Self-Publishing Is Not The Minor Leagues

(This plays a little with the baseball metaphors dropped by Scalzi last week.)

Let’s all agree that self-publishing is a viable path.

It’s a real choice for authors.

You can, if that’s the type of person you are, be the publisher of your own work.

You are author-publisher. Behold your mighty yawp! Freeze-frame heel-kick high-five!

It is, overall, an equal choice to traditional publishing.

Let’s go ahead and just agree that. Even if you don’t agree — for now, nod and smile.

That means it’s time to stop treating self-publishing like it’s the fucking minor leagues.

See, here’s the thing. Though acting as author-publisher is a viable choice, it’s one that retains a stigma — lessened, these days, but still a stigma carried by other writers, by those in publishing, by bloggers, and in some cases by readers. The air, suffused with an eggy stink.

You want to get rid of the stigma once and for all? Clear the room of any bad smell?


Then it’s time to take a long look at the culture surrounding self-publishing. We’ve moved past the time where we need to champion the cause, okay? We’ve seen enough success in that space and have plenty of positive examples it’s time to stop acting as cheerleaders.

And it’s time to start acting as critics.

The attitude that pervades self-publishing is that it’s a good place to test your craft, to hone your work. We are reminded constantly that the cream floats to the top, that all the crappy self-publishing efforts have no effect on anything or anybody ever despite evidence to the contrary. The culture forgives and sometimes congratulates even the most meager of efforts because of how courageous someone is to take the plunge to publish their own work. The culture says, “Just click publish!” The culture criticizes the faults of traditional-publishing, but excuses (or celebrates) its own. And yet, sometime in the same breath, self-publishing gets painted as a path to traditional publishing, not as a path separate and scenic all its own.

The culture is full of contradictions.

“Traditional publishing screws you and you won’t get paid anything!” And then: “It’s okay to make $100 off your self-publishing because you just bought yourself dinner, now you’re living the high-life.” Well, which is it?

“Traditional publishing is just corporate control! Down with the Big Six! Er, Big Five! Big Four? Whatever!” But then: “Let’s hug and squeeze Amazon, a giant monolithic corporate entity kaiju who has changed the rules on us so many times our heads are whipping around wildly upon our necks! Amazon is the Big One! Yay lack of competition! Huzzah, all our eggs in a single basket! Woooooo corporations!” Wait, do we like corporate control or not?

“The readers are our gatekeepers, that’s who we care about.” Except: “Publish your first effort — it’s okay that it has errors, as long as people buy it! Who cares about readers as long as I’m satisfying myself?” Do we like readers, or do we wanna punish them with sub-par efforts?

“Self-publishing is a revolution! Traditional publishing is risk averse!” And then: you publish the safest, softest low-ball efforts that suggests it’s not a revolution but, rather, more of the same.

“Traditional publishing does it wrong!” And then: you do it worse. What the crap, people?

Get your head straight. Point north. Care about this thing you’re doing. You don’t want to be inferior to the books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. This isn’t a garage sale. You want to be better than the books on the shelves at bookstores. You say those books have errors? Ugly cover or bad books or lack of risk? So go and do different! Do better, not worse.

Let me get ahead of this — someone somewhere, here in the comments or on another site, is going to accuse me of bashing self-publishing and its authors.

I am not.

Self-publishing is an amazing option. You can now write a novel however it is that the novel demands to be written. That book that lives in your heart? You can now crack open your breastbone, rip the book out and hold the throbbing crimson creature in front of readers and say, “This is the story I wanted to tell and nobody was able to stop me.” You can not only write it your way, but edit it, design it, market it — again, all your way. Nobody but readers can say “boo” about it. You’ll have no publisher telling you the material is too risky. You’ll have no publisher trying to put a cover on your book that you don’t feel represents the story you told. You won’t feel like the publisher has forgotten the book when it comes time to market it. If anybody fucks it up, it’s you.

Self-publishing is also great for traditionally-published authors. Acting as your own author-publisher is a way to put out material staggered with your other releases. It’s also great to have as an option for if the time comes when publishers don’t want your other work. They start giving you the we love it but can’t sell it story, all you have to say is, “Well, if you won’t publish it, I will.”

I will continue to exercise my own self-publishing options this year with a few releases.

I don’t just like the option. I fucking love the option. It has changed the game for authors. Anytime creative people have a new door carved into the giant wall in front of us — the wall separating our work from our audience — I’m going to cheer and gibber and wail and probably swallow a half-dozen gin-drinks and maybe rub an aromatic lotion into my beard and then summon dark entities from beyond and couple with them.

But that love can still come with a criticism of the culture. Just as my love of traditional publishing can be tempered by its own criticism, too.

In fact: I criticize because I care. Because I want to see the option done right. If I didn’t give a shit, I’d just point and laugh from the sidelines and snarkily snark with other smug, self-superior traditionally-published authors. (And just as that superiority isn’t attractive from them, it’s not attractive from the side of author-publishers, either, by the way.) The authors who often get held up as paragons of the form? They’re doing it right. They’re treating it like it’s a professional endeavor, not some also-ran half-ass effort. They’re acting like it’s the real deal — a trip to the Majors, not time spent in some Dirt League.

Self-publishing isn’t a lifestyle choice.

It isn’t a hobby.

It’s not a panacea. It’s not pox on your home.

It is neither revolution nor religion.

(Oh, and it damn sure isn’t a place to improve your craft. That’s called “writing.” Writing is how you improve your craft — by doing a whole lot of it, by reading, by having your work read by friends and family and by other writers and by editors. Publishing is not where you improve your craft. You don’t learn to pilot an airplane by taking a job with U.S. Airways. A job as an executive chef is not analogous to a cooking class. You wouldn’t expect that of other careers, so why are we okay with it when it comes to author-publishers?)

Self-publishing is a financial and creative decision.

Self-publishing has no gatekeepers. That is a feature, not a bug.

So you’re going to have to be your own gatekeepers.

You are your own quality control. You are your own best critic.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again: it’s time to put down the Pom-Poms and time to pick up a magnifying glass — or, for some, a mirror. Don’t celebrate mediocrity. Don’t encourage half-assing this thing for a couple of bucks. This is scrutiny time. This is time to not to say, “Here, you’re doing this wrong,” but “Here, let me help you do this better.” This is time for conversation and constructive critique, not empty applause and pedestal-building.

The culture will need to start asking tougher questions. If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

To reiterate:

Fewer cheerleaders. More critics.

Self-publishing isn’t the minor leagues.

You’re in the majors, now. Which means:

It’s not time get hit with a pitch and expect a high-five for it just because you stepped to the plate.

It’s time to play hard or get off the field.


    • Specifically, this part: “Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

      I think serious writers — indie or traditional or hybrid — do take the time to help each other and educate each other. And serious writers bring their A game.

      But I think readers are the only critics we need. And they judge our work individually.

      Indie or small press or Big-5 – readers don’t notice and don’t care… unless they hate the book.

  • “Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

    Ha! On the other hand, as Scalzi’s recent post pointed out, everybody’s work sucks to somebody. But yes, it’s definitely on the shoulders of the self-published to, as Steve Martin said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

    But in publishing it’s always been true that author is the real brand. I might trust one publisher in general over another (I can especially think of an SFF one that I always look for), but usually it’s the AUTHOR that keeps us buying. Of course that is completely transferrable to a self-publishing format. Would people buy more of my books if the publisher line were Random House, Harper-Collins, or some such? They might. In any particular buying situation I tend to doubt it.

    At then end of the day authors just need to rock on, and be happy that there are even more options than ever before to connect with readers. Because that’s what it’s all about.

      • That isn’t a problem I’ve experienced. Entertainingly, one reviewer left a comment about how upset she was that the book wasn’t priced higher because it was good and should be treated as such. Made me feel like neglectful mother to my own book. Overall the reviews have been more positive than expected – I thought that I was basically opening myself up for a giant rejection letter from the world. Sure, some people don’t like my writing. Some readers seriously hated where I went with the second book in the series. But I’ve never felt marginalized.

        Of course, I could look hard and find someone who will hate me for self-publishing, or say that my work doesn’t have basic objective quality (someone who has the cred to make such a statement). But I can also find someone who swears they were abducted by aliens. We’re all just monkeys in suits slinging opinions at each other. Why do we take everything so damn seriously? Someone doesn’t like your work or how you’re doing it? Well, good for them. Let them spew their hate-vomit all they want and move on to someone who likes you. Wait, I just made publishing sound like speed-dating…

        What I’m really trying to say is the same thing I do about any kind of negative feedback. Thank them kindly for their input and do what you think is right. Because no one, and I mean no one, is ever able to take you down when you’re being the bigger (wo)man in the interaction. It worked when I dealt with grade-school bullies, it worked in my professional career, and it is working in my publishing career. Anyone who doesn’t have the cajones to take that position may not be ideally suited to breaking new ground.

        Good job, Wendig, making me peel back my clown face and reveal my more serious side.

      • Chuck. Love your blogs and books. But I think you’re off the mark on this one.

        You’re stating that self pubbers tend to be less critical of content and professionalism.

        To that I disgree. If anything, they’re more critical. Because they have something to prove. They’ve fought long and hard to show that there really isn’t much difference between what a self published book and a traditionally published book can put out in terms of quality — both in professionalism and content.

        You also act like traditional publishers are totally immune to the problems self publishers face.

        Not to call you on the carpet (or some other weird analogy) BUT your traditionally published books had first run prints that were filled with both grammatical and typographical errors. In one case, your publisher even admitted to sending a non-final draft of your manuscript to print.

        Not really sure how you can say self pubbers need to be more critical of self-pubbed work, when traditional publishers make the same mistakes ALL the time (and it’s more difficult to fix with a print run, than uploading a new digital copy).

        • “Not to call you on the carpet (or some other weird analogy) BUT your traditionally published books had first run prints that were filled with both grammatical and typographical errors. In one case, your publisher even admitted to sending a non-final draft of your manuscript to print.”

          James, in the post I note that I have been critical of traditional publishing. And though I am not aware of any of my publishers sending out a first draft of mine (uh, do you have a citation for that?), I do know that one of my books had a ton of errors, and that was a tough conversation I had with my publisher. I was critical of it and displeased with it. So, what’s your point? Besides being kind of a jerk? Traditional publishers making mistakes is not a reason for self-publishers to mirror and deepen those mistakes. Hence the point of this post, to do the same, or better.

          • Apologies if I came off like a jerk. With your overall point, we are in agreement. You said:

            “Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

            I wholly endorse this and agree.

            But, (and here’s where our viewpoints differ) honestly, this already happened. This is past tense. Successful self-pubbers are highly critical of content and presentation.

            Maybe I read too much into this blog post, but it came off as condescending (From the responses and comments, most people didn’t get that impression. So, it’s just me). “C’mere kids, and let poppa Wendig tell ya how it’s really done. Ya gotta put good shit out there! That’s the magic.”

            My reaction was — Uh, yeah. Most people that are successfully (and not successfully self-pubbing know and do that).

            That’s kinda like telling pro and minor league ball players — “Hey, to play ball, ya gotta swing the bat.”

            Uh, yeah. No kidding.

            Hell, you’ve been blogging about quality (in all forms) for years (And yet I’m surprised and reacted differently to this post–Weird, I know). Maybe I’ve just heard it one too many times. Straw. Camel. Back. Dead. Horse-camel. Enough. We get it.

            1) You said: “Except: “Publish your first effort — it’s okay that it has errors, as long as people buy it! Who cares about readers as long as I’m satisfying myself?” Do we like readers, or do we wanna punish them with sub-par efforts?”

            Here’s where I vehemently disagree.

            I don’t see this happening.

            Not at the high end of self publishing. Or even at the working wage, earning subsistence minimum wages from self publishing. (At least not in any form that is any different from traditional).

            Most people serious about publishing in any form, aren’t blindly throwing unprofessional crap out there. They’re putting up the very best work they can muster. Just like traditionally published writers are.

            And I’m pretty sure readers of self-published content will also agree. Unprofessional work bothers them.

            If you look at things like — Beverly Kendall’s survey she did out of morbid curiosity — — She even notes that the least successful, lowest earners were those that were also the most unprofessional, in terms of editing, cover, etc.

            2) I only brought up the errors in traditional publishing (not to be a jerk — apologies if it came off that way) but to point out they happen on both sides of the fence. A lot of arguments like to blindly lump poor editing and design as a “self-publishing” only thing. And it’s not.

            3) A lot of traditional publishers say “No” for reasons that have nothing to do with quality.

            This is a big point that I think this article overlooks.

            There’s a gazillion reasons why people say, “No.”

            –Too much like Twilight
            –Not enough like Twilight
            –Get sell your name, Beatrice Stunkfeatherpoo
            –We met. You smell bad.

            The point I was making was — I see quite a high degree of self-published quality out there. (And that I’m kinda tired of posts that turn a blind eye to it).

            P.S. Apologies for the length of this reply. Yeesh!

        • James,

          I think you seriously missed what the whole point of this post is. Yes there are some self-published authors who work very hard, probably harder than some trad-published authors do, but they are the minority. If you disagree, then you haven’t read very much self-published fiction.

          In my experience, there are three main types of self-published authors in terms of the level of quality they put out.

          Type 1: The first draft publisher.
          This type probably reads a lot, but doesn’t have a lot of experience writing. They may even have a great story idea that will draw some readers in. They are trying this out and giving it a semi-effort because then even if they fail they can always fall back on the old excuse that if they had really tried, been able to pony up for professional editing and cover, nothing would have been able to stop them. They write their story, do one or two editing passes by themselves, and either put on a homemade cover or pay very little for one. Unfortunately this group is the majority in self-publishing.

          Type 2: The Minor Leaguer (to stick with the theme).
          This type really, truly wants to be a full-time writer. They have a general idea of what it takes to get there, but either do not have the funds, time, skill set, etc, to get there. They try really hard to imitate the big boys with the bare minimum. The put out good work that attracts some readers. The random one may even make decent sales. Decent enough that others feel it is an acceptable level of quality for the market. They usually do hire a cover artist or get a good premade, but do not pay for editing. They may employ beta readers to try to fill the editing gap. They are usually the first and the loudest to object (ahem) if somebody calls into the question the quality of self-publishers.

          Type 3: The Major Leaguer.
          This is the type the Chuck was alluding that we all need to strive to become. This type, whether it is their full-time gig or not, treats this like it is their job or career. They write multiple drafts. They workshop their stories. They use beta readers, content editors, copy editors, and they actually take the criticism offered and use it to improve their craft. They pay for the best cover they can find. They realize that a successful book is going to take an up front investment of both time and money. They know that if there book was in print, on the shelf of a major book retailer, that nobody would be able to pick their book out as self-published. They don’t jump into the vat, fingers crossed, hoping that they are the cream. They know they are before they even go into the mix.

  • Agreed. I know there are a lot of people in the “write it, proofread it, shove it out there, do better next time” camp, and it works well for some of them. I can’t do that. Yes, editing is expensive, and revisions are time-consuming. Maybe I could have put out six okay books in the time it’s taken me to learn the ropes and create one book that meets what I consider professional standards. I’m sure I would have improved over time, and maybe made COFFEE MONEY on those early books, but I don’t regret it. I’m happy to give up spare change and lukewarm reviews if it means that I don’t have to apologize for early efforts (or gods forbid, put out edition 2.0 because I took reviewers’ advice and re-wrote parts of the book. As a reader. I HATE that.).

    I know that if I’d “just hit publish” on the first book I’m going to release (or any earlier work), I’d be embarrassed by it now. I’m choosing to do this author-publishing thing because I think it’s the best path for me, not as a last resort. MAJOR LEAGUE, BABY.

    Hell, maybe I’ll only make coffee money, anyway. You picks your path, you takes your chances. I’m going to do everything I can to set myself up for success, though. This is an encouraging post– sometimes it feels like all of this hard work isn’t going to make a difference if I can’t produce a book a week. Thanks.

    • Was just a comment on this blog yesterday or the day before about how editing professionally is overrated because a number of self-published books have done very well despite looking very bad. Which may or may not be true, but that’s not something to be proud of or aspire to, y’know?

      • EW. That mentality makes me a little ill. I’m currently leaning toward self-publishing my own novel, and I’m on draft #4. As it stands, I can’t afford a “professional” substantive edit, and that is the one thing that’s giving me serious pause, and keeping the traditional route still in my mind as an option – editing and marketing dollaz that don’t come out of my broke-ass pocket.

        If I can’t get an editor and decide to self-publish, I might be on draft 6 by the time I let it out into the wild, just because I’m (possibly too much of) a perfectionist.

    • Oh, the 2.0 editions. So glad I’m not the only one who hates them! I bought a SP book a few months back, and was later hit with not one but TWO revised versions. Guess who’s never buying from that author again? Do it properly the first time or don’t bother.

      • Yeah. Call me crazy, but I’m not interested in paying to be a stranger’s beta reader so they can do better next time. Seems unprofessional to expect readers to do that. (Typos excepted– I’m fine with authors cleaning those up, though I probably didn’t read far if there were a lot of them).

        If an update hits before I read a book, I’ll read the new version. I won’t waste time re-reading a story I disliked just because it’s now “fixed.” There are other books I need to get to.

