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The Persistent Stigma of Self-Publishing

31 July 2014

From from author Dario Ciriello via Fiction University:

[W]hatever anyone tells you, self-publishing is still heavily stigmatized. True, things aren’t as bad as they were, but we’re still viewed by many as wannabes and second-class authors who aren’t good enough to interest a “real” publisher.

. . . .

It’s not hard to understand the root causes of this prejudice. Before self-publishing mainstreamed with the advent of POD, we had vanity presses (we still do), a derogatory term for publishing houses that charge desperate authors stiff sums of money to produce and print small runs of books, typically in the 1,000 to 2,000 copy range. There was no screening, no editorial process, no proofreading (though some vanity presses would offer these for a price). Like the early rush of POD books that we began to see in 2009 or so, the vast majority of these books were truly awful, and their authors usually and deservedly ended up with a garage full of unsold books.

Five years later, the overall quality of self-published books has improved enormously. This happy event is largely the result of (i) the very lively and ongoing dialogue between self-publishers made possible by the internet, and (ii) competition in the marketplace. A handful of celebrity self-publishers, along with the growth of interest and coverage the field has received in the mainstream media, have helped.

But the stigma among the media, the reading public, and many of our fellow writers persists, and this legacy of prejudice against self-published work manifests itself in ways both obvious and subtle. Almost all mainstream reviewers (and most book bloggers, who ought to know better, given that they are self-publishing their reviews) still have firm policies against looking at self-pubbed work; many trad-pubbed writers still look down their noses and (openly or behind your back) sneer at their self-published peers; and bookstores—even those who brag about supporting local authors—rarely want anything to do with us. And of course publishers and agents have a strong vested interest in perpetuating the stigma.

. . . .

So task number one is to continually raise our game. Good writing aside, self- and indie- pubbed books don’t have to look as good as what the Big Five are releasing, they have to look better. We need to produce books that show an artisanal level of pride in every aspect of production, from editing to formatting to cover design. This needn’t break the bank, but it does require time, study, and thought. If we’re not prepared to do that, we only perpetuate the stigma.

Link to the rest at Fiction University

Here’s a link to Dario Ciriello’s books

PG says indie authors should worry about what readers think of their work and forget the other stuff. Readers vote with their money. Critics, reviewers, etc., vote with their words. Which do you prefer, money or words?

Readers buy books and authors, not publishers. Nobody says, “I have a complete collection of everything Random House published in 2002,” or “I’m so excited to hear there’s a new Simon & Schuster book that was just released.”

The “self-published stigma” just doesn’t matter to the business of writing. If someone asks why you self-publish instead of getting a traditional publisher, PG suggests a response something like, “Because I wanted to be a professional writer instead of a real estate agent who writes on the side,” or “Because I wanted to drive a new Mercedes instead of an old Hyundai.”

If you think it’s pretty stupid to sign a contract with a traditional publisher and that smart authors self-publish, show some attitude.

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

103 Comments to “The Persistent Stigma of Self-Publishing”

  1. “If someone asks why you self-published instead of getting a traditional publisher, PG suggests a response something like, “Because I wanted to be a professional writer instead of a real estate agent who writes on the side,” or “Because I wanted to drive a new Mercedes instead of an old Hyundai.”

    I LOVE this!

  2. I love that quite too!

  3. Someone once told me that they never read self published books because they are “crap” or something to that effect.

    Among book lovers the current mantra seems to be that readers don’t buy from a specific publisher, they buy from a specific writer or in a certain genre. They don’t buy from Simon and Shuster, they buy a book written by (insert your favorite author here). They don’t buy what the NYTimes best seller list says that “everyone is reading,” they buy what their book loving friend has recommended to them. Or, you know, in these wild times, readers check people’s rec lists (on Amazon, blogging sites, GoodReads, etc.) and go from there.

    The publishing industry is so behind the times, it’s almost not funny.

    I’ll wager that the person I was talking to wouldn’t actually know whether a book that they had bought was self published or not. Not these days, not when the indie bar of professionalism gets higher and higher.

    • I would wager on your wager that this assumption is correct. Its pretty sad because I’ve never cared about the publisher of a book but with all this Amazon vs. Hachette crap going on, I’ve actually started to pay attention to it and here is what I’ve noticed in my own actions:
      1)I’m more likely to purchase when I see its self-pub or Indie.
      2) Usually when an ebook is too expensive to purchase, in my opinion, it turns out to be trad pub.

