Self-Publishing And The Burden Of Proof

“Whoever said that life is fair? Where is that written?”

– Grandpa, The Princess Bride

Last week I wrote a probably-too-cranky post about the bad apples bobbing around the self-publishing bucket, and that post got a little attention as it pinballed around Ye Olde Webnet, and as such, it received a number of interesting responses here and there and everywhere.

I thought it best to continue this discussion and, this time, tackle it with a little less, erm, invective on my part. Because I think we’re scratching at some very important topics here for DIY publishers.

The first and most troubling response is one I’ll get out of the way now: some folks seemed to believe I was giving all self-publishers the middle finger. Unless you’re looking to cherry-pick a bouquet of out-of-context quotes, you won’t find much evidence in that post of me smearing self-publishers. I’ve read many excellent books that exist only because the authors went that direction. I think self-publishing is part of what makes this time the best time ever to be a writer and a storyteller. I am, in fact, a self-publisher myself (though I favor a diverse “hybrid” approach). And in fact knowing self-publishers and being one myself is what makes me rail against the most poisoning voices. They may do themselves a service by getting attention, but they surely don’t do any other self-publishers a favor — and that leads to the second response.

The other response has been, “Well, this is all inside baseball and it doesn’t affect readers and so who cares what the crazies say or do.” And I don’t agree with that sentiment one bit. Let’s talk about why.

Traditional publishing is, for better or for worse, the current status quo. A book goes through the onerous task of reaching an audience — agent to editor to publication to bookshelves — and that’s the way it’s been for decades. Self-publishing has always existed, sure, but over the last many years it has been a fringe act. This is no longer true, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that this current wave of self-publishing possibility is very new. It is not the status quo.

Which means the current “system” is geared toward traditional. What do I mean by that? I mean: Reviews. Interviews. Awards. Rights. They all lean toward traditional and in many cases exclude indie efforts entirely. Now, the easy, knee-jerk response is, “Fuck them! They don’t want me? I don’t want them.” Except, you do want them. Some self-publishers do very well but plenty more find themselves struggling — and, in many cases, struggling with a beautiful, brilliant novel. Those struggling would likely find themselves reaching a broader, deeper audience with — repeat after me — reviews, interviews, awards, and rights. With those you would in fact reach more readers. (And remember, it’s readers we’re talking about here.)

Next comes the question: “Why are self-publishers excluded?”

Well, the simplest answer is, again, the “indie” community does not represent the status quo, and those outside the status quo are the ones with the regrettable and unfortunate (and, yes, unfair) burden of proving their mettle. The champion in the arena gets to strut around like the cock of the walk. The underdog has to prove he can cleave the champion’s skull in twain.

But, the more realistic — and more troubling — answer is that self-publishing has a number of standard-bearers who are not, frankly, all that healthy for the overall community (such as it is). And so we return to the “fevered egos” post in question, which calls out bad apples who do bad-apple-things (can’t write, use sales numbers as a bludgeon, publish a shit-ton of crappy books, act like jerkoffs, and so on and so forth).

They act like that, they hurt me, they hurt you, they hurt self-publishers. Because they get attention — the wrong kind of attention. In self-publishing, there most certainly is such a thing as bad publicity. A meltdown on a popular book review blog has… what effect, exactly? Do you think it:

a) Endears the book review blog to self-published authors?

or

b) Makes them more standoffish to self-published authors?

I’m going to go with “b.”

Again your response may be, “Blah blah blah, screw them.”

No, not screw them. They do this of their own free will. They don’t get paid. They’re out there spending time and effort (and sometimes money) to put their love of books on the line. They should have to put up with this… why, exactly? (I can speak to this a little myself. I get a lot of email from self-published authors and while many are very nice, I receive a not insignificant number who are pushy and assumptive and often at the same time offering content that is far below the bare minimum level of quality offered by traditional publishing. I have not gotten one such email from a traditional author.)

Blogs like these can help you reach readers.

Ah! Yes. Readers. Remember them?

See, I don’t think readers are unaware of all this. We can hope it’s all inside baseball as much as we like, but when an indie author melts down on a book review blog, you need to understand that’s a blog for readers, not for publishing insiders. It’s not a blog for agents to snicker at one another about the rube who just covered himself in medical waste and tinfoil while ranting about the “conspiracy against his literary genius.” Readers read those blogs. I know they do. You know how many readers found Blackbirds that way?

Plenty. And I’m thankful for that fact.

Do we think readers aren’t on social media?

Twitter? Facebook? Your blog? My blog?

