Are there still benefits to traditional publishing or should we try self-publishing?
October 12, 2011 8:11 PM   Subscribe

My husband wrote a novel a few years back. It has pretty much sat in our house in digital and a print-out form. I will not comment on how the major publishing houses tend to not come searching in your house for The Next Great American Novel... *ahem* But what SHOULD he do?

I'm probably biased, but I'm also tough and have a least a little experience critiquing creative work and I do think his story is pretty decent. I'm wondering about having him self-publish through Amazon, B&N, and Apple and their various devices. Is it worth it (not necessarily monetarily, but just in a "getting it out there rather than sitting in the house doing nothing") or should he still explore the more traditional routes?
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by modernserf at 8:17 PM on October 12, 2011

If your husband is interested in continuing to write, then go through the steps to try to get him representation (modernserf's previously covers a lot of that).

However, you put the writing in the past tense, which makes me think that he might not be all that interested in writing anymore, which means that an editor's/agent's suggestions on how to improve the work might not be high-priority to him. If that's the case, then it may be worth it to simply self-publish, have copies for yourselves, friends and family, and maybe make a few bucks from it.
posted by xingcat at 8:59 PM on October 12, 2011

I am a bookseller in an offline, brick&mortar bookstore. Ebooks are their own beast so I bow to the better informed there.

What I know about book publishing:

There are so, so many legitimate traditional publishers in the U.S. alone: hundreds if not thousands including small presses, which are often more open to new authors. (For larger publishers you should look for an agent--look for one anyway!) And every year these  eminently respectable publishers nonetheless produce thousands of INDESCRIBABLY AWFUL books. I have two stacks of to-be-read ARCs: books that genuinely raise my interest, and books that are going to be delicious popcorn-time watch-the-trainwreck disasters. All books from large publishers with editors & designers & publicity departments & more (all work YOU will have to do and/or pay for if you self-publish).

What I consequently suspect (as a bookseller and reader) of an author when presented* with a self-published novel:
"My book is so unspeakably terrible that I submitted it to a bajillion publishers with industry-norm low standards and none would touch it;"
"I submitted this to no publishers, and no one has actually read or spellchecked it but me and my mom."

There are so many books, and so little time, and so much crap to wade through, that taking my chances on novels with even more vanishingly small likelihood of being decent just isn't worth it.

* 3 or 4 times a month people will come in with a self-pub book to promote. they CALL almost every day. they will inevitably never have patronized the bookstore before or do so in the future.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:18 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

If it's a choice between self-publishing and no publishing, I'd go for it.

If it's a choice between self-publishing and trying to get someone else to publish it, you might consider not using an agent, but dealing directly with publishers.
posted by maurreen at 11:31 PM on October 12, 2011

If it's a choice between self-publishing and trying to get someone else to publish it, you might consider not using an agent, but dealing directly with publishers.

With respect, and not to start an argument, but I wouldn't choose this route. Given what a massive amount of value a good agent can provide (financial, but in other terms too) I'd never advise an agentless path to traditional publishing unless you've seriously tried and failed to find an agent. I'd definitely either try to go the traditional route or a completely non-traditional route, not something in between.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:57 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

To answer your headline question - Are there still benefits to traditional publishing or should we try self-publishing? - yes, there are, primarily money, publicity and prestige.

But your situation depends on why your husband wants to publish his novel. If it is because he thinks he has written a good book that people will want to buy, he should try and get an agent in order to sell it to a major publisher. If he can't get an agent, he could then try submitting it himself to smaller independant publishers. If he can't interest any publisher at all, only then should he consider self-publishing. Always start with the best possible market and work down.

Alternativley, if he just wants to say he is published and be able to give a couple of copies to friends, then he should cut straight to self-publishing.
posted by ninebelow at 3:53 AM on October 13, 2011

He should do what he wants to do with it.

There is nothing inherently wrong in writing something that is not published. Many people write for their own enjoyment of the process rather than from a goal to be published.

Many people who create things that they do want to present to the public have also created a lot of things that they would rather the public not see. Not at all unusual for some of those to be their first efforts in that creative area. Goading him to not have this novel "sitting in the house doing nothing" is not likely to encourage him to continue writing, if that's what you want him to do.
posted by yohko at 4:28 PM on October 13, 2011

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