How does self-publishing hurt “real” writers?

Posted By on August 16, 2010

I was reading a blog post yesterday on “Why Self-Publishing Hurts Real Writers” — I know, “real writers”? It was asterisked, but basically the post author’s explanation is that because he is Argentine he doesn’t need to be politically correct — and I had a long, incensed comment all typed out and ready to go. But since this is a topic I love to expound on, I decided to devote a whole post to it.

Basically, the blogger writes that most proponents of self-publishing fall into one of three groups. He writes:

1)     Clueless.  These people are generally victims of a vanity press scam.  They believe that people like Stephen King pay to publish their books.  They are to be pitied more than censured, and the best thing you can do for them is to send them a book contract for them to study. It might take days, but I suspect they will eventually realize that the money flows toward the author.  Sadly, much of this is their own fault – the information necessary to avoid scams is readily available, all you have to do is make a minimum of effort.

2)     Conspiracy theorists.  These are actually a subset of number 1, people who think that editors and agents are there to keep new writers and new ideas from ever hitting the shelves.  This particular group is just as irrelevant as the first, because it shows that they haven’t done their homework.  Or maybe it’s just easier to believe that there’s a conspiracy than to accept the sad truth: the writing you are subbing just isn’t good enough for public consumption.  Not liking the options (get better or get out), these people went the self-publishing route.

3)     Economists.  It’s better to keep all the profits yourself, right?  Why pay these editors, copy-editors, formatting people and especially artists, when I already have a great book – my first draft! – and I can format it myself, and use a cover design made by my niece, which is just as good.  And who needs publishers when I can upload it to my kindle.  And if I go the print route, I’ll sell them myself, after all, authors have to be great salesmen, don’t they?  I’ll make a fortune.  All I can say here is: probably not, and your cover art is making my eyes bleed. 

To which I respond that he is forgetting a fourth category of self-publishers—the savvy ones who realize they need to have their manuscript professionally edited and their interior and cover designed by an artist who knows book design. These are primarily professionals who have an important message to get out there. Often they are in a niche market and regardless of the quality of their writing, most publishers have to pass because these books will probably not become bestsellers. Even some novelists are taking their own destiny in their hands by self-publishing. These “indie” publishers want to maintain complete control over their work from a creative standpoint (you don’t always have that option with a traditional publisher)—and some of them just enjoy the business aspect of publishing.

Does getting hundreds of rejection letters from publishers somehow make a writer more noble? Does it make him or her a better writer? Authors who self-publish the right way—by making sure they are putting out a top-notch book, both from an editorial and design standpoint—have accomplished something of which they can be proud. I think anyone who believes there is some sort of high standard to which traditional publishers are held today is kidding him- or herself. Sadly, it is no longer about the writing.  It’s all about whether or not a publisher believes a book will make money or not.

Going through a vanity or subsidy press is not self-publishing. It is paying another company to publish your work. It is very different from true self-publishing wherein the author/publisher has his or her own company imprint on the book and owns the ISBN. I agree that the only appropriate use for a vanity press is to publish a few books for posterity or for family archives.

The blogger also writes:  “Then, after the thing is written, someoene [sic] who knows how to select the best work will choose what gets seen, and someone who knows how to edit will edit, and someone who knows how to market will market!”

I also want to point out that traditional publishers do very little to market the books of their midlist authors. Writers who think that their work is done once they sign the contract and send in a completed manuscript are naive. You’ll earn a spot in the publisher’s catalog and on their website, but beyond that, the onus of marketing is firmly resting on the author. I can attest to this first-hand as I worked for a trade publisher and I’ve recently been published by a trade publisher. My co-author and I are the ones who came up with a marketing plan–and we are the ones who are implementing it.

I realize that self-publishing can be looked down upon because far too many books have been done poorly — badly designed, dubiously edited ego pieces. But the fact of the matter is, self-publishing is going to continue to be a viable option for authors who are tired of slush piles and gate keepers.  And I really don’t get how this hurts “real” writers? They should be grateful for the increased lack of competition, right?

About The Author

As a writing coach and publishing consultant, I have worked with hundreds of authors, helping them write, edit, and publish hundreds of books. My book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing is slated for publication by Writer’s Digest in March 2010. I currently own Self-Publishing Resources; we provide book writing, book packaging, and book marketing services for self-publishers and small presses.

