Friday, April 24, 2015

Indie vs. Trad -- Why the divide?

**Warning, the following is a fairly lengthy opinion essay. If the back end of the publishing world is not interesting to you, I don't recommend reading this post.**

I spend a fair bit of time in author forums on various writing sites, and over the past year I've noticed a common theme. *Beware* the following statements are gross generalizations (exceptions to follow): Authors who are publishing traditionally, or pursuing traditional publishing, have a tendency to snub independent authors - as a group. And independent authors, or those who are just starting the process of publishing independently, have a tendency to snub traditionally published authors - as a group. 

Note that I said tendency, and note that I warned you that those were generalizations. And we all know that generalizations aren't good for much in the long run. But, my point is, I'm seeing a disturbing divisive trend and I'd like to do whatever I can to push us all back together. 

Because being a writer is HARD no matter how you choose to publish your work.

(The familiar author facedesk)

First of all, you have to complete an entire novel. If you've ever written the first 10, 100, 1000, or 10,000 words of a novel and then stuck them in a drawer and forgotten about them (and anyone who's in this business has done that at some point) you know how hard it is to even finish a first draft.

We all have that in common, and crafting that first draft is, of course, crucial to everything that follows. Without the first draft nothing else can happen. It's not surprising then, that I enjoy bonding with other authors over the trials and tribulations of the first draft.

(The frustration of writing with a calligraphy pen is a metaphor for the struggle of the first draft -- just go with me on this one)

Second, we have revision. And all authors, whether submitting to traditional publishers, or deciding to forge ahead with self publishing, will revise. Granted, many authors (both those who are submitting to trad publishers and those who are publishing themselves) do not revise enough, but they do revise some. 

And it's here where the division often starts between indies and trads. There are self-published authors who really don't revise anywhere near enough, and they publish anyway. Typically, no one buys their books, but they're still there. Published. Whereas, if you're going the trad route and submitting drafts that are insufficiently revised you will simply receive rejection after rejection.

Still, I would argue that no one buying your book, and not getting past the front door in a publishing house or agency, amounts to the same thing. No one is reading your book either way. If you want people to read your book, you have to revise, revise, revise. (I'm lumping revising and rewriting together here for the sake of expediency, but the point is --- EDIT.) 

From here the paths diverge substantially but they are both damned hard work. If you're going the traditional route you must take your well revised manuscript, figure out a pitch for it (which is an entirely different talent than writing it in the first place), research submission guidelines for publishers and/or agents, and then submit, submit, submit. And receive a lot of rejections and hopefully, eventually, a few requests for the full manuscript, and then eventually offers to rep or publish your book. It is a long hard road requiring a ton of persistence, commitment, and work to get past the gate keepers of the publishing industry. And then, once you do, it's more work, but suddenly you're supported by a team of people who are all trying to help your book sell as well as possible (at least in theory).

If, on the other hand, you decide to go it alone, then you have to come up with the money to put your book on a level playing field with all of the traditionally published books out there (or try to, it's difficult to level the playing field entirely yet, but it's getting more and more plausible). You have to research editors, cover artists, cover designers, and formatters, and decide which parts you can afford to hire for and which you'll just have to do yourself. Then you have to get the money together for the parts you can't do yourself (which can be very intensive if you decide to crowdfund). Then you have to oversee all of those pieces (or do them yourself) and then you have to double, triple and quadruple check everything before you put your book into the world. And THEN you have to do all of the marketing and publicity yourself (unless you find someone to hire for that too). 


Both of those paths are a ton of work. The reasons for choosing one over the other are many and varied, and entirely personal. At this point, I don't think you can objectively say, "This is the best choice for every author," about either selection. The best we can do right now is, "this is the best choice for me, at this time."

So knowing that, why are authors on either side denouncing each other or each other's choices? I would imagine it's because it's a thing humans do all the time. We like to feel like we belong, and part of our feeling of belonging seems to be derived from excluding others. So, hey, I guess that's normal enough. But maybe we could cut it out? 

Being an author is hard no matter how you slice it, and so much of what we do is the same no matter how we reach publication. Why treat each other with anything but understanding and respect? 

Of course, I would argue that for all humans period, but that's a separate blog post. 

Getting back to authors in particular, I think it's important for us to support each other no matter which path to publication we're traveling. I know that a number of readers of this blog are here for the behind the scenes info about indie publishing, and since that's what I'm familiar with (and still in the process of learning about) that's what I've shared. And, because I've been very interested in the journeys of other indie authors, I have interviewed them and shared those interviews here as well.

But there are many other perspectives, and indeed, for years now I have followed the blog of Kristin Cashore (one of my favorite authors of all time, who is traditionally published), Neil Gaiman (also one of my favs and also traditionally published) and a number of authors still working their way towards publication. I don't often share those stories here because they aren't my stories to tell but I very much enjoy reading about them.

Next week, I will be sharing an interview with an author in the middle of her journey to traditional publication. Her name is Joanna Ruth Meyer, she is lovely, she is a frequent NaNoWriMo participant, and I have been following her blog for a number of years now. In addition, she has recently been signed by an agency, and she's going to tell us a bit about how that came to be. Her interview will appear here on the blog on Monday and, in the meantime, I recommend that you go check out her blog here

Authors of all kinds, unite! 

And, finally, can we take a moment to appreciate that I found freaking moose tracks in the park not fifty meters from my house?

They look like baby moose tracks, but still. MOOSE. IN THE CITY. WTF?

That is all. 

Happy Spring!


  1. Publishing used to mean simply "making your work available to the public." It didn't mean having your work made public by somebody else. I'm with you: how come the great divide between indie, big-bucks, and, dare I say, self-publishing? Benjamin Franklin self-published.

    1. Indeed, before large publishing houses became a thing, the only way to get published was to get either sponsors, or your friends, to pool money together and pay for a print run of your book. Crowd funding and self publishing is actually a lot more old school than what we currently consider "traditional publishing." Good point, Clarinda!

  2. P.S. I think the Great Divide is being radically narrowed by digital opportunities like blogging.

    1. Indeed, blogging, ebooks, and print on demand are all narrowing the gap in some ways.