Should You Self-Publish?

By Mark Nichol

No.

Because I’m getting paid to write posts of more than one word, I’ll qualify that answer.

But first, here’s another question, and this time, it’s your turn to answer: Why do you want to self-publish? If it’s because publishers and agents have turned your work down, you might want to retrench and start small, submitting articles or short stories to newspapers or magazines, or to writing competitions, to develop your writing skills further before going the trade-publishing route again.

But if you’re still determined to self-publish, consider this: If you hope to publish a novel, the odds are stacked heavily against you, and if you plan to put out a nonfiction book, they aren’t much better.

Why? It’s certainly not that you won’t be able to find a self-publisher. Myriad companies exist that will be happy to relieve you of hundreds of dollars (for a handful of budget-look books) or thousands of dollars (for higher quantity and quality) for the privilege of printing your book. If you plan simply to self-publish — and recouping your expenses is not a priority — you are almost certainly guaranteed to succeed.

Otherwise, the odds are against you because, as the term self-publishing suggests, you are responsible for every phase of the publishing process, from paying to have the book edited to paying to have it formatted to paying to have it printed (often by the same company offering a package deal, but often best performed in separate steps with distinct vendors). And then, once it’s published, what do you do with it?

Most significantly, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you will have to market it yourself. And if you’ve published a novel, an anthology of short stories, or a book of poems, your potential market is limited — it is unlikely to extend beyond a circle of family, friends, and other people you know. (If that’s all you want, by all means, go for it.)

If it’s nonfiction, the outlook isn’t much different, unless you have a marketing base: Are you a high-profile expert in your profession or in a field of study? Do you belong to a professional association or an organization such as a historical association or a large network of craftspeople? Do you teach courses or present at workshops or seminars? Do you own a business whose customers are likely to be interested in buying your book?

If you are honest with yourself about the likelihood that you can sell out a run of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 books (keep in mind that small presses consider 1,000 a respectable run and major publishers would be content with sales of 10,000 copies of one book) — and can find several objective people to sincerely agree with you — then you have the potential to be a successful self-publisher. But if you’re expecting sales in the four- or five-figure range, then we’ve come full circle, and I have to ask you again: Have you been rejected by agents and/or publishers?

But, you say, all this talk about marketing overlooks the fact that most publishers make little or no effort to sell books by authors without track records. That’s true, but can you do better? And if you publish with a trade publisher with a recognizable name, bookstores will sell it, you’re more likely to be invited to do reading and book-signing gigs and radio and television shows — and any self-marketing you do will have better results because your book will have a brand name on it.

I’m not hostile to self-publishing, but I am highly skeptical about it as a route to even modest fame and fortune. If you insist, don’t let me stop you, but take great care to research the business of self-publishing — and be wary of self-publishing companies that are effusive about your work. They don’t call it vanity publishing for nothing.

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44 Responses to “Should You Self-Publish?”

  • Barry

    I’m in agreement that self-publishing is usually not in the author’s best interest. Book marketing -in the traditional sense- is very tough. Most authors shy away from it just as most publishers do.

    I’ve personally used print-on-demand publishing and I have to say that the POD model, while benefiting the author by decreasing the print-run to even a single copy if desired, still presents the author with the challenge of getting books on shelves.

    I personally believe print media is shrinking at a rapid rate and authors who want the best of both worlds -control of distribution and real compensation- are better suited to the digital publishing via Amazon, blogs, etc.

  • ApK

    Mark,
    I think you should revisit your position in the era of eBooks.

    You can self-publish a work quickly–and for free–on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp.amazon,com), and with only a little web marketing effort, get immediate, world-wide exposure via Amazon.
    They also have a community forum for authors and publishers where you can find myriad useful discussions about all sorts of relevant issues, like getting mainstream publishing deals after self-publishing, marking, etc.

    I have a short work published there that would have probably gone nowhere, or maybe scored a one-time shot in a magazine if I was really motivated to submit it, and had luck, but there it’s steadily if slowly selling, and generating a royalty payment month after month.
    If I intended to make my living at writing, that’s certainly where I’d start these days.

    There are other similar e-publishing companies that don’t take a lot of money or effort get going with, too, some of which will do print-on-demand paper editions as well.
    Some of them are frequently discussed on the KDP forums.

    ApK

  • Rebecca

    I disagree. I met writers at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona who were noticed by literary agents and publishers because of their self-published books Their work garnered attention from the public which translates to dollars and cents!

