Home » Self-Publishing » Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List

Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List

29 November 2011

For new visitors, Passive Guy sometimes posts items with which he doesn’t agree. It’s his way to avoid the dangers of an echo chamber.

From fiction writer and instructor Edan Lepucki:

In a previous essay, I interviewed four self-published authors I admire, and I examined some of the benefits of that career path. Midway through writing the piece, I realized I’d have to continue the discussion in a second essay in order to fully explore my feelings (complicated) on the topic (multifaceted). You see, Reader, I still don’t plan on self-publishing my first novel, though I don’t deny the positive aspects of that choice.

Below I’ve outlined a few reasons behind my decision, informed by our contemporary moment. I can’t predict the future, though I’m sure I’ll remain comfortable with my opinions for at least another thirteen months. It’s in a list format, the pet genre of the blogosphere. How else was I to keep my head from imploding?

1. I Guess I’m Not a Hater
People love to talk about how traditional publishing is dying, but is that actually true? According to The New York Times, the industry has seen a 5.8% increase in net revenue since 2008. E-books are “another bright spot” in the industry, and the revenue of adult fiction grew by 8.8% in three years. (Take that, Twilight!)

. . . .

2. I Write Literary Fiction
Before you get your talons out, let me clarify: I don’t consider literary fiction superior to other kinds of fiction, just different; to me, it’s simply another genre, subject-wise and/or marketing-wise. Many of the writers who have found success in self-publishing are writers of straightforward genre fiction. Amanda Hocking writes young adult fantasy, dwarfs and all. Valerie Forster, who published traditionally before setting out on her own, writes legal thrillers. Romance, too, often does just fine without a publisher. Aside from Anthropology of An American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, I can’t think of another literary novel that enjoyed critical praise and healthy sales when self-published. That’s not to say that it can’t — and shouldn’t — happen, it’s only to point out that it’s a tougher road for writers of certain sorts of stories. Readers like me aren’t seeking out self-published books. Why not? That’s for another essay. (Please, can someone else write that one?) Until the likes of  Jeffrey Eugenides and Alice Munro begin publishing their work via CreateSpace, I don’t see the landscape for literary fiction changing anytime soon.

3. I’d Prefer a Small Press to a Vanity Press
The conversation about self-publishing too often ignores the role of independent publishing houses in this shifting reading landscape. Whether it be larger independents like Algonquin and Graywolf, or small gems like Featherproof and Two Dollar Radio, or university presses like Lookout Books, the imprint at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, which recently published Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (nominated for this year’s National Book Award), independent presses offer diversity to readers, and provide yet another professional option for authors. These presses are run and curated by well-read, talented people, and they provide readers with the same services that a large press provides: namely, a vote of confidence in a writer the public might have never heard of. Smaller presses, too, enjoy a specificity of brand and identity that too often eludes a larger house.

. . . .

4. Self-Publishing is Better for the Already-Published
Perhaps the smarter, and far more seductive, path is the one where the writer begins his career with a traditional publisher, and then, once he’s built a base of loyal readers, sets off on his own. The man who loves to talk smack about the publishing industry, J.A. Konrath, already had an audience from his traditionally-published books by the time he decided to take matters into his own hands. It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing.

. . . .

5. I Value the Publishing Community
I decided to ask the most famous writer I know, Peter Straub, if he’s ever considered leaving the world of big publishing and putting out a book all by his lonesome. After all, he’s a bestselling author and editor of more than 25 books (18 novels alone!), and he’s a horror writer beloved by genre geeks and snobby literary types alike. A few of his fans probably sport tattoos of his bespectacled face on their pecs. (Or: Peter Straub tramp stamps! Yes!) In an email response, Straub acknowledged how quickly the publishing world and our reading habits are changing, and he said he just might experiment with self-publishing short fiction in the coming years. He told me:

True self-publication means writers upload content themselves, and plenty already do it. I’m not quite sure how you then publicize the work in question, or get it reviewed, but that I am unsure about these elements is part of the reason I seek always, at least for the present, to have my work published in book form by an old-style trade publisher. The trade publisher, which has contracted for the right to do so, then brings the book out in e-form and as an audiobook, so I am not ignoring that audience.

What he went on to say gave me a special kind of hope:

Most of the editors I have worked with over the past thirty-five years have made crucial contributions to the books entrusted to them, and the copy-editors have always, in every case, done exactly the same. They have enriched the books that came into their hands. Can you have good, thoughtful, creative editing and precise, accurate, immaculate copy-editing if you self-publish? And if you can’t, what is being said about the status or role of selflessness before the final form of the fiction as accepted by the audience, I mean the willingness of the author to submerge his ego to produce the novel that is truest to itself?

6. The E-Reading Conundrum; or, I don’t want to be Amazon’s Bitch
Many self-published authors have gone totally electronic, eschewing print versions of their work altogether. I can’t see myself taking that route, however, because I don’t own an e-reader, and I don’t have plans to buy one (not yet, anyway… I read a lot in the bath, etc., etc.). It seems odd that I wouldn’t be able to buy my own book — I mean, shouldn’t I be my own ideal reader? I also prefer to shop at independent bookstores, and in fact, I pay full price for my books all the time. The thought of Amazon being the only place to purchase my novel shivers my timbers. I don’t mind if someone else chooses to read my work electronically, just as I don’t mind if Amazon is oneof the places to purchase my work; I’m simply wary of Amazon monopolizing the reading landscape. Self-publishing has certainly offered an alternative path for writers, but it’s naive to believe that a self-published author is “fighting the system” if that self-published book is produced and made available by a single monolithic corporation. In effect, they’ve rejected “The Big 6″ for “The Big 1.”

