Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Self-Publishing, You Say?

If you've been around long enough, you've probably heard or participated in the ongoing discussion on the merits of self-publishing. The consensus seems to be that only another self-published author considers the process reputable. The remaining 95% believe self-publishing is a nasty deed performed by deluded and undisciplined hackers pretending to know what good writing is, or what readers want. 
Can you tell which group I belong to?

The wonderful thing about being a new writer today is the accessibility to information on any subject you deem interesting. If you're determined to self-publish or already have, and now you want to change attitudes, how do you go about doing that? By writing the very best novel you can possibly write. And how do you do that? By taking advantage of the accessibility to the hundreds and possibly thousands of experts online on writing. And when you're not doing that? You're writing, editing, revising and rewriting. Need to study characterizations, dialogue, grammar, or marketing? The help is as close as your fingertips. Need a good critique partner. Yo, wide world of web!

If you're self-published and you're tired of other writers assuming you're a fake, then here's my story. Maybe it can help.

Silly YOU!
Don't tell me you actually believed I would blog about my life story! Ha ha, fooled ya.

Instead, here's an exercise: Go to Google or your favourite search engine and type in How to self-publish a bestseller.

Did you just receive over 6 million links?

See what I mean?

No, I'm not advocating that all self-published novels are well written. But neither are all traditionally published ones. We need to remove labels and start judging books by their content. Some publishers are donkeys, some are horse, and some are just plain mules. But you can ride them all.

When my grandmother was a young mother, one of her daughter's asked her why girls couldn't be doctors or lawyers, or even vote. My grandmother said because only men knew what was best. She said that in 1915, and of course, she grew to see the nonsense of that declaration. So, I'm not begging or demanding that you follow my way of thinking, but to consider not why attitudes like my grandmother's changed, but how. How does any attitude that doesn't promote equality or the freedom of choice come about?

In all fairness, I'm not sure if my grandmother actually said this or if it was a ploy to get me to think. 

--happy revising,



  1. You make a good point that not all traditionally published books are well written. How books are published has little bearing on their quality.

    There are so many changes in the industry now, especially with the ready availability of e-books and POD options, that I think attitudes about self-publishing are evolving, too. I've always believed there is a legitimate place for it, depending on the writer's expectations and goals.

    Love your horse-laugh photo! That's hysterical!!

  2. Strange that you posted this today, as you'll see later. (Warning: Will use my least favorite word "I" in this comment post.)

    I get tired of the labels & the venom spewed from BOTH sides. Now with ebooks gaining in popularity & with so many (over-hyped?) success stories floating out there, the new mantra from the SP side is "who needs Trad Pubs - they're going broke anyway". Of course you also get the 'self pubbed means your work is garbage' from the TP'd crowd too. There's always a middle ground. Lots of junk comes out of both camps & likewise, there are gems to be uncovered from both. So I don't buy into the extreme pronouncements.

    I self published because following the other path required such a commitment. (Not assuming that acceptance of my work was a slam dunk by any stretch.) My day job (career) is challenging, demanding & frankly, I'm good at what I do. My passion for building big "stuff" is still going strong.

    I didn't start out with a goal - or even a dream. Writing just happened & shockingly, the book sells. So SP was the right thing for me. Now to complicate things, just received an email today from a small traditional publisher. Seems they read my 1st book & want to talk. Who knows how things are ever gonna go - but assigning labels & talkin' trash seems counterproductive - in any situation.

    Sorry Joylene - you hit a nerve.

  3. Thanks for that, Joylene, a funny and very wise post. Hugs..

  4. Hi Carol. I'm amazed at the changes just since I published. I also learned very quickly that there is still a strong stigma against self-published novels. It was what enabled me to finally publish, so I'm grateful for my family convincing me it was the thing to do. I know we'll change. I know attitudes will evolve. I just want it to happen faster than it is.

  5. Dave, I'm glad you stopped by and left a comment. I posted on the subject because of recent events that bugged me too. And I think we agree even tho it may not look like it.

