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

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

Shorter still: a rising tide lifts all boats.

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

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

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

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

He says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that, to me, is writing.

That, to me, is storytelling.

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

Point is, we can write, write, write.

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

You have permission to suck.

For free.

Free, there, is key.

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

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

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

That’s the culture I’m talking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not advocating new gatekeepers or new barriers.

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

This is true in all forms of publishing.

Said it before, will say it again:

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

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

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

251 responses to “Follow-Up On Self-Publishing: Readers Are Not Good Gatekeepers”

  1. I also want to add:

    Writing a book is hard work. So is building a house. But if my house falls down around my ears, I’m not going to say, “Oh, well, that’s okay – you should just be proud that you built a whole house.” I’m going to say, “That house should not have been on the market.”

    A bad book poses no physical threat and is much less of a financial loss, but either way, no one is happy paying for a shoddy product, no matter how difficult it was to produce.

    Writing a book is a major achievement, and anyone who finishes a novel SHOULD be proud. But that doesn’t mean the book should be published.

  2. All the self published books I have read except two or three have been the sort of awful that made me feel like I had woke up in the movie Idiocracy. “The #1 movie in America was called ‘Ass.’ And that’s all it was for 90 minutes. It won eight Oscars that year, including best screenplay.”

    So, yes. I stay away from SP books for the most part. If someone I don’t know asks me to read one, I’m not going to. It’s illegal to stab anyone… even with a fountain pen.

    Celebrate creativity. Go ahead and dance like no one is watching, just don’t do it outside, naked, in the park, where everyone is watching…

  3. But again, here’s the difference: they were revising as they went along. Not a single one of them went out, bought a camera and said, “okay, now I’m going to make a movie on the spot.” They wrote a script (or wrote a treatment or an outline and then a script), then they went back and revised that script, then they put together a cast and crew, probably did a reading which could also have lead to more revisions, and then while filming other things could have come up—one take may have had an actor ad-libbing something that the director loved, another take maybe the director tried something different just to see how it might work. And then in the editing room, they looked at all the footage, looked at the different takes and chose the ones that worked best. And then again, they could have gone back to the editing room after test screenings.

    No, they weren’t experts. But they were constantly going back to that work and revising and reworking it. That’s all Chuck seems to be suggesting, that you need to put your work through the wringer, that you need to shape it into the best work it can be.

    No, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Yes, there is a point when you can no longer improve it (and Chuck has said as much in his books about writing). But the point is you go through those steps. That’s all Chuck is arguing for, writers treating their work seriously and professionally.

  4. My daughter was a straight D student, with the occasional F thrown in for good measure. Year after year. The kid was, at least, consistent. She was held back in Pre-K! Did I pat her on the back and tell her great job! Yes. I also told her “Let’s bring it up. I believe in you and I know you can do better.” But each year we’d stare at those dreaded Ds and cry. Why? Because we both knew she had it in her as long as the passion to keep trying was there. If it killed us both, she would succeed and become the very best product we could produce together, learning disability or not. She was held back in third grade. Instead of telling her she’d flunked, I encouraged and uplifted her with the knowledge that, while other kids struggled in fourth grade, she was getting a second chance to get better. I wasn’t awarding her failure (no I never considered it as such), but I was letting her know it was ok to try, try again until she got it right. She passed and again breezed along, but on Cs, for the next few years. Progress! Still, we kept on. I knew she could do better. So did she because we never gave up on her. One day she’d be ready to take on the world. We kept working on her abilities each year, making her stronger as a person. In her senior year she got pregnant. I was worried she wouldn’t finish school when serious health issues cropped up. I’ll be damned if that child didn’t get married, sign herself into the continuation education program offered at her school and go on to graduate with As and Bs- three months after a difficult delivery of a beautiful baby girl!

    That child is my inspiration for my writing today. She didn’t give up creating and recreating herself…for thirteen years. She pushed on until she could set herself free in the world as the very best product she could be. She didn’t give up in Pre-K, third grade, or even twelfth grade when times got tough, and say “The hell with this hard ass work to be great! The world can take me as I am, half-assed or not, or go to hell!” No, she’s not a rocket scientist today. She’s a parent of two lovely daughters. But she encourages them to be the best they can be at everything they do. She’s a rocket mother.