7. Is it Best for Readers?
In September, when my brother-in-law learned that my book still hadn’t sold, he said, “Please don’t self-publish!” He was actually wincing. If I did self-publish, he said, he’d buy it because we were family, but otherwise, he’d happily ignore my novel in search of something he’d read about on The Millions, or heard about on NPR, or had a friend recommend. There are simply too many books out there as it is.

. . . .

As a member of the reading public, I am not prepared, or willing, to wade through all that unfiltered literature. As a writer, I must put my head back to the grindstone and write a book that more than a handful of readers can fall in love with.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG will not comment on Ms. Lepucki’s thoughts. He knows other, better, commenters will provide insight and perspective.



94 Comments to “Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List”

  1. I guess I don’t think of myself as a ‘hater’ either, but that doesn’t mean that traditional publishing is an avenue I’m willing to explore anymore. Five years was enough 🙂 I don’t really have a comment on #2 and I guess she’s free to go with a small press if she wants to, though small press books often end up in the same slush through the KDP platform as indie authors, though potentially with less control on the part of the author.

    We already know that you can pay for good editing, and #4-#7 just seem to be a matter of the author not having enough information about what indie publishing really is. Or the hundreds of successful indie authors who were never traditionally published. Ah well.

    • What struck me is that she apparently will hate herself if she doesn’t go the traditional route. This hardly seems a rational basis for decision making.

      If she wants to go traditional, she has every right to that choice and I won’t criticise her for it. But some of her reasons are weak at best. I am hardly “Amazon’s B****” for self-publishing and the implication that eReaders still cost hundreds of dollars or that you have to buy a multitude of them is simply not true.

      So… I have mixed feelings. I wish her the best but I also wish she’d clear up her thinking and make her decisions on a better basis than that.

  2. A lot of people will continue to chase the dream for years to come. I say good luck to them. Most will turn out to be very disappointed, but maybe you can say that about life generally.

    There is really nothing compelling here. It sounds more like a pep talk by someone who sees the writing on the wall but is still holding out hope.

  3. Some stuff is reasonable enough — perhaps, indeed, “literary fiction” (whatever that is, besides something I suspect will depress me) would not sell when self-published. (What this says about readers of lit-fic, I will not speculate upon when on my phone.)

    But these arguments are flawed by not knowing the difference between self-pub and vanity scum press, that there are more markets than Amazon, and that copy editing and regular editing can be bought. That she lives in a fantasy land is evident when she speaks of “flawless” copy editing. Does that even exist in the real world? There is always one more bug, as the computer programmers say…

  4. Actually, this writer brings up a very good question. What do you do when your work is NOT commercially viable? I’m not talking about quality. What I mean is the size of the intended audience. Publishers can take on books they consider of excellent quality and literary merit, but limited commercial value only if they can subsidize the costs with big sellers. Small presses really struggle unless they can produce a best seller or two to pay for their more esoteric offerings.

    The writer knows her intended audience: literary reviewers and critics, literary prize judges, select editors. Let’s call it a “salon” book. The type that is discussed in rarefied atmospheres, but will probably sell fewer than a 1000 copies over its shelf life. She has no interest in the mass market. She’s wise to realize self-publishing is not for her. Creating art for art’s sake is perfectly admirable. There’s no money in it, but some people don’t care. The fact that the book, bound and beautiful, exists is enough.

    Writers SHOULD ask themselves who their intended audience is and if it is big enough to justify the cost of production and the marketing required to get the book in the audience’s hand. If what a writer truly desires is a review in the NYT, and to appear on C-span or NPR, or to tour universities on a lecture circuit, then no, self-publishing is probably not the way they want to go.

  5. If a book is not commercially viable, then the traditional method has been to self publish it.

    Personally, in your example above, selling 1000 copies at $5.99 would net the author just over $4k on Amazon.

    On a print book, you would lose money.

    My personal view is that ebooks are the a very bright thing for the future of the experimental author.

    • She’s not intending to be an experimental author. She’s intending to be the most conventional author imaginable – she’s writing for the arbiters of taste. The only way to get your book before the arbiters of taste is to get past one of the gatekeepers. It’s like getting into an elite society; you must be selected by one of the members, or be a legacy and not too unacceptable.

      I would think that an experimental author would want to challenge the status quo. She wants to be embraced by the status quo.

      • To be honest, I was responding to Jaye.

        I think electronic self-publishing is great news for literary and experimental authors who choose to use all the tools available to them.

        In fact, I think it is more important for “small authors” and mid-list authors than anyone else.

        Everyone is responsible for their own career, ultimately, if Edan Lepuck doesn’t want to self publish then that is her(?) choice, which I respect.

        • My books are set in medieval Wales, which I was told over and over again was a ‘difficult sell’ in this ‘tough market’. I understand why an editor would say this, but the economics of a NY publisher are not my economics. What ‘doesn’t sell’ to them, sells really very quite nicely to me, as an indie author. It’s all a matter of scale … which is why I agree that a indie publishing is exactly what a literary fiction author should try.

          • I totally agree. If I wasn’t making money selling mine, I would still be happy because it’s something I love to do anyway – write stories and share them with others who love them like I do. For me, that is one of the rewarding parts of it.

  6. While Amazon is a big chunk of my self-published income, it certainly isn’t the only one. My stuff sells on B&N, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Diesel, and some other minor ones. And what I get from B&N, Apple, and Kobo combined is probably more than what I tend to get from Amazon. So at this point, it is more like trading in the big six for the big 4.

    And in my experience with small presses, they expect the author to do the bulk of the marketing anyway. Few of those have the money to put ads in the NYT or send fliers to hundreds of bookstores, or hire agents to go to various bookstores selling the shelf space for your book like the big publishers can. They do, however, often provide support and ideas, but it is still usually the author that does the work.