        I feel harsh saying that, because I know some lovely, well-meaning people who have done it. But as a general rule…

  • Sometimes it’s too easy to self-pub. I made a lot of mistakes with my first attempt at publishing; not because I was lazy or negligent, but because I’d worked so hard that I couldn’t see the problems staring me in the face. I was over-enthusiastic and just downright impatient. A couple of clicks later and my mistakes were there for all to see – a chastening experience.

    If you like, you can read about my grapple with impatience on my site and generally have a laugh at my expense (link via my name).

    Self-publishing is a great opportunity – we need to make sure we don’t squander it.

  • “A job as an executive chef is not analogous to a cooking class.” I’ve made a similar point before in conversation. Writing is cooking, but self-publishing is owning the restaurant. Doesn’t matter how well you cook in the kitchen at home, when you own the restaurant your job is to get people in the door with consistent product. And just like a cook who opens a restaurant without thinking of it as a business, an author publisher who doesn’t take the publishing side seriously is going to find themselves in sorry straits.

    • I suspect some of them will read it, but a portion of them will be irritated with me for it. Which is fair, I suppose. If anything, my hope is that someone who is planning on self-publishing reads this and asks how they can do it better? And stops using those who have done it poorly as a low bar to jump over. The metric isn’t other self-published authors. The metric is doing the same or better than what’s already on shelves.

      • Couldn’t agree more. As a blogger who used to read a lot of dreck (I don’t read indies anymore, at least for now), I am looking forward to the day when the word doesn’t make me shudder.

    • And even if they do read it, I doubt they’ll see it directed at them. Too many indie writers refuse to hire editors or cover artists because they believe to be truly indie is to do it all themselves. They learn Photoshop and slap together a cover, do their own “editing” without realizing the whole point of editing is that it’s done by someone who is NOT the writer.

      Okay, maybe some writers can get away with doing their own covers. I’ve seen good covers designed by the author. Not many, but a few. But the editing is something I’m not going to budge on. It’s expensive, yeah, but if you’re publishing a book and asking people to pay for it, you owe it to your reader to have it edited by a pro.

      It’s like starting any type of business. You’re gonna be out a few bucks at first. But it’s worth it.

      I couldn’t be more proud to be an indie writer or author-publisher or whatever you want to call it. But sometimes I cringe. Too many indie books look and read like indies. In a bad way.

      • Yes, you make a good point about editing. Even experienced and published writers know that you can never catch all your own mistakes, and hiring an editor isn’t copping out at all, but it is a really smart move.

  • We have to be responsible for what we write? Good God man, what’s next? Will we have to squeeze out good books too? Oh, the humanity. No short cuts for the author-publisher. Great post!

  • So true, it’s long past time author-publishers took real pride in their work, not just, “oh look I’m on Amazon”
    I’ve either purchased or downloaded so many freebies that were not worth my time that for the most part I don’t even bother with those cheap offers anymore. That’s what’s going to screw things over for those of us coming up in the ranks. Those of us that do care about what we put out for others to see.

  • Assuming the validity of the analogy of baseball careers to writing careers is apt for a moment, ponder this. How many sports agents for baseball players are actively trying to get their clients into a major-league contract as opposed to a minor-league contract? And how many sports agents for baseball players are trying to get their clients into the minor-league systems run by the major leagues as opposed to the independent minor-league systems? I think the answer to that is “zero” on both counts.

    I self-publish. I don’t make any excuses for that. But (and this is just me speaking for me) I am ONLY self-publishing because I tried as hard as I could to get an agent, and couldn’t manage it. I chose self-publishing (over trying to get something published with a small press), but I wouldn’t have chosen it if traditional publishing had been an option that was open to me.

    We have an independent minor league team near where I live. The players are good players, and most of them had played at AAA level, and a few had played in the majors. Almost all of them are trying to play their way into the majors. I like to think that’s what I’m doing by self-publishing–doing the best I can at a lower level and hoping to be noticed, someday, by somebody.

    Of course, I like to think that Reese’s Pieces are a healthy alternative to M&Ms. What the hell do I know?

  • Name one successful self-published author who did not have the following.

    1) A traditionally published book by a large or small press.
    2) Did not pay for reviews.
    3) Did not already have a level of celebrity before self-pub. i.e. popular blog, 120K twitter followers.

    If you can’t name one, then there’s your answer to “What’s wrong with self-publishing?”

    I will be over here painting a target on my head.

    • I’m reluctant to name specific names as I’m not in a position to reveal anyone else’s financial information, but I personally know four authors who were previously unpublished, spent no money on reviews (but did pay for professional editing/cover design and purchased advertising), have no Twitter, blog, or Facebook presence, and earned more than 5 figures in 2013 from their writing. In the case of two they were close to 6 figures. All four will readily admit they’re comparative outliers, but I think implying self-publishing is only viable if you’re a.) building off previous success or b.) rigging the system via fraud is off-base.

    • Right out of the gate, Hugh Howey. Or Marko Kloos. David Dalgish (might be spelling his name wrong). Actually, my releases were self-published and they did pretty well for me.

      • A.G. Riddle is another recent one. Brenna Aubrey. Joe Nobody. Blake Russel. Michael Bunker is earning a full-time living, and he’s an Amish science fiction author! 🙂

        The crazy thing about self-publishing success is that you can make six-figures a year and be perfectly anonymous. You “only” need to sell tens of thousands of copies. That won’t make you a household name, but it’ll earn you a solid living.

        Oh, and how do you like my new pom-poms?

        • “The crazy thing about self-publishing success is that you can make six-figures a year and be perfectly anonymous. You “only” need to sell tens of thousands of copies. That won’t make you a household name, but it’ll earn you a solid living.”

          This is the thing that so many people don’t realize. I know a ton of people making six-figures and even more making good five-figures and most people don’t knwo their names.

    • Hi Anthony! When I self-published my first book I had the following stats:

      1) Nothing else in “print” (much less with a large or small press)
      2) No paid reviews. Ever.
      3) Nothing that could be mistaken for celebrity. On Twitter I had (and still have) almost 2k followers but my primary audience is centered around geek culture, not historical romance. One of my blogs almost has a Google page ranking – but again, it is primarily geek culture based.

      I did no real promotion (the full low down is documented here Yet the first full month my book was out it sold 17k copies and it lingered at #1 in it’s category on Amazon for a couple of weeks. Feel free to turn up your nose at my genre if you like, but do know that you haven’t faced nerdy wrath until you’ve seen a history nerd take exception to your word use or historical research.

      Although not sure if you would consider me successful (not a ‘big name’ and not dining on caviar), I’ve been delighted with the results. But, ya know, mileage may vary.

      🙂 Sue

    • I’m not sure what you’d like to define as success, but I’m one of those bad example, totally casual, self-published authors. I didn’t pay for cover design or editing or formatting or anything. Seriously, I figured why bother? As a no-name author with no traditional books, no interest in paying for marketing or doing any promotion, no relevant followers on Twitter or Facebook (I think I still only have about 40 Facebook followers or so), I knew I wasn’t going to sell any books. How would anyone ever find it? It was just a nice way to share what I’d been doing with friends and family.

      That was two years ago and that book is at 150 reviews on Amazon, 99 of them five-star, and I’ve made over $10K on it. Without hitting bestseller lists or spending money or even doing any promotion. I’ve never run an ad for it, much less paid for reviews.

      I think the problem with the baseball metaphor, for me anyway, is that not all of us are competing. Some of us are just playing. Writing is a fun little hobby–cheaper than playing WoW–and electronic distribution makes it unexpectedly rewarding. So, that’s what’s right with self-publishing, IMO.

    • Gosh . . . me?

      When I published, I had zero followers on Amazon or Twitter or my website. And no, I did not pay for reviews. And no, I had never been published anywhere before. I had never written any fiction before.

      I made almost $200K my first year. Will make a lot more than that in my second. (And no, I do not write erotica.)

      So, yeah. It’s very possible. I’m a pretty medium-sized fish in this pond. You won’t have heard of me.

      Of course we should all strive for quality. And the fact is, the higher the quality, all else being equal, the better you’ll do.

      And yes, I love Amazon. Still in Select. It’s a viable choice.

      • Oh, Leah is so talented! I’m reading her book now, it’s amazing.

        I’m full-time now. I’m not a household name. My books sell slow and steady and I earn enough to keep a roof over my head, food on the table etc. That’s successful to me. It’s all I ever wanted.

      • Second this. She wrote about her publishing journey on AbsoluteWrite here.
        My NC-17-rated adventures in New Adult.

        She wrote that she sold “8k+ copies in two weeks.”

        That’s a lot of books sold in 14 days for an unknown debut author with no followers. Her secret to success? A great book with a great cover at a great price ($2.99).

