Chuck Wendig fired an anti-idea-salvo with his rebuttal to Hugh’s article, where he said that there’s No One True Way, basically advocated the non-advocating path.
Idea: Traditional Publishing First (or Only)
This has basically been the mantra for… well, pretty much ever, at least for serious fiction writers wanting to make a career out of their writing. In the past, this was based on the facts on the ground at the time: publishers had a lock on distribution and indie publishing consisted mainly of doing a small print run on your own and handselling your books. Now, the facts on the ground have changed. Indie publishing connects authors to readers around the world at virtually no cost (in distribution). However, the mantra is still there, with the idea that indie publishing should be a last resort or no resort option.
Idea: The War of Ideas is Good
A war of ideas benefits authors, because competing world-views are forced to fight it out, hopefully illuminating the flaws and merits of each (great thread on the Kindle Boards for more on that). We need people like Hugh Howey espousing Indie First, as a counter to the weight of history that said indie publishing was the death-knell of an author career. The No One True Way approach basically says All Ways Are Equal, Figure It Out For Yourself. It’s Switzerland. Which is nice and has pretty scenery, but doesn’t actually help authors trying to make a decision about their careers.
Where’s the Truth?
Here’s what I know:
- I have friends with traditional (big and small) publishing contracts.
- I have friends who are agented and on submission.
- I have friends who indie publish with success everywhere from barely breaking even to NYTimes bestsellers pulling down six figures a month.
This isn’t about which of my friends are doing it “right” and which are “not.” It’s about discerning the path most likely to lead to new writers – writers starting out today, in 2013 – to success. For that, it’s important to look at not just what works for any given author (Chuck or Hugh), but what is working for most authors. I can share what I see – my own experience and other authors that I know. It’s anecdotal, which has drawbacks, of course. It’s just my subset of the world. Other authors will see a different subset (note Chuck’s insistence above that he doesn’t think indie pays better than trad-pub; that’s his subset). There are a couple surveys that have attempted to get a handle on the indie pub phenonmenon, but those have their drawbacks as well.
The truth: there is no hard and fast data. We can wait around for a survey that’s flawless or for years of experience to roll in… or we can take reports on the ground right now about what authors are experiencing and try to learn from that.
In that vein, this is what I’m seeing:
- Friends who can’t land an agent but can pay their house payment with indie publishing.
- Friends who were agented but couldn’t land a trad-pub contract, go on to make six figures a year indie publishing.
- Friends who never pursued trad-publishing supporting their families with their indie published works.
- Friends who are multiply trad-published and score a 3-book deal with a major NY publisher, but who can’t quit their day job.
- Friends with small press contracts who contemplate leaving writing because they can’t make any money at it.
Bottom line: I see way more writers supporting themselves with their written works in indie publishing.
The idea that you can make money in indie publishing doesn’t come from a vacuum – it comes from author after author actually doing that. And telling other people about it.
I used to be a No One True Way advocate. And I still believe that, in 2013 in some cases, traditional publishing is still the best choice for a book or an author. An author might chose that path for personal reasons, like wanting to win on the hardest setting. Or a particular book (say, middle grade) may not fare well in the indie market, because traditional publishing still has a lock on paper distribution, where most middle grade books are discovered (for now). I respect any author deciding to pursue publication by any means – it’s a brave, fine thing you are doing. Each author has to decide for themselves what their goals are, what will make them happy, and how to go about that. (Note: Hugh and Chuck BOTH are hybrid authors).
But these days, I’m leaning toward Indie First advocacy. Why? I’m not saying, “I did it this way; you should too.” I’m saying, “I see far more writers paying the bills with their indie publishing than in trad-publishing.”
And when I see people living their dreams with indie publishing, and I don’t speak out about that? It feels like pulling up the drawbridge after me. And that’s the last thing I want to do.
The revolutionary idea here is that, in 2013, starting with indie publishing may give you a better chance overall of making money with your writing.
And that’s something worth advocating.