There is such a great divide that's being had between authors, these days. Being a part of the literary industry, I see this first-hand and I'm able to make my observations. It is something like the war between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, of course it's not the same but I get the feeling it is most certainly something like it! Even you yourself can get a taste of this simply by joining Goodreads and spying in on the myriad of "author forums" alive there! You will be surprised at how hostile and competitive and downright cruel authors can be!
All this antagonism is brewing and bubbling between two types of published authors: those who are traditionally published and those who are published avant-garde ( self-published ). Authors published by other people are called "traditional" and authors who publish themselves are called "self published" but these terms are obviously not of the same ratio: traditional should be to avant-garde. And so, I call the two types of authors the traditional and the avant-garde.
The animosity that traditional authors bear for avant-garde authors is palpable throughout the literary world. It is an animosity that moves like ripples in a lake. Like resentfully immature high school students, they have "names" for avant-garde authors, such as "vain", "low quality", "trying hard" and etc. Now, I have spoken about many things and today I want to speak about this, and I want you to listen closely to what I have to say.
So, what does it really mean to be traditionally published? I will give you the answer to that question: being traditionally published means that someone else publishes you; not yourself. And what does it mean to be published avant-garde (self-published)? Well I can answer that question too: being self-published means that you have published yourself; someone else is not responsible for publishing you.
When I was a little girl in red shorts, I didn't know about any of this. All I knew was that there were books and therefore someone made those books. I knew that there were writers, authors and that writers made books so I could read them; that's all I wanted to do, make my own books so people could read them! I wanted to say my own things so people could hear them, believe them, and remember them to live with them. Up until the time I was finished making my first manuscript (my first book The Sun Is Snowing), I still thought everything was just as simple as that. As far as I was concerned, I had finally at long last made my own book! A very shiny dream come true! But then I discovered how some people felt about authors like me, I discovered that not all books are made the way that I made my book, I discovered that there are a lot of people who dedicate so much time to making books like mine look like bad books, I uncovered many things for the first time after becoming a part of the literary world! To them, my shiny dream wasn't big enough because a "properly big dream" would be to become a traditional author. There are those who wish to set the standards of our dreams, for us. But why?
As with the rest of the world, the literary world is not exempt from it's axis revolving around money. We are accustomed to, and almost automatically inclined to think "Oh if it's published by Scholastic, it's the best book," and so on and so forth. But who made us think that way? Scholastic did. Through years and years of advertising. Who makes all that money when you buy a book published by Scholastic? Scholastic does. (I am just citing Scholastic as an example, as it is the first publishing house which comes to my mind, it being the publisher of some of the very first books I read as a child.) The fact is that, the author of the book makes "change money" it's the publishers who make all the real money. A traditionally-published author is an author who is "commercial enough" for the liking of big publishing houses, that's just a fact. Everyone has to make money, everyone has to put food on the table: the author's agent who sells the titles to the publishing houses, and the people working at the publishing houses. Then the author eats scrap food. That is of course, unless her/his books sells a million copies, then it's not scraps we're talking about anymore. So why do some authors get traditionally published and some not? Well, there are good authors and there are bad authors; some people can write and some people can't write, but the real distinguisher between the traditionally published and the self-published is commercial potential. Whatever is selling right now. Whatever people want to pay money for, at the moment. Whatever will make the publishing house money. That's what they are going to publish. That's who they are going to publish.
Traditional authors insist that avant-garde authors are authors of a lower-class. I beg to differ. Is Paris Hilton self-published or is she traditionally-published? Take a guess. Of course she's traditionally-published. Her first book Confessions of an Heiress was published by Touchstone and her other book, Your Heiress Diary was published by Fireside. And what about Nicole Richie's book The Truth About Diamonds? Or Kim Kardashian's book Kardashian Konfidential? These people are all traditionally-published. In your good judgment, do you consider these "authors" to be "higher-class" authors? Do you even consider them to be writers? Should it even be legal that they call themselves authors? So why were they traditionally published? They're not just normally traditionally published, by the way, they are actually offered to be published by publishing houses who will scramble to get first rights to their names . Why? Because the publishers know that their titles are going to fly off the shelves. Is it because they're good writers? No, it's because they already have a cult following of fans who watch them on TV!
