I've been querying my novel and not having a lot of luck. I know I shouldn't give up yet, there are lots of fish in the sea, etc, but if worse comes to worst and I exhaust all of the agents on my list... would publishing on my own with a digital-first press (assuming for the moment that THEY accept my query) ruin my chances of having a traditional writing career?
I've seen all over the Internet that self-publishing is only a positive thing to list on a bio if the book sells something like 20,000 copies. Does the same thing apply to digital-first? If I choose to try digital-first with this novel, will I be a digital-first author forever, unless I sell an absurd number of those ebooks?
Would it matter at all if I went digital first with a pen name, or is that still ruining my debut? I am afraid to even ask such a thing on Twitter, for fear that the fact that I'm even *thinking* about it may make me seem less serious about a long-term career.
I'm glad you realize that self-publishing and digital publishing are NOT the same thing, although many people who self publish do so via digital means. You are NOT "on your own" if you publish with a digital first press that has an acquisitions editor, a copy editor, a marketing person, and plans to take over the best seller lists sometime soon.
Digital first publishing with a reputable publisher (be VERY careful about this because it's damn easy to set yourself up as a digital publisher these days) is a very good way to build a career. If you're with a publisher that knows their stuff, you can get some very nice sales numbers that will attract the beady eye of many a mercantile-minded shark.
A lot of bigger publishers are trying digital-first for authors too. I don't have any authors doing that but some of my colleagues do and it seems to be working just fine.