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The right way to view self-publishing

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

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    As one of the commenters on the original article said, "The source of the stigma has nothing to do with anything about self-publishing, self-published books, or self-published writers. The stigma arises from the fact that self-publishing is a threat to legacy publishing. This happens in every industry transition caused by disruptive innovation. The incumbent industry leaders denigrate the quality of the goods and services produced by the innovation. They have to. It doesn’t matter how many great books get self-published or how few are total disasters. The people who benefit from the stigma will have some self-published books to point to that justify the stigma."

    That commenter, who goes by the handle "William Ockham", is a regular over at the Passive Voice blog and is a very, very smart man. I think he's spot on here. I have yet to hear a regular reader, and by that I mean a reader who is not in any way connected to the publishing industry, just a casual reader, buy into the stigma. (And no, writers don't count. Book bloggers don't count.) I'm sure there are regular readers who do. But I suspect, based on what I've seen, that they are very few compared to the readers who just don't care how their book is published as long as its enjoyable. It's the industry that's bogged down by the stigma. (Though, of course, not so much that they won't jump through hoops to sign a contract with a best selling self publisher.)

    And no, readers don't need any "experts" to curate their selection and tell them what a good book is. They know what they like and what they want and we have all kinds of tools nowadays to help us find what we're looking for.

    No, you have no such right. Unfortunately for you we live in a free market society. Publishers have the right to reject a book, but only because to publish a book they would be investing money and resources. But even when a publisher rejects a book it doesn't mean "this book shouldn't be published". It means no more and no less than "our company does not feel the potential sales of this book are worth the investment it would require".

    Don't believe me? There are countless writers all over the internet with stories about how they got rejection notices from editors that said something along the lines of "I love this book! But the sales team said no". Great books are rejected all the time, not because they shouldn't be published, but because someone at the publishing company didn't think it would be a success. And of course, stories abound about famous books that went on to be huge getting rejected many times. (Harry Potter, for instance. Man, I bet the people who rejected that feel stupid. If they still have their jobs.)

    And then there are all the books that, by certain standards, could arguable be called "crap" and yet are published and hugely successful. Twilight springs to mind. It has as many critics as it has fans. Should it not have been published? I dare you to suggest it shouldn't have been published to the people making millions off of it. All books have critics. And all books have fans. I've encountered just as many traditionally published books that I thought were crap as I have self-published books.

    Sometimes I wish The Sword of Shannara had never been published, then copying Tolkien badly might never have become so popular. But it still remains that I have NO RIGHT to judge Shannara as a book that should never have been published. In doing so I deny countless readers the enjoyment they found in the Shannara books over the years and I'm also denying Terry Brooks his livelihood and success. I have NO RIGHT to do that.

    In the end it's the author who decides whether to take the risk and put his work out in public and it's the readers who decide the work's fate. That's as it should be.
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Excuse me?

    She absolutely has the right to say, "This sucks!" It's called free speech, and everyone has the right to voice their opinions.

    If an author has the right to put out something that is truly dreadful, I have the right to stand up and tell everyone my opinion of that author and his work and his decision to publish.
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Oh silly me. I was thinking from a moral point of view. But who needs morality, or even common sense and courtesy, when you have arrogance to fall back on? Funny, isn't it, how our society shun judgementalism.... up until the point where people find something they feel should be judged.
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Why is it morally wrong to call something that sucks sucky?

    If I hire a contractor and that contractor does a horrible job, is it morally wrong for me to tell others, "Hey, don't hire this guy. His workmanship was so shoddy that my wall fell down a month after he left." I consider it not only morally justified to do so, but actually more moral to do so than to keep my silence.

    If a guy puts up a horrible book on Amazon and charges money for it, how on earth is it morally wrong for me to tell others not to waste their money?
  5. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I am not talking about just any book that traditional publishers or agents would reject. I am talking about unready books, books which contain four typos per page - I made a whole list, I won't repeat it. I'm not talking about books that might be judged subjectively as "not marketable" or "I didn't like it", I am talking about books which do not have continuous prose or a competant grasp of English (or whatever language it's written in). I am talking about minimum standarads of quality - a basic expectation that the book published is not a first draft, has been read by someone other than the author, has been thoroughly proofread. I don't mean to judge based on a book being too slow paced or having flat characters, I mean to judge based entirely and solely upon the quality of the written English, the polish the book has undergone, the effort the author has put in to making it ready for other people to read.

    And I do have the right to make that judgement - just as you have the right to ignore what I say, and so does the author of the book.

    let me repeat: I am not judging books on a subjective scale based on star ratings and how people feel about the story, I am judging the book on the basis of objective standards of completeness of the manuscript.

