Slushy Glut Slog: Why The Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is A Problem

This is likely to be a big, rambly-ass blog-post so let’s just clear the way for some ground rules.

a) I do not hate self-publishing and I am in fact my own author-publisher on a number of releases, and will continue to be so. I am in fact one of those “hybrid authors” you keep hearing about, which means I have fins like a dolphin and claws like a badger and I can both play the violin and kill with my mind. This is not a post bashing self-publishing, but rather a post that aims for critical awareness and constructive thinking.

b) This post is going to have some naughty language. If that bothers you — which is totally fine! — you would be best-served by frittering off and seeing if Wheel of Fortune is on. That Pat Sajek never utters a dirty word because he is clean and fresh like an unused bar of Irish Spring.

c) You will need to be nice in the comments. I am comfortable with disagreement as long as it isn’t flavored with salty dickheadedness. Disrespectful commenters will be pitched into the spam oubliette where they may slap themselves wetly against the pink, quivering dungeon walls.

d) I’m serious this time when I say I won’t really be attending much to comments — I’m starting a new book and am also trying to thaw my way out of the icy Wampa bowels that comprises this shitty winter, so please excuse my lack of presence below. But do talk amongst yourselves!

Can we begin?

We can begin.

The Thesis

Both old-school publishing and self-publishing publish a whole fucking fuckbucket of books: in the United States alone you have about 300,000 new books added per year to the traditional pile, and Bowker claims the number for self-publishing is somewhat higher (~400,000 in 2012) if you count them by ISBNs, and many self-published authors do not use ISBNs, so when you add in other countries and territories, you could be looking at twice or more of that number.

The very, very long tail of digital publishing actually increases this number quite a bit because all the books released every year form a rather large pool — and with self-publishing in particular, this number is increasing at a cuckoo bananapants rate. It’s like watching coked-up paramecia have an orgy in a petri dish. It’s like that scene in any movie about a pandemic where they’re like, “Today, it’s Smallville, USA. Tomorrow, New York City. Tuesday, it’s the East Coast. By Friday, we’ve lost the world.” And the red pandemic blob grows and grows until it eats the moon.

The sheer number of releases is an issue all its own. It becomes increasingly hard to stand out merely by publishing a book in either form. It’s like trying to get a droplet of water to stand out in an entire goddamn ocean.

The issue becomes more complicated when you add in the fact that, in my opinion, a whole lotta these author-published releases are going to be the equivalent of smearing poopy handprints on the windows of your Plexiglas enclosure. This is par for the course, maybe, because one of the features of self-publishing is that the door is open to anyone. Everyone. Always. No bouncers at this nightclub door, which is fine, but that also means you get folks with no shirt and no shoes. You’ll get folks dressed to the nines in sharkskin suits and you’ll also get wild-eyed dudes who are eating goulash out of rubber boots and who are quietly masturbating in the corner. You let anybody swim in the pool and, well, anybody can swim in the pool.

The Goals Of This Post

In short, the goal of this post are:

a) To dispel the notion that the “slush pile on display” is entirely harmless

b) To create a general awareness of quality

c) To offer solutions to help countermand the erupting shit volcano

d) To in the end help readers find awesome books and

e) To help authors find readers. Oh! And

f) To get angry emails from self-published authors HA HA HA I kid please don’t send me any more of those. I already have enough to wallpaper my home both inside and out.

A Note On The Nature Of Quality

A common refrain here will be: “But traditional publishing releases stinkers, too.”

And that is entirely accurate.

Someone will mention Snooki.

But here’s the deal. The works that are generated by publishers big and small are works that in general are vetted. That’s the whole “gatekeeper” thing. Someone is there at the gate making sure the books that release are of a level of quality before they are allowed up in the First Class cabin.

Further, let’s pretend not to care what the big publishers do.

Let’s focus on what you can do as an author-publisher.

An addendum refrain is, well, who am I to say what stories are good or not?

Except here the issue is not purely a matter of taste. An author on Facebook the other day noted, quite correctly, that writing is a craft and as a craft it can be evaluated fairly easily. This isn’t about whether a story is to your liking, but rather, does the author know the basic rules of writing a story? Rules can be broken, of course, but they must be broken with some skill — breaking the rules out of ignorance creates, you know, a fucking mess. A writer not knowing the difference between a possessive and a plural is not some avant-garde hipster trick. It’s a basic lack of craft awareness. At that point you’re not a marksman doing tricks; you’re a toddler with a handgun.

Yes, you’ll find books that have typos and fucked-up formatting and other errors inside traditional books, too — particularly in e-books because the big publishers were slow to figure out they need to actually design e-books as their own entities, not just as copies of the print books. But this is less true these days (I said they were slow to figure it out, not that they never figured it out).

Here, in fact, is an exercise:

Choose ten random author-published releases.

Choose ten random traditionally-published releases.

You don’t even have to purchase them. Just look at the available samples through, say, Amazon.

(Random book finder: bookbookgoose.)

In my experience, you will find considerably more errors in author-published releases than in those published by publishers small and large. As with this entire post: your mileage may vary.

The Shit Show That Is Book Discovery

This calls for a side journey, if you’ll come along.

Let’s talk about book discovery.

Let’s say you’re a reader.

Finding new books to read has gotten both very hard and very easy depending on your situation. Word-of-mouth remains the primary vector for viral book transmission, where we share our favorite books with one another through memetic delivery. Word-of-mouth relies on a circle-of-trust, and that circle of trust has gotten a whole fuck-of-a-lot bigger since the advent of social media. Used to be you’d talk to people at home, work, school — maybe a circle of ten people.

Now you can have circles of hundreds. Thousands, even.

In this sense, if you surround yourself online with other book lovers (meaning people who read and talk books, not people who “love” books with, say, their naked bodies — HEY NO JUDGMENT HERE), you will be subject to a fairly steady frequency of story recommendations.

A few downsides, here:

a) Sometimes that steady frequency can become more noise than signal.

b) If you are not a social person — in person or online — but still like to read, then you’re shit outta luck on this front and you’ll still have to rely on Ye Olden Wayes to find new books to read. (We should not assume everyone is savvy with social media or particularly compelled by it.)

c) Social media word-of-mouth still requires some measure of discovery to precede it, though. Word-of-mouth does not spontaneously generate (BUT IN OUR SPAM-BOT FUTURE WE CAN DREAM). Someone still needs to discover and love your book in order to talk about it.

You still have to use various methods to source new books — to “discover” them — as a reader.

This includes, though is not limited to: bookstores, libraries, other meatspace booksellers (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.), online book distributors/sellers (Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords), magazines, TV, YouTube (ex: Sword and Laser), blogs, websites, podcasts, professional review outlets (Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, etc), online forums (AbsoluteWrite, kboards, etc.), bestseller lists, award nominations and wins, and so forth.

Probably sources I’m missing there. Feel free to mention in comments.

Now, at present, the traditionally-published author has some access to all of these. This access is more theoretical than guaranteed — nobody’s going to talk about my books on TV, though some of my books have seen mentions in magazines (I think SciFiNow just did a short piece on the three Miriam Black books, for example). But in general, the bulk of traditionally-published authors have some kind of (imperfect) access to all these channels of discovery.

Self-published work in general does not have the same level of access, in my experience. The door that is open all the way to traditional releases is open only a crack to author-published works. You won’t generally be in bookstores or on library shelves. Few magazines will review you. Professional review sources require you to pay them to source the review.

This ultimately leaves online sources as the primary channels for discovery.

It means: social media in some form. Or it means browsing online booksellers.

Given that word-of-mouth still requires some genesis in discovery, let’s talk about one’s experience when going to browse an online bookseller to discover new work.

*inchoate screaming*

Oh, jeez, sorry! I tried to browse Amazon for new books and found myself plunging into a nightmare of noise and garbage. Amazon — the primary vector for online book sales — is a fuuuuhuuuhuuuuckin’ mess when it comes to browsing books. It didn’t used to be. I rememeber a time where browsing Amazon felt like a lazy, pantsless version of browsing the shelves at B&N. I could pick a genre or an upcoming releases list and check it out. Now, it’s less like wandering the aisles at a bookstore and more like wandering a labyrinth made of old, frozen diapers. Sure, I’m trying to find David Bowie and his Magical Yam Bag, but all I find instead is a drunken minotaur who just wants to make out.

It’s not pretty.

(I am not claiming this is self-publishing’s fault, by the way. This is on Amazon.)

So, you’re an author with a new book via whatever publishing path. Cool!

See that graphic?

When your book comes out, it gets thrust into a rather large pool — that same pool I was talking about at the fore of this post. It is one of millions of other books. It is a data point. Just a squiggly sperm launched from the creative scrotum. That is represented in my hastily-created graphic which depicts not a scrotum, but the crusty underhanging dirt-clod beneath the city.

The city in the image is where you want to be. Above ground, not below it.

The city represents channels of discovery. The higher you go in those channels, the more rarified the air. At street level you’re one of the mob, but at least you’re not subterranean — but as you climb the buildings you warrant greater attention. You join fewer and fewer authors as you get mentions at blogs and in reviews, in magazines and perhaps ultimately, on bestseller lists.

Of course, discovery feeds on discovery — the more readers find you, the more they’re likely to talk about finding you (particularly if your book is awesome or at least scratches some curious cultural itch). Attention in this sense is multiplicative.

Books below the surface or at street-level don’t actually affect the books that go higher-up, of course — but they can affect one another because at that level they are in some fashion competing (not for sales, necessarily, but for attention). A clumsy analog for this (because all analogs are ultimately false) might be the divide of the rich and the poor. The poor don’t really affect the rich all that much on a day-to-day level. But the poor affect one another in ways both good and bad (competition for resources, competition for jobs, cultural clashes, community building, community disruption, etc).

To sum up this point:

All books go into the big undiscovered pile at first.

All books need some manner of discovery to, duhhh, be discovered.

Traditionally-published books have access to more channels of discovery.

Self-published books have access to fewer channels.

So: what does this have to do with the quality level of author-published books?

The Deluge

As an author-publisher, I wish I had access to more channels of discovery than just what’s online. I wish it was easy to get into bookstores and libraries. I wish it was easy to get reviews and critiques. I wish that those same channels were open as completely for my self-published books as they are for those of my books published with publishers.

The reason they are not is, in part, because of the belching shit volcano.

I’ve noted this elsewhere but feel that it needs repeating:

I open the blog on Thursdays to self-promotion by various storytellers. I was once open to self-published authors sharing this space, but when I open myself to that, it’s like trying to get a sip of water from a water fountain and getting a fire hose instead. A fire hose that shoots sewage.

For every one author with a big publisher I get ten who have self-published.

Which is, in theory, fine.

But these books. These books. And these authors, man. I get so many unprofessional emails by folks who don’t read the already-meager submission guidelines. Some of them are pushy and presumptive. I’ve had authors send me their book and their answers and tell me when to post it — not ask, not submit, but just straight up assume I’m doing it, and then when I tell them it’s not a good fit, they send me back cranky emails.

So, what I get is: a bunch of ugly books with quality issues pushed forward by unprofessional authors. Now, that’s by no means all of what I get from the self-published, but it’s at least half of what I get from them. And here someone is going to say, “Well, I’m sure you get the same from the authors with big publishers,” and here is where I say: not once. Not ever.

Given that I do not have a lot of time and I provide this service for free, this means I have to close my door to self-published authors. Because when I open the door to let the good ones in, all the bad ones come in, too.

Hell, even when I don’t open my inbox to self-published authors, I get ’em anyway.

I’m not the only one. This is a phenomenon I hear about from reviewers.

Here’s a comment from last week, by Amanda Valentine:

“I review middle grade books at reads4tweens.com and I’ve struggled with how to handle self-pub books. On one hand, I want to support indie authors, and I have discovered some really great books I would never have discovered otherwise. Also, self-pub and small press are more likely to provide me with review copies of the books, so that helps.

However, even if I’m not paying for the books, I’ve grown wary of accepting self published books. When a book is poorly written and essentially unedited, I pay for it with my time and opportunity cost. I want to do right by an author who has taken the time to write a book and contact me about reviewing it, but I can’t in good conscience bring attention to a book that isn’t ready for public consumption. And I do feel disrespected. You think you’re doing me a favor by adding to the to-read pile that threatens to crush me under its weight? Not so much. I’m doing you a favor by reading your book and writing a review. Please have enough respect for me to send me a book that’s gone through multipe revisions, careful proofreading, and at least plenty of beta readers if you can’t afford a professional editor.

I know a lot of reviewers have simply stopped accepting self pub books, and I can understand that. I’m not there yet, although I won’t *buy* self pub books unless they come highly recommended by someone I trust (no, somehow the seven glowing 5 star “BEST THING I EVER READ” reviews you got your friends, your writing group, and your mom to post don’t do much to convince me).

