Thoughts on Self-Publishing: Videogames vs Books (Part 3)

Why the Self-Publishing Stigma Needs to Go Away

In my first post on this subject, I laid out how professionals in the videogame industry and those in the book industry perceive self-publishing very differently. In my second post, I offered my theories as to why this is the case. In my final post on this topic, I’ll talk about why this stigma needs to end.

Based on my experience, I don’t think the stigma attached to self-publishing serves authors of any group, traditionally published or independent. The most unfortunate thing about the way many veterans of the book industry perceive self-publishing (as opposed to those in the game industry) is how this stigma artificially divides authors who are traditionally published from those who self-publish. Instead of curating and molding future talent, as we do in the game industry, those who look down on self-published books are discouraging and deriding their next batch of great authors. Their new blood.

Even worse, some in traditional publishing still view self-publishing as a black mark on an author’s career. Why? The author completed a manuscript, which many writers will tell you is an accomplishment all on its own. They worked with an editor and incorporated feedback. They solicited advance readers and incorporated even more feedback. They polished their book until it was ready and released it, gaining valuable experience that will make their next book even better.

After an indie game developer successfully releases a game, traditional publishers in the game industry are more likely to hire them, not less. The developer has proven they can develop a game from scratch, complete it (no easy feat), and release a quality product. They’ve proved they can do the job.

How the Self-Publishing Stigma Unnecessarily Divides Authors

For the most part, authors support each other. I’ve met a number of authors from both camps, and we all get along great. In private, however, I’ve had authors who were traditionally published warn me in no uncertain terms to stay away from self-publishing (because it’s “vanity press”), and had self-published authors tell me repeatedly that it’s foolish to give away money and creative freedom to a traditional publisher when you don’t need them to sell a book. Both of these statements are incorrect.

Publishing a book with a traditional press will always have advantages over publishing it yourself, just as publishing a videogame through a big publisher will always have advantages over putting it out yourself. Traditional presses have marketing budgets, teams of people to promote your book, and the apparatus to get your book widely read, reviewed, and talked about. You don’t have to hire an editor, pay a cover artist, or do your layout yourself – they do all that for you, and they pay you while they do it! If you can publish through a traditional press, you’re (almost always) better off doing so.

Yet this doesn’t mean authors should consider self-publishing forbidden. Perhaps their book tackles a subject a big press refuses to touch, or presents its narrative in an experimental way a big press doesn’t deem safe. Perhaps they are already a great marketer and promoter, or know people who are, and are confident they can sell their own book. Perhaps their book is a reprint and they’ve regained the rights, yet no big press wants to republish it. There’s any number of reasons self-publishing might be the perfect distribution route for them. Saying they should never do it and deriding those who do is wrong.

Ultimately, both the author who advised me never to self-publish and the author who advised me to always go it alone are great folks – personable, approachable, and generous enough to spend their time offering a new author career advice. They meant well. Even so, knowing what I’ve learned about both publishing routes in the past few years, I think I would have been better served had both of them explained the benefits and drawbacks of all publishing options. Educating me so I could decide which publishing method would work best for me and my book. Just like we do in game development.

Final Thoughts

A game developer is a game developer – a person who makes games. An author is an author – a person who writes books. How those games or books are published should not matter and no longer does, in today’s market with today’s technology. Only the quality of the final product should have any bearing on its reception. If an author has the experience, is willing to do the work, and knows how to wisely invest limited capital, their self-published book can equal any traditionally published book out there.

A strong bias toward traditional publishing made sense twenty years ago, when it was literally the only way to print, distribute, and market a quality book. Yet those old barriers are gone now, blown away by print-on-demand services and e-readers. Only one thing remains the same. Readers want quality books. But they no longer care who publishes their books – only that the quality is there.

Just like in the game industry, if an author creates a quality book on their own, we should congratulate them on their accomplishment, not deride them as “vanity press”. This is how the videogame industry has always worked, and we’re much better for it. The traditional publishing industry could learn from our example. By embracing self-publishing instead of deriding it, and educating authors on how to do it right, they can create a wider market with even more great books and talented authors than now exist.

Self-publishing isn’t going to destroy traditional publishing any more than indie game publishing has destroyed big game publishers. These publishing routes complement each other, with self-publishing providing a route for books that big publishers otherwise wouldn’t have space to publish, and a way for new authors to learn, grow, and gain experience. The more great books and unique voices releasing quality books, the more readers we’ll attract. The more readers we attract, the more people buying and enjoying books – which is great for every author out there.

The book industry needs to move into the present and view self-publishing as the game industry views it – as one of several equally valid paths a creator can take their quality product to publication. No stigma attached. Experienced authors should ensure that new authors know all their options and choose the option that works best for them and their book. All publishing professionals, traditional or independent, should focus on ensuring every new author has the knowledge to produce their best work and chooses the best method to distribute that work. How they publish it shouldn’t matter.

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