This post, by Jane Friedman, originally appeared on her blog on 1/8/13.
Many years ago, when I started working for Writer’s Digest, I was put on the self-publishing beat. I started by reading Dan Poynter’s guide, by the godfather of self-publishing, then the Marilyn Ross guide. I attended EPIC, once the leading conference for e-book authors, and sat on a panel with Piers Anthony to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing, POD publishing, and digital publishing. For a couple of years, I edited a newsstand-only magazine called Publishing Success, geared toward independent authors, and oversaw the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Book Awards. I developed lasting relationships with several indie authors during that time, including John Sundman and M.J. Rose, and I saw a few authors successfully cross over to traditional publishing.
At that time (which was in the early 2000s), if you were a self-published author, print-on-demand was emerging as the golden ticket to affordable independent publishing. New POD publishers were marketing their services with dirt-cheap introductory packages—as low as $99—to entice authors fed up with rejection to find success through this no-print-run-required technology. What most authors discovered, however, is that without access to bookstore shelves, or a reliable way to get in front of readers (these were the early days of the Internet—no social media and very little in the way of popular blogging), you were pretty much wasting your time.
One author stood out, though, as finding a way where the others didn’t—M.J. Rose. She was turned down by traditional publishers but was convinced there was a readership for her work. So in 1998, she set up a website where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel online. After selling 2,500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper), her novel Lip Service became the first e-book sensation to score an author a traditional publishing contract. (What is also interesting here is Rose’s background: advertising.)
When asked about the future of self-publishing in October 2012, Rose told The Nervous Breakdown:
In 2000, when I was the e-publishing reporter for Wired.com, I was asked about the future of self-publishing and at that time said it would become the best test market for publishers to find future superstars—as soon as e-books took off and that wouldn’t happen until the readers dropped to under $100. We’re there—it’s happening. Every week the press reports on two or three major deals with self-pubbed authors who have built up their own fan bases. But notice how those self-pubbed authors are moving to traditional deals. As empowering as self-pubbing is—it’s not easy to go it alone. Most of us writers want to be writers—not have to spend years studying the business of publishing and becoming entrepreneurs. So I think there are going to be more and more creative business models to offer authors trustworthy and creative partnerships as solutions to going it alone. It’s an amazingly exciting time in publishing.
I agree with M.J. My question is: Is self-publishing going to become the predominant, preferred, or recommended means for authors to launch their careers? While we might all agree there are more paths than ever to get published and be a successful author, some advocates of self-publishing—primarily those (perhaps exclusively those) who write genre fiction go a step further: Don’t even bother getting traditionally published. Self-publish first.
Usually the model or formula is expressed like this: