Self Publishing Reader Survey

I had a long conversation recently about self-publishing and how readers perceive it. I personally occupy a weird space: I am a blogger, reader, reviewer, published author, and with every month that I run this site, I learn more about publishing than I knew when the site began over 5 years ago. I interact differently with self-published books than most romance readers. Most of the time, they are pitched to me for review.

Case in point, this book, which is on sale now at Fictionwise: Touched By an Angel by James Trivers. Mr. Trivers emailed me with the blurb to his book to request a review. I explained that I didn’t have any room on my to-be-reviewed schedule, but that I wanted to reproduce his blurb here, and he agreed:

I find there is greater freedom into what you want to write with online fiction. You can go to darker places. I have a new ebook  called “Touched By A Charlie’s Angel.” A bisexual hack writer sells a script to Charlie’s Angels and is invited to snort cocaine with Robin Doe, the newest angel, when the two-person party is crashed by a star-struck lesbian cop. To avoid being busted-they kill the cop, mince and dice the corpse and make it mulch for the actresses garden. The writer flees LA for the Mojave where he hides out from the law as a born-again Christian. Two years later, Robin Doe, emerges from rehab and after given a governor’s pardon (she is a celebrity who, after all, is friends with Jerry Brown) decides to do her Ninth Step with Barbara Walters on nationwide television. Upon doing so blows our hero’s cover. What he does to save himself-you have to read it to find out.

Say it with me now: 0_o?

I honestly read that paragraph three times to make sure I didn’t miss a plot point. “Darker places” doesn’t begin to cover it. Holy holy holy. Faster than you can say “star-struck lesbian cops” my perception of self publication changes.

But thinking about this pitch, and the many-layed cake of WTFery going on in there, made me think about the conversation I’d had about self-publishing, and how readers perceive it.


My perspective is someone skewed because I find out about most self-pub books either because they are pitched to me for review, or because an author has written online about going for self-publication instead of accepting a publishing contract. I have never to my knowledge stumbled upon a self-published book in a store, or encountered one outside of the confines on my inbox or my Google Reader. And I’m really curious about how you, a reader of Romance (the very best genre in the entire world! Without hyperbole! Of any kind! With or without star-struck lesbian cops!) encounter self-published books and what you think of them.

There is so much discussion about self-pubbing, from publisher standpoints, from author standpoints, from financial standpoints, and yet, while I read stories in online news articles about the mythological author who sold books out of the trunk of her car then got a six figure publishing deal, I’ve never actually seen said author, or the trunk of her car (and if it looks like mine, those books had to share space with a stroller, a few bottles of apple juice, and some spare wet wipes). Authors who ponder self-publication, digitally or in print, are facing a lot more competition from other books, both from publishing houses and from other self-publishing authors. I’m therefore really curious: how do you, as a reader of books, view self-published books, and what do you think of those you’ve seen – if you’ve seen any?

So: I have created… A SURVEY. Oh, I can hear the excitement from here. Try to contain yourself. I’m really curious how you as a reader of romance have encountered a self-published book – if you have – and what you thought. I’d so appreciate your input. As usual, my surveys are entirely amateur (I let the survey program do the math for me) and utterly unscientific. My science is tight, but that’s about it.

Please let me know your point of view, or share in the comments what you think. And if you are a star-struck lesbian cop, please, PLEASE leave a comment. OMG. PLEASE.

ETA: I have to take the survey offline to compile the results – but please feel free to continue to discuss in the comments! 


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Gwynnyd says:

    Coming from a decades-long pre-internet fanzine tradition, I’ve spent a lot of money on self-published stuff over the years.  Some were brilliant and some were mediocre, and the stuff that was really awful, I didn’t buy.

    Now, I would only buy a self-pubbed book if I knew a lot about how that author wrote already and liked it or maybe if it was recommended to me by someone I trust to know my taste and it was really, really cheap. 

    As for born-again, star-struck, bi-sexual hack writers who are also crack-head killers… er, no. The HEA in that has got to be either dead or behind bars with no parole, because the world is definitely better off without them running free in it.  Not my thing.  I’ll pass on that one.

  2. 2
    SherylNantus says:

    I don’t buy self-pub books at all – primarily because the author usually goes into a rant about how “the system” doesn’t allow for geniuses like her/him to be published and how agents/publishers aren’t looking for new talent, yatta yatta yatta.