Are we willing to bet that readers aren’t savvy? Are we willing to dismiss them as a crowd of blissfully-ignorant yokels? Are we comfortable suggesting that readers never have blogs of their own? Or Twitter accounts? Or Facebook pages? If even 10% of readers are this savvy, are we willing to lose them?

Whether we’re talking meltdowns on blogs or ugly books with bad editing, readers know. Readers see. Readers are a lot fucking smarter than you realize. They may not be privy to every little bump of turbulence that authors and publishers experience so keenly, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bunch of hee-haw ignoramuses, either. And so we return to what I believe is the truth at hand: the burden of proof lies in the hands of self-publishers. And every poison pill and bad apple who has a public shit-fit or puts his worst foot forward might as well be urinating in the public drinking water.

They give all self-publishers a bad name.

They increase the burden; they do not lessen it.

That burden of proof is on the indies. That’s what it takes to disrupt the status quo.

Is that particularly fair? No.

But, as Grandpa notes above, whoever said life was fair?

* * *

Now, to finish up here: a call to action. What to do, then, about all this? The easy answer would be to ignore it — ignore the crazy people and they’ll go away. (One only hopes that everybody else will ignore it, too.) Or, maybe you go the other way. Maybe you talk about it. Just lending your voice to the conversation can help it go further — that doesn’t mean shouting it down, necessarily, or being quite as, erm, vociferous as I am here, but I feel this is a worthy conversation to have.

Beyond that? Just don’t be that guy. Don’t be the crazy person. Write well. Be cool. Put yourself out there. Work for the good of indie authors and not against it. Lead by example! “Independent” authors and publishers may be separate from one another, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect one another.

The more good apples we have, the harder it is to see the bad ones.

53 comments

  • i’m currently almost finished writing my first work of fiction, I know that part hard enough if i knew what i knew now would i still write yes. As for self pub or not I dont see the reason why a person can not do both because there are pro’s and con’s to both.

    As well as bad apples but you get them everywhere I’ve been threaten to women love me a little too much and that was in business i dont want to even think about writing or acting lol.

  • I was recently a judge for a fiction award. I read every book published in Australia in a particular genre for 2011. Many were self-published. Unfortunately, not one of those self-published works made it to the final shortlist. I’m not saying there were all rubbish, some were very good. But not as good as the books that had been through the “gatekeeper” of a traditional publisher and then carefully polished with the assistance of experts. Maybe the gatekeeper bit isn’t as important as the polishing bit. Was it here (not you, Chuck, a comment) that I read a suggestion that you dump your first draft on the public and then revise after you get negative comments – using the reading public to point you in the right direction? Arg!

  • I’ve been following this topic over the blogosphere since your initial post with interest. I agree with you, that these bad apples are keeping the reputation of self publishing in the realm of ‘talentless amatuers’. We do need to work together, and be generous with our resources and knowledge, to cultivate a more professional image and to foster better writing. One way in which we can do this is to put the reader at the center of everything we do. Interesting post, thanks.

  • Word, Sir.
    I was trying to formulate some similar arguments – i.e. this is what you want readers, those lovely people you do actually want to buy your books – to see? Really?
    But you’ve done it a great deal more eloquently than I could, (and with a quote from The Princess Bride, to boot) so thank you.

  • Sadly, it has always been the case that the person or group who is trying to break into an established arena has to be not ‘just as good’ but better, than the incumbents, to make a favourable impression. There is a prejudice against the outsider and that will continue in this case for some time to come. Despite the enthusiastic embracing of self-publishing and small-press publishing by many writers, as a serious part of the industry, it is still in its infancy. And until it gets some years under its belt, some more big names on its lists and a solid mid-list behind it, it is incumbent on us all who care about getting it equal status not to be twits and to distance ourselves as much as possible from twit behaviour – even more than we would were there not so much at stake.

    But… refraining from abusing reviewers and doing our best to engage respectfully with the establishment isn’t enough. We also have to deal with the elephant in the room. We have to not suck.

    Recently, I have bought several self-published e-novels. A couple I got free, but most of them I paid for, although they certainly weren’t expensive. I have read at least some of all of them and with one exception, they all needed editing. None of them was dreadful – mostly because I always look at the sample and reject the ones that can’t get past the first page without a typo or seven. But they all had mistakes which were noticeable and which, for me, intruded on my enjoyment of the story to the extent that I struggled to finish them.

