Monday, December 9, 2013

Self-Published versus Traditional Publishing: The Debate Reaches a Fever Pitch

Personal Journey

Of course, it won't come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am referring to my own internal debate. I've done lots of research on the topic. I've read the blogs and the articles. Basically, for me the main crux of the debate boils down to the following: On the one hand, I could self-publish. I could take my little nest egg and invest it up front. It is a high risk venture, with a possible high rate of return. Higher, possibly, than traditional publishing. However, I would have to work a lot on marketing and invest a lot -- in terms of time -- in networking, in publicity, et cetera. I would have a lot of control over what I publish and when. I would have a feeling of accomplishment that would surpass what I would get from handing my hard work over to a faceless, soulless corporation. And releasing ebooks and limited amounts of physical copies on demand is not extremely expensive, in the end.

Or indie?
On the other hand, I could put minimal money into the work and go the traditional publishing route. I would have no control over the timeline. I would have to wait for the slow grinding wheels of  the publishing industry to turn. I may not have the public see my work for upwards of two years. I would also have changes made to my work by agency and editors all on the basis of market demands. And at every stage of the process, my returns would be diminished by the myriad corporate employees who need to take their cut. However, I would be freed from many of the less appealing publishing tasks and could focus solely on writing. I mean, sure, nowadays even the biggest publishing companies with the most massive marketing budgets offload much of the marketing work to their authors, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about book design, would I? Of course traditional publishers release ebooks as well as physical ones. And then there is always the fact that, like it or not, traditional publishing is still more "legitimized" than self-publishing. At least at this moment in time.

So what's a budding (not exactly) young author to do? I thought I had put the debate to bed. I thought I had decided on traditional publishing since I do not exactly have financial largess and I yearn to see a book with my name on it sitting on the shelves of the local bookstore. Never mind that it is a saturated market. Never mind that it is very possible that a large publishing house might decide not to put much money into marketing my book. That's what I wanted, that's what I was going to go for. Find an agent and let the process begin.

But then this happened:

The wave that I spotted far out on the ocean back in April 2011, when the idea for this manuscript first came to me, is cresting. Or perhaps, if it is not yet cresting, it's grown into a Tidal Wave. When I first had that idea and began to write sketches and scenes for the novel, I set up some Google Alerts. Robots, artificial intelligence, automation. Every day for almost three years I have scanned those alerts. And in three years, they have changed a lot. What was once the dominion of  engineering websites and robot nerd blogs is now in local daily papers and on national news networks. And then Amazon released this video.

Whether or not it is a publicity stunt is not relevant for this discussion. What is relevant is the reaction to it. People started to take note. People started to talk about this form of automation as if it were possible, as if it were imminent, as if it were real. The number of "what if robots take all our jobs?" articles multiple and even my love and his friends discuss the potential scenarios this innovation suggests.

This is when my novel should be released. This is when the world should have my story. At this moment in history, my manuscript, RoboNomics, is smack dab in the middle of the zeitgeist. Am I afraid of missing that opportunity? Yes. Am I afraid that the world will catch up to the fictional near future I have constructed? You betcha. I don't want to miss this opportunity. I am afraid that if I don't tell this story now, it will expire.

Hybrid Author

I think I have a solution, however. Lately I have been reading about a new phenomenon, wherein an author is a little bit indie, a little bit corporate: The hybrid author. There is nothing stopping me from publishing RoboNomics by myself while sending off another manuscript -- that thing I call "Otherworldly" which is not time sensitive at all -- to literary agents, is there? Agents want new, fresh material that has not been published elsewhere. They want marketable authors who have show that they have readership. So much the better.

Of course, there is always the problem of editing. I am in the throes of my last manuscript edit of RoboNomics. But that could take an untold amount of time. Two months? Three? I have no idea. It is best if I get the thing out now.

Luckily, there is a solution to that problem as well: Wattpad. I heard about Wattpad ages ago, but I didn't give it much serious thought. It had to do with serialization, and seemed to be filled with teen series written by teens. But lately I have been looking at it again, since I do have a teen series up my sleeve. But it struck me the other day as the perfect solution: I can release RoboNomics chapter by chapter. I can build a readership, work out the kinks in the chapters as I go along, and at the same time save up money for editors and book cover designers, et cetera, in anticipation of binding the whole thing together as a self-published novel. But the real upshot is that this story about automation and its possible effects on the world can be in the public eye. Sure, it will be for free. But at some point the story takes on a life of its own. It becomes more important that it exist in the world than my making money off of it.

So what do you think? Self-publishing or traditional? Which is best? Should self-publishing be legitimized already or is it just a bunch of amateurs fooling around? And what do you think about my serialization scheme?

It's actually helped me a lot to think this out by writing it out. But I am asking because I do indeed need a little input. I keep going back and forth, doubting myself. What would you do in my situation?