Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: Why I'm Trying Traditional

In response to Rachelle Gardner, Tell Me the Truth Now

In her post, Ms. Gardner disagrees with the popular ideas that a) traditional publishing is dying, and b) you have to be an idiot not to pursue self-publishing. She follows those points with this question:
Q4U: Why are you pursuing traditional publishing?

Let's be honest here. Don't think about anyone else's reasons. Don't argue for traditional publishing as a concept and don't try to convince anyone else of your way of thinking. This isn't about an agenda. It's about you.

Just tell us, straight from your heart, why you hope to be traditionally published.

I thought this question more than worthy of a full blog-post, especially because I've seriously considered self-publishing, and done so for non-standard reasons. Here's the deal: in a lot of ways, self-publishing is very, very attractive to me. Before I answer Ms. Gardner's question, let me play devil's advocate and go through my own temptations to go straight to print-on-demand and Kindle.

1. I tend to favor a broad interpretation of fair use laws.

Self-publishing, the development of creative commons licenses, and various other changes of the digital age have allowed artists and their fan base a new era of open and trusting relationships. Taking a musical example: I have worlds of respect for DFTBA Records, founded by Hank Green and Alan Lastufka, whose artists release their music under creative commons licenses and encourage fans to do things like using songs in YouTube videos. The win/win for the artist, who receives free promotion, and the fan, who receives freedom to create a derivative work, is huge.

Granted, books and music have different challenges in the copyright world. But I'm all in favor of allowing and encouraging things like fan fiction, unofficial encyclopedias, reproduction of cover images on blogs, and quotes without strict adherence to word counts, as long as we avoid actual piracy and plagiarism. Though some of that freedom exists now, I love the indie spirit toward these things.

2. I can create a good product.

With a family full of artists and photographers, and having some design and marketing-copy writing experience myself, the making of a book's front and back covers shouldn't be out of reach. Likewise, I'm a decent self-editor, and I have copy editors and grammar sticklers among my critique partners. I don't doubt that I could produce a book, if not professionally typo-free and grammatically readable, then very near it. I might even improve on the copy editing in Twilight. :)

3. The literary world, like academia, generally disapproves of social conservatives.

This comes up just about every week in the book-related blogging world, and it honestly terrifies me. I'm a quiet, devout Christian girl who is pretty comfortable with living and letting live, but I will not be bullied into getting into the outrage culture and the antagonism of sexual politics. My beliefs in favor of chastity, and against abortion and euthanasia, are deeply held after much thinking through and questioning, and they're important to me. This world will ask for approval and promotion that I can't give.

The successful LDS authors I mentioned recently give me some hope of making it as a Christian in mainstream publishing. That's one more reason why Orson Scott Card is my hero. :)

Those are my main reasons for considering self-publishing. You'll notice I haven't mentioned creative control and author's monetary percentages, probably the two most commonly cited reasons for self-publishing (discounting "I couldn't find an agent"). Creative control shouldn't become a serious issue unless it comes to major dealbreakers like conflicts with point three above. As for the financial question, I honestly don't mind paying an agent to help me market to publishers, and the publishers who pay their staff and buy shelf space in bookstores. They earn that money. And that leads me to my answer to Ms. Gardner's question:

I'm attempting traditional publishing because I don't think I can do it all myself.

Create a good product? Sure, I can do that. Make the book the best it can possibly be? For that, I think the experience of professionals is worth having.

Ask book bloggers for reviews and set up a reading at Village Books? I can do that, too. But I can't work my way onto Barnes & Noble's shelves, or into Kirkus Reviews, or make those important connections that give a book a fighting chance at getting nationally read.

As shown above, I'm not so averse to self-publishing that I couldn't see myself doing it if, for instance, my current novel doesn't prove commercial enough to make it in this tight market. But I do want to give this little tale a chance to grow beyond what I can make of it alone.


  1. So exciting Jenna, I wish you the best of luck with your book. I can't wait to read it.

  2. Jenna! This post is brilliant. Mind if I link here on twitter?

    I can completely relate to everything on your list, but most of all the last one. Self-publishing is HARD. Even if you aren't planning to market your book nationally, and just want to sell a few copies and have it in print, there is so much to do.

  3. Thanks, Sarah! I appreciate it. :)

    Annie, link away, and thank you! Your own experience has been enlightening to watch, and you did a fantastic job--but yeah, it is an immense amount of work for any one person.

  4. Another thing that really pushes towards traditionally publishing, is that for the most part - and despite many absolutely awful and embarressing publications that cast doubt on the ability of traditional publishing companies to edit at all - to be taken really seriously as a writer, you still do need to have at least some of your work accepted at a traditional publishing house. I've know way to many writers who've self-published only to be completely discarded because they've never been formally accepted by a respected publisher. It does make a difference.

  5. Masha, I think you're quite right about that. A lot of those who commented on Ms. Gardner's blog talked about the desire to be taken seriously as an author in a way that self-publishers rarely are unless they make millions. I do feel some of that myself. :)


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