Self Publishing v Traditional Publishing

I follow a lot of blogs and forums about writing and have received a lot of second hand information about the publishing world. I have experience myself of self-publishing, but it occurred to me last night that I have no idea what it’s like to work through publication with a registered house. Would I want to? Would I enjoy the process?

On the one hand, I have always written with an eye on publication as the prize. On the other, I want to write what I want to write. I mentioned Pulp Idol previously on the blog. If I had been published before I wouldn’t have been able to enter.

Competition Rule 3: Writers must not have been published by a recognised/registered publisher other than self-published, in hard copy or on the internet.

I’m self-published so that’s obviously ok. I entered the competition for experience and exposure. If I win I’ll be ecstatic, but I’m genuinely not that bothered about it. Best case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner and it’s all wonderful. Worst case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner but it’s a horrible experience and the book that comes out the other end isn’t the one I wanted to write. And then I’m excluded from competitions like this one in future.

Dan Holloway, who I’ve reviewed on this site before and who I speak to quite regularly (as he’s a great bloke) writes ultra gritty, underground literary fiction. It’s marvellous, but it isn’t for your average bookshop browser. He’s said to me on more than one occasion that he has no interest in mainstream publishing as he doesn’t think it will allow him to write the work he is compelled to write. Do I agree with him? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s much point him beating at the doors of Faber & Faber (which is a criminal shame as his work is much better than a lot of other people that are under that imprint, and other imprints) but I do secretly hope one day that a major publisher will emerge that specialises in edgy writers. If that day comes I would love to see Dan spearheading that kind of thing as a major list writer. It’s not for me to decide, of course, it’s his work and his career and he certainly doesn’t need any advice given the progress he’s made and the incredible writing he’s produced. And at the moment that publisher doesn’t exist anyway. But if given the chance, would I snatch at a contract on offer? I said in my last interview I would; in all honesty, I’m not so sure. I’d be very cautious.

Of course, this is my view today. Tomorrow it will have changed. I never said I wasn’t fickle.


4 thoughts on “Self Publishing v Traditional Publishing

  1. James Everington May 10, 2011 / 9:50 am

    I agree I think – a publishing contract on my own terms (i.e. write what and how I want) would be great, but getting ‘signed’ and then being pressured and dictated to would not be fun. I’m sure we’ve all read horror stories about writers in that situation; but then also there are major publishing houses putting out work by people like Murakami, David Peace, Amy Sackville etc. – are they really not writing what they want to write?

    I guess it depends too on how much you want control over things like the cover art and stuff as well.

    The main problem with self publishing is obviously not people like Dan, but the poorly formatted , badly written dross that has been deservedly unpublished by the traditional publishers, but is now all being published in a glut. Will this continue, and will the average reader be put off by ALL self published by the rubbish that’s out there?

    I don’t know the answer, obviously…

  2. Neil Schiller May 10, 2011 / 7:28 pm

    James, you’re right of course, I’m sure Murakami is writing exactly the books he wants to write. There are obviously some fantasic authors traditionally published, otherwise I wouldn’t have read anything until the Kindle came out last year. I was just thinking out loud really, unfiltered bollocks – as this blog tends to be… On the flip side I was talking to Mark Porter (the guy who wrote Dogs Chase Cars) and he had a great experience with his publisher. All very casual, some recommendations they made that he agreed with and took on board. No conflict at all. I just worry too much I suppose…

  3. Marion May 12, 2011 / 6:20 am

    The thing is, you somehow want to get enough money so that you can write something else without having to take on a mind numbing job. It’s quite possible that neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing will pay you enough. However, if you can get traditionally published by a respectable enough publisher, you may be able (at least in the US) to get a nice cushy job teaching graduate students or undergraduate students creative writing. If you are self-published, even if you are selling millions, you won’t be considered legitimate enough to get the gig.

  4. Neil Schiller May 12, 2011 / 9:02 am

    Marion, it’s a good point. I started a PhD eight years ago for precisely this reason. I figured I could get a cushy job teaching literary criticism to undergraduates and in the gaps between seminars and half-arsed marking I could write. Since then, ironically, my actual career has gone on to develop quite nicely so I now have no idea whether I want to do that at all now. Don’t get me wrong, I’d drop work entirely to write full time tomorrow if I got the chance. But being around the university so much has given me second thoughts about whether I’d actually want to work there…

    Creative writing teaching would be nice though. If the email I got from Writer’s Digest yesterday is anything to go by it could be a bit of a doddle:

    The Three immortal things you absolutely MUST do when writing a chapter.

    1. Focus on the writing
    2. Break chapters when your story needs a shift
    3. Break chapters in the heart of the action

    It’s advice that’s helped me enormously. Instead of typing with one hand whilst watching the neighbour’s cat defile my garden, I now realise I’m supposed to concentrate. And I’ve learned I can end the section at either a natural break, or when there isn’t one. Thank you Writer’s Digest. Booker shortlist here I come…

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