Self-Publishing Reader Survey Results

What light through yonder window breaks? It’s an iFrame, and it contains survey results! Clearly, I need to get over my crush on the Wufoo surveys very very soon. But not today!

I don’t need to read a pie chart or line graph for you, but I thought it was very interesting that there were nearly equal amounts of print and digital self-published books purchased by those who did purchase them, and that the top three reasons for trying a book were based on sampled text, the description of the book, or a recommendation from a known source.

Self publishing. There’s a TON of options, there’s so many different books, and sometimes you stumble onto amazing reading and other times, possibly more often, it’s crap fiesta, and dear LORD it’s a lot to weed through.

Plus, there’s the encounters one might have had with the self-published author selling her book. It’s not a surprise that authors in any publishing venture have to spend an increasing amount of time marketing and promoting their own books, whether they’re self-published or published by PenCollinMillanChetteSimonHouse. But readers in the comments to my survey entry told of some rather awkward encounters with the self-published authors that have turned them off to the entire venture, whether it was incessant schnorring or bat crap crazypants behavior.

Sound familiar? To me, oh yes. It is some digital deja-vu. In terms of the technology, the varying options, the general understanding, the multiple approaches and myriad marketing techniques, and the reader reaction, I think self-publishing is now where digital publishing was a few years ago. Remember back in the day (you know, like, two or three years ago) when there were fourteen-eleventy digital presses publishing erotic romance or just plain buttsexxorama with “I love you” thrown in, and you couldn’t easily tell the quality from the quagmire of crap? Self publishing is a lot like that now, minus all the extraneous buttsexx.

Now, it’s a little easier to tell – most of the time (*cough cough* there’s a Rose stuck in my throat) – which publishers consistently offer excellence in digital reading, and which are not so much into quality as they are into quantity. Many things rise to the top – and in a few years, perhaps self-publishing will be where digital presses are now: with greater understanding among the reading public, better options for reading, and an ability to distinguish between shiny and shinola. As Laurel said in the comments, “I want self pub to be a viable option for writers…. But I am just a normal person. I don’t want to dig for the good stuff- not at the bookstore, and not on Amazon. I don’t shop at T J Maxx for the same reason.”

But for now, there seems to be, based on my highly unscientific survey and the anecdotal discussion in the comments, more negative reaction than positive to self-publishing.

Many people made the point that the reader reaction to self-pub is also somewhat similar to the general reader reaction to romance. To wit: “OMG. There’s a ton of it, I tried one, it was crap, and I’m never going back.” They argued that romance readers’ understanding of the general disdain for romance should perhaps engender some sympathy for self-publication. I can see their point. The same could be said for digital presses a few years ago – there’s so many, and some of it’s crap, and how the hell do I choose?

I don’t disagree, but it is very difficult to tell a reader, “Your opinion founded on your experience is wrong.” If you bought something and experienced crap, it could turn you off a genre, a bookstore, a type of book, a restaurant, a store, whatever. In order for self-publishing to be an option for authors that doesn’t include potentially addressing negative public opinion nonstop, time and development can contribute to the increase in positive experiences with self-pubbed books. Eventually, enough readers chose good books from small digital presses that the reputation of some became worth a great deal. Perhaps the same will occur with an increasing number of self-pubbed books.

To that end, I think the most powerful weapon is positive recommendations – so it’s a good thing we have plenty in the comments.

If you’ve tried a self-published book and thought it was an exercise in self-promotion, hubris and delusion, try these as recommended by your fellow Bitchery readers. Perhaps you will change your mind.

If you would like to make your own recommendation of a self-pubbed book you’ve enjoyed, please do! But one caveat: authors, please do not pimp your own books. And don’t pretend to be someone else pimping your book. We have ways of knowing these things, so please, thou shalt not be thy own sock puppet. I would love more recommendations for self-published books you’ve loved and read, but not ones you’ve written!

(NB: In order to provide some linkage for these books, I Googled them. When possible, I went with an Amazon link as it would have the most information about a book in one place. Not all author websites contain the most reader-desired information, and I didn’t have the time to go through each author site aside from ones I *knew* had great info).

