Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Self-Publishing: Great Idea... or Worst Idea Ever?

Well, it really depends on why you want to self-publish. In my humble opinion, self-publishing is great if:

• You have an idea for a book that would only be targeted at an extraordinarily small "market," i.e. your family. If you want to bind your great-grandmother's recipes into a cookbook, create a collection of stories for your children, &c, and you only need a few dozen copies, self-publishing is for you.
• For whatever reason, you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to see it in print before you die.
• Alternately, you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to disseminate it widely on the Internet as a (fre)e-book. (If this is the case, though, you might not even really need the self-publishing company, unless you need their website to legitimize your book.)
• You do not have enough copies of other peoples' books to keep your coffee table level.

I consider the following reasons for self-publishing to be very bad:

• Your book has been rejected by every agent and his/her mom, so now you're going to show them/the world/your own mom/&c that you really are a published writer.
• You believe you can sell more books on your own than you could through a traditional publisher, so you're going to forgo the whole system.
• You say you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to disseminate it widely on the Internet, but secretly believe as soon as it's out there you'll start getting phone calls from all those silly agents and editors, offering seven figure advances and instant literary stardom. Later, Brad Pitt will call to politely ask if he might be considered for the role of your protagonist once the details of the movie deal(s) are all hammered out.
• You believe your book is too literary for 99.9999% of agents/publishers and won't sell within the traditional publishing framework because you and your book are just too darn smart.

Before I go much further, I want to make this clear: I think the traditional system is flawed. All systems are necessarily incomplete. (That's a math joke, folks. I don't really think Gödel's incompleteness theorems apply to books. Man, if only you'd read my self-published book, 1010010010101111 Binary Math Jokes—which, by the way, is way too intellectual for the average agent, editor, or reader—you'd get that.)

All joking aside, though, just because the system isn't perfect doesn't mean you're better off avoiding it altogether. Consider these stats (and also these) over at How Publishing Really Works, courtesy of this SFWA article. Compare that to the sales of the average traditionally published book—around 12,000 copies—and you'll understand my general skepticism. Very occasionally, a self-published novel will be something that was somehow overlooked by the publishing industry as a whole and is actually quite good and/or salable. 99%+ of the time, however, these books are either written by the functionally illiterate, are tangled messes of inane plot and one-dimensional characters, do not appeal to the vast majority of readers, are way too long or way too short, or some combination of all of these. In short, most self-published novels are crap.

You might argue that most traditionally published books are crap, too, and if that's the case, you could very well be that guy who believes he and his book are too smart for the entire world. Whether or not this is true, it is a sad and inescapable fact that the market for your book is a subset of all the people in the entire world, so you're S.O.L. even if you and your book really are that smart, which is unlikely. I mean, really, how many Prousts can there be?

So, in summary:

• If you just want a couple dozen copies of your book for family and friends, my recommendation is: self-publish.
• If you ever want to earn money from your book, my recommendation is: do not self-publish.
• If you've tried and tried and done absolutely everything humanly possible and still can't sell your novel, it's probably not very good. Lock it in a drawer and write a better one.

The publishing industry is a creaking, hulking, slow-moving, kerosene-burning juggernaut of 19th-century jerry-rigged methods and models all built pick-a-back one atop another, but it does adapt and is your best bet for getting an audience and a halfway decent check for your writing. Unless you're one of those very few who are better off self-publishing (as described above), get back to work and write something engaging that any agent or editor would be proud to show the world.


  1. There are tons of books I could get for free on my Kindle. I wonder if some of those were self published. I read some of them and they still cost me too much in 'time'. I do like to hear about the successful self-pubbed stories. I do have a heart for the underdog.

  2. Great post! My parents have self-pubbed a few books for a limited audience (homeschooling community in their specific state), but their business gave them built-in marketing. I'm also not sure they made any money... and they have boxes of books in their barn. Anyway, my original point: great post. You convincingly knock down the self-important or self-deluded reasons people sometimes give for self publishing!

  3. Eric,

    The company I work for distributes press releases for some of the self-publishing websites out there. You've hit the proverbial nail right on the head of many of the books mentioned in those releases, my friend. It's become something of a sport in my office to find which one is the worst of the concepts among them when every new batch comes in.

    And then there's the nonfiction ones written by someone with pretty good qualifications that makes me wonder if they're going for one of the good reasons to self-pub or not. Kinda boggles the mind.

  4. Oh My...I self published for my family so I could get some feedback, thinking it was no big deal.

    Can I just say that if I ever revise that baby to greatness, I will probably have to change the title, my name, and get plastic surgery so no one sniffs out the eTrail of Stupidness I left behind.

    DO NOT self publish!!

  5. This is the greatest post on why self-publishing is a bad idea tht I've ever read.

    I love this blog.

