Follow-Up On Self-Publishing: Readers Are Not Good Gatekeepers

Yesterday, I wrote a post, blah blah blah — self-publishing is not the minor leagues. Basically: we can all do better, be your own gatekeeper, stop celebrating half-ass efforts, etc.

Shorter still: a rising tide lifts all boats.

The resultant response continued a bit across a few forums and blogs — which is good! I like this conversation, and I understand that what I said is controversial to some and I recognize that pushback is inevitable and important. Some of that conversation carried on at kboards, where — maybe unsurprisingly — it got a little hostile (anybody wonders why I find kboards not very welcoming, well, there you go).

I want to use that conversation to zero in on something, though, to maybe shine a light on maybe a core attitude that represents the culture I’m talking about.

Here’s a kboards comment from author Emily Cantore (excerpted):

In the end, more linkbait from Chuck Wendig, as per usual. His arguments aren’t supported by evidence. He builds strawmen and then argues against them (such as these supposed self-publishers who openly say they don’t care about the reader. Where are they Chuck? Are they actual authors or just halfwit idiots out there who you are picking to support your straw?).

He says this:

“Don’t celebrate mediocrity. Don’t encourage half-assing this thing for a couple of bucks.”

And my answer is: I celebrate mediocrity. I celebrate half-assing things. I celebrate someone writing a book that objectively is terrible and going through the steps to make a terrible cover and a terrible blurb and publishing it and then they keep on going and write something a little better, with a better cover and a better blurb and then they keep going some more.

I celebrate the massive tsunami of creativity that has been unleashed and unlike Chuck, I recognize there are entrants at every level. There are terrible books being put out there but those authors will iterate and get better and one day will be making a lot of money.

No one will argue that you shouldn’t try as hard as possible but it is also not true that you need a professionally designed cover and x, y, z that someone else says you need that happen to cost more money than you have.

Self-publishing tore down many many barriers (we’re down to: are literate, have a computer that can make a word document and an image and have internet access and a bank account) and here we have Chuck trying to put up more barriers. It must be professional! It must be better than traditional publishing has to offer.

No. Do your best and iterate. Go again and do your best. Soon your best will be better than their best.

Ah, but again I don’t know why I’ve spent so much effort refuting Chuck’s unsupported posts. As I’ve said before, it’s mostly low-effort link-bait and gulp, we all swallow it.

Okay, so. Casting aside for a moment I don’t think we’re going to agree on the definition of “link-bait” and “straw-man,” let’s talk about, drum roll please, the reader.

The reader is held up as a gatekeeper here, right? The idea being that all barriers have been removed from the author-audience relationship. All those kept gates of old-school publishing have been blown open and now only one portcullis remains: the one manned by the reader.

Now, let’s cue up a commercial. From darkness come the sounds of a sad Sarah McLachlan song. And soon we’re treated to a slideshow of images — images of readers staring in utter bewilderment at their WUNDERBAR KINDLEMASCHINES. Some of them are crying. Some of them look bemused, others horrified. One looks into his empty wallet and pouts. Another has broken open her e-reader and is guzzling all the e-ink just to wipe her memory of what she just read.

At the end: who will think of the poor reader?

See, I’m with Emily in that I celebrate the tide of creativity. I think this is great. The Internet has given us all a voice, and we’re all part of a beautifully discordant chorus. It’s powerful, wonderful, weird stuff where we all kind of blur together as author and audience. I love it. I roll around in it like a dog in stink, covering myself with it.

But that, to me, is writing.

That, to me, is storytelling.

And for that we have a wealth of places to put our writing. We have blogs. We have Tumblr and Twitter and FB and Circlesquare and Crowdzone and SexyFistingFinder-dot-com and whatever other social media outlets will pop up. We have places like Wattpad and Book Country. We still have the remnants of Livejournal, where you can post your fiction and then get digitally shanked by some sentient Russian spam-bot who steals your credit card and your dreams.

Point is, we can write, write, write.

We can iterate our writing. In public! We can find an audience there.

You have permission to suck.

For free.

Free, there, is key.

Because the moment you go somewhere — Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, wherever — and you start charging money, that changes the equation. By a strict reading, that’s no longer Hobbytown, Jake. You’ve entered pro grade territory. You’re asking readers to take a chance on your work for one buck, three bucks, five bucks, etc. You’re not hosting a party. You’re running a lemonade stand.

So stop pissing in the lemonade and asking people to give you cash to drink it.

When an author says — I celebrate mediocrity. I celebrate half-assing things. I celebrate someone writing a book that objectively is terrible and going through the steps to make a terrible cover and a terrible blurb and publishing it and then they keep on going and write something a little better, with a better cover and a better blurb and then they keep going some more.

That’s the culture I’m talking about.

It’s a culture that scares me a little. It’s a culture that cares more about itself and its personal freedom to publish than it does about the result of that publishing. It’s a culture of me-me-me, a culture of wagon-circling, a culture that refuses to look at itself and take responsibility for what it’s putting out. It feels exploitative. It feels careless.

And it’s is not an uncommon attitude amongst author-publishers, and what it tells me is, you care about yourself as a writer but not your readers.

It tells me that you’re comfortable asking readers to pay you so that you can get better.

It tells me you have no interest in being your own gatekeeper — and, very plainly spoken, it literally says you’re not going to give this your best effort and investment.

Readers are a resource. A living, breathing resource. They’re how authors get to do what they wanna do, and the more we pile on the audience’s shoulders, the more garbage we rain on their heads, the more turned off they’re going to be. You know how many readers will tell you, “I tried a self-published book and now I won’t give them a shot?” This is true in traditional publishing, too. A reader reads a bad book by a publisher — not bad as in, I didn’t like it, but bad as in, Doesn’t meet basic standards, they’re potentially going to stop reading books by that publisher.

Asking readers to be your gatekeepers is putting a lot of responsibility on the people who are paying you. Stop saying you’re going to let the readers figure it out when it comes to sorting through what’s crap and what’s not. You need to figure that out. That’s on you.

Eventually, readers will grow tired of having to be your gatekeepers.

And they’ll ask someone else to do it for them.

I’m not advocating new gatekeepers or new barriers.

I’m advocating you as your own gatekeeper. A critic of your own work. Be an example for others. Help lift the other boats. Help other authors be great, not mediocre.

This is true in all forms of publishing.

Said it before, will say it again:

Writing is a craft, storytelling is an art, publishing is a business.

If you’re charging money for your work, you owe it to the reader to give them your best. Not your most mediocre. Not your half-assiest. Is this really that controversial?

[UPDATE: I don’t intend to be hovering around here too much today — too much to do, I’m afraid — but I will ask that folks keep it civil in the comments, or I’ll punt you into the Spam Oubliette. While I don’t agree with Emily’s post in its entirety, her points deserve fair consideration and commentary.]

251 comments

  • Maybe what this Emily doesn’t understand is that you’re supposed to learn how to write BEFORE you publish. Whether you self-publish or go the traditional route – if you want people to pay for your work then you have to give them something worth paying for. Doing it the half-assed way is insulting to the readers. If a writer isn’t prepared to invest time learning to write and then writing something worth reading, they shouldn’t expect anyone to pay for it. It’s people like that give self-publishing a bad rep.

    • That’s the thing. If author “Unknown Joe” published an unreadable novel with a poor cover, nobody will know it exist. For those few that does, they will just read the description, look at the cover and most likely pass on it.

      Joe Konrath wrote about this back in 2011. I don’t agree with everything he said but he’s right that “there has always been crap, and always will be crap.”

      http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/07/tsunami-of-crap.html
      The Tsunami of Crap

      Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths.

      Or something like that.

      This is bullshit, of course. A myth. A fabrication. One rooted in envy and fear.

      Readers aren’t the ones worried about the scores of new ebooks being released. They have no need to be worried. There are already billions of books in the world. A few more million won’t make a difference.

      Readers are able to find what they want, quite easily. They can go into a bookstore and come out with a purchase, even though that store stocks 150,000 titles. They can go into a library, and ten minutes later walk out with a handful of books that interest them.

      There are millions of websites, and YouTube videos, and things to buy on Amazon.com. There are thousands of choices on cable TV and Netflix and Hulu. Yet we’re always able to find gems.

      No, the readers don’t care if some moron uploads his ten-years-in-the-making opus “Me and My Boogers: A Love Story.” They’ll be able to avoid it just by looking at the crummy cover art, the poor description, and the handful of one star reviews.

      Readers don’t care if something is self-pubbed or not. They’ve read books they don’t like by legacy publishers, and they may find books they don’t like by indie authors, but they aren’t going to give up reading. In fact, they’re going to help each other find good things to read. Goodreads.com is a perfect example of readers becoming gatekeepers, sharing reviews and recommendations.

      Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that ereaders are actually increasing the number of books bought, and causing people to read more. There aren’t droves of readers ditching their Kindles because they bought a bad indie ebook. Rather, there are hundreds of new ereaders and many thousands of new ebooks sold every day.