    We all refer to our books as our ‘babies’ being prepared to be turned out into the big bad world without us. If I’d turned my back on my daughter as a rough draft and said that’s good enough, the world will like her or they can jump in a deep lake with cement shoes on if they don’t. I gave birth, my job’s done. Where would my baby be today? In a ditch somewhere with the dregs of society, most likely. Why did I keep fighting to help her get it right? I take pride in my work, be it my children or my writing.

    It’s really just that simple.

    I wouldn’t let my kids out without making sure they were clean and groomed, spit shined. Polished, socialized and presentable to everyone they would meet. Would you? Why would I (or you) put a book out there like that? Free or for charge. Mediocre? That’s not a word we acknowledge in my house. No matter the cost. She’s not perfect. There’s no such thing.

    But, it takes more to write a good, or great, book than ‘giving birth’ and then tossing it into a ditch to fend for itself. We can’t get mad at others if they don’t like our babies if that’s all the care we give to them ourselves. If we don’t give a damn, why would we expect others to? If it’s not quite publish-ready, or you think it is, but aren’t sure, post it as a freebie on a blog and get feedback. Free of charge. It’s easy to do with no hoops to jump through (as was mentioned about Amazon). So it doesn’t have a cover, produce a pdf, with cover, and set up a download media link on the blog for those who want it…free.
    Don’t be afraid to take the time, no matter how many years it takes, to make your baby ready. Why risk the 1 star reviews or negatives to you, and therefore other self published or trade writers (whichever route you prefer, not that one influences the other), when there’s no need to? Why risk conversations like this one when there’s such an easy fix? Do your homework, study the craft, LEARN AND APPLY said craft, let others read it. Then publish it. It doesn’t cost a thing to get it really right.

    I don’t understand what the big deal is. There is so much free, and not free, material out there to learn from. People willing to help at any stage– free of charge. Someone said something about all the internet availability out there to get noticed in, but there’s even more out there to learn from first. Someone else said they wished there were as many venues to learn their craft as there is to hawk it… There IS! I can’t tell you how many blogs I read, or reputable craft books I’ve gotten on Amazon FREE, for traditional and self publishing. Take advantage of it.

    You wouldn’t take on a job without learning how; art, movies, music, all those others, yet people do it with writing every day- and then get their panties in a wad when someone, anyone, says anything negative about their sub-par creation. There’s NO need for it. The same goes for those going the trade or epublisher route. Learn, learn, learn and read, read, read, then apply. I wouldn’t want to live without betas! They are gold in my opinion. Pure gold!
    The only reason I can see that someone wouldn’t want to make their work as clean and polished as possible, with all the free opportunities out there to do so, is that they don’t have a true passion for their work. They don’t live, breathe, eat AND sleep writing and the business. If that’s the case, maybe they shouldn’t be publishing, much less expecting consumers to pay for their self-satisfying hobby. Yes, there’s a difference.

    Writing is a multibillion dollar business. Period.

    One of the things I LOVE about writers as a whole–yes, including many self published authors, GASP!– is how helpful they are to one another. How eager they all are to see one another succeed. Writing is THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD as far as I’m concerned! Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t get this rivalry. Aren’t we all on the same side? Don’t we all want the same thing; success for each other? Then it behooves us all to produce our very best in each and every book we write, no matter the word length, or how we choose to publish! Whether everyone realizes it or not–we all benefit from the others. As writers we are probably 95% of the consumers and supporters we all strive to please in readers. We are also 99% of the system that promotes us. Like it or not. I can’t tell you how many self published authors I promote daily, either on my blog, FB, Triberr or Twitter. Frankly, I don’t care how many. I don’t keep score. I promote writers, not trade or sp authors. WRITERS. Embrace the community-ism that is this crazy world of writing to climb the success ladder together. Use that. But don’t forget to pay it forward as you go.

