Renting vs. Owning

I couldn’t wait to own my first house. I mean, I literally couldn’t wait.

The closing date was still a week away, but I was already over at my future home on Taft St. in Hollywood, leveling a plot of soil in the back yard, spreading sand, and installing pavers. There was a covered arbor back there, and I wanted to create a patio where before there was just a patchwork of grass, soil, and loose rock. In the middle of the yard there was also a huge tangle of vines covering an old fish pond. Soon, I would have this up and running as well.

The owner of the house didn’t mind my enthusiasm. In fact, he very much didn’t mind. A lovely gay man, he spent the week sipping lemonade on the new patio and offering suggestions and advice as I worked on what would soon be my yard. I was learning not only how much I would love my first home, but how much I would love improving it and working on it.

I’d had the same experience with my first sailboat, Xerxes. I would stay up past midnight at times with a miner’s light on my forehead doing odd projects around the deck. Owning something is to want to care for it. Especially if you worked hard for the money used to acquire that thing. When something is given to you, or when you’re just renting, it’s hard to put the same effort in for its upkeep and improvement. Not to say it doesn’t happen, just that there’s something primal about sweeping out our caves and putting up some bison art.

There’s a myth out there about self-publishing related to this. Because of the big publishing houses’ eroding market share and growing irrelevance, there’s a concerted effort going on to promote traditional publishing as at least a viable alternative to going it on one’s own. The industry has moved quickly from besmirching self-publishing to attempting to sell the middleman-enriching route. Which is understandable; they want to lure in clients and continue making most of the profits off our art. But there is something abysmally wrong with many of their arguments, and we owe it to aspiring authors to point those fallacies out.

The particular myth I’m talking about here is that self-publishing requires a lot of hard work, while traditional publishing means all you have to do is write the manuscript. This is plain nonsense, of course. Publishers expect authors to promote their works, to engage on social media, to answer emails, to do signings and interviews, and much more. And this ignores the massive amount of work it takes to even get published (researching agents, writing queries, tracking responses, doing rewrites).

But let’s set aside the fact that authors of all stripes have to work their butts off to make a living at this. What pundits and publishers miss, because they have no experience with it themselves, is that self-published authors don’t work harder because they have to. They work harder because they want to.

Authors who have only traditionally published also fall prey to this myth. They’ve only ever rented. They sign ownership of their art away, and now they are punching a clock, toiling for peanuts, and that’s not a motivator to toil more. It’s a disincentive. Which is why most authors work a day job teaching creative writing, procrastinate, phone in manuscripts at the last minute, and waste their prodigious talents. They are like the first European settlers who starved to death in a land of plenty because they knew all their hard work was going to be seized by the sponsor company.

That pundits, publishers, agents, and editors don’t get this is frankly startling to me. They see the incredible hours that self-published authors put in, and they assume that it’s forced drudgery. That the work is necessary. Maybe because they are all punching clocks, they don’t know what owning your own business feels like.

Small business owners reading this are nodding their entrepreneurial heads. They went from punching a clock to taking a chance, to believing in themselves, and when they saw that their efforts brought immediate and direct rewards, it made them want to work harder. It is this reward mechanism that people are seeing across the self-publishing landscape, rather than any necessity born by the publishing path. There is striving, yes. But much of it is happy striving.

The really pathetic response to this, even when some in the biz understand the psychology behind why self-published authors work so hard, is to say, “Not everyone wants to be a small business owner.” Or basically: “Not everyone wants to own their own home.” And: “Not everyone wants to be their own boss, work their own hours, and be in charge of their lives.”

How dehumanizing. Not everyone wants agency? Self-actualization is the highest on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You basically have an entire industry out there trying to brainwash artists into not valuing the creative freedom opened up to them by simple digital tools and print technologies that have made the middlemen irrelevant. You’ve got an entire industry subsisting on the cruel art of learned helplessness.

You don’t have to go it alone if you self publish. Join a critique group. Form a writing club. Hire an agent, editor, assistant, or publicist. “But not everyone wants to take all that risk,” the agents of helplessness will say. As if a $15,000 advance paid out over two years is either a heavy burden to them or a saving amount of money for an artist. Besides, it’s the artist taking the risk either way.

