The issue with [self publishing] is that you end up with a lot of bitter, angry self-pubbers who are shaking their fist at the world and the collective writing and publishing community while spreading a lot of misconceptions about what aspiring authors can and should expect from both trad- and self-pubbing. Sometimes they went in with unrealistic expectations (“I’ve been rejected five times by major publishers! This is an injustice! I’m going to self-publish my book.”), and sometimes they failed to do their research (“I only submitted to three A-list agents, and they all rejected me immediately. It’s definitely not because I have no writing credits and they don’t represent my genre and I should’ve done more research into smaller, more appropriate agents for my book. I’m going to self-publish my book.”), and sometimes they just refuse to adjust their strategy (“I’ve been rejected twenty-five times. Instead of editing my query letter or taking some time off from querying to revise my book manuscript, I’m going to self-publish my book.”), all of which leads to an unhappy author seeking for a Plan B.
The problem with self-publishing as a Plan B is that, filled with spite and hurt, many authors simply do not prepare for it. They dive in head-first, shaking their fist at those evil editors and agents in ~tRaDiTiOnAl PuBlIsHiNg~, without pausing to ask themselves “Is this what I really want?” They don’t bother to consider just how they’ll make it work. They just know that they’ve been burned once, and here’s this lovely opportunity to get what they wanted—a published book—without all the stress and heartache of querying agents and having their work picked apart by editors. So why the hell not?
–Query Quagmire gives a thoughtful response to a question on self-publishing.
In my admittedly-not-very-expert experience, there seem to be two types of authors who do well at self-pub. The first are the freak hits. These are people who don’t necessarily take the whole author-as-publisher thing so seriously. They just wanna write, and they just want to put their work out there. However, they just wanna do this while they just-so-happen to have a freak talent for writing in their own right, either by skill (i.e. they’re really good) or by luck (i.e. they just-so-happen to be writing what the market wants, when it wants it). These are the people who have a break-out Amazon bestseller, get the attention of someone in tradpub, then get snapped up on subsidiary rights.
I’m also not entirely convinced they exist. Not exactly in this way, at any rate, no matter the standard PR lines.
Also, in case it wasn’t clear, you can’t “plan” to be in this bucket. It’s the self-pub equivalent of a lotto win.
The second type of author who does well in self-pub are those who run themselves like one-woman publishing houses. They write prolifically, manage social media and publicity networks, hire in copyeditors and designers, and otherwise manage a long-term career based on the slow acquisition of fans and a hefty back-catalogue.
This route can be very lucrative but it’s also a lot of work, as well as a long-term professional attitude that extends beyond “hah! I’ll show them [~tRaDiTiOnAl PuBlIsHiNg~]!”.
The long tail (tale?) is longer than ever… but it’s still tough out there where the curve meets the x-axis.