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Self-publishing doesn't count. Discuss

As someone who has self-published books that no agent or publisher wanted to touch, I still maintain that self-publishing doesn't count. I mean this in the sense of self-publishing proving nothing about the readability or quality of the book. It's merely a statement that the writer believes in their own work. Some reasons:

1. The traditional publishing industry, for all of its faults, at least publishes book that are recognised as being of a minimum publishable standard. This means the craft is proficient, the MS mostly error-free and – most importantly – that the book has been 'certified' as having a structure that works. It is a professional product. Self-published books need not meet any of these standards, though sometimes they do. And while it's true that a lot of dross is published conventionally, I'd say that 90% or self-published work is sub-standard. There's a difference between being a bad writer and not being a writer at all.

2. I've seen work by a lot of self-published writers (some of them successful) and I'd have to say I've not yet seen one that can write according to the most basic definition (an understanding of long-form narrative structure, scene building, characterisation and even basic grammar). They've uploaded books, but they can't yet write. I think that's bad news for the language in general and worse news for the writers themselves. Evidently they've dreamed of being published for years and have worked hard to produce a book, but they still haven't reached the minimum publishable standard. Isn't that what they want? 

3. I suppose what I'm saying is that – initially at least – a third party has to judge that the work is proficient. The writer himself is often the worst person to judge this, especially at the beginning. I self-published my first novel after I'd had three novels traditionally published, none of them seriously copyedited by the major publisher who accepted them. My work has also been praised by a Booker Prize-winning author. Such things gave me confidence to think that I might know what I was doing. [They didn't want the fourth book because my overall sales meant I was a dead weight on their bottom line.]

4. Why did I self-publish at all? Because I'd written the books anyway and nobody was going to publish them. It seemed a shame to leave them on the computer never read. As it happens, almost nobody has read them anyway because I've never done any publicity for them. Why were they rejected? Well, all of them were requested in full by a number of agents or publishers, but all were turned down because of their subject matter, genre or tone. I do have a talent for writing books nobody wants to publish.

5. I've had more books traditionally published than I've uploaded. And I have another two novels on the computer that I couldn't be bothered to format for self-publication. I've realised now that I am writing for myself only – to improve as a writer. I will continue to send each MS off to a publisher or agent, and I will continue to write if they are rejected, but I won't be self-publishing any more books. I don't want to be part of a market in which nine out of ten authors are amateurs (by which I mean their work is not of a professional standard). I don't tell anyone about my self-published books because, for me, they don't count.

I suppose it depends what you want. I want to produce writing of a professional standard more urgently than I want to be read. I can understand that other writers want to say they have 'published' books more than they want to say that they are good writers.



  • 'I've seen work by a lot of self-published writers (some of them successful) and I'd have to say I've not yet seen one that can write according to the most basic definition (an understanding of long-form narrative structure, scene building, characterisation and even basic grammar).'

    Gosh! Damning indeed.

    The standard of writing also varies in trad. published books, in my humble opinion. I've just read The Passengers by John Marrs (Penguin), which extends the concept of who would be thrown first from a hot-air balloon. It's had high praise indeed. Yes, it was an interesting idea, but I wouldn't say that the writing was great, by any stretch of the imagination.

    Yes, there's an expected standard for T.P. books, but it is primarily a money-making business where fashions exist and shelf space can be filled. There are plenty of niche books which are well-written, but are rejected for purely that reason. I do, however, acknowledge that other books are rejected due to a lack of writing proficiency.

    I've had plenty of things traditionally published and have also written several books which I have self-published. I like to think, however, that the standard of my writing is consistent.
  • The standard of writing also varies in trad. published books, in my humble opinion.

    Agree totally. There's a lot of bad work out there, including by very successful writers.

    But I think it's necessary to distinguish between Bad Writers and Not Writers. Dan Brown is not a great writer, but he writes to a professional standard. You can read his books. The question is whether you want to. 
  • I'd agree about self published books not having what it takes. Having been through the very thorough process of working out just what DOES make a good published book, it's very easy to spot one that doesn't (on an MA).

    i've come to the conclusion that self-publishing can do some serious writers a huge disservice. (I'm not including people, good writers, who are niche publishing here - publishing books about a subject they know well, that helps a niche interest or subject, and provides a service, which seems to be well serviced by self-publishing).

