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Has the public perception of self-publishing finally changed?

12 February 2013

From TeleRead:

Self-publishing a book can come with pre-conceived notions from readers, other writers and even publishers. People used to think self-publishing a book meant it wasn’t good enough to get picked up by traditional houses. However, the stigma of self-publishing is changing. Success stories have become more and more abundant, and the shock those successes caused even five to 10 years ago is slowly beginning to dissipate.

Those in the industry have watched the development closely.

Smashwords founder Mark Coker began his site five years ago as an outlet for self-published authors. It started small and has grown into a site where nearly 100,000 books are published each year.

“You know, five years ago when we started Smashwords, self-publishing was seen as the option of last resort,” Coker said, in a recent interview with NPR’s All Things Considered. ”It was seen as the option for failed writers. And the publishing industry held that view, and even writers held that view.”

“But that’s changing now,” Coker continued. “Self-publishing is now becoming the option of first choice for many writers. And even traditional publishers now have newfound respect for self-publishing. They’re using the self-publishing bestseller lists to troll for new authors to acquire.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead


46 Comments to “Has the public perception of self-publishing finally changed?”

  1. I skimmed.
    Mark Coker. We know by heart what he has to say.
    That agent gal Rachelle Gardner. Glad to see what she looks like after all the commentary on her opinions. Cute.
    Penny Sansevieri. Didn’t we just have a thing concerning her a short while ago? I forget.

    If “And even traditional publishers now have newfound respect for self-publishing” why is it getting purt near impossible to get book bloggers to review indie novels?

    • She was the one with the video on how to find reviewers on Amazon.

      I skimmed too. I’m still seeing a lot of readers commenting negatively on self-published titles. That they’re all “crap”, etc. I think that’s a part of the stigma that will never go away, since there are so many writers who refuse to have their work edited, don’t take constructive criticism kindly, and have no intention of improving as they go along.

      • “She was the one with the video on how to find reviewers on Amazon.”

        That’s right! I should have remembered something that egregious.

        The unserious hobbyists are tainting the pool making it hard to remember that Amanda Hocking, Karen McQuestion, EL James and Colleen Hoover were all self-published. We can add Hugh Howey, Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath in, as well, among many many other well loved and enjoyed indie authors.

    • I think the bloggers are overwhelmed. Sometold me they receive dozens of requests per day from self pubbers. There’s a great firehose spew of self pubbed books now and they feel like they have to draw the line somewhere. It’s going to take a little more time than it did two years ago for the cream to find its way to the top.

      I have had a better reception from bloggers when they know I have a paperback version and not just an ebook. It helps if they know your book has wider availability for their readers.

      • Friend of mine sent me a list of SF/fantasy book bloggers who do reviews. Only two of them accept self-published authors.

        Things haven’t changed nearly as much as Mark Coker would like people to believe.

    • Yeah, by now we do know what Mark has to say. But I’m glad he’s out there doing his cheerleading thing. It’s good for all of us. There are lots of people still who never heard of indie publishing.

  2. Here’s a fun game. Ask a reader – not one that works in the business – what their five favorite books are.

    Then ask them who published them.

    I bet they won’t be able to tell you. Because it doesn’t matter. All they care about is whether a book is good or not.

    I have never experienced any stigma, or prejudice, or pre-conceived notions of any kind from *readers*.

    I couldn’t care less what anyone in the industry thinks.

    • I’ve never experienced any myself, but I have seen it directed towards others in reviews, on social media, and blogs.

      • There are plenty of crazies on the internet. I wouldn’t use their behavior as a barometer for anything…

        • Aren’t we all crazy? 😉

        • Readers don’t know from Random House from Penguin from Avon. True. The problem is in digital where it is becoming an issue because book bloggers have been burned by self-published dreck. They’re choosing away from indie books because of that. If you’re trying to promo an indie book, it makes a difference.
          To customers buying ebooks maybe the indie/trad thing doesn’t make a difference. Maybe it’s starting to.

    • Well said, David. Amen!

    • The YA blogosphere is, I think, one of the worst when it comes to biases against not only indie writers but also traditionally published small press authors. When I first started publishing YA fiction (via a small press), I scoured the ‘net for good sites, and about 80% of bloggers I found specifically noted that they don’t take small press books (even if they read books in the market I write for) – and that was *before* self-publishing exploded in the internet, with some citing “questionable quality” in the small press books they’ve received for review in the past.