    Have a nice day. 🙂
    (sorry for the long post 🙁 )

  5. I don’t hire and pay a plumber unless he/she is qualified and certified (same goes for any tradesman/woman.) I expect the teachers at my kids school to be fully qualified because I pay for it (and so will my kids if they don’t get a good education – the purpose of schooling is to learn and this wouldn’t happen if the teachers didn’t know what they’re doing). I didn’t just one day roll over and think to myself ‘I’m going to be swimming teacher’ and hi off to the nearest pool and begin teaching – I payed for a did an accredited course and then put in the requisite training hours before I was ever put in charge of teaching people to swim. And I certainly didn’t think my first novel attempt was anywhere near publishing standard and would never have dreamed of publishing it and expecting people to pay for it. I had to put in the hard yards and learn my craft – something I’m still doing and will continue to do.
    I hate the idea that there are people out there who think it’s okay to do just this – just becuase you wrote it doesn’t mean it’s gold. It’s just gold covered shit (the gold coming from those rosie-gold coloured glasses you’re wearing) that needs a stern looking at by yourself and an ability to take on criticism by others and listen and make an effort at improving.
    I know there are people out there who don’t think this way – they can’t see the crap for the gold – because I run writing competitions and see the responses of people who are outraged a judge didn’t think their work was fabulous – and these people at least have gone to the effort to enter a comp to get feedback. I know some of these people have decided that they know best and have published their work. Kudos to them for the balls of such a move, but not something I would do. And not something I’d want to read. And certainly not something I’d want to pay for to read. My reading time is precious – and I don’t want to spend it reading somebody else’s crap. If they haven’t bothered to make the effort, then why should I?
    I have tried many SP novels since getting my iPad and unless one is now recommended to me by someone I trust, I won’t be downloading or paying for anymore. I won’t even download them for free.
    A little bit of professionalism is not too much to ask for I don’t think.

  6. Love both blog pieces. I completely agree with you Chuck.

    Here is one word that isn’t used enough by most indies. Sacrifice.

    I understand that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a lot of money to spend on professional covers, editing etc. Guess what. You are running a business. At the beginning, a very small and fragile one. There is an old saying, which you all know – spend money to make money. Every single business has to do this at some point, if they want to succeed anyway. If you don’t, you wont. You may get lucky. Good for who. Who the hell runs a business on luck?

    Let’s talk about sacrifice.

    I see people every day arguing they can’t afford this or that. Yet I read their social media and they are talking about the dinner they just went out on, or the movie they just saw, or the new game they just purchased.

    That money could have paid for a cover (some decent pre-mades go for 30 bucks, top quality covers from some places can be between 150-300). You can’t accord an editor? I just saw I professional editor with a quality body of work behind him, charging a penny a word. If you have a 25,000 word novella that is about a hundred bucks. He wont get everything, but don’t tell me you can’t afford to save a hundred bucks to put your product in better light.

    It’s excuses. It’s lowering the definition of success due to a fear of failure or unwillingness to spend money in case nobody buys your book.

    Pay for promo. Pay for a cover. Pay for editing. Save up and sacrifice on other things in your life that are not necessary. If you are really serious about being an indie publisher that sells books, then you are running a business. Just do it.

    Just as a p.s. I halved my salary and cost myself at least 50,000 dollars in the past year to set up, build and run a successful business. I’ve been building connections. Learning. Writing and putting together a viable business and product that puts me in good stead. Most people can’t do that. I did, so if I can sacrifice that much money for the 10-20-30 year plan of my business, then you can go without steak for a month or two.

    Just my two cents. Keep it up Chuck.

  7. I finished the first draft of first novel last March. On target. I’d hit my word count each week and I was ecstatic. It was a great achievement. 107,000 words and, on reading it back, it was actually pretty good.

    I’m very proud.

    Have I published it yet? No.

    I have written several drafts, taking on board different beta readers’ feedback. Polishing. Improving.

    Now, and only now, when I am sure it is good enough to possibly get a traditional publishing deal (yes, those damn gatekeepers!) am I trying to get it published. In the first instance I am sending it to agents, but I have the fallback plan to self-publish if that doesn’t pan out.

    But my point is that I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing until it was good enough to send to a literary agent with a chance (at least I think I have a chance) of actually securing a deal.

    I agree with Chuck and many others on here that we do not need gatekeepers in the self-publishing community, but we DO need some more quality control.

