Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guest Post: Will Self Publishing Make You Die????

by Livia King Blackburne

There's been quite a bit of talk on the interwebz lately about self-publishing, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I’ll leave discussions of sales numbers, platform, production values, etc. to other blogs. Today, we're going to take a look at a much more basic concern. That's right folks, we're going to look at whether self-publishing makes you die.

Now this requires some context. My own views on self publishing are pretty moderate (it’s doable, but incredibly hard work, and you should get objective confirmation that your writing is up to par), but I like reading discussions on the topic and sometimes lurk to see what self pub supporters and die-hard traditionalists have to say.

One self pub argument caught my attention. Given the odds for traditional publication, good manuscripts do slip through the cracks. In addition, with the advent of electronic publishing and POD, you can self publish with little or no financial investment. Since you've worked so hard on the novel, what's the harm of trying?

That kind of made sense. If you fail, at least you know it’s your fault and not because the acquisitions editor read your manuscript the week his mother-in-law was in town. Sure, there's stigma, and there will always be people who assume you’re selling your failures. But what's that to the knowledge that you really tried your best?

At that point, I caught myself. “But wait, Livia,” I said. “You're a psychologist. You can't just blithely ignore social factors as if they don't matter.” And I was right (funny how often that happens when you argue with yourself). Social status has considerable impact on health and quality of life.

There's one study that looked at the effect of social status on longevity. The researchers compared the lifespan of Nobel laureates to Nobel Prize nominees who didn't get the prize. The Nobel Prize winners ended up living on average 1.4 years longer than the nominees. Now remember that even the nominees were highly respected in their field and financially pretty well off. But being a laureate added over a year to the winners’ lifespans!

Once I remembered this, I became highly agitated. Was it possible that self-publishing writers were jumping in without realizing the risk to their health? Should I warn people, or should I just sit back and wait for the coming holocaust? I could just see it—self published writers dying off in droves, 1.4 years before their time.

Luckily, I caught myself again and realized I was jumping too quickly to conclusions.  Because many other factors contribute to your health. Among those is ability to control your circumstances .

And self publishers do win in the control department. They don't have to deal with the publishing roller coaster—the agent who loves your work but decides to leave the industry to become an organic farmer. The editor who inherits your manuscript from the editor who inherited your manuscript from the editor who took over your manuscript after your original editor left publishing house. The art department who decides that your children's book about puppies would really sell much better with hot vampires on the cover. All stressful events out of an author's control—events that in combination just might start shaving days off your life.

So what's the moral of the story? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps the best thing is not to think about it too much, and write the best book that you can.

Hmm... isn't that always the conclusion we come to at the end of the day? *sigh* Here's to many more happy years of writing for all.

So what do you think, writer friends?  Any aspects of your writing life cutting your days short?  Or is it smooth sailing?

Note: The research described and linked to from this article is real. If you haven't figured out by now, everything else—including interpretation of research, implications for the publishing industry and the pros and cons of self-publishing—should be taken with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Livia Blackburne is the author of From Words to Brain, an essay on the neuroscience and psychology of reading. On her blog, she explores the craft of writing from a neuroscientist's perspective.


  1. Writing lengthens my life. Querying shortens it. Let's call it a wash.

  2. I've seen a similar statistic on the Academy Awards--that the winners live, on average, something like three years longer than the ones who have been nominated.

    But I haven't seen stats on, say, writers who have never been nominated for a major award vs. Nobel winners. Is it really an honor to be nominated, or is it just an evil life-shortening tool used by the evil gods of art?

  3. I'm no fun to be around if I'm not writing. But writing isn't the same as publishing. Right now, I've got all aspects covered.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Hilarity!

    You sound like me on the internal debate. I want self-pub to work for writers. I think it can. But so many put up the first draft of a Nano novel instead of enlisting an editor and polishing that baby up that it's hard to bring myself to buy one.