Ransome Seaborn by Bill Deasy, recommended by Carolyn Jewel

The Promises to Keep Series by Shayne Parkinson, recommended by Brian

Thin Blood by Vicki Tyley, also rec’d by Brian

Harper’s Bride by Alexis Harrington, rec’d by me! (And reviewed, too)

Author Matthew Haldeman Time, rec’d by Ell and prior to that Sarah Frantz

Deed to Death by DB Henson

33 AD by David McAfee

Portal by Imogen Rose

My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking, all rec’d by Victorine Lieske

Karen Ranney‘s out-of-print backlist at Smashwords rec’d by Sandra

The Proviso and Stay by Moriah Jovan

Darshian Talesby Ann Somerville rec’d by Estara

In Her Name by Michael Hicks, rec’d by Estara

Downtime by Tamara Allen, rec’d by Ann Somerville

Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen, rec’d by Ann Somerville

Shadow of the Templar Series by M. Chandler, rec’d by Somerville

The Administration series by Manna Francis, rec’d by Ann Somerville

Karen McQuestion, rec’d by Anna Murray

Naked Through the Snow (and Other Bits of Silliness) by Sailor Jim Johnston, rec’d by Gary


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Michele says:

    Need to Know, by Christine Merrill (who writes for Harlequin Historicals)- available at as a download.  There are some slight issues with the formatting of the digital book, but the story is well worth it.  If you like the TV show Chuck, this is right up your alley (it was written well before Chuck premiered, but you will notice a lot of parallels)

    Anything by Wil Wheaton- he writes non-fiction memoirs, which are extremely enjoyable, as well as essays about his time on Star Trek and other shows.  These are available as digital, audio, and print.

  2. 2
    KeriM says:

    The one POD book I have bought to date was F. Paul Wilson’s The Peabody- Ozymandias Traveling Circus & Oddity Emporium…a horror book. I got one of the copies that had Emporium misspelled, so now my copy is a collector’s item. yea!!! I bought it because F. Paul is an autobuy for me.

  3. 3
    Rachel says:

    Nosy me, I have to ask. Is that rose in your throat a Red Rose or a Wild Rose?

  4. 4

    Thank you, Michele!

    And although I can’t vouch for the Lulu copy (which has been a pain to re-upload), I’ve done a re-edit on NTK, fixed the kindle formatting to get rid of the problems, and widened the release.  You can get it in most ebook stores now.  It’s cheaper, too.

    And I will admit to a weakness for Wil Wheaton, also.  He was doing a reading at a con I went to, and is very funny.

  5. 5
    Anu says:

    Theresa Weir has two books at Smashwords, Amazon Lily and Cool Shade. Really enjoyed them, they have been out of print for a long time. Cool Shade won a RITA in 1999.

  6. 6
    Tasha says:

    They argued that romance readers’ understanding of the general disdain for romance should perhaps engender some sympathy for self-publication.

    This, to me, is a flawed argument. Dislike for a genre in which the vast majority of books have gone through some form of editorial gatekeeper but are not to my taste is not equivalent to a publishing model in which the vast majority of books cannot even be guaranteed to have been spellchecked.

  7. 7
    Ell says:

    Tweren’t me that rec’d the MatthewHaldemanTime thing, which I’ve never heard of. Is there another Ell, now that I’ve stopped being an El? (I have some highly unrelated potential names… perhaps I should pull one out.)

  8. 8
    Ros says:

    Perfect timing!  A friend of mine has just launched her self-pubbed book(s) today.  The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War by Ankaret Wells are available from Lulu.  For samples and a trailer, see her website.

  9. 9
    Cris says:

    I’ve purchased several self-published books through Amazon for my iPad Kindle and without fail they have sucked harshly.  I don’t recall any of the titles or authors because I deleted them (didn’t want them stinking up my other books).

    However, that said, I’ll keep trying.  You guys have some recommendations that I’ll look at and I’m forever lurking around Amazon looking for something that sounds good, but doesn’t cost a fortune for 300 pages.  I read a book a night, so I can’t afford $8-9 a pop every book (unless it’s Crusie, Dahl, Kleypas or Milan – they are simply worth whatever the price is).

    Any effort on the part of SBTB to regularly recommend self-pubs or allow people that have enjoyed them to list favorites would be appreciated.

  10. 10
    Moriah Jovan says:

    Not strictly romance:

    Waiting for Spring by RJ Keller

    Do the Math by Phil Persinger

    I “met” these two after I had read their books. For me it was like hitting the mother lode on the first strike of the pick.

