Home » Big Publishing, Self-Publishing » Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word

Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word

31 December 2016

From The Huffington Post:

As a published author, people often ask me why I don’t self-publish. “Surely you’d make more money if you got to keep most of the profits rather than the publisher,” they say.

I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours. Your favorite authors might have spent years writing works that were rejected. But if a writer is serious about her craft, she’ll keep working at it, year after year. At the end of her self-imposed apprenticeship, she’ll be relieved that her first works were rejected because only now can she see how bad they were.

. . . .

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Matthew and others for the tip.

PG says it’s wonderful that those who lack native talent and require an extended internship before learning to write decently have traditional publishing to help them along.

PG says it’s also wonderful that those who possess native writing talent and can learn to write more quickly don’t have to wait for some intern in New York to read their email before making their writing available to grateful readers (at a reasonable price) by self-publishing.



Big Publishing, Self-Publishing

88 Comments to “Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word”

  1. When I saw this yesterday I thought I might send it this way, then I realized probably everyone was. I’m not sure what this author intended by her comments. I would say she’s ignorant and uninformed… but maybe she’s just mean spirited.

    • Lot of misplaced anger in that post.

      Sad that someone’s self-worth is threatened when others aren’t excluded from what they presumably enjoy.

    • I think her intent was to set herself apart from and above indies. HuffPo’s intent was to use her free content to draw thousands of site-visits from angry indies who either wanted to post rebuttals or keep up on the rebuttals posted by others.
      It boils down to HuffPo using ignoramuses as lightning rods to pull in add revenue.

  2. *sigh*

    I went through the comments to the original article, and I think everything I had to say about this was already said there. I would add only that I’m looking at the listing for this author’s latest book on Amazon–it appears to be the first she’s published under her own name in a decade–and I probably made more money this morning than she has this month, with just one of my self-published novels. And I’m hardly near the top of the pile.

    These articles pop up every few months, and the authors of them always sound like Patty Hearst discussing the Symbionese Liberation Army.

  3. As a published author, people often ask me why I don’t self-publish. “Surely you’d make more money if you got to keep most of the profits rather than the publisher,” they say.

    I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.

    She deftly did not answer the question. It was about making more money, not self-publishing per se. But as far as the “quality” issue she camps out on, I would point her to the slice of the indie pie she did not mention: former trad-pubbed authors who do know the craft and have turned down contracts in order to go it alone. Their books are as good or better than their NY offerings and they are making more money and they have loyal readers. How is that “insulting”?

  4. I would normally pass up the comment section, but this one has such gems.

    • Yep – like this one and its reply:

      Laura Kaye· NYT Bestselling Romance Author at Laura Kaye: Is it possible this post was written in 2009 and got caught in some sort of digital time warp that delayed its publication until now? There’s some real irony in talking about insulting the written word in a piece so woefully outdated, willfully uninformed, and intentionally divisive.

      Lilo J. Abernethy: Perhaps she was waiting for her publisher to approve it.

      • Ooooh! And she scores a direct hit!!
        That one line says it all so concisely.
        I don’t want to give clicks to the trolls but if there are more like that…

  5. The thing that strikes me as wrong about this article is that it simplifies the issue by polarising it: Self-publishing or traditional publishing, one or the other. And it makes some huge and massively incorrect assumptions about both.

    Just as you can have e-books and physical books, rather than one or the other, why shouldn’t writers explore every avenue? I’ve been traditionally published by Pan Macmillan. I write for TV shows. I also self-publish. And I crowdfund books with Unbound.com – a kind of halfway house where you raise the funding yourself to access their full editorial and distribution services (it’s spawned several number 1 bestsellers in the past 5 years and a Man-Booker Prize longlist nominee for a FIRST NOVEL). They all bring in income and there’s no loss of quality in the writing. Plus I get to publish some books that increasingly risk-averse traditional publishers might stay away from as they aren’t likely to be commercial enough to turn a big profit.

    Yes, there’s a lot of poorly-written self-published work out there, there’s no denying it. But just because it exists doesn’t mean I have to buy it. And equally there’s a lot of poorly-written (mostly celebrity) books being pushed out by trad publishers too. Have you read Morrissey’s ‘List of the Lost’?

    I rest my case.

