This last weekend, I was at BaltiCon in Hunt Valley, MD. I had the pleasure of being on a number of business/business of writing panels, and I noticed something very cool that I wanted to loop back around to talk about.
In one of the panels, I was the only traditionally-published author out of a group of five, but there was no animosity, no rancor, no posturing. It was five creatives who had all taken different paths to getting their work out into the world. It is my hope that we’re at a place where writers and creators looking to work in the SF/F prose field can approach the business with open eyes and a sense of freedom — of possibility.
There are many paths up the mountain, and as many ways of having a career as there are authors (and considering how some authors reboot their careers, there may be more ways than there are creators).
It’s not just Traditional and indie/self-publishing — there are a hundred gradations and combinations. Here are just a few:
- Contract with a major publishing house for print+ebook.
- Contract with a major publishing house for a digital-first book.
- Contract with a smaller publishing house for print+ebook.
- Self-publish and do all of your own design/production.
- Self-publish and hire professionals.
- Crowdfund a self-published work.
- Sell ebook rights and self-publish the print edition.
- Podcast your work for free and self-publish a print edition.
- Self-publish your work and then sell the print+ebook rights to a major house.
- Contract with a major or minor house with no advance but a higher royalty rate.
And so on. There were many paths to publication even before the rise of the ebook, but now there are even more ways. You can be a hybrid author, traditionally publishing some work and self-publishing other work. Imprints like the new Tor.com imprint are responding to readers who are buying and supporting self-published work in the 20,000 to 60,000 word range; they are offering writers a chance to traditionally publish in that range.
Self-publishers innovate, and traditional publishers respond.
Traditional publishers innovate, and self-publishers respond.
The better everyone gets at writing, producing, distributing, and selling books, the more everyone else can raise the bar to respond.
A new writer entering the field now, in my opinion, should do their research and set about things as a business owner. How do *you* want to build your career? Figure out what models and what relationships achieve the objectives you want to pursue, and go for it. And while you’re going for one thing, always keep your eye out on other opportunities.
When you encounter anti-traditional publishing or anti-indie publishing/self-publishing rhetoric, look at the motivation and positionality of the person talking. Then consider whether that advice applies to how you want to build your own career.
Business is business. Your editor may be your friend, but businesses are not people. Cultivating relationships is hugely important, but remember that you’re running a business, too. Diversify your revenue streams, know the field, know your options, and go forth to tell stories on your own terms and make your way up the mountain.