    The mistakes varied. They all had typos and one in particular had a turn of phrase which the author probably uses all the time in spoken English without a problem but which, on the page, quickly became very grating. These are basic copy-editing and proofing errors which occasionally get through in big-house books, but not with anywhere near this frequency. In the case of quirky-phrase author, they might have been less irritating if the author had not boasted, on their blog, of being a professional editor and proofreader and doing all their own work. (If that isn’t an argument for getting someone else to proof your work, I don’t know what is.)

    Other issues were more structural. Bad and sloppy handling of point of view, patchy pacing, convoluted plots that had a lot of good stuff going for them but kind of lost the way in the middle, or took too long to get going… and so on.

    Now you could argue that the average reader wouldn’t notice a lot of these things and you are quite probably right. But I think that, even if they can’t say what the problem is, there is still a risk of sacrificing reader engagement if you make avoidable mistakes like this. There is a reason why we have editors.

    And if we are talking reviewers, they are not Joe or Josephine Average Reader. They are experienced readers who know a good book and know a sloppy book and have many more books than they have time. If self-publishers turn up seven dodgy books out of ten, or even five, and legacy publishers turn up one dodgy one in ten, whose production do you think they are going to prioritise? It’s a simple numbers game.

    If we want self-publishing to shake off its vanity roots and stain, then the serious writers in the fold – and I would place all of the authors whose books I bought in that category – HAVE to get serious about working with quality partners. We won’t ever weed out all the people who are deluded and just want to see their name in print. People who can’t carry a tune keep showing up for American Idol too. But we can make sure that those with talent and who are working at this put out work that is properly finished.

    We can’t guarantee that everyone will LIKE it, nor should we try. Our job as writers is to tell the truth as we see it, not to try to please everyone. But we can make sure that our truth is as well-told as we can make it – and that means well edited.

    I’m sure I remember you saying this stuff here, Chuck and I think you mentioned good cover art as well (also vital), so I may be preaching to the choir and I apologise for the length of this comment. But I thought it needed to be said, as part of the ‘conversation’. Thanks for bearing with me!

    • @Imelda:

      True enough. And I think readers are becoming more aware — and not in a good way.

      Case in point, I have an older (60s-age) relative who bought a few books from self-pub authors without realizing what they were — they were cheap and she thought to try them. What she found was, to the number, the three or four she bought were really, really bad. So, now she’s on the look out for books that look like these — less-professional covers, no publisher listed, priced lower than major releases. She was not aware that the books she was now avoiding were self-publishing (though she is now after I mentioned it) but that’s what was happening. Her very simple question was, “How did these books ever make it onto Amazon?”

      So, let’s see, what’s her reward is for shopping outside her comfort zone of buying the same authors she’s read for 20 years? She’s rewarded with an inferior reading experience. And what’s the result of that reward? She’ll go back to the comfort zone.

      – c.

    • I should also add to the post that the other thing self-publishers need to stop doing is fanning the flames of the self/trad “war” — it’s not a real thing. Authors don’t live across some imaginary divide from one another. Nor do publishers. Own your space. Earn your readers. Self-publish because it’s the right decision, not because of rejection, not because of sour grapes. Begone with the talk of victimization, get shut of this idea where one is “sticking it to the man.” I see so much talk that relishes how self-publishing is going to “destroy” traditional Big Six publishing (which is absurd and should be a troubling notion even to self-publishers) — you can be empowered without stealing that power from others.

      – c.

  • Amen to that added bit, Chuck. It IS a brave new world – where there will be both kinds: Country AND Western – and doubtless a whole slew of kinds we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s not us and them: It’s writers and readers and embracing new and better ways to connect them. That’s all. There needs be no fight here. Just good books, and, with a bit of luck and a lot of work, a better deal for writers AND readers.

  • One word comes to my mind when I read posts like this and those that begat them: professionalism. The key to be taken seriously is to act in a professional manner. If more folks understood this simple, but evidently hard to implement, concept, our journeys as Indie writers would go a whole lot smoother.

    Act like you belong, not like a child who kicks and screams when the game doesn’t go his way.

  • Agree! And agee with Imelda too.

    Writing is a business. Self-publishing is a different business. Writers need to treat it as one. We need to duplicate the services that a traditional publisher would provide and PAY FOR them. It’s investing in our business. Crit editor, proofreader, graphic artist for cover design, etc. Opening up a small business without investing any capital in it is a fast road to failure, and those who throw a novel up on the internet without investing both time and resources to make it the best it can be. . . well that just burns my biscuits.

    My only hope is to be the beautiful, bright, shiny, yummy apple in the bunch.