      I’ve also followed some of them on Twitter when I had that account still in order to gauge their mindset and see if it’s evolved over time , and they knew the publishers to talk about. I can’t count how many times they’d be dropping names like Flux or Harlequin Teen or Scholastic as though they were magic words that automatically guarantee a fantastic read, no matter who the author is.

      So, no. I no longer consider them at all for possible book reviews even as a traditionally published (small press) author.

      • It’s curious that you bring this up. I know a lot of YA writers who are very cool, but there’s a certain culture in that specific blogosphere that can be very cliqueish. It seems very pro-traditional and exceptionally pro-agent. None of which are bad, but…there is occasionally a Stepford Wife vibe I’ve gotten in those circles. Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s noticed something off in there.

        • I was pretty discouraged at first as I went through 200 plus YA bloggers, and half said explicitly no selfpub or small press, and they were all reviewing the SAME YA books–how many reviews does “The Fault in Our Stars” need, now? Still, I got a 10 percent positive response rate, though; radio silence from the rest. Reviews haven’t come in yet. I’m hoping the ones who had time for me had free time not because they were crappy reviewers and everyone knows it. Fingers crossed, will see.

      • I’ve had pretty good luck with YA bloggers and have met some exceedingly nice ones who also have well-written, thoughtful reviews. But I’ve kept my efforts pretty small (I can’t afford to give out and mail many print copies) and I keep mostly to myself as far as the general YA ‘blogosphere’ goes. In the past two years I’ve seen a shift toward bloggers working with paid blog tour organizers and less with authors/publishers directly (not counting NetGalley, of course).

    • Better yet, just ask them to name as many publishers as they can. I’ve done this a few times. Mostly with people who read a lot.

      The most common answer is….

      Harlequin. (Almost every woman I’ve asked has named Harlequin, even if they don’t read romances.)

      No one I’ve asked has ever named more than three of the Big Six. Penguin and Random House are the two named most often with the occasional Simon and Schuster.

      Often folks will name industry-specific publishers (teachers will remember Scholastic, geeks will remember O’Reilly or Que or Microsoft press, etc.)

      Occasionally a sci-fi fan will remember Tor or Baen.

      No one I’ve asked has ever come up with more than five names.

      The best comparison is movie studios. Almost everyone comes up with five names there (even if they name some that are no longer around).

      Publishers have the worst brand management ever.

      • Of course, that’s because, until very recently, their customers weren’t end readers — their customers were distributors.

      • “Better yet, just ask them to name as many publishers as they can.”

        I think you’d have to count names of imprints, not just names of publishers, but coming from this as an avid reader all my life I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to name five two or three years ago. Now that I’m paying a lot of attention to the publishing world, I’m sure I’d be able to, but that doesn’t disprove your point.

        In contrast, if you asked me to name record labels, I blow past five and be well into the double figures before I ran out of steam and that would have been true for the last 30+ years. Part of that is a bigger population to name from. But also that the labels made efforts in brand recognition of the label as well as the artist where publishers, I don’t think, have. Probably because of who they viewed as their customer.

        I listened to a radio show last night that originally aired on BBC radio sometime in the last couple weeks that had the CEO of HaperCollins UK and International as one of the guests. Self publishing was mentioned a time or two and one of the things she thought a publisher would be able to bring to the table for an author was their brand, which would denote quality. I about fell out of my chair.

      • Well, I could name more than five, but most of them are academic publishers (Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, etc.), which is because a lot of my non-fiction reading has been academic publishing. (Years ago, I made a rough tally of how many books I had by publisher & was surprised to find about 10% of them came from OUP — who was the imprint with the most.) But that’s because one needs to pay attention to the name of publishers in that area. (If for no other reason, I’ve found I often have to go directly to academic publishers to buy their books. Amazon has failed me here once or twice — to my surprise.)

        A few stick out in my mind because of some weird twist, for example Scholastic: I associate them so closely with publishing elementary school texts that I still am surprised they published J.K. Rowling.

        And a few imprints I would hesitate to mention because I don’t know if they are still in existence, for example Vintage. Vintage had established a literary reputation in my eyes for a while, but since I don’t remember seeing their name for a while I thought they’d closed down — only to be surprised when I discovered I’d bought one of their books in the last year.

        As William Ockham wrote, “Publishers have the worst brand management ever”; if their job is help readers by putting their seal of approval on books, it’s a job no one cares whether they do it or not.