    Lots of the books that are being self-published are atrocious (though I think the term should more accurately be “self-printed”, as the process does not have any of the rigour of the publishing industry forced upon it). And, as others have said, are actively putting people off reading more books that could have been great with a couple more private iterations.

    Incidentally, I am also in a rock band that plays in bars, and we rehearse hard and for a long time to put on a great show. I sometimes see other bands with singers reading the lyrics from music stands, or musicians who are half lost in some songs, and I despair of them. Their mediocrity tars all bar bands with the same brush in the minds of the punters.

    It is the same with self-publishing. A minimum standard and best practices would help everyone in the long term.

  8. I think I see a theme emerging from those that are fighting the concept of “don’t put it out till it your best effort” meaning getting help with critiques from a credible person, whether it’s another established writer or an editor — someone that actually understands the rules of grammar and story structure. That theme is their inablility to take critique. They don’t like it when someone tells them that there are shortcomings with their writing, and they don’t like it when people tell them they should hold off on publishing their book. They know best how their book should be written, and they don’t need our interference in publishing their gem. There will be little change, if any, with people that are transmit only. Like most things in life, if you really want to get good at something you need to put ego aside and listen to people that know more than you do. Take the lessons to heart and try to employ them. Iteration does make one better, but only if you learn from your mistakes.

  9. I have a book which my agent liked, but publishers never bought. It got a lot of the classic, ‘We like this but we can’t see how to market it.’ Well, other books *did* sell to publishers since. I still like that first book, and I’m now considering self-publishing it. Because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with self-publishing, just with the attitude that it’s all fabulous, even when it isn’t.
    Before that book gets anywhere near a public platform I am going to go through and edit the arse off it. My agent thought it was good enough to send to publishers, but that was then. It needs updating, and I’ve learned things through the course of writing several more books. I think that I can make it better. I’m then going to get it edited by someone else, and learn how to format it, and get it the best cover I can afford. Because it’s going to have my name on it and I’m damned if I’m going to put out anything less than the best I can do. And I feel the same about the books that are with my publisher – I’m not putting anything out there if it isn’t as good as I can get it, because why the hell would you put that millstone around your own neck? Why would you want your professional name associated with something that looked and felt just thrown together?
    Also, as a lifelong and obsessive reader, I am deeply insulted by the idea that someone would expect me to wade through a first draft in order to provide them with a learning experience. I do that for my critique group and for friends, *because we have that agreement.* If you’re a writer I’ve never encountered before, expecting me to pay for your work, I do not have that agreement with you. You’re asking me to waste time and money I can’t spare on something you couldn’t be bothered to polish.
    There are people whose job it is to watch you and praise you while you learn. They’re called parents, not readers.

  10. Are there self-pub collectives out there yet? Organized groups? Seal-of-Approvals? We-all-use-professional-editors-so-you-can-trust-the-qualityof-our-work kinda thing?

    • Yes – Book View Cafe is one. It’s got some very well known authors who are frustrated with traditional publishing models involved.

  11. So you pick the most expensive, oldest, most certified plumber, right? You don’t shop around to save a buck? You demand all the soldered welds to be PERFECT, and that no buttcrack peeks out at you because your plumber is also a decathalete sculpted on Olympus?

    Why is everyone so anti-mediocre? B Movies are awesome. McDonald’s is a huge corporation that didn’t make its fortune selling 5 course meals prepared by French Chefs and Walmart sells plenty of bargain clothes, not Haute Coture.

    A Mediocre-hungry market exists. If some of us indie authors want to cater to it, stop trying to convince us and our target audience we suck. Let us revel in our mediocrity and you can go back to your boring Shakespeare and Oprah’s Book Club.

    • If you’re talking about pulp, the hardworking pulp authors I know would likely be offended to hear everything that isn’t high culture equated with mediocrity.

      And McDonald’s doesn’t serve five-course meals, but neither do they serve undercooked burgers.

      I don’t think the analogy you’re using fits. There’s fast food done well and there’s fast food done badly. There are five-course meals done well and there are five-course meals done badly. There are professionally-written snooty literary novels and snooty literary novels that need a lot more work, and ditto for trashy airport novels.