Comments

19 Responses to “How does self-publishing hurt “real” writers?”


  1. Nice response, Sue. Honestly, don’t these people ever get tired? It seems to me writers would be a lot more productive with less finger pointing and fear mongering. Thanks for taking the time to rebut another set of specious arguments.


  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jodi Langston, Sue Collier. Sue Collier said: Self-publishing hurts "real" writers? http://bit.ly/bcHV23 [...]


  3. I know, right?! It’s almost funny that self-publishing has some of them so up in arms. If all self-published books were really a load of crap, as they are so fond of pointing out, I don’t think they would be so worried.

    Thanks for commenting, Joel!


  4. I love you so much for speaking the truth. Not only do you tell it like it is about self publishing, but about the publishing industry as a whole.

    And I’ll be honest: I hate the concept of a “real writer”. What exactly makes someone a “real writer”? Apparently, to this guy, publication. What about the people who write for fun and share their stories with their family? What about those who only write blogs? What about children who write stories to entertain themselves?

    Writing is what we make it – not what this guy [i]thinks[/i] it is. Anyone and everyone can be a real writer, in my opinion. There are no qualifications for it other than to write.


  5. Aw, shucks, Suzanne! =) I guess he means publication as to what makes a “real” writer–I don’t think he ever really said! I guess that means if your manuscript is not languishing in the slush pile, you are not a real writer! These people are just terrified of change — and like it or not, the publishing world is changing in a big way.

    Thanks a lot for the support!


  6. It’s probably safe to assume that this guy has his unicorn of hope entered into the race he’s defending from us “fakes” whose books are already out in the world while he mails his superior, real manuscript around repeatedly to the dwindling list of publishing houses who will even accept it.

    And when the rejections come and he realises there are no commercial slots available for his creative works, what then? Will he stop writing? THAT, I argue, is the test of who is a real writer.


  7. You’ve summed it up beautifully, Hamish! Thanks so much for commenting.


  8. Again, you leave out important facts.

    A. Yes, not all traditionally published authors get marketing campaigns paid for by the publisher, but unlike self-publishers, they do get a monetary advance, which is in the several thousands (usually 3K to 7K, but sometimes more, depending on a whole list of factors).

    B. The distinction between “vanity” and “self-publishing” is far less clear than what you’ve indicated here. Even if you self-publish the “right” way, you’re still paying someone else to print your books, with the exception of digital publishing. But even then, there are still things you’re paying for out of pocket, some of them connected to services provided by others, and some of them not.

    And then some other things:

    “Does getting hundreds of rejection letters from publishers somehow make a writer more noble?”

    No, but it certainly forces you to learn how to develop thicker skin. If you can’t handle rejection, then you shouldn’t be a writer. Even if you skip publishers entirely and do it yourself, you’re not going to please everyone. Some people are going to absolutely hate your work, and won’t be afraid to say so. Self-publishing should never be a decision you come to because you don’t want to deal with rejections. That’s a cop-out and it makes you look weak as a writer. You self-publish for other reasons, perhaps personal and perhaps professional.

    “Does it make him or her a better writer?”

    It depends on the person. If you’re a crappy writer or someone who can’t take criticism, then rejections will be meaningless to you. If you’re a good writer, then you will learn how to take rejections and how to use them to improve your writing, whether at that moment, or in the future. That doesn’t just apply to rejections from publishers, though. That applies to less-than-favorable reviews too. It’s based on the same things.

    “I think anyone who believes there is some sort of high standard to which traditional publishers are held today is kidding him- or herself. Sadly, it is no longer about the writing. It’s all about whether or not a publisher believes a book will make money or not.”

    This is a half-myth. Sometimes this happens, and sometimes it does not. It depends on the publisher. Some publishers are far more open to experimentation, while others are not. There’s no template that all publishers adhere to. Not really. Yes, they all want to turn a profit, but that doesn’t mean that all publishers reduce their standards, or that good writing doesn’t get published regularly.

