Versus Obscurity

My last post generated some discussion in the realm of self-publishing, specifically a good deal of speculation about why I continued to pursue a traditional route after enduring such a disastrous launch for my first novel. It’s a good question, and something I’d like to address.

First, some disclosure. I am not an exclusively traditionally published author. The Veridon books are currently available, in conjunction with my agent, in ebook form. That’s not strictly self-publishing, but Joshua provides certain services that I would rather pay for then do myself, and I’m still getting a healthy cut of the profits. Beyond that, I have collected all of the Veridon short stories and released those myself, as well as a handful of novellas and other short works. All of these are available on my Amazon page.

But for the majority of my work, and especially for the epic fantasy novel that I just finished, I’m sticking with traditional publishing. Why?

First, because I’m really only a very good writer. I’m terrible at marketing, I can’t do layout, I’m not going to design my own cover and I would rather not be responsible for editing. Yes, I could hire people to do these things for me, but it’s a broad marketplace and I don’t have any experience shopping it. The marketing aspect is something I’m going to have to do myself at least a little, but there’s a reason the world is full of publishing houses, and their expertise in these areas is the best of those reasons. Is it still a crap shoot? A little, yes. I certainly didn’t get several of these foundational pillars of support from Solaris the first time around. One of the reasons I signed with Titan (and we had other offers) was because of their established history of excellent support for their authors. They’re the pros. I’m going to let them do what they’re good at, so I can do what I’m good at.

Now, by itself, that’s not a very good reason to stay with the traditional route. Anyone can tell you that the market is fraught with peril, and produce a dozen stories about bad marketing and disastrous publisher support. My own story is a pretty good example of that peril. But the plural of anecdote is not data. The fact is that you’re more likely to find success as a traditionally published author than you are as a self-published author.

But wait, you say, what about… and then list a bunch of people who have made it. Yes. Some people make it. But most do not. And even if most traditionally published authors also are not “making it”, the potential for success is greater. And I stick with the odds. I’m conservative like that. And the odds favor hybrid writers by a more than seven to one ratio. You can choose to bet against those numbers, believe in your ability to beat the odds, and do all that extra work yourself, or you can do the thing that’s most likely to make you the most money (as well as garner the most attention, win the most awards, impact the genre most effectively, involve your name in the endless discussion that is SF/F, etc). I am doing the latter.

And seriously, read that article. It’s data. Not the narrow echo chamber of self-publishing evangelists, many of whom are trying to sell you their marketing expertise or editing services, or who are just so invested in their belief system that no amount of data will change their minds.

I’d like to point you again to my own article, The Tyranny of Choice. In there I point out that 265 new titles are coming out in April in the SF/F world. At that rate, there will be over 3100 new books in the genre this year. That’s a lot of books. I have said before, and many other authors echo this, that the single greatest threat to an author’s success is obscurity. It’s not digital piracy, it’s not the rising cost of paper or the decentralization of the industry. It’s the sheer number of books that come out, the narrow bandwidth of books that readers can pay attention to, and the disparity between those numbers. Good books disappear unseen into that gaping maw every day. Who knows how many? That’s the danger we face.

The most recent estimate of books published in the US, both new titles and re-editions, across all genres and forms, is just under 305,000. Those are traditionally published titles.

The number of self-published books in the same period, depending on whose data you believe, was between 600,000 and one million.

I hope you see my point.

There’s a lot of passion around this subject. That’s good. I’m passionate about my writing, and I don’t expect you to be any less passionate. But at the same time I don’t want to vilify people who make a different choice than I do, nor do I expect to be vilified for giving you my reasons for my choices. I encourage you to do whatever is best for your book.

As for me, I’ve done my research, I’ve studied the market, and I’ve made my decision. And I’m already cashing the checks.

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