    • I’ll admit, I might be the exception, but when I was working for a small press, I was the one who did the marketing. I had unlimited long-distance and google and that was enough to get started. I made phone calls for several hours a day to libraries and independent book stores in the author’s home state and the three closest and sold the books in that way.

      I’ve also helped my aunt sell her book the same way, along with contacting local churches with book groups (her book is a Christian thriller) and letting them know that the book is there and the author is available to come to answer questions.

      These are all things an indie author can do but most won’t, because they don’t know they can do it. Of course, it’s what I’m planning to do as an indie author, as well.

  7. Always a good book–“How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

  8. Quote: “I want a reputable publishing house standing behind my book; I want them to tell you it’s good so that I don’t have to.”

    Actually, I suspect that what this Lepucki person really wants is for a “reputable” publishing house to tell her that her book is good, so she doesn’t have to rely on her own apparently frail sense of self-worth for validation. That’s how little confidence people like her have in their own work.

    It’s one thing for already-published writers to assess whether they’re in a “house slave” relationship and if they should light out for the hills of indie e-publishing; it’s another thing to watch somebody like this actively groveling for some kindly ol’ massuh to put the collar on her. And meantime she stamps her little foot and insists that she’s not going to be Amazon’s b****? Let’s wait until she has some actual experience with traditional publishing houses, then see how much she enjoys it.

    • I translated it as, “I don’t want to have to do the legwork.” Mm Hmm. She’s in for a rude awakening there. Don’t do the legwork = don’t build your audience.

  9. The implication that you have to be a hater in order to self-publish and her apparent belief that KIndle is not only the be all and end all of self-publishing, but a rapist, didn’t exactly motivate me to explore her other points.

  10. Yeah, I have a hard time respecting the thought process of someone who throws away an option without really examining it. Anyone with any experience in self-publishing knows you can hire a lot of the people (and I do mean the exact same people) who the publishing houses hire to edit and proofread, that you can sell places other than Amazon, that you have many, many options for marketing. She’s talking to someone who has never self-published and taking his word about self-publishing as gospel. She’s saying that self-publishing is easier if you’re already published, while ignoring how hard it is for new writers to break into traditional publishing. And does she honestly believe that small presses aren’t dependent on Amazon for distribution nowadays?

  11. I do disagree with the writer on one important point:

    “Until the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides and Alice Munro begin publishing their work via CreateSpace, I don’t see the landscape for literary fiction changing anytime soon.”

    Actually, if publishing keeps going the way it is going, literary fiction is going to go the way of the mid-list. Publishers will no longer be able to afford to publish any book that cannot earn its own keep. In a way, literary fiction IS vanity fiction. It’s published for prestige, to impress. A robust business can afford to indulge. A business teetering on the edge cannot. The day may be coming sooner than later that the only way writers like Eugenides and Munro can get their work into print is to either subsidize the production costs or publish it themselves.

  12. Fish, meet Barrel. Pick your gauge of shotgun.

    #2 is maybe a valid point. Otherwise, this deserves a proper fisking. To wit:

    “…he’d happily ignore my novel in search of something he’d read about on The Millions, or heard about on NPR…”

    Reminds me about the story of the New York socialite who just couldn’t fathom how Nixon won in ’68, because no one she knew voted for him.

    “It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing.”

    And yet a spot-check of any given genre on Amazon typically finds several indie titles within the top sellers, often more than half. Not to mention those authors are earning 70% of gross vs. 25% of net (with net being whatever the publisher says it is). Guess what 70% of 3.99 is compared to 25% of 9.99 (minus agent’s fee) equals? MO’ MONEY, that’s what.

    “…the industry has seen a 5.8% increase in net revenue since 2008”

    That’s nice, but the after-tax profit margin is what really counts. The NYT article didn’t mention that part.

    “I’m simply wary of Amazon monopolizing the reading landscape…”

    Same here. That’s what Smashwords is for.

    “As a member of the reading public, I am not prepared, or willing, to wade through all that unfiltered literature. As a writer, I must put my head back to the grindstone and write a book that more than a handful of readers can fall in love with.”

    Okay, now I’m just getting pissed off. I can’t tell you guys how many books I’ve brought home only to slam shut in disgust after grinding my teeth over one too many amateur mistakes. Not to mention bad copy editing…it seems like the bigger the seller, the less attention is paid to basic spelling. I expect better from a $30 Tom Clancy title.

    Finally, I’m not a hater either. Please don’t make me change my mind.

    (Shameless Plug Alert: look for my techno-thriller, PERIGEE, next month on Amazon and other fine quality e-tailers. If you wait to hear about it from The Millions or NPR, you’ll miss it.)

    • Actually, that wasn’t a socialite, but well-known film critic Pauline Kael, who was quoted in the New York Times on December 28, 1972 as saying she only knew one person who voted for Nixon. She’s more often misquoted as saying she didn’t know anyone who voted for him. Your general point is certainly valid, however, regarding the small cultural pool that this Lepucki person swims in. If she doesn’t hear about it on NPR, it doesn’t seem to exist for her, other than as something she can sneer at the unwashed masses for enjoying.

  13. OMG! Where do I begin? I’ll start with #1.

    1) I’m not a hater either but that doesn’t mean I want to pursue a trad pubbing career. Mostly because I love to have the freedom that indie pubbing provides – I get to work at my own pace, I write what I love, and the best part is, I get to interact directly with the readers.

    2) Literary fiction? Just because you write literary fiction doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t indie publish. That’s just dumb.