  • I find it hard to cooperate with the TradPub lumbering dinosaur of blind rejections, when the quicksilver option of Self-Pub has people making money from day one.

    I tend to think that a book requires 2 things to succeed:

    1) It has to be awesome
    2) Have to get the word out.

    If I determine that I can check off both of these without TradPub, the lumbering dinosaur becomes obsolete indeed.

    Yes, I know that this sort of statement sounds arrogant and foolish, but I am not saying it from ego or vanity, or to “stick it to the man”.

    It’s just how the math adds up.

    Both routes are an absolute gamble. At least with Self-pub, I can implement direct actions to improve my odds. With trad-pub, I am at the mercy of the whims of strangers who don’t care if I live or die.

    I might have my head up my ass, but I like to be in charge of my own destiny.

    I’ll be a genius or a fool, depending on the result I get.

  • The biggest problem is that the bad apples don’t know who they are. I have a fabulous writers group. We got a new member who wasn’t even close to being ready and was already querying. The first couple critique sessions were ignored, then she left the group. There were major problems with the manuscript but she didn’t want to hear that. She wanted the inside scoop on what to do next. When we asked basic questions about character development, setting and plot, her response was that it was a YA novel, so naturally we couldn’t relate.

    I don’t think we drove her away, we make a point of being polite and constructive to each other. And we all have different strengths – grammar, structure, continuity, etc. I think she gave up on us because we didn’t have the “secrets”. And I am sure she will go and self publish that story and market the hell out of it.

    So how do you stop someone who doesn’t know they’re egregiously wrong?

  • So… I guess what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas? Well. I get the status quo thing, just don’t know how applicable it really and truly is. The status quo is in flux. I understand your concerns, but I think times are changing. There will come an ah-ha moment when readers realize bad books are bad books regardless of origin. And good books are good books.
    I trust readers.

  • A lot of bloggers have a policy that they will not review self published titles. I’m not one of them, but for me, as of yet it hasn’t been a big issue since I am an audiobook blog, and self publishing audiobooks is really at its infancy stage.

    I don’t blame bloggers for not wanting to review self published works. All too often, a bloggers first interaction with a self published author will be an DM or mention on Twitter with a link to their book on Amazon, or an email asking them to review their book. Often times, these requests are mode without the author doing any homework at all, for, example, reading the blog. Most bloggers have review policies, and “About Me” pages that tell authors what types of books they like and don’t. If you send a blogger a request to review a book that is within a genre they say that they don’t review, all it is saying is that you haven’t bothered to read their blog. If you can’t be bothered to read their words, why should thy read and review yours?

    The first interaction between a blogger and an author shouldn’t be a sales pitch. Use Social media to engage with readers and reviewers. Read their blogs and comment on the content. I recently posted a blog post on my favorite Zombie Fiction, a post I worked hard on, and got a lot of good comments. I also got pitched an author’s Zombie book in the comments. No comment on the list, or the work I did, just “If you read my book you’ll find that it should make this list” with a link to his Amazon listing.

    This is why bloggers are starting to fear self publishers. We love to read, or listen to books. We love interacting with authors, and if we enjoy an author’s feed, and they take the time to engage with us, we very well may want to read their books, no matter how it was published.

    One last note: If a blogger has a policy where they don’t review self published books, don’t think that you can convince them to change that policy by sending a harshly worded email about their discriminatory practices. It won’t work, and it will only lead to the blogger complaining about self published authors on Twitter.

    Oh, one last pet peeve. If you follow a blogger on Twitter, and they don’t follow you back. Do not than repeatedly unfollow them, then re follow them, to help them “get the message.” Again, interact with them and make your twitter feed interesting, and not just adverts for your books.

  • Perhaps the disconnect between self pub and traditional is that while both involve books the activities are rooted in separate ambitions. It took me a long time to find an agent and we may never find a publisher but the desire is clear. That does make me crazy but I understand the daisy chain, an understanding which, like the source of the Nile, is hard to find and worth looking for.
    If you are self published it is more difficult to discern the exact source of mindless rage because you may be cllnging to the false god of acceptance. Work that is self published has not been accepted. So what? If you find a readership you may find peace and you may find yourself writing in the second person which should really make you mad as hell.,.

  • Great post Chuck.

    I wonder if you may have also been referring to Konrath’s blog? I don’t go there much anymore because I got tired of the Big 6 bashing, over and over. Enough already…

  • For me, it boils down to one thing: if you want to be a published author, regardless of what venue the work is published in, you MUST be professional.