The stuff I’ve read with typos, huge plot holes, major inconsistencies, cliched characters and situations is painful. And I get a good bit of it. I’m not a slush editor. No one pays me to slog through your attempt at writing looking for unpolished gems. I expect to get a book that’s ready for a reading audience. One that the parents who come to my site can recommend to their kids.

The books that make me saddest are the ones with real potential. They need more work, but there’s a story worth working on there. But if you put your rough drafts out there and charge people for them or expect reviewers to spend their valuable reading time on them, you’re *losing* audience. I’m not reviewing your second book if your first was awful. I’m not buying your third and maybe much better attempt if I couldn’t read the first because it was such a mess.

The slog wears down readers and reviewers alike. We value the time we have to read, and we feel cheated if you don’t value our time enough to give us something worth reading. It’s disrespectful to your audience, your reviewers, and your work.”

You’re still saying, “So what?”

Self-published authors don’t have access to all the same channels of discovery afforded to other authors because of the quality level — and that’s a problematic quality level that exists both in the books and in the authors’s demonstration of marketing and basic professional conduct.

You want in bookstores? Libraries? You want another axis of review or critique?

This is (in part) why that’s hard.

You might be saying, “Fine, we’ll stick with Amazon and our other extant sources.”

Okay, sure. Except as noted, Amazon’s discoverability factor is already in the toilet. And with more books published every year across all of publishing, regardless of the quality of those books, it’s going to get harder and harder to Get Noticed — harder to become signal amongst all that noise.

This ties too into some of the other problems the constantly erupting shit volcano presents:

Lump Sum

You’d like to think that self-published books don’t get lumped together — certainly traditionally-published books aren’t, right? One bad self-published book doesn’t reflect on the others.

I’d argue that’s, at least in some cases, inaccurate.

First: just as you can generalize about traditional publishing, you can about self-publishing, too.

Second: You can often — not always! — spot a self-published book by its cover.

Third: You can sometimes spot a self-published book by its listed publisher on Amazon.

Fourth: Price is a signifier. One of the watermarks of self-published work is that the price tends to be less than that of those put out by larger publishers — so, indie books tend to be $0.99 to $4.99. To tell an admittedly anecdotal story, I have a family member who discovered that Amazon had this wealth of cheaper e-books in genres she liked to read and so she dove in and bought several and tried to read them and found that, to the number, they were all of significantly inferior quality to what publishers offered. And her first realization wasn’t that they were self-published but rather that they were all inexpensive, and so she swore off buying those inexpensive books. (Later, she realized why they were inexpensive when someone explained self-publishing to her.) She no longer buys self-published books in general because she no longer buys books priced accordingly. Cheap books mean cheap books. So, if one of your primary advantages as an author-publisher is price but that price level becomes a signifier of poor quality — what then?

What happens when you’ve poisoned the price point, which is a powerful motivator for people to buy those books in the first place? (If your answer is that cheaper books are sometimes cheaper in quality, then I’d suggest you have the wrong mindset. Readers do not want to hear that.)

Results Both Present And Potential

The quality problem has a handful of results both real and potential.

Real results include:

Channels of discovery remain closed.

Channels of distribution remain hard to access.

Readers sometimes stop buying indie books.

It gets harder to get noticed because of a glut of books.

Pay-to-play opportunities (i.e. costs $425 to get Kirkus review).

Potential future results include:

Authors avoid trying to self-publish because of the association.

Sites friendly to self-publishers begin charging fees. (Actually, this happened with a site called Awesome Indies. You can get priority treatment through their epic submissions pile by paying $125 — and for those who bristle at gatekeepers, their site has a list of content criteria you have to meet to get a review.)

Amazon implements actual standards for accepting self-published work. Meaning, Amazon becomes another (less rigorous) “gatekeeper,” likely with some kind of algorithms or programming in place. (Think this can’t happen? Amazon wants to be Netflix more than it wants to be YouTube. It doesn’t want to be eBay or CraigsList. I’ve spoken to folks inside Amazon who are… aware of the quality problem and are a little worried that over time Amazon could be positioned as a bargain basement content provider. If Amazon ever feels that their already thin margin of profits are threatened because of this perception, you can be sure they’ll bring the axe down quick. And Amazon has used that axe more than folks would like to admit — they have removed books, including books of so-called monster porn, from their ranks. To quote the KDP guidelines: “Content published through Kindle Direct Publishing is held to the high standards customers have come to expect from Amazon.”)

Alternative: Amazon segregates self-published work. Either again algorithmically or just by giving it its own “site” — just as they do with, say, digital video, or how they set aside items sold by third-parties through Amazon. Other sites could follow: Goodreads, B&N, etc.

Another alternative: Amazon changes the fee structure. Maybe they cut the royalties (they will be upping the price of Prime, reportedly). Maybe they charge a fee to self-publishers (“listing fee”).

All speculation, but speculation I’ve seen elsewhere. It’s not like I dropped peyote in the desert and am just making up wild, harebrained ideas. I mean, I did drop peyote in the desert, but that was like, yesterday. I’m fine now, I swear. Soon as I clear these screaming robot bees out of my skull, we’re good.

*drinks pesticide*

What The Hell Can We Do About It?

The two questions you see regarding concerns over the overall quality level of self-published work is: a) does it even matter and b) what the hell could I do about it, anyway?

The above is my answer to the first question (I believe that it does matter).

As to the second question —

Well, listen. I’m not trying to make this some grand call to action, some rah-rah standard-bearer trumpety kind of thing, but I do believe that as an author-publisher you have ways to countermand the vibe of low quality. Some thoughts in that direction (and I’m aware that these are not all entirely original and that some of these exist in some form or another already):

Put On Your Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

Publishing isn’t an art — publishing is a business. A creative business, a weird business, but a business just the same, and so it behooves you to treat this like a business and to put out the best work you can. The overall property values of a neighborhood go up when you tend to your own yard — the more author-publishers who commit to doing their best and not just regurgitating warm story-barf into every conceivable nook and cranny of the Internet are going to contribute to an overall improvement. If you want the stink out of the air, spray a little perfume, you know? In short: we can all do better, so do better.

And once in a while, it behooves us to mention to a neighbor: “Hey, mow your yard, wouldja?”

Quality of Marketing

Part of the spewing shit volcano isn’t just in the quality of the books released but also in the quality of the efforts to support those books. In short? Sometimes author-publishers can get a little spammy. You may not feel comfortable shouting down examples of books you think don’t meet your standards; that’s fine. But personally, when you see self-publishers actively acting like spam-bots given flesh? They maybe need a good talking to. Or at least report their asses for the spammy spam-flavored spamgasm that they are.

Best Practices

I said this in a comment elsewhere but I’ll note it again here — when I worked at the library, I worked for a department whose task was, in part, to increase outreach to under-served communities. Elderly, disabled, etc. And as kind of a hub in the library system we produced a document that listed the Best Practices for that kind of outreach. These were not laws or enforceable guidelines. They were a collection from various libraries nationwide that said, “We have found and agreed that these criteria have been effective, and here’s some evidence.” That’s it. It wasn’t a gun to anybody’s head, it was just a collective document where lots of folks said, “XYZ might work if you apply it.”

(Actually, the list of criteria from Awesome Indies is a good start, maybe.)

Hell, just a simple checklist of, “Are you really ready to click publish?” could be helpful.

Signifiers of Quality

Possible, too, to invoke various signifiers of quality.

For instance: editor listed alongside author. Editors are the secret rockstars of the publishing world — so why can’t author-publishers out them as the badasses that they are? Editors may, over time, get a reputation for stamping quality work — and further, that editor could become an axis for future discovery.

Also — someone who uses and applies the entirely theoretical Best Practices above might earn some kind of note in the description of the books (though how this is administered and by whom becomes a stickier wicket).

Collectives / Union

Consider Andrea Phillips’ blog post: “Publishing on a Spectrum,” where she speaks about collective teams of author-publishers producing content together. That would then serve as its own kind of signifier.

A More Critical Look

I advocated this last week but it bears repeating again: self-publishing is at a stable place. It’s no longer clawing for market share — so, it’s time to take the critical laser often focused on traditional publishing and turn it inward. It is understandable to feel one’s hackles raise — defensiveness is a quality many writers share — but trust me when I say, a constructively-critical look at How Things Are Done can do more to help everyone produce quality content. Stop circling the wagons. Put your chin up and chest out and run the gauntlet.

Support Folks Doing It Right

Not only does this mean buying and championing author-published books you think are exemplary, but also checking out the works of folks like Joanna Penn or David Gaughran — or have you checked out the Self-Publishing Podcast (Sean Platt, David Wright, Johnny Truant)? All folks who are offering up good advice and practical wisdom (and are in fact helping to contribute to that idea of “best practices” I talked about above) in addition to producing high-end material all their own.

Sum Up

Some of you might be oiling your pitchforks.

You’re already forming the words to say that what I’m trying to do is create more gatekeepers.

That’s okay, I understand that — though I’d ask that you recognize I’m not actually trying to destroy self-publishing through a post like this. This isn’t about installing new systemic gatekeepers but rather to surround ourselves with gatekeepers to keep us in check. That means editors and designers. That means beta readers and fellow authors. That might mean publishing collectives or unions, or documents like best practices, or even forums like kboards or AbsoluteWrite.

As authors we want the absolute freedom to publish what we want. We have that, and nobody wants to see that go away. But readers — readers want the freedom to buy books that meet a professional standard, stories offered that contain passion and power but that are also presented by someone who treats publishing as a business decision and not an amateurish, artistic one. It pays to surround ourselves with those who will check us and our work and who will help ensure that what reaches the readers is the very best we can produce.

You may disagree that the “slush pile on display” hurts anyone — and certainly this is a YMMV IMHO situation. It doesn’t bother you, then hey, don’t worry about it. But for my mileage, this is has the vibe of climate change — just because it’s not affecting you personally doesn’t mean it’s not affecting somebody. (And further, it doesn’t mean you’ll be insulated from it forever.)

I know it affects me. It affects me as an author, a reader, and a blogger.

Right now, the shit volcano still spews over reviewers and readers. You don’t have to look hard here or in threads on Goodreads to find readers who feel burned by indie releases. We can do better. We can suggest doing better without getting out our knives. We can help to elevate other practitioners to a better, smarter place instead of drowning them like a bag of kittens.

It’s easy to believe that it’s impossible to collectively up the game. It’s tempting to think that self-publishing isn’t even a community or a culture. But the very existence of self-publishing as the robust option it has become is one that comes out of a culture of people. And the books that exist now and do well now are sometimes the product of that culture and of the collective passions of people who freely share information. The improvements I’m talking about are already happening — but, me, I like to think we can always turn up the volume on the good stuff.

Lot of noise, and sometimes it’s hard to find signal.

So the question I pose to you is:

How do we limit the noise?

And how do we increase the signal?

354 comments

  • CHUCK YOU BAST…

    Wait. I’m actually totally cool with everything you just said. I’m not sure I agree with any of your proposed solutions so much I’m ready to give you a kidney, but I could spare you a pint of blood. We good.

  • All this. And then you look at Wattpad and mind totally blown. Wattpad is the genuine free market and it’s anything goes in a socially connectedness environment. The sheer volume of stuff: good, bad, laughably dreadful, experimental, and from established authors as sampling makes my eyes too big for my head. And that’s before you check out the reader stats. Even putting gaming the system aside – yeah it’s hard to blink and I have no idea what it all means for readers who want to find and read the good gear.

    • But like a free market without any actual money involved, right? I mean, I know that’s not necessarily the point of Wattpad — it’s more like Fanfiction.net for original fiction — but still, I’m always a little disturbed when something new and popular is used to encourage the idea that artists should create for free.

      • Wattpad isn’t designed for professional authors. It isn’t a critique site, either. The vast majority of writers are teens who are expressing themselves and telling stories with varying degrees of skill. That’s great! People need a safe space to explore writing, and on Wattpad you can write original works, not just fanfiction. It’s a great community, and I find some interesting stuff there – just have to search by tags instead of genre. If I happen to see that a professional author has put up something there as well, cool. That’s what finally got me to check out Brandon Sanderson.

        Chuck mentioned Joanna Penn – she recently interviewed one of the people in charge of Wattpad here: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/01/31/wattpad/

        I don’t think they’re encouraging artists to work for free; you own all your work, and some people go on to publish their books. A writer friend of mine publishes there because she enjoys the feedback and community, but she also puts the finished, edited works up on Amazon, etc.

      • @Ainslie: so far as I can tell, the total number of “reads” a story has on Wattpad relates to how many times a reader accesses the story. So if the reader reads the entire book in one sitting = 1 read. And if the reader reads a chapter at a time over say, 20 chapters = 20 reads. So although one of my books shows over 2m reads, I figure it’s probably more accurate to look at the number of reads for Chapter 20. Or divide total reads by number of chapters. But there’s no doubt exposure from a Wattpad promo can really lift your profile. In the space of fortnight, when Wattpad tried something new for people signing up for a new account, I got something like 2000 followers. And having a book “featured” gains thousands of new readers. Once you hit critical mass, it’s just steadily onward and upward, I’ve found.