      • You and me both. Trad pub prices are so high, I can’t afford them and don’t buy them. Eventually I might buy a used copy, if I can find it, but if it’s not an author I already love, then I’m not going to bother.

        If it’s a new book by an author that I love who is traditionally published, I will wait! For the ebook, for the library book, for the copy loaned from a friend.

        If it’s an indie book, written by an author with passion and heart who loves the subject matter? Oh, baby, sign me up! And that’s because I know in advance that the indie author isn’t answering to some suit in New York who insists that robot lovers in space will never sell! The indie author answers only to his or her own heart – which will make for a more passionate read.

        And that’s worth more than money – which is something the Big Suits in NY seem to have forgotten.

      • Trad publishers have high operating expenses and overheads. So they have to recover that somewhere 🙂

    • Michael Parnell

      I agree. If a book cover or title catches my eye, I find it on Amazon, read the description, and then I use Amazon Inside to read the first few pages. I only check the publisher as a matter of business interest. While I have a few favorite authors who only publish the traditional route (Alan Furst, for example), I love finding a well-written story with a great cover that was put out by an indie author.

  4. The stigma still exists, definitely. What concerns me more (in my genre at least) is there seem to be separate pools of readers. There are readers who read what goes into bookstores, and those are the readers who go to conventions/vote for awards/etc. And there are readers who read indie, and it’s harder to find them at the places I find readers who read conventionally.

    (My experience at ReaderCon was kind of painful in that regard.)

    I could wish those circles would intersect more. Hopefully with time.

    • There are also plenty of readers who don’t go anywhere. Well… maybe the library. An average schmoe (like me) has plenty to do as it is. Job, kids, family infrastructure. Reading is something I do on the shuttle, or after the kids have turned in for bed. You won’t see me at a conference, but that doesn’t mean I don’t exist.

      • You and me both, alas. Back when I was first starting on this path seriously in 2000, it was extremely frustrating to hear from other writers farther along in their careers that to “make it” I needed to join the crowd hobnobbing at conventions, which are for some reason almost never in Florida. Travel is expensive, and was hard for me to swing even before I had a family. Now that I do, budgeting for business trips is a painful exercise.

        There’s still a tighter group of involved fans, artists, writers, readers, industry people who do convention circuits… those people don’t seem to have much truck with indie circles yet.

        • Here in Utah, there are a lot more indies making the local sci-fi convention circuits. They usually pool together to man a booth or two in the dealer’s room, and they get on a lot of panels and stuff too. Whatever the hostility is to indies on the east coast, it’s not nearly so strong out in the west.

          • Joe, I’m going to go out on a limb (but not very far) and guess that there are cultural reasons for this, not only in Utah, which perhaps has additional reasons, but all of the west, especially the mountain west.

            Natives tend to have ancestors who settled in the area to escape the eastern establishment in some fashion. New-comers are often moving here for comparable reasons. Add to that the likelihood that what is trad published is what appeals to someone who lives in New York, a city about is unlike Salt Lake as I can imagine, and it’s easy to see how what indies are putting out could have more appeal.

            I also suspect (although maybe because I notice them) that there are more indies making a go of it in these states on a per capita basis. Maybe because it is harder to break in to trad publishing if you aren’t in the east. (Thirty years ago it seemed to me that half the authors I read regularly were from the NYC area.) So there are a lot of novels getting taken out of desk drawers and getting self-published.

            • A few years ago, I researched and wrote an article that addressed this very topic. Specifically, it documents the rise of the science fiction & fantasy community at Brigham Young University, and how a group of students in 1979 went on to start a magazine, a sci-fi convention, a writing group, and a local fan culture that went on to foster writers like Brandon Sanderson, Dave Farland, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Wells, and many others.

              (Fanboy moment: Orson Scott Card wrote a comment on the article that may have made me squee a little–just a little. 😛 )

              But yeah, a lot of the things that you describe in broad terms are fairly accurate about the sf&f community out here in Utah. I’m not sure how that translates exactly to indies out here, but I suspect that you’re on the right track.