    3) As an indie author, there are many talented and/or well-read editors, beta-readers, artists, and IT people who I can hire to help me edit, polish, format, and pub my book for me and it will come out just as good as anything out of New York. Currently, I use Lucky Bat Books for this but I also have a bunch of beta readers who are Goodreads friends who have offered to read/review my next release for me. Which brings me to my next point – the vote of confidence from the gatekeepers. The true gatekeepers are the readers and when I see the readers leaving reviews on Goodreads, or wherever, I get encouragement to know that I have their “vote of confidence.” I don’t need some puffed up NY editor or pubbing house to know that I can write a good book.

    4) Indie pubbing is best for the already pubbed? Umm … no. I have three releases out there that are selling well and I am gaining more and more of an author platform everyday. And it continues to grow. This is the beauty of online social networking. I absolutely don’t need to start with a big publisher. Nor do I want to.

    5) Value the publishing community. The publishing community is changing rapidly. It is probably best to change with it or else in a couple years, you will be left in the dust. Learn to do it on your own. DO NOT become dependent. “Your agent is not your mommy!”

    6) The e-reader conundrum: e-readers are the future. Get with the program. The change is happening faster than anyone predicted and this trend will continue. Also, Amazon is not the only online bookstore in case she missed it. There are B&N and Smashwords for starters, not to mention the authors who are selling directly from their own websites: Dave Farland, JK Rowling, etc.

    7) Is it best for readers? Are you joking? It has never been a better time to be a reader! There are so many good, well-priced indie pubbed books out there, it’s ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that indies are always offering deals and prizes for contests. Check out Indie Author Rockstar dot com if you want to know more. The fact that there are so many books out there is not a reader problem, it is an author problem. Already pubbed authors want to have the gatekeepers so that they can stay in their shiny white palaces and not have to be thrown into the muck of competition, out there in cyberspace, screaming to be heard. The fact is that time and word of mouth cause the cream to rise to the top. Write cream and keep writing cream and you will get to the top. In the meantime, readers are in heaven with the deals they are getting for well written books.

    There – I think I covered them all. Did I miss anything?

  14. As a member of the reading public, I am not prepared, or willing, to wade through all that unfiltered literature.

    Crowd Sourced Reviews: If they like your book, they leave a comment and rate it. If they don’t like it, they make a point of leaving a bad comment and a low-star review. Additionally, best seller lists in a sub catagory are a god send for finding a book you want. Most blatently put “Boats float and s*** sinks”.

    As per nature: “If you want to survive, learn to adapt”

  15. 1. I hate the term literary fiction. It’s always struck me as elitist.
    2. Maybe I feel that way because I write romance and mysteries.
    3. It’s an exciting time to be a writer and a reader.
    4. Who can judge an industry in this state of flux? It’s changing as we speak.
    5. I’m both “traditionally” published and self-published. Interesting experience in both venues.

  16. “As a writer, I must put my head back to the grindstone and write a book that more than a handful of readers can fall in love with.”

    Must you, truly? And if so, why aren’t you writing genre? 😉 One of the things I love about the changes in publishing is the chance to find books that the traditional industry won’t take a chance on or couldn’t make a profit on. (Like Scott Sigler’s GFL series. GO KRAKENS!)

    The author sounds a little confused: she writes “literary,” and therefore, as Sherri pointed out, needs the gatekeepers’ stamp of approval–but literary fiction often appeals to a much smaller group of people than genre fiction does. And in the same post, before claiming to need to write for more than that handful, she talks about the niche market for literary fiction.

    You ARE writing for a handful. In fact, most of us are. But that handful really just means a small slice of a GINORMOUS pool of readers. So that handful is probably still millions of people.

    I’m a big fan of the long tail model. I also think that the “trad pub is dying” myth and the “Amazon is the new monopoly” myth are equally ridiculous. But I think I’m preaching to the choir on those points.

    There’s no one true way to publish, and each book needs to be evaluated on its own merits in regards to publishing method. End of story. But you must actually do an honest evaluation in order to find the best publishing path. While traditional publishing may serve her goals the best (and since validation is a large part of her goals as fas as I can tell, I’d agree with her), her evaluation is nonetheless flawed, for reasons amply covered in the other comments.

  17. Regarding #1, the figures quoted regarding the growth of the publishing industry only go up until the end of 2010 (it’s the AAP/BISG report – I recognize the numbers). The world changed in November that year, when e-books really exploded in the run up to the holidays, and continued in even more dramatic fashion from Christmas Day onwards as millions of people unwrapped their new Kindles and Nooks and began an orgy of downloading that lasted thru February.

    E-books were around 8% of the market in 2010. By February, they were 29.5%. They have slipped a little since, but captured well over 20% for 2011 so far. The AAP monthly figures have the industry contracting by around 5% for the first nine months of this year (compared to 2010).

    #2 is also bogus. There is nothing special about literary fiction readers – they are switching to e-books, and will do so in greater numbers. They just started a little after the romance, thriller, and science-fiction readers, but they are coming through. If you are going to wait for the first self-published “literary” writer to make a splash before you switch to self-publishing, you are going to be too late. A far more prudent strategy, in my opinion, would be to get in ahead of the wave, and start building your audience, *especially* when you can’t get a deal.

    #3 I’d prefer a small press to a large publisher. There are quite a few small presses who are doing very well at the moment, who have favorable royalty splits, excellent production values, huge sales, built-in audience, no restrictive non-compete clauses, a progressive attitude towards e-books, great customer service, innovative web-stores, and author friendly contracts. I would take all of that over signing with a large publisher. And I’m not sure what vanity presses have to do with anything.

    #4 – too many counter-examples to take this point seriously.

    #5 There is ton of excellent, experienced editorial talent available for hire.