  6. "You do not have enough copies of other peoples' books to keep your coffee table level."


  7. What about as practice? I think self-pubbing can give a wannabe author a more realistic sense of what it's like to throw your baby out into the masses and try to make it succeed. I mean that seriously, and as a good thing. Just seeing someone ELSE (that I'm close to) self-pub taught me a lot.

    Contrary to what some of these comments seem to think, I don't think you were knocking self-publishing at all, just making sure writers were doing it for the right reasons.

  8. You skipped a reason: the entire publishing industry believes that the writer is fine for producing a rough idea, but after that, he should step aside and let the entire "collaboration matrix" take over. No say in the title, the cover design, the back cover copy, the character names... Well, ok, yes, the author does get some say in those things, and in fact, in many many cases, the author gets the final say.

    But there are a thousand stories out there about the cover or the title or the character name that got changed, and the author hated it. And all of that completely skips the simple fact that the whole query/conform/requery process is designed as a grinder to produce the most uniform pablum possible.

    The future of publishing is self-publishing and micro-presses. As publishing becomes less and less of a financial and logistic obstacle, the term "publisher" will shift to a new class of services, which will cater to the needs of authors in the new model. These needs will have less and less to do with manufacturing and order-fulfillment, and more and more to do with putting the author's work in the hands of readers.

    Why do I self-publish? Because I can rest assured knowing it's MY book. Love it, hate it, or ignore it, but it's the book I wanted it to be.

  9. Hi Levi--

    You do have substantial say in the title, although granted you may be asked to pick a different one. True, you won't get much say in the cover art. You won't be writing your own back cover copy.

    However, you might actually sell some books.

    And I agree that micro-presses and POD are very possibly the future of physical book publishing, but I strongly disagree that this will eliminate the agent's or publisher's roles--they'll simply change. You need someone to filter out the crap, and sweet Jesus, there is a lot of it. Do you really want to pick through all of it yourself?

  10. All good points. One thing I wanted to add about self-publishing is that sometimes it does work for a small audience outside of your family. I knew a man who self-published a book about a river in New England and its history. He went around to schools in the area doing presentations about the river and selling his books. He also got several stores that did kayak trips on the river to stock his book. In that case I think he had a project that a traditional publisher wouldn't have been interested in because the market was SO specific, but by self-publishing the book he took advantage of a small but enthusiastic local demographic. If you have a built-in audience for your book then self-publishing really can work, though I can't really imagine this working that well for the vast majority of books out there, especially fiction.

  11. Well said. Consider this post officially linked.

  12. Eric, you rule. Longtime reader, big-time fan, first-time commenter.

    You mention that the publishing industry is a creaking juggernaut, but it adapts to market changes. You're right about that -- and this adaptation is benefitting some creators whose work was initially ignored by agent/editorial gatekeepers.

    I'm one such author. In 2005, I couldn't find an agent for my technothriller. Believing that my novel had unrecognized worth, I used social media tools (podcasting, mostly) to give away this story in serialized audio form. Essentially, I recorded, edited, and released my own free audiobook. If I couldn't sell this story, I could at least share it, right?

    However, the book's online popularity in 2006 and 2007 snagged the attention of St. Martin's Press, and -- thanks to the robust, engaged and evangelical platform I'd cultivated -- will release the book this fall. In addition, I was presented an opportunity to collaborate on a supernatural thriller project, which was released in June, also from St. Martin's.

    I offer this information not to brag, but to showcase that savvy authors whose work once might have been ignored are now uniquely positioned to prove the narrative resonance and salability of their projects by using alternative approaches. In my case, it was podcasting and community-building.

    If I had shelved my technothriller manuscript and not pursued self-publication in the podcasting space, I never would have proven the story's worth (or business case) to interested agents and publishers.

    My story is certainly an exception to the general rules you outlined in your post, but it's worth noting -- and watching -- such creative tactics in the years ahead.

  13. I really liked this post. And your blog in general. Thanks for all the good tips, these are things I usually don't read other places.

  14. Levi said: "The future of publishing is self-publishing and micro-presses."

    I've been hearing the same thing for years and years and the only thing that's changed is that self-publishing has become more crowded and weighed down by garbage.

    You might still be right, but if this really is the future, it's one we won't see in our lifetime.

  15. When I finished the first draft of my manuscript I had two copied printed by lulu just to see it and read through it like a real book. I wouldn't want to try to market and sell it that way, though.

  16. "The publishing industry is a creaking, hulking, slow-moving, kerosene-burning juggernaut of 19th-century jerry-rigged methods and models all built pick-a-back one atop another..."

    The publishing industry is steampunk?

