact, this whole article might disillusion you when it comes to the importance of book sales.

Self-publishing also has other advantages that people don’t talk about enough:

  • You have far greater control on your publishing schedule, price and profits, aesthetic, publishing rights, copyright, and sales.
  • If you know who your audience is, targeting them is faster and easier.
  • You can still have the things traditionally published books have: print copies, book signings, movie deals etc.
  • Since most online platforms don’t distinguish between self-published and traditionally published books, your books can still become bestsellers.
  • And you could always still be picked up by a traditional publisher. People don’t realise that it isn’t an either/or situation; you could be a hybrid author who does both!

Some awards have also started considering self-published novels for prizes, and I suspect this trend will continue. Traditional publishers are also promoting digital imprints to keep up with self-publishers (like HarperCollins’ One More Chapter). In general, more self-publishers are achieving the same successes as traditional publishers — so why are we still hating on them?

It is difficult, I know, to move away from antiquated ideas of what should be considered a book worthy of our respect. It’s why we lie about reading classics and frantically Google summaries of books we should know to have “intellectual” conversations.

But screw that! Read what you like! Write what you want!

My (somewhat) passionate defence, at the end of the day, is simple: the publishing industry is changing and we need to change with it, or forever be stuck worshipping things people tell us to.

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