    I think self-publishing gives literary agents and publishers a chance to see how well your books do and how well you promote your work. If you’re familiar with sales and marketing, you won’t put up a fuss if you have to travel around the world to promote your work.

  • Rebecca

    Oops! I noticed I’m missing a ‘period’ after the word ‘books’ in the third sentence.

  • ApK

    Feh, I noticed about 80 typos in my post. If you start pointing out a single missed period, you’re going to make the rest of us look bad.

  • Barbara

    There’s another self-publishing option that’s been left out. Print on demand books, in my experience, are high quality and the author isn’t left with books to sell out of his garage. I have bought a few self-published books from PoD companies like Lulu and Createspace after I found the author online or through their other published work. A couple of these novels were “too short” by commercial publishing standards, so the authors decided to keep the stories novella-length and publish themselves.

    I agree with the article’s reasons for not self-publishing. Being rejected isn’t it. But PoD and e-book publishing have opened doors to formats that wouldn’t even be looked at by traditional presses- novellas, short story collections, novelettes, and serials.

  • KL

    I find it interesting that a post decrying self-publishing features a banner ad to Createspace.com.

  • Austin James

    While I share your skepticism for self publishing, I do think SP for an e-book and a physical book is completely different.

    It’s possible to build a platform online, and create an e-book for little to nothing, and then sell it for a low price (usually 2.99) on Amazon for the kindle.

    I have my own reasons for why I don’t think it’s a good idea – but it’s very possible to succeed by doing that.

  • Purple’S Theory

    what could I do to get publishers to notice me? other than your obvious list above? three books in and not one sale, makes me not want to continue my next book…..

  • Levi Montgomery

    It’s gotten to the point that I no longer put any real effort into the attempt to counter this sort of thing, but I do have to make a few points:

    1) Mr Nichol, if we shouldn’t self-publish, then why do you do so? Blogging is self-publishing. You have things to say, and you say them. In this day of electronic wonders like the internet and the Kindle, format doesn’t define publishing anymore (if, indeed, it ever did).

    2) You seem to be under the same impression that many people are, namely that self-publishing is being tried solely as a stepping-stone to legacy publishing, and that it should be judged solely on the basis of its ability to perform as such. In fact, in many cases, my own included, it is simply being pursued as an end run around the various layers of bureaucracy that have spent the last eighty years inserting themselves between the storyteller and the audience, and who really have no business being there. Make no mistake, I’ll sign the first legacy publishing contract that comes along that gives me the level of control I have in self-publishing, but I will sacrifice none of that control for the sake of “affirmation.”

    3) Self-publishing need not be expensive. The days are long gone when self-publishing meant having boxes of books in your garage and trying to sell them door-to-door in your spare time. Even without the Kindle and its like, self-publishing can be quite affordable. I’ve published six books in what I like to call the “wooden book” format, and they cost me $39 each. That’s each title, not each copy. I buy copies for less than four bucks. My books are priced at $12.95, which is more than I’d like, but hardly out of the ballpark, and they are available on dozens of major bookseller’s websites to customers around the world. I have six novellas available in various electronic formats for $2.99 each (on sale through the end of the month for $.99) whose publication cost me only the time to format them and post them to various websites.

    I agree with Apk: I think you should revisit your position.

    Levi Montgomery

  • Levi Montgomery

    And, yes… sorry, my turn on the oops front:

    Bookseller’s websites should be booksellers’ websites.

  • EL

    It’s funny how to very different views on the same theme appeared on my google reader one after another.

    I believe that things are changing, slowly, but surely. That doesn’t mean that traditional publishing would become extinct, but that it will have to change to survive and that they would lose the power that they now wields.

    E-publishing via Amazon Kindle and Smashwords is becoming easily accessible, free and profitable (the author gets 70%), the only thing he/she has to have is a good story and a will to through the whole process of self-publishing (editing, making the covers, formatting, advertising) or money to buy those services.
    So, yes, the time is perfect to go into self-publishing.

    In your post you only mentioned vendors. Everyone smart enough to use google would go to Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Lulu, etc, and you didn’t even mentioned them. Why? Are you badly informed or did you keep those out of your post deliberately?

  • Ashley Bigham

    I agree with the trend these comments have taken, and especially with the first poster. This article’s arguement seems tired and outdated. I rarely hear of people self-publishing in physical form anymore, except through services such as Smashwords as a tiny aside to their main ebook front (and that certainly does not cost hundreds or thousands of dollars).