      So readers aren’t the ones perpetuating this stupid myth that the crap will destroy the world. It’s the writers–specifically the legacy writers–who keep trotting this one out.

      The reason for it is disappointingly obvious. Legacy writers no longer feel special, because now anyone with a book can sell it. Even worse, they can sell it for cheap, and get higher royalty rates, meaning these pretenders to the throne can actually make more than those who “earned” their spots in the pecking order by kissing legacy butt and waving around their rejections as badges of honor.

      These authors fear loss of income, and are envious of the ease in which indies can self-publish and the money they can earn. But saying that out loud would make them look petty.

      So instead, they cloak their fear and envy in a poorly constructed argument that says their real intent is protecting readers from crap.

      Newsflash: there has always been crap, and always will be crap. Get over it.

      Whenever someone feels the need to make decisions for me because I’m apparently incapable of doing it myself, it irks me. I can decide by myself who to sleep with, what to smoke, what God to worship (or not worship), and what to read. I don’t need anyone to protect me from indie ebooks, and neither does anyone else.

      If you’re really worried about readers being subjected to crap, here’s what you can do:

      DON’T WRITE CRAP.

      But enough with the whining about it. It makes you look silly.

      • How many 3-page samples from putrid self-published books will I be willing to tolerate until I throw my hands up in frustration and decide all self-published books stink? I want to read one really good 200-page book, not 3 crappy sample pages x 100 attempts to find a good book. My time is finite. The more rotten self-published books there are, the greater the likelihood that readers will simply default to vetted authors with established reputations and shun self-published books entirely.

  • I think we can all agree that 97% of self-published books are pretty terrible. The argument that somebody is trying something or on a path to greatness is lovely and probably true in some cases. But my fear (as a soon to be self-published author) is more strategic in nature…

    If 97% of self-published books continue to be dreck, at what point will people stop trying them? How many times do you buy a crappy selfie before you start looking askance at books coming from “My dog’s name publishing house”? People never cared who published the book because historically there was no need too. But if we keep burning readers with crap they will start caring. Then we’re back to the publishing houses being the gatekeepers of quality.

    • My self-pub friends don’t believe that AT ALL. They will pounce on you for daring say so. I’ve been informed that most self-pub is good. They believe this, as near as I can tell, because they are insulated in their small groups of ‘writers who really do care and work hard at it’ and somehow think all self-pubs are like that.

      And their books really are good. But the idea that all self-pub writers invest the time, the money, the learning process they did is ridiculous, as anybody who has skimmed through the selfpubs on kindle can attest.

    • No, no I don’t think we can all agree on that.

      In my experience, short self-pub erotica is the absolute nadir of the whole self-publishing universe, and even there, I’d say that for my definition of “pretty terrible” – which is not a high bar to clear, I am a word snob – *maybe* a third of them are pretty terrible.* Maybe another third are in the range of, “No, I personally would not pay money for this but I can see where a less word-snobby person would be okay with it.” And the final third – remembering again that this is the absolute Pit of Stench of self-published genres – are anywhere from “meh, not for me” to “Hey, that was pretty fucking** awesome.”

      It sounds just too-too to say things like that, and all the Right People chuckle knowingly when you do, but it really doesn’t help your argument. There is hyperbole, and then there is… whatever that is. If you don’t like it when self-publishers say OMG PUBLISHERS WILL STEAL YOUR BOOK AND TAKE YOUR MONIES AND KEEP IT FOREVER AND EVER AND IF THEIR KID NEEDS A TRANSPLANT YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP BOTH KIDNEYS EVEN IF THEY ONLY NEED ONE, then please do unto others as you would be done unto.

      *Yes, I’ve read a lot of them. And more than a lot of samples. That’s the field I write in under this name and I am always looking for things to st… I mean, inspiration.

      **Pun *intended,* baby.

  • I agree! I wont even read terrible Wattpad stories, and those are FREE. I get pretty pissed when I download a book on my Kindle that sounded alright, and then it reads like a novel for an elementary school student when it’s avertised towards adults.
    And now I would never read anything by that author, even if the next book was “improved” in some way, like that person above said. If I gamble once and it was shit, why should I gamble twice? I can take my money and buy a book I KNOW will be good, because I’m poor and I only give myself so much money a month to spend on books (I can’t buy anymore books this month because I’m saving my $5 for Cress in February. I know I’ll love that because I loved the first two books. That’s worth every penny).
    So, when you publish crap and let your readers buy it, you’re only hurting yourself.

    • Yes, and the other thing that’s wasted here is time. I work full time, have two small children, and I’m a writer. When I read for pleasure, that’s cutting into my precious and limited writing time.

      Wasting a couple bucks here and there on low quality purchases does bother me, but what bothers me more is the time I’ll waste before I figure out this author hasn’t had this edited / hasn’t bothered to learn how to write / hasn’t taken the time to run spellcheck / has published her first vomited out draft. It’s easy to be fooled by good reviews or a good Kindle sample.

      • This, so much this. I realize libraries have not been part of the discussion here, but I read lots of great books for free and they are often how I find my way to a new favourite author. But in there is the question of time, which matters more than whether I got a book for 99 cents or for free — time wasted on a poor-quality book (as opposed to just a book I did not enjoy) doesn’t make me keen to give the author another chance.

  • “I think we can all agree that 97% of self-published books are pretty terrible.”

    And some not inconsiderable percentage of those terrible books have readers that would shiv you if you said that about the book they love. Some have whole LEGIONS of fans like that. This is true of books that are traditionally published as well. Let’s not pretend that the publishers are out there to give us nothing but the top quality product. I love the notion that we as writers/author-publishers/word herders should put out our best. We should. As should traditional publishers.

    I put out my best every time I hit that publish button. Every book I write gets better. Every book I put out is that much more polished. So I agree with both Chuck and Emily to varying degrees.

    • Of course there is artificial hype and brilliant marketing for utter junk. Some authors are successful because they put more time and energy into their social media networking than in their actual writing. Far too many readers – customers – pay for rubbish just because someone tells them it’s brilliant. All this is true for trad-pub and self-pub alike. The fact that something is successful doesn’t mean it’s good.

      But there are also objective criteria if a piece of literature is junk or not, and the chance to get 97% junk from a random sample of self-published books is undoubtedly higher than from a random sample of traditionally published books. Yes, not everything traditional publishers release upon the unsuspecting public is gold. But they do have *some* quality management, and this is severely lacking in self-pub. Word’s auto-correction is not enough.

      As a reader, I can spend hours in a traditional bookshop and browse through the shelves and piles on the tables, read blurbs, search for favourites, find new gems. Will I do the same on Amazon? No.

      Because it’s not worth my time and even less my money. The chance to find the one gem in a pit of dung is just too small. Perhaps I miss out on something brilliant… my loss. But I can read only so many pages per year, and it’s not that quality literature is hard to come by. I don’t have to risk disappointment and frustration.

      If you want my money, you 1. have to deliver quality and 2. you have to convince me to buy your oeuvre by means I can take seriously. Twitter is no such means. And no, “cheap” is no argument either. Not when there’s so much stuff *for free* that is at least as good as the average self-published concoction.

      As a reader I can afford to be picky, and your book can be brilliant all it wants, I will not search for it in a cesspool of junk like Amazon.

      And people – authors and readers alike – who celebrate mediocrity as an outburst of creativity only harm themselves in the long run.

  • As a reader, that quote pisses me off. As a writer, that quote pisses me off.

    Why would you not put your best into something you’re releasing under your name? And why would you expect people to PAY for it? Ugh. The world owes you nothing, people. You have to EARN it.

  • Alicia Wanstall-Burke on January 28, 2014 at 8:46 AM
    Love the rebuttal, Chuck!

    I can admit to hesitantly accepting author-published work for my reading pleasure and for the reasons you outlined.
    – A lot of the material I encounter is of a shocking standard. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places though! Also, editing has ruined me for glossing over average mistakes
    – The author is skittish and has serious hang ups in regard to traditional publishers and agents eg; they don’t like new authors

    I always find myself asking at this point:

    ‘How hard did you try? How many edits, how many beta reads, how many professionals looked at your work and said “this is worth paying money for, this is polished”, before you slapped it on Amazon for $0.99 and spammed my twitter feed with terrible ads?’

    That’s bitchy I know, but all the same, author-publishing is perceived to be the domain of hacks and half-arsers too keen on their work to give a rats about their potential consumers.

    Ultimately, all consumers vote with their wallets, and badly written, poorly edited work won’t get you a following. Readers aren’t there to be your cheer squad. They are squawking chicks in a nest demanding more food for their happy reader brains. If you, as the author, produce shithouse work, these little chickies will fly the roost.

  • But Chuck, those folks won’t be able to look at their own work and recognize that it isn’t ready. I thought the first book I wrote was ready publication, but thank goodness it wasn’t. I’d be humiliated if it were in a used bookstore somewhere for people to stumble on now.