    I think the more important thing that you should be asking about this particular point, though, is whether we as writers should be concerned that people buy the bad traditionally published books in droves. The fact that traditional publishers are putting out books that are, arguably, of a lower standard in terms of written technicality is less important, to me, than the reasons for why readers actually want those books. I’m not sure that’s been explained yet. We can have arguments about weak writing all day long, but some of that weak writing is loved beyond reason…we need a reason why…

    Anyway.


  9. On a side note, since I didn’t mention it in my previous comment: the article you linked to is a tad knee-jerky and ridiculous. It’s unfairly reducing a community to cliches that are not as cliche as they used to be.


  10. Thanks a lot for weighing in. I always appreciate comments — even when I disagree with them. =)

    Sure, most authors publishing traditionally will get an advance (these are getting smaller and smaller, btw), but of course this is taken out of future royalties. Hopefully whatever marketing forces are behind the book will sell enough to make that back — and make a profit. And the vast majority of publishers do not spend much promoting their midlist authors. You can say it ain’t so, but that doesn’t make it true. I think a lot of writers don’t want to think about marketing, so they think the traditional route is the way to go so they don’t have to market. That’s just not the case.

    And the distinction between “vanity” and “self-publishing” is crystal clear. Either you are paying another publisher to publish it (using their imprint and ISBN) or your own publishing company publishes it (using your imprint and ISBN). Pretty simple. There will always be production costs involved. Even the traditional publishers have to pay for printing, so the argument that self-publishers have to “pay” doesn’t really hold water.

    I do agree that self-publishing shouldn’t necessarily be about not wanting to deal with rejections. Publishing is a business, so any decision to get into it from that end should be a business decision. But on the other hand, as traditional publishing continues to publish fewer and fewer books each year (a trend I don’t see shifting), why shouldn’t writers take their own destiny into their hands? Developing thicker skin isn’t going to improve their writing either.

    Haven’t you ever read a fourth or fifth novel, for instance, by a very well-known author — and it’s been crap? It got published because the author’s name sells books. People will buy them. Maybe there are a handful of literary publishers who are more interested in quality work than big profits, but overall, the trads are about making money. And they need to be — especially as they struggle today.

    I just don’t see how self-publishing somehow hurts writers or publishing. As Hamish pointed out, the commercial slots for manuscripts — good manuscripts — is dwindling. Self-publishing is and will continue to be a viable option — but it needs to be done well it is to be taken seriously. I try to educate folks on how to do that.


  11. Well, of course it’s ridiculous. But it reflects what I read practically every single day in the blogosphere. Those misinformed opinions are out there all over the place.

    Thanks again for commenting!


  12. “Sure, most authors publishing traditionally will get an advance (these are getting smaller and smaller, btw), but of course this is taken out of future royalties.”

    Maybe that’s true for some genres, but it’s not true for science fiction and fantasy, which is the only thing I really read or pay attention to anyway (with some exceptions). All the statistics over the last few years have shown advances either increasing for some, or remaining about the same, with some rare exceptions. See Tobias S. Buckell’s info on this.

    I can’t speak for other genres, though. Maybe they are. I don’t have the data for it in front of me and I honestly don’t care about those genres anyway :P . They’re not what I typically buy.

    “Hopefully whatever marketing forces are behind the book will sell enough to make that back — and make a profit. And the vast majority of publishers do not spend much promoting their midlist authors. You can say it ain’t so, but that doesn’t make it true.”

    I never said that they did. But the implication of leaving out the point that you’re paid upfront is that somehow all that marketing you’re doing is the exact same as what you would have to do for self-publishing. In practice, that is true, roughly speaking, but in terms of the economics, it’s not. There’s a big difference between spending money you didn’t have before, and spending money you did.

    But you also have to factor in all of the stuff that traditional publishers do do for you. All the stuff you’d have to pay for, unless you’re an accomplished artist (almost nobody is) or are savvy enough to format your books, covers, and so on by yourself (maybe 50/50 on that, since it’s a hell of a lot of work and it’s not simple if you have basic programs, and it’s not cheap if you want the good programs; I’ve done it with MS Word and I will never do that again). It’s very important to be fair, even when you’re dealing with someone that isn’t being fair to you. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Some can do it. Some can’t. People need the tools to be able to tell which group they fall into. Self-publishing and traditional publishing can exist at the same time. They each serve a purpose.