    In short, I’m sure a few people that haven’t completed any research on the subject might lose money by self-publishing under the methods this article refers to, but most people would not face these mistakes.

  • Daryl May

    First off, I’d like to compliment everyone for being so civil. This is a most pleasant read.

    In 1990, my children’s book Rachael’s Spledifilous Adventure was published by a house out of Maine. It did very well in numbers but I made pennies on each copy sold on the national market. Yet, I sold hundreds of copies – and made a lot of money – when invited to schools to chat with kids about the book or anything else that crossed their minds. With today’s electronic marketing I would certainly self-publish if I had it to do over again.

    Everyone had a great day.

  • Nancy Beck

    I agree with the other posters.

    I’m currently working on a novella/short novel that no legacy publisher would consider in a heartbeat. I intend to self pub, uploading to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

    Why am I bothering with a novella in the first place? Because I came up with a story that’s a joy to write. No word count minimums or maximums. No one saying I have to write *strictly* in one genre. (I’m calling mine paranormal suspense, FWIW.)

    Levi is right. With the advent of Kindle, etc., the times of having to buy thousands of books and stick ’em in the basement are gone. (Altho vanity pubs still exist.)

    Maybe you’re afraid of technology. There are books and courses you can take on how to format ebooks, do covers, etc. And don’t think I’m some young whippersnapper (not that I care); I’m pushing 50, and I’d *still* rather learn all this tech stuff and do it myself than to have middlemen come between my wallet and me.

    Lastly, it’s not just about the money (although it sure comes in handy :-)). It’s about freedom, the freedom to write whatever I want, and give it a *direct* chance as far as readers go. Maybe I’ll get some people to buy or maybe a lot will think what I write sucks. The market will decide, and I’ll have to get better at what I do.

    you are responsible for every phase of the publishing process, from paying to have the book edited to paying to have it formatted to paying to have it printed

    Not necessarily. Paying to have the book edited, that I can see; although you might be able to get that done at a pretty decent rate. Pay to have it formatted? Nope. There’s stuff on the internet (free) or you can d/l an ebook for about 3 bucks on how to format for the Kindle and other devices (cheap).

    Pay to have it printed? If you can format it – Kindle, B&N, and Smashwords all have guides – you can upload it. It’ll go live in 24-48 hours.

    I’m not saying self pubbing is for everyone; it’s not (and people have to be true to themselves). But to say that no one should self pub and then drag out the old form of self pubbing for examples without any mention of ebooks IMHO shows you’re behind the times on your thinking.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Tony McFadden

    Hello. 1990 is calling.

    I haven’t heard the term ‘vanity press’ in a dog’s age. In order to avoid too many spelling and grammar mistakes (since that seems to be a focal point here) I’m going to point at Levi’s post an say ‘What he said’.

    I’ll add that self-publishing is frequently done before an agent and/or publisher is approached; getting knocked back is not the driver, the time from completing the book to publication in the ‘conventional’ method is.

    As long as you set the quality bar high enough, and that’s quality of product on all levels, not just writing, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t self-publish.

  • Mark Nichol

    I agree that electronic editing is a different matter, and I should have explicitly stated that my post is specifically about print self-publishing. Of course there are exceptions to the rule that self-publishing on paper does not result in significant sales (and, as I mentioned, that may not be the author’s goal), but the exceptions are just that.

    This post serves to caution, not prohibit. In addition, I welcome opposing viewpoints, but I’m interested in evidence of significant sales figures — not because monetary compensation for writing is the marker of success, but because reports of hundreds or thousands of print copies sold will disprove my contention that print self-publishing is seldom successful in exposing a wide audience to one’s work.

  • Andrea

    I think that authors of all types and stripes need to understand that whether or not their manuscript gets picked up by a publishing house, the marketing of the finished product will be the responsibility of the author. Many a self-published author, having successfully produced and sold a quantity of their books, has been picked up by a publishing house.

    When considering self-publishing one crucial question that must be asked (and answered) is how much time and money are you, the author, prepared to invest in the production, marketing, and sales of your work. If you do not have the skills to perform the critical tasks required to produce and sell a book, are you willing to invest in learning or hiring specialists?

    At its heart, though, the essential question always comes back to the author and their objectives for pursuing publishing. What is your intention for writing the book? If you are seeking fame and fortune, be prepared to do the work!