        @Ainslie and Matt: I agree Wattpad is overwhelming for people wanting to read quality stuff. And there are some instances where I read something and want to scour my eyeballs and beg the writer to at least learn how to spell, get a grasp on basic grammar and how to format dialogue. But these people are brave–much braver than I am, because they dare to post as they write, whereas I only only ever post (either full book or an excerpt) once the book is published. I only wish I were ballsy enough to share something personal that I’ve poured my heart and soul into before it’s as perfect as I can make it.

        I don’t do much reading on Wattpad because, reasons! And too many eBooks on my Kindle. And not enough spare time as it is. But there must be some way to weed out the good stuff, because I’ve heard of a few popular Wattpad authors being offered traditional publishing contracts. Although perhaps is the insane number of “reads” that attracts the publishers to works in the first place–a proven readership, if you will. Perhaps the Watty Awards helps with discovery, too.

        For me, despite the issues I had around “free” at the time, Wattpad gave me feedback on a genre I’d been told I didn’t have a “voice” to write, but published anyway because although I didn’t think anyone would be interested in it I kinda loved the story. The feedback from Wattpad readers made me realize I could write in a genre I love. That was a gift. And ironically enough, there was a production company exec cruising Wattpad stories, who came across my book and I ended up with a TV option deal on it. I know absolutely that she would never have found the e-published version of that book on Amazon or B&N or whatever. So I figure Wattpad’s got a lot more to offer than it seems at first. And their author program is pretty good exposure for authors, too 🙂

      • The books are free, but users can link to their personal webpage, where it wouldn’t be difficult to set up a PayPal letting people who like your book kick a couple bucks your way. Yes, Amazon etc… guarantees people have to buy your book to read it, and relying on traffic from Wattpad isn’t going to guarantee you make anything on your book, but if you’re just looking to write for the fun of it and aren’t trying to pay your mortgage it’s an option to consider.

  • I agree that quality is a real issue. I think what can be challenging is that many times beginning writers aren’t able to fully evaluate what they’ve written. That can be hard, even for professional writers sometimes. So a beginner might not know that there’s a problem with a story. Or they sort of notice it isn’t quite as strong as they’d like, but they can’t identify the problem or figure out how to fix it. Even if they share their work with peers, if everyone is at the same beginning level, that doesn’t solve the problem.

    This is why I don’t like it when instead of reading the drafts of high school students’ papers and making comments, English teachers have students peer edit each other’s papers. It can be good practice for students to edit each other’s work once in a while, but it is no substitute for comments from the teacher.

    I think a good option for people who are starting out, is to try to find a relatively inexpensive creative writing course with a reputable teacher at a community college or community center. For community center classes, make sure the teacher is a professional writer or English teacher.

    It’s worth investigating these classes for a few reasons. First, the teacher can help you find ways to improve your writing skills. This is true even if you are writing in a different genre then the teacher. Second, you might make new writer friends who are also trying to improve their craft. Third, sometimes writing teachers know about opportunities to be published in small literary magazines or other venues, poetry slams, and so on where you can bounce your work off others and discover what is working. It’s also way more fun than writing in a vacuum, even if you’re on the shy side.

    • I feel like this same problem is an old one experienced in all the realms of creativity – art, music, dance, theater. What constitutes good art? Who’s to say?

      Betsy, I think you make some really good points.

      I especially like what you mention about students peer editing each others’ works. Depending on the venue where the works are being published, it is possible to get a community of individuals who, for a lack of a better term, are insulated to themselves and instead of helping each other grow, conduct a high-fiving contest to praise each other so they don’t have to extend the effort to actually critically assess the work, or deal with the discomfort of potentially offending someone else if they have something critical to say.

      The problem is creating an environment where people are aware there’s a problem, and on top of it, making them care enough to do something about it, and that’s where I think Chuck’s post is awesome. I’ll admit, reading it made me feel a little insecure about my own contributions, because I know I am contributing to the “shit volcano” that will cloud out the sun. But I think the difference lies in those who want to publish half-baked stuff without wanting to listen to any critique because they don’t have the stomach for criticism but they do have the ego to think they deserve to be published, and those who are willing to accept criticism’s ugly face to motivate them because to want to do their best, to publish their best and have it be well-received – also for egotistical gain. And, I don’t think those individuals are mutually exclusive – I think people can learn to care about the quality of the work they produce, which is why I like Chuck’s post. I personally would rather be denied publication because it sucks than put something out there that contributes to the noise and demonstrates my suck-age.

      I heard about and just signed up for scribeophile, which is a free (though they have premium memberships) interface to an online writing community for “writers who are serious about improving their craft.” Basically, you can get your work reviewed by different tiers of peer and professional editors, and in order to do so, you end up reading others’ work to get karma points to spend. I think this is a great idea. It is often said that in order to be a good writer, you must read. This scribeophile exposes the serious writer to a bunch of varied types of content, so it can become another tool in the toolbox (along with courses and other community arenas) for the writer to refine his or her skills.

      Has anyone else used scribeophile? If so, do you think it is effective in helping address the issue?

      • I haven’t used scribeophile, but I have been a (non-premium) member of thenextbigwriter.com for a couple of years now, which works the same way. I agree, these sites are excellent for people who don’t necessarily have a big pool of friends they can call on to be beta readers; the site members are a wide mixture of published authors and proof-readers/editors, aspiring writers and dedicated readers, and getting your own work reviewed is simply a matter of reviewing the work of others to rack up points to get yours critiqued in return. So I’m sorry, but the line “I couldn’t find/afford to pay for anyone to critique my work before I published it” doesn’t wash with me.

        Thanks for laying all this out again Chuck – and here’s hoping you don’t get the same backlash you got last time. I honestly don’t see why there is such hostility to the idea of only putting out work that is the best quality you can make it. Sure, people can argue that there is a chunk of the population that seems quite happy to pay for shit – and if you’re the kind of author-publisher who’s only in it for the bucks I suppose you can argue that you’re quite happy to zero in on that demographic as long as you’re raking in the spondoolicks, and that no-one should take that ‘right’ away from you… Well, fine – but I think it would solve a lot of problems if there could be a separate pool for those guys to paddle, dive-bomb and indiscreetly wee in. Hell, then you can let in whoever you like…

      • I feel like this same problem is an old one experienced in all the realms of creativity – art, music, dance, theater. What constitutes good art? Who’s to say?

        Despite being firmly in the self-publishing camp, I have to say, I’m very much an advocate for the notion that there are objective qualities of almost any kind of art, and that objective standards for craftsmanship can be set forth that most reasonable people can agree upon. I used to do some pretty serious photography, and that is another arena in which this argument goes on more or less constantly. Some people look at Ryan McGinley and Terry Richardson and see fresh voices rebelling against existing standards. I see two punks (Richardson is older than me: he’s still a punk) who take a lot of pictures of attractive people wearing not much clothing without bothering to learn how to use the exposure settings on their cameras. Since pictures of attractive people wearing not much clothing will always catch people’s eyes, through luck and marketing they’ve somehow become artists. Pfah.

        Yes, a truly great artist can break any rule and still produce great art. But my response to people who want to break rules is that first you must show me that you understand the rules before I will listen to why you want to break them. Is that elitist of me? Yep. Sure is.

        • I really like how you put that: “a truly great artist can break any rule and still produce great art. But my response to people who want to break rules is that first you must show me that you understand the rules.”

          I agree. I think there is some socio-cultural agreement on what constitutes “good” art. It’s a collective decision, made about whether something adheres to a classification or set of rules or qualities. As you point out, those who break the rules successfully end up generating new genres, but, they tend to be experienced in their field enough that they learned the previous generation of rules first and were influenced by these parental genres. It is my understanding that the influential artists in both the period of Impressionist painting and traditional Rock ‘n Roll music were rule-breakers that had backgrounds in the more traditional forms of art. However, to this day people flock to see Cassatt and Monet exhibits, and rock and roll music has pretty much forged a new landscape in the music industry. If you look at some of the founders of those genres’ first works (Monet, Woman in the Green Dress), it does in fact demonstrate they grew up knowing the original rules.

      • But this isn’t about art. It’s about publishing.

        Art is the raw form of a book. Put it on a blog, Wattpad, your bedroom wall.

        A published book is packaged art. Its quality made less subjective. That’s what you publish.

        If a writer doesn’t know the difference between these two things, he or she is not ready to publish.

        • I’m sorry, but I don’t see the distinction. Are you saying it’s okay for e e cummings to publish on Wattpad, but not to sell books on Amazon? Man Ray can put up pictures on deviantART but not sell prints?

          If the art is outside the typical standards of craftsmanship, the art is outside the typical standards of craftsmanship.

          My response to artists who tell me that it’s outside the typical standards of craftsmanship for purposeful artistic reasons is to see if they know how to make art to typical standards of craftsmanship. If they do, then I might be interested in what they have to say. If not, well, I might be missing out on the next Grandma Moses, but I’m not interested. (And frankly I wouldn’t have been sorry to miss out on Grandma Moses.)

          Yours seems to be – and correct, me, please, if I’m in error – that we just shouldn’t be okay with people selling art outside the typical standards of craftsmanship, but otherwise it’s okay for people to violate them and who are we to judge because subjective. That seems a bit arbitrary to me. How will the standards ever evolve? Would we have allowed that ugly moveable type to replace the fine, flowing lines of a trained scribe in “real” books? Should we have let people start selling gray-scaled photographs instead of the beautiful full-color pictures an experienced portraitist can draw?

        • I think my two sentences “What constitutes good art? Who’s to say?” got misunderstood here. And I think the genuine art product is at question, because that’s what’s getting assessed, either by publishers before they package it, or by readers after it’s been packaged and self-published. Of course both matter, but the art is the foundation of it all, without the art there would be no publication, so that’s where I think the nexus of the problem lies.

          I guess the point I was trying to get at is that the answer to those questions (which I should have clarified in my original post) seemed obvious to me. Based on what Chuck said and in many comments repeated thereafter, the answer is: there’s a consensus made by some sort of social/cultural majority. Maybe it’s the publishing industry, maybe it’s the available readership community (more likely it’s some ratio of the two), regardless, there is some group hivemind that decides what raw art deserves to get packaged and distributed, and what doesn’t. And in the traditional publishing universe, that’s more cut and dried because the publishing houses are organized entities that have a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to determining what gets seen and promoted, in an organized fashion. In the self-publishing universe, it’s a disorganized mostly non-systemized nightmare, where author-publishers are all assholes in elbows to raise their book out of the muck and into the sunlight of wide readership, with the readership community getting left to determine what gets “published” after it’s already been packaged. That was what I was trying to say.

  • Very thought provoking post. It is easy and I believe you are right, too easy, to publish anything. I also like Betsy’s post where she says begining writers dont or cant always recognised issues / problems in their own work. Finding or establishing a f2f critique group where the members have varying levels of writing expertise would be a good way for writers to obtain free and informative assessments on their ms. (which is what I and a fellow local writer did). Paying for a ms assessment is also a good way to strengthen your work before you hit that button. Personally, I like gatekeepers and I want to write the best book that I can – I dont want to put out crap that readers who toss across the room and vilify me on social media. (Not that you can always please everyone) So I guess some kind of systemm that says ‘hey, mate, this book needs more work’ would be a good way to prune the weeds from the garden. Then that writer could trot off (if they are serious about their work) and obtain some advice and re-do. Visibility? Yeah, its like being a grain of sand on the beach and we have some pretty long, awesome beaches over here.

  • Some people may find this post harsh, but tough love may just be what gets us somewhere. Craft matters, whether you go Indie, through a small house, or through the Random Penguin (sorry, I just think it sounds much more awesome that way!). I’m all for accountability. In fact, relying on your beta readers to rip you to shreds is sometimes exactly what you need to get better.

  • I reviewed books for a little while, until I ended up really criticizing the quality of what I was posting. I really felt (and still feel) that I didn’t understand how to critique a book and that I wasn’t well read enough to offer any worth while insight to the books I was reading. Frustrating to say the least, and rather disparaging when what I wanted was to help authors get the word out… and free books were always nice.

    I received one particular request by a traditional author from a small press, and his work was good, it kept me interested to continue through the end but it was horribly copy edited. Not a big house publisher, but there were gatekeepers in place vetting trash. The author, I know, was pissed, and I’m not sure what recourse was available to him, but there were typos, missing words, and grammars problems riddling the book.

    Another author, a self-pubbed, contacted me to review his book but the email he sent had one particular phrase that made me double take – “It has just been released in its 3rd edition, which includes new chapters along with extensive updates and revisions.” To me, this sounded like this dude was inviting me to his outhouse to enjoy dinner. It seemed like he was hoping to bag alpha readers to help him with leveling-up his book for free.