    • Doesn’t matter if a reader can’t name a publisher. When you tell them your book is self-published, the game changes to many of them.

      Of course, I’m speaking only of anecdotal evidence based on, oh, all of my contacts when I try to sell my books, including acquaintances, members of my former congregation, and strangers in the market.

  3. Hah, I could list a bunch– DAW, Berkley, Beagle, Ballantine, Fawcett Crest, Gold Medal, Jove, McFadden, Ace, Charter, Lance, Putnam, Popular Library, Curtis, Pyramid, Bantam, Dell and more if I had time to think about it– now how many are dead?

    P.S. Never worked in the book market. Only a dedicated reader of genre fiction.

  4. I don’t think the stigma is going to disappear in the next five years or so, just because the battle lines have been drawn and people are putting themselves on either side. Until trad-pub writers can stop frowning down their noses and self-pub writers can stop their preaching, it won’t stop.

  5. It occurs to me that this is an opportune moment for me to plug a website that I took over the middle of last year. It’s called The IndieView (http://www.theindieview.com/) and one of the things it has (actually the biggest draw for traffic) is a list of indie friendly reviewers. There are currently 200+ and I’m constantly adding to it. To be included on the list a blogger has to be actively reviewing, willing to accept self-published books, and agreeable to accepting submissions in an electronic format.

    The comment above hits the nail on the head when they talk about the deluge of books. It’s a numbers game where neither of the numbers that count, number of bloggers that accept self-published and the number of books vying for the limited number of review slots, aren’t on your side.

  6. Rachelle Gardner self-published a book about how to decide between traditional publishing and self-publishing. That is awesome.

    • I thought it was interesting that she wrote about self-publishing when, to my knowledge, she had never self-published before. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, but I would think that it’s hard to give a balanced and unbiased report on something you’ve never actually done before.

      *And if the comment in one of the reviews is correct (about self-publishing being good for you if you’re a control freak), then I’m not certain it’s as balanced as it could be. I’m curious about how it reads though.

      • This also highlights, for me, the difference between fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, I could care less who publishes it or how it’s published so long as the story is good and formatting/grammar don’t pull me out of it. Non-fiction is different in that I *do* care about the author’s credentials a lot more.

  7. Lots of intelligent responses here, as usual. I could try to add to it, but I’ve honestly stopped giving a horse’s patoot about how self-publishing is perceived by the people who have taken this long to recognize its legitimacy.

  8. This sounds like The News Of 2010.

  9. More respect for self-published books and their authors will indeed come–but it ain’t here yet, and it won’t be for a while, despite what Mark Coker believes. The collapse of the traditional publishing world is far from over, but it IS doomed and once ‘self-publishing’ is the standard, then there will be little basis for comparison.
    So we’re in transition, and while we’re all waiting, the only ‘respect’ that matters is the authorial self-respect of producing a book to the best of our abilities. I’m not naive enough to think that’s enough to flush the reviewer-birds from cover but it’s the only starting point worth the race.
    Okay, class dismissed.

  10. Wow. What a lot of words that signify nothing. Not a single thing they mention has anything to do with the “public” perception of self-publishing. Which as far as I can tell is still very divided. Sure, there are a lot of people who won’t touch a self-published book. But there are definitely enough people buying self-published books to make it an entirely legitimate business decision. *shrug* As long as you’re successful who cares what the public perception is.

    • I believe that most ordinary book-buyers don’t distinguish between self-published and traditionally-published books. If you ask them, very few can tell you who published the last five books they purchased.

      • I agree PG.

        Maybe what we should be asking is; If they do distinguish between the two, who’s fault is it? Does the blame rest with the reader/buyer, or the person who produced the book?

        Is it up to the reading public to change their view to favor us, or is it up to us to make the trad/SP issue something they no longer notice?

        Maybe a little of both. However, I feel we as publishers have the ability to make the latter happen as opposed to waiting for the former to someday arrive.

      • The amount of information even educated and enthusiastic readers don’t retain about the books they read is staggering. I did a little interview with a co-worker of mine who is basically the Brass Ring of reader demographics and she responded definitively that she didn’t care about how long a book was or how nice the cover was as long as she enjoyed the story, let alone who published it. (She did specify, upon follow-up questioning, that if it was REALLY short or if the cover was obviously amateurish, she wouldn’t be interested, but as far as spending a thousand dollars on cover design, I honestly believe that’s mostly wasted money.)

