Once More Into The Breach: Further Response To The Self-Publishing Hoo-Ha


Some quick reading material, should you feel like following the bouncing ball and singing along:

My original post (“Why Your Self-Published Book May Suck A Bag Of Dicks“). Peruse comments.

The Kindle Boards topic (scroll down a few messages). Thanks to Lee Goldberg for mentioning me there and also at his own site — in fact, Lee has his own post (“Knee-Jerk Defensiveness“) worth looking at.

I was also interviewed yesterday about self-publishing. Spinetingler Magazine has the juice.

And here is a video of a puppy taking a bath in slow motion.

We all caught up?


I figure instead of hopping around the forums and comment threads and pollinating them with my opinion-dust, I’d just hunker down here and rattle off some further thoughts and responses. The blog post is generating a lot of discussion — some interesting, some curious, some downright mystifying. Seems then that the blog is a good place to hash it out. Plus, I need a blog post for today. The blog, it hungers. It hungers. If I don’t feed it fresh content daily, it gets bitey. I already lost a ring-finger when I missed a day of posting. I shall not sacrifice any more of my digits — with this beast, it’s a total policy of appeasement.

Let’s slap on some hip waders and ease into the swamp.

Your Rabid Badger Hate Will Not Be Televised

An up-front warning: I am Fonzie cool with you disagreeing with me on any point. I am not cool, however, with anybody leaving hateful (and occasionally violent) “fuck you” comments on this blog. Those will be deleted. You can’t bring anything valuable to the table, then I flush you. Whoosh. I will not “die in a fire.” I will not choke on a bag of dicks and die. Your comment will die in a fire as I delete your madman ravings.

I’m sure someone out there is thinking that I shouldn’t delete stuff like that and should respond to it. Well, that is my response: deletion. As the movie says, this is not a Cheerocracy. If you’re a raging froth-mouthed dick-for-brains that brings nothing to the table, then I have zero interest in letting your comments lurk.

I Am Not Whizzing In The Mouth And Eyes Of “Indie Publishing”

Cat-Bird Banner: Irregular Creatures

If you seriously believe I oppose indie DIY self-publishing endeavors, you either a) have poor reading comprehension, b) have possibly been kicked by a mule and as a result are hemorrhaging in your brain or c) are just a jerk who thinks what he wants no matter the evidence to the contrary.

Newsflash: See the banner? I self-published a short story collection, IRREGULAR CREATURES. (For the record, I’m pleased with its sales. It’s doing nicely and I enjoy the experiment.)

Newsflash: I have colleagues who have self-published. They seem to be doing nicely. Their work is also exemplary. Have you seen 8 POUNDS by Chris Holm? Gaze upon its wondrous cover. Then crack it open like a nut and feast on its sweet meats.

Newsflash: I also have colleagues who represent independent film, independent game design, independent music. I do not believe “independent” is a dirty word.

Newsflash: If you continue to claim that I am somehow against all of self-publishing, you are woefully ignorant and willfully misrepresenting my position.

The only thing in the crosshairs of my Crap Cannon are those who self-publish their little dumpster babies.

Which leads me to…

If You Feel Defensive, Then I’m Probably Talking About You

As Lee puts it, there exists a degree of “knee-jerk defensiveness” going on about self-publishing. Now, to be clear, I do not equate disagreement with defensiveness. You’re obviously free to disagree. I am not the arbiter of the self-publishing community. Hell, I agree that I picked an easy target.

But that’s what amuses me. My initial feeling was, “Well, I’ve picked so easy a target that surely it won’t have any supporters. Who could possibly defend self-publishing badly?”


You find this with willful teenagers. I remember because I was one of them.

Your mother might say, “Someone broke the toilet when someone flushed someone’s old underpants down the pipes. Do you happen to know who that someone might be?”

And you, as Willful Teenager, stammer and gesticulate and feign persecution. “God. It’s like,  whatever. It’s like, I can’t not get blamed for stuff. God. God!

Except, of course, you were still the one who flushed your underpants down the toilet on a dare made by your friend, Bad Influence Buddy. But that doesn’t stop your loud protestations.

This is like that.

Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

Badges And Sirens: What “Self-Policing” Means

I see some took issue with my notion that the community should self-police. You’re right, to a point. While a cruel little part of my heart would be eminently satisfied if we dragged all the rot-suck self-publishers into the light of scrutiny where they all burst into flames, their ashes caught in whorls on the wind, I do agree that such a thing is probably too mean and ultimately not that helpful.

It was, in part, a joke, but a joke born of some seriousness. Like most of my “bag of dicks” post, actually.

Here’s what I really mean by self-policing: you should stop acting like some entrenched fundamentalist community. Fundamentalists are never useful, never helpful. Stop being rabid cheerleaders for one another when it isn’t deserved. You claim that cream rises to the top? Alternate theory: shit floats. If you think the good stuff will eventually be recognized for its quality, then laud it, sing its praises — but don’t do the same for the sub-par low-quality nonsense. You don’t have to drag them kicking and screaming into the city square where we all pelt them with ice balls. But you also don’t have to pretend that you’re comrades. You don’t have to link arms. Youi don’t have to pretend that bad is actually good.

Don’t be the noisy minority that loudly cheers for any self-published tripe just because it’s self-published. “Indie” is not an adjective for “quality.” Neither, for the record, is “traditional.” The only trick to traditional is, those gatekeepers you love to hate so much are at the very least ensuring that what goes out into the world isn’t the artistic equivalent of a dead seagull duct taped to a brick and heaved through your living room window. Self-publishing may not utilize or even require gatekeepers, but it could damn sure use some taste-makers, some prime-movers, some exemplars.

Be that. Elevate good works, not crap. Be part of the reason why cream rises. Don’t let the shit float.

Do You Hate Books?

You have chosen to self-publish. Good for you. That’s a choice you have made. It may not be a choice others have made. Just as you are not an idiot or an asshole for self-publishing, others are not idiots or assholes for going the other way. Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

Why all the anger toward traditional publishing? If you’re not choosing that path, then what’s with the pissing and moaning? Did traditional publishing come and spit in your Cheerios? Are you stung because of a rejection? Tough titty. Even the best writers have received tough rejections. Some deserved, some not. Get shut of it. Harden up. Stop casting aspersions at those who have nothing to do with your failure or your success. Learn a lesson and move on.

I mean, how did you come to love reading, exactly? At bedtime did your mother go and download an independent children’s book onto her Kindle to read to you? Was your mother a time traveler?

No. She read you a book. From a bookshelf. Found in a library or a bookstore. And that book was traditionally published by a traditional author and a traditional publishing company.

That system still produces a metric butt-ton of truly excellent reading material. Sure, it also is the system that pooped out a Snooki book. And yes, the Snooki book creates other Snooki books when you splash self-tanner on it, and when the Snooki book drinks vodka-and-Red-Bull after midnight it releases Snooki — like the Krampus! — into the world. But holding up examples of authors you don’t like doesn’t mean the entire traditional system is somehow corrupt or devoid of quality in much the same way that holding up examples of shitty self-publishing was not my way of saying that all indie publishing is bereft of value.

Preaching To The Choir

I’ll cop to the fact that, by and large, I was preaching to the choir. Again, I picked an easy target.

Still. I have a tiny glimmer of hope that someone out there felt the scales fall from their eyes and they were able to realize, “Hey, you know what? Maybe I shouldn’t just foist this unedited story into the world. Maybe it wouldn’t be the best idea if I designed the cover myself in MS Paint. Maybe I should actually take myself and my craft seriously and see that my story has potential but that to achieve that potential actually takes work and thought and effort — and that the best way of me proving myself and proving that self-publishing is viable is not by sloppily belching my undigested meal into the marketplace but rather by exhibiting a little bit of patience and care.”

Further, maybe if you spent less time railing against the establishment and took more time becoming a better writer (and a better publisher), you wouldn’t feel so blindly defensive.

Standards And Best Practices

You want everybody to take self-publishing seriously.

They do not. Not yet.

Self-publishing and its proponents and practitioners will never get the respect it reportedly deserves while the vocal fundamentalist who-gives-a-shit-about-quality community is there championing the half-rotting deer carcass work of Scoots McCoy with the same triumphant horn-blows that they use to tout the works of Konrath or Goldberg (or Insert Your Favorite Self-Published Author Here).

Stop treating the Kindle marketplace or any other distribution system like it’s your own personal White Elephant sale. You want self-publishing to work, it needs to look like a bookstore, not a flea market.

