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What does it mean to be an author, and why is it important to many writers out there today to be one?
The definition of an author depends on whom you ask.
A literary composer.
Someone who creates.
But to many, these simple definitions have changed. An author is now defined by the delivery method of his or her work to the market, by the distinction between “published author” and “self-published author”.
Pie Plate Publishing is a traditional publisher, i.e., we incur the full costs of the works we publish. It may sound strange then, coming from us, to assert the opinion that an author is simply one who creates and should not be defined by whether he has been published or has published himself.
First, let’s try to define published author and self-published author in the simplest terms. A published author is one whose work has been selected by a publisher for publication. A self-published author is one who has chosen to pay the expense of publication himself. There are pros and cons to both situations for an author:
Published Author Pros:
– The author does not incur any expenses to see his work in print.
– The author benefits from the experience and reach of the publisher to distribute the work.
– The author feels the support and belief in his work from a professional in the industry.
– The author is not solely responsible for the success of his book.
– The author will have the distinction in the industry of being a “published author”.
Published Author Cons:
– The author gives up a percentage of the profits to the publisher.
– The author essentially gives up rights to the work to the publisher.
– The author must continue to assist the publisher in the sale of the book. (The author’s responsibilities do not simply end at the moment of publication.)
Self-Published Author Pros:
– The author retains all rights to his work.
– The author determines the overall appearance and content of the finished product.
– The author makes all decisions about the marketing and sales strategy for the book. (This may also be viewed as a con by some authors.)
Self-Published Author Cons:
– The author must pay the cost upfront for the publication of the work as well as all future costs of the work, such as marketing costs.
– The author alone must determine the best way to sell the book – or pay a professional to do his marketing for him.
– The author must find a way to reach a new network of people. (Friends and family are not enough.)
– The author must endure the stigma of being a “self-published” author, perceived by some as “unable to get published”, “not good enough to get published”, or someone who is willing to pay for the gratification of seeing their work in print. (The somewhat defunct term “vanity published” comes from this perception.)
It is this last “con” that seems to be the biggest misconception of the self-published author. This perception that a self-published author is someone who “can’t get published” is simply untrue in today’s publishing environment that now makes it easier than ever for an author to spearhead his own destiny in the marketplace. Further, the idea that his work is not “good enough to get published” is unfair to many authors. For every author who is, frankly, a poor writer, there are dozens more who are good or great writers who simply haven’t gotten their shot. Some may call this an overly optimistic viewpoint. In all fairness, the opposite may be true – for the dozens of mediocre writers out there, only a few may be exceptional. Either way, a sweeping assumption that talent equates publication is oversimplifying a complex process of querying and decision-making on the part of the publisher.
As for self-published authors, perhaps their “failure” to get published is the result of other factors. Maybe they are great writers but terrible at marketing themselves to agents or publishers, which requires a certain ability to toot one’s own horn as well as look at their work from a marketing viewpoint rather than a creative one. Maybe they are highly creative but simply lack the organization or persistence that it takes to send one query after another. Maybe they have employed all the skills necessary to write a great novel, but lack the confidence or thick skin to share that work with professionals in an industry that can be cruel. None of these possibilities point to a writer being untalented or to his book being a bad one. And there’s another possibility – perhaps they opt for self-publishing not because of failure but because they are confident in their ability to sell their work without the help or financial resources of a publisher. With all the possibilities for self-publication out there, including the exploding digital arena, it’s easier and less expensive than ever before to invest in one’s own work.
At this point, you may be wondering, why is a traditional publisher sympathizing and even celebrating the self-published author. Is this an advertisement against pursuing the traditional route? Absolutely not. Self-publishing is a good alternative. But in our eyes, it is simply that – an alternative. Because one ultimately decides to self-publish does not mean one should never attempt to get published in the first place. Publication does not need to be a divisive field, one does not eliminate the other, and truthfully, how a book is produced should not make a lick of difference to one who reads it.
The published author and the self-published author are not two different beings. They are two sides of the same coin, each choosing (or having been chosen for them) a different route to the same finish – a book in print that will go out into the world. How that finish is achieved should not change the definition of the author itself. An author is a creator. An author is a literary composer.
Our list of pros and cons above is certainly not an exhaustive list. There are many reasons to pursue one avenue or another, and the intricacies of each option must be carefully weighed. In conclusion, we offer a brief summary for which avenue may be the best option for an author, when it comes to finding the right way to publish.
Traditional Publication is a good fit for…
An author who is highly creative, whether or not he is an entrepreneur.
An author who does not have the financial means to self-publish or who prefers someone else to take the financial risk.
An author who needs help to market and sell his book.
An author who can surrender to the editing process.
An author who understands that being published is just the beginning – he will still be expected to contribute to the success of his book through book signings, appearances, personal networking, and other activities.
An author who is confident in his work.
Self-Publication is a good fit for…
An author who is both creative and a self-starter.
An author who can afford to bet on his own success.
An author who has the resources or connections to get his work fully edited for publication (and illustrated if applicable).
An author who understands the publishing process or who can afford a self-publisher/ contract publisher that offers at least a basic level of marketing in their publication package.
An author who honestly just wants to see his work in print.*
An author who is confident in his work.
*Memoirs, family stories, personal recipes for future generations, eulogies to lost loved ones- these are often perfect situations for self-published authors whose work will benefit from being in print but will likely not be appropriate for a wide audience.
What do you think? Are self-published and traditionally published authors the same?
Pie Plate Publishing is a small, indie publisher based in Michigan, specializing in the works of new authors for all genres. Our goal is to be supportive and educational in nature to all authors. If you have questions or comments on this article, please post them on our blog, The Slice, or share your opinions on our Facebook page!