Self-Pub: Your Table is Ready

I have been wrong before. I maintained a false attitude about Harlequins and got schooled as to how wrong I was. I got royally schooled at Princeton about inspirational romances and the community of women who read them, and the corporations who distribute them.

So I think I may have been wrong about self-publication. Yes, there is no curation and some of it is outrageously crapalicious. Indeed, there is a stigma to flipping a book over and seeing “iUniverse” instead of “HarperCollins” or “Berkley” – like flipping a greeting card over and not seeing “Hallmark.” iUniverse, in my mind, often meant, “In my universe, I couldn’t get published.”

I think I am wrong about that attitude, and will be proven wrong soon enough.

In the future, self-publication operations will have to be included in the discussion as to where publishing is going, and how it’s going to change, mostly because the structural foundation of distribution and marketing as we know it is changing faster than expected in a sour economy.

Distributors are going under and everyone suffers. Why else were there February paperbacks still in drugstores in April in Walgreen’s in Florida? Mass market authors with March releases got screwed in a place most often seen in erotica, and it weren’t pretty.

Publishers are downsizing left and right in all departments, and the promotional efforts fall even more on the shoulders of the author now. And recently authors have started to speak very candidly about what they spend their funds on, and how much it all costs.

NOTE: This is not to say that publishers aren’t doing jack shit, because I know that many publicists inside houses are working their asses off – because they have a miniscule budget with which to promote and a fuckton of books about which to bring in the funk.

What’s that song with Miley Cyrus whining how it’s all about the climb? When the climb is never-ending and looks from all angles like futility, it’s time to stop and look for other options to ascend.

If publishing houses are streamlined and cut back to the point where they are places of curation and production, and the majority of publicity and marketing shift to the author, self-publication firms should be welcomed to the discussion about the future of publishing simply because it will become a viable, profitable choice.

This article in the United Airlines Hemisphere magazine discusses self-publication as sort of a work-around to avoid the “high barrier to entry” in print publishing as fewer acquisitions are made in the face of dwindling profits.

Of course, undermining its own point, the article highlights three books that achieved “legitimacy” by… wait for it… being acquired by New York publishing houses. Two of the three authors featured, Brunonia Barry and Lisa Genova, hired book publicity firm Kelley & Hall, which sells itself as a firm which takes self-published novels and scores deals with NY publishers. So: good self-pub novel plus publicity firm equals potential million dollar Big Pub deal. It’s the same end point: big money in NY Print.

The Washington Post published an article by Eric R. Danton from The Hartford Courant in March that examined self publication as it compares to indie rock bands and bloggers. Josh Jackson of Paste magazine is quoted in the article discussing the parallels between bands and writers:

Bands have the comparative luxury of writing songs and then performing them before they ever record them, which helps hardworking (and lucky) groups build audiences for the albums that might eventually follow. Writers, by contrast, traditionally have relied on finished products, such as books, to build their audiences, although that’s starting to change as more post their writing on blogs.

“Maybe that’s where the parallel is,” Paste’s Jackson says. “You have bands going out and playing live shows, and you, as an author, can congregate an audience through a blog….”

The Washington Times also featured an article this past Friday 22 May which included the Bowker statistic that:

Traditional publishers released fewer books in 2008 than in 2007 — 275,232 new books, a drop of 3.2 percent. However, on-demand publishers, the route many writers take to self-publish, released an astounding 132 percent more — 285,394 in 2008.

The idea that self-pub isn’t the doghouse of dreck is important. With that slow disintegration of established distribution channels and the shifting roles of author and publisher, self-publication may ultimately be an equal option independent of big houses for writers to publish and distribute. Eventually, perhaps with some form of (please God) curation, the self-pub stigma will disappear. And as it does, profits will speak louder than reputation.

Everyone’s role is going to be redefined in the next 5 years, I think, and the old publishing model and path to publication won’t remain, or even look like itself. Defining what it means to be an author, a publisher, or a reviewer, even, will be a changing task as the economy and the changing landscape of book sales force a whole mess of navel gazing. Self pub is often accused of being the formal output of the relentless navel-gazer – if that’s so, and if they’ve learned anything from the process of self-publishing and self-evaluation, they may end up ahead of the game.

Have you self published? Would you consider it? Do you think the stigma of “vanity press” will ever go away entirely? What’s your take?


