Person A: [This, that, or the other non-traditional route] isn't real publishing.
Person B: Why are you tearing down other people's success?
Person A: You're deluding yourself.
Person B: You're a jerk.
Mud-slinging and childish behavior ensue. Any chance for rational discussion of pros and cons is lost.
Aside from personality flaws I'm not qualified to diagnose, it seems part of the problem arises when one or both parties fail to differentiate between accomplishment and prestige. So I'll stick my neck out and discuss it.
All of the following are accomplishments that warrant unequivocal pride and satisfaction:
- completing a novel
- writing a query letter that garners requests
- securing an agent
- landing a publishing contract with a big-name publisher
- landing a publishing contract with a mid-sized publisher
- landing a publishing contract with a small/niche publisher or micro-press
- learning the formatting gymnastics required for self- and/or e-publishing
- releasing a book through self- and/or e-publishing
- selling books
- finally telling your family you're a writer, and surviving the laughter
But the fact is, some of these accomplishments are more prestigious than others, and measuring "success" is complicated. I have a friend who's well into six-figures with advances (Big 6 publishers) and foreign rights sales with her debut novel, and it's not even released until this fall. I have other friends who've been published by start-up indie publishers founded by fellow writers, and some are doing quite well. Still other friends have gone entirely the DIY route, and a few of those are also doing impressively.
If I say that first friend with the Big 6 contracts is more successful than the others, does that mean I'm disparaging the others' accomplishments? Not at all. I'm saying she's reached a higher level of prestige. We can't all be Olympic gold-medalists. Even if some of us eventually get the same level of success as my friend, we won't necessarily take the same route. And that's okay.
(Incidentally, all of my aforementioned friends have accomplished more than I have in those respects. I'm still working on it.)
Part of the problem is likely the implication that novels that are self-published or released by a small start-up aren't "good enough" for the big-time. Is that true?
Let's be honest—sometimes it is.
There are other possible reasons, though. Not hitting the right timing with trends. A topic/genre that's more niche than mainstream. Or an author that wants to keep complete control over their product, for whatever reason, so they never even try the traditional route.
I'm in no position to say which category any given book falls into. But my advice to all is to acknowledge that there's always going to be someone "better" and more successful. Compete against yourself. Choose a route, set a bar for yourself, and focus on surpassing it. Next time around, get a bigger contract, or a higher percentage of positive reviews, more downloads at a specific price point, or whatever makes sense to your situation.
Not everyone can be at the top of the prestige tower ... but everyone can move higher bit by bit. Be realistic about where you are. You're not as high as someone else—the latest Big-6 bestseller or whatever. You don't need to pretend you are. Take what you've accomplished, own it, and enjoy it. Then get back to work.