  • Nancy Beck

    Mark,

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    And I agree that print self pubbing is rarely successful, esp. for fiction writers. Non-fiction writers with some kind of following…it could work.

  • Peter

    Pay to have it formatted? Nope. There’s stuff on the internet (free) or you can d/l an ebook for about 3 bucks on how to format for the Kindle and other devices (cheap).

    Sure, if you want it to look like crap. Which you can probably get away with, because most ebooks are horribly formatted (and horribly edited, if at all), so it’s not like to have to go to much trouble to rise above the pack. But still…

  • ApK

    >>Sure, if you want it to look like crap.<<

    Anybody can do it badly, including people who take money to do it, but just about anybody can learn to do it well, too. It's not, as the commercial says, rocket surgery.

    ApK

  • Tony McFadden

    If you self-publish (electronically or pulp) and it looks like crap, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    As for pulp publishing, wordclay offers a pretty good service. I don’t expect to see many sales from that avenue, but it’s there.

  • Peter

    Sure, you can learn anything, if you really want to, but it’s probably cheaper to pay someone who already knows what they’re doing while you get on with the writing…at least if we’re talking about print-quality material here (whether actually printed or in PDF or something); there’s not much you can do about HTML-based formats (epub, Kindle, etc.), aside from “do as much as possible in the style sheet”

  • Joanna Aislinn

    The more I read about indie and self-publishing–AND the many success stories that go along with that–the more intrigued I am by the idea. Companies such as Who Dares Win Publishing are changing the way authors can be in control of their backlists and new fiction. And as someone pointed out in the comment thread, self-pubbing through Amazon, B & N’s PubIt! and others are of no cost–assuming you know how to handle every step of the process. Unless I’m some renowned NYC publisher’s big name, I’m doing 99% of the work anyway. May as well keep the profits. Many established NY Times bestseller authors are going this route–definite food for thought.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share. Thanks for the forum 🙂

    Joanna Aislinn

  • Dot

    I’m a librarian who buys fiction for a region and I’ll step on some toes here. When I see that a book is self-published, that is a huge red flag. I have only bought a few self-published books in many years and that would be because the person is a local celebrity and I have to.

    Self-published books are given to the libraries in the hope that we will put them in our collections. This rarely works. Why? Because the self-published fiction that crosses my desk is usually poorly written and/or riddled with errors. They are very obviously amateur works and I can only guess that the critics that have been reading them are loving friends and family. In one of the last ones that was gifted to us, the POV changed 3 times in one paragraph, for example.

    And please, don’t have someone request that a library buy the book. Too many self-publishers think that the library will never guess that the book is self-published if they name their “publishing” company. We do notice that and we realize, too, that moms ask us to buy their kid’s “wonderful” self-published book.

    Online? Go for it.

  • Mary Hodges

    I was surprised to find very little mention of money in your post on self-publishing. (as Samual Johnson said “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”) Surely the main attraction of self-publishing is that the writer gets the profit – if any – from a book and doesn’t pass most of it on to a publisher. OK the same applies to any loss.

    I’ve found that small press magazine publishers will produce a print run of less than a 100 copies and not charge excessively.In some cases eg a short collection of poems this is what is needed and for some writers this is ideal. Don’t knock it.

  • Precise Edit

    I have heard that approximately 90% of books published by “traditional” publishers never make a dime. This is due, in part, to the fact that “traditional publishes” don’t spend a dime on promoting any authors but the most popular.

    If a central criticism of self-publishing is that the author must take full responsibility of promoting the book, then “traditional” publishing must bear the same criticism.

    Do self-published authors pay for editing? Yes. Do authors seeking a contract with “traditional” publishers pay for editing? Yes.

    Are self-published books likely to get shelf space in bricks-and-mortar stores? Not initially. However, considering the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, the same can be said of books published by “traditional” publishers.

    Mark: I have enjoyed your posts on writing strategies, but this one is way off base. One only needs to do a little research to discover that many self-published authors have done quite well. Although our privacy policy prevents me from mentioning names here, I can assure you that several of our author-clients have sold many books outside their circle of friends and families. Some have since sold rights to major publishing houses, and others, quite satisfied with their success, have seen no reason to do so.

    The standards are the same for self-publishing as they are for “traditional” publishing: The book must be high quality, address the needs of the target market, and promoted effectively to that market segment.