        On the flip side, the easiest way to fail at self-publishing is to have a mediocre book with a bad cover and lot of errors. These books tend to hover around the 800,000 Paid in Kindle Store mark.

    • Me, Emily Cantore, erotica author.

      I’m making somewhere between $4000 – $8000 per month in eBook royalties. I am not traditionally published. I did not pay for reviews. I do not have any celebrity.

      You have probably never heard of me. You have not heard of many new “mid-list” authors that self-publishing has produced.

      But there are many of us. Quietly making a very decent living while remaining essentially nameless. Like working musicians or actors.

    • I’m an author who didn’t have a traditionally published book, did not pay for reviews, and did not have a level of celebrity before self-pubbing (in fact, I still don’t believe I have any level of celebrity), but I’ve sold over 100,000 ebooks, one of my self-published novels hit a national bestseller list, and the majority of my income is from self-publishing. Also, I recently fired my high-powered agent who I’d been with for almost five years because he wasn’t doing shit for me, and I decided I could do more on my own. But I’m an outlier, I suppose 😉

    • Okay, so that’s what they mean by “rapidly changing industry.” I was unaware that quite a few writers were doing well with self-publishing. My above nerdrage was against the self-pub gurus, social marketing enema bags, and the bad covers/bad edits I’ve seen. Also, about a decade of failed New Media ventures and confabulations have left me scarred and jaded. However, “Dust” was a great book, and I was surprised this didn’t catch a traditional publishers eye. I’m also glad the writers who commented invested in good cover design.

      I humbly stand corrected and meant no offence to any writer who self-pubbed. If you’re making a living doing what you love, then hats off to you.

    • Well… Obviously it depends on your definition of success. I currently make more from my books than I do from my “real” job, so I’m going to go with that being adequately successful; I could make a living from my self-published works.

      I have never had a book published by any means other than self-publishing. I have never paid for reviews. I do not have anything like the level of celebrity you claim is required; I think my greatest claim to fame currently is getting into a sniping match on Facebook with some guy named Chuck Wendig.

      My first set of books, urban fantasies, were not hugely successful, but they did no sell badly. I wrote a science fiction story and suddenly I’m blasting up the rankings on Amazon. I’ve never done much in the way of self-publicity, the reviews I get are fairly mixed, fairly polarised. I still believe the break came, not from fame or previous work, but from changing genre and having a bit of luck.

      OTOH, I can now afford to pay for a professional proofreader to go over my stuff before I publish. I put out better product, which will hopefully keep the readership going. This despite the fact that I have received blog posts saying the equivalent of “damn the errors, give me more story!” It’s a matter of professional (semi-professional?) pride to me that I publish the best product I can under the circumstances, so I hire a proofreader to make me feel better about what I’m putting out.

    • 1. Michael J. Sullivan
      2. Anthony Ryan
      3. Hugh Howey
      4. Amanda Hocking
      5. H.P. Mallory
      6. H.M Ward
      7. B.V. Larson
      8. Darcie Chan
      9. David Dalglish
      10. LIndsay Buroker

      I could keep going – but the point is there are thousands that fit the category you mention.

  • There is no single culture in self-publishing. Trying to attack the “culture of self publishing” is like trying to attack the “culture of Europe.” Well, which culture? The French? The Germans? The Greeks? The British? If the British, do you mean the English, the Welsh, the Irish, or the Scots? Also, if you say you mean the “Irish” when you talk about the British, be careful – I hear they can be touchy about that. Probably the Scots, too. And… yeah, probably the Welsh.

    Self-publishing is a process which has a low barrier to entry. This means that pretty much anyone can play, and we all bring our own perceptions and expectations and ideals (and flaws and peevishness and bad habits) with us. Your brush, it is over-broad.

    • The culture is the culture you find at a lot of the sites and blogs where self-published authors gather. I spend a fair amount of time reading those links and forums when they pop up and I see what I’m talking about here pretty consistently. Less so than I used to, which is good, very good, but still there. Self-publishing is a process and like any process it has a culture around it. That culture isn’t automatically representative of anyone who partakes in the process, but that doesn’t mean it’s there — same as there exists a culture surrounding book bloggers or sci-fi writers or romance writers, or, or, or.

      Sure, I’ll cop that the brush is painting with very broad strokes. But the advice here is the same regardless of that: you’re better off treating this like a real thing of equal importance to traditional publishing, and sometimes that means not cheerleading those who are doing it badly.

      — c.

      • I will admit that there is a very specific culture associated with a number of blogs, but each is different. Dean Wesley Smith is not Joe Konrath is not Passive Voice is not… uh… some other blog I can’t remember just this minute. And I’ve never run across one that exhorts you for writing crap.

        I *have* read more than a few that take a DIY approach (specific reference: punk-era fanzines and self-published records) that tell you to publish with the resources you have instead waiting until you have the resources to “do it right.” I.e., that in self publishing “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” And I find I mostly agree with that sentiment.

        • I don’t disagree, though I do find that in the comments of those blogs are repeated a lot of the same tired ideas and, in some cases, what I consider to be myths.

          As for the punk-era fanzines and self-published records — well, first off, most of those sucked. And it’s why they did not persevere. The examples of indie culture that survive are those that did it well, and once again, that means the advice here stands tall: do it right, don’t do it shittily.

          I agree with the sentiment, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Perfection is impossible. But the saying doesn’t exhort you to aim squarely for “mediocre,” either.

          — c.

  • Thank you. You are a bobby dazzler. This post is like a breath of fresh air. Let’s hope everyone listens.

    Again and again, I ask myself why anyone would spend ages slaving over a book, lovingly crafting a story only to bung it out into the world with a rubbish cover and no editing. What purpose would it serve. Who would ruin their reputation before they start? It’s hard enough to self publish. Everything is against you – try getting people to review self published work, try getting it into shops, try entering it for awards – why would any self publisher not give their work every chance they can? Lord knows you have to work hard enough to get the chances without breaking your own legs.

    Self publishing is really easy to do badly but incredibly hard to do well. I used to produce print for a living, I have a reasonable grasp of what I’m doing, but producing a book…. oh man, that is a whole different story.

    So if anyone out there, reading this, is thinking of using Amazon as a slush pile please don’t. It’s hard enough already. Listen to Chuck.

    Because, I promise you, when you get onto the next stage you’ll curse yourself. Churning out half finished work and spamming the internet world to death doesn’t do you any favours. All does is make others think less of us. It perpetuates the myth that that we’re all hustler’s pedalling crap. And that sucks.

    There are sites to experiment; youwriteon, wattapad and authonomy for starters. So, newbie peps, use them, learn to write and wait to publish until you know, in your heart of heart, that you’re done.



  • There’s a nugget of wisdom I once heard that goes like this: If you aim for perfection, you will never achieve it, but you will do well. If you aim for simply doing well, you will fall short and be mediocre. If you aim for mediocrity… well, you see where that’s going.

    Thanks for posting this article. Why “good enough for people to One-Click impulse buy it” has become the standard is beyond me. But it’s not only hurting the image of self-publishing. It’s hurting writers period. How many crappy books does someone have to buy until they give up and watch NetFlix instead?

    • For me – the number was five… I don’t see myself purchasing another self published book without someone I know either IRL or on G+. Someone who read the book and while making a seriously good recommendation speaks about many elements of the story and references good grammar usage.

      • Shane, I feel your pain. As a reader, I’m pretty bummed about most of my indie book purchases. And I SO WANT TO SUPPORT THE SCENE. I keep buying, sure that the next one is going to be awesome…and I keep getting burned.

        I feel like the biggest hypocrite. 🙁

        • The real bummer is when you read those author-published books that needed a good editor. Not just for the copy-editing, but in the “if this had stronger development on the front-end, the result could’ve been amazing instead of mediocre.”

          • I have the same feeling with half the traditionally published books I buy. I’ve worked with some of the biggest publishers in the world on books they paid me mid-6-figure sums for, and I mostly got copyediting. And my writing isn’t all that great.

            It’s gotten to where I would recommend any aspiring writer who is going to submit to an agent should hire an editor out of pocket to make that manuscript shine before anyone reads it. That is: Do the same level of work you would if you’re going to self-publish before you fire it off to an agent. Because it stands almost no chance of making it through the slush pile otherwise, and your work is not going to be made significantly better by the publisher.

            I’m sure there are exceptions, but most of the writers I’ve conversed with have had this experience. We should write our best work possible, however we send it out. And here’s where you probably disagree with me, but I support the right for any person to publish anything in any condition they choose. If it isn’t good, no one will see it. I’d rather writers learn they aren’t ready from readers than from interns at literary agencies. But that’s just me, I suppose. I respect your position.

          • I have found a mixed bag with traditional editing, as well. Some editors in sci-fi/fantasy are fucking rockstars, though, and it’s exciting when you get one of those.

            My agent is, blessedly, an amazing editor both in terms of content and copy.

            As to writing best work possible: yeah. And as to the right of authors to publish what they want in any condition: yeah, that too. Of course they have the right. I’m not going to dispute that or attempt to be a tastemaker, here. *I* don’t want to be a gatekeeper. But I am a gatekeeper for my own work and I’m asking that authors do the same with theirs.

            I’m a guy who runs a blog that sometimes allows promo for other authors, and I’m also a sometimes self-published author. And I’ve seen the effect that the purportedly mythical tide of bad books has. Self-publishing still has an image problem. And not just with people in the industry — I meet readers often who won’t take a chance on a self-published work if they know it’s self-published. I know review outlets that won’t review them. Doors get closed. I’ve closed the door myself. I can’t handle it. I can’t handle the emails that come in from self-published authors looking for promo. Emails that represent all the bad things you hear about self-publishing, that ultimately drown out the good stuff that also comes in.

            So, you know, to me, it’s not about taking away or challenging anyone’s right, but it is about trying to talk about how we can do this better instead of just being excited that we’re doing it at all. That was fine, once, and it’s why I wonder if maybe we’re entering a Third Wave of Self-Publishing. First Wave was pre-digital marketplace. Second Wave was digital marketplace. Third Wave is now, when we realize, okay, this is real. This isn’t just outlier territory. This is real authors taking it seriously and making a living at it — and we need to follow those examples (you, for example) and demonstrate best practices instead of lowest common denominator thinking.

            Self-published authors spend *so much time* criticizing traditional publishing but none at all looking inward.


            — c.

          • “Self-published authors spend *so much time* criticizing traditional publishing but none at all looking inward.”

            And I’m pretty sure I can find a number of instances where blogs and comments favoring traditional publishing do the same.

            It’s all noise. People saying whatever they feel they need to say to bolster and justify their own personal decisions. Criticism is rarely focused inward, no matter where people stand.

  • From a READER’S perspective: I have had enough bad experiences with self published books that I won’t consider purchasing one unless someone I know IN REAL LIFE (or, fairly well on G+) provides assurances… Meaning – they are someone who is knowledgeable about basic grammar and can attest that the book in question is not 1) a grammatical NIGHTMARE, 2) the book makes SENSE, 3) the characters are believable and conduct themselves accordingly, and 4) STUPID SHIT that would be impossible in real life doesn’t “just happen.”

    I do agree with above comments about author’s having a reputation… There are MANY authors whose works I would purchase regardless of their manner of publishing… Note: they were/are not self published.

    The OP’s point is WELL MADE – self publishing authors submitting low quality works hurt the reputation of ALL self published authors…

    I have been planning some books off/on for years and hope to begin writing later this year. Self publishing my works versus going a traditional route has been an option I have considered and will continue to consider… But, because of my experience I have been leaning towards going the traditional route. Mostly, I don’t want my works tainted by the perception that I myself have acquired.

    Hearing Chuch Wendig and other quality authors “going the self publishing route” keeps it an ongoing consideration.

      • Have recently read a self-pub where the editing(grammar and spelling) was really pretty good… and that is the nicest thing I can say about it. The story? Freaking TRAIN WRECK. Terrible characters(think Mary-Sue with brain damage). Just… it was so bad that it kind of left me breathless.

        It is important to make a distinction between copy editing and content editing(story doctoring, whatever you want to call it). I didn’t really learn enough to be able to write a publishable manuscript until an editor had whipped me into shape with two rounds each of epic rewrites on two different novels. And I still don’t totally trust my own instincts. I’m improving, but I’m still not Only-Need-A-Copy-Edit level of story-polishing.

        This is why I’m not ready to go indie. (I want to but I’m so not ready.)

  • You are wrong. Wrong about the central point of this post which is that “it’s time to start acting as critics.” Wrong and dangerous. Dangerous to your own peace of mind because your point of view implicitly accepts the notion that “self-publishers” are a coherent group of people who need to define what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable behavior. If that’s what you want, go form an organization, don’t waste your time on the amorphous mob that is, and always will be, “self-publishers”.

    There is no “culture surrounding self-publishing”. There are a bunch of ideas that pissed you off. Show me one person who has expressed all those positions that you claim pervade self-publishing. If you could find one, all it would prove is that there is an idiot on the internet. That’s not exactly news. The problem is that every single one of those things that piss you off will be the right choice for someone, somewhere. Not because the choice is right, but because they’ll be doing the best they can. Deal with it.

    You say you want to see the option down right. Fine, go do it right for Chuck Wendig, because that’s all you will ever be able to do. You can’t badger people into doing the right thing. And, yes, I know that my comment proves that. I don’t really expect Wendig to give up on this rant. But the last thing self-publishing needs is a bunch of writers criticizing other writers because “they’re doing it wrong.”

    Self-published writers don’t get to decide who makes it as a self-published writer. Readers do. We don’t need legacy publishers to tell us what a good story is and we don’t need Chuck Wendig to tell us either. Put your story out there and we’ll decide.

    • Wow, did you ever miss the point.

      To quote directly from the post:

      “…not to say, “Here, you’re doing this wrong,” but “Here, let me help you do this better.” This is time for conversation and constructive critique…”

      That’s about as far from getting “to decide who makes it as a self-published writer” as one can possibly get and still be speaking the same language.

    • I was going to comment, but I see Gareth said what I was going to say.

      I’ll add this: at no point am I trying to badger folks into doing anything. And it’s not a rant — I’ve ranted before, but this isn’t that. This isn’t about authors deciding anything except them deciding for themselves that they’re going to do right by readers and, to a lesser extent, one another.

      — c.

      • So, I missed the point? OK, let’s say that I did. Is it fair to say that you “want to get rid of the [self-publishing] stigma once and for all”? And that you want to use “conversation and constructive critique” to help do that? The problem is that your strategy (constructive critique) can’t possibly achieve your goal (stigma removal).

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

        What you need to do is change the game. Invert the frame of reference. Invent your own terminology. Define writing professionally as supporting yourself with your writing. Make how your books get to market irrelevant, because it is. People who support themselves with their writing do X, Y, and Z. If you are aspire to be a professional, you need to do those things. You could reframe this article in that way and half of it would go away because half of it is directed at people who aren’t serious about being professional writers.

        • “The stigma arises from the fact that self-publishing is a threat to legacy publishing.”

          Sel-publishing isn’t a threat to anyone, in as much as most self-published books disappear into the noise floor immediately after being uploaded. The handful of Cinderellas that rise to prominence are often co-opted by traditional publishers when the price is right.The source of the stigma against self-published books is the putrid quality of most self-published books.

    • You *do* know that Chuck himself has self-published, right?

      Because from your post I get the impression you don’t really know much about the man and his works. Or this blog.

      Just my half-baked thoughts…

    • The culture of self-publishing that Chuck Wendig rightly criticizes is on display daily at sites like the Passive Voice. As Mr. Wendig put it, “Self-published authors spend ‘so much time’ criticizing traditional publishing but none at all looking inward.” Constant whining about “eltists,” “snobs,” and the evil “gatekeepers.” Presuming that traditional publishers and literary agents are all Darth Vaders. Adorating, as impersonal a corporate behemoth as there ever was, as if it was a charitable organization. Making role models of writers who crap out dreck as fast as they can, they game Amazon’s rankings with freebies and 99 cent promotions. Deriding literary quality as being something for fuddy duddies and losers who don’t want to make money.

      • I’m a hybrid so I really do see both sides. No publishers are not Darth Vaders, but they have existed in a bubble where their only competition was each other and as they all had the same crappy practices (clauses) the power has been firmly in their court. But now with self-publishing becoming viable there is leverage to push back against such things. When I criticize traditional publishing it’s not to say “you suck” it’s to say change these things because I want to work with you, but you make it really hard to.

        What kind of things am I talking about?

        * Life of copyright contract terms
        * Horrific (and illegal) non-compete clauses
        * Insisting on audio rights whether or not they are exercised
        * World rights that take 50% of foreign sales just by signing
        * Joint accounting which makes it harder to earn out
        * Low thresholds for “in print determination”
        * 12 to 1 income sharing on discounted books and exports
        * 3 to 1 income sharing on ebooks

        I don’t care whether people go self or traditional, but I do want them to be well informed and realize exactly what they are signing up for.

  • What makes you think that those who don’t bother with editing or good covers are going to listen to you or to me? I have better things to do with my time than worry about them. I have a pile of work on my desk, that novel I’m editing, the cover I’m having my designer re-do because I decided I wasn’t happy with the first version, and my next novel I’m half way through writing.