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Charlene says:

    Sometimes value judgments like that will carry over into areas where they aren’t relevant, and they can inadvertently put other people’s backs up. Self-publishing has long been legitimate for niche non-fiction, where the most useful book may not have a large enough target market to interest a traditional publisher. A niche non-fiction writer could take the screeching and screaming about the horrors of self-pub to mean that only fiction and mass-market non-fiction are valuable, and that anything appealing only to a niche market is by definition shameful and worthless.

  2. 2
    Alessia Brio says:

    *nods* Self-pub is now a competitive choice on the publishing buffet, not something to take when all the General Tso & Mongolian beef is gone.

  3. 3

    It’s an interesting discussion. I did a search on Amazon a couple of weekends ago for “chick lit” because I was trying to identify publishers with lines in that genre. I was very surprised by how many of the titles that came up were self-published – probably because I myself have a lingering prejudice against self-published books.

    Having said that, the more I know about self-publishing, the more my attitude is shifting. Would I ever consider doing it myself? At this point, it’s still not my first choice but I’ll never say never…

  4. 4
    LizzieBee says:

    I was thinking about what you wrote, and then my mind wandered, as it does. I went from “self-publication” to how books have been published in the modern-novel’s timeline, and then how books USED to be published. That got me thinking about how Dickens was published first in syndicated form, where you bought a pamphlet of story once a week, and then when all the story was published in this form, you could buy the book in a bound set-of-three. Which got me thinking about how Jane Austen was published. Which was, to start with, she self-published. She paid the publisher to produce the novel, and then got a small amount of royalties back. I have a feel we’ll be going back to this way of publishing, especially in ePub format, and then once the author has a prove sales record, they’ll move onto a more “traditional” format, where you don’t pay anything to be published, and get the royalties, or even where you self-publish, and then get picked up to get a wider distribution. It’ll be interesting to watch, in any case.

    [word: lines59. There will be 59 lines in the new contract. ;-) ]

  5. 5
    Rick O says:

    I, for one, have decided that I enjoy writing but abhor the process of getting published.  It’s easier for me to make that decision, though, as I am not a professional writer.  I have a day job that I love and won’t be giving up any time soon, but at the same time I enjoy writing.

    In the tech industry, self-publishing would be referred to as a “long tail” niche, which is to say that you aren’t going for the meat of the bell curve, but for the outliers.  If I have a circle of friends (and fans?) that is large enough to warrant a small print run, but small enough that the money isn’t the point, then self-pub is a great option.  Print on Demand is getting there, too, but it’s still on the expensive side of affordable.

    I think in this time of blogs and Facebook and twitter and LinkedIn and other social networking, it would be easy enough to garner a couple hundred or maybe even a thousand like-minded people that would be interested in reading your work and would pay a few bucks to do so.  Why try to make it something more than it is?  Self-pub a thousand copies, set up a PayPal account, and be done with it.

  6. 6

    “Do you think the stigma of “vanity press” will ever go away entirely? “

    Vanity publishing and self-publishing are two different things, and I wish people wouldn’t confuse the two. The former is *pretending* you’re traditionally published, and you pay someone else to carry out that deceit. Self-publishing means you piut yourself out as the author and publisher, and don’t pretend otherwise.

    I’m self-published. I was before I got contracts with Samhain and PD Publishing, and am now, and will continue to be even if I decide to submit to other publishers. My first self-publishing was for free on the internet. The satisfaction as an author I get from the response to that free material is every bit as satisfying as money, but I can’t eat feedback. I find in publishing through Lulu, I get a combination of feedback and income, along with the independence that I need, and I can still offer free copies without worrying about violating a contract. This model won’t suit everyone, of course, especially if you need to make a lot more money than I do.

    For me, in a niche genre, where the epubs can only really sell in the hundreds, self-pubbing is a realistic, if somewhat less lucrative option – I sell fewer copies but I keep more of the sale price. I am now at the point in my writing craft where my own editing, with the help of skilled friends, is equal to that offered by the epubs (or is better, frankly), so I can offer a polished product that I feel offers value for money. So a publisher only gives me a wider audience – but because I’m writing in a niche market, that wider audience isn’t as big as what trad romances can expect, not by any means.

