For anyone who is not familiar with the name, Anton Newcombe is a brilliant musician and founder of 90s band The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Last night I watched the 'rockumentary' Dig! , about seven years of friendship and feuding between BJM and their more commercially successful peers, The Dandy Warhols. Newcombe had many chances to be signed by recording companies, but blew most of them, perhaps on purpose.
This morning I read an Interview with Newcombe in The Guardian by Rhik Samadder which, amongst other points, reiterated his anti signing-with-an-established-record-label policy. I was so glad I read it.
Most writers, whilst penning their first novel, have fantasies about submitting it to a major literary agent and being taken on by a major publishing house. This fantasy becomes reality for one in a million, if not less. Alas, many soon realise that their first novel leaves much room for improvement, and is not the stuff of which bestsellers are made. I started writing long before Kindle; back in the days when I occasionally submitted novels to agents I gained some interest, but it amounted to 'yes, like the way you write, but can you change the content according to what is currently in vogue, so I can sell it to a publisher?'
I've written about this before so won't go on and on about it again ~ the point I wanted to make, in a roundabout way, is that writers should not see self-publishing as a last resort after they've been rejected by mainstream publishers, or an indication that they are 'not good enough'. Yes, self-published stuff on Amazon ranges from the brilliant to the truly dire, but the desire to 'be a published author' leads many to sign with small, or independent publishers, or, worse, with the horrendous rip-off vanity presses.
As far as independent publishers are concerned, some writers find that they end up with all the restrictions of trad (Big 5) pub (losing control of content, timing of publication, price, etc), with none of the advantages (no promotion, no financial advances, no books in high street shops and, on occasion, proofreading and editing that leaves much to be desired).
Self-publishing means you can make your own decisions about every single aspect of your books. You're not bound by what some editor (who may or may not have a good understanding of the market) considers saleable. By the way, when a writer says they self-publish 'by choice', it means they don't submit their books to publishers in the first place. It doesn't mean they've been rejected by lots of publishers but have come to terms with it. It's their chosen way to go, from the off.
I remember one writer saying that he'd felt so excited by the 'indie' movement in publishing, when Kindle was first introduced, but became disillusioned by the reality: people bunging up any old rubbish on Amazon and thinking they were going to be the next GRR Martin. This has added to the bad name self-publishing has had since the days when vanity publishing was the only option available. The writers' hierarchy lives on: some writers who sign with indie publishers consider themselves superior to the self-published, and indeed make scathing remarks about them, not realising that DIY is an active choice.
But acceptance by a publishing house or a recording company should not be seen as the only affirmation that creative output is worth something; such large companies exist to make money, first and foremost, not to nurture the artist, who is not encouraged to be 'edgy' or explore new ground; money invested has to be a safe bet. As Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols said in Dig!, all the record companies give you the spiel about caring about your career, not just your hit records, but if you don't have a hit record you soon find out how much they care about your career. Similarly, with major publishing houses and literary agents: if you don't produce the hot selling goods, you're history.
But what about validation of your talent? Doesn't acceptance by a literary agent/publisher give you that? Not necessarily. I've heard, straight from one horse's mouth, that acceptance by an agent doesn't necessarily mean that you're a terrific writer, just that you've produced a product they can mould into something that will earn them big bucks. If you want validation, wait to see if readers buy more than one of your books. Rejoice in your genuine reviews from book bloggers and the reading public.
I've read fantastic books by self-pub authors that are easily as good as those by well known writers and some published by mainstream houses that are pretty mediocre, but sell because of that, and the money behind them, of course; 'vanilla' is always popular and, indeed, is pushed by the media.
Saleability to the masses (and investment from large corporations) does not necessarily indicate creative brilliance; it's fair to say that creativity and making money do not go hand in hand.
(btw, if you would like to know more about the way the music industry operates and exactly how much money artistes who sign with a major record label DON'T make, I recommend the documentary Artifact, about rock band Thirty Seconds To Mars getting screwed over by EMI. It's most interesting, and I kept seeing similarities between the music and the publishing industry!)
It took me a while to realise that I actually WANT to be self-published. I don't like the idea of anyone else having control over what I produce. If you self-publish because you want to have control over your own output, too, and you understand the importance of good editing and proofreading to produce something worth selling, you should be proud of it. Once you stop worrying about writing synopses and what-the-hell-agents-are-looking-for, or getting yet another rejection letter, your writing life gets a lot easier. And you can spend your time producing novels, instead of query letters.