Are Self-Published Authors Happier Than Traditionally Published Authors?

There are a myriad of options for authors these days, and the pros and cons of each must be weighed up against the individual’s goals and expectations. I met Alison Baverstock at the Publishing Innovation conference and I was impressed by her balanced views on the traditional as well as independent possibilities. In today’s guest post, she outlines some fascinating findings. [ I am still away in New Zealand but returning to the usual blogging schedule in the next few days with some gorgeous pictures to share with you all!] 

Why self-publishing can make you happy…

Whereas there are few joys to compare with holding the first copy of your freshly printed book, or seeing the figures stack up as your new ebook whizzes around the world, the process of getting to ‘Go’ can be much more problematic. Of course when the writing is going well, it’s sublime. But the route to publication is seldom linear.

As a pastime, the process of writing has a poor reputation for delivering happiness.

It’s lonely, isolating and fattening (all that unrestricted access to the biscuit tin). At their most candid, most writers will confess to an obsession with their work that can border on paranoia, to being jealous – or just plain difficult (often because they feel unappreciated) – and there is a well established link between writing and depression. Those who spend too much time alone risk compromising their social skills, although this process is not helped by the generally good manners of publishers and agents. It’s so easy to miss/misread the signals they put out, and the time frame in which they say they will respond, or actually do, is never quite the same as our urgent need to know.

I began my working life as a publisher, and am now an author and an academic – Course Leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University. Over the years, my research and writing has focused on the publishing industry, and process of writing, and I have attended many gatherings of writers – from Society of Authors’ parties to green rooms at literary festivals, from industry conferences to informal writing groups.

Looking back, if there is a common theme to this experience it is probably the prevailing atmosphere of anxiety: authors watching what others are receiving (book deals/marketing attention/number of kisses); experiencing guilt – they should be at home writing rather than out talking; pondering the implied meaning/level of hostility from the last person who posed a question (most of us go away and dwell on such things for far longer than is helpful).

All of which made engaging with the world of self-publishing a very interesting experience. I recently embarked on close examination of the self-publishing sector, having become aware just how fast it was developing.

My findings are published as The Naked Author by Bloomsbury. But I am using this blog to share just one of my discoveries, which (true researcher style) I would respectfully commend for further investigation. It is this.

It seems to me that writers who self-publish are happier than those going through the conventional route.

Maybe it’s the motivation that comes from finally doing something – and being liberated from waiting for calls/emails that don’t come. Maybe it’s the anticipation of knowing a long-cherished project is within sight. Or perhaps they are just enjoying being the client of one of the highly professional self-publishing firms that today offer expert guidance through the options available, and whose attention they can confidently claim because they are paying.

Building on this, and to my great surprise, their contentment levels were not necessarily tied to the beauty of the finished product. Industry professionals have long assumed that only products that closely resembled their own output – content blended with appropriate format for optimum presentation – could offer any degree of satisfaction.

Try explaining that to a self-published author who has finally typed up the story of her family, as heard from her mother, had it bound and made available through a community history website – and in the process been found by long-lost second-cousins in Canada.

A view of writing as only valid if it can be sold through bookshops shows little understanding that self- publishing is a process, not a single product. Overall, the self-publisher’s motivation is vastly more complicated than has previously been assumed. Reasons for getting involved may include the creation of:

  • An experimental ebook that allows an unsuspecting world to try your work, and if they like it helps builds a platform for wider sharing – with or without professional help in future (this is now an established route to finding a publisher)
  • A working copy of a novel in progress; allowing you to gain objectivity about the writing and see how it feels in the hand
  • A memoir that holds all you would like to pass on – whenever your family are mature enough to decide they want to know
  • A photograph book of a special holiday or to celebrate a particular anniversary

Writers are creative people; their minds tend to move quickly.

Self-publishing offers a method of ensuring material survives – whether to the next stage of the creative process, or for all time. And knowing your work has been preserved for later discovery allows you to move on with your life – or whatever you want to create next.

Ultimately, perhaps it’s the taking responsibility that really motivates the self-published writer. In the process you acknowledge to yourself, if not to others, that your work really matters – and that self-acceptance is truly precious.

 

Alison Baverstock is the author of The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing, published by Bloomsbury and described by Boyd Tonkin in The Independent as a ‘richly detailed and enormously useful guide to the process’. With Mark Coker of www.smashwords.com (who wrote the foreword) she will be attending uPublishu  and Book Expo America to launch the US edition.

Top image Flickr CC honor the gift

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Comments

  1. says

    I am just coming into self-publishing from a film/ video background. I have worked with studios, indie’s, and have freelanced some of my own stuff. In comparison to being an author, both writing and film-making offers you the excitement of creating something that you perceive will be enjoyed by an eager audience.