  17. I also know a bunch of community college professors and undergrad professors at our small university who publish class notes sets as small paperbacks. They're cheaper than textbooks, and much more specific to the course, and since the print run is about a hundred, self pulishing is the way to go for that.

  18. You're making me laugh. I know people who end up doing the POD thing because they say publishers, editors and agents have either blocked out new writers (conspiracy theory) or they don't know sh#*t.

    But don't ask them to do the work it would take to make their manuscripts shine or even become less dull. Forget it. They'd rather throw away money on self-publishing.

    I've seen some good writers self-publish because they didn't want to suffer the frustrations of rejections and all that goes with selling. Most writers simply are not good salespeople. With the exception of you, of course. ;)

    I sympathize with them but I won't throw good money away. I want to make money, not lose it.

  19. Wow man, welcome to 2009. Your attitude is similar to people saying that bloggers are all people "in their pajamas in their parent's basement" - i.e. extraordinarily conservative and out of touch.

  20. In these difficult economic times, it is getting harder and harder for agents to sell first time writers to major houses. I read on several agent blogs that there was a growing trend of first time writers building their platforms by self-publishing, getting sales and book reviews, and using that to get an agent. Self-publishing has been a big success for authors like Brunonia Barry, Lisa Genova, and Wm. P Young, to name a few.

    As a first time writer with no platform (I'm a suburban mom writing about 19th century slavery) I decided to self-publish.

    I released my book, Receive Me Falling, in March. I've sold almost a thousand copies. I've gotten some great reviews. Now, 4 agents are reading the full manuscript--4 fantastic agents! Self-publishing allowed me to test my market, build a market, and start a web presence. It is also showing agents and publishers that I'm willing to work very hard to sell my book.

    I agree that there are some really bad self-published novels out there, but this is just another way of weeding out bad novels. I'll still need an agent someday, but at least I've started to prove myself and build a platform. I've also made some money and met a lot of great book clubs in the process. It has been a very rewarding endeavor.

    While I don't think self-publishing will take over, I do think it is an interesting and valid way to get an agent and a traditional publisher.

  21. OK - I'm going to stick my neck out here. I self-published not because I was so vain that I had to see my work in print, but because I got over my vanity in thinking that you were only truly "published" if being published by a traditional publisher.

    I really, truly believe that I've written a good book, and after receiving many rejections, decided to give it everything I had and publish myself. I have a message that I want people to hear, and the only way to do that is to publish the book and get it out there.

    I had already worked extremely hard to make my novel shine and become less dull. VERY HARD. I can't tell you how many times I went through the tedious editing process. It was ready. So I decided to try to market myself (even traditionally published authors have to market themselves, correct?) I established a website, social media campaign, etc. I created a really great-looking cover, and had the book published.

    I truly believe in my book and my hard work; I know that I have a story that can change some lives, and I believe that eventually my writing will get attention. I didn't self-publish because my work was crap that no one would touch - I truly feel that because my novel is literary fiction, it just isn't as marketable as I had hoped.

    If we believe in our work, are we just supposed to give up on it??

  22. I'm a little confused by why self-publishing is *detrimental*. If someone has churned out a book that cannot sell to a publisher, why not self-publish it and get some readers as opposed to just letting it live in a drawer? If it's not good enough to read, nobody will buy it, and no harm is done. If it is good enough to read, then at least it's getting out there.

    My reason for asking specifically is that there's nothing stopping a self-published author from writing a better book anyway. You don't need a dead manuscript in a drawer to have permission to write another novel. Many authors really can't stop writing as it is, unless they get a bad case of block. Writing is just what we do. So self-publishing a book isn't going to stop the creation of the next, hopefully better book.

    I'm also confused as to how self-publishing is detrimental to someone's reputation. Does self-publishing one book shoot down your chances of landing a later book with a publisher? Or is this one of those fashion faux-pas things that I'll never quite understand? It all sounds a bit snooty to me at the outset. My only interest is writing, polishing my writing to what it should be, and then seeing what I can do with it. If it turns out I can't sell my current novel-in-editing to a trad press, what exactly is wrong with going self-pub through a POD?

  23. J.C. - could you introduce me to your editor????

  24. this post was funny! and also wrong. then i see you work at a traditional publishing house. oh.

    the publishing industry does not adapt. it reacts. how many traditional houses are just now setting up their e-book presence? and why? because epublishers and selfpublishers rose to success.

    hardly anyone is ever going to make money being an artist. so let's just pat everyone at deviant on the head and say "there, there, luvee, gram will be so proud of you." after all, it's the only reasonable reason why anyone would want to try to share their product to the wider world without jumping through YEARS of hoops for a 5k check that means nothing.

  25. Hey Henry Baum, I write the PMN round ups in my PJs. And I would be in my parents' basement, but they kicked me out. Womp womp.