    I have absolutely got the right to say that a book published as a first draft, where the main character's name is spelled four different ways, where the author uses council and counsel interchangably and doesn't know which form of their/there/they're or right/write/rite to use, should not have been published.
  6. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    And as for the moral aspect, I believe I am morally obliged to tell an aspiring author who plans on publishing a work which is not ready that they should not publish it, because they will regret it down the line and they won't make much money (if any) on it, and furthermore they will further dilute the pool of self-published works.

    Not publishing unready works is common sense; telling people who have their heart set on publishing an unready work is courtesy. It will save them much embarrassment and regret down the line.
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Another aspect of the morality, Chilari, is this: as an author, which do you consider a worse result?

    You put up a piece of work and:

    1. It gets negative reviews.
    2. Crickets.

    I'd much rather someone tells me that I suck than ignore me. At least with a negative review, I can learn from my mistakes.
  8. I don't know, Chillari. The average indie title is outselling the average trad pub title, in ebooks anyway. By quite a lot, actually.

    I mean, I guess there are still some people out there who say "I don't read self published stuff". But first off - I suspect most of them actually do, if they read very much at all. They simply aren't aware of it. And second, if I asked around, I am pretty sure I can still find some folks who think college is a scam. That doesn't mean there is a stigma against higher education - it means a handful of people have a minority opinion.

    The reason we see/hear about the stigma so much more than most people is because we are writers. And some of the major publishing conglomerates have pushed a LOT of money over the last few years into spreading the word that their books are somehow inherently better than indie ones. Mostly, they have failed to penetrate mass media (which is MUCH more interested in the latest indie success story), but they have reached most writers. So writers "know" there is a stigma. Writers "know" there are too many bad SP books. Writers "know" that "tsunami of bad" is destroying the industry.

    It's all made up crap, of course. It's been engineered to keep writers with their publishers. The truth is, most readers don't know if a book is indie or trad, and don't care. There is no stigma. The truth is, to a reader, ANY book that reader doesn't like is bad - so most books have ALWAYS been "bad" from the point of view of any given reader. Another truth: bad books don't sell, so bad books SINK to the bottom of the ebook pile, where readers simply don't see them. If a book is visible, it's because it is selling and readers are not returning it. If readers are buying a book and not returning it, then it is by definition not bad. Readers don't buy bad books.

    The industry is growing faster than ever before. More sales. More readers. It's an amazing period of growth and increased creativity. The people being hurt? Major publishers, who don't want to be forced to pay writers what they're worth. And high profile writers, who got major co-op marketing dollars from their publishers, and benefitted enormously from special placement of their work.

    The playing field isn't quite level, even now. But it's come close enough to be very uncomfortable for a lot of folks.
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    I can buy that we hear about a stigma because we are writers. We are naturally more interested in the industry and have our ear to the ground much moreso than the regular public.

    I am not any kind of shill for traditional publishers, and here is what I have observed:

    In the past two years, I've read in the neighborhood of, say, 60 books. Of those, I'd say around 20-30% were traditionally published and the rest indie or small market (I've made a concentrated effort since learning about indie to support indie authors). Overall, the quality level I perceived of the traditionally published works was much, much greater than that of the indie books.

    I grant that my experience, however, is much different than the average reader. Some of those books were from authors seeking reviews, and, overall, I dug more looking for obscure books than the average reader would. I think those factors would tend to lead me to a lower level of quality.

    I will also say that the "good" indie books were just as good or better. For 2012, I named an indie book my best read of the year. For 2013, I named a small publisher book as best read.

    Beyond the top few, though, the quality drops off a cliff. The low end books, imo, should never have been published. The quality simply wasn't even close to where it needed to be by any objective standard. Even the books I enjoyed had significant issues compared to books of a similar enjoyment level from traditional sources.

    For me personally, it seems like a slam dunk that traditional, at this point, does carry an inherent quality advantage. I don't know if that advantage is worth the massive price difference, though.
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I would like to remind everyone involved in this thread that a certain level of composure is required of all members on Mythic Scribes.

    While this may be a derisive issue due to it being weighted largely in opinion & personal perception, please understand that opposing viewpoints exist. As much as each member has the right to free expression, each member is required to deliver that expression in a respectful & constructive manner. You should underline "constructive". Let's not allow our disagreements to derail our discussions into realms ruled by emotion or negativity.