    Worrying about whether someone else will put out an inadequate indy novel (as though they would care about my opinion) just isn’t even on my radar.

    • I think they will because I know they will. I won’t get through to everybody but already I’ve had a handful of emails and seen some Facebook conversations pop up about this — authors who maybe put out books that weren’t really up to snuff, that were maybe only part of the way there when they needed to be most or all of the way. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing, do you?

  • It amazes me that, even at a recent event SPECIFICALLY directed towards writers who wanted to self-publish, people were still clinging to the “cachet” of traditional publishing. I wanted to ask them, “Is the five seconds of glow you get from an acceptance letter after ten years of submissions and rejections, followed by the depression of getting relegated to the unsupported midlist, really more gratifying than putting your work out now and having even one actual reader like what you’ve done?”

    Then there’s the unshakable fantasy that 95% of writers have that they’re going to strike it big. It’s the same thing that keeps people buying billions of dollars worth of lottery tickets each year. It’s the same thing I see in most of the crowdfunding campaigns I come across. “If I build it, they will come.”

    Striking it big happens, sure. You want to throw your hat in the ring, go ahead. But you know what gives you much more of a fighting chance? Write, write, write. Post your works-in-progress on review sites. Hire an editor and a cover designer, and put something you’ve honed up for sale. Build your reader base. Slave over your manuscripts for hundreds of hours, release them into the wild, gather and use reader feedback. Rinse and repeat for the next ten years. And sure, if being traditionally published sounds cool to you, continue submitting along the way.

    But that sounds too much like work to most people. They never thought being creative would turn into just another job. A wonderful, inspiring, heart-rending, uplifting, crazy-making job – but a job all the same. Until people can get past seeing the writing industry as either a get-rich-quick scheme or a free-for-all canvas for unmoderated self-expression, we’re going to get more of the same.

    • Emma I’m about as big a supporter of self-publishing as there is…but now that it has been more than 2 years since I went traditional that it was 100% the right choice for my career. My audience grew much faster than it was through self, I’ve made multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars through foreign sales, and my audio sales (which I probably wouldn’t have done if I stayed self) have surpassed 100,000 copies which opens up a whole new audience.

      Will it always be the right choice? No. I just want to point out that with all the bad of traditional publishing there is a lot of good as well.

  • I don’t disagree with anything written in this article. I’m just wondering specifically what set it off. I follow quite a few self published authors on social media. I also know some in real life and happen to be “an indie” for one novel to date. I initially stumbled into self publishing rather than having a master plan but I won’t bore you with my personal particulars. It’s certainly true that independent authors do a lot of cheerleading for themselves. This seems reasonable to me, not outlandish or daring. As you said, indies need to diy in various areas that a publisher would ordinarily handle. This includes cheerleading, not only for their books but also for the stigmatized option of self publishing. Whatever situation you’re in, you want to make it seem great. So of course you’ll praise all things self publishing if that’s what you’re doing, though I must add that those who put down traditional publishers while being cheerleaders for self publishing are being hypocritical. You don’t insult the dream because the dream is deferred. You rave about how great Plan B is while perhaps continuing to dream the dream. If those who do it for themselves don’t laud the merits of doing it for yourself, who will? Would the vast majority take it all back in exchange for a significant offer from Random House? No doubt. But until that magical day happens they will champion all that’s wonderful about self publishing. Some of the books will be excellent. Some, not so much. Nobody wants to read a bad book, but nobody intends to write one either. And if you have written an awful novel, chances are you will not immediately realize this. You will tell the world you’ve written a fine book because you are obligated to as your own marketing department, AND because you actually believe it to be true. I haven’t seen anyone arguing on behalf of putting out garbage simple because they are now able to do so. I believe there are people who are deluded into thinking they’ve written something wonderful when nothing could be further from the truth. And since they have no choice (other than keeping it to themselves) but to self publish, by default they become advocates of self publishing. Not necessarily for high minded reasons (although those you listed do apply) but because if you’re out on the ocean on a rowboat that you built, what choice do you have but to start rowing? Gatekeepers can and often have been wrong. This is what keeps hope afloat. You’ll never know if you’ve written the book that will outsell the entire Harry Potter series if you don’t make it available for purchase. Again, I’m not technically disagreeing with anything you wrote. I just think that due to ease of execution, there will always be books put out by those who appear to be self publishing “hobbyists” primarily due to their lack of talent. Had they spent several hundred never to be recuperated dollars for editing and cover design and whatnot, they would have ended up with a more polished, still awful book. What they actually needed to do was read a lot more, write a lot more, and pray a lot more. Every day the amount of talented writers who enter the fray with savvy business plans for their competently written books will increase. Possibly as result they’ll make a few more dollars that those who rushed to literary glory. Possibly not. The one in a million success stories will remain roughly one in a million.

    • No, but I am noodling ways to showcase self-published authors and notable examples of the work — particularly those that may not have had a lot of attention.

      The *problem* with that is, any time I open that door a crack, the flood comes in. The flood meaning, that tide of authors — the one that’s supposed to not be bad for anybody or problematic — comes rushing in and I don’t have the kind of time to sort through a tide pool of crap to find a shiny necklace. Which means I either need to showcase authors I already know and like (which is limiting and biased) or I find another way forward that doesn’t mean opening to submissions.

      — c.

        • I actually do hang out there sometimes, but I find the environment is not always as… erm, friendly to me as I’d like. Which is fine, I recognize that not everyone is going to like what I say (or as is the criticism other times, the way I say it).

  • I completely agree! This is exactly why I have not self-published my novels yet. They still need work and I do not intend to ruin my writing reputation with something that is, well, less than it could be.

  • Maybe I only hang out with the cool kids of self-publishing, but I don’t know of any authors who click publish without having honed their craft and put out a quality product. Though I have seen the ugly side of self-publishing on occasion. Eep!

    The way I see it, the journey is personal, the product is the proof. Trade, self-pubbed… they are just different methods. I’ve never really been into the pom-poms thing, I get my head down and get on with it. 🙂

    You’re right about the major league. More and more people are quitting day jobs and making publishing books their business. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a writer. Personally, I don’t have the energy to worry about the bad books out there, but I get why you decided to write this, and good on you. But please, shush on the more critics thing… I think there are more than enough already! 😉

  • Regarding indies and the need for “pro” editors… Many indies can’t afford them. Writing is a business and sometimes you have to build slowly. Take a restaurant just starting out–It might need new tables, new chairs, spiffier uniforms and fancier plates. But the food is good so you keep going back. The profit the owner makes gets reinvested and one day that little hole in the wall cafe is a posh establishment with a waiting list. Indie books are the same. Support early work so the author can reinvest profits to make better and better books for your consumption.

    • No. No no no no no no. A restaurant doesn’t open if it cannot afford to open. We’re not talking about new chairs — we’re talking about chairs at all. This is cuckoo bananapants, this advice. Support early bad work so they can one day hire an editor? Listen, an editor might run you five hundred bucks. Or — as you will find on many forums, some editors will trade their services. But please, I see this idea passed around — this is really selfish advice and bad for readers. And it also completely ignores how actual business owners run their actual businesses.

      Here’s what you do when you don’t have enough money for editors:

      You publish it for free or you don’t publish it at all.

      The readers deserve better.

      — c.

      • But CE is saying the work is good. What if it is good?

        I do agree it needs to be free though. Something I’ve whined about on other forums. If you can’t do it at a professional level it needs to be free until it can be released at a professional level.

      • Do you have examples of some of these forums and/or places to find editors, perchance? In all the research I’ve done, I haven’t been able to find an editor that can work on my 125k-word manuscript for less than $1,800 (some as high as $4k). I have money budgeted for editing, but not nearly that much. If I could find an editor for $500, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

        I’m not trying to be snarky, FYI – I’m legitimately asking the question. I’d love to just know where to start looking for a substantive edit for sub $1k.

        • By editing, are we talking book doctors, or proofreaders? Frankly, if you need someone else to tell your story, you aren’t much of an author in my opinion. Nobody went back over Pcaso’s work and fixed his brush strokes. Indies may not be masters, but they should be able tomprovide abuyabke product on their own or they’re not very independant in my mind.

          • Note: My original question was in response to Mr. Wendig’s reply, and was soliciting an answer from him.

            A “book doctor”? Do you mean a developmental or story editor? You make it sound like a story/line editor performing a substantive edit on a novel is somehow subverting the original writing, and I can’t even begin to describe how far off the mark that idea is. Plus, there is a fairly large gap between a story editor and a proofreader.

