Self-Publishing Snobbery

There’s a lot of snobbery in the air when someone mentions self-publishing. A lot of pursed lips and tut-tutting. It’s the last resort of a poor writer having been rejected by countless agents and publishers, isn’t it?

Many think so, sadly.

I’ve read a few SP books and loads of “ordinary” books and have found errors in both. Funny, they are called spelling errors in SP books, but printing errors in books with a publishing house behind them.

I suppose I’m biased having written and POD-published my book. I regret not finding a decent designer for the book cover, but other than that it’s my debut book and I’m proud of it, God dammit!

So, would I do it again?

Yep, is my answer. Self-publishing, podding, whatever you call it is second best but only because you are editor, promoter, and writer all rolled into one neat ball, and being all of those is a lonely and time-consuming business (especially when all you want to do is write!). But I’d still do it again. I’ve learned so much along the way, and met so many wonderful people.

The Pros and Cons of self-publishing can be found in the links highlighted. But, at all costs, make sure your book is the best it can be if you follow the SP route (by any route, really). Pay for a detailed edit/proof-read. Pay an artist for a good cover: these don’t have to be expensive. Shop around.

Thanks to Lulu.com, youwriteon.com etc self-publishing (POD – print on demand) isn’t expensive anymore, so don’t get suckered into paying more than you can afford.

Vanity publishing is not to be confused with self-publishing. These are companies out to get as much money from authors as they can. You’ll end up with a garage full of books and an empty bank account, so be aware.

But be prepared to sell yourself; pimping on Twitter, Facebook etc. You’ll make a lot of friends from all over the world, as I have found, but you’ll also encounter a lot of snobbery.

Have you self-published? Thinking about it? I’d love to hear from you.

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27 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Snobbery

  1. Louise,

    Interesting post. Certainly there are many who dismiss self-published books, but this phenomenon has been around for many, many years. Self-published books, particularly non-fiction, that are properly edited and produced are indistinguishable from book done the traditional way, and represent a real–and often the best–alternative for niche non fiction. But, as you say, it has to be done properly.

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  2. I think because a few years back when there was no POD and SP used to cost hundreds, if not, thousands, the published used to pity us. Now, it's within our reach because of POD they are feeling peeved because we've cut out the middle man, so to speak.

    Don't get me wrong I'd still dearly love to get a “proper” book deal, but I'm happy to continue with POD, I just rather not get the condescending smiles that go with it.

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  3. While there is certainly a place for self-publishing, many authors just don't do it properly. I recently read a book – and while I know the difference between vanity and self-publishing, I'd venture to say this was a self-pub – that was just horrible. It wasn't just the errors, though they were numerous, as were the POV and sudden tense shifts, but also the lack of a well-crafted story and terrible cover art.

    What this author failed to realize is that self-publishing means YOU are the publisher, which entails ALOT. A publisher hires editors to make the story shine and cover artists to make it attractive. If an author can't afford to pay for these services, their book will fulfil the self-prophecy of terrible self-published books.

    I've also read good SP books, that I've wished had been picked up by mainstream pubs, if for nothing else than they would have been given more exposure. Which is really where many self-publishers fall down on the job.

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  4. I do agree that many SP authors have only themselves to blame for most of the rolling of eyes we suffer, but surely they are in a minority?

    I've read some fantastic SP books!

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  5. The biggest roadblock that I see is that very few authors have the time, money, or business sense to set themselves up as a publisher in order to make themselves a success. Very few realize just how MUCH time and money go into the production of a book. And when they shortcut it, either out of lack of funding or lack of publishing knowledge, you get what many SP books become.

    Unfortunatly I think the gems of SP are in the minority. Most of them stink on ice. That's an honest opinion from someone who's read many SP books. There are some great ones, but many just don't make the mark.

    Many who are “cutting out the middleman” don't have the knowledege they need in order to do it. They might be able to write, but after that they don't know much. You MUST act like a publisher if you want to self-publish. You wear both hats, and when that happens, many realize their heads aren't big enough for both.

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  6. As an added note, I think the biggest stigma attached to SP is the fact that the book didn't have to go through some kind of vetting before it was published. It wasn't “chosen” from a slush pile and thought to be worthy. In many cases it's a valid point. (but not all.)