    I wonder if you’re confusing vanity presses (e.g., Lulu, Author House), which make most of their money from authors, with self-publishing companies, which make most of their money from a percent of sales revenue and, therefore, are motivated to keep standards high.

  • Dot

    Writer Beware has the numbers for how many books on average are sold (hint: very few) by people who self publish and information which anyone who wants to self-publish should read before they decide to do so. There are good reasons to self-publish – genealogy books, family cookbooks, etc. – don’t get me wrong. I just think everyone should read a site like Writer Beware and think it over carefully.

  • Derek J

    I’m a beginner writer and I’ve watched this kind of debate concerning self-pub V. traditional publishing for several years. As someone without a job, I cannot afford the huge costs associated with the self-pub/vanity press options; even $500 is a stretch.

    I’ve seen several local writers self-pub and they have great success due to their story and their personal effort marketing their book. But, they have deep pockets too. Now, their books have attracted the attention of main publishers, once they see the sales numbers of books sold.

    For me, I am going to pursue mainstream publishing with the assistance of an agent to help me get my manuscripts read by reputable publishers. Ideally, a smaller press with a smaller slush pile might improve my chances for publishing. I’ve also begun networking with established authors to learn from them and perhaps get their assistance in the future to getting a meeting with their publishers (it’s who ya know, right?)

    As stated earlier, I’m a beginner writer so I battle with the constant concern of “Am I wasting my time?” when creating my works of fiction. I truly enjoy the writing the process, and I have (I think, of course!) great stories to tell, but will the countless hours writing be all for naught? I’m 41-years old and my employment prospects are limited to “Thank you for shopping Walmart”–– no thanks! I want my writing (and life) to have meaning and pay off!

    So, some would say to take the self-pub route and take a chance. But I really hope to have a mainstream publisher believe in my work and take a chance on me. I don’t write to fill a page count, but rather to tell a well designed story with believable characters that help the proper demographic/reader to escape their reality a little each day. I hope to make a name for myself one day by selling many titles, all of which have the support of mainstream publishing on a worldwide marketing/distribution strategy.

    With all the changes in the publishing world, I hope the mainstream pubs don’t abandon emerging writers. eBooks are another delivery model for the story. What should matter in the grand scheme is that people are drawn to a story and want to consume it regardless of self-pub, eBook, or mainstream pub. But, the mainstream channel should not be a SOB to get into, otherwise I go back to my earlier question of “Am I wasting my time writing?”

    I will give mainstream the first go, and accept my stack of rejection letters. I will continue to write as those letters are delivered. I shall persevere and prevail. Through a process of elimination I will avail myself at the traditional routes, but will leave self-pub as the last resort. I hope my works are not left to be published posthumously, as it would be a great disappointment knowing I couldn’t enjoy the fruits of my labors…

    Thanks for listening to my ramblings…. I appreciate the chance to speak and say what’s on my chest. I’ll now return to my 1st draft on my novel, and hope for the best in the future. Cheers and Carpe Diem!

  • SWJenn

    I appreciate all the people dissenting with the post, but I have occasion to read a large number of self-published (printed) books through my work with a museum. (Many authors submit them for consideration for our shop and staff takes turns reading them). I can categorically say 99% of them are so horrid I can’t finish them. If I can get past the bad editing, then the poor layout is too annoying. THEN most times the content is just not good.

    If you’re not getting published regularly in magazines, newspapers or other print publications, I’d hesitate to self-publish. If you ARE a regularly published author, then hopefully your writing is up to snuff, and you have a chance. Spend the time and money to have it well edited and well printed, and make sure it’s a topic that someone besides yourself might be interested in, then maybe I’ll be able to finish your book. Otherwise, I think the advice in this post is right on.

