I was in a Facebook writing group the other day, and a writer there posted that he didn’t “condone” self publishing. I asked him to explain, and one thing he said was that there is a stigma to it. I’d heard that before, but it seems like it’s been ages since anyone has said anything like that to me. So, I thought I’d write a quick blog post saying what I told him:
THERE IS NO STIGMA TO SUCCESS.
Do I need to repeat that? There is no stigma to success. That is the goal of publishing: self-publishing or traditional publishing (now the two may define success differently, but they have some measure of “success” they hope to achieve). If you self publish and have financial success, there is no stigma in the traditional publishing world. In fact, I’m told that self-publishing phenoms get contacted by agents and publishers all the time. Traditional publishers hope to cash in on the author’s fan base and sell traditionally published books to them. (Examples of this include Amanda Hocking, who sold millions of books; Hugh Howey, who hit it big with Wool then got a rare print-only publishing deal; and Anna Todd, who has not sold a single book, but garnered a six-figure deal based on having 800 million views of her Wattpad stories.)
There is no stigma to success.
I’m sorry if I’m being repetitive. I just feel like it needs to be said if there are people out there who write well, who get their work published in literary journals, who know how to tell a story, but don’t publish their stories because they are worried about being stigmatized.
There is no stigma to success.
In traditional publishing, THERE IS A STIGMA TO SLOW RESULTS. Yes, I said slow results. When I was initially talking to my friend, I stupidly referred to it as a “stigma to failure.” But, that isn’t true. That was me using the lingo of traditional publishing. It is one of the things that is destructive to writers in the traditional publishing model. If your book doesn’t succeed during the publisher’s time frame (usually the first year — or less), you are labeled a failure. It’s possible you’ll get one more chance, but the truth is, you’re tarnished goods in that model. If you are lucky enough to get a second deal, but it doesn’t perform in the publisher’s alloted time, then you have failed by their standards. You are a failure to them, and you’re worse off than if you had self published. Because, when you self publish, you have all the time you need for your book to find its footing. There is no arbitrary deadline set up for your success. I say arbitrary because traditional publishing deadlines aren’t based on anything that has to do with you or your writing. The deadlines are based on when the publisher is releasing other books and publicity schedules and shelf space at bookstores. The deadlines for being considered a success have nothing to do with your particular book. They have everything to do with the amount of time your ADD publisher is willing to spend with your book before moving on to the next thing the company is publishing.
In the world of self publishing, you have time on your side. You can have a book that doesn’t sell well, and then you can write another book. If that doesn’t sell perfectly, guess what? You can write another book. I am by no means suggesting you write crap, upload it to online retailers and ask people to pay you money for it. However, I am saying that a book not selling might be about visibility rather than writing talent. Sometimes, it takes time to for a book to be seen and gain traction. And truth be told, it also requires luck. The more books you publish, the more likely you are to increase your chances of gaining traction and getting lucky.
There’s an online group called Kboards where self-published writers sometimes go to commune. One board includes a list of self-published authors with high sellers listed first. If you look at the list, you’ll notice one thing: most of these high-selling authors have more than five books published. Some a lot more. To me, this says these authors mostly didn’t get instant success. They found success as they published more and more books.
This seems to hold true for the self-published authors who discuss their numbers. Joe Konrath, who was traditionally published before striking out on his own, shares his numbers (scroll toward bottom to see his chart). Admittedly, he started off selling well, but continually increased his numbers the more books he published. Oh, you say, but Joe had a fan base; he was traditionally published before. That’s true, but his numbers still increased the more books he had. Still, point taken. Let’s look at someone else.
Hugh Howey recently talked to Tech Crunch about his rise to success. He noted that during the first three years he was self published, his “first six novels had sold around five thousand copies between them.” That’s roughly 1667 per year. And presumably, that number was backloaded, with Howey selling a higher number of copies in later years. His numbers probably looked something akin to 600 in year one, 1,400 in year two and 3,000 in year three (a steady progression of sales; the more books he put out, the more he sold). Again, that’s just conjecture on my part.
However, the point is that self publishing is not a stigma in the traditional publishing world when you have financial success. And it doesn’t even matter when that success comes. No publisher would have been beating down Howey’s door for 5,000 copies over three years, but when he launched Wool, he sold 1,000 copies the first month, then 3,000 copies the next month and the numbers just kept growing (according to the Tech Crunch article). After Howey started selling thousands of books a month, those early numbers that the traditional publishers would’ve called failure didn’t matter. (As an aside, Howey was perfectly content with those early numbers, and kept writing books.)
Given the current ebook royalties, lack of promotion, and lack of control in traditional publishing, I’m not sure I’d want such a contract. But if your goal is to be published in the old school way one day, don’t let the idea of self-publishing “stigma” bother you. Because that stigma is a myth. The only stigma in traditional publishing is lack of sales, and you can end up with that stigma whether you are self published or have a traditional contract. If your writing is ready to go out to the world, put it there. And remember:
THERE IS NO STIGMA TO SUCCESS
IN SELF PUBLISHING, YOU HAVE ALL THE TIME YOU NEED