    Epublishing is risk free – no set up costs for the author. Print publishing is another animal altogether, and I wouldn’t advise any author unless they *knew* they had guaranteed sales in the hundreds, to even think about it. Flogging individual items POD from Lulu or the like is okay – I have readers who *must* have my books in print, so they’re happy. But no way could I, in Australia, afford to print up a consignment, afford to have it shipped here, market it, and then ship it out to customers. If we’re talking about doing that, this is what I consider a traditional publisher’s strongest attraction is for niche market authors.

    If the future of publishing is electronic, I think self-pubbed has a big role to play. If we’re talking print…not so much. It’s just too damn expensive all around.

  7. 7
    BevBB says:

    Everytime I hear romance readers decry the lack of storylines that push the “boundaries” of the genre and then put-down self-publishing, I literally roll my eyes. Are there going to be horrible books out there being self published?


    OTOH, might not some of them actually push those very same boundaries that everyone is so hot to have pushed?

    Quite possibly. And do.

    So the question becomes, just how hot are those readers to have those boundaries pushed? Or are they truly waiting around for the big publishers to get around to doing it on their own without some real motivation? And we all know what that means. ;)

    That aside, though, back when I was a lot more actively involved in a fandom, I had a friend who’d been self-publishing creative fiction of poems, short stories and novellas in magazines formats for years. Usually of a romantic type. She’d been involved in several fandoms pre-Internet so not all of them were “for profit” but had drifted from fandom material to original works over time. I noticed recently that she’s writing for Whiskey Press and doing quite well. I think she’s on about the fourth or fifth book in a series for them. She is now retired, too, though, from her day job. Some people are honestly in it for the the hobby of writing, not as a career.

  8. 8
    Diatryma says:

    Thank you, Ann Somerville. 

    I think that vanity publishing will always suck, because part of the definition of vanity publishing is ‘it sucks’. 

    Self-publishing is tied into small presses with me, and I think that small presses at least will become more common and take more of the market share in the years to come.  It’s partly economics and partly the influence of the internet—people get used to getting what they want, exactly what they want, and big publishers don’t have the resolution to put out exactly what a very few readers will read and buy.  Self-publishing then becomes the very smallest of small presses, and I think that the internet helps there, especially with experimental formats.

  9. 9

    “Are there going to be horrible books out there being self published? “

    The point is, there are horrible books being e- and print published too, from presses large and small. Of all the reasons for criticising self-pubbed authors, this is the most specious. I would guarantee any of my self-pubbed books – free or pay to read – were a hundred times better edited and written than a good many from presses like Ravenous Romance.

    The main difficulty for a self-pubbed author is building an audience. I’ve been building mine for six years as an original author, and the process is the same for me wherever my books come out.

  10. 10

    You’re describing a very sad process, one that can be observed in all book genres. With all these “new”, attention grabbing media, new generations are not really fond of books. To put it mildly.
    Soon all bookstores will disappear, and the only books you’ll be able to buy online will be the Bible, an Encyclopedia (book on CD I bet) and vanity publications…
    If this happens, I’m jumping off a bridge.

  11. 11
    Etruya says:

    Will the stigma of self-publishing ever go away? Possibly not. Speaking as an unpublished author who is actively querying agents, I’ve begun to understand that there is a purpose in the whole convoluted process of getting traditionally published. While the outcomes of this process may not be the want I’d necessarily want, it is difficult for a good reason: quality control.

    The process isn’t perfect, as everyone understands. Good authors mightn’t get published because they don’t market themselves well. Published authors may not necessarily get the acclaim they deserve. But in the end of the day, writing is an art form. Getting paid to do something you love is a privilege, not a right. The book you write doesn’t only have to be technically proficient; it also has to connect with the greater audience.

    The cold hard truth is that some writers just can’t do that, or they can’t do this well enough.

    Has anyone else noticed that the market for writers is growing? This market sells the dream of getting published, and getting sales. I understand writers’ conferences and workshops are helpful for amateur novelists, but over the years, the scope and volume of these events have increasingly expanded.

    I’m not putting down self-publishing. This option exists because traditional publishing is an imperfect system (and also because some people want to publish things to distribute to a specific, personal audience, but that’s not really relevant now). Getting published, paid and widely read is… a fantastic gift. But how successfully books are received depends on so many different factors. Self-publishing is a resource that some people may utilise to get their books out in the open, but the critical process of traditional publishing is very important in giving writers goals to work towards: relevance and technical proficiency.

