Robot 6

Self-publishing vs traditional: Which is better?

Two horror westerns; two publishing strategies

If you’ve been following the publishing industry (not just comics, but the whole industry), you know it’s been in turmoil for the past few years. Ebooks have made self-publishing a lucrative option not only for unpublished authors, but also for mid-list writers like JA Konrath who are reaching a dramatically wider audience than they ever did with their traditional publishers.

Though the prose arm of publishing has been having this conversation for a while, it’s been pretty quiet in comics except for the tangential conversation about creator-owned vs. corporate-owned. That’s actually a separate conversation, though. BPRD and Saga are just two examples of creator-owned comics that aren’t self-published. Who publishes your book often has nothing to do with who owns the characters and story in it. I’m glad to see First Second’s Senior Editor Calista Brill start the comics arm of the discussion, especially in the as-objectively-as-possible way that she does.

When I ask “which is better” in the subject of this post, I’m not talking about the quality of the books. I’m talking about which is better for the creator, and it’s liable to be a different answer depending on the creator and her individual circumstances. Brill outlines the positives of each publishing option, but it’s not too difficult to infer the negatives. When she says that a positive of traditional publishing is royalties, the implication is that you don’t get those when you self-publish. On the other hand, what you do get in self-publishing is all of the profit, meaning that that’s not the case with a traditional publisher. On the other other hand, getting all of the profit also means taking all of the risk.

It’s a messy decision full of influencing factors, and Brill does a nice job laying them out in an objective way.



The question is flawed; it assumes that one is, in fact, “better” by some objective standard. In reality, one may be better for Creator X while the other is better for Creator Y, and neither of them works very well for Creator Z.

If I may, I’m a published author that had a book on politics and terrorism (and my experiences in the US Secret Service at the White House and Foreign Missions Branches) put out as a print on demand by a VERY small publisher that took a chance on me.

I could easily have done self-publishing, but it would have cost me more and for some reason, there’s a very negative stigma about those who are self published and many agents simply will NOT take you on because of it, the assumption being that ANYONE can self publish, whereas one put out by a “real” publisher has enough faith in you that they ponied up THEIR own money to put your work out there. When I was doing research for my book and needed to obtain permissions from other publishers to use quotations from their texts, some outright refused until it was confirmed that I was being published by a legitimate publisher.

On the creative side, it’s nice because your text and images and everything else is entirely your own and you don’t have a company pushing you to edit or add or sign contracts or anything like that.

But the downside is having to use your own money for everything from production to promotion and bearing the albatross that some places don’t think self-publishing “counts.” Some venues won’t even allow you to do appearances or signings unless you’ve been “vouched for” by a publisher.

Personally I DO think it should count and shouldn’t be looked down on, but the reality is that a lot of places DO so.

It all depends on what you’re looking for, too. You can usually reach more of an audience being published by an actual company. But if you just want the satisfaction of seeing something you did in print and want to just test the waters, it’s a great idea.

-Charles J. Baserap, Former Officer US Secret Service
Author, An American at the Crossroads (Amira Rock Publishing, 2010)
Columnist (Danger Rooms, Theater of the Absurd, I Was a Teenage Meteor Freak),

‘you’re making a mistake!’
‘yeah, well at least it’s my mistake.”
-The Big Picture-

Having worked for clients and now having my own online comic book, WE GO ANYWHERE, ownership is definately 9/10 of the law. Having marketing control as how your book is promoted is key. it is the school of hard knocks however and if business and marketing is not your strong suit, it’s better you don’t get involved. One self publisher responded to me it took years of building an audience to make his product viable. There’s a lot more for me to learn in this enterprise, for sure So if you’re ready for all that and running your business as a business this pathway may be a profitible one..

Mike Lovins

“Ebooks have made self-publishing a lucrative option not only for unpublished authors…”

I think that, if you look at the vast bulk of previously unpublished authors (i.e. amateur writers) who are self-publishing e-books, the suggestion that it’s a lucrative option for them is deeply misleading. There are a handful of people who have had such an experience, perhaps, but the vast majority of amateurs who are self-publishing are basically engaging in a hobby. Which is fine, but not “lucrative.”

Ebooks have made self-publishing a lucrative revenue stream for Amazon, basically. Who, as someone else has observed, have essentially figured out a way to “monetize the slush pile” by letting a zillion wannabe authors become “published” in exchange for providing filler for the Kindle library, as well as a nice commission for Amazon on whatever two or three dozen copies most self-publishers will sell apiece. Most people “self-publishing” their own Ebook are basically buying something (the fantasy of finally getting their book “published”) not selling it.

I was reading in a publishing magazine that the average self-published book sells around 75 copies. That can be taken for what it’s worth, as I do not know what study they did nor can I personally attest to the veracity of the claim.

The question shouldn’t be “what’s better,” it should be “what’s better for you?”

@ Michael P and Chris: I thought I covered that when I wrote, “it’s liable to be a different answer depending on the creator and her individual circumstances.”

Don’t worry about the so-called “slush”. What do you care if some self published authors are writing for Amazon. If they are so far beneath consideration, why are you considering them? If it’s just slush then move right along. You don’t care what a bunch sluch pile amateurs are doing or where they are printing their work. Right? Why did you post such a long rant about them & what they are doing (or haven’t done)???

@Wraith and @ Diablo: Why not take that anti-Amazon rant and spin your own story from it? You can have some transhumanist type, with his mind plugged into the net while murdered. His consciousness now crossing the net he explores abandoned archeological sites such as Myspace or Friendster. His trek through could be as perilous as taking a raft down the actual Amazon river. You could even play jokes with words used today of which we have forgotten the true meanings; ie. Amazon; Greek; “with one breast.” IDIOT: One who sits about and does nothing. STUPID: LATINE “STU” stubborn “PID” ignorant “Stubbornly Ignorant.” Do you see where I’m going here? Rather than directly insult people, or condemn an industry, why not use humor to vent your frustrations, and open people’s eyes to the wrongness of it all. Whatever “it” may be.
–George Mink

@Wraith: If you can publish an E-comic, do so. No one is stopping you, and it’s a good way to get noticed by publishers(assuming, of coarse, your story and art are solid and professional). I’ve worked in comic book sales since 1996, and there were always people saying that E-publishing would make the printed comic book obsolete. Such time has elapsed that I now see that as impossible. People like to hold the book in their hands, they like the smell of the fresh ink every week.
IF your story is anything like mine, with lots of back story that is necessary to entirely understand the continuity, yet not so much to enjoy the story, you may be inclined to publish the creation mythos as a web comic. Sort of like the Appendices in the Lord of the Rings Novels, or even the chronicled history that is the Silmarillion.
All of this having been said, you don’t need Amazon to do any of this. In fact, as I said above, I encourage you to satire Amazon.

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives