Never have there been so many paths to publishing. And never have so many argued over which path is the “right” path. The argument has occasionally turned vitriolic. Authors broke into “camps.” People have been vilified and demeaned for their choices. Much sound and fury, and lost in the maelstrom is the quiet truth:
There is no single “right” path to publishing.
That’s the beauty of choice, isn’t it? What’s right for me isn’t right for you, but if we’re both happy with our choices, then neither path is wrong.
I knew my path. I knew I would get an agent, get a contract, get published, and be a typical traditionally published author with a Big 5 publisher. I knew this with certainty.
Except that’s not what happened.
Even though I am a fiction writer, I am also a genealogist who had been digging up family skeletons for over 20 years. That’s a lot of information, and if I die and no one in the family is interested, then all that research and documentation is wasted—lost. So I wrote a book about my father’s side of the family. A fully-sourced, cross-indexed, end-noted non-fiction book detailing everything I knew about that side of the family. Including photos and other documents.
Then I self-published it.
For such a niche project, I didn’t even bother looking for a publisher, although there are those who specialize in genealogy books. Why didn’t I try a publisher? Because I wanted the information out there and available for a reasonable price. Most genealogy publisher’s books are pretty pricey. I wanted my work accessible to all the amateur genealogists like me, who get positively giddy when they find a book about their line complete with source citations.
And that’s how I became a self-published author.
Then something else happened—a writing friend suggested I send one of my manuscripts to a small independent publisher. So I did. And Evil Jester Press wanted to publish my middle grade fiction novel, The Witch of Zal. Excitement! A publishing deal! A real contract! Wait…contract? But I didn’t have an agent! What did I know about contracts? Freak out!!!
Luckily, I had some friends who steered me to the right resources to let me research the contract and sign one both I and the publisher were happy with. My book comes out later this year.
And that’s how I became a traditionally published author.
Remember my certainty about my publishing path? That’s not how it happened at all. I still don’t have an agent. I am not published by the Big 5. And I am not a typical traditionally-published author.
I am a hybrid author.
So for those who are arguing over “what path is best,” I say this: whatever path works for you is best—for you. Every author has different goals. Every author has different opportunities. Every work requires a different marketing plan.
I believe that more and more of us will be hybrid authors. Some hybrids will be traditional authors who have regained the rights to their backlist and sell them themselves while still using their traditional publisher for new works. And some will be like me, deciding which path is best based on the work itself, determined by which path will best reach the readership of that work.
Based on my experience, I would simply say this: don’t take sides in the debate. Keep yourself open to all opportunities from all publishing paths. My path certainly didn’t go the way I planned—but if I had stuck tunnel-visioned to that idea, I would not have seen the opportunities that came my way.
Where will this unexpected path take me? Who knows? But it will be an adventure—and probably not at all what I plan.
How has your publishing journey surprised you? How do you think the publishing landscape will look 5 years from now?