    And the "buzz" part. If you're a Twitter genius, a YouTube prodigy with potentially viral book trailers, on the holiday greeting card list of every indie bookstore in the tri-state area, and oh, yeah, the local meteorologist you're covered. Otherwise, it seems sort of overwhelming.

  5. I love where you planted your tongue. It's not my fault I was born a left-handed Libra and weigh pro and con endlessly. By the time I finish the tenth draft I might have decided which side of my brain is going to win out.

    Great Post :)

  6. I took a lot of surveys from authors -- the Wild Writing Women Group in SF was one great influence -- before deciding to self-publish. It was a 1/2 doz one and six of another. I self-published - again. Yes, I need to write like right now. Self-publishing marketing is way hard, but other authors published traditionally have told me that they too had to budget money for their own marketing. Publishing houses only deem xx amount of $$ for "the Author of the Year"; other authors at same house don't get the money. Always a challenge. I agree w/Joseph - writing - yes - querying - sick today.

  7. I just recently decided to go the indie route. Main reason was because my project was somewhat out of my normal genre and, in a way, difficult for me to categorize into a specific genre. Plus, it had a strong erotic element.

    Anyway, One thing I can say is that is is a continuing learning experience. I think some of the pros are: maintaining control and rights to my own work, setting my own price, not having to wait a year or so just to find out if the project will warrant publication by a publisher. Cons: Damn, it's hard to market your own work, NOBODY knows me or cares, no big sales (I've sold less than 500 copies in the first month.) I must add that, although unit sales may low and I did not get an advance, I've probably made about four times in royalties then I would have for the same number of standard published books sold.

    Editing-my work went through at least eight edits before going to the publisher and and least two more while in process. I'm no Stephen King, but I've presented the best work I can from a mechanical standpoint.

    I think, in the end, it becomes a personal decision to self-publish or go through a publisher/agent. I would like to believe I'll live longer for making my own decisions and reaping the rewards/penalties for such decisions.

  8. Thanks for the post! Good insight on the issue and all that. Lurking is about all I do at the moment as far as self pubbing goes. Small/Indie presses don't seem so bad if someone wants to see what traditional pubbing is like before trying one or the other (granted they're just as hard to get into, but still!).

  9. The Nobel prize isn't just a medal; the winners also receive a lot of dough. The study implies that the winners live longer because of the egoboo, but mightn't their greater wealth be a factor?

  10. After seeing the pain my musician friend went through after self-publishing her album, I swore I wouldn't do that to myself.

    She did everything right: pushed via social media from blogging to twitter, made a great high-quality album, hired a publicist, and spent months mailing review copies out.

    And ... nothing. Crickets chirping. Tumbleweeds blowing.


  11. I've personally seen some rather successful writers turned self-publishers, but the ones that were successful took the time to learn the business, set goals for what they wanted to gain out of publishing their work, and created a separate bucket of time for the publishing business and their writing. It's not for everyone, it's not for the faint of heart, and its not for those who wouldn't be happy marketing, selling, running a business with realistic goals. It's not a quick fix, but takes time - figure any business takes care and feeding for at least 3yrs to show its potential for success. Also, once you've done it, you realize why Pubs/lit agents are so picky about what product (mss) they are willing to invest their hard earned money into.

  12. GREAT post!

    I think that in the end it comes down to what you are trying to get out of the whole writing/publishing experience, personally, and that's why some people will accept the loss of control and tolerate the rejections to strive for the socially 'bigger' goal of being traditionally published. They want to be really famous and nothing less will be considered success.

    Other people just want to find a decent readership, and I think those are the kind that are happier with self-publishing (maybe it's an extrovert/introvert thing?)

    If I've figured out anything for sure in the past twelve months, it's that I am a writer. I may never be an 'author' and after observing the carnage in the query wars, I'm perfectly okay with that. I am currently operating on the Emily Dickinson model- writing and stashing stuff away. It makes me happier than the idea of querying ever did- and that's definitely better for my health!