    Things have changed, and for the better. I’m pretty sure the writer you quoted was not recommending people put up crap knowing it was crap because it doesn’t matter. I think she was defending people who are trying hard putting their best up there, even if their best isn’t what we would consider good enough. [Which is a different problem, of course.]

    But the fact is that readers ARE gatekeepers now, and readers had better learn to download samples before they buy.

    • I just wasted $8.99 on a book that had a great sample but ended up being so poorly written and misleading that I gave up halfway through. Samples can reveal things like a misunderstanding of basic spelling and grammar, but they’re not going to show that the plot is weak or the author has a tendency to let the characters monologue for pages.

    • “But Chuck, those folks won’t be able to look at their own work and recognize that it isn’t ready.”

      In my mind, this is where beta readers come in. Paying readers shouldn’t be your beta readers.

  • The image of the sad readers is spot on. I love to read and get lost in the pages of a good book. I try to be open to new authors whether self published or traditionally published. Due to this, I have read some real crap. There were books I really wanted to like. Really, really wanted to like – great premise, but good lord it was work to get through. I had to wonder if they had anyone read it before they sent it out there, if they bothered to take a step back and really take a good look at their work, or were they just so excited at what they had accomplished, they thought it was great!

    I liken a lot of these books to the pottery I did when I was just learning. You start with a lump of clay, throw it on a wheel, and presto – make a cup. Yeah, right. At first those cups are things only a parent could love. But you keep making them, and making them, and making them. And eventually, you are happy with them and are ready to put them out in the world. You are so proud of what you made! But then people try to use those cups and the handles don’t really fit their hands, and the rims are a bit wonky, so they always drip after someone takes a drink, and my God they are heavy! So you keep making more, improving on those cups until finally you have made ones that are beautiful and wonderful to drink from or just cup your hands around. And you look back at those first ones you thought were so great, and the only thought in your head is “Now where did I put that hammer, ’cause, damn these have got to go.”

    Those ugly cups, those bad first stories – they’re part of the process, but you shouldn’t ask people to pay for them.

  • I agree with Emily, I suppose. It’s a Libertarian kind of outlook. Freedom. Anyone can write. Anyone can publish. I like it.

    I don’t think Emily was saying that mediocre writers don’t care about the reader. I felt she was saying, okay there are mediocre writers, so what?

    And I’m getting the idea from you that readers are too stupid to know what they’re buying and must be protected. Do we sometimes make a mistake? Do we read the sample and description and buy, and then realize the book isn’t as polished or as good as we thought it would be? Sure. But…buyer beware is better than a gatekeeper somewhere telling some writers they’re not good enough to publish. In my not so humble opinion.

    • This is my attitude in a nutshell. Who are we to tell piss from lemonade? We all have different tastes.

      Someone pointed out that DeviantArt doesn’t have this problem, this constant call to boot the interlopers. And yet, thousands of artists display their work and ask — gasp! — money for prints. Yes, the variably talented ask for compensation for their art. This goes on in every other medium of artistic expression in the universe. Asking that it not be possible in literature is uppity, in my opinion.

      I like Chuck. I like his opinions on most things. But I think he’s wrong about this. If he wants to come out and admonish himself for not self-publishing more professionally, for not giving it his all, that would be a wonderful example that might inspire others to also step up their game. But I can’t help but read these last two blog entries as: “Some of us are good enough to do this. The rest of you should scram and come back once you’ve got my skillz.”

      Readers want monster porn. That might be piss to some, but it’s lemonade to a lot more. Let’s stop telling people they aren’t good enough or aren’t trying hard enough and shouldn’t be allowed to ask for a buck for their artistic endeavors. Everyone should have that right. Assume that they *are* trying their best. Assume that they’ll get better. Traditionally published authors improve over time, and publishers used to invest in raw talent and nurture it. Readers are doing that now. It’s a beautiful thing.

      • It feels at this point like you’re pretty forcibly misreading what I’m saying, Hugh.

        DeviantArt, by the way, is free. Which I account for in the post. And the images there are the sum total of the experience — I look at it and I see what there is to see. A visual image is not analogous to a book: the image is shared in its entirety.

        — c.

        • DeviantArt is free, and readers at Amazon and every other place that sells books can return the books and get their money back. No difference.

          • Yeah, except, no.

            DeviantArt is free.

            And Amazon and everywhere else pays. And returns are an added step — not always an easy, nor immediate — step. B&N claims to not offer them at all: “We are unable to accept returns for NOOK Books, magazines, downloadable PDFs for SparkNotes products, gift cards, and shrink-wrapped items that have been opened. Please note: Once purchased, NOOK Books cannot be refunded.”

            Kindle returns have to be done within seven days. After that: no go.

            DeviantArt requires no transaction for me to get the scope of the images that I am about to maybe purchase. I can see the entirety of the image without issue.

            Images are not books.

            What you basically just said was, “This is an apple, and this is a chicken leg. They are both food. No difference.”

            — c.

          • As someone who has been on DeviantArt for ages, nope, nope, nope.

            It takes less than five seconds to look at a picture and go “Oh, neat,” vs. “MY EYES ARE BURNING!” I can clear out a backlog of thousands of images on my watchlist in an hour. “Not interested, not interested, that’s kinda cool, oh, I like that one, oh, more of the same from so-and-so, it’s pretty but I wish they’d draw a monkey once in awhile, I’m gonna skip the rest of their updates, that’s nice, that’s bad, holy crap, that’s amazing, wow, the thumbnail looked better, wow, gag, nice, meh.”

            Even downloading and finding a free sample on Amazon takes a LOT longer. Buying the book and returning it? I could go through hundreds of images in that time.

            A really GOOD image takes a little time to absorb–but I know instantly if it’s worth the time. A sample chapter takes minutes, and I, for one, am not willing to waste time on it. There’s a huge practical difference, if not a philosophical one.

      • I find one major problem with your art prints and books comparison. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but if I go to DeviantArt I can see the art before I order a print of it, right? I know what it is I’m buying. On the other hand, if I buy a self-pubbed book I have much less information about the quality of what I’m buying. Yes I could read an except, but that’s not the same as seeing exactly what the art I’m choosing to purchase looks like it’s not (forgive the pun) “the full picture”. Someone asking for money for art prints is doing so with full-disclosure. There’s far more trust being extended by someone who buys a book. Asking that that trust not be abused by someone thinking, “this isn’t very good, but it’s a step forward in *my* career so I’m going to publish it anyway” isn’t really asking too much.

      • There’s a difference between content not being to someone’s taste and lack of quality, though. Readers may want monster porn, but they probably want the Cyclops to not suddenly become a centaur for no reason because the author got bored not writing about horse-parts. They’d also probably dislike the sudden revelation of a third breast on the woman’s back, or the scene to stop mid-sentence and restart as a gay scene, but still with breasts because the author likes describing them. Encouraging people to sell any product should always come with the assertion they put out the best product possible.

        It’s fantastic that you and many others (Chuck most definitely included) are very pro-self-publishing as an exciting development, but why not – alongside expressing a joy for this bold new avenue – say “come back when you’ve got my skillz?” Why not challenge authors to NOT (as Emily puts it) “celebrate mediocrity” and instead put out a quality product? Isn’t it preferable for an author to read a post like this or the last and have that moment of doubt, comb over their manuscript one more time before hitting “publish,” and maybe improve their work?

        • My response elsewhere was this:

          “I would just like to counter [Chuck’s] assertion that damage is done by cheerleading for self-publishing by saying that the emails I get from writers who have taken the plunge represent the positive side of this community. I hear from writers all the time who didn’t believe in themselves but finally found the courage from their fellow self-published authors, and now they are having success, winning over fans, hearing from readers around the world, and feeling good about themselves in a deep and spiritual way that they never thought possible . . . and if we have to stomach some mediocre writing (that no one will ever see and won’t get in any other author’s or reader’s way) in order to attain that? That’s a cheap price to pay.

          Scaring people away from publishing their work (which I think is the likely result and possibly even the aim of Chuck’s posts) is not without consequence. Wonderfully talented writers who are crippled by their self-doubt will shove great works back in the drawer. I’d rather promote those people on the edge to publish, publish, publish. One CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES is worth a thousand Snookies. We have to be careful of the unintended consequences of our protestations.

          • “Scaring people away from publishing their work (which I think is the likely result and possibly even the aim of Chuck’s posts) is not without consequence.”

            Second time you’re forcibly misreading and/or misrepresenting my words.

            If you honestly believe the aim of my posts is to scare people away from publishing their work, you’re either reading poorly or cherry-picking to prove a point I’m not making.

            So, here, let me clarify, and I’ll even put it in bold for you:

            I am exhorting people to do better, not to not do it at all.

            Now, I’ll ask you again: is that really that controversial? Do better? Think about your readers? If that’s controversial, man, we’re all pretty much fucked.

            — c.