    Professional means you 1) make a commitment to excellence, 2) are willing to work hard, 3) have outside readers honestly and fully critique your work, 4) respect your readers (and potential readers) and 5)own every word on the page.

    There is no ‘war’, there is only what we each choose to put our energies to.

  • I’ve kicked around the idea for a centralized ‘indie book authority.’ I see the problem of lack of any quality control or assurance in independant publishing. The gatekeepers in traditional publishing ensure that you’ll get something that has been vetted and approved. What if an independant organization took applications to have each indie book granted a ‘seal of approval’ once they’ve been published?

    Obviously, this has some immediate problems. First, how could one possibly define the criteria for granting this approval? And then how to deal with authors (like the aforementioned Best Fantasy Author EVAR) who may not be thrilled to find their books are not approved?

    Finally – and most realistically – how would the system ever truly be accepted? Thousands of authors would need to be willing to subject their independently published works to scrutiny and judgement which they initially avoided (whether they self-published exclusively to avoid this or not). In order for it to mean anything whatsoever, enough people would have to believe in it – just like traffic laws: the only reason traffic lights work, and we don’t wreck into each other all the time at intersections is because we all agree that a red light means we should stop.

    I have no idea how such an organization could come into existence, or how it would function and sustain itself. It seems like it could be helpful in providing tangible legitimacy to those who cannot otherwise see it in indie publishing.

    I don’t know. The Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) came into existence in a rather similar way, though it sought to classify the mainstream of its media rather than the independant publishing efforts.

    • I’ve been suggesting this same idea for years, but I actually have a business model for it that I’m confident addresses all the issues raised. The key elements that are not described above are:

      1) The works receiving the “seal” are not self-published, but accepted into the catalog of an indie publisher who promotes the catalog to readers based on the seal, and pays the author royalties, and

      2) The group that does the evaluating — a “jury” of readers working independently of each other is separate from the indie publisher except for sharing the “seal”, because

      3) The author pays the evaluating group for the chance at the seal, which is only granted to a small percentage of the submission; i.e., the best of the best.

      Now, these three elements are listed in reverse-chronological order of occurrence. For, say, $300 an author will submit their completed work to a set of 12 evaluators, chosen at random from a large group of volunteer readers. The readers each get $20 to do the evaluation, with the management structure keeping $5 each for the effort. Readers don’t have to read the entire book unless they are giving it a high evaluation. That way, readers get some compensation and actually have an incentive to be brutal. Either way, the author gets twelve evaluation forms. Most will be disappointed. That’s life in the publishing biz.

      Those works that earn the medallion via, say a 4.5 out of 5 star rating among the 12 evaluators, are referred to the indie publisher, who has received $0 from the author, who will automatically offer the author a $0 advance but will pay to produce e-book and, if applicable, printed book (probably using CreateSpace or something like that) and a place in their catalog along with the other works that have earned the seal. The publisher promotes the seal to the reading public. When the book sells, the author gets royalties.

      The author can reject the publishing offer, but they can’t use the seal for their own marketing. They can, however, use the evaluation ratings they received for self-publishing or to attract another publisher, if they want to go that route.

      This is not a perfect model but it has no obvious holes, either. It’s an alternative model for authors to attempt to reach an audience on the basis of reader-determined quality for works that otherwise would need to be self-published. But it’s not self-published because the author is not the publisher, it’s been through a rigorous weeding process, and they’ve paid the publisher nothing. It’s actually not so different from traditional publishing except that the evaluators are regular readers instead of the gauntlet of agents and editors and pub execs, and the pretense of the author not paying for have their work read is discarded.

      The natural retort is that after paying $300 (Oh My!!) the author expects something good. One might, if he or she were paying a publisher or agent a reading fee of that amount. Those parties in the publishing business would see it as a profit center and probably milk it. But the author gets 12 independent evaluations for their money, plus a shot at a coveted reader seal of approval and a publishing deal. That’s far more objective than the process authors currently face.

  • I think part of the problem is Self-Publishers typically don’t recognize what quality is. About a year ago I wrote the first 100 pages of my novel, Clear Shadow (I’m still picking names for the book between that, The Legend Of The Clear Shadow, and Gateways). I had an awesome premise, two worlds with people who have organs in their body to achieve the phenomenon known as “magic”, and through clever use of this magic, metalwork, and dimensional Gateways, they are able to achieve space travel in ships fully equipped with Laser guns, shields, and all that nice Science Fiction stuff, while the ships are decorated like something out of a Final Fantasy sketch book (well, I had time, and I decided a section with all the ships, weapons, and such would only add to the book. Thus I gave them crazy weapons like Gunswords and Swords that can open up like scissors). The storyline was fine.