            To use your own analogy from further in the thread, your opinion above is like saying that a guitarist/singer shopping for a drummer makes them “not much of a musician”. Believing that wanting/using an editor and being independent are mutually exclusive is factually incorrect.

            An appropriate writer/editor relationship is a collaborative one, not a subversive. It has absolutely ZERO to do with “needing someone else to tell my story”, and everything with wanting a pair of professional eyes – a second pair, not my own – to take a look at what I’ve written and ensure that my continuity works, my plotlines are coherent, etc.

            The arrogance it takes to think of an editor in this light is staggering. The great painters may not have had touch-up artists, but I guarantee that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Morrison and Chabon all worked with editors.

          • Luke, you’ve said it way better than I could have.

            I can’t answer for Chuck of course, but I can say that my editing costs for my first novel which was around 125,xxx words was well below $1,000. That editor stopped taking fiction clients, so I’ve hired a new one for book two and she’s also below $1,000. It took some looking around but they’re out there. My email address is on the About page on my website if you want details.

        • When I was starting off I hired editors in the $350 – $450 range. I now use those in the $1,000 – $1,200 range because they are people I use when doing traditional. Go to the Writer’s Cafe on kboards – and you can find posts and even ask for recommendations but you can certainly get it for $500 if you shop around.

    • ….and this is why 25 to 30% of restaurants fail in the first year.

      Sorry, but the days of “supporting early work” — for restauranteurs AND writers — are long gone. You come out of the gate with professional-quality work, or you’re simply not ready to come out of the gate.

      • Garage bands would probably disagree with you Mr. Wendig. Many of them couldn’t afford professional mixers or good instruments. They perservered with hard work and dedication and a lucky break or two. True, most unedited indie work probably is bad, and I am not against free or cheap (although cheap =funds to reinvest), but please don’t brand all unedited work as crap. Or maybe you can, even crap sells sometimes when there’s Fifty Shades of consumers willing to buy it…

        • In an age where a self-produced album just won four Grammys, I would say that your “Garage Band” reference is also a bit dated. Today’s Garage Bands are producing professional-quality product. Period.

      • Starting a restaurant, with specialty exhaust systems and permits galore, turned into some Versailles-type maze where woe unto you if you wandered in without an attorney and an accountant to carry your suitcases full of cash.

        Thus was born the food truck. People who love to cook, and own their destiny, can. Self-publishing is the food truck of books. It’s not about mediocrity–it’s about avoiding the b.s. and focusing on the creative endeavor.

      • And the first time you get food poisoning because the cook is “perfecting” his skill… you’re not going back.

        And you’re unlikely to give other new restaurants the benefit of the doubt because you’re just finished being ‘orribly ill.


    • Good point, CE. I can get behind that. Where is this good food–do you have examples? I’m being serious. I’m on a mission to find good indie work and I’ll gladly read something not edited professionally if it shines through its roughness.

      (But I do have to say, a lot of these indies who make good money now still aren’t hiring editors.)

    • I don’t think readers should support a book if it’s a bad book. They won’t anyway, there’s no way they will pay good money for a bad product, that’s not how the world works.

      However, I have been in the position where I couldn’t afford an editor, and that’s where having lots of beta readers and willing proofreaders help. It’s not ideal, and it doesn’t replace an editor, but it worked for me on this occasion.

      The crux is, you can’t build a business around shoddy merchandise. I know, I know, it’s not just merchandise, it’s also art, but you get what I’m trying to say.

      Kickstarter or indiegogo is probably a better solution than asking readers to support a fledgling author.

      • Bad is a matter of opinion. Readers of shakesoeare might think Star Trek novels are complete crap. Heck the automotive industry relies on people’s different tastes and different budgets. Let’s get to the core issue: indies can tell a story just as good as traditionals. Its the polish and packaging that can differ. And I agree with Mr. wendig, same standards should apply to both because it’s about making your customer/reader happy, no matter who published it.

    • OK, so it’s slightly different for me in that my works have to be the highest quality I can make them (and yes there are typos because despite having an editor and eagle eyed beta readers I miss them, because I have a form of dyslexia). Bit I digress, I’m writing a mash up of several genres that are a notoriously hard sell so I know mine HAS to be quality to get anywhere. Even so, for what it’s worth, if I’d been skint at the start,here’s how I’d do it. :

      1. Write the books
      2. Make them free
      3. Do Wattapad, youwriteon, bookbuzzer, smashwords and authonomy for all you’re worth and build up a huge following.
      4. Write the magnum opus.
      5. Crowd source funding for an editor and cover design.

      The result is a fan base you can take with you when your books goes live, like E L James. BUT a quality product so that people like me who loved the story but got to the point where the thought of reading the words “he pressed his mouth into a firm hard line” ever again made them feel as if their brains were bleeding out through their ears, don’t give up on it half way through.

      If it helps at all, the method outlined above is the one I will have to apply to my fifth books unless books 1-4 start actually selling when the last two come out this spring.



      • I suppose that’s one way to do it. Here’s what I’ve done:

        Wrote and published, instead of angsting about it or talking about writing. Seven books in a series, over 1 1/2 years, the first one free. When sales, which were pitiful, reached the point I could, I started buying advertising. After a Bookbub ad this month, I’ve jumped from making pizza money every month, to over a thousand in January. That’s money I’ll reinvest in services like a pro proofer/editor and maybe a cover designer (although I really like my own covers). In the meantime, my very nichey subgenre (New Pulp) has been seen by over 20,000 readers with hundreds of follow on purchases–without hoping I could crowd source on an idea alone and beta readers instead of paid editors. I’ve turned my lemonade stand into a foodtruck. With more luck and hardwork, one day I’ll have a literary restaurant.

        Self publishing is a business, and some businesses start small, but with hard work, grow.

        • 7 books in one and a half years?!!! Falls over unconscious. Nice work there. Good going. I’m hoping I might be able to do something like that when my next two books are out (April and May this year). Then I’ll have a complete series in the public domain so I can start playing with free as well.

          I doubt I’ll ever manage your production rates but then, I’m guessing you have more than 2 hours a day and that get to write outside school term times, too.

          Good job… although I’ve a form of dyslexia so hiring an editor isn’t really an option for me. I have to or I put in a whole raft of new errors as I take the old ones out. 😉



          • Mine are short, only 50,000 words or so. Elle Casey and Russell Blake are indies who release a new book EVERY month. Ms. Casey did this while teaching college courses and being a mom. I binge write on the weekends–work and family make writing during too difficult.

    • I really can’t support the “I can’t afford it so I’ll skip this step.” Writing IS a business and as such you can’t afford to put out a crappy product. It is exactly this mentality that Chuck is opposing – and with good reason. It’s your name and reputation on the book. To me you “can’t afford” to tarnish that with going sub-standard.

      Now, that being said…you can still get a highly polished work out without digging in your pockets. It will be a lot more work…but it is possible. It may mean doing work in trade…editing another author’s work so they will edit yours. It may mean seeking out beta readers to help you understand what is working and what isn’t. It may mean that it will take 2 years to get that book “polished” rather than 6 months but it’s just not something you can skip.

      When I self publish I hire the same copy editors that my publisher uses (they are all freelancers and the bank doesn’t care whether the money comes from me or Orbit). Editing at this level can run about $1,000 – $1,300. Don’t have the money? Well disconnect cable and you can have it in less than a year. Start packing a lunch rather than going out. Do some dog walking and put every cent to the “editing pool.” If you want to bad enough you can find ways to get the money. Those who say they can’t afford it are usually saying, that they don’t want it “bad enough.”

  • I had this exact conversation with a guy online who was handing his first e-book looking for reviewers. I read the first couple of stories and suggested he hold off, do some editing. I gave him some examples of glaring issues, logical fallacies (an embroidered urn..?) He said it didn’t matter because it was his first book and he’d already made his decision to hit publish on the expected date. I was horrified later to find he had a couple of 5 star reviews, with a majority of 4 and 3 and I gave the only 1 star out of 20 people or so who allegedly read the book. It definitely gave me the “maybe I don’t need to bother editing a damn thing. My first drafts are often better than this…” feeling, but I got over it. I’m still working on book one, but I’m going to make it the best it can be.

  • “As a reader, the publisher imprint doesn’t even cross my mind When I choose a book. It’s always A. the author, or B. someone recommended it to me.” ~ marlanesque says. In the comments on this thread.
    And I agree with her 100%. As a reader (who reads A LOT) I never look twice at a publisher. I mean who cares who published something? Nobody that’s who!

    What you are simply seeing is another traditional business archetype in a specialty market, sliding down into the tar pit of “the way they used to do it”.
    It is happening all across the arts and traditional business models. Go ask a record store how they are doing, hanging tight to their traditional model, or an
    art gallery.
    Wait until live music venues start projecting shows at their venue. Suddenly, they can book talent from anywhere on the planet.