The author who plans to submit works a day job and writes on the side for years until they hammer out that first rough draft. Those hours represent otherwise lost wages. And what would they really have to risk in order to own their art instead of being renters? The cost to self-publish a professionally edited manuscript, with brilliant cover art, is less than the cost of a computer, or a work truck, or the first month’s lease on a retail space. Each book is a small business with almost no startup costs. And the manufacturing costs are both minimal and one-time (editing, cover art). After these, you just upload, press a button, and a retail partner does the rest.

The real risk is selling art for cheap, accepting horrid contracts and low royalties, and placing pricing decisions in the hands of misguided corporate suits who want to protect some pathways to readers at the expense of others. Or trusting these suits to negotiate fairly and competently with your prime retail partners. That’s risk. And it’s a risk fewer and fewer authors are going to want to take, and the response is going to be myths and zombie memes and fear-mongering from the middlemen who are missing out.

Whenever you see them warning you about all the hard work it takes to self-publish, understand that they are dead wrong. Self-publishing doesn’t take extra hard work, it just makes the work so much more enticing and rewarding that you’re likely to do more of it. Anyone who has ever owned, rather than rented, will understand the difference. And anyone claiming that we would all just be happier to rent, or to give up control of our creative endeavors, or wave away our human agency, is selling something you should be wary of anyway.



66 responses to “Renting vs. Owning”

  1. Hugh, this makes so much sense!

    Owning means taking care of things – and owning our books means we self-publishers are taking care of them. Promoting them. Showing them off. Loving them to bits. Brushing them up if they have gotten a little old.

    Love it. Off to huggle my books some more.

  2. Or as the saying goes, I’d rather work twelve hours a day for myself than eight hours a day for somebody else. I’ll never understand the people that don’t get this.

    1. “I’d rather work twelve hours a day for myself than eight hours a day for somebody else.”


  3. Hugh, thanks tor this. But one thing I don’t understand. I know you’ve self-published a lot of books, but I thought you were also published with a large publisher?

    1. I did a print-only deal with S&S here in the States. That deal terminates in another 3 or 4 years, and I’ll get those rights back. It was a fun experiment, but probably not something I’d do again. I’ve also done deals overseas with foreign publishers, including Random House in the UK. They can market in those territories better than I can.

  4. Wonderful insight from a rare person who has been on both sides of the coin. With my second novel about to come out, friends keep asking me if I’m trying to get a ‘real’ publisher. I just tell them no.

    1. John,
      That’s the right answer. I spent the first couple years with this weird guilt about being self-published, despite selling more than most mid-listers at that time. People would ask who my publisher was, and then I’d try to explain how I don’t have one … I make more this way … owning my rights, etc., but the question would still come, “Sooo you’re not really published?”
      Now I say yes, I’m published. Who’s the publisher? “A small press called Fantome Publishing. I’m the only client.”
      But there’s no more guilt or feeling like a fake. I just don’t have time to outline the current state of the publishing industry.

      1. Yes, this. Michael got it correct. We are authors/writers and publishers, with total control over our genres, publishing, marketing, etc. :-)

      2. Michael – this:

        “But there’s no more guilt or feeling like a fake. I just don’t have time to outline the current state of the publishing industry.”

        That’s exactly how I feel when people have that “soooo you’re not really” reaction. For a while, I spent a lot of time trying in vain to explain the changes in the industry that handed publishing back to the artist. Now I just tell them a small independent house published it, client list: 1. And leave it there. It is amazing how well the traditional pub industry has built that prestige around themselves.

        I also spent a lot of time grappling with my own self doubt when I decided to self-publish. As a serial entrepreneur, I knew I had the skills to run it like a business, but there was always this niggling voice in my head – the voice of legacy pub – telling me that this wasn’t real unless they approved.

        What a mind game that is.

