First of all, I want to preface this response with the following:
  1. I’m just your Average Joe self-published author, not some superstar. I am not the aforementioned author who has sold “as many books as Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks, Kameron Hurley, Wesley Chu, etc.”…yet.
  2. I’m a big fan of Marc Aplin and Fantasy Faction.
  3. I would never want to pick a fight with Marc Aplin because he’s a retired MMA dude. That said, I’m sure he’s not the kind of person who goes around beating  up people anyway…but still.
  4. Marc brings up a ton of great points that I wish someone had told me when I first decided to self-publish. These are things many starting/failing self-published authors have not heard or refuse to hear.
  5. Marc doesn’t generally recommend self-publishing for begginers. He’s not saying it’s an evil overlord hell-bent on destroying the publishing landscape as we know it, he’s just asking us all to take off our rose-colored glasses.
  6. Be sure to read the entire post, found here.

With that being said.

MA: Well, I don’t think that any aspiring author out there would turn down the chance to be published by the likes of Harper Voyager (who print books by Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin and Mark Lawrence) or Gollancz (home to Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson).

I’m going to skip over the little prelude about having George R.R. Martin as my colleague. How many midlist authors at Harper Voyager have ever seen, let along shared a sentence with George R. R. Martin?

MA: I also don’t think that any individual is egotistical enough to think that they can do the job of agent, editor, marketer, production manager, distribution manager, sales person, etc. all by themselves and to the high standards of trained, experienced professionals who have earned their jobs in the top publishing houses around the world.

I can’t speak for the egos of other authors, but I know I can’t be an “agent, editor, marketer, production manager, distribution manager, sales person, etc” all by myself. However, I can and have assembled (just like Captain America) my own team of editors and other assistants to help me out. Let’s not forget that these “trained, experienced professionals” in top publishing houses have their fingers in a lot of pies. Sometimes, that means they ignore you if your sales aren’t sexy. Sometimes it means the bigger fish in the pond take more of their time. I know this from masquerading as a public relations professional by day.

MA: Finally, there just isn’t good money in being a self-published author. Yes, there are exceptions, but if you want to take the chance that the next one of those will be you then you’re playing with odds not too far away from getting a good lottery win.

No, starting out and for many years in some cases, there isn’t good money being a self-published author. But if you take out the heavy hitters, there isn’t always great money in traditional publishing, either. You’re playing the lottery either route you take as far as I’m concerned.

And now, the reasons Marc says people self-publish:

MA Argument #1: AN EDITOR / AGENT TURNED THEIR BOOK DOWN.

I admit, starting out this was me. It got real old real quick getting form responses or no responses back from agents. I decided I’d rather spend my time writing books — books better and more awesome than the one I was pitching.

MA: Imagine you want to be a professional football player, you don’t walk on the pitch and start playing for Manchester United. Imagine you want to be a movie star, you don’t automatically get cast in the next Avengers movie. Similarly, if you write a book there is no reason you should assume you deserve to be on shelves next to Trudi Canavan or Peter V. Brett, etc.; you need to put in some practice, allow yourself to fail a few times, get to a professional standard through hard work and dedication.

Yeah, but…you don’t get good enough to play for Manchester United by kicking a soccer (yes, I called it soccer) ball against a brick wall.  You don’t get cast in the next Avengers by rehearsing lines in front of  a mirror, without audiences seeing you in smaller films. Maybe your book doesn’t deserve to be on the shelf next to Trudi Canavan, but once you’ve got the knack for it (more on this later) there’s no reason your book doesn’t “deserve” to be enjoyed by readers. You’ve got to hit the stage before you can be the star.

Right or wrong, here’s what I did. Although my picture doesn’t show it, Out of Exile also went through several rounds of revisions, beta reads and was also edited by a professional copy editor and structural editor during the process

IMAG0010 (00000002)

MA Argument #2: AN HONEST BELIEF THAT THE AUTHOR CAN DO ALL THE WORK REQUIRED TO A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD AND OBTAIN THE SALES FIGURES TO MAKE IT ALL WORTHWHILE.

I concede a point to Marc here. He’s right and says something every aspiring indie should remember, nay, tattoo on their chest so they can read it upside down every morning before they get out of bed to go check their sales report on KDP: “self-publishing isn’t as easy as writing a book, putting it on Amazon and watching your bank get tasty little bonuses.”

No matter how you publish, you need a professional editor and cover designer. We can haggle about price and what makes a professional another time.

MA: If you write a book and self-publish it you get people like me who instantly approach your book with suspicion.