    When someone tells me that I'm in one group and therefore no one to pay attention to, it definitely hits a cord. That happened recently on a writer's list.

    Next summer a small press will release my next book. I'll be on both sides of the fence after that. I figure if I'm going to open my big mouth and spew my opinions, then I better be ready to back it up. SP or TP doesn't mean anything to me. Write me a good story and I'll be fan for life.

    Thanks for dropping by, young fellow.

  6. Hi Carole. Thanks. I'm so grateful for your continuing support. Yep, isn't the horse adorable!

  7. You're self-published, right? Is that why you're so down on traditional publishers?

  8. So, but I think you misinterpreted my post, Dawsom. I'm not down on traditional publishers at all. I want people to stop judging a book by its cover. I want them to consider the content rather than who published it. That's all.

    Thanks for commenting.

  9. Sorry for misspelling your name, Dawson. Also, I meant no, not So. I can't see to type.

  10. Joylene,

    Before the digital age, traditional publishers ruled the roost rejecting some great works while publishing whatever they wanted to. Readers were at the mercy of those who published what they decided readers wanted to read and their profits made. Now with the ability of self-publishing on a huge platform, a large number of junk makes it difficult for readers to discover diamonds in the rough. It still takes deep pockets to get the word out into the marketplace.

    Things have changed in other ways. Imagine an independent publisher offering its readers more than any traditional publisher could, or would. In case you're curious, "Littluns" did in a novel with quality second to none. No traditional publisher would give its readers what "Littluns" did. See for yourself at click on the TAB at the top of the page “Breaking All The Rules.” “Littluns” is a one-of-a-kind, family friendly animation-like novel for “Young Adults” and grown-ups of all ages on an adventure and experience of a lifetime. “Littluns” is a very different reading experience that would NOT be possible if it were not for our digital age, technology, and self-publishing.

    When readers find anything unique they do so because someone worked outside the box, took a big chance and gamble, and then made it happen.

    Here’s to the future!

  11. I think what's gettng lost in the discussion is that the quality of Joylene's self published work is what enabled her to become traditionally published.

    Let's not forget that J. K. Rowland went through damn near every publisher in the UK before her Harry Potter series was taken up by a lesser-known publisher caled "Scholastic Books". What does that say about traditional publishers?

    There is more than one way to win at this game!

  12. HI Littluns. I'm glad your book is doing so well. I like the idea of it, but I also like traditional storytelling. I hope there's a place for tradition and experimental. It's nice to escape to another place and time for a while.

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. thank you, Vicki! You've helped. And your support means a lot. When I tell people what it takes, I always mention good critique partners. That means friends like you.

  14. The truth is, digital media has opened the doors to publishing like never before, making it accessible to far more people.

    The problem is, just about every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks his novel is absolutely fantastic. Writing is a art, much like music, that needs to be practiced and perfected.

    Yes, I agree that not every novel published by a big player is good, and yes, a lot of deserving authors are being passed over but...

    If one decides to self-publish, you need to invest the same amount of care in readying your product for the market that the bigger players would.

    That means employing an editor or industry professional to give you an OBJECTIVE, honest opinion of your writing.

    And that costs money, which a lot of people aren't prepared to shell out.

    Also contributing to the lack of quality in self-pubbing is overall design of artwork and layout.

    Once again, if you're going to self-pub, at least do your product the dignity of paying a professional to handle artwork and layout.

    Granted, I'm speaking from more than a decade's involvement in advertising and below-the-line media... so that's just my opinion.

    Doesn't matter if you're self-pubbing or going through a big publisher, the products must be of equal quality.

    And I'm sorry, when I look at some of the stuff available that looks like it's created out of MS Word clipart... I want to weep.

  15. Hi Nerine. Thanks for clarifying that. I'm speaking from a Canadian perspective, but of course e-publishing is very important to a lot of people. Kindle isn't available here in Canada, unless things have changed in the last year. I do understand what you mean though. There is a quality missing to the products that money would change. Hopefully their content will make up for it.