  6. And would it be churlish to point out that this plea for quality writing begins with a misplaced modifier?

    As a published author, people often ask me…

    • Well, it might explain why she feels a tradpub editor is essential to vetting prose before publishing…

  7. This seems like an extremely elitist attitude to a movement in information technology that can only benefit those who wish to utilise the tools now available. Scrivener, Smashwords & Draft2Digital, Amazon, freelance professionals of all descriptions… how can any of that be bad? Unless, of course, it upsets the established apple cart. The writer is obviously excluding ‘insignificant’ examples of Hugh Howey, EL James, JA Konrath & hundreds more from her argument. She is also not explaining how the traditional publishing industry really works, so the article seems extremely biased and too one-sided to take seriously.

  8. PG says it’s wonderful that those who lack native talent and require an extended internship before learning to write decently have traditional publishing to help them along.

    PG says it’s also wonderful that those who possess native writing talent and can learn to write more quickly don’t have to wait for some intern in New York to read their email before making their writing available to grateful readers (at a reasonable price) by self-publishing.

    Haha 🙂

  9. “From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.”

    What a coincidence. The above represents perfectly my considerations of the Huffington Post.


  10. Am I the only one who would probably enjoy a Disney cruise with the president-elect?

    • Nah. I’m pretty sure his wife would.
      Not sure about his kids, though. They’re pretty old for Disney…

      It was interesting to see her sneer at both Disney and Trump since they have little in common besides money-making ability. Maybe it is money-making that offends her?
      That would explain the vitriol against selfpub.

    • I would contribute to having the PEOTUS take a Disney cruise with you, or with anyone. Perhaps we could find a ship that sails on January 20th?

      He could happily tweet from onboard.

    • Smart Debut Author

      I dunno, Joe–it’s all fun and games until he pops a TicTac… 😀

  11. You guys are looking at it the wrong way.

    As a writer she is or believes she is a ‘hack’. She believes she needs trad-pub to clean up her mess of a manuscript and turn it into something someone might want to read. She’s terrified at the idea of having to do all the work an indie writer does to get their book edited and covered. Being ‘responsible’ for what the readers will see scares her.

    In this new world of ebooks and self publishing, she is why trad-pub won’t be going away — she ‘needs’ them as much as they need her. Her little post just shows she thinks all writers are as much ‘hacks’ as she is …

    (And it was a HuffPo piece, so there you go. 😉 )

    • And it was a HuffPo piece, so there you go.

      Does anyone else see irony at work that she “published” her blog entry on Huffington Post?

      She was certainly not paid for this as a “guest” blogger (even “contributing” bloggers aren’t paid).

      As this article on “How to Become a Huffington Post Blogger” explains, the “benefits” of it are:

      Here are the benefits that becoming a Huffington Post blogger provides:

      * Recognition from advertisers – They likely don’t know that HuffPost articles are “noindexed”, so you can still command a good sponsorship rate for your blog.

      * Social proof – This is one of the biggest benefits of being a HuffPost blogger. Social proof still matters when you are trying to build a blog/business, so it’s a good way for newer bloggers to get validity.

      * Validates your work – Writing for HuffPost validates your work because its still tough competition getting clients and standing out from the crowd. There are also things you can do to help your article get featured, so be sure to check out my free Promotion Checklist below!

      * More eyeballs and traffic – While you won’t get search traffic from Google (unless your post gets featured) you can still get more eyeballs and traffic to your blog, through HuffPost followers and those who trust the platform more than your own website alone.


      A number of authors and others who make money from the written word have taken HuffPost and other sites like it to task over the past several years for the way these sites promise “visibility” and other supposed perks but never actually want to pay for anything.

      • Huh. Good points.
        It all lines up with my theory that she is philosophically opposed to making money. So she made sure to go Huffington instead of Slate or NYT where they might have offended her by paying for the screed.

        • Slate or the NYT wouldn’t have accepted her piece because it just not very good. I’m sure she’d be happy with some money and the pretige of being published in the NYT.

          She submitted it to HuffPo because they’re a mill with a pretty low bar for entry and because her piece is made to order click bait.

    • @ Allen F

      As a writer she is or believes she is a ‘hack’.

      Well, perhaps she is. A little self-knowledge can go a looooong way! 🙂

  12. Reading the OP, I was irritated by the comments of Brad Thor and Sue Grafton.

    Then this by Grafton: https://www.facebook.com/SueGrafton/posts/1254968304546664


    • Brad Thor’s quote dates back to a 2012 interview with Forbes.

      I believe that Thor is also friends with Robert Bidinotto, who certainly is not anti self-publishing…

    • Sue stuck a foot in her mouth way back in 2012 about self-publishing. She then made a public apology after she was corrected by several prominent self-published writers.

      Unfortunately, the internet IS forever, and the OP quoted Sue’s previous views to Sue’s utter embarrassment.