    #6 I don’t own an e-reader. This has proved no impediment to making money from self-publishing e-books. Also, she seems to be under the false impression that self-publishers can only sell through Amazon. I’m selling on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Sony, Kobo, Apple, Diesel, and Xinxii. I’ll be adding quite a few more next year too.

    #7 Readers love self-published books. Look at the bestseller lists.

    • Thanks for the stats, David!

    • Great response and she irritated you a lot less than she did me with that “self-hate” business. 😉

    • (How’s Xinxii treating you? I just set myself up an account, but haven’t prepped anything for their site yet, and a quick Google search isn’t turning up much about the experience with it.)

      • Oh, em, I haven’t checked in a month or so, but I would say they are still zero! Doesn’t seem to be a lot of eyeballs over there.

        However, they are starting to do some interesting things. They now distribute to Casa del Libro (which is like Spain’s Barnes & Noble). I haven’t opted in yet because you need an ISBN, and I haven’t bought a block yet. But I will. I’m translating one book into Spanish, and probably another too.

  18. I have been seeking the right answer to this debate for a little while now, ever since I heard that Amazon was starting to work with authors like a traditional publisher. And while I am likely recapitulating what has already been said, I am still going back and forth about it.

    Initially I was almost convinced that Amazon/Createspace was the answer, because I felt that it would empower me as a writer. I could spend my time writing more and worry less about the terrible process of getting an offer from a publisher. This was good. But I still couldn’t get past the stigma of the vanity press, the fear of joining a slush pile of self-published books that never sell, and the seemingly insurmountable issue of having to market myself and get a reader base from nothing.

    I am surprised e-books are gaining traction, because those devices don’t encourage me to want to read a book on them. And the rumbling of Amazon as a monopoly also scares me off a little bit, and I fear for the author’s control when dealing with a monopoly.

    In all, I still don’t have an answer for myself.

    • Well, Alex, you will STILL have to market yourself like crazy and get a reader base even if you’ve sold to a traditional publishing house. I speak from experience, and that of my published-author friends.

      The stigma of the vanity press is quickly fading from the world of self-publishing. Unless, of course, you pay for a vanity press to publish your work. Too many self-pubbed authors have found tremendous success for the ‘stigma’ to remain.

      Being traditionally published isn’t a guarantee that your book won’t languish and never sell, either. Sad but true. It may not! But there’s no guarantees. (Again, experience here.)

      Have you checked out the e-ink technology and spent time with a dedicated e-reader? You might be surprised. And the lure of the ‘one-click’ buy is very powerful. 🙂

      Keep thinking, keep educating yourself, DO go read Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch’s blogs. They bust a lot of the myths around what traditional publishing can and can’t do for a writer. 🙂

      • Yes, I agree. DO READ Kris and Dean’s blogs. Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler’s blogs as well.

        There was something Barry Eisler said about those who seek trab pubbing and stay away from indie pubbing (or signing with Amazon) because they are worried about Amazon becoming a monopoly. Since the “Big 6” are essentially already a monopoly (or were,) worrying about that is like worrying about getting pneumonia without treating the flu you have now.

        I’m with him on that one.

    • As many others have discovered, I read more since I got an ereader. It’s so convenient, both to take with me everywhere and to buy books.

      I, gasp, even read literary fiction on my Kindle (but don’t tell anyone!)

  19. I don’t know if there is a contest to determine blogs with the smartest commenters, but if such a contest exists, the crew that chimes in on TPV would win it in a walk.

    You all are a constant reminder to me to not say dumb stuff.

    • =o) Thanks, PG!

    • This is a brilliant bunch, all right. I keep wanting to charge in, but they’ve covered everything so well they leave me nothing to say except “Well done!”

      Over on the original post, things are perhaps less intelligent overall, with one independent bookseller telling readers at length of the failings of ALL self-publishers (as if she’d be in a position to know), but also some excellent counterpoints to Ms. Lepucki’s ill-thought-out article.

    • I would agree. I often skip comments on other blogs, but the folks on your blog usually make great points. 🙂

  20. I have nothing to add, except my agreement with the comments – and the observation that, as usual, PG’s blog provides a forum for some very intelligent discussion on the subject of self-publishing. 🙂

    (Edited to add: PG beat me to it while I was writing this comment!)

  21. She makes all her points fairly respectfully and is neither a bore nor a snob. Unfortunately, every one of these arguments has been chewed over ad-nauseum for the last year or so (at the least.) So: no offense, but there’s nothing worth discussing any further here.

    • Gonna have to disagree with you on this one, Silver. Nowadays writers, of all kinds and at every stage of their careers, have something many didn’t have only a short while ago. Options. When one has options, one has to make decisions. Yes, a lot of information and many arguments do get repeated, but at the same time, new points are raised, new problems and opportunities are explored, and with such open forums all over the internet, writers can collect the information they need to make the decisions that serve them best.

      I don’t know how long you’ve been writing or been in the business, but when I started writers didn’t discuss business. If they did, it was in whispers and nobody wanted to use names or state figures. Nobody talked about their contracts or sales, except with promises all around that nobody gets quoted.

      I’d rather see subjects get beaten to death than ever go back to the days when “nice” writers smiled, took their lumps and kept their mouths shut.

      • I agree, Jaye. Those of us in the ‘echo-chamber’ have heard all this, lots of times. But obviously, the author of the article is still rather ill-informed about many aspects of self-publishing. Maybe she’ll see the link to PG’s blog, come read the comments, and learn some things. 🙂

      • Again, what Jaye said. 🙂

  22. She wasn’t rude about it for the most part, but I have to say her first point got my hackles up. “Hater” is one of those terms that gets tossed around with such a casual air these days. It’s dismissive and insulting. Every time I’ve ever heard it used like this is when someone is brushing off other people’s opinions because they’ve dared to voice disagreement. As if disagreement is equivalent to hatred. I can’t say she meant it that way, but if she didn’t she has a very poor grasp on the connotations of that bit of slang.