    • A couple weeks ago, my TWELVE YEAR OLD complained to me about a book she found unreadable due to spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. She giggled as she told me the author needed to go back to elementary school. Do you honestly think my twelve year old, who loves J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Brandon Mull, and Dean Koontz wants Shakespeare and Oprah’s Book Club, or does she perhaps simply want someone who has read their own book, looking for errors, and had someone else do the same? Twelve years old. Let that sink in.

    • As someone who writes pulp fiction, I am indeed offended by the “mediocre” tag. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

      Once again, you’re confusing the quality of the package with the quality of the story and saying that they’re the same thing. Now while my work isn’t high-minded literary fiction, it is still put together in a good package.

      This is not about whether the story is good or bad, literary or not. This is about whether or not the self-pubbed author took the time to fix the mistakes in that story. Why is this so difficult to understand?

  12. I couldn’t read to the end of herself’s article. Talk about unsupported drivel that goes on and on.
    I agree with you, Chuck. We need to get better. Lest the dimming stigma of self publishing shine an I-told-you-so light upon itself.
    Self publishing is full of poorly written books, written by people who are so illiterate they don’t even know they write poorly. Self publishing is also full of people who’ve worked very hard to learn their craft and write brilliant books, and work like hell to get editing, proofreading, formatting and cover right.
    Self publishing, imo, does have a higher percentage of poorly written books than trad pub, but trad pub has been quick to pounce on best sellers, no matter how they’re written.
    The incoming tide raises all boats, but the outgoing tide can leave them stranded.
    I believe that eventually some kind of standard for self published books will arise. I’d love to see a seal of approval of some kind at least for a minimum standard of writing, re; typos, incorrect word usage.
    When someone says they love mediocrity, I doubt they mean for their car, airplane, food, water, coffee cup handle, tv set, government, healthcare…

  13. Hi, assistant shit-stirrer here. (I have learned my lesson, yes I have.)

    C.E., in answer to this: Why is everyone so anti-mediocre?

    Because while we, the authors, may know that not all indie authors are the same, don’t write the same thing or in the same style, and don’t consider the same things important, the readers don’t. We may not like broad-brush comparisons, but there are an awful lot of readers who make them and happily believe them.

    I’m not going back to That Thread because as stated, lesson learned. That said, I’ve just spent a not-insignificant amount of time reading one thread on Goodreads where people asked, hey, why don’t more people read self-published books? And many of the responses were: Because I suffered through a dozen poorly-edited books and I don’t want to suffer anymore. Paraphrased, of course.

    That’s one thread in one group with over a thousand posts. I have seen more that I haven’t yet read because honestly, I’m not sure I want to know how many readers are disgusted right now. haven’t read every group over there, or every thread, so I can’t say with 100% confidence that there are more, but I can make a pretty educated guess.

    So you may think readers will just hit the refund button for your book if they don’t like it, and then move on to the next self-published author’s book. The readers are out there saying, straight up, that it’s not true. There is a limit to how much mediocrity they can stomach. Sure, those limits will vary, but there -are- limits.

    And when that limit is reached, it’s not just the authors who didn’t care to have their book edited or beta-read or to find a professional-looking cover. It’s every author not published by a traditional house, whether big or small.

    I’m anti-mediocre because someone else’s ‘I can publish what I want!’ is effecting -my- career. And you might not care about my or any other author’s success, but I do. The path to success, IMO, is not made easier by screwing other authors out of the chance to be read because we’re under the same umbrella.

    So if anyone’s starting a self-published collective full of authors who -do- give a crap, please, hook a gal up.

  14. Like it or not – and personally, I like it – we are all small business owners once we put our product out there. Including my writing career, I have been a two-time small business owner, and I do not distinguish between my former chocolates business and my writing business. Both were creative as well as “business” ventures. When I was a chocolatier, I didn’t think I could sell mediocre chocolates and it was the privilege of those buying my chocolates to try my “works in progress.” I spent a great deal of time perfecting my products and lo and behold, they got into Dean and Deluca, Neiman Marcus and lots of other swell stores. When I wanted to try something out, I gave it away for free and let my customers know that I wanted their opinion – that this was not a finished product necessarily. Hence why it was free. Some of those freebies made it into my catalogue, others did not. I don’t view writing any differently. I’ve been writing professionally for some years now. I wouldn’t dream of putting an unvetted book into the market. I could never, in good conscience, waste a reader’s time. I hate having my time wasted. So please, save mediocrity for your drafts – that’s where it belongs. It’s why we write several drafts. And please, treat self-publishing like a business. You wouldn’t tolerate an inferior product on your grocery shelves, so why would you put one out?

