Self v. Traditional Publishing: It’s Not a Rivalry


I saw this ^^ meme making the rounds on Twitter recently. It was being shared mostly by writers who are querying for traditional publishing deals or are working toward one.

The comments that went along with it were worse. And in the interest of honesty, because that’s what I do here, I’ll go ahead and tell y’all I cried.

I’m not usually a crier. It’s fine if you are, but I’m not. I was a bit surprised at my reaction, but I was having a particularly difficult day. My sales have been almost zero (I’ll be posting them in early April for those who may have wondered), I’d just returned from a workshop I was supposed to be leading that no one showed up to after putting in my fifth day in a row of working 17+ hours, and I was emotionally exhausted. So I cried. Then I wrote a blog post on failure (well into hour 21 of working) and put the puffin and Twitter out of my mind to get a few hours sleep and start again.

I really didn’t think I was going to come back to the puffin, but… well, here I am.

I know I talk about this sometimes ad nauseum, but I have a traditional publishing education. If you were to look at my Twitter feed, you’d probably think I was a traditionally published author (or aspiring to be one). Most of the books I read are written by traditional authors as are most of the people I follow. The seminar I just attended in Tennessee was full of those on the traditional track (I actually think I was the only self-published author there). And yes, there were a few hurtful jokes made that I chuckled off because at the end of the day I get it.

In some ways, I used to be right there with the people sharing tongue-in-cheek jabs at self-published authors on Twitter. I came into this with bias, and I still have it (hence my TBR pile). But sharing memes like the one above on social media does literally nothing except hurt people who are chasing a dream exactly the same as yours.

Let me repeat that. Writers looking for traditional publishing deals want the same thing as writers considering self-publishing: to have their words read.

Some of us want to be able to make enough money to write full-time (I fall into this category), some of us want a movie deal, some of us want to see our books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, some of us just want to throw our heart onto the page and maybe have some friends and family read it. What we want changes in shade but not color because all of these things share the same base–people reading our books.

And just like in every career, there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal. 

Now, I don’t know of any self-published authors who have big movie deals (if you do, please do share!), so if the shade of your desire is Hollywood, yeah, you should probably query and get an agent and go the traditional route. But if you just want to throw a book out there to say you’ve done this thing, then there’s no reason you need to query for years and sit around waiting to see if a Big Five Press will take your book. And guess what? There are variations of all kinds in between. Maybe you want an indie press because you’re not interested in New York. Maybe you want to be one of the successful big name self-published authors. Maybe you want to be a hybrid author who does a little bit of Big Five and a little bit of self-publishing. Cool. Every single one of these is a legitimate path. But there is absolutely no reason to trash a path you chose against. That. Shit. Is. Personal.

There is garbage in the self-publishing world. I’ve read it. There is garbage in traditional publishing. I’ve read that too. There are gems in self-publishing (I happen to think I’ve created one, but judge for yourself). And there are gems in traditional. And there’s stuff that’s “meh” in both too. There’s stuff for me and stuff for you. There’s four stars and two.

Okay, now that I sound a little bit like Dr. Seuss, moving along.

This industry is hard. Traditional publishing has challenges self-publishing does not and vice versa. We all fail. I’m failing right now. The uncertainty is scary, and sometimes, when we’re uncertain, it helps us bolster our own decisions by tearing others down. It’s easy, I think, to say, “Well at least my work isn’t so bad that no publishing house would have me!” Ahahaha.

Fact: I did not query. Not one single time. I chose this. My decision to self-publish has literally nothing to do with the quality of my work and has everything to do with my desire to have complete creative control because I was sick of having mental illness and addiction and trauma take my voice away. I wasn’t about to hand it over to a Big Five press after I’d struggled to regain it. The fact that my book doesn’t have Penguin Random House on the inside cover doesn’t mean that Penguin Random House “wouldn’t have me” and to say so is to show your own ignorance about what goes on in the self-publishing world.

Don’t be ignorant. It’s okay to listen. It’s okay to come to a conclusion that traditional publishing has its flaws and self-publishing has its flaws and there are reasons to do or not to do either without having to de-legitimize the other. I know we live in a very “this side or that side” kind of time, but how someone chooses to go about getting his/her/their books into the hands of readers really doesn’t have to be that kind of issue. I promise.

So please, don’t let your fears trample my dream.

15 thoughts on “Self v. Traditional Publishing: It’s Not a Rivalry

  1. Wow. I never quite thought about it like that before. “What we want changes in shade but not color because all of these things share the same base–people reading our books.” So. Very. True.
    Thank you for this important post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. About half of my books are self-published, and half traditional; I put the same amount of work and care into them, either way. Maybe that’s not true for everyone, but as you say, there are people in both worlds who put out quality work, and others who put out crap work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry it took so long for me to reply, jeez WordPress really doesn’t tell me about comments sometimes! Anyhoo, I’ve been really kicking around the idea of hybrid publishing lately. Do you have any tips or sources you’d recommend?


      1. Not really — it all happened very randomly and without planning for me! It started because some of my works weren’t suitable for traditional publishing–my history of my fire department, for instance, which had only of local interest. The main tip I’d give is to marry someone who’s very good at design and computer stuff, like I did: Emily did all the cover design, editing, formatting, and such, so I didn’t have to pay much up front.

        The other thing is that all but one of my traditionally published books were through a small publisher. With their limited resources, I had to do most of the same promotion work with them that I did with my self-published stuff–so once they were published, my part of the job was very much the same either way.

        I do recommend hybrid publishing, though–I think it’s a best of both words kind of situation in which you can still go traditional, but have a way to put out more unique or off-length works. What I’m not sure I’d recommend is small publishers–As much as I enjoyed working with them, I’m not entirely convinced the benefit is worth their share.


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