    But then I lost the document for 10 months. And I forgot most of what I written. It reappeared 3 weeks ago, and rereading it I realized what I written wasn’t too good. My problem was not WHAT I’ve said, it’s HOW I said it. Writers know the reader cares mostly about storyline, but don’t get me wrong, you can get away with crap storylines (Zombies Versus {insert random animal here}), and get away writing amazing books. You have to have a good way with words. And be careful, as you must be wary the reader can’t see what you’re thinking or glimpse what’s in your head unless you write everything down on paper. EVERYTHING. (ok maybe not everything… I don’t want them to know about my hasturbating)

  • Actually, the current system is geared towards…stupidity. It’s just like Hollywood, where original ideas are deemed “too risky” or “dangerous” so they have Freddie Kills a Bunch of People…Part 17 instead. Publishers, editors, and agents aren’t remotely interested in taking any sort of risk, so they stay with the names they know and continually try to re-invent the same tired plots over and over.

    In fact, if you submit a completed masterpiece, you’re likely to get a response like “It’s too long” or “It’s not my genre.” Okay, it might actually be a genre they don’t handle, but why is anything over an arbitrary number “Too Long.” Did Mozart really write “too many notes” or did he simply understand that music didn’t have to be written by machines following absolute, cast-in-stone rule? “Breaking the rules” brought us wonderful music from one of the best composers ever.

    Remember, Dr Suess was on the verge of burning his manuscripts in the street gutter when a friend stopped him. Why? Because his work was original…and nobody in the publishing business wanted to touch anything remotely “original.”

    In short, the industry…as it has been…has no clue. Tom Clancy couldn’t get Red October published anywhere…but when it hit the shelves, all those previous rejectioners lined up to get him. They KNOW nothing, and it’s about time somebody knocked them out of their thrones. If self-publishing does that we will have succeeded…and likely provided the world with a lot of great literature too. Yeah, some pure garbage also, but that’s no different than the big boys have been serving up.

    • @Craig, Samuel, anybody else –

      I’m all for DIY efforts to seize your own destiny and assert your own control. But traditional publishing isn’t “broken” any more than any other system is broken. It’s imperfect, sure, but it’s also brought the world heaps and mounds of incredible storytelling — including the aforementioned Seuss and Clancy. If they were self-published authors, we wouldn’t know them like we do today.

      Traditional publishing as a system needs work — but the people working in it are, generally speaking, smart and capable people who know their stuff and, most importantly, care about what they’re doing.

      Sure, you’ve got bad apples in that system, and you know what? They should be called out, too, if they’re being unprofessional asses.

      – c.

  • A lot of the complaints I’ve read about indie publishers is the lack of professional editing and cover art.

    I’ve yet to finish my first short story (almost there) and then I can’t wait to pay good money to have a pro editor rip it to shreds.

    If anyone can recommend some good line editors, please let me know. I want to put out the best product I can, entertain my readers and keep them turning the page.

  • “Lead by example.”

    Yes. Precisely so.

    “Because they get attention — the wrong kind of attention.”

    Agreed here, as well.

    Attention is such a tricky, difficult beast. It’s something one gets, but sometimes not necessarily something one earns, in a way. Like, it’s hard to influence where people focus their attention, and sometimes where people focus their attention is frustrating at best and infuriating at worse, but on the other hand, telling people they’re wrong to focus their attention anywhere is a fool’s errand (not to mention full of arrogance and likely to make one look like a dick).

    Like, if only the things that were guaranteed to get readers’ attention (and that of those who influence readers) were excellence in writing and telling stories well. Ah, for a perfect world.

    Lately I wonder if the best way to go is to simply always do one’s best, at all times, and hope one is doing one’s best should attention come to one.

    Your mid-comment-thread addendum is cogent, too, though I wouldn’t lay the burden of it all at authors’ feet. Just the other day, I caught a link to a blog post wherein an agent yelled at authors for using the word indie. We’re all posting and tweeting and publishing and doing our own things. I’ve always agreed with you there’s no single “right” way to do things, and honestly, I hope more people embrace the idea underlying that truth as things develop. I imagine they will.