  13. Oh lord, it is to laugh.

    Has anyone else noticed the uptick in articles from testy, butt-hurt sounding trad pubbed authors justifying their decision to sign a pub contract?

    It’s almost as if they are embarrassed.

    Just in case the OP is speaking from ignorance rather than embarrassment over poor sales, here is some information.

    For hire on a flat rate fee basis:
    Professional editors
    Professional cover designers
    Professional book production specialists
    Professional proofreaders
    Professional marketing/promotion specialists
    Professional author assistants
    Professional accountants

    And not a single one will lay claim to IP rights or take a cut of unit sales. And if they aren’t doing their jobs to the writer’s satisfaction, they can be fired.

    • This was my thought exactly. The day I sign over my IP rights for a service is the day I quit writing for commercial sale.

    • Well, the debate has evolved well past the point of “why would you self publish” to “why aren’t you self publishing?”.

      Going Indie is the new baseline and going tradpub is what needs justifying/defending. Unfortunately, the BPHs keep making it harder and harder to defend that position.

  14. So, all traditional publishing is a compliment to the written word?

    …nice click bait, HuffPo.

  15. We used to be beneath their notice.

    Now they actively attack self-publishing in public.

    Oops. Too late. The digital revolution has actually happened – ALREADY.

  16. Smart Debut Author

    According to the whitepaper Digital Book World just put out from AE’s Data Guy, 71% of all adult fiction books purchased in the US in 2016 were ebooks and audiobooks, and 30% of all adult fiction books purchased in the US were indie self-published books. From the charts, Apub accounts for another 10%.

    Print fiction is dying, basically — print sales make up less than a third of US Adult fiction purchases — even for traditional publishers, adult fiction sales are now mostly ebooks and audio.

    There’s a reason we’re seeing so much anti-indie vitriol again from failing traditionally published authors of adult fiction.

    Their indie competition is eating them alive.

    • “Their indie competition is eating them alive.”

      And of course they don’t dare blame their very own publishers for pricing them out of the market in ebooks …

    • It’s not just the fact that indie offers lower cost books, it’s that there’s a lot more variety. Big Publishing is made up of a certain type of person. Their tastes are limited–which is why Big Publishing sticks with the same handful of genres, rather than casting a wider net.

      • “It’s not just the fact that indie offers lower cost books, it’s that there’s a lot more variety.”

        Granted, but there’s also that little discovery issue, where trad-pub have placed their ebooks above the ‘take a risk on this new-to-me author’ price. When the reader can ‘test drive’ an indie for less than a starbucks coffee, or pay for more than a whole meal for a trad-pub one.

      • This is the critical issue. It’s not just that traditional publishers don’t offer enough variety, they simply don’t want to service certain markets. They are biased against genre and go out of their way to promote literary fiction that has an extremely limited market, basically stealing from Peter (genre) to pay Paul (promote literary fiction no one wants to read). Ad on top of it all that even much of their celebrity books are chosen less by people readers are interested in and more by who editors want to hang out with.

        I suspect the authors real issue is not the badly written books she complains about, but the well written genre that is selling like hotcakes. People like that always assume that if readers don’t have choice, then they will be forced to read the “good stuff” (ie, the stuff they want to write).

        • Although I have not investigated, I am told by a source that if you want to read LBGT fiction, the place to go is Kindle Unlimited.

          • KU or Kindle. Their selection is very large and frankly very interesting. Ranging from more traditional authors such as Nava to subgenres [example: M/M Paranormal with such as Lisa Oliver.] But you do have to sort in the subgenres of the category. However, the gems you find make it well worth it.

        • The “literary” fiction they promote is just bad writing, or good prose with uninteresting stories. The “literary” authors all follow the same career path of MFA degree and then into teaching creative writing typically. Not to say that someone who’s been a teacher will be a and writer all the time, but these authors all come out of the same academic background and write to cater to the NYC smart set.

          I wouldn’t go so far to say Big Publishing is against genre fiction entirely, but they have their pet subgenres that get promoted and others that don’t.

          • Not all literary writers go through MFA programs. Not all literary writers are teachers. Not all literary writers are academic. Not all literary writers [fill in the blank]

            Some of us write mainstream fiction, and also care about plot and stories worth telling. As well as language and complex characters with more than one note to their personalities. ‘Literary’ is where we live because no werewolves.

            As indies.

            Precisely because the NY publishers are interested in a very narrow range – and self-publishing gives us freedom in our subjects.

            Plus the whole ‘they take most of the money’ thing.

            Literary is just a bit behind genre right now; not a permanent condition, I believe. Even Amazon put out its literary imprint, Little A, last.