It’s 2015, not 2010 and the stigma around self-published books is fast-fading. People look at covers and they look at reviews, they don’t look for a publisher’s logo. But I get where you’re coming from, Marc. Every bad rap against self-published books has been justly earned by us indies. We blew it with the word garbage many of us poured down people’s throats, claiming it was a “book.” We’ve got to keep fighting to fix this. If done right, a person browsing online shouldn’t be able to tell your book is self-published unless they REALLY want to know.

In summary

MA: The dream of every writer should be to do it full-time so that they can become a full creative and indulge themselves within their worlds and provide the reading public with as many works that have had as much of their time as possible, surely

Testify to me, brotha! I can’t agree with this more, but whether an author gets there strictly through self-publishing, hybrid publishing or writing something other than books (like games, screenplays, etc.) is a different matter altogether.

What Marc fails to address, in my opinion, is that self-publishing is not the end-all-be-all destination, but  instead as a stepping stone for the dream he’s talking about. Ultimately, no matter how an author wants to publish their book, their goal should be for that book to be read and enjoyed by fans, regardless of who is listed as the publisher. That’s what I want, anyway.

As a stepping stone, I believe self-publishing (*done right, that is) can be a fantastic way for an author to get his or her work read and enjoyed by fans as he/she continues to progress toward the glorious paradise we call “full-time authorness.” And by done right, I mean ruthlessly revised and edited and given a proper cover, among other things, to ensnare the reader with the best story possible. Don’t live in the awful purgatory that both Marc and I agree comes when an author refuses to admit his work sucks. Keep growing!

Sure, you need practice, but that doesn’t mean all of your practice books up to the “big break” are garbage, either. Where does “beginning” end and “intermediate” begin? Once you feel — and here, “feel” means being brutally honest about said book and also getting feedback on it from someone other than your grandma —  you’ve got a book worth reading, why not share it with the world?

Are you afraid it will ruin your shot at the big leagues some day?

As Mark Lawrence estimates in his own response to Aplin’s post, somewhere around 1 in 2,000, authors who pitch his agent will get a publishing deal. From there, Lawrence crunches some rough numbers and guesses that 1 in 20,000 writers succeed in being traditionally published and making it “big”. No matter how good your book is, traditional publishing is not a linear, guaranteed thing where if you do A, B will follow. See Lawrence’s supporting diagram:

Mark Lawrence publishing venn diagram

Fancy diagram credit goes to Mark Lawrence

With these numbers in mind, is there anyone who can say with a straight face that only 1 in 2,000 self-published books were as entertaining as the worst traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I don’t think so.

Self-publishing is hard work, the payouts are often small and it’s easy to get discouraged and want to give it up. Even worse, as Marc with a “c” says “ some writers who were destined to write great novels that they were going to sell to hundreds of thousands of readers will instead self-publish, get discouraged at a lack of sales and give up writing.”

This is a valid point, but I would argue that these writers  would have given up just the same when they failed to secure an agent and a traditionally published deal. I would argue that those who persevere rise to the top in either scenario.

It takes a special person (read: a stubborn glutton for punishment) to find success in publishing period, regardless of the route you take.

The difference and deciding factor to me is this: in self-publishing, I can write, revise, edit and publish a book that some people, however few, will read and enjoy. I can then go back to my desk, do everything in my power to write a better book and repeat the process. Ten years down the road, if I continue to improve my craft, stay savvy with my marketing and continually produce better books, lightning might strike. If not, I should at least be able to bring in enough money to drown my woes in delicious Mongolian BBQ once a month.

On the flip side, I can continually write books for ten years, pitching agent after agent and shoving manuscript after manuscript into the back corner of my desk drawer, dealing with even longer odds. This is a bleak, lonely road. Maybe at the end of those ten years I get a deal. Maybe not. If not, I’ll  pay for my monthly Mongolian BBQ binge out of my own pocket and so be it.

The master plan either way is to write a book, then more books followed by better books until you’ve got something special on your hands that will make you a self-pub star or an agent’s new best friend (hopefully). Unless you’re some kind of other-world author prodigy, your first few books will suck. Some of the ensuing ones might suck too. The question is, what do  you want to do with the good books in between suck and special?

In either scenario, nothing is a sure thing, but I’ll take my chances with the self-publishing route for now. Why? Because if nothing else, I know I have a small band of readers out there who enjoy my writing and stand by my side on this long, crazy journey. Their support is often the only thing that keeps me from being another writer who quit.

It’s hard to get that kind of encouragement from the dust bunnies in the bottom drawer of my desk.