The ascendancy of the ebook has truly reinvigorated the discussion about the viability of going the self-publishing route.
— So many screeds about “legacy” publishers.
— Publishers having to create videos or powerpoint presentations* explaining what they do and why they’re still relevant.
— Countless articles about the $$$ various successful self-publishing authors have made, first by self-publishing ebooks through Amazon, then by getting a monster book deal from a major publisher.
— Ever more manuals and articles which aim to show how you, too, can be a successful self-publisher — usually written by someone who has no self-publishing success under his or her belt (other than maybe the how-to works).
I’m all for this. It’s a great conversation to be having, but it’s not all that novel. I self-published a printed book about 10 years ago. The conversations and debates going on right now were going on back then. It was the dawn of the web, and since anyone could easily put up a website on the “world wide web,” the argument was that this new platform would allow us to reach the millions of readers out there and sell our books to them directly. There was no need for a “middleman.”
Technically, I suppose this was true. What’s also true is that millions of people did NOT buy my self-published book. That certainly would have been nice, but you know what? I still consider the whole venture a total success, and I will tell you why: because I learned a hell of a lot by doing everything myself.
In fact, the lessons I learned during that self-publishing experience have helped me throughout my career in publishing, which has included having a couple of books published by a major publisher, as well as working for major publishers.
That is the point that I want to make: you learn an immense amount of “on the ground” knowledge across the entire spectrum of the book business** when you self-publish, regardless of whether your project is a success or a failure. By doing it yourself, you touch all aspects of the process, down the the core levels. And all the things you weren’t aware of, don’t pay attention to, or forget about, those mishaps have a way of really sticking with you, once they come back to bite you somewhere down the line, that is. I would argue that these collective lessons — the good and the bad — will be invaluable as you make your way along your own, long-term, unique publishing path.***
*I can’t think of a way to make yourself seem more irrelevant than to make this argument with a powerpoint presentation.
**A business which is currently in a state of massive flux.
***Given all the options these days, in an ideal scenario, you’ll be able to mix it up — self-publish some works, publish experimental pieces with upstarts and new ventures, AND get books published by a major publisher. I am slating an exploration of this concept for a future essay.