  16. First I want to say thanks Joylene for speaking about this topic. You are right when you say both sides, SP and TP, take extreme views of publishing.

    As some of the other commenters (Nerine, JaxPop, and Littluns) pointed out, it's about quality and being innovative.

    All the advice that was given is sound. As a Self-published author, I get tired of the venom spewed by both sides.

    My experience was slightly different from yours Joylene. I did try the tradition route but wasn't making it anywhere. So I decided to give Createspace a try. I found that I enjoyed the experience of having artwork designed that fit my novel (I have a friend who is an artist) and laying out the interior.

    It also helped that I belonged to a critique group AND had two English teachers go over my manuscripts with a fine tooth comb so that my novels could shine.

    I've read both SP and TP books that are so full of errors that it makes me want to cry. How can we expect readers to enjoy the story if they keep getting caught up by the grammatical and punctuation errors?

    And the idiom, "a picture is worth a thousand words" is very true when it comes to book covers. There is a whole online community of artists in various mediums that can be found at Some of them have done work for famous authors.

    And yes, paying someone to edit your MS can get expense. Do be afraid to reach out to school teachers/college professors. Some of them may be more than happy to help out and don't forget to give them a nod in your acknowledgements.

    Ok, I think that was wordy enough. *lol*

  17. Thanks, Lakisha. I actually did try to find a publisher for 20+ years. I hadn't given up, I'd just wanted to give myself a gift. When a dear friend had one copy of his novel printed by Lulu, I was so impressed I did the same. It was my family's reaction that set off a chain of events. I was lucky. People came into my life at just the right time, and now I have a publisher that I am very happy with.

    Is it about timing? Possibly. But I do remember the yearning to be published so badly that I was consumed by the desire. It seems so many years ago.

    It's like the fat woman who lost 150 lbs only to realize that what was wrong with her life hadn't changed when she lost the weight. I'm very grateful to have my novels published, but I still have my personal demons to deal with.

  18. I'm so glad you brought up that the content of the book matters most of all.

    I, for one, couldn't self-publish, because I'd be a laughing stock once readers got a glimpse of my poor self-editing.

    But you're absolutely right. Some traditionally published books are just as lacking. It IS the content and the skill of edits.

    Such a good blog!

  19. Thanks so much, Cher'ley. I have to correct you tho. I've read your work and can attest to your talent. Sure, editors are wonderful, but they need gifted writers like you and me to help pay the bills.

  20. Sheesh, I see you as gifted, Cher'ley. I'm a storyteller, and there's a difference. Apparently, Jeff Rivera is going to explain the difference in his blog next week. Should be interesting.

  21. May I have another rant about self pub? Specifically the implication that all novels released by smaller and independent publishers are self published.

    I followed a link awhile back to an article on e-books in Publishers' Weekly. The writer completely avoided mentioning that thousands of e-books are selected for quality, edited competently, and published for royalty by small presses that use POD and e-pub as their business model. The article writer chose to assume that they did not exist and that all those POD books and e-books were self-published.
    Of course the snobbery and brown nosing was for the benefit of PW's advertisers. It's true that books by a handful of writers released by the traditional presses way outsell the rest of the field, but that's only because of the snobbery of those readers who never look beyond the cover when purchasing.

    There is enough quality writing and publishing in the non-traditional field to more than satisfy the most particular reader, but at the moment it is almost invisible among the output of lesser quality. We need to clean our own houses if we want to be valued.

    Chris H.

  22. Thanks for bringing up that point, Chris. We need to educate the reader public that these great reads are available. I'm grateful that I'm able to do that even in a small way. I have family and friends who are now introduced to authors they would have never considered otherwise. They assumed that the only thing worth reading were the columns of books stacked to the right of the checkout clerk in their nearest grocery store.