  5. Total sidebar from the whole self-publishing aspect of this piece…oddly, I used to work in a house on Taft St. in Hollywood. Right at the corner of Taft and Franklin, a big, green (at the time, I think it might be blue now) craftsman just down the street from the Mayfair market. Whoa.

  6. Ah, every time I think I have it sussed, I read something and I realise I still don’t know what I’m doing. After publishing 5 books in the indie world I decided to take another shot at snagging an agent. Got plenty of rejections, but also got a few interested enough to take a look at the full manuscript. But it still hasn’t been picked up and has been rejected after the full manuscript was read (with a very helpful and positive comments regarding its merit).

    I even have a cover ready to go. So why is it still on my computer and not KDP? I wish I knew :-) But it is interesting to hear that you wouldn’t go back down the trad route again. That pushes me to close my excell agents’ spreadsheet and just hit publish :-)

  7. Hugh, I am in agreement with this one thousand percent. BUT, not everyone does want to own their own house. My ex didn’t, and it took me a long time to empathize with that. Mowing lawns does not appeal to everyone.

    And for some people, the idea of going it alone as an indie author is terrifying. And we as the type-a Bulldogs need to be understanding that all walks of life are different. And some people are happy renting.

    But for me, doing it myself is the bee’s knees. Whether it’s installing tile or publishing my book.

    1. “Mowing lawns does not appeal to everyone.”

      Ain’t that a fact! And people who don’t want to mow their lawns can hire someone else to do it the way we hire editors,proofreaders, and cover designers. The idea that all the heavy lifting doesn’t have to fall on self-publishing (or home-owning) shoulders is what the nay-sayers don’t seem to get.

      1. But there is a huge hurdle and cost to finding a reputable lawn mower, or, in this case, editor. It’s not an easy thing for someone with zero knowledge of the business to just “find” someone. You have to sort through the applicants, whittle them down, find the right one for you. That takes a lot of time. They have kids, parents, jobs, (etc.) that take up their mental priorities. And while they’d like to publish a book, they’d like to leave some of the more difficult stuff to other people.

        All I’m saying is that not everyone can put on their big boy/girl pants and Do It, and not everyone wants to.

        But the fact of the matter is, for those of us who do want to do it, we can.

        1. You’d rather be assigned someone who might be bad at their job and have no way of firing them or replacing them?

          That’s like saying that finding a spouse is such a pain and so an arranged marriage would be so much better. You are STUCK with your BPH editor. Until they move on, and you get randomly assigned a new one. I’m on my third editor at one BPH and my second at another, all from editors moving on to other jobs, and shuffling the decks.

  8. Ha! I grew up in a house on Lincoln Street in Hollywood (over by Memorial Hospital) and my dad still lives there. So, I got sidetracked by that, but I agree with your point about self-publishing.

  9. Hugh, you nailed it again. Thank you. Happily striving under my own steam along my self-charted route is the most self actualized I’ve ever been. The loud debates miss that point entirely.

  10. Great analogy – it really puts things in perspective.

    I think too many writers just want to write and leave that nasty “business stuff” to others. In my opinion, that accounts for a large part of traditional publishers’ hold on the market. The problem, of course, is that much like going to an auto mechanic knowing nothing about cars, you leave room to be taken advantage of. One should know enough to at least throw down the BS card.

    Writers need to know this is more than “I wake up with a fresh cup of coffee and produce my next masterpiece.” Those that get that will be successful no matter which medium they choose, for they will have made that choice grounded in reality. Those that don’t will be little more than dreamers(nothing wrong with dreaming, but doing nothing but dreaming can certainly affect success).

  11. Love love love this!
    There is nothing like the feeling that readers are hungrily waiting for your next book, whatever the heck you decide it’s going to be. Living the dream, baby! and working harder than I ever imagined, and yet it doesn’t feel like worth.
    That is happiness.

    1. Toby – Another advantage to doing this under my own shingle: Being able to shift my editorial calendar when I was asked to write for my author friend’s amazing KW project earlier this year. That would never have been possible if I wasn’t calling all the shots. I think about that all the time… there is no substitute for this level of control.

      Hugh – Thank you for yet another excellent and insightful post.