    But the point that’s put me at a good slow boil is her last. “Is it best for the readers?” I only saw a few people poke at this one, but the more I think about it the madder I get.

    HOW DARE SHE? Does anyone but me see the overweening arrogance of that question? As if anyone has the right to decide what’s “in the best interests” of some amorphous idealized group. As if I, you, and all the rest of us have to be told what is good for us. It’s insulting! And more than that, it’s just plain ignorant.

    Gatekeepers do not sit there on high and pick stories for our general edification and improvement. They do not carefully sift out the best jewels among the coal and present them to us for our pleasure. They choose stories that they like. That they think might sell. They pick things that might make their masters money because that is their JOB. They pick out shiny things and buff them up so that they might be good enough.

    You don’t want to dig through Amazon to find a good book? Wow. Amazing. I don’t either. So do thousands of other people. So we get our information from friends and family, from sources we know and respect… or (God help us all) even from NPR.

    We all have gatekeepers that we know, and like, and respect who help us filter out the dross we won’t like. How DARE you even suggest you have the right to decide to be one of those people. I don’t even know you, Lady.

    • Yeah, the “hater” thing got my back up, too. How good a writer is this person if the first thing she picks up is that tired old cliche? Not impressed so far, to say the least.

    • Amen. I would rather “suffer” from too many options than too few. But that’s coming from someone who enjoys the internet and cable news varieties vs the “good ole days” of three networks with one monolithic voice. Perhaps she is simply like Dan Rather and wants to go back to that. I’ll stay here with my near-infinite variety and risk the dangers of creating an echo chamber or not finding what I’m looking for because my ADD got too distracted by other things along the way….

      I will acknowledge that the INTENT of her point about readers, as I *think* she meant it, is one that resonates still with a lot of people (including my husband) who don’t see how the digital marketplace can control for a baseline quality subset from which to select books. The answer is that we have to be a bit more proactive in our searches…but like the above commenter, I have hissed in frustration too many times at egregious errors in traditionally published and hypothetically edited novels to put too much stock in that “baseline quality” trad-pub allegedly provides….

      • There’s this handy little feature called “Look Inside” … I can get a good idea pretty quickly about the quality of the book I’m perusing. Every electronic bookstore gives shoppers the option to check out the wares. It’s not hard. 🙂

        • That’s what I have told the hubs but he remains skeptical. I think it has to do with the idea of sampling 20 to find a winner versus, say, 5.

          • Yes but it’s not unmitigated slush. There are the best-seller-by-category lists and the also-boughts, and that’s plenty to get you started in the right direction. I use the “Look Inside” feature to dodge the occasional dog, not to find the gem in the garbage. There are plenty of gems lying around. 🙂

  23. I appreciate the opinion expressed in this post, and PG’s laudable, anti-echo reason for posting it. Though I’ve chosen the self-publishing route for my novel, I’m glad that all options are on the table for everyone, including the traditional ones.

    If there’s a bit of defensiveness in the post, I empathize. I can feel defensive under a barrage of opinions that run counter to my own. I’ve even been known to be a bit defensive about my decision to self-publish now and then 😉

    So this post is a good reminder that I need to express my opinions gently and respectfully. I don’t think any one should feel the need to defend their publishing choice–whether traditional or not. We’re all on the same team, and I wish all writers godspeed. I just think it’s great that we have so many options (and opinions.)

  24. I just want to talk about this strange idea that the amount of self-published titles should be any consideration in whether to self-publish.

    All the books that have been self-published in the last few years are but a tiny drop in the ocean of all the trade-published books that are still in print and for sale.

    Millions and millions of readers navigate through the millions of millions of print books on Amazon to make their choices every day. Every reader I talk to doesn’t have any trouble finding good books, they have trouble finding enough time to read all the books they are interested in.

    It should be noted that readers faced these millions and millions of choices every time they needed something to read long before the release of the Kindle and the rise in self-publishing.

    In short, it’s all irrelevant. This great big fear is completely irrelevant. If you get snapped up by the Big 6, you are still going to have the exact same amount of titles to deal with: millions and millions. Even if all the self-published books in the world disappeared tomorrow, your trade published book will be competing with millions of others.

    People fret about the disappearance of one ecosystem: the closure of stores, the slimming down of book sections in newspapers, or Oprah cancelling her book club, and don’t take into account the new, diverse, decentralized ecosystem that is taking its place through crowdsourced reviews, hugely popular book blogs, Kindle fan newsletters that have fifty thousand subscribers, Kindle Reader Facebook Pages with thirty thousand likes, e-book reader forums with tens of thousands of members, huge social networks just exclusively for books, as well as the millions and millions of conversations about books and their authors which are happening every day on Twitter, Facebook, IM, Google+, and by email.

    The way you spread the word about your book hasn’t changed. You get people talking about it.

    • Spot on, David. If anything, I think you’re understating the case. A midlist writer “snapped up” by the trad pubs isn’t just fighting against those millions of other books; she’s fighting with her hands tied behind her back. To an increasingly greater degree, a hard-copy print midlist book isn’t even on the shelves in whatever bookstores are left; it’s sitting in an unopened carton in a warehouse, waiting to be shipped back and pulped. Whereas an indie e-pubbed writer’s ebook is “on the shelf,” ready to be purchased at Amazon, B&N et al.

