As a J.W. Pepper choral editor who is also a composer, I’d like to share some of my observations about self-publishing.
Self-publishers have been around for a long time but I believe works that are truly worthy of publication and have sales potential are at a disadvantage by being self-published. I almost always encourage the composers of those works to seek publication by an established publisher. This way they can benefit from the publisher’s editorial expertise, promotional muscle and industry connections. I offer my experience here hoping it is useful to anyone considering whether to publish themselves or work with a publisher.
Today’s technology makes it easy for anyone to produce a neatly engraved, professionally printed piece of music. That’s step one. Step two is promotion. And, that is a very big step often underappreciated by composers. Every major publisher spends large sums of money promoting their publications. They send representatives to conventions in all fifty states, collaborate with dealers on reading sessions, and foot the bill for studio recordings and print promotions, all of which is very costly. They also make sure music stores know about the music. In turn, music retailers like J.W. Pepper work intensely at finding interested buyers, and make sure the stock is in place and ready to be shipped. It’s a collaborative effort between composer, publisher and music store.
At this point you’re probably thinking, it’s all about money, isn’t it? The answer is yes, and no. Yes, it costs money to publish. But, it’s also about putting as much good music in the hands of as many people as possible, to enrich their lives and our children’s lives. The publishing industry is like an ecosystem. Composers bring fresh, inspiring, beautiful sounds into the world. Publishers ensure past musical treasures live on, while simultaneously supporting new voices deserving of an audience. Dealers nurture and maintain contact with musicians, teachers, and students to facilitate education, worship, and the universal love of music. The ecosystem is healthy when there is open support and dialog throughout the process, so the needs of musicians are continuously met.
Self-publishing is a quick, sure way for a composer to break into print, but not the best way to reach a large audience (or earn royalties.) A teacher of mine once told me that a writer’s greatest danger is to fall in love with his own work; his words ring true to me. Some of my compositions and arrangements have been published, and some of them have sold well, but many of my writing efforts have not been published, and I don’t want to publish them myself. They’ve been rejected enough times, I can take a hint.