  12. Oops, typo! Meant to say, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. It’s what I would do over anything else. Did I belabor the point enough?

  13. SO many advantages to doing it yourself — write whatever crazy stuff you want, as fast as you want, as long or short as you want, and control prices and titles and cover choices. It’s the very definition of being a creative person! Not to mention that it’s more lucrative.

    I tell people that indie publishing is more like opening a restaurant than starting a regular job. It’s your baby… and doing whatever it takes (including staying up all night!) is easy to do for your baby.

    1. Heh. I used that exact analogy in a different version of this piece, which might be published elsewhere.

  14. Heck, I spent a lot of money and put hundreds–hundreds–of hours into self-publishing my book, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, and it’s sold a couple hundred copies, and I’D DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. The learning paid incredible dividends. The pride in the product, from the typeface I used (created in 1938 when the book is set!) to the Mike Corley cover all points in between, is so tangible to me. This is MY book. Every atom of it.

    And… it’s always there in the various stores. I still get sales, and I still get emails from people about it. Someday it may take off. Someday it won’t. But it was an investment in learning, art, and creation that was totally worth it to me.

    1. I’m with you, Jake. I’m happy I published multiple books as I would’ve doubted the many success stories if I’d only published my MG novel, which has had a more difficult time finding readers than my stuff for older readers. But regardless of money, having actual books that exist in the world and make me proud and that some readers have enjoyed is worth every moment of effort I put into them. The journey is its own reward. Should my MG book someday become a big hit, that would be lovely. But I’ve been happier publishing my stuff than I ever was waiting around on big publishing houses.

  15. “You’ve got an entire industry subsisting on the cruel art of learned helplessness.”

    Absolutely this. So many clear points in this article that I’ll have to read it a few more times to internalize more of them.

    Also this: “there’s something primal about sweeping out our caves and putting up some bison art.”

    I laughed. My parrot, who doesn’t like me to laugh alone, laughed. I laughed at the parrot, who… etc. It’s the little things that make a morning.

    1. LOL That painted a funny picture.

  16. Brilliant, Hugh!

    You nailed it, as you so often do.

    I tend to work on my book covers on the weekend just because it’s so much fun. Ditto tweaking my web site. I don’t add up how many hours I work on my writing and publishing career, because it feels like play, not work.

    If I could do anything in the whole wide world…I’d be doing this! Writing, revising, making book covers, and writing blog posts. I am one of the lucky ones. :D

  17. Peggy Wheeler Avatar

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you, Hugh. I’m a trad girl, though, and exactly for the reasons you put in your piece. Gwen Gades, publisher: “….what most self pubbers fail to recognize when starting out, is that you are starting a publishing business (not a writing business), with all that that entails. It’s not about just writing a book and putting it up on Amazon. It’s all the million processes in between and after that take time, and energy and effort. Most authors would rather be writing, than say, worrying about a weird metadata mistake that keeps reappearing, or following industry trends to make sure you’re staying up with technology, or replacing files at a zillion vendors because yours are now irrelevant in terms of format. It’s exactly why Amanda Hocking went with a big publisher, despite her success. She ran out of time. There’s valid reasons for going either way, but you should choose, whichever path you do, from a position of knowledge.” Either choice is fine, but I personally prefer to leave the publishing up to those with twenty or thirty years experience. I want to expend my hard effort, talent, and time in writing, because, well, I am a writer, not a publisher. My hat’s off to those who want to do both. Thanks for the thought provoking piece, and good luck to all of us!

    1. Except that often publishers make mistakes with books – wrong metadata, covers that aren’t doing their job or don’t even display on the retailer site (happened to me), refusal or inability to put first-in-series books on sale to bump follow-through sales on the rest of the series, total lack of communication with the author about what’s happening with their book. Small mistakes, sometimes big ones (my CP lost her spots in Target and Walmartdue to a publisher’s issues, and saw her print run drop precipitously) that can cost you, the author, a lot.

      The publishing houses don’t care, though. They have plenty of other books making enough of a profit that it all adds up. Often it’s too much work for them to fix the problems with your title – it’s not worth their time.