    In all seriousness, I think self-publishing and blogging parallel well. Anyone can start a blog, but very, very, very few people can be Andrew Sullivan or work for Gawker and monetize it in any way. And Andrew Sullivan started with the Atlantic, a publishing giant, as a platform.

    The publishing industry (for all its flaws) provides you with that platform in a way self-publishing (as is) doesn't. Sure, there are the stand outs of the self-publishing world, but they're almost the exceptions that prove the rule.

    You can say self publishing is detrimental, but it's detrimental the same way putting out a bomb through regular publishing is--if you don't do at least fairly well, no one is going to want to touch you in the future (at least that's how the agency I worked at felt). So putting out your own book that you can't move can be seen as a problem, but so can publishing something in the traditional way that no one wants...

  26. Of course, after putting out a bomb through traditional publishing, self-publishing may be the only option left to you.

  27. I can agree. Self publishing is not the best option for most people. It is, however, an option for some people who believe the industry is currently in a very broken, limiting state.

    I can't say that I'd turn down a decent book deal, but then, I've only ever been offered terrible book deals for my work. Deals that made me regret picking up the phone or answering an email.

    Self publishing is a brawl if you're doing it and making a living at it, but it's also very rewarding. I'm fairly close to my small readership and they know that they put food on my table, keep the lights on and the internet bill paid. I go to great lengths to ensure that what I release is worth reading, otherwise my readership would evaporate.

    Thankfully, it's growing. They purchase my books, tell me what they think and I keep writing full time. I love my situation and without self publishing it may have never happened because the genre I write in is so very unpopular to English publishers right now. I also appreciate how rare my situation is at the moment, but it's becoming more common.

  28. I self-pub'd because I don't care about being an author at all. Both times I wrote books it was kinda by accident.

    People like my stuff and occasionally buy it, so I don't know - maybe I'm a dummy. I did consider contacting some agents, but remembered the hell that getting screenwriting and acting agents was. I didn't feel like spending the time on something I didn't really want to pursue professionally.

    Also, I stopped using question marks about six weeks ago. Am I stupid.

  29. EXCELLENT advice!

    I've been fortunate enough to have marketable work that has been published the old fashioned way: by regular book publishers. (You can even find it in stores!) Earnings on my 70+ titles vary, but they certainly pay my bills and buy all kinds of nice toys.

    On the other hand, I know several self-published novelists and they all have basements (or closets or garages) full of unsold books. They sit under EZ-Ups at fairs or poorly attended book signings and speak at local art club or library meetings. Most still have "day jobs" that don't involve writing, although one of them has convinced his wife to support him with a nursing job. (He's self-published five titles!)

    The truth of the matter is, a publisher provides services that many self-published authors overlook: professional editing, layout, and marketing; distribution channels; and a solid knowledge of what can sell.

    That said, you hit it right on nose with your advice about what and why to self-publish.

    BTW, the BEST thing a publisher can provide is an ADVANCE against royalties. It's much nicer to start a book project in the black than be in the red when cases of books start arriving.

  30. I suspect indie author-publishing will increasingly become an option for good writers and less stigmatized. Other mechanisms will replace the quality/niche filtering currently done by corporate publishing. Indie music groups and indie filmmakers have made the breakthrough.

    I look at it like a cross-country trip. Some people prefer to fly. Agent, publisher, break out the champagne... zoom. But others enjoy the challenge of side roads and camping. Jet-setters look down on campers. Campers celebrate their motorcycle-zen skills. I think it's wonderful that technology is giving more people a choice.

  31. As a lawyer who does not get to do much lawyering these days, I cannot resist this opportunity to present the defense.

    Eric, a publishing house pays your wages - you have a vested interest in this issue and therefore lack the objectivity required to present an unbiased argument. This possibly explains why, when presenting the reasons authors choose to self-publish, you make a joke of it, make it sound vile, implausible, or condemnable. This strategy - to ridicule a threat, competitor or opponent - has been tried and tested in the past, and history will show that most often this strategy will come back and bite one long and hard on the proverbial.

    Arising from your need to undermine self-publishing, you neglected to include in the reasons authors choose this path, a critical reason, in my view, and that is, time to market. The traditional model takes approx two years for a book to hit the bookshelves, and this partly explains why a lot of books published the traditional way, fail to sell – they were hot when sold, but cold by the time they hit the marketplace.

    There are other valid reasons for choosing to self-publish, as Erica says in her post - it can build a platform, and is very rewarding. Not all writers will be successful at marketing themselves, but this is true no matter which course is taken since authors can no longer expect a traditional publishing house to fund their marketing campaigns, and marketing, in my view, is more of a defining factor for success than the way one is published.