    “I think a lot of writers don’t want to think about marketing, so they think the traditional route is the way to go so they don’t have to market. That’s just not the case.”

    These are myths perpetrated by idiots (by idiots I mean anyone who was responsible for making anyone else think that everyone gets a marketing budget with a traditional publisher). Some books get marketed. Some don’t. There isn’t enough money to market everyone, unfortunately, and publishers have to make money, otherwise they won’t be in business anymore and won’t be able to pay authors. It sucks, but the book buying industry hasn’t been as strong in the last 30 years as it was the 30 years prior to it. Big? Yes, and Harry Potter and so on have helped increase sales in some genres, but not nearly as big as it should be. If traditional publishers made as much money as Hollywood, I imagine they’d be publishing a heck of a lot more books.

    “And the distinction between “vanity” and “self-publishing” is crystal clear. Either you are paying another publisher to publish it (using their imprint and ISBN) or your own publishing company publishes it (using your imprint and ISBN). Pretty simple. There will always be production costs involved. Even the traditional publishers have to pay for printing, so the argument that self-publishers have to “pay” doesn’t really hold water.”

    It does hold water, since a self-publisher pays that money out of pocket. A traditional publisher pays the author, and then pays printing fees. The author does not pay those directly. The distinction you’re making here between vanity and SPing is largely fictive, one that has magically appeared in the last couple years in order to separate SP from vanity. The actual separation between the two is an issue of semantics, and not an issue of clear definitions. SPers are still paying out of pocket, and that money goes to someone else to do the service. If we’re going to make a distinction, then it should have more to do with practice, rather than the economics, but even that is wishy washy, since some people would argue, then, that Lulu or Createspace are Vanity presses, while others would say the opposite.

    “But on the other hand, as traditional publishing continues to publish fewer and fewer books each year (a trend I don’t see shifting), why shouldn’t writers take their own destiny into their hands?”

    This is a myth. Traditional publishing has actually increased production since the early 2000s, with a negligible dip in titles in 2009 due to the recession (less than 1%). The few years before that, it’s remained relatively steady, with bumps here or there up or down that, again, are largely negligible. They’re not taking fewer books. There are no statistics that support that belief. Bowker, Para, etc. All show the same thing, roughly speaking.

    And the answer to the question you raise: because not all writers can be SP gurus. Some people simply don’t have the money, the know-how, and so on to be anything but writers. That’s just the way it is. We need traditional publishing to find those voices like Thomas Pynchon, who never would be published in this day and age simply because he’s a reclusive individual. While traditional publishers don’t always market their authors, they do take risks on a lot of new writers, and sometimes those risks pay off and we’re left with a very big list of nifty authors. It’s a myth that traditional publishers don’t take risks. They do every year.

    “Haven’t you ever read a fourth or fifth novel, for instance, by a very well-known author — and it’s been crap? It got published because the author’s name sells books. People will buy them.”

    No, but that’s because I can usually tell if that’s going to happen from the start. I’ve read later books in series or later books in an author’s career that aren’t as good as the first novel they ever wrote, but never anything that was utter drivel. But I’m also weird. I don’t typically buy bestsellers (they rarely appeal to me); I’m always looking for those little guys who are better writers. Sometimes I find them, but bookstores aren’t always the best at making them noticeable, simply because there isn’t space…

    “Maybe there are a handful of literary publishers who are more interested in quality work than big profits, but overall, the trads are about making money. And they need to be — especially as they struggle today.”

    Then you’re not paying very close attention. In the science fiction and fantasy market alone there are at least 100 small presses that do just that: look for quality writing. There are probably more, but I can’t keep the names straight anymore. There also a dozen or so medium-sized imprints that are interested in a wide range of writing, from the more “literary” to the “popcorn-ish.” Outside of the SF/F market there are imprints at major publishers that regularly deal with “quality” work. Some of them publish SF/F of the “literary” vein, and some of them deal with more general literature. I don’t pay attention to the romance markets, so I can’t speak for them. If we base the discussion on what gets all the attention, then it sure seems like traditional publishers aren’t interested in “quality” writing (whatever that means), but that’s not the only thing they’re interested in. Just look at what they actually publish. Find a catalogue somewhere. Just the other day I got offered an ARC for a literary zombie novel (the excerpt I read holds up to the label, and it looks to be quite good).

