Why I Don’t Plan To Self-Publish: Part II

Some time ago I wrote a post on self-publishing, and why I’m not planning to go that route. I was at the Ontario Writer’s Conference on the weekend, and sitting in a session on pitching work to agents and publishers, the inevitable question came up. “Why not self-publish.” The session’s facilitator was Hilary McMahon, of Westwood Creative Artists (a Toronto agency). She did a good job of explaining the value that publishers add in the value chain. It’s increasingly difficult in a cluttered marketplace to make your work stand out, especially if it’s one of thousands of self-published novels. The publishers’ network of reps, distribution deals, and cross media relationships will help lift your book above the crowd. Which is not an insubstantial advantage. However, here’s a couple of other reasons she didn’t mention (and which I didn’t mention in my first post):

1) If you self-publish, you can’t apply for grants. Living in Toronto, I can apply for grants from the Toronto Arts Council, The Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts, but only if I’m going the traditional publishing route. They will not fund self-published projects.

2) If you’re hoping to win the Giller (or any other major award) you can forget it if you self-publish. The major prizes are not awarded to self-published novels, no matter how good there are. True, there are a few prizes for self-published novels (and I think we can expect more in the future) but none of them come close to the traditional prizes for credibility (and, frankly, cold hard cash).

Will this all change in the next decade? Probably. Will this lead to greater diversity, and make it easier for authors to succeed by non-traditional routes? I very much doubt it. It’s much more likely to result in a less diverse market, where choice collapses to the major author ‘brands’. I really hope I’m wrong about that, but the economics of the business points that way.

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3 responses to “Why I Don’t Plan To Self-Publish: Part II

  1. Some things are better suited for self-publishing, but for traditional fiction, I’m with you. I’d rather spend the time tweeking until a traditional publisher accepts it. Self-publishing just feels too easy to me (although there are times when “too easy” looks awfully tempting).
    I think there are some great writers that have self-published but for everyone of them, there are 1000 not so good writers self-published.
    Terry Fallis managed to parlay his self-published book into success but that is akin to a Lotto win, Very rare indeed.

    • I agree Dale. There are many paths to publication, and it’s not for me to prescribe what other writers should do. Lisa Genova (Still Alice) did a fabulous job of marketing and packaging her work, and she’s now one of the prime examples of success through the non-traditional route. But of course, as soon as she was offered a place in the traditional publishing world, she took it. It’s not even a financial thing. I’ve seen analyses of self-publishing which suggest that over the long haul the author could be better off financially, going the self-publishing route. It’s really about validation and excellence. I want to be a better writer. Knowing my work will have to clear the hurdles in its path (the slush pile, the interns at the agency, the agent, the editor, the sales department at the publisher, the marketing department at the publisher and finally the reader) makes me work harder, and has made my work better. So for me, it’s the way I want to go.

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