Vigilante Author — or Cultist?


The publishing industry’s image of indie authors?

I am a cultist.

At least, that’s what a guy writing in Salon implies. But no, not for my individualist politics or philosophy.

Only because I’m a strong proponent of self-publishing.

“Self-Publishing Has Become a Cult,” his article declares.

Yes. Really.

“Last year I self-published a novella, and all it did was encourage me to get an agent and seek a traditional deal for my full-length novel,” gripes one Rob W. Hart. After explaining that his little 20,000-word book has sold only about 200 copies to date — which he insists was enough to satisfy him — he continues:

“Yet, not for a second did I consider self-publishing my [next] full-length novel. The goals here are different: I want this book in bookstores. I want the cachet that comes with getting a traditional publishing deal. I want to get invited to better parties.”

Now, despite the semi-ironic tone (like saying, “I wanna be on the cover of the Rolling Stone — tee-hee!”), I think he’s actually being serious, because he offers no other motive anywhere in the piece. He seems to crave Official Publishing Establishment Validation. Which, to me, is sad.

Mr. Hart goes on to say that he really wants to become a “hybrid” author — that is, one who seeks a mix of traditionally published and self-published arrangements for his various works. But then he spends paragraphs grousing that advocates of self-publishing despise and denounce writers who seek such a hybrid career.

For the record: I think a “hybrid” publishing career is a perfectly legitimate option for a writer. In addition, I don’t know of any self-published author who mocks writers who take that path. In fact, I don’t know of any self-published author who ridicules or despises those who have found success in traditional publishing, either.

Succeeding professionally as a writer is a terribly difficult career path, and I applaud anyone who has the fortitude and talent to find any way to do it — whether his vehicle is traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing…or whether his medium is print books, ebooks, audiobooks, or parchment scrolls.

It all depends on your personal goals. I have writer friends (for instance, J.Carson Black) who began with traditional publishing, then moved to self-publishing because they thought it offered better financial and contractual terms. I have other writer friends (for instance, Michael J. Sullivan and Hugh Howey) who have achieved super-success first by self-publishing, but who then shrewdly parlayed their fame into select, carefully tailored deals with big publishing houses, which allowed them to expand their fan base to include bookstore customers, while still retaining most of their other rights. And I also have author friends (for instance, Brad Thor) who have achieved phenomenal success solely through traditional publishing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these arrangements. The objective for the author, in all cases, is to find and connect with his target audience of readers. Everything between the author and his readers is either a means to that end, or an obstacle. A “Big Six” publisher, a small press, or a printer/distributor that offers self-publishing services…those are merely options to achieve the end of reaching readers; and, depending on your priorities and goals, they can be either better- or worse-suited for that purpose.

Yes, for the overwhelming majority of writers, I enthusiastically advocate self-publishing, and I’m unapologetic about it. For most, it offers far better money, plus guaranteed publication, much faster publication, a flexible pace of publication, faster royalty payments, retention of all rights, total control over production and marketing, creative freedom, and endless time to find one’s audience.

However, self-publishing is not for everyone. It does not offer you much (if any) bookstore distribution, so you’ll miss reaching those customers. Also, self-publishing doesn’t guarantee you any up-front advance against royalties. It requires that you either learn or hire people to do the various tasks of production, distribution, and marketing — things that publishers do offer writers.

And, of course, a traditional publisher’s acceptance of your manuscript will bestow upon you Publishing Industry Validation!!! — if you are so insecure that that matters.

Again, it all depends on what you want, and which of these things are your highest priorities.

But self-publishing is no more a “cult” than is traditional publishing. Arguably, the latter — which operates more like an exclusive club, admission to which is akin to enduring the rites of a fraternity initiation — should be more vulnerable to the “cult” label.

Anyway, why do I get the feeling from Mr. Hart’s defensive tone that he feels the need to justify his own choice…or perhaps the motives for it?

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4 Responses to Vigilante Author — or Cultist?

  1. Mike Dennis says:

    100% agreement, Robert. Hart is still quite entranced with the notion of being published by the New York cartel. I did a post on his article myself. You can find it here:

  2. Jeb says:

    I hate to correct anybody’s word usage–well, not really–but it is just flat-out wrong to characterize lefties as leaning to port. The port side of the ship is the side to one’s left when one is facing forward; whereas lefties typically posture ass backwards, i.e., so that they are facing not the front but the rear. Left-leaning in that position is starboard, not port. Please watch your denotations and connotations when using metaphors and semaphores.

    • RobertBidinotto says:

      Hahahaha. Jeb, I’ll take that “correction” in the spirit that I’m sure you intended. However, I don’t think this particular post had that political reference.

  3. DD says:

    You should strive to be the cult leader. There’s a lot of money in it, from what I hear.

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