            • Indie publishing has been a boon to all of us who live far from the centres of English language publishing. Just look at how many indie authors there are in Australia, Asia, continental Europe, etc…

        • I think that even absent campaigns like Sad Puppies, that online reader solidarity will continue to grow, and that either organizations that give awards and people who have influence will acknowledge and adapt… or their influence will quietly pass away.

          Attendees at places like WorldCon skew quite a bit older than the general reading public. In my sad experience, fans are not slans. Fans are big fans of the future technology of yesterday. They’d love rocket packs. They often hate the actual miracles of technology which are now available to everyone.

          That’s not all of them, it’s not even most of them. But it’s a highly disproportionate number of the noisy ones who have a lot of influence on this sort of thing.

          • The Sad Puppies campaign was purely political and besides none of the works it pushed onto the Hugo shortlist were self-published, though some of those that didn’t make it might have been.

          • I’ve gotten onto panels at this year’s WorldCon without having to hide the fact that I’m SP. We’ll see how it turns out though. I’m still slightly apprehensive.

            It will be interesting to compare the reading public there versus the Eurocon (Shamrokon) in Dublin which is a week later (and I’m also attending – and even on a self-pub panel).

    • M.C.A., three years ago, a friend asked me out to lunch. She was concerned about the path I was taking. “You’re never going to win a Rita(tm) if you continue to self-publish.”

      Guess what happened at the RWA conference this year? Self-published authors entered the Ritas and won.

      Things are changing. Maybe not fast enough to suit us, but they are.

      Know what I told her three years ago and what I told readers at a FB event this week? The readers are what matter to me. They are what make/break us writers. They are the ones I worry about pleasing. Everything else in the business is just gravy.

      Continue to write your terrific stories. The rest will take care of itself.

      • Oh, I am completely sure that romance is miles ahead of SF/F in this regard. I was super-excited to hear about the Rita win! But I… don’t really have high hopes that the Nebulas/Hugos/Campbell/etc are going to be cracked by indies any time soon. For some reason the SF/F establishment is having a harder time changing than you’d imagine people enamored of technology would be. :/

        • Believe me, I do understand your frustration. When so many of the SF/F magazines require paper queries, it’s a very sad statement of the genre.

          Angie (who pops in here occasionally) asked why I wasn’t sending more short stories to market. I just can’t deal with the snail mail BS anymore.

          As for awards, it’s politics. Always has been no matter what industry we’re talking about. I’ve never been enough of an a**-kisser to care. 🙂

          • Oh no! Awards are totally about merit! Only the best books win! O_O


            • ROFLMAO And this is why I prefer your stuff as opposed to some award-winner. *koff, koff* Scalzi *koff, koff*

              • It will be interesting to see if Andy Weir gets a nomination next year. The Martian should have freaking won (much less be nominated) back when it was self published, imo, but maybe now that it’s “legit…” I’m not holding my breath, but I know I’ll be casting my nominating vote his way!

          • To my knowledge, the only speculative fiction magazine that requires paper submissions is Fantas & Science Fiction (F&SF). But even though they require paper queries, they do publish to kindle–for only $.99 an issue, no less. So are they behind the times? Maybe … or maybe the paper-only thing is a way to weed out the serious writers from the not-so-serious ones.

        • Yeah, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only metric by which I will ever be able to measure my success in SFF is to be able to make money selling stories.

          I’ll be OK with that as soon as I figure out how to actually make money selling stories…

          • I write, fairly exclusively, science fiction and fantasy novels. I’m sure it makes me a bad SFF writer but I couldn’t tell you half of the awards give out every year, and I’ll never even consider going to a convention.

            That’s ok, because I’m done with my “real job” September first, and I’m already making more writing than I ever did sweating in a warehouse working for someone else.

          • All depends on who you’re selling your stories to, Christopher. Personally, I refer to sell mine directly to readers. No awards, but definitely more money.

          • As a great science fiction writer once said, “Talk is cheap. Whisky costs money.”

      • The Aurealis Awards in Australia are open to self-pubbed books as well as trads. I’ve been on a couple of judging panels over the years and have seen all sorts come through.

        Unfortunately, every year we see at least one self-pubbed book come through that is poorly written and very badly done. Bad editing, terrible layout, awful story… it is these sorts of books that continue to support this stigma.

