Letting Go of the Traditional Publishing Dream

Monday, November 20, 2017

Every month I speak to authors who are on the fence about abandoning their search for a traditional publisher in favor of going indie. Their concerns vary, but their top two reasons not to independently publish are fronting the money and their deep-seated desire to be legitimized by outside forces within the publishing industry otherwise known as traditional publishing houses.

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Those with a History in Traditional Publishing

The authors who have the hardest time letting go of the traditional dream are understandably those who’ve been previously agented, and those who’ve gotten compliments from editors. It’s much more difficult to enter enthusiastically into the world of independent publishing when you’ve had those nibbles because they’re significant. They mean a decision-maker who might possibly front the money for your book saw potential in your work. That you were almost chosen. That industry professionals thought you were onto something.

Read why Stephanie Chandler decided to leave traditional publishing in favor of self-publishing.

Discovering Your Limit

Every author has his or her own tolerance for rejection, stamina for the journey of traditionally shopping a manuscript, threshold for financing a dream. That said, there comes a time when enough is enough, when you must consider the publishing industry for what it is: a business enterprise looking for partners who bring enough to the table to merit their risk. The business of book publishing is less about story and content than it has ever been. It’s less about talent and good writing than it has ever been. It’s about you, your author brand, and your existing readership or fan base—the elements that make up an author platform and that drive the under-noticed and social media-phobes among us to points of epic frustration, something my friend S. Bear Bergman calls the “f- it” moment, the moment when you decide something’s gotta give.

Freedom in Letting Go

The great thing about embracing your own f- it moment is that there’s freedom in letting go. New paths will open once you decide the carrot dangled by the traditional publishing industry doesn’t hold as much appeal as you once thought. The compliments you might have received from agents and editors can be wielded for actual power: the momentum you need to carry you through the journey of publication because you know your book is good. You know it’s worth publishing, even if you don’t have the huge fan base a publisher is looking for.

The Maturation of Self-Publishing

Upon making the decision that you are going to be okay as an indie author, you’ll start to see that indie authors are everywhere, and that they’re a force in their own right. They’re earning awards, starting their own imprints, selling books just like their traditional counterparts, and even being scooped up by traditional houses.

Make the Choice

I recommend you choose your publishing route and own the experience fully. Tapping into indie pride presents authors with a whole other baseline of good feeling, including but not limited to:

  • Becoming a champion for yourself and others
  • Owning your publishing experience as your choice, not as something you had to do, or that’s in any way second best
  • Entering into a community of authors operating outside the traditional system and finding, in many cases, that it’s better
  • Letting go of the need to be validated by the powers that be; discovering that your readers’ validation is much more gratifying anyway
  • Feeling proud of your book, and its journey to publication, which stems from your book being indistinguishable from its traditional counterparts and your own knowledge that your book stands on its merits

All of this is yours to have, though I offer one caveat on your way to making this dream a reality. Publish with professionals who know what they’re doing. Adhere to professional book publishing standards. Make sure the product you end up with actually allows you to buzz with pride.

Rest Assured

Becoming an indie author, for many, is giving up an identity you thought you wanted in favor of something new and less understood. For authors who aren’t getting the traditional publishing deal they so badly wanted, it’s a lot like not getting into Yale or Harvard, but finding that perfect liberal arts school instead. It’s often the case that students look back and realize that the liberal arts school was the better fit. Sure, the prestige of Harvard or Yale might have felt good, but what happens to you after you graduate is not predicated solely on your degree. The same is true of book publishing.

Stand firm and proud in your choice to be indie and see what happens. There are countless authors out there making this choice every day. Once you do, don’t bother looking back. The horizon in front of you is full of opportunities and excitement, including building your team, exercising your creative control, and connecting with people around a topic or idea you cared enough about to write a whole book. It’s absolutely awesome to finish a book, and infinitely more awesome when you launch it into the world for your readers. No one needs to be holding you back from that dream. Your readers are waiting.


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Brooke Warner

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book? and How to Sell Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com.