    I mean people who want to be fiction writers. I think the very process of sending off a first novel and having it thoroughly rejected and sent back with rude comments et al does something to the psyche, you learn from each time you try to do better, (and will do of course form writing another self pub) but I think you learn MORE and strive harder to please others, than yourself. 

    I other words trying to get a publisher to like your work , reading what they have published, trying to work out why the published that book and not yours, the extra time put in to hone and learn the craft, the need to write for another intellect that is looking at other books just the same and choosing between them, ups your game. I think settling for self publishing intercepts that crucial final upping of the game. 
  • What a load of crap!

    Yes there are 'writers' who are so eager to get their unedited work out there, but don't make the assumption that all who self-publish are the same- they're not.

    I'd suggest you look at the Alliance of Independent Authors and discover the serious professional side of self-publishing.

  • I both agree and disagree. There are a lot of self published books out there that aren't really good enough to be published. There are many others whose authors wanted to retain control of the process/weren't fitting the publishing houses current niches/were outnumbered by the very stiff competition.

    Applying the same judgement to all self-published books is very unfair.

  • Yes there are 'writers' who are so eager to get their unedited work out there, but don't make the assumption that all who self-publish are the same- they're not.

    Indeed, I don't make that assumption. My impression, based on the work I've seen, is that the majority of self-published work is not of a publishable standard. Of course, there will be some books that are.

    My contention is that the self-publishing sector is tarnished by the majority, whereas even the worst conventionally published book is still professional to a basic degree.
  • There are many others whose authors wanted to retain control of the process/weren't fitting the publishing houses current niches/were outnumbered by the very stiff competition.

    Right. A certain amount of self-published titles will certainly fit into these categories. There's also a question of basic commerciality. I've been told a number of times by publishers that they could sell my book, but probably not enough copies to make it worthwhile.

    But I think we're talking about a minority here. 
  • My contention is that the self-publishing sector is tarnished by the majority.

    Successful indie authors don’t have to accept that badge. They’re indie for a reason. Worry about your own book, not what others are publishing. Would you stop writing just because there are poor writers out there? Can you defend your writing and the care you take to make it the best it can be? That's really all that matters. 

    If anyone looks down their nose at you and your self-published book, prove them wrong. Show them how professional you are. Might it still be a poor book? Yes. There are shelves full of traditionally published poor books. That doesn't make it right to self-publish a poor book, but even big name publishers lose the plot. 

    An indie author can produce a beautifully crafted book, one that will win awards and become a best-seller. An indie author can ignore advice, refuse to accept they need to pay for professional services and sink money into a project that will do nothing to enhance a shelf in a shop. 

    Decide which you wish to be and leave the others on the fence. 

  • Bravo Baggy.

  • Successful indie authors don’t have to accept that badge. 

    True enough. But successful indie authors are a minuscule minority of self-published books. And it's fine line between self-confidence and delusion, as I've seen in twenty-odd years of workshops, classes and lectures.

    I certainly don't worry about my own work. Nor do I need to defend it. My problem with self-publishing is only this: I think that, broadly speaking, it's bad for writers and for writing.

    Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but I've worked with so many writers who feel they've somehow 'made it' by publishing their own book on Amazon without first learning how to write a grammatical sentence or understand narrative.

    And let's remember, I did mention in the original post that I am, in fact, a self-published author also. Pot/kettle/black etc.
  • GeraldQ said:

    Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but I've worked with so many writers who feel they've somehow 'made it' by publishing their own book on Amazon without first learning how to write a grammatical sentence or understand narrative.
    Then that's their problem, GeraldQ. You could burst their bubble, but I can think of better ways to spend your time. 
  • Then that's their problem . . . You could burst their bubble

    Depends on the perspective. As a reader, it's entirely my choice to read or not read these books. The writer is of little consequence to me.