  15. To say that this has been a fascinating discussion would be putting it mildly. I’ve wasted entirely too time reading this when I’d promised myself to spend that time working on a fourth novel in a series or two short stories among dozens I really want to write. But I made the mistake of reading the opening and I was caught. The thing is, self published writers who want to publish something/anything, are going to do so and they are NOT going to listen to what they consider to be Holier-Than-Thou criticisms by Lit Snobs who simply want to keep the Little Guy from having his shot at fame and fortune, not to mention immortality. Their work may be – probably is- complete crap, but no one is going to change the nature of the modern world and modern literary market which means ANYBODY can publish ANYTHING and nobody in Heaven or Hell can stop them. If they want to write 100 novels that will sell 97 copies total, they’re going to do it. And if they turn off 10,000 discerning and starved-for-quality poor readers, then fuck them. They don’t care about those 10,000 readers because almost every writer in his heart of hearts believes that every word they put down on paper or type on a laptop is golden. And if the guardians of the Sacred Fortress of Literary Quality want to stop the rising ocean of crap lapping at their borders, the only way they’re ever going to do that is track down every single one of these talentless miscreants, put a bullet through their brains, and make sure the bodies are never discovered. So, if you cannot stop talentless hacks and self-deluded typists from publishing anything they want, what is the point? You’re not going to create any kind of governing board or High Council of Beta Readers who have to give their stamp or approval before Amazon will post a book. There is no way to enforce levels of literary worth. AND, of course, the mere concept of literary worth, or lack of it, is laughable. I, of course, given my level of literacy, can judge a self published work and tell at a mere glance if it is crap or has some smidgeon of quality or worth. And if I was Dictator of the World, I could guarantee that only quality self published books would see the light of day. But, the unpalatable truth is that there are plenty of works that sincere and motivated High Mandarins of the Literary World have claimed to be worthless, that turned out to have some degree of worth after a half century or so passes. And even I – I – might make a mistake or two and misjudge a book on first reading.
    Following, anyone can publish anything, any work MIGHT turn out of have some worth, and what individual readers think really, really, doesn’t mean shit. In the aggregate, in the millions, readers determine what is literature. But if 50 or 100 or 100,000 readers are turned off by self publishing, well that;s too bad. More readers will come along because we have a fluid population of hundreds of millions of readers world wide and some self published books will find audiences and the crap will simply be forgotten and relegated to musty back rooms in the halls of the Internet. No amount of crap will turn people off from reading. Just look at the stats on how epublishing has conquered the literary world in the blink of an eye, and the level of literary quality hasn’t risen in galvanic surges in the last decade or so.
    SO…..I have faith that like the Comics Explosion of the 1980s, the crap will sink and the good stuff will rise to the top. And I personally believe writers should write what THEY want to write, bad or good, and not worry that much about what readers think. They’ll either like your work, or they won’t,, which is why you keep writing.

    • Except the Comics Explosion of the 80s led to the speculation of the early 90s, and the near-complete collapse of the comics market.

      So, not exactly the model we want to be emulating here….

    • Writers write so that readers can read. If you don’t care what your readers think why are you writing for them? If you’re writing entirely for yourself that’s called a journal. And that’s fine but don’t expect the rest of us to bother with it. If you can’t even give a modicum of thought to your readers what makes you think they’re going to care about you or what you have to say when you so clearly don’t care about them?

      Storytelling is art and art is about connection –connection between the artist and the audience. If you’re not the slightest bit interested in your readers and are only writing for yourself that’s fine but you’re also only connecting with yourself. And that’s not writing or art: it’s masturbation.

  16. Gah, I wish my intelligence was up for a debate like this at the current hour.

    But I just gotta say. I’ve struggled through reading self-published books. I’ve given them a chance, and while some are good, there are those few shining examples where I swear that nobody even bothered to run a spell check once during the process of writing. I even question the existence of a rewrite, it’s just so bad.