        The problem with self-publishing is that there is no widespread quality control pre-publication. At least trad pubs have an editorial process. Not once have I ever been on a panel that questioned the professional level of a trad-pubbed book.

        With indies and self-pubs, it’s a very mixed bag. We’ve seen books that look like someone pubbed their first draft, and we’ve short-listed self-pubs who very much deserved to be short-listed.

        Reviews are really the only method we have from separating the dross from the gold. Alas, that’s not a method that’s as widely used at it needs to be.

        If you read indie, self-pubbed or small press books, make the publishing world a better place by posting honest reviews of books online (GoodReads, Amazon, your blog, etc).

        P.S. For anyone thinking Utah is isolated, try living in Perth, Australia. Vegas is only a five-hour drive from Salt Lake. In Perth, the nearest city is THREE DAYS away.

    • Might be a regional thing. I happen to know that Marscon and Ravencon (both southern Virginia conventions) are very indie\self-pub friendly, but still like veteran trad-pubbers too. Heck, Ravencon 2013 (I missed 2014), they had about a dozen panels on self-publishing, and the panelists were experienced self-pubbers who gave GOOD (although kind of basic for anyone who’s pushed out at least one title, but if you hadn’t gotten started yet it was excellent) advice.

  5. The people who look down on self publishers are the ones with the problem not me. Am I supposed to be ashamed of the skills I’ve acquired in order to publish my books? Writing, illustrating (for my children’s books), editing or hiring editors, layout and design, formatting for both ebook and print, research and marketing. Not only should the big 5 be looking at our books for potential contracts, they should be offering us jobs, most of us can probably run their companies with all the hats we wear. I’m proud that my printed books say CreateSpace. I consider it a badge of honor for all the hard work I’ve done.

  6. Is there a stigma with self-published works? Maybe, but I have a growing base of paying fans who love my work, constantly clamor for more, and apparently serve equal time as one kick-ass marketing team. They, and those they introduce my work to, are allowing me to tell stories for a living.

    Why should anyone I my position care if some people don’t like us? I’d rather please my fans and get paid a good living than fail trying to please everyone.

    • I’d be surprised if the majority of readers of ebooks even pay attention to the publisher. They are just looking for an interesting book to read.

  7. Trad-pubbed writers looking down their noses and sneering at me? Can’t say I’ve noticed. One trad pub friend did take me out to tea and question me closely about self-publishing, because he wasn’t ecstatic about his publishing experience so far and was considering the alternative.

    But maybe I got it wrong and he was pulling dreadful faces every time I glanced away.

    • Looking down their noses is about all they have, Lexi. They certainly don’t have the money that indie authors with equivalent talents have.

  8. You’ve been feisty in your most recent commentary, PG. I like this side of you. 😀

  9. My stigma just landed in my bank account today, 7/31.

    B&N stigma
    Amazon.com stigma
    Amazon EU stigma
    ACX stigma
    Createspace stigma


  10. At least to my face, my experience with trad-pubbed folks has been quite pleasant, and I work with a number of them on various projects, from writing short stories after being invited into anthologies or helping trad authors finish a work in progress.

    What they say behind my back, I cannot guess, but all I’ve dealt with seem like nice folks.

    That doesn’t mean I’ve not noticed the occasional online rant against the self published, but it’s never been with anyone I’ve worked with. And frankly, I don’t care about those people. I’m paying my bills my way, they can pay theirs in their own way, and if that means belittling me and my peers in the process, then I guess it helps them sleep better at night.

  11. I would say that there is one publisher that readers look for: Harlequin. They have done a masterful job of “branding” their house, so that a reader knows what a “Harlequin romance” novel is, as opposed to a “Random House mystery”.

    My response to people who ask me why I self-publish: “I make more money.” I then explain, to their horrified reactions, just how little money a trad-published author makes from the sale of a book. End of discussion.

    • That’s really the only explanation you need. I explain that to people sometimes and they’re shocked too. But I just tell them what trad pub authors make and how many of them have to work more than one job and people usually understand. Of course, I don’t need them to understand since it’s my work and it’s mostly irrelevant, but I do want more people to understand just what they’re contributing to when they buy their books at the bookstores.

