Novelist Ros Barber wrote a piece for The Guardian’s Books blog last week that tacitly pans self-publishing in favor of traditional publication.* Entitled “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way,” the article is a list of points explaining why Ms. Barber won’t self-publish, and why you shouldn’t either. Here’s my point by point rebuttal.
“You have to forget writing for a living.”
“If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.”
Barber’s first assertion, like all those that follow, is anecdotal at best and a blind assertion without any evidentiary support at worst. The only explanation for the 90/10 percent ratio she cites is that a single self-published author who commented on her blog put the percentage of time he actually spent writing in the single digits.
This breakdown is contrary to my own experience and that of pretty much every self-published writer I’ve talked to, but, more importantly, it also ignores a fundamental truth of publishing in 2016: every author is also a marketer.
Ms. Barber’s article is very quaint, in that it makes references and draws allusions to a type of writing life that simply does not exist anymore, except perhaps for a very select few. She impliedly invokes the image of a writer who focuses all of his time on the craft itself, “reveling” in the language of his creation, likely hunched over an Underwood putting words to the page with equal parts passion and torment. The type of writer whose only obligation is the writing–the craft, oh, don’t we love to call it the Craft; the words, my friend! Hemingway and Joyce!–who doesn’t have to leave his desk until his editor tells him its time to accept his Man Booker prize.