          • Well put, but where I still disagree is, I know self published authors who are definitely successful, and I’ve beta read literally scores of drafts where the distinction from a to b to c is as little as a paragraph, but each distinction is an improvement over the previous version. I’ve watched them measure the difference between which of two covers is more effective, where that difference is one or two pixel’s width on the title font. I have a deep respect for the hard work they put into trying to make their product as close to perfect as is humanly possible, and I’ve seen that work pay off for them.

            I disagree encouraging people to put that kind of craft into their work is scaring them off. People who are unsure if they wrote something good can find beta readers easily. There are many free avenues for people to test their fiction – as Chuck outlined above. Frankly, it feels more as if someone who’s so unsure of their work’s worth they’d shelve it after reading a blog post isn’t very likely to keep at self publishing once they start getting one star reviews.

          • “Scaring people away from publishing their work (which I think is the likely result and possibly even the aim of Chuck’s posts) is not without consequence.”

            Is this where you accuse Chuck of being a hitman for the Big Nasty Trade Publishers trying to hold down the Poor Widdle Self-Pubs?

            😀

          • “I am exhorting people to do better, not to not do it at all.”

            If that’s all you’re saying, then I agree with you. We should all do our best.

            Do you think there is a huge problem with people willfully doing their not-best? Because I doubt that’s much of a problem. I suspect what one person sees as “not good enough” might be the best that person is capable of.

            I do this all the time while driving: I see someone driving poorly, and instead of getting angry at them, I tell myself that they are doing the best they can. Or that they are probably ripping drunk. But I don’t assume they have my NASCAR-like talents and wish they’d drive as rip-awesomely as I do.

            Same with art. I assume that the vast majority of self-published books represent the best efforts of the writer. Should we urge people to do better? Absolutely. But I do see you here and elsewhere saying that those who can’t do it well enough shouldn’t publish or charge money for their work. That is: “This isn’t the minor leagues.” I don’t know how to read this other than that you mean those people who can’t adhere to some level of subjective worth need not apply.

            I think everyone has the right to publish and to charge money for their work. I’m pretty sure you disagree. This is a fundamental disagreement between us that will probably crop up over and over. But I’ll never let that get in the way of enjoying your blog or respecting you as a writer and a human being. I think you’re swell.

          • “I think everyone has the right to publish and to charge money for their work. I’m pretty sure you disagree.”

            I don’t disagree. Why would I disagree with that? This is how self-publishing works, and needs to work — otherwise, it’s just another prohibition.

            At this point I feel like I’m tolling the same bell over and over, but I’m not trying to lock doors on people. But that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest folks can do better. Writers and publishers can ALWAYS do better. That’s true of self-, hybrid-, and traditional-publishing.

            Here, this post, is about respecting readers by providing them with material worthy of them, their time, and their money. Again: not controversial.

            I mean, listen, it’s really easy to rah-rah-rah everyone to go and JUST DO IT. And everyone will love you for it. But there also comes a point where there’s value in trying to inspire people to greater heights — to not be comfortable with a middling effort, to ascend and achieve and to possess ambition. To tell stories that matter, to publish that work in a way that captures the attentions of readers. Because self-publishing well? It’s hard work. And all the cheerleading and fist-pumping doesn’t change that.

            Yes, I think anyone can and should be allowed to self-publish.

            Just as I’m allowed to suggest that if they’re going to make that choice, they ought to try to get it right. For themselves and for their readers — not for anybody other than that.

            But it’s a lot easier to hear JUST DO IT than JUST DO IT BUT Y’KNOW WITH EFFORT AND WORK AND TIME AND PATIENCE AND BE THE BEST THAT YOU CAN BE, isn’t it?

            — c.

  • About two weeks ago, I was called “a cheat” and “a swindler” because as an author/publisher (quote) “you con the readers into believing you’re selling them books, while they are only poorly written, non-edited amateurish ignorant crap.” (end quote)
    This, by a gentleman who had not the grace of actually reading one of my ebooks – the label of author/publisher, or self-publisher, was enough.
    And he went on that only an author backed by a major publisher can guarantee the readers he’s not a con-man.
    As if.
    And yet, this prejudice is very strong here where I live, at the moment – so much so, that it almost looks like there’s a war going on, which is crazy.

    What is important to understand is, sloppy self-publishers do not just damage their own work, but they damage every self-publisher’ s work.
    I employ a number of beta readers and at least two professional editors for my stories – and it’s getting pretty irritating being repeatedly told “I won’t buy your book because all self-publishers sell inferior stories, without any editing and full of errors.”
    Sloppy, mediocre self-publishers give a sort of legitimacy to this prejudice – “I read a bad ebook once, won’t read any other, thank you, you’re a bunch of amateurs anyway.”

    We must strive for quality, because our own quality is our only certification.
    The readers will certainly do their part – but that comes after we’ve published the best possible book.

  • Very well said. Artists do need the freedom to be wrong, screw up, make mistakes, and learn — but any time you expect your audience to pay you for that privilege, you risk losing that audience.
    When plays are workshopped, the audience never pays full price (if anything) — that’s so the playwright can see what’s working, and what’s not. And that way, when the play makes it to the mainstage (or even a Fringe venue), it’s got a chance to really knock ’em dead.
    I think writers should always strive to put the best story out there, and not cut corners on anything they are aware of. The things they aren’t aware of they should be striving to find out about — not celebrating that they can’t, or don’t want to, do well.

  • Actually, I think you said it better today than yesterday, Chuck. Much clearer…more of the KISS method, and I totally agree! As a reader, I give new author’s one chance. If their book is crap, I won’t buy another. Authors I’ve read for ages, one bad book I can forgive. A second one in a row…I won’t buy any more. I now have a few “professional” authors I won’t read anymore and they charge a lot more for those books than the self-published ones.

    I’m a big advocate of anything worth doing, is worth doing right. I think that’s what your point really is. A writer needs to make sure they won’t insult their audience with their bad or amateurish writing. If you’re still learning…that’s what free sites are for. Don’t ask me to pay for your garbage.

  • “At the end: who will think of the poor reader?”

    Here’s the thing for me: I don’t WANT to be a damned gatekeeper! From a reader’s perspective, the problem isn’t that there are gatekeepers, but rather there aren’t enough gatekeepers that we can trust.

    For me, the discovery of good books is based on a web of trust. I have a couple of presses that I know put out quality work, so I can trust them and will buy their books. Or “Chuck said this Blackmoore guy’s book is good, and I trust Chuck, so Imma buy DEAD THINGS” (and I did and Chuck was right).

    Readers know that we can’t trust anonymous stars on Amazon/GoodReads (gatekeeper!), so we look to other gatekeepers (say, independent blogs and review sites), but most of them don’t read the so-called indies because there is far too much crap to sort through. It ain’t worth the time.

    The lack of quality (self-)control is a huge problem, but rather than recognize it, too many selfie-authors bitch about the prejudice against them, wall themselves up in Fortress KBoards and fail to see that they (the royal “they”: self-publishing is, in essence, a “brand” in the eyes of the consumer) have been so busy publishing that they forgot about quality and discoverability.

    The cries of “The market will sort it out!” ring a bit hollow to me, because the market wants 50 Shades and Snooki. The market wanted a book from an idiot that doesn’t read because “books be wordy”. In the absence of fixing some shit, I don’t think that the market is going to be kind to the people who want to put out better books without a publisher.

  • I wonder if she’d pay a med school student, or a law school student, for their “learning time.” Too much? Okay, how about paying a hairstylist to practice on her hair, or a mechanic to work on her brakes. (Yes, I know there are schools that do that, but they don’t let people actually DO it unless they show the ability, have had a goodly amount of training first, AND they’re under, here’s the kicker, SUPERVISION. There IS a gatekeeper.) Would she get pissed off if she paid a plumber to work on her toilet and when he finished poop came out of the kitchen sink faucet? Probably. Would she shrug and say, “Oh well, it’s okay, I’ll pay you to practice, even though it’s wrong and farked up,” if he told her he was just “practicing?”

    Yeah, I don’t think so, either.

    People with Emily’s mindset are what’s wrong wtih self-publishing. Take the practice portion of the learning to critique groups or Scribd or your blog, or Literotica, or WHATEVER. Like you said, PLENTY of venues out there if you want to be an exhibitionist with your writing and get feedback. You do NOT have a right to get paid for practicing. I want to stragle every self-pubber I hear bitch about return rates when I look at their sample and see basic, glaring errors all over the place.

    Duh.

    Unfortunately, some of these people will never get it. They think their writing is uber-great even through they don’t know foreword from forward. (Yes, I saw that on a book.) *head/desk*

    If you want to be a professional author and charge for your work, then you need to DO THE TIME. You cannot short-circuit the learning process. If you are self-pubbing crap, it’s still crap. Don’t you want to have a little pride in your work? Do you want to sink your pen name before you even have a chance to really shine? When did we start embracing mediocrity as a standard to achieve to? “Yay, we suck! Go, us!” is NOT a rallying cry that will help people in self-publishing.