  23. There are many good reasons to self publish. Among them would be:

    1. Rereleases of formerly published works.

    2. Works that have a small, niche audience, like family histories, small subgenres that aren't very popular, and fundraising projects. Sometimes poetry falls in this description, as well; though some publishers do take it, there are few slots comparatively for it.

    I personally don't advocate taking new fiction works that have a good following to self-publishing, though some established authors have luck with it, because they just bring their established audience along for the ride with them. I always sell more with a publisher than without. Just my experience. Others may vary.

    You need to offer the best possible product. If you want help with that, here's a link to the Crazy Tuesday radio show on self-publishing.

  24. Wow, what a terrific discussion. I must join with the pro self publishing camp. Reasons:
    1. New writers have a snowball's chance in hell of being picked up by a traditional publisher, even most agents
    2. according to the agent I enjoy pestering the most, it is becoming a launch medium for a book and if you can market your book successfully, a traditional house will be way more likely to pick it up.
    3. the entire industry is changing. Anyone who thinks otherwise (including PW!) is blind.

  25. Thanks for the links to the Crazy Tuesday radio show, Brenna. I'll definitely tune in. It's still amazing just how easily available information on self-publishing is. Which is what I've been advocating all along. If you're really interested in something, you can find truckloads of info on the subject.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  26. Great post, Jolene....self-publishing is the new frontier, and even many writers who worked with a major publisher at one time became so jaded with the process that they decided to self-publish. I didn't even try to get a "real" publisher. Why? I didn't want to wait years for the book to come out -- and I wanted moe than 30 cents a book royalty!

  27. Janey, hi! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. You've definitely been paying attention to this crazy business. BTW, I loved your blog. Humour and science make wonderful bed partners. Best of luck with your careers.

  28. Brenna, forgot to say how much I enjoy your blog. You are a prolific writer. Best to you and your career.

  29. Hi Arlene. Thanks for bringing that up. It's something I forgot to mention. I know a few published authors who have given up on the traditional route because of the way their book was handled. That's sad. I do think there is a place for small houses with good distributors. I'm very pleased having worked with Sandhill Books. I was treated with respect and my book was handled with care. It was a good experience.

  30. I read the term Traditional Publishing is a term dreamt up by that vanity press Publish America. I don't understand why folks like to use it, there is nothing new about self publishing, so it also falls under the umbrella of "traditional publishing". A more accurate term would be Commercial Publishing. A publishing house won't buy your work if they don't think they're going to make a profit. Simple as that.

    I think self publishing is a very viable alternative to commercial publishing. I agree that there are bad commercially published books but I have never read anything as awful as when I started reading self published work. I'm not the greatest at grammar or self editing but there were so many howlers just on the first page of some of the self published books I've read. If you're going to self publish and charge people for your work then for the love of god employ a professional editor, not your best friend who's an English teacher.

    The problem with self publishing is that people rush into it or vanity publishing without doing proper research, without knowing what they are getting into. It is very easy to do that. It is very hard to self publish properly and produce a quality product that stands up well against a commercially produced book.

    As I said I think self publishing is viable for a few groups
    Niche books, Midlist authors with backlists, Non fiction. I don't think it's a good idea to publish fiction (also most of those books that I read - there was a reason they were rejected).

    If you're going to self publish I would suggest:
    Learn your craft - take classes, join critique groups
    Employ a professional editor - someone who has experience of commercial publishing, so that your work is edited to the same standard.
    Employ a professional cover artist instead of slapping something together in photoshop.
    Either employ someone or use professional software to set up the layout properly.
    Read as many books on sales and marketing as you can.

    btw to the person who was talking about Scholastic being a lesser known publisher. They've been around over 80 years and publish a lot of educational books and kids books. Maybe they're not into adult fiction but I'd disagree they were lesser known.

  31. Dear Anonymous, thanks for your comments. Your suggestions are great. Hopefully, if these types of suggestions are made enough times, potential authors will adopt them as an essential part of the business. A good marketing plan is a must-have.