Stop high-fiving shitty authors for being shitty.

Stop assuming that any critique is there to tear you down. Make hay of it. If you cover sucks, get a better cover. If your description reads like ass, write a better description. And for God’s sakes, always improve your craft. You want to be a pro, then act like a pro. Not like a mewling kitten who didn’t get a taste of milk.

Get better. Be better. Prove your way works or be saddled with the stigma.

Good authors and good books are out there no matter how they got published. Why wouldn’t you want to be among them? Why would you want to be the enemy of quality work?

Why would you want your book to suck a bag of dicks?

74 responses to “Once More Into The Breach: Further Response To The Self-Publishing Hoo-Ha”

  1. Eh. Don’t complain…

    …(but at least get a quality cover artist for anything you intend to put up at $4.99 or more & a competent layout designer for when you send it to the printer. Cultivate a few copy editors as you go along and you’re golden)…

    …Write more.

    Breadth of quality stock is worth more than a single book’s Beauty. Don’t cheap out, though, you’re running a business here.

  2. If a self-published book full of spelling errors, incoherent plot (if any) and other idiosyncratic drivel can be considered a “great novel,” then I guess the YouTube video of my drunk friends pushing a dumpster into a pool deserves an Academy Award for best picture.

  3. Way to confederate those dunces! Sometimes the truth hurts so much that those struck by it falling from orbit just have to lash out with flaming-pitbull predictability. Still, it’s nice to see who defends the right to self publish crap, because I won’t be reading them.

    My essential problem, and that of many other writers in the ongoing super-melee of the global market, is that the plumbing is clogged up with downright awful crap. That makes the potential reader wary, thinking…. welllll, I don’t want to try something from the little ethnic restaurant, it might give me fire-hydrant diarrhea. So I’ll stick to dirty Macca’s and have a Twilight Burger with Extra Potter like every other hump.

    Expecting the ol’ ‘invisible hand’ to sort it out is like waiting for the same magic hand to fix the economy. In life, when have you ever been anything other than let down by invisible things/people/deities? Readers may be literate, but they will invariably suck down any faeco-cube slathered with enough advertising, and as a community, the indie scene has a tendency to praise, and therefore advertise, shite.

    We really need our comments and reviews to mean something, so that they can actually inform, not just be part of an immense global circle-jerk praising the latest nun abuse memoir from west potatoshire – written by a well-meaning laptop-jockey who was told by a mate in the pub that their letter to the editor of ‘New Age Dolphin Squeezer’ magazine was better than ‘War and Peace’.

  4. Consider the blogosphere. Someone who knows how to write thought-provoking posts or good linkbait will attract lots of readers and commenters. Someone who writes drivel won’t show up until page 1,034 of Google’s search results, and they won’t matter.

    Will people sometimes read drivel? Yes. Will any old idiot figure s/he can write a blog? Yes. Will that stop some truly great blogs from emerging even though the blogosphere – gasp – doesn’t have any big gatekeepers other than the reader? No.

  5. chuck said:
    > But DIY indie authors would be wise to recognize that
    > the stigma against the overall practice remains in place

    i’m not so sure about that “stigma” thing any more, not as
    a guiding principle for the great unwashed masses out there.
    first, most readers don’t know who published a book. further,
    self-published authors are receiving unprecedented support
    from readers who’re _buying_ their work in _huge_ numbers.
    if you’re not up-to-date with this, i suggest you get informed.
    the news for self-published writers is _very_ upbeat today…

    > and in some cases for a reason.

    there will always be “a reason” that self-published works can
    be categorized as “crap”, because a lot of them _are_ crap…
    that’s what you get when _anybody_ can publish _anything_,
    and the reading/buying audience understands this very well…
    but it’s very easy to avoid the crap, just like it’s very easy to
    avoid the dog-poop on the grass patch next to the sidewalk…
    and even the dog-poop in the _middle_ of the darn sidewalk…

    > It is not polite to pick apart the grammar
    > or spelling of other commenters.

    i wasn’t trying to be “polite”. i was trying to get them to see
    the complaint about grammar and spelling applies to _them_,
    even if they don’t realize it, and think it’s about somebody else.

    or is this only an argument one can use against the out-group?

    and criminey, talk about “knee-jerk defensiveness”…

    > It does nothing to make you or your position more endearing.

    i’m not trying to make myself or my position “more endearing”.

    i’m mocking people who really and truly deserve to be mocked
    for their poor spelling and bad grammar.

    except they don’t know it.

    and let’s be up-front here, and acknowledge that these people
    _themselves_ are people who mock others who “really and truly
    deserve to be mocked” for their poor spelling and bad grammar,
    so it’s not as if i’ve broken the golden rule here.

