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The right way to view self-publishing

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Jan 27, 2014.

  1. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

    Thank you, C Hollis; that's what I wanted to say but for some stupid emotional reason couldn't find the words.
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Expressing shock that such people exist is hardly generalising the whole industry of self-publishers as being the same.
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I tend to feel like calling out people individually is kind of a hard thing. And there's always going to be people that say, "let them write what they want." It's sort of enabling this kind of work to get out there. In the fantasy genre, I'm not sure what the status is, but I think this problem is probably prevalent in erotica.

    I tend to preface these kind of questions by saying, "This is a serious question" so people don't think I'm being glib, but how do you call these people out? Read loads of crap and then review each one? Someone with an awful lot of time and a strong stomach would have to take on a task like that.
    This is the absolutely last reason I'd want to self-publish myself. I don't want to feel impatient or rushed to get something out there just to reach some kind of nebulous goal. I want to feel proud of my work regardless of how I publish it. Having complete control is no excuse to phone it in.
    I don't so much mind this kind of thing because it's typically not someone asking for money or having really high expectations for a huge audience. They're just dabbling in things. One reason I like the Challenges section here at Mythic Scribes is to encourage people to write and share it with people. Some of the stuff I've written in the Challenges section is crap at times, but it's a low risk, low visibility place to hone my writing with other people who like doing the same thing.

    I also agree that self-publishing should be a dumping ground for writing that's not good enough. If a certain piece just isn't get picked up, but is still good work, I think self-publishing has obviously been a viable solution. But to publish something that's unfinished or bottom shelf just to "get something out there" seems kind of short-sighted.

    I'm of the opinion that the writers who are harshly criticized aren't going to change anyway. I'll go back to my Youtube analogy. There are people on Youtube that give false thumbnails, create spammy kind of content, steal from others, make lazy webcam videos with little to no quality behind them (webcam videos can be very good), etc. Self-publishing is going to have these same kind of things existing. There's no solution to getting rid of it really. If they know what they're doing is sleazy or crappy, then why change? It's the job of writers who take pride in their work and loyal readers to support other writers who take pride in their work. Lift up the good ones so the bad ones fade into obscurity. You can't warn readers about every single awful hack out there, but you can direct them to the writers you think are pretty awesome.

    That's my take anyway.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
  4. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

    And I said this where?

    Sometimes I fail to express my thoughts clearly, but this was definitely not implied.

    I actually agreed with your post...

    Maybe I should have disagreed?:p
  5. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

    Oh heck no. I can only stomach so much. But, if we all do our part when we come across that bad book, it adds up. Too many times I hear people railing against self-publishing, but they never take the time to write that bad review for the books they read. It's like I always encourage my readers, write the review. If it's good, write it. If it's bad, write it. Be clear and respectful, but write it.

    Kind of redundant for me to say, but I disagree. It's one thing to post a story on a peer review site, another to publish it to Smashwords, etc. Peer reviewers know what to expect. Readers (customers whether there is a price tag or not) expect to pick up a quality story.
    Without a doubt. They are who they are.
    You can't tell readers about every writer you think is pretty awesome, but you can direct them away from the hacks.
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I don't know about the rest of the authors on this site, but I'm working on finishing my first book. It's not like I have a huge backlog to choose publishing methods for...
  7. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

    I'm working on the first draft of my first book. But I took the question as: Why is the mentality that once a person either traditionally publishes or self-publishes, he or she has to keep publishing in the same manner?
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    C Hollis,

    This objection clarifies the issue, so thank you for that. I don't agree with you, but I do appreciate your argument.

    First of all, I do criticize individual authors. I've told two people recently that the work they were getting ready to publish wasn't, imo, ready. One of them took the message and my advice for improvement well. The other didn't.

    Second, and more to the point, I believe that the first step to finding a solution is to identify the problem. Here's the way I see it:

    Problem - Self publishing has a serious image problem in that it is considered by a lot of people to be a form of vanity publishing
    Reason for the problem - Though quality self publishers exist, self publishing is a form of vanity publishing for a large number of authors.
    Solution - Get the word out that publishing for vanity's sake hurts you and hurts other indie authors.

    How can that word be gotten out if people are so reluctant to admit that a large portion of the problem is that most self published stuff is crap? In another thread, I ran into the argument that, basically, there is no such thing as crappy writing. The theory, apparently, is that the quality of all writing is relative to a person.


    I'm not trying to attack the good writers; I'm trying to point out that the standard for good quality writing is higher than most self publishing authors realize. As a group, we need to raise our game.