    It’s a new age. The information age. You adapt or you die.
    Even the cat the makes armor at the Renaissance Festivals has an page.

  • “But I am a gatekeeper for my own work and I’m asking that authors do the same with theirs.”

    I suggest you re-read your own post because that is NOT what you ask in your post. You ask that I be the gatekeeper for other people’s work and that is simply not my business. If someone comes to me and asks for my help in improving their work (yes, it happens as not-famous as I am), I’ll offer it. I won’t put myself up as someone who can judge who should and shouldn’t publish.

    For one thing, you’re wrong that self-publishing isn’t a hobby. No, it’s not for me, but just as painting or playing a musical instrument is a hobby for some and a profession for others, the same is true for self-publishing. You comment that ‘snarky snark and smug superiority” is unattractive on both sides but that is exactly how your post strikes me. Some call-to-arms to self-published authors to somehow punish with criticism those whose writing they don’t like offends me. It really does.

    • I never asked anyone punish with criticism, nor am I suggesting self-publishers run around tearing each other apart. I am asking that we be gatekeepers for the best practices of the culture. You don’t have to listen, of course. Nobody does. This is a blog where I say stuff and people can agree or disagree and, ideally, at the bare minimum, it creates an environment of conversation. You seem particularly hostile about this, however.

      As for it being a hobby: well, I don’t agree? Writing can be a hobby. That’s the analog to painting or playing a musical instrument. I follow the definition that a hobby is something one does for pleasure, and that once pay enters the equation, you enter a professional realm, not one of the hobbyist.

      So it goes with all things here at terribleminds: YMMV.

      — c.

    • And also, to quote my own post (silly, but there it is):

      “You are your own quality control. You are your own best critic.”

      That’s exactly what I’m asking people to do. I apologize if that comes across poorly or hard to parse. Such is the bloggerel.

      — c.

    • I’m not sure it IS ethically okay to publish unedited, amateur work “as a hobby.” Write it? Yeah. Who cares what people do with their personal time? But formally publishing the work implies that the writer/author expects people (they do not know) to purchase it with hard-earned money and to then read it during their limited personal time.

      As an avid reader, as well as a writer, nothing infuriates me more than when I waste money and time on something marketed as finished work, and it’s worse than my adolescent students’ drafted essays (some kids are actually amazing writers, so this isn’t all that much of a stretch). And I am in agreement with the readers above who find some traditionally published work more poorly written and edited than many self-published titles.

      Maybe I’m more bitter than others about how I spend my book money and reading time since I teach English (hard work–just check the drop out rate for beginning teachers) and I’m already required to read lots of amateur writing as part of the job. But I get paid for that. I don’t want to PAY someone my time and money to read their in-process drafts. Publishing and marketing bad writing has to be the ultimate example of modern narcissism.

      Frankly, I have yet to see a book description stating up front BUYER BEWARE: The author of this work is untrained and unpracticed. The work has not been edited to industry standards. The work is a personal project meant only for my friends and relatives, and therefore, of little interest to the general public.

      What I do see are lots of 5-star reviews and effusive commentary about the wonderful quality of the work in question. I know the system requires all authors play the reviewing and starring game. But if one is simply writing a book as a hobby, why run around plugging it and acquiring reader reviews?

      Authors owe readers something more than self-indulgent, imperfectly crafted and unedited slop. Self-publishing shouldn’t equate to bad writing.

      Great post, Chuck.

      • I’ll just leave this link here….

        with its 41 5-star reviews and the disappointed comments of Dee on GR:

        “I think I only bought this as it had been in our local newspaper a couple of times as she’s [from] my neck of the woods.

        I wish I hadn’t bothered. What a pile of tosh!

        I’ll give her one thing, she does say at the start of the book that she isn’t a writer and knows that the book will not be well written. She was right, it wasn’t well written at all….

        …Honestly I wish I hadn’t have bought it. £2 I would rather have spent on something else. The only good thing is that 5% of the sales go to Samuel’s Childrens Charity, dedicated to helping children with cancer and their families.
        I did give it 2*’s instead of 1* as I give her her dues for trying.”

        And a question–how do we know 5% actually ends up going to the charity?

        I think these kinds of books do give self-publishing a bad name.

  • This one just made me think about a sentence from one of your old posts – one I carefuly bookmarked :
    “Be the shaman in the darkness”.
    Many more firecamps right now.
    But still no excuses for bat’s shit.

  • Baseball’s an awesome metaphor. Self-publishing’s the sandlot. It is still a challenging game, but without the steroids. You don’t need to shrink your nuts and explode in rage to succeed. Some will make millions, most of us will go home for dinner when it gets dark, but it’s fun as hell, and it’s the same damn sport.

  • I’ve seen the musician analogy bandied around a bit above. As someone who has been fairly involved with independent music over the years (practitioner, critic, researcher, academic), this process Chuck talks about here is the EXACT move that is probably coming if music is any sort of comparative product (it is, I think).

    Literally no one in critical circles cares about indie VS major label music anymore. That is just not a distinction that is made outside of the biggest – i.e. lamest – media outlets. You can’t turn over a MP3 and check if there’s a Warner label on it or not. Meanwhile, the Queens of the Stone Age – who are on an indie – just closed the Grammys…the FKN GRAMMYS! As a marker of quality, indie VS major is dead, along with it any idea that major lacks innovation (hello, Beyonce) and that indie lacks quality (hello, 90% of everything reviewed alongside Beyonce).

    Instead what people do is sample music and – I imagine ebooks – at lightning speed now. You have to be beyond good to stand out, far, far beyond a ‘professional’ standard. Well-recorded (i.e. well edited) and great album cover (i.e. professionally designed)….that’s a good start…if your music doesn’t suck.

  • This is awesome. I agree with most of it. It’s just that it’s not my job to criticize those other indie authors.
    I can only take care of my own stuff.

    In fact, I’m a small business owner. I don’t go around critiquing businesses in my same general area of expertise. I might look to them for ideas on what to do and what not to do, but I don’t cheer them on or criticize them. Doesn’t matter. I’m just doing my thing and doing it to the best of my ability. I see my indie pubbing venture the same way.

    On the other hand… I sincerely appreciate the indie publishing culture and how open it sometimes is. I’ve learned a lot from other authors. But still, it’s not my place to criticize how someone else is running their business. And it doesn’t matter to me if they’re “doing it wrong”. I’m not worried that their lack of professionalism might rub off on me. They aren’t me. They’re creating content, same as I am, but we create different content. My content makes up my brand. These other authors have nothing to do with my brand.

    I also make music, and I never feel like I need to be worried about all those bands recording music in their garages. It’s irrelevant. It has zero bearing on my music. Everyone knows good indie music exists at this point in the game. Sure, lots of it might be garbage, but lots of it isn’t. And it’s so exciting when you discover that new gem no one else has heard of. 😉 This is where I see indie publishing going.

    • I read some more of the comments above. You say you’re aren’t encouraging us to criticize others. Great.
      Even so, I don’t feel like I need to be a “good example”, or that I need to consciously work to ensure my contributions elevate the overall quality of the sea of indie pubbed books. I spent months on revisions and hired an editor because I want my story to be the best it can be. I hired a cover artist so my story would get the cover it deserves (within budget, at least.)

      I think that’s what you say we need more of, so great, but I still don’t care either way if other writers choose to self-pub their NaNo novel on Dec 1st, or if they make their covers using Paint. It’s irrelevant. The music analogy stands. I honestly don’t have to worry about any stigma. Give it five more years. I promise that you and everyone else will forget there ever was one. There will be books worth reading and books not worth reading, and that’s it.

  • Self publishing is a business and it should be treated as such. It is not a hobby. And most of all, it is NOT for everybody. And it shouldn’t be for everybody. Some people just want to write and hand over the rest of the work to someone else. More power to them. We all have our different paths to reach our readers. It’s an exciting time to be an author (and, for that matter, a reader!)

    And I agree that we shouldn’t wish for traditional publishing to go away. We need the traditional publishers. We just need them to adapt to the changing publishing climate quicker than they are currently doing. I sincerely hope they do adapt.

  • I review books in addition to writing them. I turn down about 12 books for every book I accept, and the majority of folks asking me to review their books are self-published or published through a small press.
    So far, two that I’ve reviewed have been well-written, but they both had problems. Neither of them had good cover art, and both had trouble with exposition and sagging middles.

    I plan to self-publish my book, but I’m taking my time to make sure it’s done write. I’m investing in cover art and an editor that will make it glow. I’m trying hard to learn from the mistakes of others, which sometimes just opens the door to making new, more fantastically stupid mistakes. We’ll see how it goes.

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