      I think I am going to do more to promote e-readers as well. Reading the comments for some of these websites reminds me how behind the times some print lovers are and I think it’s because they haven’t been exposed to e-readers enough. I’m going to do more evangelizing this year.

    • Yes. This.

  12. “Because I get 70% royalties compared to 7% royalties, which means I can sell a book for half the price and still make five times as much” normally shuts up the doubters.

  13. [W]hatever anyone tells you, self-publishing is still heavily stigmatized.

    Hah. This is one of those rare articles I had issues getting past the very first sentence.

    I suppose it is still stigmatized in some circles, but those circles, in my opinion, are the big pub circles where authors suffering from ADS and Stockholm Syndrome are doing their best to stop their ship from crashing and burning.

    Self-publishing isn’t stigmatized anymore in my (admittedly) small world. Most readers have no clue the books they read are self-published unless the author mentions it somewhere in the book, or they’ve heard of the author elsewhere on the internets.

    But that’s my opinion. My opinions are stupid anyway.

  14. I’ve been self-published since 2011, and full-time since August of 2012. I currently have five novels published on Amazon (enrolled in KDP Select).

    There was a time in my life when I thought landing a publishing contract meant striking it rich. But as I got older, and learned more about the publishing industry, I realized this was not the case. Most writers don’t make enough to do it full time. Which is why I never even tried to go the traditional route.

    After all, why bother?

    Wouldn’t that time and effort be better spent pursuing an education? Didn’t that offer a higher probability of success?

    In late 2010, my wife bought me my first Kindle. Shortly thereafter, I learned about KDP and started reading Joe Konrath’s blog. Following his advice, I wrote my first novel, wrote a book description that wasn’t a hot mess, and hired an artist to put a cover together. Then I published it on Kindle.

    In November 2011, it sold 204 copies.
    In December 2011, it sold over 2500.

    I was blown away. By June 2012, it had sold over 10,000. In July of 2012 I published my second novel. It hit the 10,000 copy mark in less than ninety days. Ditto with my third and fifth novels (the fourth was a collaboration, which didn’t do quite as well).

    And during the course of all this, as I watched the royalties roll in and quit my day job and achieved my lifelong dream of becoming a full-time writer, do you think I was daydreaming about literary awards? Do you think I concerned myself with book critics and writers’ associations and publisher’s f@#king weekly?

    Hell to the no.

    I never thought about any of that stuff. You know who I thought about? Readers. That’s what.

    People can talk about stigmas all they want. People can look down their noses at indies until the sun falls out of the sky. It doesn’t matter to me a bit. Because at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is the reader’s. That’s it, and that’s all.

    Furthermore, you should understand that most readers review your work with their wallets.

    Think about it.

    My first novel has sold over 40K copies. Between Amazon, Audible, and Goodreads, it has over a thousand reviews. I’m not sure the exact number, but let’s be conservative and call it 1400. To figure out the percentage, you divide 1400 by 40,000. What do you get?


    Or, expressed as a percentage, 3.5%.

    That’s not much. It tells me 96.5 percent of the people who read my first book, most of whom went on to read my other books, did not bother to leave a review. Which is not to say they didn’t like it, they were probably just too busy. Like most people.

    So when you write, don’t concern yourself with stigmas, or critics, or awards, or money, or what people at conventions think, or even reader reviews. Some will be good, some will be bad. It goes with the territory. When you write, do it for the only reason that counts:

    Because you want to.

    People will either like it, or they won’t. That is not up to you. What IS up to you is the stories you tell, and how often you choose to tell them. So forget about stigmas, forget about money, forget about awards and snobs and trolls and everything else, and just write.

    And enjoy it.

    Otherwise, what’s the point?

    • publisher’s f@#king weekly?

      that made me laugh out loud James. Thanks too for your trajectory.

    • Michael Parnell

      Those sales numbers are fantastic, but I went to your author page at Amazon and noticed you were having problems with your cat not paying attention to you. Do you think if you had a traditional publishing contract it would improve your image with the cat? 😉

    • James, I just downloaded your first book through KU and nabbed the audio as well. I will be listening to it at work today and on my road-trip this weekend.