    But as someone who has spent years helping people to write, I think the 'bubble' is a bad place to be. I'd bet that most writers want to be good writers. Maybe not superstars of literature or commercial bestsellers, but just good. At least proficient.

    Don't educators (or good friends) have a responsibility to be honest and to help? Or should we let people live in their bubble because they're happy writing bad prose and because they care more about an illusion than the truth?

    When we ignore the faults and forgive the bubble, aren't we essentially patronising them? t's like when a child scrawls something chaotic in crayon and you say something like, "It's the Eiffel Tower? Oh, it's wonderful!" Fine for a child, but for an adult? Don't they deserve better?

    You might say that these writers are not asking for my opinion, but publication of any kind is exactly that. You're exposing your work to the world and to the opinions of everyone who reads it. Plus, some of these people are paying me for my opinion.

    Like any any writer, I don't enjoy negative criticism of my work. But I will grudgingly accept comments that I know to be true. They improve my writing. And ultimately, the best test of writing is if it achieves its intended effect on the reader. Bad writing doesn't do that.
  • Many times, I have been asked for feedback by other writers and I am always happy to give my opinion and advice, hopefully in a constructive way. I wouldn't dream of giving an unsolicited negative opinion, though. Would you actually tell someone that they have no hope, Gerald?

    Even when I write a review, I might point out where a book is lacking substance, but I always try to find something positive.

    In much the same way, if a friend asks me about an outfit, there is a way of responding which is not hurtful. 'Maybe that would look nicer with that,' or 'I loved what you wore to X. It really suited you.' 

    Writers are human and brutal criticism can be damaging. If writing is a hobby, then let them enjoy it. If they want to publish, I don't have to read what they have produced and their books aren't going to ruin any success that I might enjoy. Most readers are savvy enough to read a sample before buying, I would think.
  • Naturally, I wouldn't tell someone they have no hope. Everyone has hope. Nor do I ever offer unsolicited opinion or reviews to these works. I don't read them.

    I'm talking in a more abstract way about self-publishing being a potentially negative influence on a writer's intention to be a good writer.

    As for the whole "finding something positive" approach, I agree in principle. In practice, it can be a case of: "Well, you have a tumour that's going to kill you within a week, but I love your hairstyle!"
  • i'd feel very justified in saying a book was drivel or illiterate if I'd read it. Or tried to. It's a commercial product if they have had it self-pubbed and it is on sale, and deserves all the criticism it gets. You wouldn't hold back on criticising any other shoddy product bought on the internet for fear of hurting the feelings of the person who made it, would you? 

    i wouldn't do that to a person who contacts me and asks for help. In fact I've corresponded at length with two, one of who i now write books with. If they are no-hopers then I am quite direct, hopefully not hurtfully so but tbh i think any criticism is hurtful so you might as well let them know the extent of the failure if you can see they will never make it. This is for people who WANT to make it to being published of course. some people just seem to write turgidly and if they can't make their writing lift off the page even once in a book then really they have no hope. Grammar and punctuation can be attended to. Reading a book should be a pleasure not a chore.
  • I agree that self publishing doesn't prove anything about the quality of the book. It doesn't prove it's good and it doesn't prove the opposite. In that way, it's just like publishing by a third party.
  • In that way, it's just like publishing by a third party.

    Depends if the third party has had the book professionally edited and proofed, and that the work has been selected based on the fact that the writer can write. Self publishing requires none of these things, though all three criteria may be met in theory.
  • Sadly it's more about what the publisher's marketing department believe they can sell, no matter how good the writing.
  • LizLiz
    edited August 2019
    I don't know what publishers you are reading Carol, but clearly the wrong ones! I've not read a book yet that I haven't judged publish-worthy. Or are you referring to the lamentable practise of allowing celebrities to write children's books? Occasionally those ARE rubbish, but often they are ghost-written by perfectly able writers. Wheeas the majority of self-pubs (I've read) are still drivel.