    In your response to Levi, you say, “You need someone to filter out the crap …” Impliedly, the crap filtering is done by traditional publishing houses. Are you dreaming? Spend some time in bookstore bargain bins – there you will find plenty of crap produced by traditional publishing houses. Read book reviews of traditionally-published books – it’s not all roses. Given the rigor of the process however, it surprises me that there is any crap produced by traditional publishing houses. Perhaps this is because the wisdom and expertise of editors is often over-ridden by the sales team.

    No doubting there is an enormous amount of self-published crap out there – a primary reason being that many self-published authors do not have the resources to devote to the necessity of editing and appraisals. It is horrendously expensive. So if a failure to invest in professional editing is the reason many self-published books are crap, what is the excuse for all those traditionally published crap publications? I mean, they made it over numerous hurdles, but still, the output is crap.

    [Enough of the ‘crap’ and my apologies for it]

    I recently viewed a clip by two authors published by two of the preeminent publishing houses. They stated that if you need/want to earn money from the sale of your books then self-publish because you will be disappointed by earnings from a traditionally-published book (excepting a minority of celebrities/big name authors). This contradicts the point you make in your summary. The point is further contradicted by Nathan Bransford’s blog this week, which appeals to everyone to buy books to help those authors who did make it to the summit (traditionally published) but discover it’s quiet, lonely, and chilly when one gets there – it’s not a moment necessarily filled with euphoria, success, or wealth, as we tend to assume. Some authors make money, many do not; some self-published authors make money, many do not. Either way, there are no guarantees.

    Continued .../

  32. Continued/… and my apologies for the lawyer-like length – what can I say, we don’t like brevity.

    You say in your summary, “If you've tried and tried and done absolutely everything humanly possible and still can't sell your novel, it's probably not very good.” This is not reality. Numerous editors and agents over the years have commented that they have often encountered brilliant writing and wonderful stories that they simply cannot place/sell because they are deemed un-commercial for a market at that point in time. I know writers who have made it through the multitude of stages within the publishing process only to be bumped by sales people at the finish line – their work is hardly “not very good”. I know writers who have had editors desperate to take on their work, but again, it does not get through the sales barrier. It should never be assumed that because someone has failed in a bid to gain a traditional publisher that their work is “not very good.”

    The pros and cons for each side are no longer clear-cut. The dichotomy that was good (traditional) and the bad (self-published) has blurred, and even more so in the past year or so. The exponential growth of self-publishing has not been enabled by disheartened writers, but by technology, which will continue to improve and drive this growth further. This is good for consumers – more choice.

    What disturbs me most about this repetitive and futile debate is that we live in market-driven economies - there is no need for those in traditional publishing to fear self-publishing to the extent that they (and agents) feel compelled to ridicule it at every opportunity. There is room in the marketplace for everyone. Success or otherwise will be determined by the market, irrespective of the vehicle used. Blowing out someone else’s candle will not make our own glow more brightly.

  33. One of the unwritten laws of the Internet is that whenever someone points out that 99% of self-published authors are self-deluded, and wasting their time and money, 99 of them will show up to say "No, I'm not!"

  34. Another unwritten law of the internet is that 99% of anonymous posters are little scaredy cats.

  35. "Blowing out someone else’s candle will not make our own glow more brightly."

    This is an apt description of how publishing works these days. Insiders see it as a zero sum game where one person's success is built on another person's failure. No one talks about expanding the market but rather tearing down anyone who tries. Those self-published authors sitting under the EZ Up tents may attract Maria's contempt, but they're bringing books to new places and to people who may not have bought a book before.

    I remember attending a local fair a few months ago and seeing an elementary school teacher selling his self-published biography of his father, a Holocaust survivor. Nobody there knew whether his publisher was big or small or himself because they weren't publishing people. And people were buying his book--lots of them. Because, in large part, it was clear that he was a really good teacher who cared about his students and remembered them years later.

    And you know what--I bought his book because everyone else was buying it, and it was good! The kind of person who's as good a teacher as he is probably has a certain feel for character and the ability to convey it.

  36. Hey, this is a great post. I'm going to take issue with you, but I hope in a friendly kind of way. I'm a huge fan of self-publishing. I'm not, however, an evangelist.

    For me self-publishing CAN work, but only if the book meets two criteria (in addition to being butt-kickingly brillint, of course):
    1. It isn't served by mainstream publishers. OK, we all know the "you book's just crap" or "you must be fond of your own cleverness" arguments, but we actually know that's not the full story. There ARE books that publishers won't touch for reasons that have nothing to do with quality (I two-track my books, approaching agents as well as self-pubbing - in the case of my current novel, for time purposes: it's about life as a teenager growing up after the Berlin Wall and there's so much 20th anniversay hoopla I'd have been a klutz not to get the book out for November 9 - and the agent I subbed to told me she'd love to work with me, and love to work with this kind of book - but not now, because publishers aren't looking for gentle reads from newbie authors). Mid-list literary fiction IS an example of this.