  • As a reader, nothing fills me with disgust like reading a crappy book. Paid for or free, I have always been a harsh critic. If I can’t start reading and stay lost in the pages until I have devoured every word I have nothing but foul language and derisive opinions. Yes, if you publish something it should be the best you can possibly do. Yes, you should strive for perfection. Yes, it damn well better be worth my time.

    As a writer I want to be loved, warts and all. The odd gaffe, the occasional grammatical whoops-a-daisy and the rare continuity whoops – ignore those and love my words!

    Truthfully, its the integrity of the product that should be the most important and final step. It’s the difference between the generic brand at 99 cents and the designer brand at 1000% the cost of the resources to produce it. Sure, in a lot of cases, the costs are tallied against all the other branches that put the item on the shelf – branding, testing marketing and the other 500 jobs done to make sure each and every facsimile is the same quality – and yet there is a market out there for ’boutique’ items, hand-crafted and sold from an independently owned store. Then its the difference between the generic brand, the shelf item and the custom-made item.

    Yes, books are easier to get now. That doesn’t mean they’re any easier to write or edit. They are just as much trouble, start to finish, for the independent publisher and the big publishing house. Sure, some of the labor is delegated but the pain in the ass remains the same amount of pins spread over varying degree of asses.

    Dispensing advice isn’t any easier. What one person wholly agrees with another venomously refutes. Sure Chuck, we should be doing nothing but our best. Yeah Emily, art is hard work and hard word should be rewarded no matter what. But Emily, you sound like a kid who was told she was special all her life until she grew up and was told by the DMV ‘Yeah, you’re special, everyone is special, BACK OF THE LINE, WAIT FOR YOUR NUMBER.’ Lots of encouragement awards on your shelf, kiddo? That’s great. Tell me honey, do you buy every book ever published? No? But you want people to buy your book. All the people. And think it’s special. And ignore the quality?

    Is that what you do on your resume? Slap it together and hope for the best? Do you show up to job interviews in your pj’s? I know I sound like I’m going on the attack but I have to ask these very real world questions because quality and integrity aren’t going to come from ‘doing your best’ and expecting to be rewarded for it. There are no encouragement awards in real life. Real life is a harsh, shallow and highly competitive place, we don’t care what went into the book, we just grabby-hands the final product and yes, we have the easy part, we either love it or hate it. If your book can hold up to scrutiny then it’s probably bullet-proof and you have a healthy buffer of happy customers and pleasant reviews to dilute the scorn. If you have nothing but critical responses then GUESS WHAT IT PROBABLY MEANS ABOUT YOUR WORK.

    It would be like selling vegetables with dirt and shit still stuck to them. Yeah, they’re organic… but I’m gonna buy the big shiny GM stuff because it’s clean, it looks prettier and I don’t have to wash off the smell of chicken turds to get to the goodness. I’m a consumer. I don’t want to work for my money, spend my money and do more work to enjoy something. Books are a luxury, a pleasure, if I’m going to buy them and give what precious little time I have to read them, I want to enjoy them and they need to be good quality. A ripping good yarn that makes me think. Not someone’s happy little experiment. Give it away for free until you’re good enough and then if you are good enough but you can’t get published traditionally, by all means, take the reins and DIY but wash off the shit and present it nicely so I can just sit and soak up the words.

    As a writer, I aim to please my own standard. Slap-dash and half-assed aren’t good enough for me then its not good enough for my potential readers. But where do I find a receptive audience if you’ve taught them that most books that are self-published are crap? I may never find the time or resources to write another one if I can’t find the market for the one I have? And readers aren’t going to waste energy on reselling me unless its something truly spectacular. What if it’s just good, and that’s it? Books fill a need, not a necessity. What if readers only have a couple hours to read? They waste those hours on crap and they may never come back. Hello, this is why TV shows get cancelled. It’s not a matter of ‘they will watch it no matter what because they MUST have TV’ it’s a matter of how they spend their time. Some people see crap on TV and switch the TV off. Assuming that audiences have nothing better to do is a disgusting frame of mind. Assume the worst – that your reader has a precious few hours, a precious few dollars and precious little patience for wasting either and write them a book they deserve. Write as though it is the only book they will ever get to read. Write as though it is the LAST book they will ever read.

    Show a little goddamn integrity, Emily. Please.

    • “Show a little goddamn integrity, Emily. Please.”

      Please guard your tone. While I don’t agree with Emily’s point in its entirety, she has a right to make it without feeling belittled.

      Thanks!

      — c.

      • Wait… seriously?

        Okay. I agree, she does have a right to make it without being belittled but why is a plea for integrity a belittlement? Was it the qualifying expletive or the plea itself?

        My whole argument – emotionally based – isn’t particularly uplifting but nor was the excerpt from the original source. The author deliberately stood up to bat for her side of the argument as I have for mine. I am neither pleased, nor impressed, nor feeling particularly generous of her opinion. Speaking of gatekeepers, you did push her into the spotlight to be judged by your own jury… was she not there as the opposition?

        Are you suggesting that the idea was to stand her opinion up and say ‘Have your opinion. I find it fundamentally wrong but I don’t want you to feel bad about how wrong I am going to suggest you are – and this is my blog so, no rebuttal for you, I want to hear from my fans!’

        You know what, I redact the query, back to my original question – seriously? I’m not often told to mind my manners but I’m not often prompted to offer my opinion, perhaps it isn’t a coincidence. Perhaps I’m not impartial either, what with my origin story linked to a blind great-grandma who made me read to her from a young age as her eyesight failed her [sob-story cut for time] so the misery I personally carry about when I know she would have loved to live in our wondrous day and age of books and reading material flooding the world despite what would have been an ongoing stream of criticism of quality… I speak my own mind but I know I inherited some of my opinions.

        Just this once, no. No I won’t guard my tone. I am annoyed. I am free to express my opinion. I have been offered an outlet, a forum in which I have at least one viewer’s attention and I shall let myself roar and project my suddenly passionate interest in right, wrong and how the world should be adapted around me and I will stand by my rude little statement and a pox on Emily and the stature of her ego. I feel no empathy for her or her opinion as I have my own and it is more valid, more precious and far more correct [as measured by my own personal yard-stick]. I will be that guy. I have never been that guy before and I will be him now.

        Actually this seems to have no real world consequence and I think I’ve successfully task-avoided what I was supposed to be doing… I should be honest and admit that I don’t care. Fine. SORRY, EMILY. Continue your half-assery and best of luck with that.

        • Questioning somebody’s integrity is personal, do you see? I’m fine if you wanna refute her points — again, I don’t agree with her stance — but saying someone doesn’t have integrity is presumptuous and unkind. It also reduces your own argument when resorting to personal attacks. You can make hay from her post without getting personal about it.

  • The stories I write are rubbish, honestly I’m not kidding, they are so bad they shouldn’t see the light of day. So they don’t.

    So why do I write? Well to start with I didn’t for the majority of my life so putting pen to paper now makes me a happy man. If that weren’t a good enough reason in itself then my pure love of story is the real reason. I wanted to explore stories and see how they work. Find out what makes a good one great and maybe tell one or two of my own along the way.

    Will you ever get to see one of those stories, maybe see I love stories and have an eye for a good one,The ones I produce that you’ll get to see will be the ones worth telling all polished up and shiny, produced with all the help I can muster.

    I thought it worth pointing out that there is a culture out there that doesn’t help a story loving want-to-be writer like me. in my pre-writing days and on occasion now I wonder the interweb looking for support and inspiration. What do I find, well an abundance of people talking about the process of publishing and hardly a scrap of material on the art and craft of story telling.

    Which surprises me considering.

    So this is one of the places I come to for my internet fix on stories and writing. So thanks Chuck for writing about writing and good quality story telling. Much appreciated.

  • The idea that the flood of mediocre self-published work is a good thing is likely a result of the fundamental problem with the educational method out there where kids are told from a very young age that they are a special, unique, worthwhile snowflake.

    Which they, statistically, are not.

    It’s the mentality that your answer is not wrong, it is “different”. Which means that most will never strive for the correct. They will settle with “different”. Not believing you’re doing something wrong is how you get stagnant. You stop growing. Why should the writer who publishes mediocre improve their writing when they meet their perceived victory every time? They get a book up on Amazon and a few of their writer buddies give it five star ratings because we’re all friends here.

    There is absolutely no question that writers will improve their craft over time, even those traditionally published. I don’t think anyone would question that. But if the first thing Joe Public sees is your unrestrained bowel movement, I don’t think he’s going to stick around for your encore. Every entry of mediocre is one more potential audience member lost.

    Chuck, you are both traditionally and self published. It is those people who have walked both paths I think are best qualified to speak on the merits of both. And it is those who make their sole living off publishing of any kind who have the undeniable right to be bothered by the rushing sludge of a river with which readers have to pan for gold.

    Keep up the effort to demand better. Those of us (myself included), who read your words as the fire to goad us to improvement instead of the meaningless cheerleading others in the writing community seem to expect, appreciate the time and passion you put here.