    Add to that the recent mantra about how only Idiots Sell Books to Publishers Because You Can Make So Much More Self-Pubbing on Amazon and I doubt I’ll ever pick up one.

    As for this one… er, no thanks. I can and probably will find better on if I really tried. And poured bleach in my eyes. And sporked myself. Multiple times. Not to mention the issue of copyright violation, unless we’re seeing Charlie’s Angels as now in the public domain.

  3. 3
    darlynne says:

    Unfortunately, the blurb above is exactly why I avoid self-published books. There is the perception, deserved or not, that they will be riddled with grammatical errors and a plot too wild to be restrained by Dolly Parton’s corset. There is the perception, deserved or not, that traditionally-published books will not suffer the same ailments.

    I purchased one self-published book based on many recommendations. The upshot was that I loved the story and characters, but, yikes, the errors, the mangling of sentences! I almost wrote to the author to offer my editing services free of charge, just so she could avoid the same cake wreck in her next book. In the end, I didn’t, because what do I know after all, but I also did not buy her subsequent books.

  4. 4

    The now defunct blog PODdy Mouth did all the hard work of reading a slew of self-published books.  When she declared the winners, I bought two of them. One I can’t even remember the title, and I didn’t finish it. It was good, very well written, but it was not my thing.  The other was Ransome Seaborn by Bill Deasy, which I immediately lent to others and have recommended many many times. It’s an excellent book and I wish the author had perused traditional publishing.

    SherylNantes pretty much echoes my opinion of self-published fiction, though. I would not buy a self-published book unless I had heard from a trusted source that the book is worth the extra money (such books do tend to be more expensive) and my time reading it. I suppose the exception might be if the author was also published via an editorial process—I think we’ll see more of this as traditionally published authors get control of their backlist and/or write titles for which they know there is reader demand, but not from their current publishers.

    I think publishers have missed opportunities with mass market backlist. They’re not monitizing it and I think we’ll see authors do that themselves.

  5. 5
    Sue says:

    I doubt sincerely that I would ever buy a self pub’d book.

    That said, I’ve been given one by friends of the author.
    I’ve never read it.

    Having been involved in a couple of fan boards, I’ve read a bit of fan fic… but very little & what I read was not the greatest quality. Yeah, some fan fic is good & it can be funny & enjoyable for some…

    I’ve got too many ‘regularly’ published books in my TBR pile. and I’m so behind in my reading it may take centuries to finish. I’m sure that when I finally die, someone will point to the pile of books & the bookcase by my bed and ask what those books are doing there… and someone will say that those are the books that she never got to finish.

    So, unless someone highly recommends a self pub’d book to me & it is in a style or genre that I normally read, that it catches my attention & interest…. I won’t waste my time.

    I might miss out on a fantastic read, but I have to take that chance.  Life is too short & I’ve got too much to read already.

  6. 6
    Isabel C. says:

    What Sue said, basically.

    There are bad published books, for sure. But if I’m picking a book without a recommendation (and most recs for me have to be either fairly detailed or from someone I know and trust to get my tastes) I want the assurance that at least five or six other people have thought it was good enough to invest in.

    I’m also enough of a cynical capitalist that a company’s willingness to pay money for a work is a point in its favor. It’s easy enough to find something nice to say when you’ve only got words riding on your praise; most people speak a lot more honestly with their wallets.

  7. 7
    Laurel says:

    I can’t overcome the perception that most self-pub is not yet ready for prime time and that is why it did not go the traditional route. Which is frustrating, because I have so many friends who write- well- and are struggling to get an agent. So every now and then I buy a self pub book. Or at least browse one, like a sample chapter from Amazon.

    Basically, there is too much to dig through to find the good stuff. If you end-around the vetting process of contests, submitting to agents, editorial reviews and changes, you miss the chances to make your story tight and polished. So I have several DNFs from my self-pub forays.

    It makes me crazy because I know that there are great books out there, books I would love, and I am missing out because an agent and a publisher haven’t stamped their approval yet.

  8. 8
    Danielle (no, not that one, the other one) says:

    I’m a librarian, which colours my attitude toward self publishing—I’m annoyed by the constant stream of self published authors trying to get my library to buy 20+ copies of their book. Unless it’s local history/memoir, we’re not interested because it won’t circulate.

    Like Gwynnyd, I’m also a fanfic reader who doesn’t understand why I should pay $$ for a crappily-designed, non-proofread piece of WTFery when I can read better online for free. (Yes, lots of fic is terrible, but once you find a good writer it’s easy to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to more good stuff.)

  9. 9
    Brian says:

    I never buy self-pubbed stuff without some kind of recommendation (unless it’s free or a buck and sounds really good).  There’s just too much crap out there and I don’t want to be the one sorting through it. 

    There is some self pubbed stuff that’s truly good (Shayne Parkinson’s “Promises To Keep Series”, first book ‘Sentence of Marriage free on Smashwords and Vicki Tyley’s ‘Thin Blood, $2.39 Amazon; $2.99 Smashwords come to mind), but there’s more crap than good at least in my experience and there are too few resources out there to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

  10. 10

    My brother-in-law, Jim Tobin, wrote a social media marketing book called SOCIAL MEDIA IS A COCKTAIL PARTY and used a print-on-demand service to publish it.  He owns his own social media company (Ignite Social Media) and is very successful at it.  When I read the book, I found it to be good information.

    I told him he should have submitted it through a traditional publisher, but I think he wanted to keep it as current as possible.  Social media is constantly changing, and by self-publishing it, he can immediately update it, switch out the file online, and anyone who buys a new copy will get the latest information.  I’m not sure he could do that with traditional print, because of the costs involved.

    In the case of non-fiction, I can see where self-publishing could be a very valid option.  But fiction tends to be a different animal.

  11. 11
    Deb Kinnard says:

    I did buy and read (part of) a book that I consider self-published. Boy, was I sorry I’d bought it. It was sold via a web site as romantic fic, so I figured it’d be okay, and I wouldn’t be wasting my money. I cyber-knew the author, so how far wrong could I go?

    The web site lied. It was a mawkish piece of memoir. It was NOT fiction, NOT romance, and NOT well written or even very interesting. I skimmed most of it out of a misbegotten sense of obligation. I never will buy from this purported publisher again. The abysmal quality and mis-labeling, plus lack of evidence of any editorial eye whatsoever, led me to call this self-pubbed, even though technically it wasn’t.

  12. 12

    Woof. I didn’t realize how angry people could get about self-publishing. I self-publish, and don’t partake in “bashing” that other self-pub authors seem to do. I know page design and have a design masters degree. I’m an entrepreneur. I intend on hiring a copy editor. I’m determined to release a quality product.

    I’ve been buying self-pubbed books for years. Now, admittedly, some were better than others. I tend to go for the self-pubbed comic books and graphic novellas because the artist needs the money to keep doing the great work they do.

    I feel like the self-publishing prose industry will sort itself out in a similar fashion. The good ones will rise, and the not-so-good ones will fall by the wayside. I just hope I end up on the good side.

    All in all, really eye-opening to see the comments on this post.

  13. 13
    Bonnie says:

    While respecting all the caveats above, I’ve read a number of self-pubbed books on Kindle this year.  All were recommended by more than one person on a mystery listserv I am subscribed to, and all were under $3.  While I had quibbles with probably all of them, they were no stronger than those I have with traditionally published works (anybody really think there’s no copyediting problem with “real” books?  I have quite a number I can show you!).  Even established and relatively popular authors run a constant risk of being dropped by their publishers if the numbers don’t add up.  One advantage to the ability to self-publish on Kindle is that authors whose rights to their back lists have reverted to them can make those works available.

  14. 14
    awasky says:

    The only self-published book I bought I bought because I knew the author (she was in a book publicity class with me). But her book was being carried in stores and was professionally produced, so it didn’t have those many tells of self-published books: bad layout, bad photoshopped cover, rampant typos.

    That being said…I still haven’t read it.

  15. 15
    Literary slut Kilian says:

    Laurel wrote:

    It makes me crazy because I know that there are great books out there, books I would love, and I am missing out because an agent and a publisher haven’t stamped their approval yet.

    I agree with you, and am waiting for a new system to help filter out the bad stuff. Problem is my bad stuff is someone else’s good stuff.  I’ve read lots of crap that has been through the agent/publisher filter, might even be a best seller and is still crap. 

    Mainly I stick with the classics because

    a) They’re free


    b) if people are still talking about them and enjoying them hundreds of years since they were written, there is probably something of value.  Who knew Montaigne could be so engaging?

    That being said, I’m willing to throw away a few dollars on a book instead of a meal out or something equally useless.  You never know.

