Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Self Publishing: The Stigma

We know it's true because we all do it. Some poor soul mentions their book, forthcoming from PublishAmerica in fall 2011, and we all whip out the stank eye.

It's not an entirely unfounded bias, either. There're a lot of books online. Some of them are bound to be crap. But, as a couple of people pointed out in the comments last week, there's crap coming out of traditional publishing, too. Even some books lauded as "bestsellers," that make millions, have their detractors.

Self-publishing's been stigmatized because it seems to allow anyone to vomit something up there and drag us all down with 'em. There's no oversight, no gatekeeping. It's interesting, because complaints of unfair or erratic gatekeeping are perhaps the most common of those leveled against traditional publishing. (eyebrow: raised)

Self-publishing is coming into its own as a viable option for serious writers, and traditional publishing is actually leading that charge, primarily from the agenting side. Agents are a great legitimizing force for self-published authors because, in general, recognized experts raise the perceived value of a product. Raising the perceived value = eliminating stigma.

Self- and traditional publishing are not foes, and they're not either/or. That's why traditional publishing must-haves, like agents, aren't going anywhere. It's why, despite all predictions 5 years ago, publishing hasn't gone bankrupt and stopped printing physical books. It's ironic, but the most important people in self-publishing's journey to validity are traditional publishing professionals.


  1. As a reviewer for Novel Journey/Reviews, I used to look at self-publihsed books. I got exhausted! Out of a few hundred, you're lucky to find a gem. Most are vanity. For non-fiction, self-publishing is viable, especially if one has a platform to sell them. But for fiction, I quit looking at self-publihsed novels a few years ago. I don't have enough time.

  2. meredith !
    this is the most encourgaging piece i have seen for us (really good) rookies who are having difficulty getting the attention of someone who can move the ball down the field, so to speak.
    thanks ... tom honea asheville

  3. But I hope you agree that PublishAmerica is still a foe. Predators deserve the stank eye.

  4. Meredith -- Do you foresee fineprint ever sighing authors without planning to look for a traditional print deal (only shopping subsidiary rights)? Or would self pubbing still be a fallback option?

  5. @JJ--Yes!! PublishAmerica suxxxx
    @Livia: What I'm trying to say in this post is that Self-Pub *isn't* a fallback at all! It's an equally viable publishing option, with the same subsidiary rights opportunities as tradtional. Choosing self- or traditional publishing with our authors is a careful weighing of a lot of factors (genre, platform, etc.) including more complex issues like finding distribution (that's where our expertise as industry pros comes in!).

  6. I like the way you think :-) I'm totally not a hardcore indie evangelist (nor am I a hardcore traditional pub diehard), but it's refreshing to see industry folks thinking outside of the box.

  7. Gosh, I have such mixed emotions about this topic.

    I intend to attempt the traditional route first. That’s my preference. I started out pitching for print publications, and that’s how I got published. I enjoy having editors who clean up my writing (and ride my butt). I also know that I’ll get paid a certain amount for my troubles.

    It’s true that most self-published novels aren’t that good – or even readable. However, I have found gold amongst pyrite. I downloaded an eBook by an indie author over the weekend. It stands heads above anything that I’ve read in the past six months. If the author fell through the cracks, there is something terribly wrong with that. Her eBooks are selling really well. It makes me wonder, “What happened here?” Did she just have a poor query letter? Query the wrong agents?

    If I don’t get an agent or publisher, I certainly don’t intend to put my m.s. in mothballs. Heck, no. I’ll slap it up on Amazon and wherever else under a nom de plume, market it assiduously and see what feedback I get. Then I’ll write another novel and try the conventional approach again. I don’t think that any writer should automatically assume that his/her novel is a bust, if it’s been thoroughly edited, critiqued and polished. Despite being rejected by the entire publishing industry, Amanda Hocking proved that she had a very salable product. The one lesson we can all learn from this is that the industry can be egregiously wrong.

    I foresee a time when agents and publishers will start looking more closely at indie writers who are making big sales rather than relying solely on query letters and referrals, because successfully selling product of any kind is anything but subjective. The self-publishing trend can help the publishing industry get a pulse point on the reading demographic. An indie writer with a large following isn’t a shabby bet.

  8. Melissa -- what's the book by the indie author that you really liked?

  9. Is an unagented eBook author still considered "vanity" while an agented eBook author is somehow legit? What about a professionally edited eBook from an Indie author? Are agents positioning themselves to become the gatekeepers of eBooks, or looking at new options for their clients? It seems you are saying the only way an Indie author can find legitimacy is to find an agent. I don't agree, though I can see the advantage of having an agent. Good literature is good literature whether it is agented or no. Whether it is pubbed traditionally or self-pubbed.

  10. Livia,

    Right now, I’m reading a novella called “Across the Veil” by a writer named Lisa Kessler. She has an anthology as well. I originally stumbled across her work in Penguin Group’s online critique group (Penguin is beta-testing a new site for genre writers).

    Here’s the kicker: I normally loathe adult paranormal romance. Hate. It. Underscored. And yet here’s this unknown writer who drew me into this … compelling story with a hero to swoon for (this is her critique m.s., not the novellas for sale). I spent my Friday night reading it. ☺

  11. I like the self-publishing concept. I even shop self-pubbed, but it's harder for me to find books that interest me in the self-pubbed arena. If the cover copy is typo-riddled, if there's no excerpt for me to see if I'll like the full book, I won't touch it. But if the author has something for free or cheap, I'll give it a shot and, if I enjoy it, readily check out more by that author.

    Note that stories don't have to be perfect for me to get more by the author. Just enjoyable.

  12. I wrote a novel which works really well as an e-book but not sure whether it would ever be 'traditionally' published. It's epistolary and uses webchat logs to illustrate and drive the story.

    This would mean a lot of white space on the printed page and it puts publishers and agents off. But people who read it on Kindle say it works really well. So for some people e-books self-pubbed will be the only way forward - I'm one of them!