    Self-pubbed does need some gatekeepers but only in the form of verifying quality. As a former aspiring writer (no longer writing) I’d want to make sure I wasn’t putting out bullshit. For any writer following accessible and wonderfully revealing authors, like Overloard Wendig here, and even the inspiring story of Kameron Hurley‘s harrowing writer-journey, there isn’t easy money to be made. It’s not a get rich quick scheme and by just tossing your shit all willy-nilly at the public you will not get new readers. Those first pieces of work will sabotage or reinforce your reputation depending on how serious you take it.

    • epheros, it’s not compulsory to be any kind of critiquing expert to review a book. 🙂 Your input as simply a reader would still be invaluable – in fact, you’d more than likely offer perspectives that someone who ‘knows’ about critiquing books might overlook. Observations like “I found this bit boring,” “this character got on my nerves” and “I didn’t understand what was going on in this bit” may not provide the built-in fix-it as part of the package – but a lot of writers don’t want that anyway; they prefer to look at the problem and work it out for themselves.

      (Actually some of the LEAST useful critiques are the ones that tend to go along the lines of “the way you wrote this paragraph doesn’t work; instead I think you should write it like this: {reviewer completely rewrites author’s paragraph in his own style}” To be fair, there’s not an abundance of reviewers like this, and I’m sure their intentions are good, but I think they need to remember whose book it actually is they’re reviewing!)

      As long as you remember the old ‘Crap Sandwich’ rule (start with the good points, flaws in the middle and then end on a good point) be civil and don’t make the criticism personal, you can’t go far wrong.

      No longer writing? I’m hoping that’s a choice you came to naturally and without regrets, rather than because of any discouragement or disillusion. While I agree that quality should be a consideration when it comes to PUBLISHING work for actual money, I don’t think anyone should be made to feel there’s no point in them writing AT ALL.

  • I actually agree with everything you said in this post. Everything. People need to be aware of stuff like this. The problem can’t continue to grow indefinitely. Someone is going to do something about it eventually…and it may very well be to the detriment of those who are or want to be indies.

  • Your first blog on this subject made me hang my head. I have three self-pubbed books of which the last has not been reviewed but the first two have. The reviews wouldn’t fill a telephone book but that’s not the point. Of the reviews I did receive two things stood out – first, great story, great characters! Yay me! Then the second part of the reviews were: – however, much as I liked the story I could not give it five stars because it needs proofreeding! Ouch! So, yeah, you’re right. I owe my readers ( very small readership at the moment) more than a good story, I owe them a story without typos, grammatical errors, and all the other nasties that a good proofreader will catch. And, I’m springing for new covers. You asked the question in one of your blogs, do you want to remain an amateur or do you want become a professional? I took that to heart and now I’m slowly climbing my way up, one rung at a time.

  • Brilliant post as always, and there’s so much to chew on here. This isn’t an issue that’s going to be solved overnight, but that’s no excuse to stop talking about it.

    As an indie author myself, I’m definitely suffering from all of this — closed channels, discoverability. But I’m even more bothered as a reader, because I *want* to support the indie community, I *want* to find really great indie authors, and time and again I’m being disappointed. Popularity isn’t even something you can count on. There are many books out there that are doing a whole lot better than mine, and they’re practically unreadable. I don’t know what those authors are doing to sell copies (maybe witchcraft?) but it’s very frustrating to watch.

    It’s also frustrating that our standards have sunken so low. A review on one of my books happily pointed out the lack of typos and grammatical errors, and I couldn’t help thinking, “I should fucking hope so!” Having a grammatically sound book should be the base line, not a selling point. When the hell did writers start to think that it was an achievement to write a competent fucking book?

    I think some of it might settle on its own, though. I suspect that a lot of people will get bored when they realize that success isn’t as easy as they’d thought. So while we might continue to have an influx of first-timers pouring their first drafts out in the world, maybe we’ll have fewer people with 2nd or 3rd books.

  • Thought-provoking post. I appreciate the attention you’ve put on self-publishing over the past week, and you raise some good points.

    As a reader, I really don’t understand the problem you mention with Amazon discoverability, though.

    It’s true that I can’t just browse Amazon, but I never browsed a physical bookstore truly at random, either. I have my favorite genres and authors, and if I’m looking for a book on a certain topic, I’ll head to that section. I’ll know that I’m in the mood for historical fantasy, and tune out books on the shelves that don’t match. A physical bookstore is small enough that I can do that easily, but searching on Amazon is pretty simple – I pick a topic, type in the keyword, and sort by genre, publication date, reviews, etc. I can glance at the blurb and cover, download a sample, and decide whether I’ll enjoy the book.

    Rude, selfish indie authors are definitely a huge problem, and it sucks to be a reviewer or anyone who might offer them a platform. I definitely cringe hearing stories like the one you posted.

    My takeaway isn’t, “So what,” though, it’s, “It can’t be helped.” There will always be those who don’t want to learn, or who chase the dream of fast cash. I think that as the ebook market levels out, a lot of these people will get discouraged and move on to the next quick buck, or drop out, or decide to learn and improve.

    Ultimately, I can’t control what other people do, and I don’t want to spend the energy trying, or fretting about what I can’t change. I do regret the readers that are forever put off by bad purchases, but at the same time, if I start worrying about all the things that might lose me a reader, I’ll never publish anything. I mean, the littlest things, like first person p.o.v. or the absence/presence of a map, can put a reader off an author forever!

    What I can do is get and give critiques, and be part of a community that helps to steer writers toward affordable professional covers, editing, and formatting.

  • I have to admit I am torn.

    I see both sides.

    First:
    We are not talking building codes, people. It is fiction, mostly, that we are discussing. FICTION. You know, that silly, not-true-but-darn-it-could-happen stuff? The whole: “willful suspension of disbelief” mantra is powerful, but, in the end, do any of us care? Ok. We care. I know I care. But, still. Is anyone going to die if a book is poorly built? Or, say, is someone gonna get sued?

    If we get a collective GRIP here, I think we can all agree that we may be hyperventilating over phantom germs. Put away the Sars mask and come down from the ledge. Tell Bubble Boy you will see him tomorrow.

    I think the true problem may be selfish. We all want to be discovered and if BJ Angelou is writing monster smut and getting in the way of me being discovered, well…then…blah! *rolls up tentacles. *thinks “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is some lame D&D joke.

    Second:
    We want to be seen as relevant. As a group. As an individual author. If some half-wit, hack-jobs are making us look collectively bad, then I say we give ’em wedgies and send them to the back of the line. I know some cool jocks from high school that would love to do just that. I like what Chucky-Wucky says about tending our own yards. I know I will take that seriously (who am I kidding? I cannot afford a cover designer! *goes back to work on GIMP).

    The whole little fish/big skillet thing bothers me. Always has. Especially when we are discussing the camel’s eye conceptualization of the whole “gatekeepers” mantra. Why do I want to be subjected to three narrow funnels (first an Agent-judge and THEN a Publisher-judge, and then a World-of-Readers-judge)?

    I think self-publishing is a personal choice. I just hope that those choosing to publish that way are wise enough and discerning to know that their choice, though personal, effects all of us. As they say on the Red-Green Show: “We’re all in this together!”

    • No one is going to die from a piece of poorly written fiction. But if you put out something that is less than the best you can make it, you have wasted some of the reader’s life, and taken away from the finite resource of time they have to actually read and enjoy something else instead. So you haven’t killed them. You’ve just misappropriated part of their life.

    • Other people say they can’t afford cover artists or editors, but, what about students or people just starting out? Any friends or family with graphic design ability who can help for cheap? Seems to me there are ways to think differently about this problem, too.

  • Hey, Don Quixote–why you keep tilting at self-published windmills?

    I find great irony that you proclaim the bulk of self-pubbed work crap, yet you write in the SFF genre. A genre that fifty years ago was considered crap by the bulk of the literary world. Heck, less than a hundred years ago SFF was so judged so bad it could only be printed on third-rate paper: pulp.

    See, that’s the thing.We’re in an era of e-pulp. You see crap, fouling your ocean of literature. Really, you’re sailing in a whole new ocean. You really shouldn’t look down your nose at e-pulp, because to our recent ancestors there’s little distiction between what you and self-pubbers put out. Beauty is in the eye of the McDonald’s lovin’, Walmart shoppin’, discount-loving reader.

    • A lot of it *was* crap. The reputation of SFF has improved precisely because of writers in the genre focusing on craft.

      And as has been said on this topic time and time again, please don’t confuse pulp with poorly written, barely literate crap designed to bilk readers out of time and money. Pulp is great, and good pulp writers are no less dedicated to the craft of writing than literary writers.

      The issue here isn’t pulp vs. literature. It’s writers who are respectful of their audience vs. those who are not. Pulp has an audience, and an appreciative ones. The unprofessional authors that Chuck is talking about shitting the pool do not, in general, have a large fanbase. Readers don’t like being conned.

    • I think perhaps you, like so many others keep doing, are confusing a critique of the container with a critique of the content.

      I don’t think anyone’s saying the stories or subject matter of self-published authors are crap. What most everyone seems to be complaining about is the fact that the ebooks are too often sloppily put together, obviously not edited/not revised/not proofread/etc.

      Also, the criticism of the spammy way some author-publishers market their work is also in no way a criticism of the quality of the story contained in said work.

      Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think anyone who used to turn their nose up at old pulp or science fiction ever did so because they thought the writing was terrible or the work riddled with typos or that an editor had never touched it. THEY were snubbing SFF by looking down on the content as not serious enough or ridiculous or what have you.

      Don’t you see? The current criticisms of self-pub and the old criticisms of SFF/Pulp are completely different. One is about quality of craft. The other was about quality of story. Not the same. And I don’t think they are fairly comparable.

      • Have either of you ever actually read a Pulp? I love Doc Savage but some of them have some truly astounding goofs/lack of editing. Fun reads, cranked out quickly, but plot holes and run on sentences abound.

        Have I misunderstood Mr. Wendig? Seems to me he’s declaring 99% of indie work crap, because it wasn’t edited, or wasn’t formatted, or because they had no place writing it to begin with. The only folks who will care about his call for higher caliber content already do, so all these kind of posts do is make him sound like he’s suffering from indie-envy.

        • You have misunderstood me. Or misread. Or didn’t read, I don’t really know.

          I’m not declaring 99% of indie work as being crap. Never said that. I’m saying that crap exists, and it’s not ideal that it exists, and hey, here are some ways to fix it.

          You’re trotting out the “indie-envy” bullshit over at kboards, too — “Okay, who crushed Wendig in sales and got his panties all in a bunch? I think I smell some Russell Blake-envy over there…” Which speaks to my point about a pretty significant lack of professionalism from certain segments of this crowd.

          Please attempt to be more respectful, or I’ll push the big pink button marked SPAM OUBLIETTE.

          — c.

          • “I’m not declaring 99% of indie work as being crap.”

            99.5% perhaps? That’s what I’m hearing. Not on top of the covers but under the sheets, most definitely.

          • I don’t remember the source, but I’ve read 20% of the books on Amazon make more than $1000 a year. Some do that in two months, usually 🙂 So I can’t believe 99.5% is crap. It seems a gross exaggeration.

  • Solid post. It ain’t perfect, but you get to the nuts and bolts of a lot of the perception probs between the two (and perpetuate some).

    Segregating self-pubbed and traditionally pubbed is a bad idea. You’re equating quality to arbitrary standards. You bring up Amazon’s algorithms and whatnot, as a source for separating content. If that’s how you want to go with it, why are you still drawing lines between self-publishing and traditional publishing?

    It’d be just as easy for these algorithms to flag BOTH self and traditionally published books as “typographically incorrect” (or something).

    I’m still fascinated that you’re drawing quality lines between these two. Fascinated still, by this post and you acknowledging both have duds and problems — yet your solution is to divide them on basis of creation, rather than content.

    Joe Konrath cites 300k traditionally published titles a year. That’s its own shit volcano. These are books that have made it through your precious army of unpaid interns that okayed a book for traditional publishing. So, where are they?

    See, that’s what I think the difference is. Traditional publishers okay crap all the time. They just bury it when it doesn’t sell. (Note that selling has nothing to do with quality). Self-pub crap stays afloat for a lot longer.

    But that is not a factor of gatekeepers (because the traditional publishing gatekeepers failed — we just don’t get the privilege of seeing them make bad decisions). Neither is it a factor of the two needing to be segregated.

    Keep in mind, as eBooks take over market share, we’ll be seeing more and more of that traditionally published crap surfacing — if for no other reason than to move enough copies of a book with as little investment as possible to prevent a reversion of rights to the author. What a high and honorable reason for a traditional publisher to help flood more crap into the marketplace, right? To screw over an author by retaining rights they don’t even want.

    I think the real problem with your argument is that the bottom of traditional publishing is missing from your analysis.