    Oh wow, this was long. :S

  12. 12
    BevBB says:

    The point is, there are horrible books being e- and print published too, from presses large and small. Of all the reasons for criticising self-pubbed authors, this is the most specious. I would guarantee any of my self-pubbed books – free or pay to read – were a hundred times better edited and written than a good many from presses like Ravenous Romance.

    Well, of course. The friend I was talking about was an elementary school teacher. Over the years, she’s had several partners, usually other teachers, who’ve helped with editing and publishing the various magazines they’ve put out. I think originally when they were fanzines, they printed them themselves in her garage. Later, when they changed to original fiction, they switched to using commercial printers for a more polished look. But the point is that it was never about one person writing and editing any of it. She always set a high standard for herself in that regard, even when it was only fan fiction.

    Self-published doesn’t mean lack of quality. It simply means that for some reason the person had to do it themself. That could be a good reason just as much as a bad one.

  13. 13
    Stephanie says:

    I have a friend who I met through my writer’s group. When I first met her and found out she was a published author, and younger than me, I was completely jealous. She came to one of our writers group meetings and told us all about the publishing process and this and that…. and then I later found out she was using a vanity press… I felt like she had deceived to us. Why not just say what it was?? Why try to make it sound like a traditional publisher if it’s not??

    Self-publishing was never for me. Maybe it was my lack of self esteem…I needed someone else, someone in the publishing world, to tell me my stuff was good. But as I go along, maybe I’m growing and learning and maybe I’m building some confidence, but it’s starting to sound like an option that can be successful.

    I have several writer friends who self-published books of poetry…and for poets, I think self-publishing is almost the only option.

  14. 14
    BevBB says:

    Are vanity presses even considered self-publishing in the strictest sense, though? What I’ve always heard self-publishing defined as was that the individual(s) do everything except possibly contract out the printing. And many times they even do that.

    Big difference between that and a vanity press. Anyone can send a manuscript to a website and pay to have it “published” but that doesn’t make it self-published. In fact, many times it makes it a plain old rip-off.

  15. 15
    Michele Lee says:

    I prefer to look at it by the project; is self publishing for this project? I recently started serializing a contemporary erotic romance novella I wrote on my blog, with intention of releasing it as a free ebook or really low cost lulu book (proceeds going to charity). I’m releasing it because I’m primarily a SF/F/H writer and despite how much fun the novella was to write (and how I want to make it a whole series) I just don’t have the time and energy to try to run two careers right now. I don’t know when I can write the next book and after thinking about it I don’t think it would be as much to write if I had deadlines and was giving up other writing projects for the fun, spontaneous one.

    I still think I could have found a publisher for it, despite it’s length. But I want to keep it a fun project, not add it to the list of stories and book I’ve written that I’m struggling to get publication for.

  16. 16
    Teresa says:

    If self-pub becomes a more accepted and common form of publication, won’t we be coming full circle? I suspect the first books were self-pubbed.

    I would consider self-publishing if I had the right book for it. Besides the financial support that comes with publication by a NYC pub, the major loss would be editorial support. That barrier to entry may be preventing great books with low commercial appeal from being published, but it is also stopping a lot of really bad books. Assuming I’ve decided my book is good, I’d still miss the great wisdom of the editor.

    Of course I’ve heard from authors that many NYC pubbed books are also missing that great wisdom these days, which makes that self-publishing look better and better.

  17. 17
    Cat Marsters says:

    As mentioned above, there’s the problem of definition and confusion.  Self-publishing and vanity-publishing aren’t the same thing.  And they’re also both remote from small press and e-publishing.  Although if you’re the Board of the RWA, they’re all the same thing, they’re all evil processes, and anyone who takes part in self/vanity/e-publishing is a desperate idiot who lacks professionalism.

    Or was I missing the point of the editorial in this month’s RWR?

  18. 18
    Jamie D. says:

    Great article. I’ve really been struggling with this, because I’d like to do both. I started a serial novel on my blog this year (draft) that I’d planned on eventually editing and self-pubbing (through Lulu or similar) to release as an ebook and/or POD book for anyone who wanted the “finished version” (family and blog readers, mainly). I assumed that by posting the first draft on my blog, I was “using up” first rights, but I thought maybe a few people might still like to read it as a complete novel edited and in “book” form. It was going to be just something fun – I kind of saw it as one might see a craft project, making a few to sell here and there as a hobby. My mom does craft shows – I might even consider printing a few copies and putting them up for sale there, just for fun.