      That mechanism — that if you go to a bookstore, you might find what you’re looking for, but if you go online, you will find it — will drive the migration to e-readers and the collapse of the print market from which the trad pubs cannot or will not separate themselves.

      To get back to this thread’s starting point, this Lepucki person provides us with the edifying spectacle of someone clamoring to climb aboard the Titanic after it’s already hit the iceberg.

      • Hey KW,

        I’m glad you highlighted the selection issue, because it doesn’t get talked about enough. Mike Shatzkin had an excellent post during the summer – detailing the rise and fall of various bookstore giants over the years – and one of his conclusions was that the store with the biggest selection always wins.

        Selection is more important than curation (in a store). Readers will ultimately gravitate towards the store with the greatest selection (assuming rough equality of shopping experience, price etc.)

        Readers don’t want less books they want more books. They don’t want people to make their choices for them, they want to make up their own mind. Everything in the modern world, in the internet age especially, is geared to giving people more choices: more products, more personalisation, more options.

        Finally, publishers aren’t just losing control over which books are published, they are losing control over which books are recommended. That whole traditional recommendation system from table displays, endcaps, and handselling, to NY Times ads, Publisher’s Weekly starred reviews, and literary critics is losing its influence too. And what’s taking it’s place is something that is far more disposed to recommending self-published work.


        • one of his conclusions was that the store with the biggest selection always wins.

          Dave — Mike Shatzkin knows this, you know this, I know this, the guy behind the cash register at the Seven-Eleven knows this. Everybody but a chain bookstore exec knows this — you had Borders execs back in 2009 complaining that their stores had too much selection and they needed to cut back on the number of titles they were carrying. And look how well that worked out for them! The ultimate result of chain bookstore marketing strategies is to have a store with a big pile of Harry Potter books, a big pile of James Patterson books and some canvas carry bags with James Joyce’s picture on them. And they still can’t figure out why people buy Kindles and Nooks instead.

          Everybody talks about Jeff Bezos as though he were a genius, when really all he has to do to eat the trad pubs’ lunch is just not be an idiot.

          • “Everybody talks about Jeff Bezos as though he were a genius, when really all he has to do to eat the trad pubs’ lunch is just not be an idiot.”

            Like war and chess, he who screws up the least, wins.

            • “Like war and chess, he who screws up the least, wins.”

              Thanks, Chong Go! I’m putting that on my bulletin board next to Jay Lake’s “Psychotic persistence.”

    • “The way you spread the word about your book hasn’t changed. You get people talking about it.”

      That’s right. That was the point I was trying to make, too. Plus, even if you go with a trad pub, you will still be doing much of the PR work yourself, just getting substantially less money (royalties) for it. I think some others brought up that point as well.

      • “That’s right. That was the point I was trying to make, too. Plus, even if you go with a trad pub, you will still be doing much of the PR work yourself, just getting substantially less money (royalties) for it. I think some others brought up that point as well.”

        You’re right. and the math doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for some time. One thing I’ll say is this: a friends of mine have declared trad-pub to be great for platform growth (eg. fame),and self publishing better for revenues.


        Pretty funny. Who would have believed one day writers considered working for a traditional publisher like Penguin or Random House to be ‘charity’ lol

  25. Let’s tally up this logic:
    1-If you don’t self-publish no one will buy your book
    2-If you self-publish at least your brother will buy one book
    Conclusion: Not interested in selling your book

  26. LOL, I love Peter Straub but do you really expect a 35-year veteran of ANYTHING to say “Don’t do what I did, kid, it was all a mistake.” Might as well ask the pope if he thinks Catholicism is the right choice.

    • I think it all depends on which veteran you’re talking to. Lawrence Block’s been around even longer than Straub and he’s onto indie publishing like the proverbial duck on a June bug:


      • Excellent example, K.W. The thing to remember, too, is that Block dove in with both feet and full throttle. Website, social media, blog. He did a publicity campaign. He reconnected with old fans and got them charged up about revisiting the backlist, and that helped grab interest from new fans. He experiments with pricing on his ebooks. He talks to fans. He’s an interesting guy. The real point is, HE IS WILLING TO DO THE WORK.

        A writer can choose to live a detached life, to stay out of the trenches and keep her hands clean of that dirty commercial muck, trying to grow laurels upon which to rest. That writer also needs to get over the notion that being a Writer makes her somehow special. That it is an exalted position merely because the writer has romantic notions. Readers are the ones who decide who is worthy and who is not, and they do so with their wallets. It’s all well and good to court select reviewers and contest judges and NPR hosts, as long as you remember those people aren’t buying your books. They are in some ways a barrier between the writer and the readers. If that’s a risk the writer is willing to take, more power to the writer.

        Meanwhile, Block is racking up mad sales, gaining fans, and appears to be having a lot of fun.

        • Block had self-published a print book years ago, “Write For Your Life,” and he knew firsthand the work and expense involved. I’m amazed and gratified by the way he’s leapt into epubbing, including designing at least some of his own covers, and doing it well. What a guy.

  27. The Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing debate infuriates me as much as the so called Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice debate. Pro-choice does not mean the opposite of Pro-life–Anti-Life. (You can believe there should be a CHOICE even if abortion is not what you personally chose.)

    I’m Pro-Publishing Choice, not pro-traditional Publishing vs Pro-Self-Publishing.
    Pro-Choice: Each writer has the right to decide what option works best for them and their written work.

    And since writers do not have equal access to traditional publishing (regardless of quality) self-publishing finally allows a viable CHOICE for ALL. Including the reader who was being denied true choice.

    So called Pro-lifers and Pro-traditional publishers have made THEIR CHOICE but want to force their choice on everyone else too.

    (Even vanity press should be an available choice. It might be right the choice for someone–hopefully an informed choice.)