      It’s great that your publisher is doing right by your books. However, do be aware that publishers often make mistakes and don’t do anything about those errors, leaving the author powerless to fix them.

      1. Publishers who do their job properly will never have any problem finding writers to work with. But what Hugh is saying applies to them to. The vast majority of people working at the big publishing companies are simply punching a time card, and don’t have much invested in what they do. So they have little motivation to work really hard for their bosses, or for the writers their bosses are buying. They are all just feeding a big machine and can’t offer the kind of attention to individual works that a writer can by going it on their own.

        Since the majority can’t compete with what a motivated writer can do for themselves, all they can offer writers is fear. It will be too hard. Let the professionals handle it. Etc. The problem they are going to have is that the writers who are susceptible to that kind of fear are probably not the writers who are going to succeed. Even worse, I suspect more and more self-published writers are going to start getting together and building their own enterprises (like J. A. Kornath’s library ebook program) that will take over what services big publishers used to be able to offer.

        1. One of my Big 5 publishers couldn’t understand why I wanted my book categorized in a Sci Fi subcategory. They wanted it just as plain Sci Fi. I tried to explain how the parent category would be inherited, so the ebook would show up in BOTH places, but after 5 emails back and forth, they still didn’t understand this.

          It was one of the biggest publishers in the world.

          Authors who say, “I just want to write and let my publisher handle all the things they are expert at” don’t get that these publishers aren’t expert at very much. It really doesn’t take much effort or study to quickly become better at publishing than they are. This was shocking to discover, after working with two of the Big 5. They are using 20th century techniques and business acumen in the 21st century.

          1. I am amazed that they couldn’t understand your use of a subcategory. I pretty much sussed that one out, while working my way through Amazon’s instructions when publishing my first book on Kindle. But then again, you said it so well yourself, ‘They are using 20th century techniques and business acumen in the 21st century.’

    2. “….what most self pubbers fail to recognize when starting out, is that you are starting a publishing business (not a writing business), with all that that entails.”

      I don’t mean to be argumentative, but that quote is really fucking asinine. I love it when traditional publishing’s parasitic middlemen try to position themselves as authorities on self-publishing, to help keep their writer sheep docile and spread fear.

      How about:

      “….what most trad pubbers fail to recognize when starting out, is that you are handing over all rights to your intellectual property (not forming a publishing partnership), with all that that entails.”

      1. Also:

        “….what most trad pubbers fail to recognize when starting out, is that you are starting a small business.

        You can’t “just write” unless you are doing work for hire as an employee. As soon as you start writing as a freelance, you have started a small business with all that that entails – bookkeeping, taxes, records, collecting money from those who owe it, etc.

  18. I agree with this 1000%. When you move from renting to owning – and our first home was a boat, too – it’s different. I hadn’t thought of self vs trad publishing like this, but it is.

    It makes sense. I went the querying route, and collected a nice pile of rejections (rightfully so). So I went and worked harder at my craft. Then I discovered self-publishing, and thought, wow. Look at all the control you can have!

    Since I prefer to be in the driver’s seat, that was instantly appealing. If I drive off the cliff, I want to be the one who did it. Not the one clinging in a back seat, hoping for a different outcome.

    Great article.

  19. Self-publishing gave me a sense of control and agency the likes of which I’d never known. Being in command of your income, of your product, of your production… there’s nothing like it. It’s turned me into a workaholic, but I don’t mind, because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

    It’s a different thing, when you’re the one profiting most from the sweat of your brow. When all of your efforts go directly towards improving your situation. Some of you might know this, but I was broke, unemployed, and homeless when I started three years ago.

    Self-publishing gave me back my dignity. It gave me hope.

  20. All of this depends upon our individual circumstances. When I was working at my “real” job, I didn’t have time to be a self-publisher. I sold to magazines and small presses. I’m still doing that, but now I’ve added self-publishing because I’m retired and have the time.