    Working through a studio had that excitement, plus the added excitement of you knowing that your creative works will be presented to millions of people without you having to come up with the cash yourself, and doing the heavy marketing stuff on your own (no sweat there.) Working as an independent, you are also doing what you love, but all of the responsibility and the expenses fall on you, but there is that feeling of being liberated, and you have total creative freedom even when it comes to marketing the final product.

    In film/ video, I loved the independent work much more, which is why I am going the self-publishing route as an author. Everyone’s choice is whether you have that entrepreneurial spirit or not. If you like the security of a publisher, than that is the way to go for you, but if you are an entrepreneur like myself – than the not even the sky is the limit.

    • says

      Thanks Maurice and I do think indie films offer a great comparison. It’s also clear in the Hollywood blockbuster style movies vs the more intelligent, creative indie films. The first are more commercial which is why the studios make them. In the same way, big publishers need big blockbusters to pay the bills whereas indies can have more freedom to make smaller budget films that make smaller amounts of income – which may still be significant at the individual level.

      and you definitely need an entrepreneurial head for indie!

  2. says

    I had 3 novels traditionally published and was then dropped by my publisher. (“Disappointing sales” was the reason given.) In my opinion 2 out of 3 of my covers sabotaged the book’s chances. Very little was done to promote the books. I was expected to do my own publicity once the book had been launched. When I was shortlisted for a major award I had to nag repeatedly to get the news posted on the publisher’s website. I was asked to simplify my novels and make the female characters nicer. (I declined to do so.)

    Was I happy? Was I hell.

    After my agent had spent 2 years trying to find a new publisher for me, I decided I’d give Kindle a go. My first indy novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller and sold 20,000 downloads in a year. (This was the novel my publisher had described as “unmarketable.”) Amazon chose it as one of their “Top Ten Editor’s Picks for 2011″ in the Indie Author category.

    I’ve since brought out another new novel and 2 backlist novels on Kindle. They’re all selling well. I’m now earning a living writing novels.

    A couple of weeks ago I instructed my agent to withdraw the manuscript that was currently doing the rounds with editors. We agreed no publisher was likely to come up with an offer that could compete with what I could earn for myself. But it wasn’t just a question of money. I love the covers my professional designer friend does for me. I’m better at marketing my books than my publishers were. Once a novel’s finished I can get it to my readers in a few weeks, not 12-18 months. Why should I give up artistic freedom? Why should I stick to a genre pigeonhole to keep Tesco happy?

    So I’ve now rejected traditional publishing and embraced indy-hood – for good.

    Am I happy? You bet.

  3. says

    Indy-hood for good! Love it. Me too Linda. I left Penguin for indie late last year and find it more creative, more rewarding, more stimulating — and much more fun. I’m certainly happier with this route. Indie free…. wheeee!

  4. says

    Well, can I first say that writers with day jobs are unhappier than those able to write for a living full time. Well done Joanna!

    I am a “tradie author” (I just made that antonym up, by the way) but being new to the game and neither gorgeous nor famous I still have a 9 to 5 day job. I would love to be able to write full time one day, and this I believe is the common, ultimate goal of all writers, no matter their so-called creed.

    I admit that seeing your p-book on the shelves in bookstores is, indeed, glee-inducing but I know that my Mum would be just as proud of me no matter what. It is equally pleasing to see my book on sale on amazon — something both “camps” share — but I do love the flexibility and speed of self-published e-books.

    So, maybe my next book should go straight to kindle? Who knows if it will make me happier …

    :]

    So can I propose this compromise: it is the PAID author who is happier than the unpaid!

  5. says

    Jesse, I would say it is the READ author who is happiest – paid or unpaid.

    I write because I have to. Getting paid for it is nice, being read is nicer, but I would write for nothing (and did for 2 years when I was out in the artistic wilderness, wondering if I’d ever be published again.) Ultimately that’s why I’ve chosen indy. I can reach many more people that way because I can price my books to sell and I can market them so they find their readers. And readers are what it’s really about for me.

    • says

      This is the nub Linda: how to reach readers. But both self-publishing and traditional publishing require that for the relationship to be meaningful, the content must be well presented. Writers who honour their readership, and take care in how they present their material, will win enthusiasts, however they disseminate their material.

    • says

      Thanks Linda – I do think that authors who are read more, would also get paid more. If you’re pricing low, you make more sales, so more income anyway. So read = sales in many cases. Money is important for self-esteem and also for paying the bills after all :)
      although I get your point about writing for creative reasons.