    > Please don’t do that.

    what do you say to people who ask you to stop your mocking?
    oh right, you write a _follow-up_ entry, with more of the same.
    that’s what you do.

    so, yeah, ok, right, i will stop doing that.

    > I would suggest that its practitioners are no more active
    > than those authors who seek traditional publication.

    i am quite sure you _can_ see the difference if you want to…

    most of the people who go with the “traditional” route end up
    with their work never, ever seeing the light of day by anyone.
    i’d guess only 2% ever get any of their work out to the public.

    self-publishers at least get the work out, so it has _a_chance_.
    (and yes, a whole lot of this work doesn’t _deserve_ a chance,
    but it doesn’t hurt the world that it was given a chance anyway,
    or else the world would be choking on a billion bad blogs now.)

    > Trying to get your work published is most certainly
    > not a passive endeavor.

    no, but accepting the rejection and letting the work rot away
    instead of giving it time in the sunlight certainly _is_ passive.

    and that’s where the _action_ of self-publishing is worthwhile.

    you know this yourself, because you self-published yourself.
    and others can confirm it. right here, elizabeth said that she
    was “empowered” by the idea that she could publish herself.

    in my book, that’s a good thing.

    and it doesn’t matter whether elizabeth can write, or not…


  6. Jess the acquisitions editor here, back for more. I’ve been learning a lot about self-publishing recently, and for that I must thank you Chuck! I’ll admit that I’ve been firmly in the anti-self-publishing camp for awhile now, and mostly because, well… it’s my job.

    I once had a self-pubbed author talk to me about what I do, and he was mostly trying to get me to admit that he made the right decision by not going with traditional publishing. All of his assumptions about me and my job (according to most authors, I’m the person who signs the form rejection letters… which is only half-right) were wrong. He tried to get me to admit that I don’t read all of the query letters that I get, and that no one at the publishing house where I work reads the books before they are produced. He’s wrong. I read every single query letter I receive, usually even up to the last word, and our managing editor reads every manuscript as she’s editing, from the first sentence to the last. It’s not my fault that bad writing and a bad idea are easy to recognize by the first paragraph.

    So I agree that many (see, I didn’t say “all”) self-published authors really just need to get their acts together and improve their craft. If you’re getting rejected by traditional publishers, it just might be because a) You’re querying the wrong publisher for your book, and b) Your writing or idea needs a significant amount of work. It took many years for Steinbeck to produce the final draft of “East of Eden,” and only one year for him to write the first draft.

  7. You write funny stuff. You put a new spin on turns of phrase, or something. But I’m not exactly sure why the books you linked nabbed your attention, especially the covers, which seem barely better than papyrus.

  8. *reads Chucks very first initial comment*


    *prepares for next article titled “Why Even a Good Cover, Description, and Sample can have you buying a Turd*

    Seriously, thanks for the kind words, man. I just (really really really) hope I keep you entertained.

  9. I just found this blog. I enjoy your writing style! What’s amazing to me, a newcomer to all this, is why people argue so much about self-publishing versus traditional publishing like it’s good vs. evil. Self-publishing is a *tool* for writers, a tool they did didn’t have in the past! It doesn’t have to be labeled good or bad or anything else. I once turned my nose down at self-publishers, I confess. I assumed they were the writers who “settled” and must not be good enough to get traditionally published. That’s simply not true. Getting an agent is a difficult process; self-publishing is an option writers can now choose as a way to start their careers. It may limit your publishing options later, true, just because big publishers are *hesitant* to pick up a self-published book. But if your book’s good enough, they will anyway.

    I eventually folded and self-published after failing to find an agent/publisher that fit me; now I have several great editorial reviews to back me up, as well as good customer reviews, and agents are starting to get interested. My goal was always to get a big publisher, because I don’t have to spend all my time formatting text and marketing myself–I just want to write! Isn’t that what we all want?

    So what’s the big deal?

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