    That being said, I do personally aim to go through a traditional publisher, blessed be if one will take my project. IF NOT, my own personal “last resort” is to self-publish, mainly because it’s not my first choice.

    I also don’t want to be the dumbass that has an amazon account and Word and is READY TO UNLEASH MY AMAZING BOOK that took me half an hour to type up, crap out, and post.

    There are limitations for publishing and they’re all within reason, not because traditional publishers are big fat meany-heads intent on raising a personal hell for Your Stuff. It’s just the way of the business.

    Of course, I haven’t been rejected umpteen million times, yet. I look forward to the day of getting a rejection because at least someone is reading my stuff that’s other than me.

  17. Mediocre is one of those words that tough to define. I guess it means clichéd likeable characters in a cookie-cutter plot with no risk-taking and a decently interesting plot that ends in a predictable fashion.

    • I don’t think that’s necessarily mediocre. I like books about likeable characters that have a feel good ending — sometimes.. And I’m not alone. They sell like hot cakes. To me mediocre means not giving it your best shot. Not thinking about the reader. Not proofreading. I’m not as concerned about cover, etc.,, because as a reader I’m willing to overlook that. I think amateurs are fine. But I’m an amateur kayaker — doesn’t mean I don’t do my best at it.

      But see, I don’t count myself an amateur writer. I’m a professional. Yes, I epublish. But my work represents me as a professional, and I treat it as such. I don’t price it at 99 cents, because I think readers should understand the difference between amateurs and professionals.

      As someone else pointed out there is a difference between quality and category.

  18. We have a limited number of hours in which to live our lives and if I, as an author, am asking you to spend several of your hours reading my book then I am going to try my damnedest to make certain that those hours (which don’t come with a refund or a money-back guarantee) leave you feeling the same sense of wonder and awe that my favorite authors gifted me with their novels. Furthermore, my respect for my audience is such that I would never ask for money for any book of mine that I didn’t feel was the very best possible work I could deliver — and that includes taking the time to save up money for a book cover (and whatnot) worthy of those standards.

    The trust that exists between author and audience is a fragile, tenuous thing. Abuse it by foisting poorly written, badly presented, half-assed books on your readership and not only do you damage that relationship in an irreparable way, you chip away at the foundations of good faith built by authors that came before you because it’s all too easy for a disheartened reader to choose the television instead.

    So don’t be the writer that throws up some squalid first draft of measly effort for the sake of few bucks or to show off to your friends. Be the writer that takes their craft so seriously and so deeply values the gift of their audience’s attention, that they are not just willing, but determined to spend the time, money, and effort to give potential readers the very best of themselves and their work. And if you can’t, don’t, or won’t do what it takes to be that writer — then get out of the game.

    Because while the readers may not be able to act as gatekeepers and fight for their own best interests, we, the true writers among them, certainly will.

  19. Chuck, I just read both of the posts about self-publishing. I have self-published two non-fiction books. I am in the process of trying to find an agent for my children’s fiction book. I am in complete agreement about the writer being the gatekeeper. I treat my writing as a business and am always reading other writer’s books in similar genre’s. I am appalled at how bad some of those books can be! I have no intention of ever reading any of their later works. I agree that if you want to get better, write. Don’t use readers that pay for your books as “test subjects”. VL Knob

  20. OMG as a reader – THANK YOU. I am sick of coughing up money for poorly written e-trash where the author didn’t even take the time to learn basic grammar and editing. There is too much shit out there to sift through and I swear to the giant spaghetti monster in my back yard, I get dumber the more I read now.

    You are right about readers walking away; there are several recent authors I will never pick up again no matter how much their writing improves simply because they made me waste cash and brain cells on a mediocre book. I also refuse to buy any e-book that doesn’t offer a large sample download that includes more than 15 pages of Contents and Acknowledgements.

    I no longer trust e-books and self published authors and find they must jump through more hoops to get me to hit buy than the average Joe sitting on the shelf in a brick-n-mortar store. That MMP might not be much better, but at least I don’t break expensive electronics when I hurl it across the room in frustration.