    Mythic Scribes is meant to be a positive, creatively conducive environment. Free expression is encouraged. Tact & civility is expected.
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Chillari, my apologies for misinterpreting your intent. If you're talking specifically about errors in spelling, grammar, formatting, etc. (things that can be judged by a standard) then that is different. I stand by my comments in general however, if not directed at you.
    Chilari likes this.
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Of course there's a quality difference between trade and indie - how could there not be? Even if we assume the spread of author and editor abilities are the same in both worlds, the trade published has one advantage. The gatekeepers weeded out the worst books - the ones that should not have been published. Therefore the average trade published book has to be of better quality. It's no different to say apple picking. If one picker picks everything and another picks only ones that meet a certain quality standard, his average quality is higher. That doesn't mean that the one who picks wormy apples etc, doesn't also have apples that are of the same quality as the other. It just means that his buyers are going to occasionally discover wormy apples whereas those who go to the other picker won't.

    As for the stigma yes it does exist and it's based on the simple fact that readers will occasionally come across poorly edited and written indie books. Again that can't be avoided. As long as everyone can be an indie that's simply the price you pay.

    However, as more and more indie authors climb the ladder of success, that stigma will - and is - lessoning. Especially as it becomes harder and harder for readers to tell what is indie and what is trade. But there are a great many people - publishers and sadly some authors - who are heavily invested in trade publishing, who will always push this barrow. This is bread and butter for them and in the question of quality they have a weapon that they will use. So they will continue to use it. Again that's not going to change.

    If indies are to fight it, the best we can do is produce books of the highest quality we can, and then fight back with the view that indie books are more likely to be fresh and original than trade publishe - which I believe they are. Those same gatekeepers that knocked out the substandard books, also knocked out those books that were too far out of the popular genres / themes to be saleable.

    And yes if someone writes a bad / or poor quality book you have every right to say as much. You are I assume a reader and no one can take away your rights as a reader to have an opinion. But quite frankly there are so many of these new age penny dreadfuls out there that your opinions would be a drop in the ocean. And besides, I have better things to do than read bad books. (Although at the moment since I'm editing, that's actually questionable!) But to be fair to an author I would not review a book without having read it completely. I won't read a few pages an then review as too many seem to. I think that's miserably unfair.

    Cheers, Greg.
  13. Brian, I agree with just about everything you just said. :)

    There really are some pretty bad indie books out there. And if you look at the average trad pub book and the average indie book, the percentage of really obviously terrible ones are going to be much higher in the indie realm - however you choose to define really obviously terrible!

    That's because tp books represent a selection from among the best books submitted to publishers. Note: they aren't ALL the good books submitted, or even MOST of the good books submitted. Publishers turn down a lot more good books than they are able to accept. But because they are forced to turn down so many good ones, it's rare for them to publish a truly terrible one.

    SP, on the flip side, is everything in the slush pile. The great. The good. The mediocre. The bad. All mixed together.

    I'm not arguing against any of that. I just don't think that it matters at all.

    Understand: to a reader of fiction, any book that is not to that reader's taste is effectively a bad book. So readers have been dealing with bad books (books they don't like) for as long as there have been books. This is not a new thing for readers. They're used to figuring out which authors they enjoy, and which they will take a pass on.

    Bad books are being self published. But they're not selling. Readers don't buy bad books. (And with ebooks, if they do happen to buy one, they return it!)

    And because they aren't selling, these bad books quickly sink to the bottom of the slush pile, never to be seen again. In fact, it's doubtful publishing a bad book is likely to damage a writer's career or rep, because so few people will see it that it's irrelevant! (Er, provided the writer takes it down before becoming better read, anyway!)

    Bottom line is, the people writing bad books have an impact on the industry, readers, other writers, and (most important to me!) my business that is so close to ZERO that it would be difficult to measure. ;)

    They might hurt themselves, which IS a shame and ought to be discouraged. But they're not hurting anyone else.
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Sorry to derail, but you can return e-books?

    Back on topic, are we talking about bad books as in badly written books (poor grammar, technical problems etc.)? For me, if I see this kind of thing early in a sample, I may put it down if it's really pervasive, but this doesn't kill a book for me. A book being boring or not being presented well does that. That's what kills my enjoyment of a book. This is subjective of course.

    I'm always going to be a content over technical expertise kind of person. That's just me though.
  15. Yes, you can return ebooks to most retailers, Phil.

    As for the rest...that's why i think it is so hard to define what a "bad book" is. Because it's SO subjective. One person might love a book that another hates.
  16. I think it's fair to say that everyone should be able to expect a certain minimum standard when it comes to ANY book, whether it's self- or traditionally-published: Zero (or almost zero) typos or misspellings or formatting errors, and a proper grasp of grammar. It does us no good to congratulate authors for being brave enough to publish something that doesn't meet this incredibly low bar. (Unless maybe that person has severe socialization issues, and for them, publishing something IS actually a huge step forward—but then that's probably an issue better handled between that person and their therapist, rather than bringing the reading public into it.)