  • Carol Morgan

    I made the decision to use POD in January 2011, after querying hundreds of agents and receiving form letters or no reponse at all. I have been very pleased and the sales on my historical fiction novel have been fantastic. I have enjoyed two book launches–one in India that was hosted by a member of Parliament! What an adventure and all because I took a risk.
    I think that literary agents are overwhelmed, overworked and unindated with queries and honestly, because of the mountain of emails they receive, I don’t believe they are an adequate judge of a commercial viable piece of work. I’m sure that many good works are not published simply because agents do not have the time to efficiently evaluate the ones that they receive.
    If you are going to use POD, you MUST be determined and energetic. You must believe in the worthiness and the merit of your writing and work daily with that in mind and you MUST never stop promoting. I work HARD to get reviews, to acquire radio and TV interviews and I doubt that any agent or publicist would accomplish what I do–because no one will love my novel as much as I. I actually enjoy putting in the effort required.
    As an independent author, you must be IN LOVE with your story; you must love it with all your heart and believe in the book’s message.
    I have a close friend who is a Pulitizer winner and he told me it took SEVEN years to get an agent who would represent him–what does that say about the publishing industry?
    My advice to anyone who is vascillating on this decision–DO IT and don’t look back. D.H. Lawrence self-published his first novel and there are many other stories like his.
    I, for one, will never query or chase after agents again. I have five books in my computer, waiting to be finished and I have a limited amount of years in which to make them available–the publishing industry is too slow! I intend to use POD in the future to accomplish this.
    Don’t be afraid to take that step! What’s the worst thing that can happen? You might learn from it and then the next work you undertake will be that much better.
    The future belongs to the brave writer–the one who is not afraid to take risks; the writer who has faith in his/her gift–to tell a fascinating story!

  • HP van Duuren

    I don’t self-publish because a publisher turned me down….,

    Because I haven’t even considered to show it to a publisher, simply because it was not my intention to publish it with a (traditional) publisher, it was my intention to publish it as an – eBook – to be able to easily distribute it online.

    To promote my tiny little ebook I created a blog to write about this tiny little ebook and discovered how I can also (pre) sell all kinds of other products (like for example e-readers) online with Affiliate Marketing.

    I even created several special Blogs about for example writing and doing and building your own Home Business Success with Affiliate Marketing!

    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Writing – Inspiration,
    HP

  • Chris

    Interesting article and comments.

    I’m an unpublished author, about to self publish my debut novel, the first book of my three book series titled “Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?”, this Spring/Summer 2011 through Createspace.com. I also plan to put out three other books this year, and three to four next year (some relating to the series and others not).

    I have helped publish one book, and published a genealogy tree (though I don’t consider that to pop my publishing cherry).

    I never went out to agents or publishers. Why? Well, I didn’t want to waste my time or pin my hopes on someone else, cut my pie up in more ways (which comes first, the agent or the publisher), nor did I want to give up control and my rights (being familiar with legal contracts in the entertainment industry) like my digital rights being tied up along with my first born child, throughout the known universe until the end of time, and so forth. Malarky I say!

    I know the odds are stacked against me. I know that while I can get my book up onto Amazon, it means butt-kiss in sales. I know marketing is the largest piece of the puzzle, and while I haven’t got it all figured out, I know I am learning before my book goes out the door. I know all this, and either I’m pretty brilliant, or completely off my rocker because I don’t care. I’m going ahead regardless. I want great things for my book, as I’m sure all writers do.

    It seems the whole publishing industry is in an upheaval, along with the film studios. Why? Because they’re loosing control of the market. They are no longer the gate keepers of old, deciding what is and is not worthy of the printer. And I think that is just AWEsome. I say, let the market decide for themselves. I’ve come across too many beat up authors, who have either been rejected too many times that they’ve stopped trying, or authors who don’t even want to try to mainstream publish because they fear rejection. How many great stories are out there, that died with their authors, because the Big Boy Publisher’s stood at the gates? Ridiculous and very sad.

    Not every self publisher if a complete dufus. While we may not be learnED publishers, we have the passion for our craft, and the desire to have our work have a chance, burns the fires that keeps us focused on the prize, the DIY generation of publishing. We will learn as we go, because right now, as far as I can gander, the rule book was just thrown out the door, and its anyone’s and everyone’s game.

    What I find so interesting from the comments, is the self publishing book bashing. I have read a fair amount of different books, and some of from the Big Boy Publishers. And I have found mispelled words, poorly written stories, bad characters, childish book covers, and lacking development. And some, that while the layout wasn’t horrible, it was pretty sad. Having a publisher doesn’t ensure anything, really…imo.

    Have a enjoyable day and Happy writing!
    -c

  • Writing assistance

    There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith

  • Samie

    I find this whole debate interesting, I’m working on finishing my first novel and am debating my publishing options. I had a friend that was preaching self-publishing (specifically through Kindle/Amazon, who do a POD system as well, but that takes a slightly higher percentage than a Kindle version), but I’ve always shied away from self-publishing.

