Why indeed? Well, let’s unpack this loaded question. First thing’s first…
Overweening hubris. It’s what leads you to honestly believe that you can evaluate your work as well as – or better than – the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing industry. To think that you can select art and design a cover that will make people think they’re buying a real book. To think that yours will rise above the white noise of the 21,314 other books in the Epic Fantasy category in the Kindle Store. To think that you’ve even written anything worth a stranger’s time. But it’s more than that.
The Plight of the Midlister
Kameron Hurley wrote a sobering blog post about the cold, hard economics of fantasy and sic-fi writing. The upshot is, one misfire and you’re out of the traditional game, Hugo Awards and other accolades notwithstanding. The fact is, there’s a reason publishing houses have such high bars and so many hurdles for a manuscript to negotiate before it becomes a novel: the houses put a lot of time and money into that thing with no guarantee that it will even earn back the author’s advance.
If you’re self-published, your catalog is out there for readers to find for as long as you want it out there – making a little money or not, but it’s out there.
Well, What the Hell are the Traditional Publishers Good For, Anyway?
The editors. The grownups who can tell you to kill your darlings, to trim out the crap that’s keeping your manuscript from being a decent novel. You want a dose of vulnerability, of honesty, here? Well, here’s some: It’s scary as hell putting out a novel without the sobering counsel of someone who stands to lose money on the damned thing. Of course you think it’s awesome. Of course your beta readers and in-laws think it’s great. But is it?
Or are you setting yourself up to look like all those other tens of thousands of ignorant assholes out there who think they can write, but alas cannot?
Well, even so, there’s always this nugget of wisdom courtesy of Hugh Howie: your neighbor’s sea-kayaking hobby will never, ever, ever make him a cent. It will only ever cost him money, more and more as he continues to indulge in the hobby.
At least your fantasy writing hobby might earn you back a few bucks some day*. Mine has, and I’ve only been out there just shy of two weeks now.
* Or you can take up a truly noble pursuit like homebrewing, which yields something better than money: quality beer.