    Finally, addressing Jon Stoffel’s point, I’ve often lately wondered if university-level writing programs might be one solution (of myriad) to that idea. It flies a bit against the idea that there might be a single central authority but on the other hand supports the idea of some authority behind independent publishing. It solves the problem of requiring thousands of authors to buy into such a system (as thousands of authors already do submit to graduate writing programs).

    • @Will –

      A university-level writing program is one solution, but a very expensive one. University writing programs probably ring of the same elitism charges thrown at traditional publishing.

      – c.

  • I feel like such a dolt, because I’m really not clear on who these BAD APPLES in self-publishing are (especially since I am in a position of educating other writers). Perhaps I’ve been fortunate and most of the independent publishing I’ve seen via DIY attempts as been dang good. (Perhaps I’m fortunate in one lane of my life?) Someone want to PM/DM me via twitter perhaps or my Website and clue me in so I have a fuller picture of this. I’d like to be fully educated, but some of the mystery I feel I’m under makes that difficult.

    @mamacasz66

  • When I worked at a library I occasionally had the opportunity to help out scholars that were researching authors- finding drafts, notes, etc. It’s amazing how many great works of literature went through various stages of extreme stinko. I wonder how many books in the self-pub ranks would end up being classed with the best examples of the art with just a bit of refinement.

  • That’s a fair point, Chuck–Lord knows a not-exactly-small fortune was invested when I went to USC. So far as elitism, though, I wonder if admission standards would at least help justify it.

    I think you’re right about contributing to the conversation, though–even if not as vociferously as you so often so entertainingly do. Here’s to better conversations.

  • Robert B – I went to check out your link. I was there for all of 10 seconds. Site design was like, whoa not good–after being accosted to subscribe and not being able to click to scroll with my keyboard because of ads on either side, I was all done. I’m sure it was a fascinating piece, but I wanted to let you know that you might be losing traffic due to these issues.

    I basically agree with everything Bob said. Especially this: “If you can’t be bothered to read their words, why should thy read and review yours?” I turn down *most* self-published authors because they simply don’t fit our blog–even though sometimes they try REALLY HARD to convince me they’ve written a “literary” romance or a “literary” urban fantasy thriller.

    I’ve reviewed exactly one self-published author at IB, and it actually turned out to be kind of off-putting. She wrote a fantastic book, but her publicity tactics included putting me on her mailing list (I did not ask to be on her mailing list) and also e-mail bombing my followers and my blogroll and dropping MY name to get reviews from people. NO BUENO. So even if a good book is written, a “bad apple” can still spoil the barrel in other ways. I’m still open to reviewing self-published authors, but none have approached me who fit IB at all. I would seek them out, but I’m kind of drowning in ARCs as it is.

  • I’m in the ‘avoid-the-crazies’-camp. If that makes me an avoider – so be it. All of this nonsense is making it doubly hard for debut self-published writers to build a solid reputation. So I guess we’re back to the one rule that rules them all: Let your writing speak for itself.

  • Guys, I have a question. We all know that the bar of entry for self-pubbed books is low. EXTREMELY low. But there still is a bar, right? Like Lulu won’t let you publish some things (like terrorist jargon). But still, how does Lulu regulate such things? It’s obvious they don’t actually read stuff people put up there (I really don’t think anyone is brave enough, too), so really in retrospect, can any old South American Hobo write a two hundred page story about how some Weirdo from New Jersey likes to f**k dogs?

    Right now I’m scared what I might read. I mean really, there’s always a chance some book with an awesome title and cover suggesting it’s a Sci-Fi Thriller could be just some… weird fetish book.

  • @M Chapman
    There’s no need to fear that. I don’t know of any seller of e-books that doesn’t let you see a significant sample of the book before you buy it.

    I make use of it on everything that isn’t free (a few trusted authors, don’tcha know) and most things that are free.

    There isn’t enough time in the world to read all the good stuff out there so why the bloody hell should I spend some of it reading crap?

  • I am completely in agreement with the importance of book bloggers. I love book bloggers. I think they are the contact to readers. They are the CNN of publishing. You want to get to the readers, go to the blogs.

    Damn I love me some book bloggers.

  • Hey, Chuck, you missed out possibility c) – your meltdown simultaneously blackens your own name and attracts other self-publishers to the site, most of whom are impressed by the site owner’s courteous and reasonable response. This is what happened recently on Fantasy Faction after the notorious Mathias meltdown; the forums are now full of happy self-published authors promoting their work in the knowledge that FF doesn’t tolerate asshats and is therefore a respected showcase :)

    OK, so this is a different situation since it’s not an individual blog, but I think it’s worth mentioning that there are sites out there that are supportive of both commercially published authors and (sane) self-published ones. As you say, it’s not a war, just two different business models with different focuses.

