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Are Self-Published Authors Happier Than Traditionally Published Authors?

14 June 2015

From The Creative Penn:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn



37 Comments to “Are Self-Published Authors Happier Than Traditionally Published Authors?”

  1. “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.”

    Vanity Publishing?

    “Building on this, and to my great surprise, their contentment levels were not necessarily tied to the beauty of the finished product.”

    Sorry, but some of us are content when someone we don’t know and aren’t paying drops a line to say how much they enjoyed reading our story.

    • the other Diana

      You beat me to it.

      The author of this piece is misinformed if they are confusing VANITY publishing with Self Publishing.

      I’m happy with self publishing because I control everything: product and marketing.

      If a book is selling I can see it almost immediately (as soon as the dashboards update). And I get paid faster than with Trad Publishers. I take pride in knowing I did it all by myself, especially when readers go on to buy the next book and when they contact me to let me know how much they enjoy it. I LOVE getting fan e-mail.

      • Is it me, or do lately a lot of articles confusing vanity publishing with self publishing?

        Could that be intentionally?

        Maybe is a birth of a new meme, something in the line of: “Publishing with Author Solution’s imprints is self-publishing.”

        • Publishers and/or vanity press trying to fuzz/hide the lines as they are losing the income roping in a writer used to bring? A possibility, and one of the slimier of sales tactics …

          • OTOH, they have different reasons. Vanity presses, after all, want to piggyback on respectability, not undermine it. (It’s just that they do, in fact, undermine it.)

        • I hope you’re wrong but I expect that since they can’t beat us, Big Pub will ultimately do their best to confuse this issue for the general public.

          And lots of “industry experts” will help by writing garbage about needing publishing professionals who you can pay to publish and bind your family memoirs to sell to friends and relatives.

          Sheesh, it’s really disgusting how these people pray on the naive.

        • IMHO – It IS intentional.

          Why else would publishing companies ally themselves with the likes of Author Solutions?

          It’s a shell game to them, the term Self-Publishing is their ticket to the wallet of aspiring authors who haven’t got the confidence to DIY.

    • So much this. I write quirky stories that I know don’t have a mass appeal, but hey I have a blast doing it. And I’ve sold stories in Japan and Germany among other faraway places. I can’t even describe how cool that is. Yeah, I’m lucky if I make coffee money, but so what? I set my own goals. I’m expressing myself and real live people around the world have enjoyed my work. Yeah, happy.

      • I know how you feel, Stephen, because I feel the same. 🙂

        I am fascinated that people in Mexico, European countries, Asian countries, as well as even here in Australia find my books on Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc and purchase them.

        I also think it is cool to make coffee money for every day for a year, will a little change left over. 🙂

        I am also happy to learn to tell better stories, and hopefully improve my story telling for each new release.

    • I missed this at first glance, but your comment made me take a look at the entire article, and it is very odd.

      She makes a few statements that seem to indicate self-publishers are doing stuff like writing family memoir as told by a great grandmother, having it bound and distributed to friends and relatives, etc.

      I mean, that to me is clearly of the vanity stripe and not self-publishing as I’ve come to think of it.

      Why she seems to focus on the vanity pubbers and not those, like myself and people reading here, who are serious publishers–is odd to say the least.

      I’m continuously stunned by how little most writers and supposed industry experts know about the business of ebooks.

      It would be hard for them to be more inaccurate and wrong if they tried. Maybe they are trying.

      • If they can’t mock self-pub, then they have to admit that it is a force to be reckoned with — and we can’t have that can we?

    • Sorry, but some of us are content when someone we don’t know and aren’t paying drops a line to say how much they enjoyed reading our story.

      I literally just said this to my daughter today after receiving a really awesome email from a reader. I told my daughter that this was why I wrote because how cool was it to know that someone across the ocean has spent their entire weekend reading my books? Mind-boggling.

  2. “Are Self-Published Authors Happier Than Traditionally Published Authors?”

    This one is. 🙂

    • Me too, Randall. Even with the writer’s block, I’m just thrilled with what I have published, and knowing that people all over the world have bought my work is such a rush!

      I don’t see a time when I’d ever want the hassle of trad pub contracts. Looks like way too much headache, to me.

  3. Anxiety is produced, in part, by powerlessness. In tradpub, the author has little say in the process. Ergo…

    The indie, OTOH, has control and a permanent contract. In publishing that’s like virtual Zoloft without the side effects.

    • It is a world of difference. If only that’s what this article was saying.

      Reading the entirety of it, she’s got it quite wrong. We don’t pay publishing professionals to put our books out…

      Most of us pay for covers and a bit of editing, we don’t do the kinds of things she’s alluding to in her article. That we feel better because we pay someone instead of them paying us?

      No. We’re feeling good because we run our businesses, make our own creative decisions, and then get PAID by our customers.

      That’s why we’re happier.

    • It can also be produced by taking on too much responsibility. My anxiety level depends on the day, the time of day, and the amount of work I have to get done.

