Self-Publishing and the Indie Hipsters Douching It Up

There are some some major shifts happening in the publishing world lately.

In the last few days, we've had big news of Kindle millionaire sensation Amanda Hocking leaving the self-publishing wings for a (rumor has it seven-figure) traditional book deal at St. Martins Press and bestselling thriller author Barry Eisler has left a half-million dollar book deal behind in order to self-publish.

Two very different authors making two very different decisions for two very different reasons. And both having me tilting my head and putting on my patented WTF look.

Eisler's move confounds because he kicked a very lucrative sure thing (and probably his agent) in the mouth in the hopes of capitalizing on the self-publishing trend that seems to be generating waves all over the place thanks to J.A. Konrath and others who have carved out a niche for themselves selling ebooks on the Kindle marketplace at $2.99 a pop. This may or may not work out better him. It'll take selling roughly 250,000 ebooks for Eisler to earn out what would have been his $500,000 advance from the traditional publisher (of course, the publisher was offering that half-mill for a 2-book deal, so his odds of doing well on a per-book basis are slightly better). What he's getting in return, of course, is more creative control and ultimately more in royalties than he might from the traditional market, two of the biggest pulls of self-publishing right now. But it will take time to build that, especially without a publisher's marketing machine behind him, and he will have to of course supply his own editing and artwork from that budget. 

It's possible he'll do well, sure. Hocking has half a million books ebooks in less than a year. But she's also writing in a genre that's competing directly with Twilight, which is more popular now than Jesus skateboarding across the Sea of Galilee with Harry Potter on his shoulders. Eisler writes thrillers, which is another popular genre, but I don't think he'll be turning Twihard numbers anytime soon. So it's a gamble. 

But back to Hocking. Here she is already a proven commodity in the self-publishing world. She's probably the poster girl for the ultimate success story that any self-publishing hopefuls could look at and aspire to be, and she seems like a pretty cool and humble chick who just wants to write and be read and never thought of the money or about being any sort of activist when she got into self-publishing, so I don't think of her as a sellout. But there are some who undoubtedly do. Most people self-publish with a dream in mind to be just like her. This is a fine (if slightly deluded) aspiration to have (face it, Hocking is the Powerball of self-publishing), but here's the thing that sticks in my craw. 

I've read articles over at Konrath's blog ridiculing people still sniffing at the asses of "legacy" publishers. Mainstream writers been called vain and foolish (in so many words), seeking the approval of others when they could be forging their own way in this new digital frontier, making bank, reaching readers, while maintaining all rights over their stuff. Konrath in particular has painted self-publishing as a mecca for the self-aware non-sheeple of the writing world who have decided that they're too good to need validation from the traditional publishing world. 

It's all bullshit, of course, but he's entitled to his opinion. Of course, if it's so great, why are Konrath, Eisler, and these supposedly principled self-publishing juggernauts now bitching about not being included on the NYT Bestseller lists? Look, there are certain things you sacrifice when you eschew the mainstream. You likely won't be considered for any major book awards. You probably won't be reviewed by any major book review house like newspapers, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. It's not as likely your book will be optioned for film rights. And it's highly, highly unlikely your sales will be recognized alongside those of the traditional publishing industry. When you make a principled decision to turn your nose up at that sandbox, you can't then claim some sort of faux oppression for not being allowed into said sandbox. When you burn down your house, you can't be mad when the insurance company doesn't cut your arsonist ass a check. When you decide to go vegan, you can't be pissed that cheeseburgers are off the menu. 

So what do you really want, "indie" folks? Do you want to be completely off the teat or not? Do you really not care about validation from traditional publishing gatekeepers and reviewers? Or do you want to be mainstream, but are just spouting your self-righteous bullshit in order to make yourself feel better about being up in the nosebleed seats in the arena of public awareness? I won't lie. I want the brass ring. I want someone in a New York high-rise to say I'm awesome enough to be let into their exclusive club so that my books will be on store shelves with blurbs on the back cover, even if I make less money than you. I want it so bad I can taste it, and I'm not afraid to admit it. And I'm keeping my eye on the self-publishing market too, waiting for the tide to truly shift. Not for you to tell me it's shifting. Really, it's been shifting for a decade or more. Wake me up when the new paradigms are finally in place.

At any rate, it's nice to see writers making their own choices in the widening market. Time will tell who will fare better. We're all full of opinions and there is no right or wrong at this point. But I think I've heard enough indie-hipster bullshit from the self-publishing crowd to make my brain feel saturated with PBR.


  1. I see no reason not to work both sides of the fence. I have a sizeable backlist which has been eschewed by traditional publishing. I'm putting it to work for me, and so far I'm doing well enough that I'll be able to also release some novels in print (POD) form without having to dip into my personal funds.

    And as far as my current projects go, I'm querying and pitching them to agents and publishers. It makes sense to side with both camps. Backlist, quirky stuff, and selected series can be successful in self-publishing. Other pieces that are attractive to traditional publishing can go that route (unless they don't get picked up, at which point they're self-pub fodder). Everybody parks, everybody wins. :)

  2. How very pragmatic and non-hipster of you, Ian. :)