    But I also would eventually like to submit manuscripts to agents and pursue getting published by a traditional publishing house. And with the stigma on self-publishing works, I’ve read that if I self-publish my little blog novel, I could hurt my chances of getting other works picked up by a trad. publisher. It doesn’t seem quite fair to me – the “all or nothing” thing…I don’t feel like I should be penalized by the “big boys” for doing personal projects self-pubbed on the side.

    I still don’t have an answer – or a decision on what I’ll do. It’s a lot to consider, and I often find myself wondering why it’s turned into such a either/or situation.

  19. 19
    Sarah W says:

    Jamie D.,

    I’m not sure it has to be an ‘either or’ situation—from what I read on agent blogs (primarily Nathan Bransford’s blog), agents and publishers may or may not care if a writer has previously self-publishedused a vanity press, but they all would frown on that writer claiming in a query that they’ve had a work ‘published’—which in publishing industry-speak means it has gone through the ‘normal’ publication process—when they haven’t.

    If it wasn’t professionally published, it doesn’t count against a writer as much as it doesn’t count to them as a relevant writing ‘credit,’ in the same way that my random little historical articles in The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa aren’t relevant in a query for my dystopic novel about a futuristic librarian trying to cope with the final actions of her deceased mass-murdering space-pilot mother (blame Nanowrimo).

    So, if I ever submit that novel to an agent or publisher, I will simply say that this is my first novel and leave off the professional writing credentials I don’t have, although I might mention that I’m a librarian, as that could be relevant to the realism (snicker) of the novel. 

    Perhaps you could do the same when you have another MS ready?  However, you might mention your web presence—that’s a built in audience, right there!

    Of course, I’ve never had a novel published, so maybe I’m talking ignorant bliss out of my . . . hat.  Anyone else have a different take?

  20. 20
    Wilma Howe-Bennett says:

    Hi, all:

    What with Kindle rapidly becoming the new wave of reading, I’m thinking that we’re going to see, more and more, people going TO the self-publishing so-called “vanity” press so that they can e-publish and put the books on a reader. What with the cost of a book these days – and even $8.00 is a bit much for a paperback – we’re also going to see Kindle-style readers in libraries, for rent for X amount per block of time.

    With the e-publishing, there are drawbacks. My baby brother has, so far, created and self-published three books that were met with enough success that he actually made $100 grand over and above the cost of publishing. However, he had to be his own agent, he had to make all the contacts with the booksellers, he had to do all the publicity and promotion – and he got REALLY tired of it all. It’s a wearing, brutal process, because you have to, in some cases actually PAY the bookseller to stock your book if you’re not a recognized author with a major publishing house.

    I’m probably going to have to self-publish my sci-fi/fantasy book because the main protagonists are a pair of lesbians and a pair of gay men that are in business together (no, NOT moneky business, either!). Regardless of the content, the mere FACT that I’m writing about what I know, which is GLBT relationships, as an adjunct TO the main story is going to kick it to a specialty house to begin with, and I really don’t want to be labelled as a GLBT writer ONLY.

  21. 21
    Wilma Howe-Bennett says:

    Hi again, all:

    I MEANT to say “MONKEY” business . . . sorry about the misspelled word!

  22. 22

    Self publishing, like using the internet to ‘make’ a book is still in the early stages. I think as we continue to move forward this will continue to grow. But as Janet Reid demonstrates on her tweets about someone calling her a c%^t b/c she supposedly did not read his book, there will always be a segment of self publishing that does serve the author who just couldn’t cut it. What is unfair is that really solid authors who self publish will continue to be tainted with this brush until the industry as a whole as well as consumers turn away from the stereotypes and start recognizing the talent that is there amist everything else.
    I did not consider self publishing and I’m glad. When I look back at earlier drafts of my work, I can now see what others saw. Potential but not ready yet. Had I moved into self publishing, I might be putting stuff out there that is just that: not quite ready and it would continue to remain that way. My continued quest toward print publication has made me a better writer (I hope:) and with luck, it will pay off in the long run.
    Everyone’s experience is different and like I said. Just like internet review sites are coming into their own, I believe self publishing will as well.

  23. 23
    Chris Szego says:

    Speaking as a bookseller, self-published novels are a hard sell. 