  21. […] Here’s a comment from last week, by Amanda Valentine: “I review middle grade books at 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. […]

  22. I’m a reader, and I completely agree with paying for mediocre books not being funny. I’m also a fanfiction reader, that dark world of words that most people despise with good reason: 98% of fanfiction out there is crap. Free crap, if you’d like, but you do spend your time there. After a while, one learns to distinguish good fanfiction from bad fanfiction, and I’m lucky enough to use that skill to find good e-books from bad ones.

    Alas, sometimes, it feels like the statistic is the same: 98% of SP books are crap. There are gems in there, if you look hard enough, but is it really worth it? I’d rather pick a book that has a publishing house behind it, because at least that book has been proof read.

    I’m also a writer, hoping to get publish some day, and having fun with writing fanfiction. Just because I won’t make money out of my fanfic works, it doesn’t mean I don’t give it my best shot, and take the time, and have a beta-reader. If not for the readers, do it for the story. The story deserves to be its very best.

  23. SO got your back on this post. I’m disheartened by the crap that’s out there as a writer, and the chance of getting heard in the din, but the thing that matters most to me is as a reader. I love to read. And with more and more books out there, it’s weird how I’m finding it harder and harder to find something I WANT to read.

  24. The difference, wyndes, is money. No one going out and playing a game of little league ball expects to get paid for it. If you plan on charging money for your talent, time, etc. then you had better be putting forth your best effort. A major league player can’t expect to get paid to play in the dirt.

  25. *long, heavy sigh*

    If I paid 3 bucks for some mediocre crap, then I sure as hell am not going to wait around for the author to publish another book and buy it on the off chance that it will be better. No. I am going to remember, “the last thing I read by this person was mediocre swill that I wasted 3 dollars and several hours on, so I’m going to avoid this person’s works from now on.”

    That doesn’t go for just self-pub, either. But the audacity that poster had to say that because it was cheap I’d just blindly keep throwing my money and time down the mediocre (or just plain bad) pit is just…wow. Some logic is missing there. I read Twilight and thought it was terrible, so I don’t read Stephanie Meyer books anymore. People keep trying to talk me into reading The Host, but I remember how unimpressed I was by Twilight, so I am extremely reluctant to spend more money and time on something else she wrote. What makes you think that a self-published author would be any different?

  26. I can’t help but think that this is an argument against a straw man. I think maybe //one person// said put out mediocre stuff, then improve, and everybody leaped on it.

    But did that person //really// mean put out stuff that is knowingly mediocre or worse? Because if they did, why get get up to argue? That’s just a dumb position that will shoot itself in the foot. There’s nothing to argue!

    I took it to mean- don’t be afraid that your work might be mediocre. Other people may well think it is! To you though, it is the best you can do at that time. You put it out because you don’t know yet if it’s objectively any good. How many editors or beta readers would you have to hire/cultivate to really find that out, and believe it?

    Only cold hard readers with cold hard cash can tell you if it’s good or not. It’s called the free market.

    And all this concern for the poor readers getting turned off reading is utterly bogus. There are millions of books out there! To find one with the atrocious spelling and blah many commenters are deriding here you’d have to seriously off-piste to find them. Amazon has reviews, and ranking. Ignore those at your peril.

    In the whole- just chill out. People who put out crap will get crap in return. It’s the most egalitarian era for publishing ever. Trust the readers and the market, and don’t get in a hot mess over ‘mediocrity’ in the market, whining about something you have no power to change.

  27. […] Wendig got some angry pushback. You can read what one writer said in his post “Readers Are Not Good Gatekeepers,” to which Wendig responded, We can iterate our writing. In public! We can find an audience […]

  28. When anyone starts a career, they (hopefully) learn more and get better at it over time. After spending 30 years as an interior designer, I always sought out new information, the latest trends, new materials and products to incorporate into my designs. And even though I knew more from experience than someone fresh out of college, I never assumed that I was “the best” or knew it all. Being a writer is no different.

    Art is art, always subjective to the consumer, but to do it professionally makes it a business. I could write the best story out there, no plot holes, interesting action, and entertain the hell out of a zillion people, but there would always be one person who hated it.

    Art (Beauty) is in the eyes of the beholder.

  29. There absolutely should be new gatekeepers. In fact, they already exist. They are book review sites and services like bookbub. This thing opens up more work for book reviewers.

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