The emergence of self-publishing services like Kindle Direct Publishing, NOOK Press, and Kobo has had an incredible impact on the publishing industry. For the first time, writers are free to cut out the gatekeepers separating them from potential readers. But the question remains: should they?
There are a number of benefits and pitfalls inherent in each approach.
Traditional publishing’s chief attraction is respect. The presence of a publisher’s name on a book listing does a great deal to assure a reader that the work meets a professional standard. And rightly so. Any legitimate publisher makes sure the books it puts out are edited, properly formatted, and have attractive covers. Furthermore, some publishers have devoted fans who regularly search for their new releases, improving the odds of a writer reaching new fans. Publishers also tend to be far more savvy regarding marketing and advertising than the average writer, resulting in increased visibility.
But … there are drawbacks. The first issue regards contracts. No matter how good the deal a writer strikes with a publisher, he will almost always make a lower percentage of royalties than he would self-publishing. Worse, unscrupulous publishers may include clauses that swindle writers out of various rights on their books. And as one can conclude from the above, not all publishers are created equal. Any one of the benefits mentioned in the previous paragraph may not apply to the publisher in question. There are numerous presses that skimp on editing, covers, marketing or other essential aspects of a successful release. So, research is key when going the traditional route.
Self-publishing avoids the dangers of shady contracts altogether. Writers are free to set their own royalty rates (within the parameters of the self-publishing platform they’re using, of course) and have total control over the production of their books. This not only empowers them to ensure the quality of the work being produced, but to reap the greatest possible financial rewards.
But most don’t. The sad truth is that the self-publishing industry is still nursing a black eye. There is a huge glut of crap on the market thanks to writers who were more interested in bragging rights and/or making a quick buck than creating a solid book. Bad covers, bad formatting, bad … everything, really. So, even a well-made book risks putting off readers on the sales page due to this stereotype.
There are also some impressive obstacles in the way of getting that topnotch book made in the first place. Because while self-published writers do have the power to make sure every part of the production is done correctly, it also raises the possibility of screwing up each and every part of the process due to inexperience or delusions as to quality. All the stuff a legit publisher provides for free (editing, formatting, cover art, marketing) … the writer now has to find a way to afford. While a smart writer can learn how to do some of these things (and has no choice to in the case of promotion), far too many believe themselves capable of tackling everything and end up with a disaster in the process, bruising the industry’s already black eye a deeper shade of purple. As an additional annoyance, there are many reviewers who refuse to read self-published works because of this reputation, making the promotional aspects even more difficult for the writer.
So, while each approach has its fierce proponents and critics, the truth is that either one is capable of success. Or failure. Or anything between. Regardless of new developments in the business, it will always fall to the writer to decide which path suits his needs and can best benefit his work.