    If my work had sold on a scale that I could’ve quit the regular job, I would have. But I wasn’t about to take that chance, and now things have worked out for me. Since I retired, I’ve self-published a novella, tried to put out a graphic novel, a project which failed, and I’m now working on self-publishing a novel. Quite likely short story collections are in the future, as well. But I wasn’t about to risk my retirement for that.

  21. There is an enormous amount of energy that the self-published writer avoids wasting: the time necessary to research agents and publishers, to submit, to wait by the mailbox, to get rejections, to feel down about them. To do it over and over and over.

    I’ve done it for my first book (and it was all wasted – that book is still awaiting revision. I got sidetracked into the one I just finished and am about to publish).

    As an observant person, I remember those months and years of pain and fear and despair, and don’t miss them.

    The same energy is far better spent leaning to write a crowd scene, or how you want to be consistent about handling internal monologue, or in writing book descriptions. All these things take huge amounts of time an energy, but it is not WASTED.

    You house analogy is perfect – ownership makes it all worthwhile because you get to KEEP the fruits of your labor. It doesn’t get wasted – or enrich someone else.

  22. I started out with a publisher and gave him my first six books and worked my butt off promoting and trying to get sales because, funnily enough, once I signed the contract they didn’t want to do anything for me. *cue look of disbelief here*
    So when my next book was finished I decided to self publish and what an eye opener that was! I could see my sales in real time instead of waiting six months for the six months previous and I was making real money – yes real money! Not the pittance my publisher was prepared to pay me.
    When they started asking me for more books I thought long and hard about the best way to go about this but I eventually got my rights back and now do everything for myself.
    It is hard work but you know – I’d do it all again because nobody works harder for you than you do yourself.
    It’s been a hard three and a half years but I’m on a roll now and every time I get the urge to go to the ‘big five’ so I can see my book on the shelves, I look at my earnings and how far I’ve come and say “nah. Not a hope.”
    I know I made the right decision and it would have to be the cheapest ‘business’ I could ever have hoped to start up.

    1. Brilliant. Congrats on all your success!

  23. I rented the same house for ten years and came to love it, so it was a nasty shock when my offer to buy was knocked back. I eventually built my own house, in a beautiful, but bushfire prone area. It’s scary here in summer, when a hot north wind blows, but it’s mine, and I love it.

    The difference between loving and liking is akin to the difference between owning and renting – you’ll never know until you experience it for yourself.

    1. Great analogy there at the end. And congrats. :)

  24. Wow, this is so timely for me, and I know for a lot of other folks as well. After going to a summit with the Self Publishing Podcast guys in April, I realized I’m just not part of the crowd at so many author events. Those events are fun and can serve their purpose, but indies truly are my people.

    This brought tears to my eyes: Each book is a small business with almost no startup costs. I’d add that short stories are at least a kiosk at the mall! ;)

    A quote I heard on a recent indie panel goes along with all of this. “Self publishing is a multi-faceted satisfier.” Not only do we get the pleasure of a job well done with the writing, but also the editing, cover, layout and design, description, blurbs, all of it. I for one am delighted to have the chance to do all of that not only the way I want it done, but also the right way!

  25. Smart Debut Author Avatar
    Smart Debut Author

    “…the response is going to be myths and zombie memes and fear-mongering from the middlemen who are missing out. Whenever you see them warning you about all the hard work it takes to self-publish, understand that they are dead wrong.”

    Oh, it’s even funnier than that. It’s downright Orwellian. :D

    First they trained their sheep to bleat: “Trad-pub good. Self-pub bad.”

    And authors and readers alike laughed in their faces. And bought indie books.

    So now they have their sheep bleating: “Self-pub good. Trad-pub better!”

    1. Great summary. We’ve come a long way, no?

      1. Some of us have. :)

        Others, like the New York Times book review’s Janet Maslin, apparently not so much.

        If you want a good laugh, take a look at the NYT’s recommended summer reading list.

        Can you say Fifty Shades of White? :D

        Or perhaps, NY publishing has simply accepted their irrelevance to all but a tiny subset of the reading world. They aren’t raging against the indie light any more. Instead, they are going quietly into that gentle… uh… white. :D

  26. With this line I have a question: When something is given to you, or when you’re just renting, it’s hard to put the same effort in for its upkeep and improvement

    I was kind of confused with the comparison to owning a house. Unless you have paid off your house completely, you are renting. You rent your house from the bank who holds your debt. If you fail to pay the bank, they can take the house from you.

