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Unpublished Writing – A Waste Of Time? (pt 2)

July 2, 2014

Following on from my last post, I thought I’d approach this same question from a slightly different angle: namely, that of self-publishing versus the more traditional route.

A common argument in favor of self-publishing is the lack of interference from traditional gatekeepers – namely, agents and publishing firms. Why spend years upon years writing a manuscript, the argument goes, only to have it continuously rejected by people concerned more by profit than artistic merit? Why not just let readers decide for themselves? Surely it is better to have a manuscript read by someone, people say rather than let it gather dust for all of time?

Without additional qualifiers, however, such arguments are meaningless. Writing projects should be primarily viewed as learning experiences, as I argued previously, with publication an added bonus rather than the primary goal. If a work is not ready to be published, self-publishing it is NOT going to change matters; most likely, it will leave you with a few annoyed readers and a sizeable hole in your wallet1.

Additional qualifiers can exist, however, in which case the above arguments carry much more weight. Sometimes, a work simply won’t seem marketable at a glance2, making traditional publication exceedingly difficult; in such a case, self-publishing would be a natural choice. In addition, there could come a time where you are utterly convinced that a book is ready and have been told as such by trusted readers; in such circumstances; self-publishing would again be an obvious solution.

I should point out here that several good arguments do exist for self-publishing nowadays, and I would definitely recommend reading up on them. Such arguments are beyond the scope of this article, however. Indeed, I’m making no conclusions here on the merits of self-publishing itself, nor am I concluding anything concrete on publishing as a whole.

Instead, I am simply concluding the following: the time taken to be traditionally published is not a bad thing in itself, making it a poor argument for self-publishing in the majority of circumstances.

1 This last point assumes that you’re not simply trying to do everything yourself – which, of course, you shouldn’t.

2 I feel that a lot of people overstate this one, mind. A huge variety of works get traditionally published, after all.


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  1. Can open. Worms everywhere…


    Saving the debate of indie vs trad (and do they even need to to be versus??) to be done over a pint, bottle of red wine, glass of water or all three, I think you have a valid point here.

    It’s not ready until it’s ready.

    That said, I’m a firm believer that you can wait too long. You can spend too much time on something that it becomes all consuming. And (slipping into opinion mode here) if you want to make a living from writing then you simply cannot afford to wait. Yes, the lightening may strike, but can you really afford to wait if you need the income. As with all things there is a balance. Too quick and you’ll publish rubbish. Too slow and you’ll be stopping the next piece of work – the next opportunity to learn and grow – from being started.

    I reckon that’s also part of the learning process.

    • (Apologies if you’ve already seen this. I noticed just now that I posted it as a new comment rather than a reply, so…)

      Hmm…very good points. I can indeed see a project bogging down after a certain length of time – particularly if querying agents/publishers seems the only thing left to do with it. I think my solution here would be to immediately move on to something new and look over the problem project at a later date; though, I guess we’ll see how I act when I actually get into this situation (which I assume I will; I’ve heard enough horror stories, after all).

      To be honest, I don’t actually consider a case of one vs the other: I know of authors who have pursued both simultaneously, and wouldn’t mind attempting the same thing myself. I still intend to seek traditional publication for my novel, but I also wouldn’t mind self-publishing shorter material. I’m just -really- not keen on the “gatekeeper” argument where self-publishing is concerned; hence, this post. I think next time, I’ll post some arguments I do like in order to make my position a little clearer :).

  2. I also agree with your main point here: A story isn’t ready for publication until it’s truly ready. I wish I had more to add, but I haven’t been able to think of much (the main reason why I haven’t responded yet – I’ve been trying to come up with a more thoughtful or thorough answer, but it’s just not coming to me).

    For me personally, the idea of self-publishing scares the hell out of me. *lol* The thought of being completely, totally responsible for all steps of the publication process is overwhelming. It’s probably because I’m still in the writing stages of my WIP and work better when I can focus on one step at a time. I do know I need to leave the self-publishing option open in case the traditional route hits a dead end, and I will do that. What I feel now is most likely temporary, so hopefully it won’t be an obstacle if I reach that point.

    • I find the idea of self-publishing incredibly daunting, myself, for pretty much the exact reason you’ve described. The potential cost is also an issue in my mind: the idea of spending £1000+ only to end up with a flop on my hands is…well, not exactly enticing.

      On the other hand, I think you’re also right that the whole thing will feel less daunting as individual steps in the process get completely. I’m going to reserve my final judgement until the WIP is actually finished, but right now I find the self-publishing route rather hard to imagine (for a full novel, at any rate).

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