    • Yep. What Karen said.

    • Plus, with publishing, you don’t even have to choose–you can self-publish, and if you get decent sales, you can get traditionally published. It’s not this huge either-or choice–that’s a myth. And people like to forget this, but it’s always been a myth: It just used to be a LOT harder to get decent sales if you self-published because distribution was such a hurdle.

  28. You can too read in the bath w an e-reader.

    (Well. You all did a good job disputing the other stuff already. I just figured, well, you know.)

    Anyway. Not to get OT. But here’s what I don’t get: the all or nothing attitude.

    I wrote more than one book. I have more to write. I’ve never particularly viewed my books as special snowflakes, I shamefully admit, and see publishing as a business to make money (which I give to charity. 100%.)

    Yet I’ve always figured that seeking publication for any of them was a huge gamble. A book I handed over to a publisher could tank and “be wasted” in just the same way a self-pubbed book under a psuedo could. (Actually, to be completely honest, I’ve always thought I had a greater chance of sustaining damage w a publisher. Just on the fact odds are stacked higher against you w limited print runs, etc.)

    But I have more books. I believe I can do both if I want. I can fail or succeed many ways if I want. And with self e-pubbing, I can do it as privately or publicly as I desire. (Or I can do nothing with my books.) At least now I have choice.

    But then my brother would never listen to The Millions, either, the heathen…sigh…never mind care how any of my books were created or distributed. He’d just care if the royalties went through and how good they were-cause, you know, those charities have helped his nephew.

    I love that man.

  29. It’s interesting to note that some folks still equate self-publishing with self-immolation. Or at least professional immolation.

    I found the list flawed. And rather quaint. But still flawed, for all the reasons everyone else has already cited.

    • If should be re-titled “Reasons Not To Self-Publish in 2008”!

      In the comments, the author suggested she would revisit the idea of self-publishing in 2013. In essence she is pledging to put herself through another 13 months of rejection – minimum – before even *considers* self-publishing.

      I’m not quite sure what to say to that.

      • You might be right about the 2008 part. A lot of the logic is a bit dated.

        I’m not quite sure what to say to that.

        Say darwinism, and move on?

      • A year+ from now, watch for her follow-up article, “Why I Wish I’d Self-Published in 2011.”

  30. She certainly wrong-footed it with her “hater”-comment. The clear implication is that we self-published authors must all be doing a slow boil from all the rejection we’ve faced. (“Take that, publishing world! I’m going to epub my own book because I despise you and all you stand for!”)

    I wonder if she teaches fiction in a college setting. If so, it would explain her lack of savvy about self-publishing as well as her attitude. It might be a kind of defense mechanism, a way to continue to distinguish herself from “us.”

    I taught creative writing part-time at a big Midwestern university with a writing program and still live in that community and know many of its writer/teachers. There is no way that these folks are ready for “the news” that the halcyon days of legacy publishing are over. The fact that they are as successful as they are–to have landed such jobs–proves how much they are invested in the hierarchy of the world of letters. And I doubt there are any academic systems currently in place that will accept self-published works as entries in the tenure track-race. So, they have a major investment, psychological, social, and economic, in remaining blind to the digital revolution in publishing.

    • You’re absolutely right about academic systems not accepting self-published works for tenure. I was awarded a peer reviewed grant a few years ago to write an online course. When I went up for tenure, the new department head refused to count it because the course itself hadn’t been peer reviewed. It had been reviewed and revised more than once on the recommendations given by the outside consultants hired by the granting agency. But that wasn’t good enough for him.

    • I wonder if she teaches fiction in a college setting.

      You nailed that one. From Lepucki’s online bio: “Ms. Lepucki holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she has taught at the University of Iowa, Oberlin College, Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Vroman’s Bookstore’s Education Program, and UCLA Extension… She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Ucross Foundation, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley…”

      If so, it would explain her lack of savvy about self-publishing as well as her attitude. It might be a kind of defense mechanism, a way to continue to distinguish herself from “us.”

      Oh, yeah. Her type’s already turning their noses up at indie e-publishing, because it’s infested with rabble like us.

      • Those are not the credentials of a self-publishing aficionado, for sure.

        • Those are not the credentials of a self-publishing aficionado, for sure.

          Optional self publishing credentials:
          Wrote, worried, wrote, rewrote, showed manuscript to someone trusted, ran it past beta readers, hot glue gunned the plot, checked their bank account, begged their professional editor friend, walked the editor’s dog for a month in payment, did a happy dance, did a few formatting tweaks and UPLOADED.

  31. I often hear the remark, “I’m not going to self-publish because I don’t own an e-reader and don’t read that way.”

    That doesn’t sound so silly on the surface, but imagine a writer saying, “I don’t sell translations of my work to Germany because I’m not German and can’t read German.”

    When I’m told the initial remark, my response is always, “You don’t have to read ebooks. You selling to people who DO!”

    • When I’m told the initial remark, my response is always, “You don’t have to read ebooks. You selling to people who DO!”

      This is so ridiculously true it’s not even funny. What does it matter, so long as you’re getting read?

      • “I often hear the remark, “I’m not going to self-publish because I don’t own an e-reader and don’t read that way.””

        You’re not ‘beta testing’ your book to see what it looks like on a Kindle? I guess you’re just checking out the Kindle Reader app and then moving on…

  32. At least he’s RESPECTFUL about why he made his decision–I think his “best” reason for deciding not to self-pub would probably be his genre (or lack thereof, being literary fiction). He’ll be marketed by whatever press (maybe) picks him up. He doesn’t have to overcome the general feeling of being the gum smeared on someone’s shoe, y’know?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.