    For my part, I can't abide reading books with bad editing. It's so distracting that I will toss it aside almost immediately. With so many books out there that clear this bar, why would I ever waste my time with one that doesn't?

    Beyond that, there is no such thing as (and no point in classifying a book as) "good" or "bad." For an author, there's only "how many copies can I sell?" or, if you're more interested in critical rather than commercial approval, "can I get good reviews from critics?" For a reader, there's only "did I like it or not?" This is why I routinely avoid describing books (or movies, music, or any creative endeavor) as "good" or "bad," except as a direct alias for "I liked it" or "I hated it."
  17. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    This definitely bugs me as well, but not so much I'd throw a book aside. If the content is pretty good or a topic I'm interested in, I can forgive these kind of things as long as they're not glaring. I tend to find my time wasted, or at least woefully misspent, if I read a book that I find uninteresting to me. Some readers can look past certain elements that others can't. For me, if the characters and plot is interesting, I can deal with minor technical things and just hope the author's next book cleans it up.

    This is a good point. I rarely myself say, "That was a bad book" I'll just say "I wasn't my cup of tea" or "Yeah, I couldn't get into it." This often goes with well-written books that I just can't connect with because I'm not the target audience or the content is muddied one way or another.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2014
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Just highlighting this because it so rarely happens with anyone on this site :)

    Regarding the concept of good vs bad books:

    I believe that most readers can distinguish between a good and a bad book based on more than taste and criteria like grammar and typos. Yes, there is subjectivity involved, but the quality level of a lot of self published books is bad to a degree that readers have never experienced.

    A reader may not like a traditionally published book that is well written. For example, I absolutely hated Grapes of Wrath. Loathed it. Every minute I spend reading it was terrible.

    For the longest time, when you asked me what a bad book is, I would have said, "Grape of Wrath."

    It wasn't that it was poorly written; it was just that I didn't like it.

    Grapes of Wrath does not meet my definition of a bad book any longer.

    Having now read a lot of truly bad books, I understand what a bad book is: it's a book written by an author who has not yet adequately learned how to write fiction. I'm not talking about an error here or there or a character that rubs me the wrong way or a plot I hate. I'm talking about an author who doesn't understand the fundamental concept of how to craft a story and how to convey information in a manner that engages the reader.

    Why is being able to identify bad books important?

    Because Kevin is absolutely correct. Bad books are never going to rise to the top. They're never going to do anything at all.

    Why is that an issue?

    It's not an issue for me. It's an issue for the author of the book.

    You want to talk about having your dreams crushed? The way to crush your dream of being an author is to put a book out there and have it not sell. To have no reaction whatsoever, and to not know why.

    If you truly want to help those authors, tell them, "Look, this book just isn't ready. You need to study this. Go get some feedback and develop your craft more."

    Yes, it is a lot of work for them. No, it isn't what anyone wants to hear.

    It is the truth, though.
  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Maybe I'm old school, but I believe that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. If you write something that wows a certain segment of readers, you may have those fans for life. For me, Joe Abercrombie's fiction just lit a spark for me. I'll pretty much buy everything he writes now without fail. Why? Because he made a good first impression and I know that the chances of his books being good are raised by that.

    Say someone publishes their book and it's not ready (by whatever definition people want to peg on it). If I see another novel by this person, it may actually be better than their first book, but I may be reluctant to get it because of problems I perceived from my first impression. If the first impression made is the writer is pretty good, has a good handle on storytelling, and paints interesting characters, I'm much more likely to get their next book.

    On the flip side, I do believe my view on this is slightly changing as time goes on. Meaning because of the influx of self-published works, I may be willing to give an author a second chance even after an underwhelming debut. That is if I saw a lot of good in their previous work, but for whatever reason something wasn't clicking or working. I'm willing to give a writer with a ton of potential a second (or third) shot if I think it's warranted. Writers I tend not to give additional shots to are ones that appear to have just hastily written a first draft and put it out there for the world to buy.
  20. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Chuck is right. Just because you CAN hit publish doesn't mean you SHOULD. We are in complete agreement in that you don't release something that you know is of low quality - you have to set the bar to producing something that is indistinguishable from traditionally published.

    I think where the two of us diverge is the self-publishing I do, and the authors I know - do exactly that...whereas I get the impression that Chuck runs into (or just has a biased and thinks that) hitting self-publish on first draft dreck is what most self-publishers are about.

    From a pure numbers standpoint Chuck is probably right...but for me, since those works sink to oblivion I don't see them nor do most people. What I focus on is the "professional" self-published authors of which there are many and most of them are seeing very good success...and income that supersedes their traditional counterparts.

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