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  7. Another advantage that many overlook is when you self publish, you have control over the editing, printing, and marketing of you book. It’s not unusual for traditional publishers to keep your book in the “queue” for six months or more. They are continuously preparing other titles of course and may delay the release of your book to take advantage of a number of factors including the current economic climate, what’s on the best seller list, or a particular time of the year. If you self-publish, you can create your own time frame and schedule your book’s release.

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  8. Valid points Christine and Todd. My few is that as publishers are cutting corners anyway and expect the author to edit their own book, practically the only difference between a SP and the other is that one has been “chosen”.

    There is a definite “new generation publishing” that have some worried.

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  9. “publishers are cutting corners anyway and expect the author to edit their own book, practically the only difference between a SP and the other is that one has been “chosen”.”

    I don't find that's true at all. I'm only with small presses, but my editors are extremely helpful to the process. Every editor I've ever had has strengthed my work. I have friends at larger publishers and they also get tons of editorial notes.

    Which is not to say you CAN'T DO THAT if you self-publish. You just have to be willing to a) do the homework to find a good freelance editor, and b) be willing to pay top dollar for his or her services.

    Many SP authors fall into the trap of “I don't need editing” or “an editor will ruin my unique voice”, when nothing could be further from the truth, in my experience. Everyone needs editing. EVERYONE.

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  10. Todd, publishing is a slow business, mostly because it's still run by human beings. It's not unusual for authors to have release dates that are a year or more out from the contract signing. Which is okay, because they're taking care of everything else. As I said before, not many authors have the time or money to perform every job that a publisher does, or the knowledge to do it well. If you do, great!

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  11. “I don't find that's true at all. I'm only with small presses, but my editors are extremely helpful to the process. Every editor I've ever had has strengthed my work. I have friends at larger publishers and they also get tons of editorial notes.”

    The few (not many I admit) I've submitted to have requested that my MS is “ready to go” as they no longer have an in-house editor!

    I agree that you need to pay for an editor (SP or not), before submitting anywhere. When you write, you're sometimes blind to your own mistakes.

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  12. Todd, publishing is also slow because publishers don't schedule books they plan seasonal lists. Frequently these lists are assembled many months in advance not only to allow the author to finish the book, but for all the various departments of a very large corporation to plan production and publicity, an often massive and complex undertaking.

    Christine, it certainly would be in any author's best interests to get editorial help, or at least an opinion from a professional who is familiar with your subject area. It's pretty common knowledge, (and as a writer myself, I have to say it's true for me) that writers simply cannot edit themselves.

    In my experience, the best writers are the ones most concerned with getting good editing. Interesting?

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  13. just got back from the american christian fiction writer's (ACFW) conference and they are trying to make a move to accept POD books as books and not look down on them. i've never self-pubbed, but it looks like the cards are definitely stacked against the endeavor for ACFW. i'm all for the industry being more accepting.

    jeannie
    The Character Therapist

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  14. Jeannie,

    Interesting that they would discriminate against a reproduction technology and whether many people can actually tell, holding the book in their hand, what type of equipment produced it?

    Likely to get stranger before the industry gets its head straight about digital printing.

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  15. I paid a lot of money to try to get my first book out five years ago, it never happened 😦 the novel is complete but I had to take the so called self publisher to court in order to get my money back from her. I won the case but she only paid me $60 out of the money she owed. I've learned my lesson and yes Lulu so far to me is the best among some others, I got to publish my first poetry book 3 years ago with another company.

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  16. There's a big difference between vanity press and POD publishing. With vanity you have to pay vast amounts of money and end up with a garage full of books, which you're expected to sell yourself.

    With POD, you pay for the ISBN, order however many books you want, which you're expected to MARKET yourself (with the ISBN they're already on Amazon, etc).

    Sorry to hear of your trouble LS. Lulu is OK, but there are many others out there now. I think POD will make the vanity presses slink back into the gutter where they belong.

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  17. I'm a bit late to the party, but here are my thoughts: Today there is a popular player on the field—-a hybrid of the typical “subsidy” press and POD. These companies call themselves “self-publishing companies” or “POD self-publishers,” and they offer more choices to authors at better prices than the typical subsidy companies. They might advertise that customers can use their own cover designs or set their own price. And they are usually inexpensive.

    What that means, unfortunately, is that they frequently attract bottom-of-the-barrel literary talent. Plus, with such low up-front investment, the authors themselves dive in head first, often without professional editing, typesetting, and cover design. Although these hybrids sometimes offer these services, they may be less than satisfactory. The result of this low-cost approach is frequently a poor quality book that sells few copies (the average is something like 100).