    My Grandfather self-published, and as much as I loved the man, he was an example of what most people think of when they think of self-publishing and it’s always been a bit of a deterrent for me.

    Recently it has not been the case. I am a fantasy writer, and as a rule, fantasy novels rarely make the big bucks. I love the idea of using POD and Kindle, as with Kindle’s cheaper prices, people buy more books. My best example of that point is my father, who can go through a book a day, is always looking for a new read. If he can get two or three books for the price of one paperback? He’s going to spend the money.

    My experience with POD has been good. A friend of mine published her book that way and she’s an amazing writer, it was just not a book a lot of publishing houses would have accepted. From last time I talked to her, she’s made pretty decent on it, but she also had only intended it for her friends and family to buy it.

    (And with the mention of typos and bad grammar, I am well aware mine is wonky in places. I’ve spent too much time experimenting.)

  • Michael

    I’m surprised by how many people are trying to perform some kind of verbal magic act and make self-publishing into something respectable. It isn’t. It just isn’t. Blogs are one thing; self-publishing your novel is quite another. Besides the obvious, those who self-publish gain an awful reputation, right out of the gate (and for good reason).

    It boils down to this: not all “self-published” books are unreadable nonsense written by lazy hacks… but the majority are. Self-published works aren’t vetted. They don’t rise to the top through competition. Therefore, they’re basically meaningless.

    A writer isn’t just someone who writes (that’s called a human being). Tons of people want to be writers but quite frankly, aren’t up to snuff (just as thousands of people who like playing basketball aren’t able to do it professionally). Passion isn’t enough. Not even close! It also takes raw talent and LOTS of hard work. Again, not all self-publishers do what they do because they’re lacking 1 or 2 of the 3, but many do.

    Why would you want to be associated with a group in which 99% of the writers undeniably aren’t worth a damn?

    I’ve published three books and five chapbooks, with another book in negotiations, all through presses and contests. I don’t claim to have a huge readership, but I can at least say that I’ve earned everything I’ve received. So I want to break a beer-bottle when I hear someone describe themselves as a “published writer” when all they did was hit “upload” or “print.” It’s like the thousands of guys who take two months of martial arts lessons then go around describing themselves as martial artists.

    The only possible exception I can see to this MIGHT be self-help or do-it-yourself books, stuff that’s basically going to be used as a reference guide, because the general readership already assumes those works won’t be as polished. They’re not looking for imagery, tension, and narrative flow. They just want to know how to build shelves. Even then, though, the books will stand a much greater shot if they have a professional press advertising and distributing them.

  • ApK

    Thankfully, Michael, you don’t speak for everyone, including the growing number of successful self-published writers and the publishers who more and more are giving traditional deals based on a writer’s self-published success. See the community forums on the Kindle Direct Publishing site for a growing number of stories.

  • ApK

    Forgot to add, the key is that while self-publishing has been deserving of the criticisms you give, technology has given us the opportunity to reverse that, and many are in process of doing just that.

  • applecore

    I found this site through Stumble – the article was interesting, but I have enjoyed your comments more. I love how the majority of comments are disagreeing with the post and find that encouraging since I have been toying with the idea of publishing a novel for my brother. I thought the article rather negative (and yes, without mention of digital options, which are super important – look at B&N) although he has some good points, as does Michael several comments above. I think it’s wise to be cautious and having seen a lot of self-published stuff, yeah, most of it is crap.

    The big difference, personally, is that I am a professional graphic designer and printer. Publishing books is new to me, but printing certainly isn’t. I also do copy editing, I’m currently building my brother’s website, and as part of my business I’m a marketing consultant. So in short, everything that can be done, I can do, at cost. He just does the writing, illustration and promotion. In this case, he gets ALL the profits. So I think who you know is also a very important point to consider if you’re well connected, and I’m not talking about your neighbor’s kid who has Photoshop on the basement PC.

    I’m probably younger than the majority of those who have commented, but I believe the traditional American workforce is somewhat a thing of the past. The economy may sucks, but the opportunities are limitless, and things are going to start changing for both of those reasons. This has been seen in entertainment – movies/music (the rise of Netflix and downfall of Blockbuster), the number of home businesses (Etsy), the ROWE system, freelance designers and developers, virtual assistants, overnight YouTube sensations and of course the end of B&N due to Amazon and Kindle, iPad, etc. I could go on and on (the comment above by Chris is fantastic in this regard).