  6. says

    The metric being used for happiness appears to be different for indie and traditionally published authors. If indie authors are happy at just having their work out in the market, while traditionally published authors are looking for a payday, it’s almost axiomatic that indie authors will be happier on the whole. Finishing a novel is a much lower bar for measuring success than finishing a book and having it sell well; depending on sales to put food on the table is not recommended for stress reduction. A more useful comparison would be how happy writers with the same objectives are with each mode of publishing. I suspect that depends entirely on individual writers and the nature of their work.

  7. says

    This seems quite an obvious assumption to make, so it surprised me that I’ve not given it more thought. Unless you’re JK Rowling or Stephen King, I think self published authors are happier than the traditionally published ones. Freedom and choice equals happiness, and self publishing offers plenty of those things. Just because you are an indie does not mean you are financially disadvantaged.

  8. says

    I’ll never forget the moment I decided to self-publish. I felt an incredible sense of empowerment and creativity. It was no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when and how’.

    This shift in control helped a lot to manage my emotions and expectations. The book will be out soon, so it’s too early to tell how happy I am, but I am creatively engaged and empowered and that’s what I want from life.

    Thanks for this post and for all you do for authors of both ilk.

  9. says

    Thank you so much posting this. Talk about being right on time! I am chatting with a friend on Facebook about this right now, attempting to shift her thinking that she’s a loser because the publishing industry rejected her and now she’s self-publishing as a sad constellation prize. So many authors feel this way. I was guilty of it, too. But now I’m a happy authorpreneur, excited to connect with my readers. It’s a small, loyal clan, but it’s growing. :)

    • says

      Thanks Monice. I was talking about this at the Book Fair. Some of us have never pitched our novels or been rejected – indie is a positive choice. But for others, rejection may be a path they have come down on the way to indie. Both routes are entirely valid. I’m glad you’re a happy authorpreneur :)

  10. says

    “If indie authors are happy at just having their work out in the market, while traditionally published authors are looking for a payday, it’s almost axiomatic that indie authors will be happier on the whole. Finishing a novel is a much lower bar for measuring success than finishing a book and having it sell well; depending on sales to put food on the table is not recommended for stress reduction.”-London Crockett, Apr 14th 2012

    @London, NO, that was just the commentor named Martha on here that left repeated posts about not caring about money. Whenever self publishing is mentioned you’ll always find 1 or 2 that simply must chime in about how little they supposedly care for money.

    I personally see writing as a business and I write to earn money. This is FAR too much work for it to be a hobby. Seriously. I wish writers who didn’t care about selling would go to Wattpad dot com and post over there. No offense.

    • says

      It’s important to allow everyone to write for their own reasons. I am a businesswoman and this is my income now, so I write for income, as well as the joy of writing. But to be honest, I won’t publish the stuff that won’t sell (at the moment anyway). I keep that private.
      Others view indie publishing as a way to express creative projects that are not commercially viable but are more about heart and soul.
      Both are entirely valid. It’s not either/or.
      This is a live and let live type of blog :)

  11. says

    Spot-on article. In the past couple of years I’ve seen increasing numbers of clients self-publish, and many are really enjoying the experience – the artistic control, the immediacy and the sense of accomplishment that each sale delivers. It’s inspiring stuff, which is why, though I’m published traditionally with four different publishers, I’m keen to publish myself for my next project.

  12. says

    Who is the happiest, self published or traditionally published. Well I had a go at self publishing with Lulu in 2006 I think. Student assessment—what every parent should know. Turned out to be something that not a single parent wanted to know! I was not happy writer. Since then I have published many textbooks for Pearson Education Australia and could not be happier. My biography “Digger’s Story—Surviving the Japanese POW camps was just the beginning” is also about to be published by Five Mile Press. However I have not given up on self publishing. As soon as I get some time I will try “Student Assessment—what every parent should know” on Amazon Kindle, suitably revised and brought bang up to date of course. —Can’t wait. I’m happy.

  13. Alison Baverstock says

    Since writing this post about author satisfaction I have carried out some further formal research into this area, interviewing a bigger cohort of self-publishing authors about a whole range of issues – expect to hear more!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Whereas there are few joys to compare with holding the first copy of your freshly printed book, or seeing the figures stack up as your new ebook whizzes around the world, the process of getting to ‘Go’ can be much more problematic. Of course when the writing is going well, it’s sublime. But the route to publication is seldom linear. via thecreativepenn.com […]

  2. […] Are self-published authors happier? ”It seems to me that writers who self-publish are happier than those going through the conventional route. Maybe it’s the motivation that comes from finally doing something – and being liberated from waiting for calls/emails that don’t come. Maybe it’s the anticipation of knowing a long-cherished project is within sight. Or perhaps they are just enjoying being the client of one of the highly professional self-publishing firms that today offer expert guidance through the options available, and whose attention they can confidently claim because they are paying.” […]

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