Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What About Self Publishing?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

On one of my loops there has been for some time a very spirited discussion about self-publishing – some correspondents are very outspoken that it should just ‘go away and let real publishing take over again.’ Some admit to being confused or uninformed. Some – including me – are quite vocal that self pubbing is not only here to stay, but that it should be. Because I feel so strongly about this, I have taken my response to this somewhat contentious thread and put it here.

For all those who think that ‘self publishing should just go away and let real publishing take over again’ I ask... Why? Self publishing IS real publishing, with the added benefits of freedom and due rewards for the writer. It gets the story from the writer's mind into the reader's hand, and that's the rock-bottom basis of publishing. For centuries writers have been treated as at best the red-headed-stepchildren of the publishing industry, at worst nothing more than a necessary evil. While there are the mega-bestsellers who receive fantastic amounts, the majority of writers are paid least and last, which is egregiously illogical as without them the publishing industry would not exist. Trad publishers are notorious for keeping authors in the dark about sales figures and give them little or no input into covers, marketing (when any marketing is done at all) and basically tell writers "Give us the books we will accept, allow us to shape them, take what we give you without any questions and go away."

Self publishing has changed all that. The author is now in charge and is finally getting paid in proportion to their contribution. It's more work for them, but the rewards are worth it. Is there dreck in self-publishing? Of course. Freedom is always messy, but that's no reason to condemn a new process when there are so many benefits. Self-publishing is the essence of freedom - let the market, ie the reader, decide what they want.

If self pubbing were not good for the writer, why would so many trad pubbed writers be switching? They want commensurate rewards for their work. They want control. They want to know what is happening and be able to try new things. In return, every real writer I know puts more care into their self pubbed books than most traditional publishers. Check a trad pubbed book (especially one of the Big 5) against a professional writer's self pubbed one. I’ll bet you there are more mistakes - typo, formatting, etc. - in the trad pubbed. The professional self pubbing writers I know hire editors, formatters and artists, many of whom have quit the big houses and gone into freelancing. They too want to make more money. And what is wrong with that?

Should everyone self publish? Obviously not. But - ! Every writer should have the freedom to choose whether they want to self publish or not.

Self pubbing is also good for the reader. Self pubbing gives readers the freedom to choose what kind of books they want. Niche publishing flourishes with self pubbing. Specialized stories or cross-genre books, each pulling too small an audience to interest the big boys are now available. Readers can now choose the specific type of stories they want to read and not be forced to choose from just what is profitable for the trad publishers or acceptable to their gatekeepers. The reader is now in control, just as is the writer.

It's too late to put things back the way they were, even if the trad houses were suddenly to wise up and do everything right. The genie is out of the bottle. If Amazon - the 600 lb gorilla of self-publishing - were to decide to stop putting out books for self pubbed authors or to change their payment schedules some other profit-minded entrepreneur would step in.

And what about the dreck, the garbage books? There have always been garbage books, even under the big trad pubbing umbrella. Yes, there are more now, but that will pass. Millions of people have always thought they could write a book better than the one they're reading, and a very few of them were right. Many try and most never even finish their manuscript. Of those who do many go right on to publication, ready or not. In the old days pre-self pubbing, these tyros were mainly caught by the gatekeepers. They either quit writing or learned to write well - and to conform to the Procrustean bed of the trad pubbers. Now they can string together as many words as they like, call it a book, put it out and then be shocked when it doesn't bring them instant success and fortune. Then they either quit writing or buckle down and learn to write.

Is the system perfect? No, of course not. No system ever is, but with the option of self pubbing, the new gatekeepers are the writers and the readers themselves. And that's the way it should be.


  1. Excellent post,Janis. Self-publishing may allow some dreck (and who's gets to be the judge of that?) to find its way into the world, but it also paves the way for new voices, new ways of looking at old problems. Anyone who disapproves of self-pubbed books doesn't have to read them. It's just like bad TV, reach for the remote.

  2. Okay, I don't self-publish but I do see the benefits to many frustrated writers who would otherwise go unpublished. Previously, only a limited few would have the privilege. Self-pubbing is democratic. As fewer traditional publishers now exist, an opportunity has arrived to fill the vacuum. Print pubs are going under while digital pubs increase. It means less money for writers in general, but at least their work is getting out there. That in itself provides satisfaction.

  3. I tried self-publishing with poor results. Everything you said is very valid, and I agree that the self-pubbed author would be wise to hire professionals to make the book the best. But the problem is self-pubbed books rarely earn enough to pay back that return for the writer. also there is little if any publicity for self-pubbed books and publicity drives sales.

    That being said, I may try it once more when I retire and can devote more time to writing and marketing.

    Good luck with your journey. I look forward to your books - self published or traditionally done.

  4. Terrific post, Janis. As an author who had an agent for two years who couldn't sell my books, I took the self-publishing route. And I love it. Since my first career was as an illustrator, I do my own covers, so I never had that expense. I also do my own formatting. Editing is key and worth the cost. It also helps to have good critique partners. I started in 2010 with a couple of e-publishers for another genre under another name, and that gave me the courage to try putting the books I'd written for years up on Amazon. I never looked back. I'm about to put up #8, along with the 3 I wrote under a pseudonym. Marketing is something else. I'm not great at it, but I do it. If a writer isn't willing to put in that extra time, don't self publish. But these days you have to promote your books even if you're published by one of the big 5. I say go for it!

  5. I've done 9 books with trad publishers and 1 as self-published, with mediocre results for the latter. But I love being able to self-publish my backlist, and for me this is the gold in the self-publishing world, and the biggest change in publishing for all writers. In previous years all our books went out of print with rare exceptions, but that is no longer the case. That alone makes self-publishing a great new venture.

  6. Nice post - I agree that there is room for both!

  7. I feel the authors who have the best results with self publishing are traditionally published with a back list and readership already there. I tried self publishing and did everything the "right" way, and had not so good results. I'm an author not a publisher. Having said that, there is no right or wrong way in this crazy business. It's the way that works for each individual author.

  8. You've said it as well as it can be said, Susan. Well done. Writers can go trad or self pub or a combination of both. We each have to find the path that works best for us.

  9. What Tracey said. Self-pubbing often works very well for writers who were traditionally pubbed, and I think it's great that they're seeing more financial benefits for their work. BUT. It was traditional publishing that originally gave them the platform to build that readership.

    It is TOUGH to get a book noticed out there, and those who are trying to launch a career on their own have an uphill battle to stand out in the throng of new books being published every day.

    Yes, some writers like Belle Andre are able to break out. But for every Belle Andre, I'll bet there are at least a thousand self-pubbed authors, many of them very talented, whose work goes unnoticed.

    The whole industry is still in such a state of flux, I think it will still be some time to see how this all shakes out in the long run.

  10. I'm self-published and I have a contract with a publisher. I love the freedom that self-publishing give me and it has less stress too. I also enjoy working with a publisher. I feel that I learn a great deal from both.