    2. You have a niche market you know how to reach. Because you're going to have to sell the book yourself. So you need not to waste time on scattergunning. Let's face it, if you've written a history of 19th century lace bobbins and you're presdient of the 19th century lace bobbin appreciation society - why the heck do you need someone else to market your book? I write for Indie music loving emo 18-25 year-olds.

    I DO believe as a self-publisher who believes in it, I owe it to people to be up front. If I fail, I owe it to people to let them know I've failed. So on my latest blog, I've made a pledge about my openness regarding ALL my figures for the first year of my new book's life:


    The book launched yesterday - I HOPE it will be very useful reseach material for anyone considering self-publishing, and for all self-pub evenagelists and deniers.

  37. Eric, sorry, but I disagree. If I write a book, and no one in the industry wants to publish it, I'm self publishing, no question.

    Why not? I don't see a downside to it....maybe there's something I'm missing.

    Also, I think the industry works in a creaky way for some, but not for all.

    Chicken Soup for the Soul had 140 rejections, AND got dropped by it's first agent. So, just because your book is repeatedly rejected that does NOT necessarily mean it's bad. And Chicken Soup for the Soul is not an exception to the rule. There are long lists of fantastic books that were rejected multiple times.

    I guess just don't see the downside of self-publishing. Your book may very well be good, and you might find an audience that way.

  38. And you might be able to locate a new audience that hasn't yet been reached by traditional publishers, as the late E. Lynn Harris did when he sold his self-published novel in beauty shops.

  39. Hey, Eric!

    I think you cite one VERY good reason not to self pub...the author is convinced that he/she and his/her work is too clever for 99.9% of agents/editors. If your book is too damn smart for these people then who do you think is smart enough to buy it? And like it? Not looking at a commercial success.

    HOWEVER. I shudder to think about how many great books I've never read because they couldn't make it through the too many adverbs/too much backstory/too many queries/I had a bad week grind.

    The main thing a writer considering the self-pub route needs to consider is the importance of expertise in commercial success. Do you know your genre/target market? What font would appeal to them? What type of cover? Can you market your book? Even if you can, WILL you? You won't have prime endcap space in a major bookstore if you self-pub.

    Absolutely, it can be done. The holy grail of a self-pub success can be achieved. But just like traditional publishing it requires more than just writing a good book and many writers are great with ideas but not so much with concrete execution. If the motivation for self-pub is commercial success then you need to treat it like a business, with a business plan including investment capital, marketing strategy, a timeline for turning a profit, and wiggle room for the unexpected expenses. And know when you need to outsource, be it hiring a professional editor or graphics person or whatever.

    Even the best products languish without a sound plan.

  40. Hey, Laurel,

    yes, a self-pubbing author is essentially setting up as a sole trader, and like any other sole trader they need a solid business plan.

    Glad you mentioned outsourcing, too. Too many people think self-pubbing means knocking up a cronky DIY job. I hired in a professional designer for my cover and got 4 proof readers in. The only reason I'm not hiring in a mrketer is because that's something I have a lot of experience at, and enjoy doing.

    Mira, nice to see you over here :-)

  41. Dan,

    I think the reason a lot of people see self-pubbing as "knocking up a cronky DIY job" is because those are the examples that are held up. Particularly from my end, having seen/read some of the self-pubbed books mentioned in the releases my company puts out.

    A personal favorite is the picture book where the artwork looked worse than a five-year-old's scribblings. And the novel where the author statement said he sat by the side of the road in his spare time waiting for a spaceship to come pick him up. Yeah ...

    Granted, there are examples of stellar professional work done on self-pubbed novels. There's always exceptions. And if you feel you can make it as a self-pubbed author, then by all means I say go for it.

  42. I find it interesting that indie musicians and filmmakers can create and distribute their own album and movie and be praised for not bowing down to the record company/production company juggernaut but self-published authors are still stigmatized.

    If self-published books are generally considered crappy/bad/etc., does that mean that indie albums and indie films are also crappy/bad/etc.?

  43. I love self-publishing, and I love POD even more. There. I said it!

    If I had listened to all the naysayers, I would have missed out on the most profitable year of my entire life.

    I think that for non-fiction books, self-publishing is the ONLY way to go.

    I just wrote a book ABOUT self-publishing using Print-On-Demand. You can publish now for less than $1,000-- why not at least TRY?

    And I don't think that "most self-published books are CRAP".