    • *claps*

  15. I’ve only had a couple of real life snobbery incidents. The last was at a writer’s group and this woman, who had been reading from her WIP for the last six months, showed up and had finished the manuscript and spoke about how the feedback she’d received from some people made her certain there would be a lot of interest from publishers, so she wasn’t going to self-publish. It was mostly the way she said it, as if those of us who self-published hadn’t received positive and encouraging feedback, and so took the only route available to us.

    I let it roll off my back, but another guy who was new to the group and had a self-published humor book, left shortly after this lady said what she said, and hasn’t come back. It was too bad because his book was much, much better than her story. Sorry, but her friends were lying to her–her writing was bad and the book was horrible. I tried to give tips when possible while still being encouraging, but it wasn’t easy. Come to think of it, I haven’t been back to that writing group since then either. (I can see who goes though because it’s a meetup.com group.)

    • A couple of people I know online have gotten trad pub contracts and their writing is *terrible*. Are they lowering their standards or something?

      • Phyllis Humphrey


        Rumor says Harlequin has lost hundreds of writers, so their standards must become lower or they’d have no books to sell.

      • I hope it didn’t come across that I think trade published authors are terrible, because that’s not what I meant. :/ I love many, many books by trade published authors. It’s just this particular lady whose goal was to be trade published who irked me with her attitude. I would be shocked–SHOCKED–if she received a contract.

        • No, I didn’t thin you meant all of them. But still, if their defense of their industry is that they have better quality, I’m just surprised that I’ve seen some writers who are really not good at writing get contracts. Just seems odd to me.

  16. this made me laugh, a stigma on indie publishers/authors.

    attitude… ok, let me try

    Hey yoose, dere’s det dere stigmata on dem traditions published aut=irs, dontcha know. How the hell doya thinks I’m gonna read a book at the bar wid my bds and hold a book and drink a brew at de same time? Nah, I read on my phone all the time… and aint gonna pay no stinkin’ $14 dollars for a traditions book aut-ir when $14 would buy four brews and then some. Asides, that stigmata on those traddier aut-irs, youse know, their publishers just keep showing red, bleedin’ just like the real stigmata on Padre Pio. Cereal, man. Gimme them old newtime india aut-irs any day. And they aint all from India. Most are right here born: USA USA USA. Yeah. Great stories, great prices, great brewskis, great friends. Ah, dats the life.

    [based on my own relatives, absolutely, lol. They still work the mills, and the factories and road crews, construction. and welding shops. And they all read indies… and in grand old native tradition, ‘whatever the hell I damn please…’ lol] On a serious note, I see for decades that when the hoity talk about the toity, they most often leave out mentioning grass roots readership, or if mentioned, most often with snark. I dont care for that snark. There’s a reason most every large work crew has men and women nicknamed professor, scholar, bookman, library lady, pedia… as in, he’s a real encyclopedia…

  17. So what if you just don’t have the money to pay an editor, cover designer, etc.? I’ve tried designing a few covers myself, and I have just enough artistic awareness to realize that they’re atrocious, and editing is something you really can’t do on your own, it seems to me. Would it be better to work with a traditional publisher in my case? I don’t want to perpetuate the stigma, after all…

    • Have you checked out some of the affordable pre-made covers available? Many are excellent.

    • Barter. Offer to be a beta reader, or if you have formating skills, or are good with photoshop, do something on the end of the production. Check out elance, some people offer their services for a pittance. Although, if you spend $100 for someone to edit your work, don’t be surprised if its not the best editing effort.

      There are plenty of ways to save money. Not cut corners, never cut corners, but there are ways.


    • David, I have a friend who is a media professional who wants to branch out into cover design.

      She has offered to do a few freebies to get her name out there. You can email me via my blog profile for info.

      Also, my cover designer who is an award-winning photographer, specializing in fantasy, steampunk, and cos-play art, is also branching out. You can see the cover on my blog/website. Same thing, email me for info.


    • Also the whole “you can’t edit your own work” is a myth, in my opinion. Use beta readers for big picture (developmental edit) issues – they usually reinforce your own instincts about what’s working and what’s not and can sometimes even pinpoint why. Line editing is a skill that involves checking each word/sentence/graf/chapter/story against a mental rubric of potential problems. Sounds harder than it is if you have internalized the rules of grammar and the style you mean to use. Proofreading is mere tediosity as long as you know the ins and outs of punctuation, document styles, and the words in your lexicon of English. Again, sounds harder than it is if you have a strong and articulated grasp on the rules.