      That said, I’m much happier being in control… 🙂

  4. Hmm. But Joanna Penn is an indie herself and very successful. She knows the difference between vanity pub and indie publishing. Perhaps, in her desire to emphasize the freedom of the indie world and the breadth of its participants, she gave a bit of a false impression?

    Or, it may be, because she is so successful, she hires out most of the work that isn’t writing. She’s making enough money that the wise choice is to hire out cover making, editing, proofreading, ebook formatting, POD creation, and foreign translations. Which would give her a different point of view from indies making less money and doing more of the publishing work themselves.

    • I think you’re right about that. IIRC, she has spoken on her podcast about using a team to design and edit her books. But she’s paying them per project, and maintains control.

    • This was a guest post. But, honestly, I’m surprised she let this one go through as-is, considering the poor impression it gives to nearly every one of us who read it.

  5. Yes. They’re laughing all the way to the bank! 🙂

    • Yes, but that’s not the reason. It’s a very poor reason to be writing.

      • “It’s a very poor reason to be writing.”

        Tell that to Dickens, Verne, Hardy, Twain, Hugo, Poe, Dumas, Spillane, Hemingway, Wolfe, all the dime-novel and pulp-fiction writers, et al.

        It’s what they did to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. It was their career.

        Ditto today for professional writers — many of whom are here on TPV. Writing for money is a damn good reason to be at the keyboard. Maybe even the best reason.

        It’s pretentious “literary” types who diss making money from writing and other creative efforts. Or indolent trust-fund babies.

        • Not sure Poe really belongs in there. He seemed to wrestle all his life with the idea of writing solely to entertain versus writing with an aesthetic ideal in mind. He lived mostly in poverty, and died mostly that way, as well.

          Me, I think pretty much every reason to come to the page is the best reason.

  6. Hachette Author

    I am so much happier being indie published than I was when I was traditionally published that I can’t adequately describe my joy. So there’s that.

  7. This was a guest post by an Alison Baverstock in Penn’s blog, written in 2012. While the general point about indie authors being happier rang true, what was startling is not just that in 2012 she didn’t understand the difference between vanity and self-publishing, but that the book it was promoting–a guide to self publishing was only in paper then–and now.

    No kindle copy, not even for a Feb 2015 book called “How to Market Books,” Her bio says she is ” Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Publishing at Kingston University, where she cofounded the MA Publishing in 2006, now with an international catchment area and reputation. She is a frequent commentator in the press and broadcast media on publishing and reading, a previous recipient of the Pandora Prize for Services to Publishing and a member of the Board of Management of the Society of Authors.”

    And people wonder why indie authors get all riled up about mis-information that keeps being put out in the media by traditional authors and publishers!! This sort of thing is the reason. I just cringe at the idea that writing students and others who run across a book like this are getting their advice from someone who would accept a book contract to publish a book about marketing books in 2015 and not have an ebook version!

    • Great detective work.

      Writes a book about self-publishing and marketing, and NO EBOOK available…

      This is why it’s so important to not get your info all from one source, but to do your own digging.

      She sounds like an expert, but sounding like one and actually knowing of what you speak are two very different things…

      • She sounds like an expert, but sounding like one and actually knowing of what you speak are two very different things…

        Yeah, it’s actually not hard to sound expert, to a layman, on things you know little about.

    • I missed that bit about this being a 2012 post, which makes Braverstock’s website with its 2005 copyright seem even more out of date.

      Good lord, not only does “How to Market Books” (from Routledge) not have a Kindle version, but it’s 30 pounds for a paperback, 90 pounds for a hardback! ($48.50 / $145 in the US).

      This reminds me of a post I just read from this fellow who wrote a book about plotting. He claimed that there were no books out there on the subject, which made his unique.

      Which is true, if you forget about Robert McKee’s “Story,” Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel” and Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel,” all of which have a lot to do with plotting.

      And the number of this guy’s novels? Zero. Lots of consulting for major corporations and Hollywood, but nothing that give us an idea that he has the chops.

      Grant him this: He has a Kindle version. It’s $29, the same price as the paperback (and $90 for the hardcover), so I predict a bright future for him.

      • To horribly mis-quote Princess Leia, “I don’t know where these laser-brains get their delusions.”

      • And our own Jim Bell’s “Plot and Structure” which I’ve recommended a bajillon times to neophyte writers. Sheesh!

        • I’ve recommended Mr. Bell’s books to a lot of new/newish writers. They are excellent (and I have a little squee every time I see him post here!).

  8. – The function of gatekeepers is to control access.

    – Whenever you are in a position of being gatekeepered (someone else has control over your ability to satisfy needs and desires), it creates stress and a lack of personal agency (lack of control).

    – Stress, accompanied by lack of control leads to unhappiness, even depression and burn-out.

    – Therefore, self-publishers are generally happier than traditionally published writers.

  9. “and there is a well established link between writing and depression.”

    Thus leaving the impression that that connection is causal.

    Sloppy essay.

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