    I think, instead, that most writers are too afraid of promotion and marketing to do it right. Writers don't want to read business books, or books on mareketing and taxation. All of those things are essential to success.

    I don't know if I'll get rich, but I'm making more money now than I did when I was a full-time tax accountant, which is saying something.

  44. I've done it both ways, in South Africa, where hardly anyone buys books. Even winning a national literary award doesn't attract publishers. I know that I can produce a digital trade paperback novel, get rave reviews and sell 400 copies without going to the bookshops. This makes me a a few thousand rand. Last year I sold a hunour book (based on a successful online sex column) to a "real" publisher. Instead of promotion and good merchandising it got "pizza marketing" and slid down the wall...
    Published in January, pulped in November; despite good reviews, only 300 copies sold. My whack was an unexciting R1400, or $186.
    I regard myself as a pro, a career writer, and self publishing (doing everything myself from photography to typesetting) will always be an option.

    Publishers Lunch is an unfailing consolation, when I see all the deals that actually go down -- soon we will see books about Feng Shui for dog kennels, and how to interpret your cat's horoscope.
    Tom Rymour

  45. >>soon we will see books about Feng Shui for dog kennels, and how to interpret your cat's horoscope.<<


    And so that means...

    Quality books are books publishers buy.
    Publishers buy books about cat horoscopes and Feng Shui dog kennes.
    Therefore, books about cat horoscopes and Feng Shui dog kennels are quality books.

    Yes! I see it now! The logic is irrefutable.

  46. "self-pubbing can give a wannabe author a more realistic sense of what it's like to throw your baby out into the masses and try to make it succeed. "
    i think that's what writers' groups and blogs are for.

  47. So it's better to keep the baby in his/her crib for it's entire life, never seeing the outside world, never having a go, never experiencing life - the good and the bad, or taking a risk. Hmmm, curious way to live, or rather, not live.

  48. What I don't understand about these self-publishing naysayers, is that they are free to make their own choices as to what happens with their work, just as self-published authors are free to choose for themselves. So why do the naysayers feel they have a right to stand in judgment of the choices others make? Have they been ordained in some way and I missed the news that day? If a writer chooses to self-publish, and is happy to invest THEIR time and money, what business is it of anyone else? They're not affecting anyone else or causing harm to anyone else. Live and let live I say.

  49. Yeah, yeah, I've heard of The Lace Reader and The Shack. So what? For every million crappy self-pubbed novel, there's one exception?


    I cringe whenever a writer presses a self-published book in my hands and asks me to read it, review it, or buy it for the library. I can't tell you how many ridiculously awful books I've seen this way.

    There is a stigma with self-publishing for GOOD reason. Even if you're a good writer, why shoot yourself in the foot when the odds are astronomically against you?

    If you're good enough, you'll get published by a reputable press. Just pay your dues and keep at it.

    Do you really want your work associated with a company that prints out Grandma and Rainbow Kitty visit the Dentist and Yes, My Novel is a Bad Ripoff of Twilight?

    Review journals ignore self-published work because these books are not truly published, they are printed by vanity presses, who prey on writers.

    Printing your manuscript doesn't make you a "published author." It makes you a terrible gambler. Hope you beat the odds, because they are not in your favor.

  50. I don’t subscribe to this blog and for good reason it seems.

    I’m an MFA student, and busy finalizing my first book. It is a low-concept literary piece and I have almost zero expectation of finding a publisher. So I find it offensive to read that a salesman has declared that my work is probably “not very good”, even though he hasn’t read it!

    I am already considering self-publishing. I don’t care if I only sell 10 copies. It’s not about fame or fortune. It’s about realizing a dream, my dream. So who is anyone to tell me I’m self-delusional because this is a choice I want to make.

  51. Matt from across the pondSeptember 7, 2009 at 4:00 AM

    I find it curious that a subsequent blog to this one states that one should not commit character assassinations in their blogs, yet it seems to me that this blog amounts to a character assassination of all self-published writers.

    And given that in 2008 there were more self-published writers than those published through publishers in the USA alone, you’ve offended the majority of recently published authors.

  52. Susan Beckett (another pond crosser)September 7, 2009 at 4:38 AM

    I set up our writers group 10 years ago. Up until a couple of years ago, you would not have heard the words “self publish” spoken in our group. Now, at least ½ of our group are considering self-publishing and the reasons for this are:

    1. having spent several years working on their manuscript, writers don’t want to spend another several years waiting to see their book in print;
    2. the query mill takes an enormous amount of time and energy, not to mention painful rejection, which then most likely amounts to nothing. That time is better spent on the production of the book;
    3. we all know authors who have been published and have been unhappy with what their publisher has done to their work. Then when the book fails and is no longer in print after mere months, it’s the publisher’s fault. There are a LOT of these authors out there, who now have no option but to self-publish given their lack of past sales.