            • But they are regularly featuring at least one a month (occasionally two) in the Kindle First deals. Translated works too.
              Last couple of months it is genre that has gotten the short end of Kindle First. 😉

  17. Articles like this pop up on HuffPost about once every six months. It’s trolling clickbait and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it on purpose for all the viral shares.

  18. HuffPo Horse****: An Insult To The Written Word

    Yeah, definitely clickbait.

  19. I heard there writers don’t get paid, so I wonder what the incentive for writing articles like this is.

  20. http://monsterhunternation.com/2016/12/30/fisking-the-huffpos-snooty-rant-about-self-publishing/ Larry Correia filks it and does a good job of hacking it into little pieces…..

  21. This article is just misplaced anger from an author whose memoir didn’t sell a SINGLE COPY in December. I looked at her Amazon rank and I looked at my worst selling book. I’m not ashamed to say that my worst selling book only sold ONE copy in December. That book is still ranked HIGHER on Amazon than this Laurie Gough — in either print or eBook.

    I would guess that at some point she looked at the best sellers in the Memoir category and noticed that around half of the books in the Top 10 (and way more than half in the Top 100) are all self-published and she just got bitter and angry.

    You have to remember, she is writing for the Huffington Post, a site that recently fired a ton of staff and told the rest of their staff that they aren’t getting a raise.

    The double whammy of not getting your raise and not selling any books is a bitter pill to swallow.

    I would recommend she just self publish herself, she would probably have made more money and have more control over what she writes next.

    It wouldn’t come as any shock to me if her publisher or agent dropped her after her book bombed.

  22. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.

    Those gatekeepers are assessing how they can fill the available publishing slots so the company can max profits.

    • Profits can be maximized by either growing revenue or reducing costs. The BPHs aren’t doing much of the former but a lot of the latter.

      • Consistent with backing out of the fiction market.

        • Going to be a long drawn-out withdrawal, at least until they get to the point where they squeeze dreamers out of dreamland. And that is a ways off.
          Plenty of squeezing left in that model.

          • @ Felix

            Plenty of squeezing left in that model.

            And plenty of fresh noob squeezees, too!

          • The task is to withdraw while taking as much cash as possible, and maintaining a healthy balance sheet. It could go on for years. At the same time, the backlist is an under utilized asset that can be better exploited.

            • Oooh, yeah.
              Any day now the BPHs will discover bulk licensing.
              That’s the day lapdogs go to war.

  23. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

    I never click on any HuffPo links because of their practice of not paying their content providers. Perhaps one of you who has already contributed to the exploitation of writers can help me understand the above quote.

    Since she specifically mentions “plan on self-publishing”, she isn’t referring to manuscripts she received while working as an editor for a publishing house. Since she said “plan” she isn’t post-facto editing self-published works for her own amusement. (I do that sometimes.)

    Is she referring to friends and acquaintances who have approached her, a published author, for advice? Is she offering her services as a freelance editor to the scum who defame and deface literature? I’d love to see a sample of her markups. In my imagination they include disparaging personal remarks on the writer’s temerity to presume they could write.

    If she is a freelance editor, might she be earning more money mucking out after the scum than she does rubbing wings with the angels?

    • Maybe she moonlights in the Indie ecosystem and isn’t drawing the “right” kind of author. Good ones; the kind which, after this piece, is likely going to avoid her like ebola.

  24. Ah, it’s neat that y’all bothered to read the OP. I saw the title and thought the article would murder some brain cells I desperately need to use right now. The comments have been entertaining, though 🙂

    Back to figuring out how I’m going to have a dragon sleuth the whereabouts of some people who need killing.

  25. Did anyone read her FB response to all the backlash she’s getting from this article? It was on Joe Hunt’s blog:


    Here’s the relevant quote (at the end of Joe’s enjoyable blog post):

    (TL;DR She misspoke in that article because she’s Canadian… No, really. That’s her excuse…)

    “Wow, I am so sorry! I seem to have struck a nerve with this article. I think it’s because I and all my author friends must be living in a bubble. I haven’t actually read many of these comments but have been receiving some really mean emails (along with a lot of really nice ones and lots of people agreeing with me). But for all those I’ve pissed off, I am really sorry and I do see that you have valid points. Really! I’m going to write another article about this with a much more balanced view. Something I didn’t mention in my article is that I’m Canadian. I had no idea that self-publishing in the U.S. had taken off the way the way it has (not so in Canada where it’s still very small.) So again, I’m so sorry for offending people and thanks for opening my eyes to your very valid viewpoints!
    Laurie Gough”

    • That would be news to my canadian self pub friends.