    I wish there was some kind of system where they could be assessed and categorised so you could choose from the best, as of course others I've read have been excellent.
  • edited August 2019
    That's rather insulting Liz, I don't read a book because it's a particular publisher, I read a book because I like a particular author's writing or the story appeals and the sample of the opening grabs me.

    No Liz I'm not talking about celeb books of any sort.

    Writers who have had a number of books published can still face their latest work-that has passed all the other stages with enthusiasm- but falling at the final hurdle because marketing says no.

  • Yes, marketing has a lot to answer for. Sorry I read your post incorrectly, I thought you meant some of the books that ARE published are not worthy of being there. 

    I think marketing can be VERY irritating, as they think they know things which they clearly don't (our book cover for instance for Apes was way too young and we said so a LOT but they said, we know what we are doing - book shops say older kids don't look at it as it looks too young for them and it is for 9 and up). However, they do have some expertise or they wouldn't be in the job. Have you read the final book someone has put out and has not been published? It might be that the book really isn't up to scratch, it's hard to tell isn't without knowing all the details. I know I've been disappointed by a book form a good author otherwise and wonder why it wasn't scotched by the marketing dept. 

    Most (successful) author follow publishing fashion and other trends within their pages, without even being aware that they are doing so. We are all a product of what is going on around us and of what we read and what we produce and do also affects the whole. I think some authors who don't seem to manage to keep up will find their later books rejected. Also some authors who are having a dry spell take up a old manuscript and don't realise that they are polishing something which is just slightly not of it's time. 
  • I had a book accepted by a publisher with a ball park publishing date, but way down the line I had a very apologetic email to say that they initially had two books to publish, but due to financial restraints they had to drop one - which was mine.

    I self-published it. I think I am justified in presuming  that it must have been of publishable quality. The trouble is, you can't really say that in the blurb!

    Others have been close to the mark. It's a shame that the assumption is that they are drivel.
  • I do agree with you, Liz, about having some sort of filtering system to separate the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Yes, I really wish it was so, and obviously not all of them are drivel. But so, so many are. For some reason or other people think you will be thrilled with being given their book when you go and do an event, so i get given a lot. Last one was a while ago actually at the thing we did a couple of months ago at the teaching, library conference. A man shook my hand, said how much he enjoyed the evening, and then said, I expect you'll really like my poetry, I'd love you to to have one of my books, and thrust it into my hand. This happens with variations. i've not been given one that wasn't teeth clenchingly awful. Pete read a few of his poems when he got home and put it in the recycling... what a waste for him. Of everything. Time, effort and money. So maybe I am biased. I just don't know what to say to people when they do this.

    I find it quite frustrating that there isn't some sort of system. Then perhaps they'd know themselves?
  • I've been following this thread with interest, but not commenting because I'm not personally interested in self-publishing. I also know that quite a few tber's do self-publish, so this is a slightly delicate subject.

    Of the very few self-published books I've read, the majority did not come up to scratch. At least the 'look inside' facility on Amazon allows you to check the first few pages. A former tber whose book I looked at had no less than three errors in the opening paragraph. Needless to say, I didn't buy it.

    However, more importantly, and something I've mentioned on previous SP debates: Joe Public perceives self-publishing as vanity publishing and it is generally looked down on. You can argue til you're blue in face that SP is not the same as Vanity (I have) and not one of my friends - or even my OH - can be told differently. They all maintain that if a writer pays to publish a book themselves, then they can't be good enough to be traditionally published and calling it 'self-published' is simply 'vanity' by another name.

  • LizLiz
    edited August 2019
    Claudia said:
    You can argue til you're blue in face that SP is not the same as Vanity (I have) and not one of my friends - or even my OH - can be told differently. 
    People are allowed to be artists, though, aren't they, and often sell dreadful dawbs at art fairs, to people who have no discernment, and they are not called vanity artists, merely amateurs. Or hobbyists. And who is to say, if they enjoy the art they have bought, there is anything wrong in that. 

    What worries me about SP is the fact that incorrect grammar and spelling becomes almost normal when seen in a 'published' book. Quite apart form the standard of writing.

