If you’re just tuning in, my self-published play was already successful but I decided to sign with a traditional publisher even though it meant a pay cut. There are three reasons why.
#3 was: The (potentially nonexistent) effect prejudice against self-publishing would have on my future work.
The stigma of self-publishing. In just about every article about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, this is usually the one that everyone mentions first. When I first decided to self publish my book, I heard things constantly like “self-publishing will ruin your chances of ever traditionally publishing a book.” “If you self publish a book, no publisher will ever want to touch it.” “As an agent, I reject immediately if an author has a self published credit.”
In the first post in this series, I told you briefly about an incident I had with a traditional publisher about this very work. In short, this gentleman was very interested in my play until he found out it was self published and then informed me that it would never sell a copy and never be performed. Of course, it was selling copies and it was being performed and when I presented him with those facts he simply disavowed that they couldn’t possibly be true or were a fluke. Despite what he said, I never felt like I’d missed out on anything by self-publishing my book instead of going with a traditional publisher. If anything, what he said to me made me feel that traditional publishing couldn’t get me anything I couldn’t get myself and this way I was making 100% of the profits.
I want to say this very delicately because I don’t want to offend anyone, but I think it’s no coincidence that the people who always argue the most strongly about self-publishing being a career killer are usually agents or others connected within the publishing industry. I’m not saying that there isn’t a stigma, but I do think that it is accentuated most by those that have the most to lose if the traditional publishing model falls. I strongly believe that, if you present a superior product and you behave professionally and with good business sense, then you can be very successful with a self published work. If you put out a product that looks cheap and childish, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re distributing it yourself or whether a big publisher is behind it, buyers are not going to be interested. It’s a sad reality that most self published books are produced and many self published authors behave very unprofessionally and these people give everyone else a bad name.
My point is simply this: often times what we mistake as a stigma for self-publishing is really a stigma against unprofessionalism. I think that will change in the future as more authors with quality products bring positive attention to indie publishing.
Now, that said, whatever the reason, there are still people within the publishing industry who look down on self-publishing. So, in what will probably seem like the opposite logic I’ve used above, I truly believe that anyone who has something that they wish to publish that they believe has mass appeal should make every effort to traditionally publish it and only self-publish it as a last resort. Because, what it boils down to is, unless you’re willing to commit yourself the self published lifestyle for all of your future works, self-publishing can have an effect on your future career. Is it right and fair to all the indie publishers out there that are putting out absolutely fantastic work that there is this stigma? Of course not. But knowing that the prejudice is out there is enough to make you take pause and think about how self-publishing could potentially handicap the work you’ll want to publish down the road.
Might this self published play come back to bite me in the butt and cost me a future book deal? I had no way of knowing and that was a factor in my decision to go legit. It certainly wasn’t the biggest thing that led me towards the decision, but it was something that I thought about and pushed me to sign.
I know this can be a hot button issue so I’m really looking forward to seeing what people have to say about this. If you’re a self published author, have you run into any prejudice against your work simply because you’re distributing it yourself?
As a reader or maybe as someone who works in the publishing industry, do you think the stigma against self-publishing is founded?
Lastly, if your self published book was selling successfully, would you take a traditional deal just to free yourself from the possibility of the stigma affecting your future career even if it meant a pay cut?