    I salute and applaud and try to draw attention to those authors who have raised their game. People like Michael Sullivan and Robert Bevan are doing fantastic work, and it's people like them who will be ultimately responsible if the perception of self publishing does change.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that, for every Sullivan or Bevan, there are a dozen people who had their brother-in-law who is an English teacher look over their manuscript and pronounce it to be fine.
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    I get you, but a lot of people on this site are like Caged Maiden and myself. We have a book that we're getting ready to put out there, and we're tying to make that decision, "Which method do we choose?"
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I think the original quote was attributed to me, but when I said why does it have to be traditional or self-publishing, I meant as a kind of a career choice. I think some authors want to do either one or the other. More and more are trying the hybrid approach, which is to sometimes self-publish and sometimes submit to traditional publishers.

    I believe the choice should come depending on the particular book. You may feel different ways about one book than you do another as far as how you want to market it and promote it.

    That way works too, but I like to spend my time reading fiction by writers who I like and admire. If a book turns me off in the first five pages or so, I'm not going to finish it and I'm definitely not going to write a review for it. That's just me though. Maybe I'm part of the problem because I don't want to write negative reviews just to trash someone. I rather spend that time trashing my own writing. :)
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    Obviously, reading everything isn't possible. I think the important thing is, when given the opportunity, give honest feedback. I look at it this way: if my writing is complete crap, I want to know it before I put something out there that embarasses me.

    I think that impatience is a relatively valid reason in terms of impatience with the traditional publishing industry. My understanding of the way it works is that you submit a manuscript, wait for months on end for someone to pick it up out of the slush pile, and, most often, finally get a form rejection that doesn't tell you anything about why you were rejected.

    Was it because you're not good enough or is it because they didn't feel there was a market for your book?

    Even if they do choose to publish you, you're looking at a year or more before the book goes to market.

    It seems to me that one serious problem with self publishing is that it is so hard for the aspiring author to get an answer to the question, "Is my writing good enough?"
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    For me, it's so far seemed like an easy decision. I'm going to self-publish, though admittedly I haven't actually thought very much about it.

    This is my first novel too and I'm putting in a fair bit of time and effort into making sure I get it right. I've rushed out enough junk in the past in other ventures that I think I've learned my lesson and will let this one take its time. I guess one of the things that makes me want to go the self-pub route is that it feels more like it's my project. I'm writing this book on my own (albeit with the help and feedback of a lot of others here) and it just feels natural to me to go all the way with that and do my own publishing as well.

    I should also make it clear that I don't expect this book to be a huge success. I'll make it the best I reasonably can, but I don't expect it to launch me into writer stardom or even sell to people I don't already know personally. It's going to be a good book, but it won't be a new Harry Potter or a new Lord of the Rings.
    What it will be is my first book, and I'm going to make my best not to have to look back at it with embarrassment. It'll always be the first book I wrote. I intend to keep writing after it's done and hopefully I'll be able to put out some decent stories. Hopefully people will like my style and my stories and pick up my earlier works as well.

    Whether later works will be self-published or not remains to be seen, but I want to put out my first book myself. I think that's all there is to it really.
  13. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    It is, I think, more difficult to warn reader off bad writers because of exactly the problem Phil has identified - we don't write reviews for books we've only read the first five pages of. I'm only going to finish a book and review it if it meets a certain quality standard. I think this is why bad books have one or two five star reviews, whereas good books have dozens of reviiews with an average of 4.2 or 3.8 stars or whatever - people do read to the end, then give it four stars or three stars or even one or two ifthey didn't like the ending, but it was good enough to get to the end.

    So given that we don't read to the end of really awful books, those books are harder to challenge; easier is to look at the root causes - we see X number of books which have something in common, like not having been proofread, and so we'll tell potential authors "get your book properly proofread before publishing it". But then some people take that to mean "you must spend money getting your novel proofread" and react badly because they think self-publishing shouldn't require investment of money; and some interpret it as meaning "self-publishing is shit because nobody proofreads" and come out on the defensive because they self-publish and they think their books are being attacked, and things turn bad and people get annoyed.

    And at the same time - at least as far as my British sensibilities are concerned - it doesn't feel polite to give a downer review on a book. It's not nice or pleasant to rate something 1 star, even if it deserves it. I don't like being mean to people, I don't want to be seen as a bully, and I don't want the potential fall-out that comes when particular individual writers (and we can't necessarily predict who they might be) react in an agressive or bullying manner to even a valid one star review.

    So we're left with a problem - do we criticise based on generalities, but try to make it lear that we don't mean every self-publisher, but are merely trying to advise those who need advice; or do we go one by one, trying to convert self-publishers to a more quality-based approach after they've already jumped in feet first? Are we trying to be a prevention or a cure?