    I think my overwhelming thought though was this: “Don’t people write books because, they love to, well, write?” It seems sad that it’s all about the money, as necessary as that seems. I don’t believe that’s true though… I think people should do what they love and find a way to make money at it. Approach it like investing and diversify. My clients are tattoo artists, lawyers, brides and business owners. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I have plans for things completely unrelated to printing, but about things I am also passionate about. I think this IS the new work movement by those who dare to try, and it most definitely includes authors and writers.

  • xixihaha567

    I’ve not checked in here for a whilst since I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are great high quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend

  • Unknown

    I’m going into self-publishing. Because, I like my story the way it is. Many of you, opposing of self-publishing are ignoring the most important thing. The readers decide! all this stuff about self-publishing books aren’t polished to the highest standards and are of low quality means absolutely nothing. If the reader is engaged and enjoyed the story that’s all that matters. I don’t care how correct your grammar, sentence structure, or punctuation is. If your story is boring, i’m not buying. Not to say errors are acceptable; but, as long as the book is readable, contains a good plot, decent cover, and good dialogue readers are sure to come.

    @applecore

    “So I think who you know is also a very important point to consider if you’re well connected, and I’m not talking about your neighbor’s kid who has Photoshop on the basement PC.” applecore, you’re right about one thing, it’s who you know. My brother and best-friend are very talented artists. They’ve agreed to work on the cover for me. um… what’s wrong with using Photoshop? It can make some nice book covers.

    @Michael

    “So I want to break a beer-bottle when I hear someone describe themselves as a “published writer” when all they did was hit “upload” or “print,” Spoken like a true critic and real writing hi-so. I’m 19 years old, been writing since I was 13. I enjoy story-telling, that is why I write. It took a year and one month to complete the first book of my novella series. I’m currently still revising and re-reading. I’m trying to aim for it to be as clear as possible. I take writing very seriously and worked very hard on constructing my book. It is the process and time put in the work, that gives an author the right to claim the title “Published Author.” It does not matter how they did it.

  • michael b nobody

    I can tell most of you love writing, but do you really think that by being pretentious as some of the above comments have been, as being helpful in any way to those of us whom would like to have our stories published, your road to being an author might not have been an easy one, but know this, not all tellers of stories have had the same experience as you nor you of them, and as all of you can tell by the mistakes written here, I never had to get a PHd. to feel that I “earned” the right to put pen to paper! I say bravo to those who dare even if it’s not with conventional pubs, get that story out there, I just want to read and enjoy it, besides only God is perfection.

  • Bill Polm

    Well, perhaps you have suffered enough for your conventional, prosaic, traditional opinion. So i’ll write with restraint.

    Here’s my take…

    The major publishing houses are in trouble and dying, somewhat slowly granted.

    Nothing wrong, of course, with seeking to publish a novel or nonfiction work with them. But not in order to get a validating trophy on your mantle, proof that you really are good after all.

    Are you checking out recently published works, including those by major houses? Some of them are beyond pathetic, just plain no good writing. Some of them even receive glowing reviews by big name people who should know better. Or at least have more integrity to tell it like the really see it..

    I’ve lost respect for a lot of those major publishers. The merit badges they hand out not longer entice me as they did years ago.

    Hey, get with the times! The internet is revolutionizing publishing. You really want to confine your head to the last century?

    What sells books is either hype or word of mouth. Period. Hype is most often deceptive like most advertising. Word of mouth works well–for any good writing. Major publishers these days do little beyond put a book together for you anyway.

    And who wants to wait two-to-three years or more to see a book in print. A minor point perhaps.

    To me a much smarter route, than rolling the dice with a publishing house or ten of them, is to build a platform through a blog, gain subscribers, the do a trial run with an ebook. You can even put out a few chapters for feedback and reactions. Then you have a solid basis–not just compliments by relatives and local friends–for going further.

  • Jay Gordon

    I read much farther along in the Comments section that I usually do and realized it was because it was a civilized discussion, something sadly lacking in many online forums. It was at that moment I discovered Levi Montgomery, decided he was interesting, went prowling on Amazon and downloaded “Crossroads.” If I like it as much as I expect, I’ll download other books.

    Thank you to those who captured my attention with civilized discourse and to Mr. Montgomery for making me want to push the magic ka-ching button to learn more about his views. If more writers wrote this well online, they’d probably sell more books. Just a thought.

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