  53. I am a compulsive reader and book buyer. My preferred source of entertainment is buying a stack of books and having a coffee in a bookstore – every weekend. I buy about 10 books a month. 5 years ago or so, 2-3 of those would quickly fall onto my “unreadable” pile. Now, it seems that 3-5 of the books fall into this pile, in spite of a great cover (I’m a sucker for a captivating cover) or how compelling the cover copy reads. Something is going awry somewhere, so while I have yet to read a self-published book, I certainly would not be brave enough to start throwing stones in that direction.

    Ally May

  54. More than one writer has told me their book is too literary... yada yada yada. Or, if not that, then their book is too new and interesting for genre fiction, which only publishes hacks etc... (Gee, thanks!)

    There's a set of people unwilling to admit the problem may lie with the writing.

    On the other hand, one of the finest books I've read in a while is Bill Deasy's Ransome Seaborne, and that is a POD book. I found out about it because of PODdy Mouth. He has another book, apparently also POD (which I DON'T understand, he should be looking for representation and a traditional print publisher) coming soon and I will buy that one too.

  55. @MattDel yes, I know there ARE some really dodgy self-pub books out there. I've been amazed, in the very short time since I posted, at the reaction I've had from the established media. I've not found it difficult either to be accepted, or to find people willing to review my book. Of course, they may have offered because they want to do a hatchet job on a big-mouthed self-publisher (I will post links to ALL reviews, good and bad, so you can all see), but they're more than happy to talk. A couple have even e-mailed me to say they couldn't put the book down (of course that may be because they were waiting for the next howler!)

    @Ace - yeah, we treat music and film utterly differently. Although I did note a plaintiff tweet from one of my favourite songstresses Jessie Grace (@JessieGrace) a few weeks back "Just because my album's free, doesn't mean it's crap!"

  56. Now considering that there are so many publishers already always place in mind that your book is your work and that no one should be telling you what to do with - it should be up to your discretion how it should be published, printed and marketed.

    Good luck :)

  57. @jmartinlibrarian Do you really want your work associated with a company that prints out Grandma and Rainbow Kitty visit the Dentist and Yes, My Novel is a Bad Ripoff of Twilight?

    Traditionally published authors already have work associated with a company that prints pretty horrible stuff.

    For example, a "James Patterson" book my husband is reading - which may or may not have been written by Patterson - uses the word "literally" frequently, and incorrectly. (Imagine a teen speaking.)

    And it's not even part of the narrator's voice. It's simply incorrect.

    If your work is GOOD a publisher will buy it?

    Please don't confuse what's "good" with what will sell.

  58. I just self published a horror/mystery novel titled: Through the Green Doorway, mostly to quell the voices in my head. I thought it would sit on a shelf, but I believe things happen in life for a reason. So far, since it's been out early this month, I've sold around thirty copies. Not alot but I'm working on it. I'm new to this whole cat and mouse game. Right now I'm just working on breaking even. Anything after that will be all gravy.

  59. Kelly: Yes, traditional publishers put drivel out, too.

    But...the ratio of crap to cream is astronomically higher in self-publishing.

    Think about it this way. Have you ever heard of the "Talent Scouts" who approach people in malls and offer a free "screen test"? So, the aspiring model does the test. The "model agency" says, "Yes, you'd make a great model. Just pay our listing fee and pay for head shots and we'll get you some work."

    Nine thousand times out of nine thousand and one, the person isn't model material, but the "agency" makes money on fees and photos. Is the person who pays the fees really an agented model?

    Every once and a while, a really talented person breaks into the business after starting off with one of these faux agencies. Still doesn't make the "modeling agency"legit.

    Same thing for self-publishing options where the author pays to have the book printed.

    The odds are not good for the self-published author.

    Yes, traditional publishing is flawed. But, true lit. agents who have an eye for talent and experienced knowledgeable editors (an endangered species?) are invaluable to writing.

    Not everyone who picks up a pen is worth publishing. A multitude of talented authors paid their dues with countless rejections before becoming published.

    I ask. Which is more satisfying? To self-publish with a vanity publisher or to hone the craft to such a level of excellence that the gatekeepers of the literary world take notice and choose to publish you?

    Just my humble (non-expert) opinion.

  60. Self-publishing has done amazing things for cult leaders. Look at Mary Baker Eddy, Louise Hay, James Redfield, L. Ron Hubbard, Deepak Chopra, and Joseph Smith. Who else was going to publish that stuff? Today, these authors still have devout followers. So, if you're looking to get into the false prophet industry, I think self-publishing is the way to go!

  61. You are an antidote the Joe Konrath, publishers are scum and we can all make a million school of thought.

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