    And so the balance in how we approach the necessary criticism of the failings in the self-publishing industry and the culture surrounding it is hard to find.
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    My view on this is more "traditional" (pun intended?) Meaning I appreciate the idea of writing a book, polishing it, submitting it, and then waiting. This allows me to forget about that book and do what many people say is one of the keys to true success, start writing the next book. In the meantime, I can self-publish other books that are maybe riskier or have a more of niche audience while I wait to hear something back from the traditional publisher. I really like the idea of a little bit of chaos: several books in rotation with traditional publishers while I work on new books and self-published pieces.

    I know some authors prefer to only focus on one book completely before even beginning to worry about other things, but I want to get to a point where I get this down to more of a science (in the loosest meaning of the word) where I'm writing a first draft, polishing, getting critiques, getting beta readers, submitting, waiting, and starting a new book.

    This is just my personal choice. Some writers prefer faster turnaround and that's cool. I may change my stance later on, but for now that's kind of my philosophy on publishing both ways.
  15. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    As an indie I can really only take responsibility for my own work. I know there are some awesome indie writers out there and there are some terrible ones. But there are no more gatekeepers so for good or ill it's all going to keep going out there in webspace. I can't stop that, and I know that the fact that there are so many poorly produced self published works hurts me as an indie. But in the end I can only concentrate on my own stuff, and make it the best that I can. That's fairly much all that any of us can do.

    Cheers, Greg.
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    It seems to me that a lot (most, maybe all) of the people who criticize self-publishing don't actually understand it very well if at all. And they seem to know very little about the people who actually do it. Honestly, I don't know where the critics get their information from. Most of the articles that appear in the media about self-publishing are woefully misinformed about how it works or what it costs or how successful its practitioners are. They tend to be flat out wrong about almost everything. Most of the people who write those articles are clearly speaking out of ignorance and prejudice, often because they are part of the system that self-publishing rejects.

    If you want to see the true face of self-publishing I would recommend a few prominent blogs to investigate:

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog: Kris is an author with decades of experience in the publishing industry as an editor, a co-owner of a small publisher and a best selling writer. Every Thursday she writes a lengthy blog post about the business of publishing aimed towards writers who want to treat their writing as a career and a business and be professional. These posts are so full of good information and insights. I would strongly recommend that any aspiring authors should go and read as many of them as possible. (They go back a few years so set aside some time.) Right now she's in the middle of a great series on discoverability for self published writers. The comments are always very informative as well. Kris's advice can sometimes be controversial, but she speaks from a position of experience and, in my opinion, always in a very level headed way and deserves much respect.

    David Gaughran's blog: David Gaughran is a self published writer and author of the books Let's Get Digital and Let's Get Visible aimed at helping self-publishing writers understand and navigate the process. He has done his research and is VERY knowledgeable about how the nuts and bolts of self-publishing and self-promoting work. There's lots of great insight on his blog and he often features guest posts by successful self-publishers who offer interesting data and points of view. The comments are also well worth reading.

    And most importantly...

    The Passive Voice blog: Passive Guy, who runs this blog, is an IP lawyer whose wife is a successful self-published author. PG, as he is affectionately referred to, posts excerpts from and links to articles about "Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe" from all over the internet. Sometimes he offers his own very insightful commentary, but often he leaves the commentary up to the commenters. If you only have the time to hang around one blog it should be this one. It has grown a large readership which includes a thriving community of commenters who, I think, might be the best representatives of the self-publishing community around. The commenters tend to be very smart and well informed. I've learned more than I can say from hanging around the blog. Recently, a publishing executive (CEO of Kensington Press) stopped by the comments of The Passive Voice and got into a long discussion with the regulars. It was very interesting. Prominent self-publishing authors like Joe Konrath, Kris Rusch, Barry Eisler, and Hugh Howey sometimes stop by to comment as well. If you want to know all about self-publishing go there and explore for a while. Dig up old posts, READ the comments and get to know the regulars. It's an awesome example of the kind of community which self-publishing has made possible and which I can't imagine wanting, as a writer, to do without.
    Chilari likes this.
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator


    True, but no one here was generalizing to the industry as a whole.
  18. Caged, let me toss you in the direction of some resources.
    "Let's Get Digital" by David Gaughran, about the best intro to "how to" available today
    "Let's Get Visible", also by David; have bought this, have not had time to read it yet, but have it on good authority that this is THE go to book on Amazon ebook marketing today. Note: if you read this six months from now, this book may not be as viable. Things change fast. Which is why...

    Self Publishing Podcast: Self Publishing Podcast |
    Superb way to stay up to date with what's going on in the market.