  11. 11
    Estara says:

    Aww thanks for linking my recs – but I’d like to have non-Amazon & Lulu buyers to find them, too, so here are the Smashwords links again

    Ann Somerville – Kei’s Gift (Darshian Tales 1) epic fantasy with m/m main couple – and lots of other books of hers (A Fluffy Tale is a contemporary m/m urban fantasy romance)
    Michael Hicks – In her Name: Empire (1st book of In her Name) – Sarah linked to the full omnibus of all three books, sf
    Tamara Allen – Downtime, time travel m/m romance

    Additionally (if back-list titles are allowed, too) at Smashwords

    - Diane Duane’s Tale of the Five fantasy series (lots of poly romance involved as well)
    – Backlist of Sherwood Smith (fantasy and romance),Backlist of Judith Tarr(fantasy), of Sarah Zettel (fantasy romance), Maya Kathryn Bonhoff (fantasy), Steven Harper (sf&f) => basically all the Book View Café releases not just availabe there but also at Smashwords
    – Backlist of Patricia Ryan/ P.B. Ryan (historical romance/mystery)

    Thank you for saving this from the spam folder in advance

  12. 12
    Estara says:

    Also (in case my previous comment doesn’t make it through Akismet) I forgot to add Michele (Jerrot) Albert’s backlist! She has a full novel available for free on her site (Absolute trouble) – whose hero is a stripper ^^.

  13. 13
    Estara says:

    And the C.J. Cherryh, Jane S. Fancher and Lynn Abbey fantasy and sf collective – of backlist but also of new books at

    And Barbara Hambly has been selling short stories set in various of her fantasy novel worlds – mostly sequels to what happened in the books on this page of her site.

  14. 14
    Jean says:

    I recently read Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell and can highly recommend it.  It’s a historical western/shotgun wedding book.

    I also read The Sergeant’s Lady by Susanna Fraser and really enjoyed it.  It’s a Regency era novel set in Spain.  I’m not sure it qualifies as an indie book though.

  15. 15

    To level the playing field a bit, I have to say I have encountered crazy wannabe writers who wanted to be print published before the digital era. And I mean downright, why-are-they-loose-on-society frightening. I have a good friend who’s made the NYT more times than I’ve kept track of and I told her recently that she’s probably the only sane writer I know.

    I can also think of two established, published authors who hawked their books to me with such unrelenting shamelessness I made it a point to avoid them and their work. Both nearly fit in with the above-mentioned group. It was like having the Kirby vacuum cleaner guy on your porch with one foot in the door. (Actually I had this happen to me a couple of weeks ago). I have no doubt that there’s a ton of crap out there, but if a reader can download a sample before buying that will help. We’re in digital infancy and have a lot of kinks to work out—and avoid—but I think we’ll find our way.

  16. 16
    Moriah Jovan says:


    I bought that (Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell). I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, though, because of my workload.

  17. 17
    Honeywell says:

    The Eyes of Silver promo that’s going on over at the Amazon boards illustrates the problem perfectly I think since that book was mentioned here.  I buy “bad” books all the time and I’m ok with that but what I’m not ok with is being tricked into buying books.  How many times do you have to get burned on the fake recommendations before you won’t touch the books?  Even if the books are decent it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

    Sleazy, deceptive or aggressive self promo (along with poorly written books, of course) is ruining it for other authors. Indie or self published authors need to form an organization that recognizes books that meet a minimum standard—like a GH Seal of Approval or something imo.  I have no idea how it would/could/should work but if you’re taking the publisher out of the equation there has to be something other than word of mouth for readers who don’t want to dumpster dive to go on.  Recommendations aren’t enough because they’re too easy to fake and that ends up turning off readers in droves. of Silver Eyes of Gold&ref_=cm_cd_search_pg_next&ref_=cm_cd_search_pg_next&ref_=cm_cd_search_basic_sr_hdr&y=4

  18. 18

    The link for ‘Downtime’ by Tamara Allen is:

    I also recced Jordan Castillo Price, but if you want a named series, then try Psycop

    Paul Bens’ Talk Story anthology includes the previously published (by Torquere) Mahape a ale Wala’au but also two new stories that have not appeared elsewhere

    Thanks for doing this, Sarah.

  19. 19

    Sleazy, deceptive or aggressive self promo (along with poorly written books, of course) is ruining it for other authors.

    Yes, and not just for self-published authors, because I’ve seen exactly the same deceptive shilling going on with pro-pubbed m/m authors, and in other genres. It’s rife at Goodreads too. It’s unfortunately a consequence of authors having to do so much marketing, and that’s true regardless of how we’re published. It’s not fair to make out the problem is worse with self-pubbed books, but it is, nonetheless, a problem.

    Unfortunately, you can’t even trust actual review sites (at least in m/m) because there’s a shitload of politicking and arsekissing and mutual handjobs going on there too. I’m at the point where the only reviews I trust in the genre are my own, which isn’t exactly helping me find new material to read.

  20. 20

    Sarah, thanks for this measured summing up of the plethora of survey responses. And thank you for including my books on the list. Since Amazon only has my print books (so far), I hope you don’t mind if I add a link for one of my e-books.