      • Sure they do. Book buyers may not know the names of the publishers of the last five books they read, but most WILL recognize an indie publisher’s name–not because they are familiar with it, but because it ISN’T one they’re familiar with. And they’ll know it’s indie because of the generally lower price point.

  11. When people ask if my books are published I simply say yes and give them the name of my publishing company. The look on their face tells me that I could have said almost anything and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference.

    I also know that I can place my books on the shelf among a plethora of trad published books and nobody can pick them out based on the fact that they are “self-published”. They looks the same or better than all the others.

    And that’s all I feel I really need to know on this subject.

  12. I suspect the public doesn’t care about publishing. It doesn’t care about the Big Five, and it doesn’t care about independents. Consumers see books and authors. They buy or don’t buy. They don’t care about how the book got to the shelf or the Amazon page.

    Anyone pay much attention to how the last loaf of bread you bought got on the shelf? Pay mush attention to winter wheat vs white wheat? Protein content? Who milled it? Packaging?

    Enthusiasts may care about publishing, but it’s a mistake to attribute their attitudes to the general public.

  13. I guess I’m not sure what being able to name publishing companies has to do with buying into the idea that books published by large companies will be better quality than books published by individual authors. I don’t think you have to be able to rattle off names to believe in the stigma. Publishing has worked too long and too hard to convince the buying public that they are the curators of quality. That isn’t going to go away easily. I don’t believe it has gone away.

    Like I said, the reading public is divided. There is the part that embraces the digital world and the changes it brings and willingly buys self published books. And there is the part that is more comfortable with the old way of doing things and doesn’t want to change and will almost certainly reject a book just for being self published. I don’t see anything like a consensus among the reading public on this issue yet. It’s simply going to take years to shake out.

    It’s not really about the publishers themselves. It’s just the pervasive idea that big companies are more likely to ensure quality than individuals. That a “brand name”, no matter what the brand name is or whether you can remember it later, is always better than no brand name. And we may go on about authors being the brand, but I don’t think that’s how a significant portion of the public sees it. A publisher’s label is a brand in a very generic sense to a large amount of readers. They don’t have to be interested in particular publishers or the industry to think that stamp on the inside of the book with the publisher’s logo means something. And a lot of them do.

    It’s no a “Coke vs. Pepsi” type of mindset. It’s an “any big name soda is better than the store brand” type of mindset.

    • “I don’t think you have to be able to rattle off names to believe in the stigma. “

      But it’s hard to act on the stigma if you don’t know the players.

      • I disagree. Readers aren’t stupid. It’s very easy to tell the difference between a traditionally published book and a self published book. Once again, the stigma isn’t about particular publishers. I agree that most readers don’t care about particular publishers. You don’t need to know the names to believe that traditional is better than self published. And you don’t need to keep a list of names in your head to differentiate between traditionally published and self published books. Authors who set up publishing companies with professional sounding names and professional products might be able to get around it, but most self published authors won’t.

        • Exactly, Sarah.

        • I think your last sentence is too soft and that properly hardened, it would negate your argument. 🙂

          Readers can NOT easily tell the difference between self-published books and traditionally published books. At least, not without some external reference. Which I believe that few if any of them will bother to utilize, no matter what traditional publishers who suddenly think they’re some kind of beacon of quality to readers desperate to find True Meaning and Value in their books may claim.

          They can easily tell the difference between sloppy, amateurish-looking books and esthetically pleasing, reasonably-well made books. (In that I include things like reasonable adherence to generally accepted grammatical principals, not printing the whole book in Comic Sans, etc.)

          Perhaps that is what you meant, but that is not what you said.

  14. I think the stigma against self-publishing has changing considerably.

    I agree that readers don’t really know or care, but those in the industry do, and I’m starting to feel a definite change in perception. Respect. Earned by those indies that have gone on to bestsellerdom.

    Someone mentioned above that Rachelle, an agent, self-published. That’s a sign of this. I’ve heard her book is biased toward traditional, which makes sense, she’s an AGENT, but just a year ago or so, if you search her blog posts, she was pretty vehemently anti-self-publishing. Now she’s leaning more moderate, and dipped a toe in herself.

    I see it. I don’t know if people care that the stigma is lessening, but I think it very much is, and that will continue. Publishers are starting to finally understand this concept: Market testing. In other words, see what the consumer will buy and there’s your product. And that leads to respect for success.

    I wonder what will happen. I suspect Publishers will start to lean more and more on self-publishing for proven titles. Should be very interesting.

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