    The last part of that sentence up there is also a myth. Publishers aren’t actually “struggling.” People keep making a big deal out of the drop of sales from 2009-10. But if you make that argument, then you have to also say that the auto industry is dead, since it saw a drop in sales too, or that the various other industries, from tourism to retail, are also on the way out, since they too saw that dip in sales. We’re in a recession. Dips in sales and layoffs are normal. The years prior to that? Traditional publishers were doing just dandy. They even saw an increase in sales in the mid-2000s. Bowker to the rescue again (Para too, actually).

    “I just don’t see how self-publishing somehow hurts writers or publishing.”

    It has more to do with the individual than with self-publishing by itself. I think in some respects, if you see self-publishing as a gateway to bigger things, then it can hurt you, since not all imprints and publishers are willing to deal with self-published authors, but mostly I think SPing can hurt you if you are the problem. A prime example of this is an experience I had:

    This teenager who had written and printed a book came onto a forum for young writers that I co-own with a friend (YoungWritersOnline.net, if you want to know). He was rude to people and played it off like he was the best thing since sliced bread, and that everyone who criticized his writing were just jealous that he was published (technically he was published with a vanity press, but so be it). Shortly after that, he or his father (we never found out which) decided to send out fake take-down notices via a Hotmail address about the criticism of his book, particularly the areas where people had taken small quotes of text from his book, available on Amazon via that looking inside feature, and essentially ripped him apart for the spelling errors, poor grammar, and so on. There’s more to the story than that, but I didn’t want to give you a twelve-page retelling.

    People like this guy are all over the place in the SP world. Unfortunately, they have an influence on how people view other SPers. They probably shouldn’t, but when you’re exposed to people who have no concept of reality, who produce crap, who treat others like crap, and so on, it’s hard not to grow an unfair expectation of the field.

    But that isn’t necessarily a problem with SPing so much as a problem with individuals. I don’t think that by itself SPing can hurt you as a writer. You can hurt yourself by being an idiot. If you don’t edit, create a good design, and be brutally honest with yourself, you’re likely not going to cut it. SPers have to be even more brutal than non-SPers, simply because none of the services provided to you by a traditional publisher are available to SPers, at least not without a cost (anyone who works for free should send red-flags, unless they have real credentials and you know them personally or some such). I mean copyeditors, regular editors, art directors, and so on. All those are things that you’ll either have to pay for in some way, or might not use at all. A lot of SPers don’t take that into account, or think they are above the need for such things. Some people might not need to pay for editors, but others certainly will. There are also a lot of people who have a habit of lying to others. That is part of why I no longer take SPed books for review for my blog (the other part being some bad experiences with SPed authors and reading some utter trash). I’ve been lied to so many times by people who refuse to be upfront with me about their publishing status that I have literally had it. It’s an insult to my intelligence that some people think I’m not smart enough to figure out that they’re SPed. It’s not that hard to discover…

    Anywho, I’m rambling. I think that point got made, more or less. If not, let me know what is confusing and I’ll try to fix it…

    Anyway. Take care.


  13. Okay — so sci fi and fantasy writers may be getting good advances, according to you. This is not a genre I am all that familiar with…the majority of our clients are professionals publishing nonfiction. So I’m really not going to get into an argument about any of the points you bring up having to do with that genre. But I can tell you from first-hand experience — advances are decreasing.

    As far as the trads publishing fewer books — well, that’s not what I saw on Bowker. And I don’t think anyone can deny that bigger companies have swallowed up smaller companies, making for fewer opportunities for writers to be traditionally published. And I highly doubt these “literary” fantasy/sci fi writers who are getting published by small presses are getting fat advances. I used to work for a small trade press. And I know full well that even our best authors with the bestselling books were getting relatively small advances. And their royalty was rather pitiful. Sure, they didn’t have to outlay for production expenses — that is most definitely an advantage to trad publishing — but they were getting only a small portion of the profits too.