    • I refuse to believe she’s actually Canadian. All Canadians are thoroughly briefed that we are to maintain cover as polite, friendly people until everything is in place.

      All her author friends are living in a bubble? They must be, and she mustn’t have many because lots of Canadians self-publish. The Writer’s Union of Canada has recently concluded a two-year public discussion on criteria for membership by self-published authors. Kobo has reported that 20% of their sales are self-published. That’s a pretty high number considering how many indies go Amazon exclusive. Kobo has also announced they are working on indie promotion schemes, and I have heard second and third hand that Kobo has contacted some indies for feedback on the proposed schemes.

      • And another thing…

        I read Correia’s fisk, and it triggered a question. If the self-publishing scene in Canada is so small that the OP and her author friends don’t know about it, who asked her the question that opens the OP?

    • Oh, please! Living in a bubble? More like living under a rock. And don’t try to blame Canada for this. It can’t be the scapegoat for everything. What sets me BS detector off is that she’s going to write another article. Yay. More publicity. *shrugs*

      :::there’s a tongue in cheek in this reply.

  26. Late to the party, but I would point out, FWIW, each of her books came out from a different Canadian publisher, and she seems to take about 8 years to produce one. That probably partly explains why the pricing of her items is all over the map, and the oldest one is OOP. She probably really hates Amazon selling used paperbacks for a penny up against her $10 and $20 prices.

    2016: Dundurn
    2008: Pengiun Canada
    2000: Travelers Tales
    1998: Turnstone Press

    Look carefully at the blurb on her website. She’s a teacher. That’s how she pays the bills. And, as we know, them that can, does, and them that can’t…

    • “And, as we know, them that can, does, and them that can’t…”

      But she did spend a night in a Holiday Inn …

  27. A fool and her money are soon parted.

  28. Sounds like someone got dropped off at the corner of Bitter and Jealous. And when she got called on her crap, she pulled the Canadian defense? Really? I’m pretty sure Canadians have access to the Internet. And newspapers. And television.

    For the record, I am totally serious about my craft. I’ve studying and practicing writing for fifty years. Yes, that’s a five with a zero after it. It’s likely longer than this woman has even been alive, so she can take her whinging and shove it where the snow doesn’t go. Even in Canada.

    (All kidding aside, I am not picking on Canadians. I happen to like you guys. Except maybe the ones who write stupid rants for HuffPo. You guys should disown those people. For national pride, at least.)

    And I believe I made more sales in December than she has all year, so there’s that. I’m in that bracket between L and K (sneaking up on the K level) on the list linked in one of the above blogs, so not actually all that successful, but _I’m_ not writing snarky posts on HP. I have my pride.

    • Hey, we managed to offload Bieber in an Olympic hockey side bet. It’s worth trying again.

      What should we bet on? Looser keeps Gough.

  29. I would like to point out that the self-described editor can’t edit her own bio on Twitter. To wit:

    Author or three memoirs including “Stolen Child: A Mother’s Journey to Rescue Her Son From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”, Journalist, #OCD Advocate

  30. Pure click bait.

    That said, I started self pubbing my back list in 2014 and while I don’t entirely understand the ins and outs of how KDP works, what I can say is that my stuff is selling. I published a new book, IMMORTAL REMAINS in July, and it’s selling about 1000 copies a month. I am making more money each month now as a self pubbed author than I did with book deals with two different traditional publishers. I haven’t given up on traditional publishing but right now I’m focusing on the stuff that’s making me money and that’s my self pubbed stuff.

    PS – one of my traditional publishers published a draft manuscript instead of the clean one. The book? STUDENT BODIES, published in 2013.

  31. It’s hilarious that this guide to being a successful/high quality writer is published in HuffPo, a publication that is renowned for not paying its writers in anything more than ‘love’ and ‘exposure’.

    How much ‘quality’ and ‘gatekeeping’ went into creating this freebie article?

    I wonder how HuffPo define success? I mean, since we live in a capitalist world and ‘bestselling’ is the highest accolade for a writer, how does someone who doesn’t get paid for the article listed above have any kind of authority on what makes a successful writer? If you don’t get paid for writing, it’s not your profession. What’s more, if you don’t get paid for your work, how high quality is it? Would a gatekeeper read it if they don’t profit from it? I don’t think so…

    Indie authors are the best paid writers in the world because they take home 70% of the profits, so they are the most successful writers by the publishing industry’s definition of success.

    Maybe publishing platforms like HuffPo should start paying their writers in actual money before they make outlandish declarations about what makes a successful writer.

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