  • I’m very new to writing fiction. However, I’m quite the veteran in terms of self-released music, to which there’s a vague parallel here. When I’ve released music through services like Tunecore or Bandcamp or whatever, like self-publishing, it doesn’t have any gatekeeper. I’m in charge, no quality control, it can be a pile of old crap recorded on an old tape recorder. The difference is, in almost every single online outlet for self-released music, the punter can sample it first. They can, in most cases, stream the whole thing. That way, the punter can say, “Hey this sounds like someone tap-dancing on a goose, no way.” Or they can say “hey, this sounds like someone tap-dancing on a goose! I love bagpipes! I’ll take eleventy!” The same arguments for and against apply, diluting the talent pool, all that bollocks. But it doesn’t matter, there’s the transparency. You can’t fool anyone. You’ve tasted the magic jelly beans before you plant them in your cow, or something.

    With self-publishing, it’s a bit more difficult. Perhaps there needs to be that, “try before you buy” element. First Chapter For Free. or something. I’m not sure if that exists.

    The way I see it is, self-publishing has the potential to be more dishonest. Now, I’m not really saying that’s a good or a bad thing. What I am saying though, is if I buy an eight foot long, diamond encrusted doodad, with bluetooth and a free pair of underpants, and what I get delivered is a six inch long doodad with chipped opalescent paint and a USB connection, I didn’t get what was advertised.

    • It does exist by most outlets — you can sample the book if the author allows it. Sometimes it’s misleading and occasionally imperfect, but it can work.

      That said, I’ve procured more than a few self-pubbed works whose first five, ten pages for free were not indicative of the problems contained within.

      — c.

      • I guess that’s where the parallel falls down. How much is enough to be satisfied? Not sure I can answer that question. I guess making a random sample of fifteen pages from throughout the book might be some kind of compromise.

        “If the author allows it” is the problem though really. It should really be “if the outlet thinks it’s in the customer’s interest.”

        • Generally, as a consumer, I can tell your book is crap with the first 20% offered. Or at least I can on those best sellers. That is how I actually shop. I get the sample. I only use reviews on things I cant sample. I give my first book away for free as well. I also have several short stories for free that tie into my books. Plus, I have my blog and webpage. I can post different samples there. I think that helps. The next hurdle is getting people to the stuff to sample/download. 🙂

    • “self-publishing has the potential to be more dishonest”

      Because self publishers have legions of marketers who can convince you to buy their latest works… 😉

      As an author publisher I work hard to make sure that you can get most if not all of my work somewhere for free. That’s one thing I love about Smashwords. They let the author/publisher set the amount of sample. Amazon doesn’t give you enough.

      • I think that’s key: making sure your potential readers have that confidence. Obviously, this can never be all-encompassing or even consistent, but how often do you buy anything else without having either sampled the brand as it were, or at least got a personal recommendation.

        Like I just said above, how much is enough to sample? Even twenty second previews on iTunes are sometimes misleading too.

        I think one thing to bear in mind though is that there are dishonest people EVERYWHERE in all walks of life. It’s just the nature of humanity. It’s a shame that these artificial stigmas get attached to these things because of abusers. It’s a shame people who buy a self-pub book for the first time get a stinker and never dip their toes in again…

  • This culture Chuck speaks of is mistaking artistic freedom with publishing.

    Not traditional publishing, but indie publishing. Which could be SO GREAT. It could be like a farmer’s market. Local, fresh foods, grown with love and sold by the farmers themselves. Instead, what it often looks like is a parking lot where people sell junk out of their cars. They aren’t even bothering to rent a stand in the market. And this is the first thing customers will see when they arrive.

    It is indeed a culture of me-me-me. Of getting the ego stroked. They aren’t publishing for readers. They’re publishing for themselves.

  • What!?

    You expect me to learn how to spell, edit, format, design, and polish my work before I publish it?

    When I could just throw it out there and get paid for my subpar mediocrity? You’re a crazy oppressive nut-job Wendig, with your la-di-da book contract, and your thousands of misguided “readers”

    Take me for example. I want to fit boilers, but I’m being told, by “health and safety” that I need to be qualified, for “safety” reasons. Because if I fit it wrong, people might “die” ppssshhh fooey.

    Fuck them, I’m gonna fit me a boiler, and then if it’s not done right, so what, I’ll just fit me another one, each time getting better, and better, until one day – could be two boilers, could be two hundred boilers later – I’ll get it right.

    Then what will you say Wendig, huh?

    Where’s your “health and safety” then?

    Where’s your oppressive sceptre of non-mediocre that your using to keep us down?

    I’ll have the last laugh…and hot water.

    Hahhahahahahahahaha

  • I think what some of the comments on that board (Emily’s especially) miss is that there’s a difference between what ‘should’ be and what ‘is’. This difference is something that I’ve run into especially in my day job of being a female programmer. I *should* be able to be on an even footing to get hired in the game market, but I’m not to the point of enduring harassment, not landing interviews and losing positions to a lesser qualified applicants who are male. In order to be considered for a position, I have to be BETTER than them because there’s a stigma against me. There shouldn’t be, just like there shouldn’t be against author-publishers, but there is. And mediocrity isn’t the way to break that stigma. Mediocrity reinforces the thought that author-publishers aren’t ‘as good’ as traditionally published writers.

    Ideally, writers, readers and publishers would recognize that there’s mediocrity on both sides of the fence. But idealism doesn’t work against stigma, only hard work and the kind of stubbornness that would put an ox to shame does.

    I completely agree that there’s ways to iterate and put your work out there for free, I do it on my blog(s). But as was pointed out, that’s for free, I’m sure I could get work programming if I didn’t charge anyone. But if I want to be taken seriously, I need to be damn sure I’m worth the money that I’m asking for. In the case of author-publishers and female programmers, that means I have to make sure that my product/skills are enough to tip the scales against the stigma that’s built up. Anything less will just reinforce it.

  • Thank you for reminding me why I stopped visiting KBoards a long time ago. Some of the stances that people are taking in that thread totally baffle me. If you’re going to put in the effort to publish, why would you even want to release something subpar?

    As a reader, if I see a crappy cover, the chances of me buying a book are greatly diminished. If the reviews are complaining about terrible editing, that’s even worse. Most readers aren’t stupid (as someone accused Chuck of saying, which he wasn’t), and they’re not going to buy books that aren’t professional. And if they do get a book that’s unedited and mediocre, they’re going to be a lot more wary in the future about what they buy. Money is tight for most people. They’re not going to waste it on a book if it doesn’t look like the author even cares. They’ll stick to the authors they trust, and that’s going to hurt the rest of us in the long run.

    “If you’re charging money for your work, you owe it to the reader to give them your best. Not your most mediocre. Not your half-assiest.” That sums it up right there. You expect people to pay. Give them what they’re paying for.

  • God damn! I couldn’t agree more, Chuck.

    I am an author-publisher and I can’t believe the audacity of that writer to say what she did. What writer embraces mediocrity? A writer who sucks balls, that’s who.

    I chose to self-publish for personal reasons (I like total creative control) and I strive to put forth the absolute best book I can manage. I go through several revisions, have multiple beta readers provide feedback, and then go through several more iterations using that feedback before I ever release it.

    However, I was commiserating with another writer/friend this weekend about some author-publishers we know who brag about how quickly they can produce books. I checked up on some of these writers’ books through Amazon and the ratings/reviews proved my hunch that they’re producing shit. Most of the negative reviews mentioned all the typos and poor grammar use.

    While I try to produce the best, professional book that I can, it pisses me off to no end to know I have to fight an uphill battle against the stigma self-publishing has thanks to assholes like these.

  • I will not waste an ounce of my reading time on a sloppy book. If I do it once with an author, I’ll never do it again. As a reader I will not give you a second chance at my money. Emily’s argument is based on the false assumption that readers will understand that you’re just learning, forgive you for wasting their time with a poorly written book, and reward you for it with more money. Not happening.

  • No, it is not unreasonable. You should have basic pride in your work. That is what a lot of people are missing these days even in the day jobs they have. If my name is on it, I want it to be a good example of my work. It isn’t harder to put out a better book than the big 5 or whatever. Have you seen some of the crap they churn out? A book you published all on your own should be like a fine hand crafted something or another.
    You do cross a line when you ask for money.
    You can get good covers and editors dirt cheap these days. Hell, even getting a beta reading group would be better than whining it costs money and I am not going to have someone make my work look better and hit publish. You must invest in your work creatively and financially to be taken seriously.
    If you have no pride in your work it will show. Measure twice, cut once.

  • If the provision of stories is a service for readers, (like serving food in a restaurant) and we as the author/publisher ask them to pay for it, they should receive damn good service. If they don’t get it, they won’t come back again.

    It’s in our own interest to give value for money – which means no half-assed mediocrity.

  • I just hate this embracing mediocrity crap. It’s prevalent everywhere, not just publishing. I run into it in the business world constantly, and it results in products and web sites that work some of the time, or for a few months, or are just plain crap from the get go. It’s the he mindset of “good enough”. It’s the mindset of hurry up and suck – maybe no one will notice. Would you want to watch the Olympics if it was made up of folks who wanted to participate, but didn’t put in the effort to learn their sport – didn’t have the drive to excel?