    They’re a very hard sell to me, the person who chooses which books end up on the shelves.  That’s because they’re an extremely hard sell to the customers who peruse said shelves.  And that’s because of bitter experience.  The vast majority of self-published books I’ve been offered were shoddily produced, unedited, and practically unreadable.  {NB:  that’s not a judgement about SP books:  it’s an observation of the SP books shown to me}

    But we do carry a few SP titles.  A very few.  And we rarely pay for them.  In SP cases, we only accept titles on consignment.  Which means the author sets the price, of which we keep 50%.  And –  here’s the tough part – it’s up to the author to get back in touch with us at the end of the selling period, to check if the book is selling and to pick up any monies/non-sold copies.  Thus far, only one SP author has done so. 

    Obviously, none of the above applies to ebooks.  And again, I have no objections to self publishing as a model.  But if you think it’s hard to be new author, just one person trying to stand out among the hundreds (thousands?) at your publishing house… imagine trying to stand out as one book against all 275,232 of them.

  24. 24
    Jamie D. says:

    Thanks, Sarah for the helpful information. I’ll definitely keep that in mind, as I have a novel draft I’m editing now for possibly querying next fall.

  25. 25

    This is a whole tangle of questions at once, and I’m not sure we yet have the vocabulary to untangle all of them properly, let alone formulate realistic answers.

    The thing is, each step of the publishing process—acquisition, editing, production (itself encompassing text prep, art development, and printing), sales, promotion (and those two aren’t the same thing), and distribution—reflects an expense which adds real or prospective value to the final product.  Omitting one or more of these steps, or minimizing the resources devoted to one or more steps, will result in products that are of less inherent value, and/or are likely to be less profitable.  And that’s true irrespective of who’s paying for the resources involved.

    As has been noted above, self-publishing has long been a valid (and potentially profitable) choice for certain kinds of nonfiction with well-defined markets.  But the reason for this is that the authors of the works involved have gone into the process with specialized knowledge—they know those markets intimately, which greatly reduces the resource-cost of sales, promotion, and distribution.  Established authors of genre fiction, if they’ve cultivated and tracked a sufficiently large fan-base, can sometimes make self-publishing models work for much the same reason.

    But self-publishing for a general audience that hasn’t been so helpfully pre-defined strikes me as a much dicier proposition, and even more so for authors who don’t have prior publication credits.  And while e-publication makes some aspects of the publishing process less complex, it does not remove any of the basic steps from that process, nor does it shield the e-publisher from the consequences of under-allocating resources to any of those steps.

    I’m in no way morally opposed to self-publishing; indeed, I can think of one or two nonfiction projects that I might be willing to try to self-publish if I had the $$ to put into them.  But I think that making money at self-publishing is going to remain a difficult and elusive proposition for most writers of genre fiction in the near to middle term, because the true resource costs of quality self-publication are just too high.

  26. 26
    Lisa says:

    Whether or not I’m right, I believe books are self-published for one of two reasons:

    1) They don’t fit into a niche that publishers confidently believe can make money
    2) They suck

    I would be willing to read self-published stuff in the first category but I am terrified of wasting my money on the second category. I don’t have a reliable source for reviews/buzz on self-published books to help me weed out the unedited crap. Also, I guess, I don’t even know where to go about buying it. I don’t have an e-reader of any kind and am always skeeved out giving my credit card number online to anybosdy.

    Anyway, I’m not saying I’m correct about self-published books, but I suspect I’m fairly typical.

  27. 27
    Wilma Howe-Bennett says:

    Hi, all:

    THANK you all for both responding and answering a BUNCH of questions that I personally had about the e-publishing/self-publishing of a book. The biggest problem is – for me, at least – that, while I’ve co-authored and published several textbooks, EVERYTHING was taken care for me and all I had to do was write the book, defend my conclusions, annotate my research, and turn it over to the textbook committe. When I say everything, I MEAN everything. I had NO responsibility for talking to an agent, or dealing with a publishing house, or in truth doing anything other than correcting my work in re spelling, punctuation, grammer, and what few factual errors (which always DO this, like Murphy’s Law mandates) creep in.

    I expect that I will try to get one of the smaller houses interested if that’s even possible in this economy. While it’s NOT Shakespeare, it’s also not (in *MY* humble opinion at least) a stinker. It’s somewhere in between, I HOPE: rough but salable.

    Oh, well . . . any suggestions are welcome!