  32. Joylene,
    I appreciate the education taking place in your original post and in the comments that have followed. I approach this subject from a variety of angles: an editor first, a commercially-published author with a smaller publishing house second, a self-published author third, and a new publisher last. Because my main publisher doesn't accept short story compilations, my desire to release an anthology to support my fantasy series fell on my shoulders. Off to CreateSpace I went...with good success. The sad thing is I felt such shame about it that I barely promoted the chapbook I'd created. It sits on Amazon with a mere three reviews...

    The stigma against self-publishing is still with us whether we like it or not. I agree that self-publishing opens doors for better profits, more control, easier book-keeping, etc., but there are people out there who look at me like some kind of monster when I admit that I have two chapbooks that are ***voice drops to a whisper*** self-published.

    What do we do to get an industry past that mindset? The answer has been implied in these comments already. Improve quality. Edit like mad. Proofread the final copy. Then proofread it again. I've read fantastic stories that have made my skin crawl with syntax, structure, and grammar problems. When a page has more than three or four errors, the reader will notice.

    What saddens me is finding that kind of apathetic editing in a publishing house. It's a reflection on the author, the editor, the indie house that published the travesty...

    I'll ramble for hours on this topic if I go any further astray. Thank you for the conversation!

    From Sandy Lender
    "Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

  33. Sandy, change begins at home. Look at your accomplishments. I'm shocked that you would feel sheepish about being SP'd. You took creative control. If I was there I'd tell you to stand tall and in a confident voice address this issue once and for all. Yes, you did all it all. And you're here to say... what you just said. But no more whispering.

    You are an accomplished author.

    It galls me when anyone is categorized. We start changing attitudes by doing honest reviews of novels on the merit of their content and not on whether they're written by some sweet person who really needs a good review. If they deserve a good review, they get it. Otherwise, back to the drawing board.

  34. I think you are right when you say that some people make assumptions about books that are self published. Obviously, just because a book is published by a traditional publisher doesn't make it any better than one that has been self published.

    Many people asked me why I didn't self-publish a book of my short stories since I'd had many that had already been published inliterary magazines. Honestly, it wasn't anything that I'd considered mainly because I didn't feel I had the money to put into it, not to mention the fact that I wouldn't have known a thing about marketing, etc. In plain terms, I wasn't ready.

    The way I see it, a good book is a good book and a not so good book is a not so good book. It realy doesn't matter how it's published.. Interesting topic.

  35. I like your attitude, Laura. Upfront and sensible. Thanks for commenting. We need to spend the word that authors owe it to themselves to take SP'g seriously. Their job is to produce the best product possible.

  36. Just to clear things up, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published by Bloomsbury UK. Scholastic is the USA publisher, who changed the title to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

    I don't see any good reason for the animosity from either side of publishing. Why would any businessperson (writers are businesspeople AND artists) cut themselves off from opportunity, whether old or new? Like you said, a good book is a good book. Lot's of work goes into making a book stand out whether it's traditionally published or not.

    The really exciting aspect of self-publishing is the amount of control afforded to the author. But with control comes responsibility, and more work!

  37. As an author, I am thrilled to see the opportunities that are now available. As a reader, I am ecstatic that I can choose for myself what I want to read. I am no longer subject to the tastes or whims of the Big 6 or so publishers. I would rather decide for myself. I have found some gems in the self-published offerings. It isn't hard, if a reader is given a preview. Usually, shoddy proofreading/editing will reveal itself within a few paragraphs. I also must add that even the big guys publish some bombs. I read a very poor book recently put out by a traditional publisher. If there was an editor at all, he/she must have been on crack cocaine or asleep at the wheel. It does my heart good to hear of self-published authors who are enjoying some success.

  38. Thanks, K. I'm grateful for the opportunity I've received. I worked hard, but I couldn't have done it without the support of so many wonderful writers and readers.


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