    As an author who is preparing their first book for self-publication, I’m trying to learn everything to get it right. This isn’t just my first shot at getting to woo my readers – it could be my only shot! If I put out a steaming pile of crap because I’m in a hurry, or can’t be bothered to learn how to format properly, anyone who picks up my story may never read another thing I put out, regardless of how much I improve in the future. That one bad experience will stand out in their mind and forever taint their opinion of my work.

    Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone other than yourself, you’d be crazy to “embrace mediocrity”. It’s career suicide.

  • Amen, Chuck. I haven’t tried the author/publisher thing yet, although I’m considering it (I have at least one thing that may not be “commercial” enough for a traditional publisher). But in any case, I wouldn’t even think of putting something out there, self-published, traditional, written in sidewalk chalk, whatever, and asking people to spend money on it unless it was absolutely as good as I could make it.

  • For serious. As a reader, I want to be…a reader. I want to know that any book I pick up is going to not just be well copyedited, so I can read without being distracted by a ton of basic mistakes, but also is going to be a good, engaging, well written story — and that’s much harder to do, honestly. I may not care for every trad published book I read (hey, not every book is for every reader) but at least, since it was gatekept, I know it has been worked upon and made into the very best not-for-me book it is. The barrier to me liking it is going to be my own taste, and not often the quality of the book itself. (I mean, occasionally it’s the book itself. No system is perfect.)

    I’ve purchased and read a scant handful of self pubbed titles. Some of them have been pretty good! Others… not so much. Because there’s no barrier to entry, every time I optimistically decide to buy one, I have to brace myself and hope for the best. Because as a reader, I don’t want to read your still-learning-to-write efforts, and I sure don’t want to pay for them. Those mediocre self-pubbed books I read? I am never going to read anything by those writers again.

  • Preach it, brother! I have to say that as an author-publisher I am deeply offended (and financially damaged) by this kind of mindset that self-publishing is the equivalent of a giant writer’s group. Sure, I celebrate doing a half-assed job of writing a book. I did it a half a dozen times. And I ran some of them passed people who told me they were half assed, so I went back and wrote another, and improved it. Just like she says, only: I didn’t publish them. Now, I’ll be the first to say that when I did self-pub my first book, I had an awful amateur cover. I didn’t get it (and would have benefited from Createspace saying “sorry. That cover doesn’t meet our standards for Expanded Distribution” or something to indicate the problem). But I made damn good and certain that the content was professional quality, and once I figured out that covers matter I paid a pro to make a better cover.

    So I’ll say to all the special snowflakes, keep writing. Keep iterating (though I think that’s kind of a stinky word) and improving. Just don’t put it out there next to my book and expect me to celebrate the fact that you just left a stinking pile of dung next to my product, thus scaring buyers away from both of us.

  • I actually saw this post last night before reading this article and I didn’t know there was a such thing as Chuck Wendig haters. Your books on writing have quite honestly changed my life and helped me on numerous occasions, and I’m a self published author.

    I actually think her response (and other responses in that thread) have a lot more to do with self pubbed authors feeling inferior when traditional authors talk about self publishing. You’ve been on both sides of the fence, but if I’m not mistaken, you’ve met far more success with a publisher backing you up whereas the Average Joe self published author is still buckling under the weight of their largely unread manuscript. I think a lot of SP authors use arguments like this to vent. She probably means every word she just said, but I also think it’s coming from a very insecure kind of place. A lot of them tend to take comments about self publishing the wrong way, and it might also be your abrupt fashion of talking about self publishing. Most people sugar coat it and act like it’s no small thing to write and self publish a bestseller. I think they want that fib perpetuated so people think we’re doing better than we are. Self published authors still aren’t respected, and that’s a long journey for us, but I get why since a lot of self published novels are turds. Still, a lot of traditionally published novels are turds but since they have someone to back them up, they don’t get widespread criticism to the same degree that SP authors do.

    And I read your original post too. I seriously think they just skimmed it and picked out the parts they didn’t like, sorta like how lazy people do with the Bible. The Bible isn’t all wrath, y’know, there’s entire sections devoted to poetry and love and kindness. But some people like to cut corners.

    I can understand her frustration, but I really think your article was just an easy target and she wanted to shoot something. But that’s just my opinion. I think what we all need to take away from this is that self publishing is still making its way in the world and the only way people will respect it is if they write the absolute best that they can and make books as good as they can get before publishing them. We all love writing, so there’s no reason to fill up forums tearing other writers down and trying to make them out into monsters. We slay monsters, dammit. Stop doing this to each other.

  • My take on this is that first impressions count. If you want to garner a reputation as a crappy writer, then go ahead, put your half-baked novel pie out there. You have that right. Someone will likely buy it. But they will probably pass on your next effort, even if it’s better. I’d rather hone my skills privately, so that only my writing partners and beta readers know jsut how much I sucked when I started. I believe in author-publishing, but, as Chuck said, there are lots of venues to try out before you go “pro”.

  • If someone wrote an unreadable novel with a poor cover and publish it online on Kindle, how would it be purchased?

    1) 99.99999% of readers won’t know it exist
    2) it won’t appear on any Best Seller Ranking on Kindle
    3) It won’t show up on Kindle algorithm
    4) There would be no words of mouth
    5) There would be no reviews for the book
    6) It won’t show up at a physical book store

    Most likely, this novel will flop and sink into the depth of the Kindle Store.

    Who has the rights to tell this author that he/she can’t publish?

    What difference does it make if only 10-15 people in the world actually know the existence of this unreadable novel?

    The internet has millions of websites that are unreadable. It doesn’t bother me.

  • My first novel was published, traditionally, in 1991. Before then, I spent a good 15 years clutching my dream, teaching myself how to write, how to submit, how to rewrite, resubmit, learn the industry and grow as a writer. I ‘came up’ the hard way. My eleventh novel comes out this fall and I’m still learning. What bothers me in the whole ‘us versus them’ debate is the rush to publication. Five or six rejections (cry me a river) and they turn to self-publishing. They are denying themselves the gift of rejection. I thank the wordnerd Gods that my earlier works never got published! So, people (especially young people) self-publish and, for the most part, perish. What might have been a potentially great writer will never find a voice and simply give up.

  • As a reader, any author that celebrates mediocrity, or celebrates doing things half-assedly, is not an author whose books I will ever read. Anyone is free to churn out words in their little corner of the internet, but the second you try and sell it to me, I want more than lukewarm garbage, even if you’re “just learning.”

    As a writer, I would never dream of asking for money for work that isn’t the best I can produce. Even more than that, it has to be good. I only get one shot at impressing a reader and making a fan. I’m going to make sure that anything of mine that they read is worth their time.

  • It’s a culture that scares me a little. It’s a culture that cares more about itself and its personal freedom to publish than it does about the result of that publishing. It’s a culture of me-me-me, a culture of wagon-circling, a culture that refuses to look at itself and take responsibility for what it’s putting out. It feels exploitative. It feels careless.

    ^That’s called CAPITALISM, Chuck! lol

    I don’t really have much else to say. I agree with you about taking pride in our work. All the self-publishers agree with you, too. This actually isn’t an argument. We’re all just doing our best. No one wants to put out a shitty product.

  • Speaking as a total n00b, who’s never published a thing in my life, and who wants to go the agent and traditional publishing route – this is my take on it:

    People don’t want to post their books on Tumblr and Twitter and FB and Circlesquare and Crowdzone. Pretty sure they won’t want to post them on SexyFistingFinder-dot-com, either.

    Because it’s a book.

    They don’t want to post their 150k opus on some half-assed personal blog, where, at best, a couple of their friends and their mom will tell them how amazing it is, amidst the comments from internet spammers telling them how they can earn $4,386 a week working from home.

    They’ve written a book. They want to publish it, not post it. They want to hold a paperback version of it in their sweaty paws, and give a signed copy of it to their mom to read. That’s the dream they’re interested in. They want the potential of mass readership – and where do you find people who want to read books? In a bookstore – and hate it or otherwise – there’s only one of those that counts – Amazon.

    Pretty much every new writer I’ve spoken to about it has wanted to list their e-book for free, because new writers are at the stage where they’re much more interested in feedback than they are money; they crave validation like a meth-addled aardvark craves snorting cocaine-covered ants.

    Have you ever tried listing a book for free on Amazon?

    It’s not even close to easy – and that’s a big part of the problem. Amazon pretty much forces you to adopt a 99 cent minimum price – which leads to two things happening:

    1. Everyone avoids the 99 cent books like the devil himself, because no-one wants to pay money for stuff that’s of potentially dubious quality and should probably be free.

    2. New writers quickly find out about 1. and start pricing their books at anything other than 99 cents – as their Holy Grail is to get someone, anyone, to read it and tell them how clever and pretty they are (see aardvarks, above), which totally destroys any quality / price metric on e-books, and poisons the well.