    So you’re not renting from a landlord, but from a bank. It’s nice to think that having a mortgage means you own a house and you can sell the house, but miss a few payments and the bank comes for you.

    I can say that the same could be said with outright owning, or even having a mortgage. The repairs are on your shoulders rather than the landlords, plus there’s insurance, all the extras you’ve dreamed about and rates. So the bills can pile up, making improvements harder to do without spare money.

    I think the comparison would fit better by owning a house outright.

    1. That’s not a good analogy. Rent is money burned. You can never get it back. When you take out a loan, you agree to repay the loan according to certain terms. As long as you meet those terms, that house is yours. So every mortgage payment is going toward ownership (much of that payment will be interest at first, but it gradually shifts to principle).

      This is more like putting money IN the bank. Especially if you increase the value with sweat equity. No, taking out a mortgage is nothing like renting a house or apartment. Not even close.

    2. Even if you have a mortgage, owning is still different from renting. If you put in a patio on a house you own, it increases the value of your house. You get it back in the form of an increased sales price when you move. But if you put in a patio on a house you rent, you lose the value when you move (unless you get your landlord to compensate you).

      It’s true that if you are underwater and default, you lose the improvements you’ve made, but that’s not the typical scenario.

  27. Hugh, I’m publishing my first e-book in the next two or three weeks and I have your sage advice these last couple of years to thank for that (well, for part of that). I’m not nervous about going the route of self-publishing, I have my expectations managed, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I am my day job.

    Thank you for helping us aspiring writers to keep our heads on straight throughout this process.

  28. I have been both trad pubbed and indie pubbed and I, too, am shocked by those on both sides who think that publishing on your own is more work. I was with three different publishing houses (some better than others), and I had to do just as much work on my trad pubbed books as I do for my self pubbed ones at each house. Period.

    Some of that work was the same as both places–writing, editing, and promoting my books.
    But a lot of the work I do/did for the BPHs is/was much more frustrating–fretting over mistakes that I could not fix, having no input into decisions that affected my life and finances, trying to explain things, checking to see if things were fixed/completed at all, and cleaning up after the mistakes of others–all the while knowing that they were keeping the lion’s share of the profit.

    Maybe there is a BPH nirvana where you sit back and someone else does all the non-writing work, but I’ve never experienced it and I don’t know any writer who has.

  29. Great post. But when are you going to address the renting vs. owning issue from the readers perspective, namely the fact that when you buy an e-book you don’t actually own it.

    The number one factor that keeps me from buying more e-books is the fact that they don’t come with traditional ownership rights, i.e. the right to re-sell something you own and or to lend it to anyone you want. Yes, there’s the Kindle Owners Lending Library, but that is fairly limited and still owned and operated by Amazon.

    I’d love to see a “rental” option for e-books developed, so that I can “rent” an e-book for a specified length of time at a lower price rather than being forced to buy it…..

    1. There are subscription services like Scribd, Oyster, etc, which are essentially rental services. You just don’t rent one book, but for most people who read a lot, a subscription is more cost-effective.

      I agree–I’d like to be able to lend ebooks, at least to one or two other people. But, honestly, at this point, I prefer the convenience of ebooks (traveling with them, commuting with them, etc,) and the fact that I don’t have to find physical room for all my books.

    2. I offload the ebooks I buy onto my hard drive for safe and future storage. And where are all the print books I’ve bought over the years? All given away as I moved from place to place, or gathering dust somewhere and growing moldy, or borrowed from friends, or left on a bus. For me, this is a non-issue. Some legal technicality. All my ebooks are in the cloud, and I can read them at any time, and the chance of Amazon going out of business before I die, or waging some weird and evil campaign to wipe out all the ebooks we’ve purchased over the years, is just too hard to believe.