    That's where a system could come in to itself. But who would have time to police it? I bet you at some point someone will think of it and make a fortune by getting self-pubs to send their stuff in and be assessed on a system. 

    Because there IS a lot of good stuff out there, particularly niche things and also interests, like Baggy's book which is excellent. And also VERY well punctuated! 
  • I have a slightly different take on self-publishing, having produced a book that became a best-seller. The content, I hasten to add, was of little literary merit, but it sold 30,000 copies in three months. A local publisher had offered a three-way split between printer, publisher and author, but I cast my telescope down the self-publishing road, at the end of which Lady Lucre tantalised. Although the journey there would require more effort, that is the route I chose.

    Even so, when someone once mentioned to a third party that "Joseph here is a published author," (I still cringe) his reaction was bordering on the scornful when he learned that my efforts had been self-produced. Of course I soon set him straight, informing him that on the local TV news, the manager of Waterstone's in Newcastle said that she'd never seen anything like it and my little book was flying off the shelves faster than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which had been released at about the same time.

    So self-publishing isn't always an ego thing - it can actually be the best financial option. Besides, the hands-on approach was much more fun: stresssing over the 10,000 books I had in my flat, brought up in the lift on a yorkie borrowed from Morrisons; tearing around the north-east, supplying various Asda, HMV and Waterstones outlets, and, best of all, standing in a queue at the bank one Monday morning with over twenty thousand pounds' worth of cheques in my hand.

    Happy days :)

  • Ha! You lived the dream, C-O-S! Have you ever mentioned what it was about? And do you still sell it or was it an of-its-time sort of thing?
  • Fantastic result C-O-S.

  • You can read about it here, Liz. I have to say though that although I chose the 'unemployed man makes good' angle, I was actually working part-time at the time. Also, I never said I was depressed and I have never set foot in Waterstone's head office - rather I had a phone conversation with a buyer. Still, it gives you an idea :)

  • That is BRILLIANT. Just shows all you need is a good angle. 
  • Great achievement, C-o-S! 
  • That's such an inspiring story, C-o-S. I think it confirms what most of us believe, that it's better to do your own thing (if that's your choice) and ignore the negatives that come with being an indie author. 
  • Liz said:
    That is BRILLIANT. Just shows all you need is a good angle. 
    You've hit the nail on the head, Liz - the angle was everything. I did subsequent books that sold all right, but I could never replicate the sales volume of the first one. The angle of an unemployed man taking a huge gamble on having thousands of books printed in the hope that he could sell them at Christmas caught a wave - but after that people knew I had made a lot of money and so the penniless-man-risks-all avenue was closed.

  • Thought I'd throw my penny's worth in. I've read some brilliant self-published books in the last few years - I look at the premise, I look at the reviews then make the decision - half the time I don't even know it's a self-published book until I see the title page once it's downloaded onto my kindle.

    What usually sets a self-published book apart from a traditionally published book is the grammar and proof-reading quality - self-published books do tend to have more errors  but recently I bought a kindle version of a really well known, traditionally published best selling author, only to find the text strewn with errors - which I actually found quite shocking - so perhaps the big players are cutting corners too these days.

    Can I just echo the sentiments here for Collide-o-scope - really well done - the problem with the traditional publishing model is the writer is usually the last to get paid - by the time the publishing machine has taken it's cut for the editor, the office staff, the publicist, the print costs - there's not much left...

  • edited August 2019
    As this is not a private thread, I have removed my comment. 

  • It would be impossible to police self-published books – there are millions of them.  


    You wouldn't have to. You'd only look at the books of the people who took the trouble to pay for an accreditation. They would have to know that if it wasn't good enough they wouldn't get that. But anyone who was looking for an excellent book would be able to look at the accredited list and buy with confidence. 
  • edited August 2019
    As this is not a private thread, I have removed my comment. 
  • There are places you can send your manuscript to get read and assessed and get a report on it. This would just getting an accreditation for being well written, well punctuated, etc. A few years ago, about 15 I think, I paid £50 to get a manuscript assessed, more than one, actually. They were fiction. I thin this person is still in business and I'm pretty sure she must have had professional readers and critics as the reports were excellent. It can be done. Many people are willing to pay. 
  • edited August 2019
    As this is not a private thread, I have removed my comment. 
  • Wow. Yes, the accreditation would have to be by a professional body. Anyone can set up a manuscript service, I guess. 