  18. I couldn’t agree more. I am continually frustrated by “indie” authors who don’t bother to get their book edited before throwing it up on Amazon. We need to start calling them on it, because they make everyone look bad, and drag down the perception of quality for all of us. I believe in self-publishing – for myself, I could not have published the controversial subject I did without it. Self-publishing is where innovation and experimentation lives, not in traditional publishing (which is stagnant in so many ways!). But we have to insist that self-published authors freaking learn to write, and are held to some kind of technical standards! I can’t believe the garbage out there. If you can’t even write a simple blurb well, you should have hired an editor, and learned something before putting yourself out there. I know it’s harsh, but I feel strongly about it, because as I say, it hurts all writers who don’t go traditional.

    • You’re not going to be able to shame all indie authors into editing their books. Unfortunately there are people who don’t read these websites and don’t care. They’ve read in the newspapers that they can get rich quick writing for the Kindle and they do that as quickly as possible. And that’s not even to mention some of the authors who have done incredibly well with books that weren’t edited. It’s just not going to work. You might as well go complain to Hachette about James Patterson’s sh*tty outlines-delivered-as-full-stories. It won’t matter because, in that case, enough people will still buy the book. Just be happy that indie authors who edit very poorly will usually sink in the rankings and get bad reviews.

    • Here is my thought on authors who throw crap out there with no editing and terrible covers:

      Not my circus, not my monkeys.

      The vast majority of those people don’t care and won’t listen. It’s not our job to police them.

    • Remember the maxim: Stupid people are too stupid to realise they’re stupid. Assuming the quality is lacking because of stupidity, of course. It isn’t always.

      People have different reasons for publishing. Put it this way: a friend of mine once sniffed at some punk I was listening to, commenting it wasn’t very well produced.

      “Yes,” I said. “It was recorded on a four-track in a basement in San Francisco.”

      He was mystified why I’d want to listen to that instead of something produced on dozens of tracks, in a purpose-built studio, by people with recording engineer diplomas.

      It’s a totally different aesthetic. I find the flap about indie book quality very interesting, because I don’t remember hearing anyone complain the zine they’d just paid a buck for didn’t look as good as Vogue or Rolling Stone.

  19. Yes! I totally agree with what you’re saying. Self-publishing has definitely approved over the past fives years and with the internet being in virtually every country of the world, it has provided itself as being an author’s best marketing tool. There are so many services that are offered to indie-authors via the internet, and they most definitely render quality work, allowing self-published authors to “stomp with the big dogs” so to speak. I’m an indie-author/publisher and I love have control over my work and money. Its amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  20. “(and most book bloggers, who ought to know better, given that they are self-publishing their reviews)”

    An excellent point, it should be remembered more frequently.

    • “(and most book bloggers, who ought to know better, given that they are self-publishing their reviews)”

      I noticed that too, Alex, and thought it was a good point until I considered it a few seconds. Then I realized it’s an apples and oranges comparison. If the book blogger was charging his or her readers it would be a better comparison.

  21. I suggest laughing at the stigma and the folks who push it.

  22. You know, I mostly hear about the stigma second hand, but maybe I project too much confidence for people to say anything.

    When people ask me why I would self-publish over going to a publisher, I just shrug and say “Money.”

    And if they show an interest in that, I might add. “It’s no get-rich-quick scheme, but no matter what level of publishing you’re at, you make more money if you do it yourself.”

  23. Yes, there is a stigma and it will take some time to kill it. As a reference for classes and workshops, I keep a “Shelf of Shame” on one of my bookcases–a dozen or so novels that exhibit symptoms of not being ready for prime time despite being edited, proofed, printed and distributed by mainstream publishers. Many have blurbs from famous writers and some even thank their editors in prefaces and postscripts. Many writers are happy just to have their manuscript “corrected” and go on happily to the next project and make the same mistakes. A serious writer will want to learn from those corrections and improve.

  24. Give it a couple of years, and it’ll be No1curr City. Or the indies will be the cool kids.

    I’m not too saddened if some people think I’m lame. Because the reality is that I can probably write circles around them. I know it’s true, so let ’em think whatever they want of me. It won’t make me actually worse at my craft.