    I’m afraid this statement makes me think you really don’t understand what true self-publishing is: “The distinction you’re making here between vanity and SPing is largely fictive, one that has magically appeared in the last couple years in order to separate SP from vanity.” Um — just, no! Self-publishing has been around for many years. (Just as Dan Poynter, John Kremer, and Marilyn Ross…and if you don’t know who those people are, then you are most assuredly unfamiliar with self-publishing.) As has vanity publishing. They have ALWAYS been two very distinct things. It’s only been in the past few years that the so-called “POD self-publishers” decided that since most people look down on vanity publishing, they would just give themselves a new moniker. This is where all the confusion has come in. Now it’s super-easy to “self-publish” a really crappy, unedited, template-designed book. It gives all true self-publishers, who work hard to do a professional job, a really bad name.

    We’ve all seen self-published books that are done poorly. I’ve had to turn away countless clients who wanted my help to market these books. On the other hand, I have seen many self-published books that are top-notch. One of my clients got a testimonial from Ken Blanchard for the book we helped him produce. It’s a high-quality book no one would have any reason to think was self-published.

    There is othing confusing about your post — a lack of understanding, perhaps. I have been in this industry for more than 20 years, first on the trade side and now as someone who works primarily with self-publishing authors. (I also provide editorial services for authors who want to submit their manuscripts traditionally.) So I do have a pretty solid knowledge base. Plus you seem to be talking about arrogant self-publishing authors who think they are above any kind of professional help. So we’re talking apples and oranges here.

    I think we’ve about beat this dead horse, yes?! But as always, I appreciate the lively conversation and that you’ve taken the time to read and comment. I hope you’ll be back!


  14. “But I can tell you from first-hand experience — advances are decreasing.”

    Well, actually, what you can tell me is that the advances are decreasing in non-fiction. Applying that to all other forms of literature is absurd. Non-fiction has an entirely different audience from the other genres.

    And the information isn’t “according to me.” The information was gathered by Tobias S. Buckell, a science fiction author published by Tor, and a number of other people, also published authors with various publishers, from actual authors in the field. Jim C. Hines recently added to that by doing a comparison between 08 and 09, which is very illuminating (most advances stayed steady, despite the recession).

    “As far as the trads publishing fewer books — well, that’s not what I saw on Bowker.”

    Check again, then, because I did yesterday to make sure I was correct. I also checked Para, which has similar numbers. The recent numbers from Bowker are in a post that specifically points out in the title that traditional publishing stays firm (less than 1% drop).

    “And I highly doubt these “literary” fantasy/sci fi writers who are getting published by small presses are getting fat advances.”

    Jeff VanderMeer gets paid very well, and he’s regularly published by small SF/F presses. He also writes “literary” SF/F (he’s one of those New Weird people).

    “And I know full well that even our best authors with the bestselling books were getting relatively small advances. And their royalty was rather pitiful. Sure, they didn’t have to outlay for production expenses — that is most definitely an advantage to trad publishing — but they were getting only a small portion of the profits too.”

    Is this in non-fiction again?

    “Self-publishing has been around for many years.”

    I never said it hadn’t been.

    “As has vanity publishing. They have ALWAYS been two very distinct things.”

    The fact that we’re having an argument about it, and that many many many others are having that same argument suggests otherwise. If they were very distinct things, there would be very little confusion. Except that there is confusion. A lot of it. This is like the argument over what science fiction and fantasy are. There’s always a group that says “they’re distinct and always have been,” but yet we’re still arguing over what they are. SP vs. Vanity is no different.

    “Plus you seem to be talking about arrogant self-publishing authors who think they are above any kind of professional help. So we’re talking apples and oranges here.”

    The problem is that there are more arrogant or down-right terrible SPed authors (or vanity authors, or whatever) out there than there are good ones. I’ve been approached by more SPed authors who lie to me, get upset with me if I’m not interested, who have poor attitudes, and so on than I have good SP authors. Maybe this is because I largely deal with fiction as a reviewer. Maybe non-fiction is a different world? I don’t know. I’m not a non-fiction person, to be honest. I read academic books… There are good SPers out there, but it’s sort of like saying there are good people out there. The good ones are quiet, and all the really bad ones are louder than sin. I actually blogged about this recently, because it’s a problem. I’ve become increasingly less willing to even touch an SPed book from all of the awful experiences I have had. I’m not exactly sure what anyone can do to fix that, because you can’t silence the idiots and jerks…

    And I imagine we’ve come to at least some sort of general understanding. We disagree on a few points, but I think the large problem between our arguments is that you’re basing most of your experiences on one field, and I’m basing them on another, and they can’t quite speak to one another accurately. I think what would be very interesting would be to take all of the fields of writing (romance, non-fic, scifi/fantasy, mystery, etc etc etc) and see where all of them have come and gone over the last ten years. That might be a bit of a chore, though. Some numbers are very difficult to find, sadly.