  • I use a critique assessment service or rather a person I've built a relationship with for many years - she 'get's' me and without her help I'd have never got near getting a book published. She is brutal and constructive in equal measure - I always get a bit upset after reading her assessment as it is so harsh - she even phones me before sending it sometimes to warn and reassure me - and I read it then take a few days before going back to her notes and the manuscript.

    I don't change everything she suggests but usually about 85% - works for me...because that is what I need.

    If you try and engage an agent or even a publisher won't give you that feedback they'll just reject it and not tell you why. This is why some of the writing forums that allow you to post samples for critiques are flawed because nobody will tell you it's crap! You'll blunder on under the illusion that what you're writing is wonderful and then not understand why agents and publishers ignore you.

    Paying someone to upset you sounds like a form of masochism and it probably is but most people's first/second and even third drafts are rubbish - there are exceptions to everything but having spoken to loads of published writers they all seem to agree on this point. Most of them have someone who will tell them it's terrible (Usually their agent) but I don't have one of them so I have to go elsewhere to have my scribblings desecrated.

  • Ironically we now have publishers taking up self-published work which has sold well as an ebook which they would have binned it had it been submitted to them.
  • Yes, D.B. They'd rather trust proven sales than their own judgement.  Understandable?  Perhaps - but it would be nice if they took a chance occasionally instead of forcing people to the expense and trouble of self-publishing when the book obviously had merit as a potential good seller.  Why didn't they recognise that?
  • Doesn't count? Count for what? doesn't mean that a writer is a writer? doesn't mean that someone can be successful? isn't a legitimate form of publication? 

    It's a badly phrased question and the debate isn't relevant to all self-publishers. Some are good, some are bad. Some make money and achieve fame, some don't. 
  • This is interesting. 

    "According to data from a new survey from Digital Book World and Writer's Digest, the median income range for self-published authors is under $5,000 and nearly 20% of self-published authors report deriving no income from their writing.

    By comparison, authors published by traditional publishers had a median income range of $5,000 to $9,999 and "hybrid authors" (those who both self-publish and publish with established publishers) had a median income range of $15,000 to $19,999.

    At the high end of the spectrum, 1.8% of self-published authors made over $100,000 from their writing last year, compared with 8.8% of traditionally published authors and 13.2% of hybrid authors.

    "Few authors are getting rich off of their writing or even earning enough from their writing to quit their day jobs," writes Dana Beth Weinberg, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Queens College in New York City, and lead researcher for the study."

    So clearly self publishing after you've made a name for yourself is better than self publishing (by a long margin) and also better than getting published traditionally. 

    Facts from here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/12/09/how-much-money-do-self-published-authors-make/#f6682ff65bcc

  • Self published digital/kindle - Sell 10000 books at £1 - revenue £10,000 - subtract costs - amazon fees and whatever copy editing charges etc accrued and you'll likely end up with about £8000 (sorry for being over simplistic)

    Traditional published digital kindle - sell 10000 books at £1 - revenue £10,000 - publishing costs (marketing, editing, production, distribution) author ends up with about 30-35% best case scenario = £3500. Less agents 15% = £2975 Some well known traditionally published writers are on deals where they get less than 20% - there's a few articles out there about them - not hard to find - and I won't name them here in case someone sues me!!

    The biggest hurdle of course is selling the books....

  • Oh, yes, I'm not disputing that. But getting them sold, as you say, is much, much harder. And from the figures I posted, it simply doesn't happen. Apart from a few rare times. 
  • With good marketing, you can sell a poor book. With poor marketing, you can't sell a good book. 
  • Yes. And sometime sit's just luck. What is in the wind. what people want at that precise second. With either way.
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