    As a solution – I think a lot of good would be done, all round, if Amazon allowed people to easily list e-books for free. New writers would be able to do victory laps around their living room whilst holding paperback versions of their opus aloft, and readers would have a whole slush pile of possibility to wade through at no financial risk to themselves, and the literary minefield which is buying e-books currently would be a whole lot safer to traverse.

    Not to say that that would solve everything. You’re always going to find some cheeky so-and-so that’s going to try publishing utter junk for money, and there are an absolute ton of people who think that they’re much better at writing than they really are, spurred on by the success stories and ease of self-publishing. In my ideal world – Amazon wouldn’t even allow you to charge for an e-book until it had sold 100 copies, at which point, the review system should have started to kick in (hopefully), giving future buyers some sort of indication as to its quality. I’m sure people will find ways around that (buying reviews, etc) – but you’ll never get rid of those kind of people entirely. All you can do is raise the bar high enough so that only a minimum will try and wiggle their way over it.

    The issue, from Amazon’s point of view, aside from the obvious loss of revenue, is that if they enable people to easily publish free books, they potentially become the dumping ground for every text document ever written, posing as a free book. Encode bytes into words, and pretty soon, every single binary torrent in the world is going to be living there, too.

    That said, however – Barnes & Noble seem to manage it, just fine.

  • Embracing mediocrity has its place for writers. That place is called first drafts. By definition, a first draft isn’t a completed story. It’s the start of a story, a place to build from.

    There are so many better ways to learn to write besides publishing what are essentially unedited stories and expecting readers to pay to teach you. That’s treating the reader with the grossest of disrespect.

    An unedited story is a story that’s not finished. It’s the difference between wrapping a length of denim around each leg and tying it on with string, or buying a well made pair of jeans. If you tell me you’re selling jeans and what I get is two chunks of fabric and some string, I won’t be a happy buyer. One is finished, the other isn’t.

    So why should I be happy to buy a book that isn’t finished?

    These “learning” self-published writers selling unedited stories may as well sell me a book that’s missing the last chapter. And I’m supposed to be okay with wasting my money and time, because they did the best they could, but they didn’t know how to write the ending, so they simply didn’t?

    Any writer can find beta readers who’ll be truly critical, or join online critique sharing groups, or put their stories out on free reader sites to get feedback. A few iterations of that, and they might be able to write stories readers will be happy to pay for.

    I’m not against self-publishing, at all. I’ve read some terrible self-published books, and some amazing ones. I plan to do it myself, as soon as I write stories worth asking readers to spend their hard earned money and their precious personal time on. When I first started writing seriously, I thought my stories were brilliant. Now, six years later, I know I’m just starting to grasp how to write a good story.

    Chuck, you are so right here. We need to be our own gatekeepers. We need to treat our readers with respect. Sounds corny, but on my goal list for today I wrote “give love to my readers as I write”. Not take their money for half a story. Not expect them to be my writing teachers, though I’m sure when I publish, some of them will be. Not expecting them to look at the contents of my potty and tell me how clever I am not to have done it in my nappy.

    Those of us reading your blog are the ones willing to do the work of becoming our own gatekeepers and critically assessing our own writing. We’re here because we want to learn to write the books readers deserve.

    Unfortunately, the writers who need it most are the ones who won’t listen, because they don’t think they need to learn to write better. They think they need to learn to market better.

    They’re too busy Twitter spamming us about their fab new ebook to have time to learn how to write a book we’d actually WANT to buy.

  • I’ll comment as a reader and not a writer again:

    The only part of this I take exception with is: “This is true in traditional publishing, too. A reader reads a bad book by a publisher — not bad as in, I didn’t like it, but bad as in, Doesn’t meet basic standards, they’re potentially going to stop reading books by that publisher.”

    When I read a book I don’t like (or one that does not meet certain standards), I NEVER blame the publisher. It always comes back to the author. If the publisher botches their book and makes it unreadable? Oh well. I guess I won’t be reading that author again. Whether it be author-published or big 5.5 published. If I don’t enjoy the book, the blame always falls to the author.

  • What I don’t understand is why traditional big-name publishers aren’t stricter gate-keepers. Here’s an example. My book club recently chose to read Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (2013), a historical novel by Jennifer Chiaverini. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the well-known author “borrows” directly from Elizabeth Keckley’s own memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868) – without citing the source or crediting Keckley, except with a brief mention in the “acknowledgments.” Chiaverini loses all credibility with me. Why was this OK with the Penquin Group? Perhaps every book bear a disclaimer: Reader bears the burden of ferreting out plagiarized passages and other unsavory crap.

  • Poorly written books are not solely in the domain of the self publisher. I have read and struggled through books by mainstream published authors (at least one of whom is a best-seller) that were clearly half-assed. While I often disagree with Mr Wendig’s opinions on a great many things (beards, pantslessness and scotch being exceptions) I agree with him here. There’s enough poop in the publishing world to float a battleship. We don’t need more poop, and the best way to create more published poop is to half-ass our work and pretend the turd on the platter is a steak.

    If you care about your work, prove it. You can’t raise your child with indifference and expect him or her to come out as a wonderful person. Raise your child with love, understanding, discipline, respect and standards, and they can still go off the tracks but you at least give them a better shot. Treat your work the same way.

    You know, if you care.

  • I stopped hanging out on Kboards because of the hostility toward any form of publishing besides self-publishing (I’m sure I’ll go author-publisher eventually in my career but I’d like to go with a publisher first). That, and the culture of not just “PUBLISH IT NOW” but the misinformation that breeds. The myths about how you’re losing money the second you don’t throw your first draft onto Amazon because you COULD BE SELLING OMG. The idea that honing your craft by writing for a few years first or posting on a blog or Wattpad is somehow a waste of time. Those are the things I take issue with in the self-publishing culture (and there is a culture… despite what people immersed in that culture think. I have self-pubbed friends who don’t visit those boards or similar forums for the same reasons).

    I’ve bought several self-published books beside my friends’ books. And like 90% of the time, by the second chapter I’ve stopped reading as a reader and started reading as a writer, red-pen mentally in hand, because while the book has potential, it really needed a good edit or a beta reader. I’m too popped out of the story and mentally making notes about what needs to be fixed, so I stop reading by chapter 3. And that makes me wary to buy more self-pubbed books unless I know the author, because if I pay for your book, I’m not your beta reader. I’m happy to beta read for you! But preferably before publishing.

    Thank you for the these posts, Chuck. I also don’t understand how advocating quality, honing one’s craft, and doing the best they can is controversial.

  • In my September guest blog post on J A Konrath’s site, I said: “You make whatever sacrifices are necessary to get yourself a great editor. You do that because you know publishing unedited, unpolished, incoherent writing riddled with typos is unprofessional. It’s arrogant. If you expect readers to pay for your writing, they should be able to expect transparent prose and near-perfect copy from you, too.”

    But…

    I also think all this angst over gatekeeping and the tsunami of crap is misplaced. Why?

    I’m a video game industry guy, originally. Let me take y’all back to 2008-2009, when Apple opened up the iPhone App Store to self-publishing.

    “It’s all fart apps and flashlights.”
    “Half-assed, lazy hack artists are ripping off consumers.”
    “All these $0.99 and free games? There’s a pricing race to the bottom. Consumers are learning to think all games should be free.”
    “Disgusted consumers will stop buying apps, hurting the good game developers.”

    We heard all the same stuff. Consumers were drowning in crap. It was going to be the end of mobile gaming as we knew it.

    The exact opposite happened.

    Today, a few short years later, mobile gaming is a vastly bigger, more diverse, and higher-quality market than it ever was. Indie developers like Supercell (Angry Birds, Hay Day), Rovio (Angry Birds), and King (Candy Crush) are turning into billion-dollar brands.

    Here’s why. Word-of-mouth discoverability replaces curation and advertising. An open publishing platform forces *everyone* to up their game or become irrelevant. Now indies and big-companies alike must compete on how compelling their actual product is… not how big their marketing budget is… and price according to consumer tastes and budgets, not corporate overhead. And in that environment, the market grows and consumers (readers) win.

    Lots of people are gonna publish half-baked books, Chuck. Millions of them. But to the folks creating the books that people want to read — whether indie or traditional — it doesn’t matter.

    P. S. Power said it best:

    “If you can swim, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is. And if you can’t swim, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is, either.”

    • I agree with this, it takes time for everyone to recalibrate their bullshit detector and learn how to find the good stuff in a new territory. I think the value of posts like this one and yesterday’s is not to wring hands about the quantity of mediocre work out there, but instead to tell people the new paradigm you’re describing is coming and to stop assuming mediocre is good enough to get by. I’ve taken both as less “Wow, there’s a tsunami of crap out there” and more “DO NOT ADD YOUR CRAP TO THE CRAP TSUNAMI, PUT THE WORK IN TO GET TO THE HIGH GROUND.”

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