  28. 28

    1) They don’t fit into a niche that publishers confidently believe can make money
    2) They suck

    3) As mentioned above, the author doesn’t want the hassle that goes with trying to be published, or they’ve been discouraged by knock backs. Couple of examples:

    ‘Whistling in the Dark was turned down by a well known e-publisher, so Ms Allen self-pubbed it. After some rave reviews, Lethe Press picked it up. You can hardly say it’s so outre that it couldn’t have been published by any of the epublishers, and it certainly doesn’t suck.

    A book of mine was turned down by Samhain, so I self-pubbed it. Quite a few reviewers don’t think it sucks. I’ve since self-pubbed another book which would have fitted within Samhain’s remit and sales and feedback indicate that readers find it of acceptable standard.

    You take the same risk with a self-pubbed book that you do with any other kind of publication, and you can only go by samples and word of mouth. Reviews are often of limited use – I love the Bitches, but I’ve been badly led astray by their reviews because they put entirely different weight on things that drive me around the bend. Sad to say, amateur reviewing is beset by back scratching and love ins, and ironically self-pub books are probably less prone to fluffy useless reviews simply because they’re outside the cliques. No one’s going to care if they upset Lulu or its authors if they slam one of my books, the way I’ve been told I’m supposed to care if I negatively review one of Samhain’s offerings.

    If you can’t read a sample chapter online or free offerings on the author’s website [hint, you can do both with my books] then you probably don’t want to risk a purchase unless it’s very cheap. Because samples are just simple good sense in marketing, and any author too clueless not to offer them is probably not likely to have a supportive group of fellow authors to help them polish the book to semi-pro standard. But self-pub != sucky or non-commercial in every case. It really doesn’t.

  29. 29
    Lori says:

    Whether or not I’m right, I believe books are self-published for one of two reasons:

    1) They don’t fit into a niche that publishers confidently believe can make money
    2) They suck

    I wouldn’t have said “suck”. I think I would have gone with “not ready for prime time”. Otherwise as a reader I tend to have the same basic feeling as Lisa.  It’s a matter of percentages and access/awareness.

    There are some traditionally published books that make me wonder how on earth they ever saw the light of day. Some self-published books are great. However, my experience is similar to Chris Szego’s in that the ratio of quality to crap does not favor self-published books. 

    Sample chapters help with avoiding books by authors with no concept of grammar or sentence structure. They’re of more limited usefulness in avoiding other problems, like stories that are illogical or characterization that’s hopelessly cliched or inconsistent. Those problems often don’t become obvious until you’re several chapters into the book. Since those things drive me nuts I worry about that. I’ve simply read too many self published work that wasn’t fully baked.

    There are exceptions, but I think many self-pubbed authors don’t get nearly enough input from objective sources before the book goes out.  Some have objective critique partners who can fill the role of a traditional editor, but many don’t. and friends and family just don’t cut it. Most people can’t tell a friend that she has a bad haircut or that her new dress makes her butt look big, so they certainly can’t be counted on to tell her that her book is not working and needs a major rewrite.

    So, I’ll read self-published book only if it is recommended to me by a friend or reviewer that I know has similar taste to mine*. I just don’t have the time or the money to take a flyer on a book that hasn’t gone through even basic filtering. I know that I’m missing some gems, but I’m pretty comfortable that at this point I’m still missing more stuff that’s not worth my time.

    *This has nothing to do with whether the reviewer is an amateur or a professional.

  30. 30

    Isn’t it ironic that everyone is so worried about quality in self-pubbed books, and most people won’t even give them a first look, and yet a group of authors can get together, call themselves a publisher, put their own works out under a variety of pseudonyms, pay nothing for editing or in advances, and automatically be rated as somehow a safer bet than authors publishing through Lulu?

    Dear Author reviews books by Ravenous Romance – which wasn’t paying editors, paid a $10 advance, allowed its own authors to edit their own books etc – and yet I can’t remember seeing a single self-pub review there. I doubt Whistling in the Dark would have been reviewed on DA before it made it to Lethe. I don’t think the Bitches review self-pubbed books either.

    It’s all very well talking about curation and so on, but if a press isn’t imposing credible editorial standards and their upfront investment in the author is zero or close to, ask yourself why you assume they’re producing anything of quality at all?

    Before self-publication can ever be a realistic option, readers need to get the idea out of their heads that ‘publishing company’ always means independent quality assurance.

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