    Also kboards.com - lots of noise mixed in with the signal, but most of the top names in indie publishing hang out there, so the place is full of SUPERB news and advice; just ignore the occasional "sky is falling" post. OK, ignore the FREQUENT "sky is falling" type posts. ;)

    Lastly, check out "Write. Publish. Repeat." By the guys from the Self Publishing Podcast. IMHO this is the BEST resource on running your writing and publishing venture as a business available today. Superbly well done, and probably an indispensable part of every writer's bookshelf today - because whether or not you opt to indie publish, it's simply not something any professional writer csn afford to NOT understand.

    Hope this helps. :)
  19. Ok, i've read through all the comments on the pages now. So the debate seems to be over whether it is OK to merely tell writers "god produce good work!", or whether we should actually call out writers for daring to publish bad work.

    Well, first... I hate to ask, but who gets to decide which work is bad and which is not? I mean, I can't STAND "Moby Dick". So if it were up to me, I think that would be listed with the "bad" books. Because it's just boring. What a slog to read. ;)

    I think we need to be very cautious about quality when it comes to writing and storytelling, because it is a very subjective thing.

    OK, that aside...? It just doesn't MATTER.

    The stigma? Guys, there is no self publishing stigma. Understand, HALF of all Fantasy ebooks sold last year were self published. HALF. Ditto for SF. Ditto for ROMANCE, which dwarfs any other two genres. Indie publishers sold about 25% of the unit sales for ALL fiction, ebook and print, in the USA in 2013.

    Stigma? There isn't one, except in the minds of a few authors and folks in the legacy publishing business (and I use the legacy word here to mean "folks who have stuck their heads in the sand rather than keeping up", not as a negative comment about all large publishers). Readers generally have no idea if what they're reading was self published or not. Readers generally don't care, so long as they're getting a good story.

    And increasingly, readers actually FAVOR indie books over trad pub books, because there is a big movement in the USA to pay artists directly, rather than paying big corporations who then shell out pennies on the dollar to the artist.

    Are bad books produced? Sure. There were bad books produced in 2005, too. Also in 1990. Ditto for 1950. There have ALWAYS been some bad books produced, and readers have always ignored them. Readers don't buy bad books. If they buy a bad ebook by accident, they return it. All those writers out there producing "bad books"? They are not hurting anyone but themselves. I mean, it would be better - for them - if they produced better work. But they're not hurting ME any, so I am unlikely to berate them for their actions.

    Bad books suffer the worst fate anything can, on the internet: they are irrelevant. They are meaningless bits and bytes that nobody pays any attention to at all

    Don't fret about the bad books, unless you're the one writing them. If you are, then write better ones. Because as writers, we owe it to our readers to give them good stories, and if we want to make a living at our trade, we MUST provide them with good stories.
    PaulineMRoss likes this.
  20. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    But there is a stigma. I have personally heard people say "I never read self-published books, they're all crap." The thread on /r/writing on Reddit about Chuck Wendig's blog post had a couple of users completely dismissing all self-publishing (one was even accused on being a paid shill for the Big Five, so vehement was he that nothing good ever came of self-published works). It might be that there are people who prefer self-published books on the basis of how payment reaches the creator, but that doesn't negate that there is still a stigma.

    As for judgements of quality - fine, you don't like Moby Dick, but I wouldn't argue that makes it a bad book. I don't like Brian McCellan's Powder Mages books, but I recognise that they meet certain quality standards with regards to prose and proofreading. The problem isn't the books that some would like and some would not. The problem is the books that have been published without proofreading, without any kind of editing, without a basic grasp of storytelling or characters. Books which are all tell and no show, books which begin with two pages of the main character's life history and accomplishments and hobbies as if it were a resume or a Wikipedia page about a notable individual. Books where there isn't a hint of a plot until 10,000 words in, or even any kind of conflict in that time.

    I think it's safe to say that books like these should not have been published. That the authors lack the necessary experience or willingness to put in effort required to produce books for sale.

    The problem isn't that bad books exist, it's that they exist in such quantities that never were seen before - in the last, traditional publishers were gatekeepers and such stories as I have listed were read once by a slush pile reader and never again. Now the authors writing them are asking money for them, are flooding the market with them, and as a result there are still people who will not read self-published stories on the basis that it's not worth it - depriving good authors of potential readers because of the stigma bad, unready or inexperienced authors perpetuate.

    And I think we do have the right to say "this is a bad book that should not have been published" when it opens with a poorly punctuated prologue describing the history of the novel's world using awkward sentence structures and sometimes even words that sound similar to, but mean the opposite of, the word they intended to use - and I have here in mind the sample of a novel about Nephilim or something that was discussed in the Chat a few months ago, which I am sure other members here will recall.

    How we go about trying to improve self-publishing is one thing; but I think we are justified in making judgements, provided it is a minimum standard of quality we measure against, and not a subjective liking or disliking.
    BWFoster78 likes this.

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