  • Very interesting issue. I think that writers have some reason to be frustrated with the mainstream industry, but the question they need to be asking themselves is what they want from their writing lives: do they want quality? Readers? Just to have their work out there?

    There are reasons, in the current market, to want to self-publish, not the least among them maintaining control over your work in a time when the model is changing and you might want that control down the line. It’s up to individual writers to choose an approach best suited to them.

    It’s hard (but necessary, long-term) for a self-published author to get their mind around spending money on editing that they’ll probably never get back, but it goes to the earlier question of what they’re trying to accomplish.

    I think that right now we’re seeing a rush to publication by these authors. I’m not sure how things will evolve moving forward, but in the end quality (at least a certain level of it) will become the status quo, because that’s what readers will read.

  • I don’t have anything new to add but I do want to say that a friend recently self-published a novel and gave me a free copy to read after I told him I wouldn’t pay for it. It was, sadly, atrocious. Once again, the rush to publish trumps basic professionalism and recognition of the need to understand basic rules of writing.

    Every elementary mistake you can name was in there: basic grammar, typos, misspelt words, arbitrary use of commas and capital letters, etc. Worse, it wasn’t even an interesting story. Of course, none of this has stopped him getting family and friends to buy copies and post five star reviews on Amazon.

    I admire his chutzpah in getting a book out and on the market. It’s just a shame that that’s all I can admire about the venture.

  • I think that perhaps what a lot of new authors (and probably a lot of not-so-new ones too) don’t take seriously enough is the sense of maintaining a “brand” – - and in the case of self-published authors…well, YOU are the brand, the marketing department and the publicist (unless you hire out for any of that). And the impression you leave with both readers and potential readers will have an impact on your bottom line, so it’s worth taking the concept seriously.

    Do people think you’re a dick? Well, then they’re on the whole far less likely to invest in you. Or are you a loveable dick? That’s another story.

    The point is, people have the right not to like your books. Not every person will love them. Some may even HATE them. (I feel like I should be underlining those last two sentences.)

    And a bad single review is far less likely to drive away interest than an author’s explosively negative reaction to a bad review. It’s a double-edged sword, this interactive process – it gets many more self-published books out there by putting more readers within reaching distance of books they might not ever have seen otherwise. But it also puts the writers dangerously close to the people who may (or may not, depending on how well they comport themselves) be willing to check out their work.

  • I’ve been out exploring in the weeds of the Internet, trying to find the elusive creature known as the “reader.” I found a bunch in the Amazon fora. I’ve been observing them from a mostly safe distance (venture too close and you’ll get bitten). They’re VERY aware of the distinction between self published authors and traditionally published authors.

    Unfortunately, That Guy is not atypical. He is in fact the most common type of self published author in the Amazon fora. Readers have run across it so often, many are refusing to purchase any self published work. The first thing they check, even before the sample, is the Published field. If it says Amazon Digital Services, they won’t touch it. They’ve learned the hard way because a) most of the books are poor quality, b) the authors are pushy and abusive, and c) the authors are dishonest, reviewing their own work under fake accounts or even purchasing 5-star reviews.

    I saw from the previous post that some people thought it was unfair to focus on the negative. I disagree, because this is not an isolated incident. The term “self published” has gone from being dismissed and mocked to being outright hated and shunned by a lot of readers. Fix the man in the mirror first, yes (please!), but don’t stop calling out bad behavior and saying “this is wrong!” Ignoring it is implicit acceptance. Readers need to hear you don’t condone the status quo (and it is the status quo; visit any random thread in the Amazon fora if you don’t believe me.)

  • Hmmn. Maybe you weren’t cranky enough. That Mathias guy doesn’t know when to let it go. He’s still running his mouth in David Gaughran’s comments on a blog that really has nothing to do with him or his stats. He is a narcissistic ego maniac.

  • The game is changing in the publishing world. How many stores can you find that JUST sale music – far less than in the 80′s and 90s. How many of the large booksellers have gone ot of business or had to close numerous stores in the past five years (partly because of the economy, but that only brought the inevitable along at a faster rate). I’m not saying the the large publishing houses are going away, but how we buy books wil continue to change and those houses better change with them or go the way of the dinosaur. As a book buyer (reader) myself, I’ll give a new author a try, but usually only if I can peek inside the book and everything about it looks well done and something the author takes pride in. I have better ways to spend my money than be someone’s editor for free.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds