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Self-Pub Suicide – Yet More Angst

8 November 2011

An anonymous blogger called AE started lots of discussions on The Passive Voice. See the original PV post here and a follow-up post here.

Basically, AE chastised indie authors for publishing bad books and predicted this would be professional suicide. AE was somewhat ambiguous, but it appeared AE was planning to be an indie author and didn’t want the indie well polluted with second-rate trash before taking a drink.

Lots of good comments appeared.

Passive Guy wanted to highlight a few of the comments (please don’t be offended if yours isn’t included):

From Thomas E:

I think the simple answer is that indie publishing is no different than traditional publishing in one important respect: if you write a bad book, no one will read it.

It’s hard for me to contemplate any scenario where self-publishing a bad book would actually have the effect of ending a career. Firstly, the nature of samples means that no one would buy it. And, in general, they won’t remember flicking through a sample and rejecting it any more than I remember the books I didn’t buy from a bookshop.

Secondly, if you are afraid of that why not self-publish under a pen name?

No, I think the only thing that can kill a writing career is to stop writing or not put your work up for sale. That’s it.

Bad books will not sell, regardless of sales tricks. Good books will. Write good books.

From David Gaughran:

The argument about how much of self-published work is “crap” is pointless. It doesn’t matter. Crap books (whether self-published or not) have no effect on my books. Just like Snooki’s books have no effect on Stephen King or John Grisham.

The only books that have an effect on the sales performance of my books are my other books.

Anyone who tries to make the argument that readers are becoming tired of self-published “crap” and that it is somehow reflecting badly on all indies and that readers are becoming wary of anything self-published needs to be pointed towards the Kindle bestseller charts.

For the last three months since I have been casually tracking it, self-published work has captured roughly a third of the top five hundred or so bestselling e-books on Amazon. That proportion has stayed relatively stable.

If you look at the genre bestseller lists (where readers first switched to e-books and started reading indies), the success of indies is even clearer – on the science fiction, romance, and thriller bestseller charts, indies regularly capture 50% or more of the top spots, beating out the biggest books from the biggest writers.

This would seem to indicate that indie books are getting more popular, not less.

That simple fact should bury this “crap” argument once and for all.

J. Tanner wrote:

The way the argument is presented is distractingly circular, and hyperbolic.

But in my experience there’s a grain of truth.

Trade published books are almost uniformly written to some minimum standard of readability. I’d bet even the Snooki book that is the self-pub punching bag de jour is competently written. By a ghostwriter overseen by a decent editor and followed by a copyeditor. The content is almost certainly vapid given where it originates from, but I don’t doubt the prose is workmanlike, grammatically correct, and free of typos.

Self-pub stuff is all over the map. There is absolutely stuff indistinguishable from trade published work in the prose department. But there is also stuff one would not be surprised to encounter scrawled in a public bathroom stall. That bit is what so many latch on to and there are enough examples of it that you could read it until you die (and it might end up being the cause.)

However, it’s not a significant problem for the discerning reader who won’t be interested in 99% of trade pubbed or self-pubbed books anyway. The scrawled ones are easily noticed and rejected in seconds. The trade-pubbed ones can be more insidious in a weird way–you might need to read several chapters of reasonably written prose before you can determine this book really isn’t for you after all.

It sounds like both the author and the anonymously quoted friend are discerning readers. (I am as well.) It seems pointless to me to call out “you suck!” to only an easy target subset of stuff they don’t like while ignoring all sorts of other stuff they don’t like either but that’s their choice and they can try to defend it (and fail I expect.)

Kat J. found a deer hunting parallel:

Aren’t we a twitchy bunch? Have we been slammed for so long we jump at the slightest sound like deer in hunting season?

It’s been said here by a number of people – there is plenty of crap out there – both Trade and Indie.

We all know that publishing is a mean, nasty business where insults are slung like mud in all directions.

We also know the Steve Jobs biography was pulled because it contained formatting errors.

There is no such thing as perfection. It is a goal for which we all strive. Therefore – I thank God for the NitPicking readers!

And I’m very interested on what she has to say about ‘Swallow the Moon’ – not because I think it’s perfect, but because I want my next book to be better.

Isn’t that what all this is really about????

C.S. Splitter made a confession:

How’s this for honesty:

“Suck” is subjective, but…

I put out my first book too soon and I got very good reviews from review blogs and readers. I put it out too soon because I did not know any better. The technical aspects of the writing could have and SHOULD have been better. That was the bad news.

The good news was that the story and characters were good enough to, apparently, make the readers and reviewers overlook the avoidance of em dashes, semi colons, colons, and just plain poor punctuation. And the occasional typo. And beginning too many sentences with conjunctions. lol

Honestly, I just put the book out and didn’t do much marketing because when I wrote it, I never expected anyone to read it. Then when people did read (nope, not friends and family) and like it, I wanted to get more opinions on it.

After all, if I had ZERO talent, I wanted to know before I spent any more time writing bad stories. One can learn to write better, but I think you can either tell a good story or you cannot.

Now that I know there is something there, I got an editor and a professional artist for the cover. I just got the edited file back from the editor. Yeah, I apparently suck. I know that because of the rainbow of colors she used to point out writing mistakes or where it could be made better.

If I could pull the book from publication without losing the great reviews, I would do so. Thankfully, I can just continue to let people ignore the book until I get the edits done.

So, yeah, as a writer I sucked. I think I suck less now and I hope I suck even less in the future. I am exploring this indie/self pub thing and figuring things out as I go. It is fun, but there are mistakes to make along the way.

The beauty of self pubbing, especially where eBooks are concerned, is that you can fix your mistakes.

Yes, there were better ways to get the feedback I was originally seeking, but I did not know that “then.” I know now. That I put the first one out too soon is an endless source of embarrassment to me even though no one else seems to notice.

My re-release and new book will not be perfect either. I console myself by opening up a random, recently traditionally published book from my shelf and finding error upon error there too lol.

As self pubbed/indie writers we DO need to be honest with ourselves and understand that much of the work out there is bad in some way. Maybe even our own. We can, however, get better.

From David Gaughran again, responding, in part to a suggestion that indie books need something like a Consumer Reports to filter out the poorly-written ones:

Don’t Amazon reviews fulfill this function already? And Goodreads? And LibraryThing?

I know there are issues with sockpuppets, spiteful reviews, false reviews, and review swapping, but I would bet anything that’s a tiny fraction of overall reviews.

While readers may suspect a book with a handful of reviews, do they feel the same way about when with 50 overwhelmingly positive reviews? I don’t think so.

I get messages from readers all the time who said they picked up one of my books because of the good reviews.

Don’t forget there is also a whole book blog ecosystem out there. Readers really do trust reviews from sites like Big Al’s BooksAndPals, Sift, Red Adept, and lots and lots more. I remember getting a really huge boost from Pixel of Ink when they recommended one of my books (not a spot I paid for, they just decided to recommend it).

There are lots of sites out there trusted by readers that recommend books all the time and drive a huge amount of sales. I remember Amanda Hocking saying that book bloggers were crucial to her early success.

Finally, I would caution on making generalizations based on a small and noisy group of forum regulars. I don’t think they are representative of the general reading population, and several there seem to have axes to grind for whatever reason.

By any metric, indie sales are increasing. They are taking over the bestseller lists (around a third of the top-selling e-books on Amazon at any given time).

And, if you look at the genre bestseller lists, it’s even more stark. These are the readers that switched to e-books first and encountered indie books first. Half of the romance, thriller, and horror bestseller lists are self-published work. Surely if anyone was going to get “sick” of wading through “crap” it would be the readers who switched first.

However, it seems these readers are reading more indie books, not less.

Passive Guy thinks some online discussion boards (and comment threads) can turn into echo chambers.

Is there a crisis for indie books and indie authors? Are we on the brink of destruction?

PG thinks not.

Amazon ebook sales are going through the roof.

Are indie ebooks all being ignored? No, they’re a substantial and growing presence on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Look at the post immediately below this one for the latest evidence.

Do indie ebooks suffer from terrible quality problems? The ones that don’t are selling. The ones that do are not selling.

To traditionally-published books suffer from terrible quality problems? The ones that don’t are selling. The ones that do are not selling. (Talking to you, Snooki.)

Both Amazon Publishing and a large number of agents are trolling through indie ebooks in search of authors/clients. They’re not trolling because indie books are a sea of mediocrity. PG has had several clients who have been so contacted because of their indie books. Some indie authors are accepting the resulting invitations to traditional publishing and some are not.

If you think about it, an agent is much more likely to find a quality unrepresented author by checking the indie bestsellers than by wading through the email slush pile.

PG believes the overwhelming majority of readers who don’t spend half their lives making comments on Amazon forums are discovering good books through a wide variety of sources – friends, online discussions among people they respect, Amazon reviews, other online reviews, formal reviews in traditional publications, etc., etc., etc.

PG thinks a very small percentage of readers care whether an ebook is published by somebody in New York or not. Readers focus on the book, not the provenance. If they think about a brand, the author is the brand, not the publisher. Ask John Locke. People outside of the writing/publishing world generally ignore publishers. More consumers know ShamWow, Slap Chop and Snuggie than Simon & Schuster.

If you want to get into conspiracy theories, the indie-haters who spend so much time on various forums could well be unemployed editors laid off from traditional publishers or agents who are losing their clients to indieworld.

Buying an ebook, indie or othewise, is about the most risk-free way you can spend your entertainment money.

First, you can read a sample before buying. Second, you can immediately get a refund if you decide you made a mistake with your purchase. You don’t even have to find your receipt or take your book back to the bookstore.

Nobody’s forcing any reader to pay for and/or read an ebook that’s poorly-formatted and filled with grammatical errors.

Almost all authors are subject to bouts of angst. PG thinks we need to examine whether some authors are projecting their anxiety onto the world of self-publishing and whether such projection is distorting their view of of that world.

As long as PG is being psychological, he would also point out a geyser of all-or-nothing cognitive errors floating around about self-published books.

The sun is rising for indieworld, not setting.

Ebooks, PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Self-Publishing

11 Comments to “Self-Pub Suicide – Yet More Angst”

  1. These comments are good! I couldn’t have said it better myself but that’s no surprise. =o) I try to avoid the indie vs. trad fight anymore because I used to get so tied up in it, that I didn’t get any writing done but I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with PG and the commenters on this thread.

  2. These responses also highlight the questionable nature of Mike Shatzkin’s article which was pointed to a bit earlier today.

    To summarize, he feels that success as in indie is too hard for most writers and that they would be better served by working with traditional publishers or with new publishers who have built up a network of employees to do things like provide covers, do editing and later copy-editing of manuscripts, and layout to meet the expectations of ebook readers.

    He suggests that a 50/50 split of money (after Amazon’s 30%, which results in a real 35/35% split of gross) is a more appropriate share of money. He notes that this appears to be approximately the split that people contracting with Amazon’s in-house labels (like 47North) are seeing.

    These quoted responses indicate that there isn’t as tremendous a backlash against all indie ebooks as he and others would have us believe.

    I especially like David Gaughran’s remarks about “crap” books having absolutely no effect on others. I agree that few people remember the books they _didn’t_ purchase and that the combination of samples and returns minimizes any risk to the buyer.

    • JR – There is a little of the “author as a child” in many of the assertions about the necessity of publishers.

      • I think that it is more of an attitude by the publishers of “we’re the adults here”, because it extends to both the writers and the readers.

        It tends to make them feel entitled to all the profits in the transactions that, ultimately, need them to a much smaller degree.

  3. In all the debates over indie v. trad, we writers are forgetting the most important element–the readers.

    I got my reminder last night. I went into the living room to ask DH a question, only to get shushed. His nose was buried in the Kindle.

    A little while later, he came into the kitchen and said, “Sorry, but I was almost to the end. By the way, do you know if the Gerard guy has written anything else besides The Watchman of Ephraim?”

    We forget in all the numbers bandied about and our own anxiety that if we write a damn good story and if one reader loves our work, he will tell his family and friends. And like the shampoo commercial, the potential circle of readers will grow.

    • Suzan, I couldn’t agree more!

      The word-of-mouth marketing has been valuable forever. It may take a little while to get going, but once the spark is lit, the possibility of it turning into a bonfire is exciting.

      And if it only sparks a little, that’s ok, too. Writers just move on to the next book. And the next.

    • Exactly right, Suzan.

  4. Ditto on the all-or -nothing cognitive errors. Publishing is not black and white.

  5. If you write it well, they will come. ‘Nuff said.

  6. Hi,

    Looking for “something like a Consumer Reports to filter out the poorly-written” indies? Check out IndieReader (www.indiereader.com), the essential consumer guide to self published books and the people who write them. IR posts regular book reviews, along with ratings and author interviews.

    You might also want to take a gander and IR’s “List Where Indies Count”, the only weekly-updated bestseller list that includes the top selling indie titles.

    We believe that indie books, like indie movies and music, are here to stay. And IR is here to help book-lovers find what they’re looking for.

    Best,
    Amy
    IndieReader

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