  • At least the very worst self-published hobbyists always give themselves away with their offensively bad e-book covers. If the author doesn’t thinks his book’s worth at least a decent $30 pre-made cover, then it certainly isn’t worth my $2.99 (much less my time).

    BTW: If an editor offers a “first thirty pages” editing package (or something like that), then I’d rather not work with that editor. Doesn’t speaks much of her honesty/professionalism.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I followed the previous two related posts with interest, and the “there’s no harm in publishing anything and everything” argument struck me as both wrong and dangerous. I couldn’t do any better than waving my arms and ranting in my living room, whereas you’ve clarified all the reasons beautifully here. I agree with everything you said…except about the screaming robot bees. Chuck, dude, I don’t believe those are real. Just remain calm (even hallucinated bees react to stress) and wait them out.

    I also want to thank you (your posts) for being the extra push I needed to re-do my first book’s cover. People enjoy the art, but as a cover, I think it falls short. So, I worked harder and am excited about the result–and how it will connect visually with the second book due out in June. I figure that’s when I’ll reveal the new cover (2nd edition, I suppose). I can hardly wait, and I’m grateful.

    My online sales (print & digital) are sporadic–and I’m ok with that for now. I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve priced relatively high where the ebook is concerned. It was my attempt to not look so very, very self-published, to imply a higher standard, and to tie in with the print price (which barely covers the cost). I went through the extra step of “doing business as” a publisher in order to get access to more distribution channels, so if people know to look for the book, it’s easy enough to get. As you said, it’s the discoverability that’s truly suffering–and there’s not much I can do about that with my budget (*pulls out shoestring*) and waning trust in giveaways and pay-to-play “opportunities” like contests & reviews. (There are a lot of opportunists out there, methinks. Author-publishers beware.)

  • In the self-pubbed city I’ve read the best fiction (“American Ghoul” by Walt Morton is the best book you’ve never read: http://www.amazon.com/American-Ghoul-Walt-Morton-ebook/dp/B00AFCTMCU/) and the worst (will spare you the links, I’m sure you’ve stumbled on them…or found them at the bottom of your shoe). I don’t think the shit-lava is really the problem. I do think it is the flies hovering around the shit lava darting down to sit on the shit in return for a place to tuck their larvae and get a snack are the problem.

    I speak, of course, of paid reviews.

    Most of the shit winds up at the subterranean level and doesn’t surface. But sometimes an author with enough seed money comes along and offers enough cash to reviewers to prop his or her book up. Before anyone jumps in and says, “How do you know they’re paid?”, well usually, when the “flies” post in their Amazon profile that their job is “professional book promoter”, it’s you know, a clue. I’ve seen books like that in my genre, and they’ve hovered up in the top 20 for a few weeks before plunging back to the depths. I don’t care about those weeks in the sun–I care about the Verified Purchasers I see posted with the fly droppings. In one particular author’s case a few reviewers said that they’d never try a self-published author again. That hurts.

    Some of the self-published work I read and love would never make it by a traditional publisher, and I’m not sure they’d make it past the gate keepers you propose. I *love* Lindsay Buroker because…steam punk, magic, aliens, and krackens! I don’t think that would have flown in the trad pub world. I don’t think mine would exist either: Norse mythology, meets quantum physics, a paranormal (un) romance, and occasional dinosaur cameos? Nope. Never. But people going through terrible things–divorce, disease, and well, death–have written to tell me how I’ve made their lives brighter. So whatever rules I’ve broken to self-publish, I’m not ashamed I’ve done it. (No, no ghosts have contacted me, but people in the end stages of illness have).

    Maybe tagging editors along with the author would work–but some editors probably have to taken some volcano lava to pay their bills. I’m sure shit spewers would be keen to post the editors name. Not sure if the reading public would be savvy enough to tell which ones were editor endorsed, and which were projects taken on because they had to.

  • It’s possible that the current rush to self publish will eventually be tempered by reality when every person and their dog who’s ever dashed off a manuscript realizes it’s no more a road to riches than trade publishing is.

    But there’s that darned Dunning-Kruger effect: the less skilled someone is at something, the better they seem to think they are. Self publishing is essentially a raw, unfiltered slush pile, and the rare gems are embedded in a vast heap o’ dung.

    I hope some of your suggestions take root, but all the submission instructions, checklists, guidelines, pitfalls to avoid and so on in the world (as presented on agent and editor sites, and in blogs by authors, agents and editors) have never stopped agents and publishers from being buried by terribly written, unrevised, unpolished manuscripts, manuscripts with gaping plot holes, trite or cliched characters etc, not to mention those promising ones that aren’t quite there yet. The world is filled with intelligent people who don’t read the f’ing syllabus (or manual or guidelines or suggestions and tips or whatever), because such are for other people, not them.

    But as always, I loved the piece and I hope it plants some seeds.

  • Of all the good suggestions in this post I think my favorite is listing editors with authors. I wish that were being done across all of the fiction publishing industry, and I think it’d be great if author-publishers were the ones to force it to become a standard.

    • I agree, but I don’t see how it could be put into practice. Someone could supply any name as their editor, even made up ones.

      That being said, it’s a step in the right direction. If all author-publishers included their editor’s name on the copyright page, I’d at least be able to google that editor, see if he/she exists, check out what else he/she has edited, etc.

      It’s obvious I need something else to help me. I’ve been burned by too many bad books hiding behind a pro cover and good sample pages. Someone else mentioned editors who will edit only the first 30 pages. This must happen often. Too many books start strong, then several chapters in it goes downhill fast. Okay not downhill. More like free fall.

  • Well, yes, no, and kinda.

    Let’s start with Amazon. They make between 30% and 65% gross margin on every self-pubbed book sold.

    That couldn’t be further from thin margins. Costco and similar big box operators are rock stars if they see 5%. Self-publishing is frigging fat city for Amazon, not some business surviving on shoestring margins.

    My experience is that the blend between the 35% min royalty rate they pay on all the pesky out-of-territory sales, and the in-territory sales, works out to be about 60% to the author, after download fees. Without splitting too many hairs, let’s just say they’re getting a rough 40% gross for being an online retailer of ebooks.

    That’s amazing. Simply amazing money. No development cost. Essentially just order processing and hosting. It’s a money machine for Amazon, so while there’s the obligatory hand-wringing in-house, here’s what I can assure you of: Amazon doesn’t do things that aren’t very good for Amazon.

    Which is as it should be.

    For the record, I’m totally opposed to putting the editor up with the author name. Show me any trad pubs that do that. Oh, they don’t. For a reason. It’s total amateur night, and brands the offering as self-pubbed, and thus, probably inferior, if your theory is correct. Note I’m not saying not to have pro editing. Quite the opposite. I’m saying by all means do, but strive in all things to emulate the big boys. If they don’t make cardboard signs saying “Buy my book” you shouldn’t either. Ditto for listing editors.

    Now on to discoverability. The big problem.

    I’m self-pubbed, and have been in the biz for 31 months. During that time I’ve sold a buttload of books at $5-$6. As in kissing 500K of them. I say that not to brag. I say that because it proves that a complete neophyte can in fact gain visibility by turning out a quality product, being intelligent about marketing, and treating this like any other business – one that requires an investment of time, effort, and money.

    So that’s my no (Amazon operating on thin margins in ebooks), and my kinda.

    I’ll share a story with your audience. I read with horror the “look inside” of a self-pubbed star. Within the first five pages, there were remedial English mistakes that amounted to confusing their, there and they’re. I won’t mention the specific words used incorrectly – oh, hell, sure I will. Around page three someone shuttered with pleasure. Yes, shuddered was confounded with shuttered. And you know what? This author sells MILLIONS of ebooks. Wanna know why? Because the readership doesn’t care, and frankly, probably doesn’t know that the right word wasn’t used. The author is writing at a level the readership is comfortable with, which is to say a marginally literate level…and it sells huge.

    That shouldn’t really happen. Because, by your standards (and frankly, probably mine), that’s not just a rookie mistake, it calls into question basic English and proofreading skills, and should dissuade readers – it IS the cautionary tale. And yet this is a massive seller who has trad pubs drooling to sign.

    This is the detritus, the sluff, the dross that guardians at the gate would have saved those millions of readers from – millions of obviously happy readers who paid the author handsomely for the product.

    Aside from being a commentary on the state of NA or YA literature, it also shows why I say, mmm, kinda. I couldn’t make it through twenty pages. As a reader, I would have said, not so much. I also confess that was my reaction to tomes that were responsible for most of trad publishers like Random House’s profits last year. And I would have been wrong. Because the readers knew better than I what they wanted.

    Now for the yes.

    I’m generally disliked for being a meanie among many self-pubbed authors, because I have an almost dogmatic insistence on hiring pro editors, proofreaders, cover artists, formatters. Many do-it-yourselfers dislike the idea that they should have to pay for competent help to quality control the product they ask readers to pay for. To me, churning out an inferior product is bad business even if it’s easier and cheaper to do, so I counsel against DIY. Not only is it disrespectful of the reader’s time, but it also speaks volumes if you’re unwilling to invest in your own work to assure that it’s close to or better quality levels than the trad pubs spew forth at a rate of 300K titles a year.

    Here’s our fundamental disagreement. I don’t give a shit whether everyone else spews forth crap lava from the proverbial volcano. Just as I could care less whether there are a million more crappy blogs or websites out there next month. The quality and competitiveness of my blog is in no way diminished by all that crap. My readers have managed to find me, and I them. It’s all working. The system is limping along in fits and starts, but readers are discovering fresh voices who would never have published were it not for Amazon, and the dross sinks to the bottom over time. Not all of it. Some of it becomes bestseller material. But that’s a different discussion.

    My point is that the market is not a blunt force trauma instrument. It does manage to sort the wheat from the chaff. Not all the time. Not enough to keep shutters from shuddering, to the delight of millions who are unaware of, or are unconcerned by, the difference. Then again, everyone went away happy, so perhaps that’s yet another case of allowing the man to kiss the cow without judgment, if it floats his boat.

    I’ve read countless blogs and articles bemoaning the quality of self-pubbed offerings, but I have yet to read any that convince me that, in the long run, those issuing forth abominations are harming anyone but themselves. Sure, some will shrug off buying lower cost books. But for every story about one of those, I have two who are delighted they can get one of my books for half the cost of a trad pubbed offering. Readers are smart. Except for the stupid ones. Like the dating pool, water finds its own level over time. I prefer a world where I don’t need arbiters of quality culling offerings based on their opinions of what meets thresholds of basic competence.

    So there we have it. Yes, no, and kinda.

    • There is only one point to understand about any of this, in my humble opinion, and it’s that the reader cares about one thing and one thing only: STORY. Everything else matter not a jot, or a whit.

      Self-promotion time. A couple of years ago I wrote a book called Five Billion Sold, an overview of 40 of the twentieth century’s biggest-selling authors, all of whom have each sold over 50 million books. People like Agatha Christie, Jeffery Archer, Jackie Collins, Ian Fleming, Wilbur Smith, etc.

      What did I learn from that? One thing, and that is the above point. STORY IS EVERYTHING. The reader, generally, will forgive any manner of things, stuff that as writers we might throw our hands up in despair at. But it doesn’t matter, so long as the reader is desperate to know what happens next.

      As John points out, there are plenty of novels now selling by the truckload which would never have made it past the trad-pub gate. And there are two or three orders of magnitude more that aren’t selling at all. And the difference? Not quality of writing. or literary merit, if you want a fancier term.

      Storytelling. There’s those that know how to do it, and there’s those that don’t. Those who do will prevail, same as its ever been. And nothing we, Amazon, the traditional publishing industry or anyone else for that matter does will change that.

      • I don’t think it’s anywhere near that simple. Would that it were. The best you could say is that SOME audiences don’t care about writing quality, just as SOME don’t care about food quality when selecting a restaurant. If that SOME is large enough, it can make the mediocre popular. Hell, it can make the ridiculous popular, as it did with the Pet Rock. That’s not to conclude that all you need to make it is a bag of rocks and a gimmick. It’s also not to conclude that the works that don’t sell are somehow lacking in storytelling. I’ve read plenty of obscure, self-pubbed books that tell marvelous stories and in fact are well written. And they have gone nowhere. Just as most trad pubbed books go nowhere. Just as all books, for all time, have gone nowhere. That’s the biz. Always has been.

        SOME audiences don’t care. Others do. Those that do will reward better written work. Those that don’t won’t care, and will reward storytelling, even if borderline illiterate storytelling. It’s a big market out there, and I for one am comfy with the idea that there are enough literate readers who enjoy a good story so I won’t ever starve. So far so good.

    • “For the record, I’m totally opposed to putting the editor up with the author name. Show me any trad pubs that do that. Oh, they don’t. For a reason. It’s total amateur night, and brands the offering as self-pubbed, and thus, probably inferior, if your theory is correct. Note I’m not saying not to have pro editing. Quite the opposite. I’m saying by all means do, but strive in all things to emulate the big boys. If they don’t make cardboard signs saying “Buy my book” you shouldn’t either. Ditto for listing editors.”

      See I disagree with this because I don’t think people should run from the label of being self-pubbed, they should just be doing their best to help change the perception that the label is inferior. Why is listing the editor amateur night? Just because traditional publishers don’t do it? Self-Publishing isn’t Traditional publishing so what’s wrong with a little innovation?

      The way I see it traditionally published books lists two things prominently: the author and the publisher. They list the publisher’s name and mark because those stand for something. They don’t list every person who works at or for the publisher because the publisher’s name is the stand in for all that/them. An author-publisher at least somewhat prominently crediting the editor and/or the artist and/or the ebook designer, etc. they used would help build up those people and their names as marks of quality. I think, over time it would raise the self-publishing community as a whole (which includes the editors, and artists and designers). Why couldn’t readers be as aware of editors or designers in self-publishing as they are of publishing houses in traditional publishing?

      I don’t think the goal of an author-publisher should be to try and hoodwink readers into not realizing they’re purchasing a self-published book. It’s ok to be different.

      • Correct, it’s amateur because the gold standard of professionalism in the literary community, trad publishers, don’t do it. A simple test is sort of like, “What would Random House do?” If they don’t do it with their packaging, you probably shouldn’t, and if they do, you’d be smart to pay attention.

        I don’t do things to prove points or advance philosophical stances. I do things to sell books. I don’t think comporting myself in as professional a manner possible equates to hoodwinking anyone. I think it’s smart business practice, and raises the bar on your offerings. Sure, it’s okay to be different. I’m simply saying that if you want to do something amateurish, that screams “I’m one of that ocean of crap everyone’s complaining about,” best of luck to you, but I won’t be joining you in that experiment. One of the truisms of leaders is that the guy in front tends to take all the first bullets. You go be that guy. I’ll watch from afar to see how you fare.

      • Traditionally, I believe that a) on occasion the editor (and proofreader, and designer) is listed in the colophon; b) editors are often thanked in acknowledgments; c) the reason the editor’s name is left off of covers etc. by the publisher is because a good editor is supposed to be invisible. They impose rules of grammar and ask questions of your plot/character, but always within the boundaries of your voice and your story. They are polishing your work, not molding it with their own ideas. The idea is to keep the emphasis on the person who has done the long hard slog of the work: the author. I was once given a guideline by a trad. pub. higher-up that a book should be roughly an 80-20 split: 80% authorial sweat, 20% editing and production. Though by that model, if a trad. book can take a good six months+ to edit and produce, how much time are they expecting an author to put in beforehand, outlining and writing and revising, soliciting feedback and revising again, polishing even before they submit to their editors?

        Also, cover designers are almost always listed, as that is considered a separate work of design. Really, the interior design should be credited as well–choosing typefaces, drop caps, etc. isn’t just something that’s pulled out of a bag–but there’s still a mentality that such a thing is “composition”, not original design work, so you don’t always see it. Also, there is a new push to credit the often freelance ebook designers, because that is evolving into a more specialized field now, with many firms offering hand-coding to give ebooks a more traditional feel, with special ornaments, drop caps, etc.

        • Right, and I have no issue with including editors in acknowledgements. I’m specifically referring to listing the editor in the Amazon credits next to the author name. When trad pubs start doing that and it becomes accepted practice, then I’ll do it. Until then, I’ll do what they do.

    • Russell,

      There is a problem with your perspective. Your experience as a self-published author is an anecdote. It is a single sample amongst millions. There is no lesson about how the world works in your individual experience. You having success doesn’t mean that an environment full of badly written garbage doesn’t negatively affect self-published authors. It doesn’t even mean what you’ve done is the correct path to success. There are way too many invisible, random variables in play for a sample of one to matter one whit.

      Further, sampling a group of successful self-pub authors can tell that much. What is needed is a random sample of self-published authors that is large enough to have a statistically significant group of the low probability result, successful self-published authors. From that group and an analysis of their behaviors we can make an assessment.

      It is fair to contend that Chuck’s perspective suffers from a similar deficiency. However, his perspective at the very least better tracks the experience of the majority of self-published writers. Swimming in a pool of filth is challenging and digging through a pile of trash is not rewarding to most readers. It is quite reasonable to assert that something has to give. A system for filtering out some of the bad or at least for sorting the huge pile into smaller piles needs to emerge.

      The answer probably is not too far off from the current publishing model. A set of well-regarded pickers will emerge. There will be few other criteria for a publishing entity to differentiate itself. The need for bookstore relationships is going away. There will be no print runs for new authors. The publisher won’t be helping the author overcome inherent obstacles in the marketplace. They will be matching a particular set of consumers with an appropriate product.

      There will always be someone coloring outside the lines, but this environment can’t and won’t continue in the inefficient state it is in. Someone will step in and make the market more efficient with a solution. To some degree, it is already happening with the ebook deal email lists like BookBub that have quality rules. It will probably get more segmented, more carefully directed as time goes on.

      At the end of the day, it won’t be the authors that decide whether new gatekeepers emerge. It will be the readers that decide, and it is inevitable because people are lazy and don’t want to sift for perceived quality on their own. This kind of behavior is rampant. People trust friends’ faulty opinions, prefer the restaurant that is busy and desire the brand that is more expensive or more advertised. They want to feel like they are getting something good more than they are interested in actually getting something good. This is a big part of the reason most written works stink. People want to be a successful writer, not write a good book.

      • Well, sure, you’re absolutely correct that I can only speak about my experience, not some hypothetical set of experiences others might or might not have had. In my experience, it’s always been hard to get visibility, whether trad-pubbed or self-pubbed. Chuck’s main complaint seems to be that it’s still hard, but now due to all the crap. Well, guess what? 300K releases of supposed non-crap is still a vast ocean to get discovered in. My experience contradicts his belief that it’s making it impossible to get noticed. The experience of many of my friends, who are making comfortable six figure livings self-publishing, contradicts his experience. Sure it’s tough. Just as it’s always been.

        I’m sorry that experience doesn’t jive with his position. I can only report what I’ve observed: The authors I know who take this seriously, who work very hard at not only their craft, but at gaining visibility, are doing well. The ones who don’t, aren’t. And there are far more who don’t, so not surprisingly, most aren’t doing well. That would jive with the statistics: most books don’t sell.

        My perspective is also that many self-pubbed books suck. Which is to be expected, because there’s no gatekeepers, or really, cost to publish – no barriers at all, including a requirement for basic literacy. And that’s fine. The gauntlet you need to run to get positive word of mouth and become a breakout is still massive and daunting, but the point is, the system as it is, works as it is. As with the dollar, one could say, it’s terrible, except for the alternatives.

        Every day new self-published authors break out and hit the bestseller lists. Every. Day. They are making it. The sea of crap hasn’t hurt them. My point is that it’s always been there: 300K trad pubbed titles, many of which blow goats, became 600K including self-pubbed. So what? I’m a demonstrable example of someone who wasn’t hurt by it. I know more than a few other examples. Steven Konkoly. Melissa Foster. Colleen Hoover. Michael Wallace. Claude Bouchard. Jay Allen. Saxon Andrew. Joe Nobody. Elle Casey. Ed Robertson. I could go on and on.

        It’s always been hard to make it. It’s hard to make it now. Nothing’s changed except predictably regular blogs bemoaning the status quo or calling for gatekeepers to protect those precious, fragile readers, who seem quite capable of sorting through the dung heap and finding what they like without help.

        I think my example of web sites is appropriate. How is mine hurt by the thousands of new crappy ones coming into existence every day, and why should I care?

        • The point isn’t that it hurts everybody, but that it hurts somebody. To risk reiterating what I’ve already said, the comment is always, “Well, who even sees the bad books?” Uh, I do. When they spam me with emails. And that means I close the door to them, but also end up closing the door to good books that floated in on the tide. This isn’t JUST about bad books. It’s about the quality of one’s marketing, of one’s presentation, of one’s behavior.

          As you said elsewhere here: “I’ll share a story with your audience. I read with horror the ‘look inside’ of a self-pubbed star. Within the first five pages, there were remedial English mistakes that amounted to confusing their, there and they’re. I won’t mention the specific words used incorrectly – oh, hell, sure I will. Around page three someone shuttered with pleasure. Yes, shuddered was confounded with shuttered. And you know what? This author sells MILLIONS of ebooks. Wanna know why? Because the readership doesn’t care, and frankly, probably doesn’t know that the right word wasn’t used. The author is writing at a level the readership is comfortable with, which is to say a marginally literate level…and it sells huge.”

          My point is, that stuff isn’t really good for anybody except the person publishing it.

          You might be right, though. Maybe this doesn’t have an effect and won’t affect anyone going forward. Maybe the meritocracy works just fine as it is.

          But I think the effects are there will be only stronger as time goes on — I think every year going forward for the next few years we’re going to see a million new self-published books every year. And I think that’s going to make it very noisy. So, what I’m advocating to individual authors is that they attempt to offer more signal than they do noise.

          And if that convinces anyone — even one author — to say, “Hey, I can do better here,” so be it. Because that might be the thing that helps them find a bit more success. And it might be the thing that makes some readers happy, too. Win-win, as they say.

          — c.

          • I have no problem with your encouraging self-pubbed authors to up their game and deliver a pro, quality product. If you’ve ever read my posts or my blog, you’ll see exactly that counsel. One of my most popular blogs was “How To Sell A Load Of Books” – and its fundamental tenet is that authors should treat this like a business in every respect, and produce quality products if they want to do anything but fail. That blog is: http://russellblake.com/how-to-sell-loads-of-books/ and it more than adequately outline my position.

            I don’t disagree with that call to quality. I do disagree that the system, clunky as it is, needs fixing. I mean, sure, it would be super-duper awesome if it could be improved, but I’ve found that markets tend to reward good business practices and punish poor ones, so I’m confident that over time deficient approaches will flounder. Gatekeepers aren’t the answer. Policing one’s own work is. But you can’t force everyone to take the same approach. So you’ll get tremendous variation. Which is as it should be.

            Meanwhile, the book seems to be doing just fine. Thank God.

          • Here’s my thought, though — a lot of these systems eventually lock down independent content. We live in a country favorable to very large companies, and Amazon — while also being a great thing for authors of all publishing stripes right now — happens to be one of the biggest. So, what happens is, if we really do get to the point where we’re seeing a million new books every year and the bar for quality remains low, eventually someone’s going to clamp down. Because it’ll reach absurd levels of noise.

            Amazon already has little signs of changing how content gets favored there — hints of algorithm changes, quietly removing certain titles that don’t meet a particular standard, bonuses for KDP Select or variations of royalty and exclusivity in differing regions. Look at it this way: Amazon makes the most money, given what you’re saying, based off of books that are professionally-created or marketed. Right? It’s easy to say that their bread-and-butter is on self-published books, but that’s not precisely true — it’s on strong content, some of which happens to be indie releases. So, if they chose to institute standards to get ahead of being branded as a dumping ground for low-quality content, what would be the harm to them? They could use that as a marker of quality, and self-publishing remains an option and… you know, so it goes.

            I dunno.

            At the very least, the call to quality at least ideally — perhaps too ideally — helps to undercut any excuse to change the system based on the increasing spew that ends up in the system.

            I don’t honestly think you can *stop* this sort of thing, nor is it necessarily about fixing a broken system. But ideally, by collectively doing better, it might be possible to get ahead of any potential lockdowns that might occur. Maybe that’s paranoid thinking on my part, I dunno.

            As a sidenote, I talk to a lot of readers who won’t read self-published books if they can spot them. Which means an indie author has to camouflage themselves as something else — which, hey, okay — or they have to accept a limited audience and a limited way to get to that audience. And it’s fine to say, “Well, I sell a shitload of books and so do a lot of indie authors,” but then the thought is, what’s wrong with trying to sell even more?

            All this might be perfect world bullshit, but at the very least, it was an interesting thought exercise as to why the quality level affects somebody, as opposed to the myth which is that it doesn’t affect anybody. But shit, what do I know?

            Rambling comment, over.

  • As someone who has been trying to get a book out for a year, I’ve toyed with a lot of those points. But, I felt the need to do it “right” and that means spending the money for an editor, getting a proper cover, and producing something that I felt is a good story instead of belting out a 6-10k short story every week (as some communities seem to think is required to making a living).

    Frustrating though, because everyone is moving faster than you. And sitting on a mountain of growing costs for a book that isn’t even out is kind of scary.

    I agree with every point. 🙂 Though, I’d probably include the person who makes the cover in the list of credits in addition to the editor. More so if you get it commissioned (like I did).

  • I review books, and I got a self-published book to review, and…it was just so bad that I felt too embarrassed to review it. I didn’t actively hate it enough to give it a one-star rating; it was just that awful. I felt like a bad person for not reviewing it, since I paid barely anything for it, but still.