Readers think that they are getting better-quality literature if they buy books from well-known, big publishing houses, and why do people think that? Because advertising has conditioned them to think that. If I had tens of thousands –even millions– of dollars to condition your brain to think that my books are the best in the world, I would probably take advantage of that, too! But I don't have all that money to advertise to you! But the fact is, those publishing houses DO.
So why do authors strive to become traditionally published? A variety of reasons. The first being there is no capital needed. A traditionally-published author hasn't spent any money of her own/ of his own to become published. It's the traditional publishers who do that for them. Another reason is they believe that to be traditionally-published means to be joining a "higher class" and so we are able to witness the classic "social climbing" taking place. It's remarkable, really, how social climbing happens everywhere! In high school, in suburbia, and in the literary world! It's so much more easier to sell a million copies when you're traditionally-published because your publishers are the ones promoting you, marketing you, building your image, advertising you as "the next big thing" and they have all the money to do that. Avant-garde authors don't. We only have as much money for advertising and promoting and publishing as we can spare from our personal budgets for home, family, future, lifestyle, and etc. Publishing yourself with the capital needed is already a stretch in the budget, marketing and advertising yourself is the stretch at painful proportions! So now we come to the question "Then why do some authors self-publish if there is so much to lose and so little to gain in the long run?" Well, there are a variety of answers to that. There are those who self-publish because they really can't write and they are never accepted by literary agents, there are those who self-publish because they are phenomenal writers and it is a fact that there is a great deal of antagonism in the industry towards new writers of phenomenal capabilities ["...the early struggles of famous authors, the notorious antagonism of publishers and editors to any new writer of exceptional promise" (Edith Wharton)], there are those who publish themselves simply because they don't have those extra six months to spare sitting around waiting for an acceptance letter/ a rejection letter from a publishing house/from an agent, there are some who prefer to be in control of every aspect of their manuscript and final product book, and there are some who have a great pride and love for what they do, preferring to work in the knowledge that as the author and publisher of their own books, they will receive much more than just 5% of their book sales once those sales are made. And then of course I suppose there are the very few who, like me, just thought that if you are a writer you make your own books and that's that.
There are always people trying to make money off of authors, whether or not it is within the traditionally-published arena or the self-published rink. Even I, as an avant-garde author who publishes her own self, continually face this struggle! I receive daily emails from Writer's Digest, and many other sources, always trying to sell me stuff promising to make me a "better writer" or promising me "all the visibility and promotions" that I need to "sell a million copies" I am constantly bombarded with the notion that I am not good enough in myself and that there is a better thing to strive for. Constantly stoned with the certain thoughts that mean my dream isn't big enough "Dream Bigger" they say, of course, because they want to make money off of me as I dream! The longer you are dreaming, the longer you are asleep, the easier it is for people to rob you! And to be blatantly honest with you, I am sick of my friends telling me "One day you will sell a million copies and be famous" because, that wasn't my dream to begin with. I'm already happy, I have already accomplished my dreams as far as being a writer is concerned, and I probably will not sell a million copies, ever, because there is a lot more to that going on behind the scenes than my friends are aware of. You don't just write a good book and if people like it, it will sell a million copies and you're famous. As I have explained above, there's a whole lot more to that than meets the eye! Even the idea that you the reader have, of what is "current" and "hip" and "happening" to read right now, is a direct influence by traditional publishing companies. They tell their writers what to write, they MAKE the next big reading experience. And you thought it was just you? And you thought your interests are simply evolving? I laugh. AHHAHAHA. (and now I am laughing at myself for laughing) but your big evolution from classic literature to werewolves and vampires and fallen angels isn't from within yourself at all, but it is the effect of what the publishing houses want you to be reading right now. What you think is real– isn't.
I will leave you with a funny thought which is amusingly comparable to everything I've been writing of above. I used to be a loyal La Mer lip balm user. It's the only lip balm I would ever use, up until just a week ago. Crème de La Mer: The Lip Balm, is very very very expensive. I recently ran out of it and couldn't use anything in that moment aside for Alba Botanica's Coconut Cream lip balm. The verdict? I'm not going back to La Mer. Why? Because my lips are more beautiful now that I'm using this very very very cheap lip balm which is of impressive quality, 82% certified organic, made from excellent ingredients all derived from nature. How is this even remotely comparable to literature? Well, I thought that La Mer was better because it was La Mer. I didn't even give anything else a chance. But now I'm thankful and glad that I broke free from that illusion, because now I have all the lip care I need in a cheap stick of organic coconut cream and other good things!