      1. Hugh,

        Your response doesn’t really make too much sense to me. For example, you note that you have given away most of your print books. One of my points is the fact that I can’t give away e-books when I am done with them.

        For example, I donate print books to my local library several times a year. But I can’t do that with e-books.

        I also sell some of my print books back to my local bookstore (Third Place Books). Can’t do that with e-books.

        And I give some of my print books to friends. I can’t easily do that with e-books.

        And while its great that you can store e-books in the cloud, there is a not insignificant likelihood that at some point in the future, today’s e-book formats will become technologically obsolete (just ask owners of record players, tapes, CD’s, VHS tapes, DVD’s, Walkman’s, iPods, etc.), therefore rendering today’s e-books unreadable. Something that can never be said for print books.

        So while e-books are terrific in some ways (great for travelling, can be read in the dark, have enabled self-publishing), only an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand would fail to recognize that they still have their issues.

  30. I was attracted to this post because I lived in Hollywood for many years and know the neighborhood you spoke of – though I was a renter.

    What I love about you, Hugh is that you’re so good at pointing out the irony. In this case, that writers have bought into the idea that going traditional is somehow easier or better because someone else does all the nasty stuff they don’t want to deal with. But in fact, as you point out the things that sell books – the marketing, promoting, making oneself known is not done by the publishers – but by the writer.Sure they get an editor and a cover designer but as you said, there is no guarantee they’ll be any good and you won’t be able to fire them. And for that you give them 85% of your work. Possibly more. With the added benefit of having to try to get the rights back when it goes out of print. Although not with electronic distribution a book never goes out of print.

    As a self employed person (for many years) I never want to punch anybody’s clock but my own. Sure self-pubbing scares the crap out of me but I look forward to it because I know I’ll learn a lot and the next round will go better, easier. It’s not a one time deal, just like any small business, you have to be in it for the duration. So you just write more books, keep learning and get better at being the Captain of your own fate.

    I can’t imagine it being any other way.

    Great insight. Thanks.


  31. […] Howey: Renting vs. Owning. A wonderful indie author, rather successfully self-publishing several interesting books, on why he […]

  32. […] Renting vs. Owning | Hugh Howey […]

  33. I work 12 to 15 hours a day, most of it writing. I retired from my day job a dozen years ago. I wouldn’t even think about putting that kind of effort, of expending that percentage of my finite time on the planet, and have the majority of the benefit go to someone else.

    It’s the difference between being a corporate employee and a business owner. I’ve always done pretty well as a business owner. I also did well as a corporate employee. But I didn’t much like it. And I certainly hated the bureaucracy of decision by committee, as well as the bad decisions that ensue from that process.

    I have no problem with traditional publishing. It seems to have no problem with me. Peaceful coexistence isn’t a bad thing. I rather like it. If a big publisher wanted to drop a massive sack of money on my desk, I’d certainly listen to what it has to say. However, barring that, I see nothing to be gained as a mid-lister, and a ton of money to lose, by handing over the majority of my income to someone else so they can “make my life easier.” Sounds a bit too much like government to me. I’m not necessarily anti-authority, but I am to the extent that it limits your potential, and that’s what most controls do. If I succeed, I succeed on my own terms, and the same if I fail. But I don’t have to depend on someone else, to do so. What’s that worth? To me, a lot. To others, perhaps not so much.

    There’s no right or wrong way, just the right or wrong way for you. Nobody takes the bullet for you in the end, your time’s limited, so suck the juice out of life and walk your own path.

    And of course, buy my crap.

  34. Totally off topic, Hugh, but when did you live on Taft Street? It’s a small world — I live due west of there in Pembroke Pines.

    1. This was back in 2002-2003, I believe. I was only there for 18 months or so.

  35. Carol Anne Douglas Avatar
    Carol Anne Douglas

    Good article, thank you. I’m getting ready to self-publish and am not sure whether I should create a press just for myself to have a publisher name or just use my own name. What do you think?

  36. […] testo che segue è la traduzione di questo articolo di Hugh Howey, pubblicato sul suo sito il 22 maggio 2015. Non era previsto che ve lo proponessi oggi; […]

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