  16. 16
    Abra says:

    I sort of think the last question needs another option: “The author is a friend/relative of mine”. The option “author email/pitch” doesn’t quite cover it if you’re buying it sight-unseen (pitch-unheard?) just to make your cousin happy. I believe social pressure is a strong force in selling self-published books: as in Tupperware, kitchen utensils, and scented candles, pleasing the salesman is more important than having the product.

  17. 17
    Literary slut Kilian says:

    Isabel C wrote:

    I’m also enough of a cynical capitalist that a company’s willingness to pay money for a work is a point in its favor. It’s easy enough to find something nice to say when you’ve only got words riding on your praise; most people speak a lot more honestly with their wallets.

    I think what we will see in the future is the electronic version of traditional publishing.  Publishing houses will move online, the same filtering process will happen, and readers will learn to trust the brand name.  The major difference will be that since epublishing is so much more cost effective, the publishing houses will be able to be more open to taking chances on a new author, adn we the readers will benefit.

  18. 18
    saltypepper says:

    I’ve bought self-published books from authors I’ve read before who wanted to continue with a series their regular publisher had dropped.  Wil Wheaton has self-published his books and I’ve bought them (whoops, wrong genre!) and enjoyed them.  I’m 99% sure that every good experience I’ve had with buying self-published books has come through as opposed to a more traditional “vanity press” and a writer who was already established in some way.

  19. 19
    Literary slut Kilian says:

    It might help if we realized that most the stuff that was printed (aside from the Bible) when Gutenberg perfected the printing press was pretty bad, too.  It was mostly tracts and pamphlets and political and/or religious screeds.  Not so different from self-pub stuff today. I think the market will help shake out the bad stuff, and the cream will rise to the top.

  20. 20
    Daisy Harris says:

    I find it so funny all the folks who say they’d never buys a self-pubbed book.

    Because, um, if you’re buying off kindle, you wouldn’t know it was self-pubbed unless you went out of your way to check the publisher.  Before I started writing I never knew the publisher of anything I read.  And even now as I writer, I almost never check publishers before buying.  I choose books based on recommendations and good reviews.

    Self-pubbed books don’t come with enormous warning labels on the cover any more than ladies of ill-repute walk around with scarlet letters sewn on their clothes.

    I’ve only read one self-pubbed book so far.  It was recommended to me by a writer friend, who did not mention that it was SP.  It was Darkling Seas by Madelaine Montague, and I really enjoyed it.  I’d read a book by one of my favorite NYT Bestselling authors a day or two before, and felt Darkling Seas was better in some ways.  It was only when I went to check who the author’s publisher was that I learned it was self-pub.

    So if anyone who commented here thinks they’d “never” read self-pub, you might want to go through the titles on your e-reader and check everyone’s publisher. One of those horrid, awful self-pub authors may have snuck in… while you were none the wiser.

  21. 21
    SherylNantus says:

    My ebook reader is the Nook – and I actually check the publisher before I buy, believe it or not.

    If the name is something I’m unfamilar with I’ll Google the publisher. And if I see that it’s an author trying to pretend to be a publisher or that it’s through Smashwords… uh, no.

    The problem with relying on reviews, especially those on Amazon, is that self-pub authors tend to flog each other to each other by posting five star reviews on EVERYTHING. Not a four, not a three. And by Jove, there better not be a two-star review, else the self-pub author will do an Anne Rice-rant on the reviewer.

    I don’t trust the reviews on Amazon anymore because of that. And I do check the publisher. It may “only” be a few dollars but I’d rather put my money towards a publisher who takes the time to edit, create good cover art and does the work to market the work than someone’s hiccuped tome that they claim is faboo “if only the agents/publisher would take on new talent”.

    Time for tea!

  22. 22
    meoskop says:

    I’m incredibly unlikely to ever part with a penny on a self pubbed book. I’ll also look askance at a self pub that gets picked up by a big house.

    Back in the way back when I was reviewing for AOL our book selection was mandatory and pot luck. I read many a self pub in those days. My opinion of self pub is that it’s like paying to go through a slush pile. While standard pub is not free of it’s dogs, my personal self pub experience was bleak indeed. And my Amazon Encore experience is no better.

    (Is it wrong that when I saw your topic I was ready to cue up Jane’s Addiction? Specifically a track that starts ‘here we gooooooooo ‘

  23. 23
    meoskop says:

    PS – thought of an exception. If a midlist author I used to enjoy started self pubbing (a Danielle Harmon, say) I would consider it. But I wouldn’t know about it since I buy off the pub release lists.