    • Or the indies will be the cool kids.

      That reminds me of the story from… was it Book Expo? With the teen girls that were SO EXCITED to meet indie authors, any indie authors, because they wanted to be just like them.

      To some people, we’re already the cool kids. 🙂

  25. Readers get their perspective from the professionals. Once the professionals stop bickering, readers will stop taking sides.

    • My question is: ARE readers taking sides? I have simply not seen any evidence, even indirect and anecdotal, that any readers (except those who are groupies of vocal people within publishing) actually know or care anything about the issue of self-publishing. Most are not aware of the publishing process at all.

      From what people have said, we mainly see comments and attitude coming from the inside writing/publishing community. (Which includes people like book bloggers or book promotion sites.)

      • I’d say that probably around half the readers in my genre still avoid self-published stuff. But that leaves half who don’t, and that was enough readers for me to quit my day job.

    • What am I missing? I’m a reader and I don’t even know who these professionals are. Do all the others know?

  26. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never had anyone say: “Well, I think I’ll wait until your books are published by _______ before I buy them.”

  27. “Almost all mainstream reviewers (and most book bloggers, who ought to know better, given that they are self-publishing their reviews) still have firm policies against looking at self-pubbed work;”

    Speaking as a reader, I don’t look at who publishes a book. But I _do_ look for “real” reviews of it. There’s just too many books out there with overwhelmingly high percentages of 5-star reviews on Amazon (and most other sites). We know they can’t all be that good!
    If the only quoted reviews are from “customers” or “a reader” or obvious login names, I get suspicious. I may click straight through to the 3-star reviews to see if the things that some people saw as strengths and weaknesses will match my own tastes. I might just not bother.
    If there are reviews from people or sources that I recognize, or if I found the book from a review column or site in the first place, then I’m much more likely to buy.

    So, to the degree that the above-quoted line is accurate, I think that self-publishers (and small publishers) do still face a challenge.

    • That’s true, I do believe a lot of the common marketing practices of self-publishers (especially with regards to reviews and the venues they all flock to) DOES create a kind of ghetto that is noticeable to readers.

      I suspect that most of the readers, though, are not reacting consciously to a stigma, but rather reading the subconscious genre signs that we all do. Just as certain kinds of covers tell us whether we’ll like a book or not, certain kinds of review patterns and placement on certain lists or blogs or marketing venues also tell us something. This can be for good or bad, since readers who like what they find will associate it with what they like, but others will associate it with what they hate.

  28. “It’s not hard to understand the root causes of this prejudice. Before self-publishing mainstreamed with the advent of POD, we had vanity presses (we still do), a derogatory term for publishing houses that charge desperate authors stiff sums of money to produce and print small runs of books, typically in the 1,000 to 2,000 copy range. There was no screening, no editorial process, no proofreading (though some vanity presses would offer these for a price). Like the early rush of POD books that we began to see in 2009 or so, the vast majority of these books were truly awful, and their authors usually and deservedly ended up with a garage full of unsold books.”

    Minor point, but how would anyone actually know what the quality of these books was, if they never got out of the garage? I think reader acceptance of self-published ebooks is a pretty good hint that many of these books were ok, too.

  29. Minor quibble on PG’s statement: “Readers buy books and authors, not publishers.”

    It’s possible, but damned hard, for at least smaller imprints of publishers to get enough personality and credibility in a niche area that readers will buy their books regardless of the author. It’s more common in academic publishing. Nobody gives a damn what Springer released this morning, but their Lecture Notes in Quantum Oceanography series probably has whole dozens of people on the edge of their seat. In fiction, Baen comes kinda close to that for some readers. Then there’s the factory franchises that won’t die — “DwarfTrek® #73: The Wrath of Spawn” will make it onto bricks-and-mortar shelves even with no author in sight.

  30. “I have a complete collection of everything Random House published in 2002,” or “I’m so excited to hear there’s a new Simon & Schuster book that was just released.”

    PG, you should turn these into T-shirts.

    • Well, people did collect Ace Doubles, or the Ace Fantasy series, and some people have collected DAW Books by the numbers (collect ’em all!). And then there’s Penguin Mysteries, which used to be a thing.

      But it’s not a thing now, except maybe in Baen Bundles of ebooks every month.

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