Monday, May 9, 2011

Line Between Legacy Publishers and Self-Pubbers: Myth or Reality?

I was thinking about something over the weekend. Maybe this is obvious to everyone, maybe it's not, but the more I think about it, the happier I get. Here's my thought: is there really such a difference between self-pubbers and legacy publishing houses? I know, I know. You'll come back at me with, "Well obviously, Chris--people READ books published by Penguin because Penguin stands for Quality, whereas they think something printed by Chris Hobson Inc. is probably a cut just above preschool marble painting.


But I know a couple of people who started publishing houses of their own. That's right: they just up and said, "You know, I think I'll start publishing people's books." And they did. And they published good stuff by excellent authors. But how, may I ask, is this different than publishing your own book?

I know they didn't publish their own books; that's not what I'm saying. They published other people's books. But it was them doing the publishing, not some faceless corporation with a decaying old man at the helm. And believe me, they didn't have fleets of editors or artists at their beck and call: they had to arrange for all of those services on their own.

It's weird: just because they called their enterprises "publishing houses" they gained instant credibility. One of the guys was able to consistently place ads in Publisher's Weekly for his clients. Try doing that for your latest greatest self-pubbed novel. I don't know for certain, but something tells me you'd get laughed off the phone. But what gets me is that these guys had to hustle for their clients, they had to track down cover artists, get layout work done, promote the books to industry magazines, beg book store managers to give them space on an end cap to display the books. If you looked close, their whole operations were held together with balsa wood and chewing gum.

I say again: how is this any different than someone self-pubbing their own books?

One of these guys had zero industry experience before starting his company. He'd never been an editor, never been a literary agent, wasn't bedding down with the scioness of some publishing house. He just worked his butt off and published a bunch of books that looked beautiful and were credits to their authors.

To me, this exposes the thin line between the perceived prestige of being published by a full-blown legacy publisher and just doing it yourself, because I saw these guys scrambling and working two to three other jobs just to support their ventures, and how there was no magic involved. I concede: if you go with a house, you might get an advance. You might get good editing done. You won't have to shell out your own money for anything, and, especially if you go with a small outfit, you'll get one person doing the publicity, the editing, the layout, etc. so you'll have instant accountability.

But to me, these guys were basically self-publishers of other people's work. Ok, granted they didn't have the industry heft of a St. Martin's or a Harper. But their books looked just as pretty, and they had just as good of blurbs printed on the back covers. And I'm telling you, the books they published were just as good if not better than 2/3 of the crap big publishers churn out each year.

All this is to say that as long as you work hard and make your book as good as it can possibly be, there is no shame whatsoever in self publishing. As I often caution in my blog posts, I've never published either via legacy publishers or via self-publishing, but I'm writing a book now that I'm probably going to self-publish, so a lot of what I write is to motivate myself as much as it is to help others.

Bottom line: while you might catch a few guffaws when telling people you're a self-published author, as long as your book is good, you should be able to confidently look them in the eyes and say, "You think my stuff sucks? Whatever. Buy a copy and see for yourself."


  1. "These guys" are the future of publishing. In fact, they're exactly what I'm looking for. I self-publish for only one reason: control over my art. Control that is taken from me from the very first step in the legacy world, the step that says to submit in Times New Roman, 12 point, the first step in a long downhill path.

    As soon as I find one of "these guys," I'll quit self-publishing.

  2. I hear you, Levi. Writers are all about control within their art (IMHO), i.e. they have total control over their characters and plotting, etc. so why shouldn't that extend into the business realm?