  24. 24
    Isabel C. says:

    Kilian: I think you’re right, and I’m looking forward to it!

    Another factor I thought of after my first post: usually I buy books these days based on recommendations from friends or review sites like this one, or because I already like the author. The exceptions are when I need books urgently and have to go with the selection at the train station or whatnot, in which case the traditionally-published works are likely to *far* outnumber the self-pubbed ones.

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    I asked for reader opinions of self-pubbed books they’d read or seen or encountered while shopping. It doesn’t help to chastise a reader for having an opinion based on a poor experience.

    Much discussion is happening on so many different levels as to what self-publishing means for the industry, but my curiosity is on the perspective of the reader who looks for books to read and might encounter potential books in any number of ways. What grabs attention – the cover? The blurb? The price? The sample? What turns a reader off from self-pub books?

    The answers in this thread are illuminating to say the least. Thank you for sharing.

  26. 26
    Holly says:

    What I don’t get (and please, if possible, enlighten me – I’m still new to this!), is this: There are so many small, online publishers now (in the case of romance, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, etc.). Shouldn’t that make it easier for a decent writer to get some kind of publishing that’s not self-publishing? It just seems to me like it’s not as if writers are limited to Random House and other huge names. If you really, really can’t get any kind of publishing deal whatsoever, then maybe you’re either not trying hard enough or your book just isn’t ready. Of course, sadly, it’s usually the former, because there’s still a frightening amount of dreck that *does* get published.

    Regardless, with the rising popularity of e-books, it seems like the playing field has been leveled a bit. I’m pretty sure the only place I’d ever find a self-pub is online, and the amount of Ellora’s and Samhain’s books that I’ve read has spiked considerably since buying an e-reader. If I come across a self-published book whose summary is promising and it’s reasonably priced, there’s just as much likelihood that I’ll read it as there is for any other e-book.

    That said, that summary up there makes me cringe. For many reasons. As an aspiring writer, it’s embarrassing to see “self-published” represented by something that feeds the stereotype, you know? That summary reads like a mediocre-to-bad fanfic, it has grammar and punctuation issues all over the place, and it’s just ONE paragraph. Would Not Read.

  27. 27
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    I”ve bought some self-pubbed non-fiction (local interest/history) and for the most part have found them to be full of fascinating info delivered with mediocre to awful writing (what I’d expect from a letter from a relative, not a professional author). Those experiences have made me unwilling to buy self-pubbed fiction—I really hate being knocked out of a decent story because of poor writing/nonexistent editing. (FWIW, I tend to avoid—or carefully scan before purchase—certain traditional publishing lines for the same reasons). I would be willing to follow an author I previously loved into self-publishing, or to purchase OOP books in self-e-pub, but haven’t yet.

    As for the fan-fic-meets-LSD-meets-homophobia blurb (really? gotta mulch the lesbian cop and have the bisexual guy get born again?), all I could think after I stopped laughing and shaking my head was that whoever owns the rights to Charlie’s Angels is going to sue Mr. Trivers’ ass into the ground.

  28. 28
    Daisy Harris says:

    Sorry, Sarah, for getting off-topic, not to mention more than a little scrappy. ;-)

    (I’d delete my earlier comment but can’t figure out how.)

    Anyway- My limited experience was positive, but I read something recommended by a friend.

  29. 29
    ute carbone says:

    I’ve not bought a self-pubbed book mostly because I worry at the quality of the work. If I’m looking at an author I’ve never read before, be it on-line or in a book store, I like to take a look at the writing, read a few paragraphs and see if this is worth spending time with. All of the self-pubbed things I’ve found on Amazon don’t allow you to do that and so I’ve no idea how good or bad the thing is going to be.

  30. 30
    Honeywell says:

    The best of the self pubs I’ve read had potential and were almost enjoyable.  So yeah, my experience hasn’t been great and it will take some major buzz before I try again.  Or a little bit of buzz, a long excerpt and a low price.

    As for the comment above about not knowing if books I’ve read were self published or not I absolutely look at the publishers of each and every book I buy now that I mainly read digital.  I might not remember who publishes what once I’ve bought the book but looking at the publisher has become part of the buying process for me and impacts my decision to buy right along with reviews, recommendations, cover art and excerpts.

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