    I agree with everything in this post, but what I find most interesting is your theories about what might happen in the future. And the comparison of Amazon to the bargain basement of the Internet, which rings rather true to me. As a poor college student, this is what I and a lot of my peers like about Amazon, but there’s also the unfortunate association of that with bad quality. If the self-pubbed books are contributing to the impression of bad quality, that’s bad for everyone.

  • As an author, I self-published (one book so far, two beta readers and a paid-for editor).
    As a reader… I stick to reading classics, award winning trad-published books, and occasionally books that friends have recommended. I don’t even bother trying to search out new authors off my own back. And that worries me, because if that’s what I’m doing, as someone invested in self-publishing, then the number of readers actively looking for new authors must be very small.

    • I have this fear also. That’s the one thing that makes me most nervous about this whole writing business. Because I have no idea what sells books to other people — I only know what sells books to /me/:
      — Recommendations from friends I trust
      — A feeling that everyone I know is reading something
      — A particularly interesting blog post/article/whatever about the story that piques my interest
      — A cheap book that seems interesting when I have money in my hand (ie, used bookstore)

      That’s it. And even then, it can take me months or years to get around to reading a book that’s recommended to me. I hope to god that other readers aren’t like me, because if they are, no fucking wonder nobody makes a living doing this.

    • Glad to hear I’m not the only one. As I mentioned in Chuck’s other two posts on this subject, I feel like such a hypocrite. Can’t find a self-pubbed book that I sincerely love to save my life. Or, I guess I should say, to save my writing career.

      • Oh wait! There is one. I recommended it on the other post.

        But that’s it. One. And just one, out of all self-published books, feels so insignificant that it feels like none. Especially when compared to all the awful ones I’ve read.

        It’s so damn depressing.

          • All genres. Maybe my standards are too high. But it’s come to a point where I’ll read ANYTHING self-pubbed as long as it’s good.

            I couldn’t tell you how many samples I’ve put on my Kindle only to delete after a few pages or chapters or whatever it takes before my this-book-never-saw-an-editor radar goes off. Some free or 99 cent ones I’ve stuck with, praying it would pay off in some way because god, with 500 five-star reviews it HAS to be good! Wrong. It doesn’t.

            And okay, I’m up to two. WOOL is good. But that’s kind of a given.

            I still haven’t had time to check out all those recommended on Chuck’s post from the other day, so maybe I can find some stuff there.

            But based on how I’ve been finding self-pubbed books in the past (mostly through Amazon’s recommendations, I guess) it is a huge, glorious fail.

            But like I said, maybe it’s me.

  • I agree with you. The slush pile is published and readers tend to equate self-publishing with the lowest quality denominator. Indie writers are affected by that more than traditional published authors. I also at one time advocated for a $100 publishing fee on Amazon. For an Indie writer it’s money received in royalties in a week time, for the slush-pile it might turn to be a one-year long wait, if ever.

    The publishing industry is not divided in three, traditionally published authors, hybrid authors, and self-published, but in four, people forgets the largest of all category: the trash-publishing.

  • I don’t disagree that a new set of gatekeepers will emerge. However, the current set are downright awful. The standard of quality for traditional publishing is very low and quality is almost none of the real criteria for selection. The selectors, agents and editors, frequently espouse how they want to “fall in love” with a work. In other words, they want to have their personal buttons pushed. When one considers how intellectually monochromatic the pool of agents and editors is, it becomes evident that a significant body of promising work is being turned away by traditional publishing in favor of poorly designed trope fetishes.

    The quality gap is as much illusion as reality. Sure, the traditional books are cleaner, they go by many sets of eyes focused on those details before they’re published. A self-publisher doesn’t have the resources to keep up, which superficially makes mediocre traditional books look better than their self-published peers. If there were an actual evaluation of quality rather than a search for infatuation by a narrow group of people, then there might be little to be found in the ungated world of self-publishing.

    • “The standard of quality for traditional publishing is very low and quality is almost none of the real criteria for selection. The selectors, agents and editors, frequently espouse how they want to “fall in love” with a work. In other words, they want to have their personal buttons pushed. When one considers how intellectually monochromatic the pool of agents and editors is, it becomes evident that a significant body of promising work is being turned away by traditional publishing in favor of poorly designed trope fetishes.”

      What are you basing these statement on?

      I’ve been “traditionally published” and I like to think my work doesn’t qualify for such harsh words.

      Please state your source for these statements.

      Thank you.

      • There is nothing wrong with any specific traditionally published book. Many are very high quality. However the process by which they are chosen is not a search for quality. The agent slush pile is so deep that many are rejected for arbitrary reasons without a single word of the work being read (many agents just want a pitch) or judgement entirely on the first page of the book (most agents want small samples). I guarantee you that readers don’t tell all of their friends how awesome a new book is because they LOVED the first page. Certainly, books get rejected by readers in the first few pages, but not in a predictable way that is explainable beyond taste or complete boredom. The place where readers drop out because the book is a steaming pile is somewhere in the middle of the book, and most of their enthusiastic gushing comes after the book is done. Neither of these parts are considered in 99% + of submissions.

  • Chuck, I agree that ‘cheap books mean cheap books’. Price perception can be everything and indie novels, otherwise good, damn themselves with a 99c price point. Yet the authors don’t help themselves. I run a novel bursary scheme at Writers’ Village: http://www.writers-village.org/foundation It grants $800 awards to debut novelists. The submission rules are strict but simple. Yet four out of five submissions we’ve received to date have ignored the rules. What chance do these mavericks have of impressing an agent – or even of producing a readable self-published ebook?

    While amateurism rules the indie market – by definition – we’ll continue to be drowned by amateur books.

    • Exactly so. Amazon has created a wonderful thing: everyone can publish a book through them, and the process is simple. It has also created a dreadful monster: everyone can publish a book through them, and the process is simple.

      This is what I call the trash-publishing. Jolt down words on a Word document. Write “The End”, and upload the file to KDP. Yay, I’m an author… NOT.

    • Sadly this inability to read submission guidelines permeates everything from indie publishing all the way up to the Big Six. I edited two SF/F ezines for several years, and gained a full appreciation of the use of the word “slush”. I cannot even begin to imagine how most authors thought their work matched up against our guidelines in the slightest – we received romance, historical fiction, contemporary drama, and one article on maintaining tropical aquaria. If authors cannot read, how are we supposed to believe that they can write?

      It’s rude and it’s unprofessional. What an author is saying to someone whose submission guidelines they ignore is “Your time is worthless to me. I am a special snowflake. I have shotgunned this out to five hundred addresses and I don’t give a shit whether I waste five thousand minutes of the time of strangers just so long as one of you gives me money.”

      And the ultimate result is the burnout of the people who started indie publishing houses or websites out of love and passion for new work.

        • Yes and no. Yes, because if the writer can’t read, then your problem is already solved. But no because it takes hours upon hours of valuable time to wade through a slush pile to find material that fits your brief, let alone you actually want to publish.

          • Agents have dedicated interns and readers to do that for them. They only receive what passes the initial filters. And yes, this means that an author who fails to follow guidelines will never be read by any agent, ever.

          • True, but you are thinking big. There are thousands of small presses, magazines, and other outlets out there who are one or two-person operations, and which are run diligently out of love.

            When that’s the kind of outlet you’re running, wading through the slush pile is something the editors have to do themselves.

          • Good point, but then those agents would—maybe—do better with searching actively Indie writers online rather than waiting for one out of 1000 slush query ( if even ) to wade through all obstacles and onto their desks.

            With digital (r)evolution, Indie writers are like athletes, performing in the big arena, in front of a massive audience. As far as I know, sports scouts do go watch the authors perform in the stadium rather than waiting for those same athletes to run 40-yards dashes in their backyard 😉

          • Hi Massimo 🙂

            I think the problem inherent in this solution is that the only Indie books which rise to the top in such a fashion are the best-selling ones, not necessarily the best ones. Those which sell enough and are talked about enough to get picked up and traditionally published are books such as 50 Shades of Grey. I hope that even E. L. James wouldn’t claim that those books are masterpieces of the wordsmith’s craft, but they had such a vast audience willing to be word-of-mouth ambassadors that it was a no-risk proposition.

          • Well, you have a point but if the agent only were to look at books that sell close to million ( or more ) s/he would only find 50 shades of shame 🙂

            I guess they need and have the interest to develop data analytics on Amazon reports to discover more than just shades 🙂

  • As a self-publishing author I… don’t find this post at all harsh. After all the warnings, it was very reasonable, and as well thought-through as your other posts, Chuck.

    I think that the outlined solutions, while good, are doomed to failure for the very same reason that we have a shit-volcano to begin with. The authors who need to hear it the most are the ones who will listen the least, and will continue to pour full-throttle silage into KDP and Smashwords.

    You could argue that, as this particular pen-name is an erotica writer, I contribute to the silage. There is a perception that erotica is a hack genre written by talentless keyboard-mashers, and I would be lying if I claimed never to have seen such a thing. But I also self-publish horror stories and non-fiction work, and it’s somewhat akin to pissing into the wind. Still, I like being my own boss, and I like having my work go from edited to published in a few days rather than two years.

    The market does seem to self-regulate quite well, and in the end perhaps that is what will crowbar poor writing out of self-publishing – or minimise it to Snooki levels, at least.

  • ‘The number of readers looking for new authors must be very small,’ says Susie. A good point, yet denied by the many providers of services, who claim the reverse. At least I am looking for new authors at the moment. I am promoting what I hope will be excellence in The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction on http://www.quaggabooks.net

  • I was tempted to self publish until I read an author that comes into my library. She writes kids books she THINKS they should be reading. I didn’t even make it through a chapter. No editing. Run on sentences and a back of the book summary that made me tired just reading it. I’m going to try to get an agent no matter how long it takes. I’ve done at least 5 or 6 revisions to my book. I’d be surprised if she’s done one.

  • Hi. I understand that you’re looking for high quality indy books. May I recommend my two collections of children’s fairy tales, Dragons and Dreams, and Fairies and Fireflies? they are as professional as I could make them, with professional edits and covers. On February 7, my illustrated book, The Snarls will be coming out, and when it’s available in paper it will have been professionally formatted.

    If you would like to review any of my books, I would be delighted to send you electronic copies in either mobi or epub.

  • There’s a lot of truth in what you say – though I didn’t read all of it. Life is short, your post is very, very long.

    But I know from personal experience just how difficult it is to sell a well-written, typo-free, well-formatted novel. It must be way harder to sell a bad quality book. Many indie books have no ranking because their sales are few/non-existent. Others rank at half a million or below. Those books aren’t getting in anyone’s way, surely?

    • Lexi, they get in the way because they create in readers the perception that THEY are the standard of Indie writers’ quality. If you have to dig through 6 feet of bud in order to find a good book, after a while you might simply give up and stop giving another Indie writer a chance. 😉

        • The sample might be biased by the fact that those readers who are vocal are the ones who despise Indie work, but the odds to find a bad book in Amazon are high enough to reinforce their point of view that the self-publishing quality equates the value of the publishers’ rejected slush pile. Exceptions abound, but perception—for these readers—is reality.

          I do believe, though, that a good book will always emerge in the end and the author find a readership. For some it will happen in months, for others in a year or so but will happen.

          But those readers who got burned, will not give other Indie writers a chance unless they receive a great amount of peer pressure. Hard to see it happen.

      • But Massimo, if those books are down in Amazon’s cobwebby basements where light never penetrates, readers simply don’t come across them. They won’t appear on any charts. They won’t be in other books’ Also-boughts. Amazon’s recommendation engines won’t be recommending them. They are effectively invisible.

        I’ve only come across such books when checking if a title has already been used.

  • I’ve read a ton of self pubbed stuff over the last few years.

    It’s gotten to the point where if I don’t know the author from already reading, and if I don’t have strong recommendations from authors I know and follow and like reading, once I realize it’s self pubbed, I’m unlikely to read it. I’ve had more than one instance where I’ve started a book, gotten a few pages in and went “this is crap”, stopped, deleted it, and made a note to never read anything by that author again.

    I’ve read some incredible self pubbed work as well. But for most of those, it’s real obvious that they paid for art, they paid for an editor that is worth a damn, and they cleaned up the typos and missing words. They’ve put the time and money to polish it into a final draft.

    I know too many people that have finished a draft and just gone “well it looks good, time to publish!” And the lack of polish shows. Good writing requires polishing. Traditional or self published. Traditional can suck as well, but these days, I can still say “this guy was published by someone, so it got a little care” and assume that it probably won’t be throw it away bad in the first few pages if it’s in a genre I like and has reasonable reviews and such. Self pub often means I’m looking at something that fails the professional polish test on the cover alone. That’s a barrier to me going any further.

    Like Chuck has said a lot, put the time in to not just write it, but to shine it up and polish it until it’s gone from crapped out to golden.