  21. 21
    T. L. Haddix says:

    Jean, you beat me to the “Eyes” recommendation.  Yes, there is a huge debate brewing over at the Amazon forums right now on whether or not some of us have been shilling for Ellen O’Connell.  The answer is no.  Not on my part, and I doubt anyone else who has been supporting Ellen is shilling.  The book is really, really that good. 

    An author I discovered by accident is Marge Fulton.  She writes horror, and is pubbed by a very small press, but is worth looking at.  I know this is a romance forum, and while mostly horror, her stories do have a touch of romance in most of them.  She lives in and writes about eastern Kentucky, and her first horror book, “The Holler”, is pretty darned cool.  It’s a collection of short stories, and last time I checked the publisher’s site, it was $0.99.  Can’t beat that.  Here is a link to their site, and while I can’t comment on how well-formatted the e-book is, the print version is good.  (I don’t know how to do short urls, sorry)

  22. 22
    Ros says:

    It seems to me that the easiest way for self-publishers to help readers with the issue of finding good books among the dross is for them to provide free sample chapters online.  That way you can try for yourself, and within a chapter it’s usually easy to tell whether it’s a book you want to keep reading or not.  Much better than relying on recommendations from people you don’t know whether to trust or not.

  23. 23
    Jill says:

    I was going to mention Need to Know but Michele and Chris beat me to it.

  24. 24
    hapax says:

    Ann Somerville:

    you can’t even trust actual review sites (at least in m/m) because there’s a shitload of politicking and arsekissing and mutual handjobs going on there too. I’m at the point where the only reviews I trust in the genre are my own

    FWIW, I trust your reviews implicitly as well.  Not that I always *agree* with them;  but you always give such fine analysis of the reading experience, with plenty of details, that I am always certain that if I think I’ll like a book from your review, I actually will.

    (Not arsekissing—I just sometimes think that reviewers don’t get enough love.  It’s an art and a craft and a blessed public service.)

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    Alexis, do not let the Kirby man in. Ever. Avoid. In fact, just lock the door and move to another house until he goes away. Seriously. OMG. DANGER.

    And thank you for the updated links for books mentioned above. Obviously, if I missed a better link for a book or books, please let me know!

  26. 26

    Uh, thank you, Hapax.

  27. 27
    Moriah Jovan says:


    Alexis, do not let the Kirby man in. Ever. Avoid. In fact, just lock the door and move to another house until he goes away. Seriously. OMG. DANGER.

    The secret to getting rid of the Kirby man is to say, “I have a Dyson.”

  28. 28

    We have ways of knowing these things, so please, thou shalt not be thy own sock puppet.

    LOL! Not even if it’s a sock monkey??? ;)

  29. 29

    The book is really, really that good.

    Okay, I was so curious about the extraordinary level of enthusiasm for Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold, that, despite the fact it’s het – which I don’t read – I started on the Smashwords sample. I got hooked, so I bought it.

    Verdict? It’s not an extraordinary book, or very original, and it needs editing – POV switches, blurgy punctuation in place – though I’ve seen much worse pro published. It’s a charming, rather simple story, highly predictable and fairy tale like, with too much telling not showing, and too many neat resolutions to thorny situations. The characters were likeable, if somewhat incredible, and Anne Wells verged towards the Mary Sueish at times. (Actually, what it put me in mind of was the dynamic between Francis Crawford and Philippa Somerville in the Lymond Chronicles, which isn’t a bad thing.)

    It was a decent time waster for several hours, and certainly didn’t cause offence in its handling of the biracial storyline (at least not to this white reader.) I’d have to say it didn’t rock my world, but it was pretty reasonable by self-published standards. I don’t see any reason, personally, for the over the top recommendations on Amazon, since it was so firmly in the slightly above average category. I can’t say every one of the people recommending the books were shilling for the author – some undoubtedly were, but others clearly just enjoyed the book. For $2.99, you could do a lot worse, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life. I’d rate it 6 out of 10, maybe 7.

  30. 30
    DS says:

    Vicki Tyley has a second book out in Kindle.  I liked the first one (Thin Blood) pretty well so I bought the second (Sleight Malice) and have been reading it when I have a few spare moments.  One thing I like is that the book hasn’t been edited for the US.  At least if it has someone left in the casual use of the term “de facto” meaning a domestic partner—although it seems to have some connotations of the old common law spouse in the US. 

    This almost as good as the Simon Beckett mystery I was listening to the other day where the British author has a direct quote from a Tennessee law enforcement person—in a pretty good Tennessee accent—that a person worked as an “insurance clerk” (pronounced clark).  I thought only Childe ballad folk singers and pretentious law firms in the US used that pronunciation.

    I am really rooting for the breaking down of artificial publishing barriers by ebooks.

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