    Anywho. I’ll see you around.


  15. Enjoyable read Sue, thanks. Self-publishing where an author puts on their business cap and engages third-party professionals is an oxymoron. It should be called independent publishing. Semantics perhaps, but self-publishing implies an author has done *everything* themselves.

    Book publishing is the only creative industry I’ve come across where an independent professional is labelled as having done an activity themselves.

    There are no self-musicians; no self-film markers …

    Self-publishing is a pejorative term that has past its use by date.

    (Except perhaps for those who actually do perform every function in the publishing workflow themselves, and that is in most cases a complete folly.)


  16. So true, Robert. There is definitely a movement toward lots of self-publishers referring to themselves as “independent publishers,” and one of the reasons is because of what you say…they aren’t doing everything themselves but they are engaging third-party pros to help them through the process.

    I believe another reason for the move toward calling it “indie” publishing is because of how the very term “self-publishing” has become muddied, thanks to the so-called “POD self-publishers” (often vanity or subsidy presses) deciding to start calling themselves self-publishing companies. Obviously, no one else can “self” publish for you. Plus these types of “self-published” books tend to be poorly edited and badly designed, so true self-publishers would rather disassociate themselves from this kind of assembly-line publishing altogether. Calling themselves independent publishers is much more accurate.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Robert!


  17. Hi Sue, just saw this, which is why I’m late to the party…

    Yes, the piece was provocative, and yes, it was a bit in-your-face, but then, it was meant to be (and yes, there was a typo in there – another reason to avoid self-publishing, even on blogs!). And finally, yes, there was a huge generalization tossed in there: for simplicity’s sake, I ignored the fact that certain niches – you mention academia, which is exactly right – have to be self-published. But there’s no reason in the universe to self-publish fiction other than “the work isn’t good enough to get any consideration from a traditional publisher”.

    The piece did its job – which was to get a lively (and much more civilized than one might think) discussion going on the comments section, where many of the points you make came up.

    The problem, however, is that the vast majority of self-published writers fall into those three caricaturized categories – whether they accept that fact or not – especially in fiction. I am not talking about a person looking to publish a PhD dissertation, and do it well, I am talking about the guy who’s written the Great American Novel but the people at the publishing company wouldn’t know something good if it bit them in the butt.

    Sad as it is, these people outnumber the fourth category you postulate by such a huge margin (SMD’s example is the rule, not the exception) that the fourth category itself becomes a special case. As I told one of my friends (a very good writer who self-publishes some of his back catalogue) in the comments: this great horde actually hurts self-published authors concerned about quality even more than it hurts traditionally published writers. After all, if someone confuses me with a vanity press author, I can just say: “That’s different. I get PAID to write,” and most people will understand the distinction. Good writers who self-publish can’t do that.

    The only part about the post that does sadden me is that most people got so hung up on the description of the type of people that self-publish (and I would be surprised if you didn’t agree that most SP writers DO fall into these three categories) that they missed the point of the post which is how these people are affecting the way real writers (and by real in this case I mean those who are aware of the need for gatekeepers, editors and professional layouts) are seen by both the public in general and the industry.

    I would have loved to discuss your thoughts over there, BTW.


  18. I love this article. I’m not sure why there’s so much mud-slinging going on between traditional publishing and self-publishing, but the trad pubs end up looking worse for wear. The fact is that bad books are coming out of both venues, and good books are coming out of both venues. Indie publishing isn’t going away, so trad publishers need to deal with and embrace it, not try to kill it off.


  19. I couldn’t agree with you more, Nigel! Self-publishing is definitely not going away…we need to all get along! Thanks for stopping by.

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