At an anti-library closure protest, local magician and comics legend Alan Moore had some surprising words for those who hope to break into the wide world of published writing.
"Publishing today is a complete mess. I know brilliant authors who can’t get their books published,” Moore says, explaining that many publishing houses are afraid of taking risks on fiction. Moore’s solution? “Publish yourself. Don’t rely upon other people."
Moore is right. Traditional publishing is hard to break into (I speak as someone still trying to break in). That said, it always irks me when creators with Moore's following flippantly suggest anyone and everyone self-publish. Alan Moore can scribble anything onto a sheet of paper and sell it for a hefty sum. He's Alan Moore. Imagine if Stephen King said, "I don't know why everyone doesn't self-publish. It's worked so well for me!" Of course. You've defined a genre.
Self-publishing is absolutely viable if you write in certain genres or you have a huge following or a sizable back catalogue of work or if you have the money and time to devote to it. While you certainly can self-publish on the cheap, the people I know who are successful a) don't, and b) spend a lot more than money on making sure they stay successful.
Self-publishing can be like another full-time job (and let's face it, traditional publishing can, too). Getting the word out there about your one book among a sea of thousands requires more than a few tweets and some word of mouth from your mom. And if you write something like Literary fiction, you might think twice about dumping all that time and money into such meager rewards.
I don't begrudge anyone willing to put in the effort their chance to have their work published and I've certainly enjoyed my fair share of self-published novels. The Martian was a fun read. I've interviewed plenty of talented self-published authors on my podcast -- Aaron Mahnke and Matt Gemmell certainly know how to tell a good story.
However, if you're going to take advice on self-publishing, talk to someone who's been grinding at it for a while. Learn from their mistakes. Have a good reason for going that route. Understand exactly what you're getting into before you decide to write off an entire industry of professionals who, despite what the self-publishing zealots will tell you, actually do want to help you and see you succeed.
But that's an article for another day.