One of the more popular “self-published made good” narratives involves that of a previously tradpub author who, upon regaining rights to his or her backlist, promptly puts it on Amazon and makes a mint.

This is a fun story and it has all the makings of a good underdog story; the victory of the Little Guy Author over the Big Bad Publisher. No matter the branding on the box Big Bad Publishers all seem to share one common villainous attribute, and that’s a near-malicious glee over keeping authors from their profits. Big Bad Publishers are the Smaugs of New York, hoarding book rights like gold, sleeping atop mountains of backlists that haven’t seen readers in a generation.

We have a saying, at my day job: never assign to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

See, the Secret Ingredient in this tale of underdog triumph isn’t shaking free from the shackles of traditional publishing. As scandalous as it sounds, traditional publishers want to make money just as much as authors and Amazon do, they’re just not always as good at being in the front lines of the digital revolution.

The point is that “I republished my backlist and made a million” is both:

  1. not a strategy limited to self-publishing, and
  2. not a strategy that’s applicable to new authors entering the field.

The latter point in particular is important; if you’re looking to publish your first, second, or even sixth book now, chances are that, by the time the Curse of the Forgotten Backlist comes for your financial bottom line, the publishing landscape will have changed so much that current-era get-rich-quick selfpub schemes will be no longer relevant.

It’s certainly true that, right now, self-pubbed author-publishers enjoy certain advantages traditionally published authors will have difficulty capitalising on. But the point is not to shoot yourself in the foot ten years down the line because of something that’s hip and trendy right now.