Musings on self versus contract publishing here.
At a literary conference a few years ago a lot of the editors and agents were themselves making pitches during their presentations concerning why it's better to work with them than to self-publish. They did all say that self-publishing was right for some people, and note if you can sell 40,000 copies of a self-published book then they'd be happy to sign you to a contract.
The biggest difference between commercial fiction and academic publishing is that articles and books not self-published in academic publishing often still make money even if nobody reads them, because of library subscriptions. Thus, the bit about the publicity arms of the publishers getting you readers isn't relevant for the vast majority of people interested in academic publishing.
The biggest issue for academic publishing thus seems to me to be quality control. Jumping through all of the hoops to get the presentation of your idea journal worthy ends up helping both the presentations and the ideas. In Beck Cogburn's blog post she somewhat obliquely notes that this is actually the biggest issue for her with respect to fiction.
A second relevant difference is just how much harder it is to get fiction commercially published. If I get six papers under review at decent journals, one of them will get accepted within six months. This is not the case with respect to short stories. Unlike my indefeteagible and more talented friend Mark Silcox,* I've never been able to get one published. And books are even more difficult. The two fiction books I've co-written will very probably never see the light of day.
Oh well, as long as one as humble enough about judgments concerning whether certain types of activity are "worth doing" one can do worse than guide one's life by two platitudes:
- If it's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well.
- If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly.
Creative activity certainly falls in the second camp. It is kind of paradoxical to do it when you know you are not likely to have any viewers/readers/listeners because creativity is in some Wittgensteinian sense inherantly communicative. Thus, the re-emergence of folk art, art created for a small community. Not to enrich the community's life, but rather to actualize mechanisms to help the art be better. I think academic publishing already does this. Maybe the various ecosystems surrounding fictional self-publishing will do the same some day.
[*Who should have a webpage with all of his short stories listed and accessible where copyright legal. Mark, we can make this a fun project next time I visit if you're interested.]