    Typically, these companies issue one of their own ISBNs for your book. With this approach to POD, you are not the publisher.

    The reality is that many of these companies are vanity publishers calling themselves “self-publishing” or “self-publishing POD” companies. In reality, though, they are often trading on the good name of self-publishing to make their companies appear to be a legitimate option for authors.
    If you decide to go the route of one of these POD outfits, do your research! And keep in mind that since the digital landscape changes so rapidly, you should consult current Web sites of any companies that interest you. Also read industry magazines and newsletters to find out about new firms that have hung out their virtual shingles.

    It’s also worth noting here that there are many digital (POD) printing companies that offer excellent service, prices, and quality. They should start calling themselves what they truly are: book printers.

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  18. The spelling mistakes/printing errors are not the problem that I have found in the majority of self published books that I have read – nor are readers usually so petty as to focus on them if they were the only problem. Most of the self-pubs I read were sent to me by authors in the hopes that I would audio-publish them and there wasn't one that I couldn't immediately tell why they had been rejected by the print publishers (as they all had been).
    Unerringly, the problem I've found with self-pubbed books has been the same and is possibly represented in your sentence: “Pay for a detailed edit/proof-read.” Editing is not proof reading. Everyone needs a CONTENT editor – someone who will address story and structure issues without fear or favour and this requires more than one pass. Even if a writer does hire a freelance content editor there is always that 'who paid who' issue for a writer to fall back on if they don't like what they hear. The simple notion that a third party is paying your editor can be a powerful thing.

    That's not to say that there aren't some gems out there that are getting lost in the current system but I'm not sure they are the majority of those that are being self-pubbed.

    Of course there is a place for self-publishing, particularly in non-fiction when there is often a niche audience for a book on a local subject which need not be widespread. I can't help but think, though, that there must be some other way to take advantage of the technology which makes distribution of fiction cheaper while still overseeing quality. Some kind of co-op thing, perhaps youwriteon is similar to that, I don't know. 🙂

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  19. Thanks very much Danielle, I must admit I'd not heard of a content editor before.
    The editor I'm with at the moment looked at my structure as well as the spelling and grammar.
    I've certainly a lot more to learn.

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  20. Louise, you used Lulu for printer and YouWriteOn.com for publisher / distributor?

    My problem is that when I researched self-publishing, even the “good” POD companies (such as Lulu and BookSurge) had some bad critiques out there. (Some of those complaints did look to be several years old, though.)

    When I looked at Lightning Source (part of Ingram and associated with Barnes & Nobles), their web site said they add 500 new titles every day! I.e., even at a reputable shop, if something goes wrong, your chances of getting the problem resolved are not good.

    Thanks,
    Jim

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  21. Hi Jim, nice to hear from you.
    YWO did it all, published and distributed (they used Legend Press for printing).
    I had a few problems with the wrong unrevised copy of Eden being published but that's all sorted now.

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  22. Jim, just a note to let you know that Lightning Source is not intended for 1 book self-publishers, but if you start a “publishing company” you can print there and experience firsthand their outstanding customer support.

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  23. Self publishing works really well for writers who do their research, and do everything in their power to put out a professional book – the problem is that it is also used by people who can't be bothered do do any research or learn the first thing about putting out a book.

    I used to work at a library, and saw some really horrible self-published books along with some decent ones. One that sticks out in my mind was a children's picture book. The premise for the book was unique and there was a lack of books on the subject. The text was great, but the illustrations which were done by a friend of the author's were horrible and in a picture book that can really ruin the whole book. Had the author paid a little extra to hire a professional illustrator, I think that book could have been a big seller.

    I think the reason the prejudice against self-publishing exists is because when self published books are bad, they tend to be really bad.

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  24. I agree with you in a way, Alissa. But I also think SP has come a long way and could put agents out of business in the future.

    There are many editors, proof readers out there, lots of designers and illustrators and even book promoters.

    If a SP author believes in themself and has talent AND uses the resources available to them, there won't be any need for an agent.

    Trouble is there are lots of unscrupulous people out there ready to rip off the writer.

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  25. I'm self published on smashwords.com

    I've never sent anything off to a publisher and have no intention of doing so.

    I write because I enjoy it and I self publish because I like to *own* what I write. I choose my editor, cover designer and decide how my fiction is marketed.

    Future generations will look back and wonder why we needed publishers in the traditional sense 🙂

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