    • Bogo, I think you’ve just described the difference between Indie and trash, self-publishing and trash-publishing. A writer who cares about his reader and about his work will always invest in cover art work, have beta-readers, and pay for proofreading and editing services before publishing. Those are the writers, the rest are file uploaders into the Amazon KDP system.

  • Agreed on it all. Those of us who self-publish need to hold ourselves to a high standard and quit with the band of brothers thinking as well as the excuses. Readers aren’t out to get us. Reviewers aren’t out to get us. Amazon isn’t out to get us. Nobody cares that we can’t afford an editor, cover artist, or a computer to type it all on.

    Bottom line is this: we’re selling a product for money. People expect quality for their dollar. If they don’t get that quality, then they shall take those dollars elsewhere and tell their friends. What self publishing represents is an opportunity. What is also represents is a long rope with which we can hang ourselves if we do things stupidly.

  • I think it’s all pretty simple Chuck. If one can’t have their book edited they have not completed their book if they are offering it to the public to buy. It is only a partial product, an unfinished product. Incomplete.

    • Agreed. They shouldn’t be up for sale. At best, they are the first draft of a manuscript that needs multiple passes before being published. Readers are not beta-readers, nor proofreaders, and they should not need to do their own line editing and copy editing in their head to understand what they’re reading (and paid! )

  • I know I shouldn’t make the snarky comment here, but I think it’s telling that the guy who wrote THE BLUE BLAZES imagines a publishing world with self-publishing as a vast mysterious underground. I don’t know if that makes me a goblin. I hope it makes me a demon, or at least maybe a satyr.

    I understand the concern, but, you know, I am only responsible for me and my product and the care and the craft I take in putting it out on the market. I can’t do anything about the other fellow. All I can do is my best, and hope that there’s an audience out there for it.

  • I am a hybrid author that also has worked as a Senior Editor, in the production of on line courses and encyclopaedia articles. All of your comments are accurate and should be repeated until the message is accepted: there is nothing wrong with independently published authors, but it is imperative that we all agree to a set of standards in what is published. For those who do not accept that basic standard for quality it may have to be imposed for the good of the industry.

    I have talked to many who said they just wanted to produce a book for themselves or their family, which is fine, but do not set it up on Amazon for others to see. Us the Print On Demand services in your city and produce a book just for those you want to see it.

    Books have come to me or review that were so lacking that the authors received an out line about what needed to bring their work up to the basic level to begin the editorial process. Unfortunately, some of these works were published without the basics in place.

    As a author of traditionally published books, there is a major difference between the access these books have and my independently published works. With so many obstacles faced by self publishing authors, it is imperative to present readers with the highest quality works to be successful.

  • It’s ironic that as an editor and traditionally published author arguing for basic editorial standards, your post is riddled with errors. “on line” “or review” “out line” “what needed” “self publishing authors”

    Perhaps there should be minimum standards for those posting their opinions on minimum standards?

    • Is it just me or has Ellen perfectly proven Chuck’s point?

      It’s a blog. It’s casual. We all have typos in our forum posts, comments, product reviews. We can’t hire a proofreader every time we make a casual post on the internet just like we can’t hire a speech writer every time we have a conversation with a neighbor.

      Publishing is not casual. Some people believe it should be. And others feel that opinion is dangerous to self-publishing.

      I really don’t understand how this isn’t clear.

  • Still reading through the comments, so maybe this was already answered, but how do we tell our neighbors, “Hey, mow your yard, wouldja?”

    Chuck, do you have any thoughts on what the etiquette is for this? Do I – as a voracious reader and self-pubbed author – contact the author with some feedback? Or do we subject the author to some brutally honest one-star reviews on Amazon?

    One of the most important experiences I’ve had as a writer was reading short story submissions for a small literary magazine. 80% of submissions were ho-hum. 15% of submissions were just god-awful and maybe, maybe 5% were fantastic and worthy of including in our humble publication. And after reading that number of submissions, it feels like my brain has been stabbed with an ice pick. I can’t imagine what reviewers of self-pubbed books go through.

    • I, being the nasty person that I am, have no trouble leaving one-star reviews on books (or other products.) In fact, *that* is where I think the proper position of the “gatekeeper” lies – letting authors know that they have failed, rather than making them prove they can succeed in several different ways before we even let them have a shot.

      I would say it depends on the issue, though. If you felt the book had some significant flaw but was otherwise promising, you might be nice and try to email them or something. If it’s a poop-bomb launched into the air by the shit volcano and unsuspecting citizens are in danger of being struck by it and devoured by flaming e. coli, then by all means, publish a general warning in the form of a one-star review.

  • A couple established authors who are now loud proponents of indie publishing have been trumpeting how editors ruined their work. This does not help anyone. I stopped reading that couple’s blogs because of that. “Don’t over-edit it! Editing ruins the freshness of the work!” Great advice for writers who over-edit and never share anything because it’s “never finished” but awful advice for inexperienced writers who use it as a bludgeon to fend off any form of criticism.
    Submitting work that you have not edited until it is razor sharp, or publishing work that has not been edited by an honest, experienced editor is like showing off your house with a clogged toilet and dirty underwear strewn all over the living room. It’s like going on a date without showering, because hey, this is how I am! how come stuck-up people hate me! I’m just bein’ me!
    I’ve read big and small press books that were less polished than they should be, but nowhere near as many as the self-published books that begin with that lazy first chapter that’s written before you really know what the story is, and don’t know the character’s voice and drive, that the writer never went back and rewrote, and they’re just going on and on and on about this character’s boring-ass life! Because “hey, it gets real good if you stick with it.” Yeah, that’s like eating a burrito where the end has poo in it and the good stuff’s in the middle. YOU EAT IT, I’m gonna get the burrito where the chef didn’t put any poo in it.
    Stop selling poo burritos. It makes it hard to sell kamikaze death tacos because everyone remembers the poo burrito they got from the truck last week.

  • Good post, as always.

    There has to be a standard of quality. Every time someone throws a big flaming poo ball into the mix it just taints the perceptions of those who might have bought those books and now won’t pick up another self-pubbed book for fear of getting burned…and…poo on their fingers. It brings down the chances of those who have legitimately good works out there of ever being seen as those burned readers shy away from anything self-pubbed. And that hurts all self-pubbed authors.

    This is both a good post and a frightening one for me as I’ve been seriously considering going the self-pub route with one of my works, even though I’ve been burned with those flaming poo balls a number of times myself. I just want the control on it and the place it’s with now (I haven’t signed the contract) will give me none. I’ve shown some of the contract points to a mid-list author friend I know and she said she’d never sign one that was that bad. I gave up my novella (sold my soul, maybe?), but I just want more for this novel and I think I could make it happen. I’ve talked to a number of the authors pubbed there and even though they ask for the kitchen sink in the contract, they never do anything with those rights.

    Anyway, I’m rambling and maybe venting a little on my own situation. My point is that it behooves me to make sure what I put out will be the best I can make it. Especially the way the market is now. I don’t know an editor, but I do know a number of beta readers who are knowledgeable (and a couple high school English teachers) who would give it a good run through. I also know some pretty fine illustrators and graphic artists locally.

    I’m gonna look up that Awesome Indies site you linked now.

  • Wow. All this talk of channels of discovery is almost enough to make me want to query agents. Not quite, but almost.

    Agreed on most points again. I wish that (as someone else said) proper grammar/spelling and competent storytelling were a baseline rather than a selling point in author-publishing, and it pisses me off that the channels that are available to me might be getting clogged up. But for now I’m staying out of other people’s business. I’m just going to tend my own yard, treat this thing like the major-league shit that it is, do it right, and try to claw my way up from the sewers like the glorious ninja turtle that I am.

  • I’m an SFF reviewer. A couple of weeks ago I opened our submissions inbox, picked the ten newest submissions (all self-published), and determined whether I would request the book or pass on it. I tweeted about each one using #TenQueries that a number of agents are currently using.

    There were three main reasons I passed on most of the books, poor quality prose, confusing synopsis, and did not follow the submission guidelines. These three attributes are all related to quality, and while a poor synopsis does not mean that the book will be bad, it has proven to be a pretty reliable indicator. I dont have time to read 100 books per month, I barely have time to read 100 submissions per month, so any submission that has poor prose, a poor synopsis, or did not follow the submission guidelines, I will almost always pass on.

    Here is the collection of my tweets if anyone is interested – http://storify.com/RyanJLawler/ten-queries-reviewer-style

      • I wonder why….Hmm?

        But really, what do you think? Agents have their own agenda just like everyone else. Be informed and do what’s you believe to be in your best interest.

        • The two agents I had a chat with at the conference (and attended their Q&A with other writers, too) lamented the same lack of attention in the queries. Many writers spendi too much time talking about how inspirational the story was (for the author, ok, so what), or forget to add those ‘little’ details such as genre and number of words, or even query children lit to agents looking for horror; those things that become material for jokes among agents.

          Why it happens? No idea, you have more experience than I. And yes, agents have their agenda, too. For an Indie writer, though, (and we heard of agenting horror stories at the conference) is not a must-have, right-away. I have my readers, I sell every day, and I might be in a better position with an agent or a publisher much later than an author who doesn’t consider self-publishing. Or it might never happen, who knows.

          Indie writers are like athletes. They perform in the big arena, have their followers and fan, scouts go watching them performing and might pick one out of the many and make an offer. In the future agents will have much less queries to wade through and do search online more efficiently.

        • Well yeah, their agenda is that they want to make money, and they do that by taking on the books they think they can sell in a traditional market space. If they dont sell books, they dont make money and they go out of business. I’m not in it for the money, but I value my time and the time of my audience, so I try to avoid reading books that I think are going to be a waste of my time and my audience’s time.

          Its funny, just a little polish and getting a second or third set of eyes to go over your work can make a huge difference. Submission guidelines are the easiest thing to get right. And it takes little to no effort to get right. If you are serious, you will submit in accordance with submission guidelines. A good synopsis and good prose is more difficult, assessment of this is subjective and what is good for one person might be blergh to another person, but the least you can do is make sure it is error free to the best of your knowledge.

          If you choose to self publish, the hard work doesnt stop when you finish the book and submit it to publication. If you are interested in selling your book, you have to put the same amount of care and effort into marketing it. Until you get people starting to vouch for the quality of your book, the way in which you present yourself will inform the assumptions I make about your book, whether they are right or not.

          • Indeed, and if the motivation is primarily money, then they will praise 50 shades in all its grays 😉

            I never found submissions difficult and I usually receive nice personal replies from the few agents I might decide to send a query to. Occasionally, as a referral from another author, or some other fortuitous timelines combinations.

            The last time, I contacted an agent at Talcott Notch, and Gina Panettieri, the President , liked the material I sent and decided to reply personally after a few days. She said they’re “shying away from handling too much post-apocalyptic material right now because it’s become a crowded shelf and is a more difficult placement.” Would you agree?

            She concluded with “Naturally, this is only my own opinion and another agent may feel quite differently, so I urge you to query others with the work. Thank you, again, and I wish you every success.”

            I might do in a month or two. I’m in no hurry.

      • Thanks. The lack of attention to detail is what leads to me making assumptions about the quality of the book. And I have to make those assumptions, because I dont have time to read through everything. This is my hobby, I have a full time job and I’m trying to complete grad school. People need to get the basic stuff right if they want to make sure they are given fair consideration. It is not too much to ask.

  • I agree, quality is important and I believe that to be the frame around which this post is written even though I believe many of your pillars are built on shaky ground.

    I read a lot of science fiction, military fiction, and thrillers. I usually find books thru my Kindle Fire, more specifically typing what I want into the search bar, seeing what pops up, downloading a sample and from there it gets a yay or nay. I very rarely ask for outside opinions because I know what I like but I am open to suggestions.

    I’m sure there are a metric ton of books of not very good books on Amazon. But as I type this, of all the books I read in the past 12 months there we’re four (three that I didn’t finish and one that bought my masochistic streak to the surface) that I didn’t think we’re worthy of my time.

    Some of the authors and books that I’ve discovered are Sara King–Forging Zero & Zero Recall; Marko Kloos–Terms of Enlistment & Lines of Departure, Hugh Howey–Wool, Christopher J Lynch– One Eyed Jack & Russian Roulette; Michael C. Grumley–Breakthrough; Isaac Hooke–Atlas; Michael Zarocostas–Plummet; Michael Wallace–The Wolves of Paris.

    These are many more that I’m not going to list. I’m just glad that I can find the books that I want to read and I’m glad that indies have been given a shot. Those that create a professional product and a compelling story will do well (in fact some that don’t will also do well).

    I know some actively seek out trad pub over indie. I actively seek out a good story and more importantly the type of story I want to read and in my world the indies have been winning.

    There is crap. There has always been crap. There will always will be crap. The good stuff still finds its way in the market. It’s as true for books as it is for almost everything else. I don’t need a walled off section. Thank you, but I can manage on my own.

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