Why We Should Embrace Self-Publishing

On the surface, self publishing sounds like a really bad idea.  Despite denials to the contrary, it seems that one of the biggest fears in the back of people’s minds is that of supply and demand.  With self publishing we have more and more books in the marketplace, but most people don’t seem to have very much time to read.  They are on the internet, playing video games, watching television, listening to music, running errands, working, eating, sleeping, possibly having sex occasionally since the species must go on.

But when are they having time to read?  It seems less and less often.  Except in the cases of Harry Potter and such which became such a huge phenomenon even people who didn’t read decided to crack a book to see what the fuss was all about.

Into this world overflooded with distractions and little time for books, comes self publishing, which floods the marketplace with far more books than can be even a tiny bit successful.  If it was hard to make a living writing fiction before, it’s even harder now.

And if you don’t think this is a threat to traditional commercial bottom-line driven publishing, then here is a bag of LOL for you to take and enjoy later when the joke hits you.

There seems to be an almost evangelical need to stigmatize self publishing and those who do it.  It seems important to create as many strawmen arguments, largely about the lack of quality of self-published books as well as the “obvious stupidity” of those who do it.

Because the truth is, yeah, there are a lot of bad self-published books (which incidentally sell so poorly that they have no effect on the marketplace whatsoever), but…there are also a lot of good books self-published. Especially now, in the light of increasingly insurmountable odds toward traditional publication and lowered barriers for authors to go indie.

It seems now the only thing a writer has to get past is the stigma, which alternately lowers and raises based on the group of people you’re talking to.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of self-published books. Because I have a lot of self published friends.  And maybe it’s who I associate with, but so far I haven’t read a bad book in the bunch.  Certainly no worse than anything I read that comes through traditional publishing channels.

All I can think when I read these books is: “Ha!  I know this person!”  And increasingly my book buying and reading habits revolve around either knowing an author online and communicating directly with him/her, or having a book gushingly recommended to me either by someone I know and trust, or the book has so much buzz everywhere that I am forced to check it out to stop the yammering about it.

On my shelf trad-published books sit right next to self published books.  (Which I suppose in its own way is a symbol of the kind of equality based on quality not publication method, that I eventually hope we achieve).  In some cases I can’t even tell the difference by just looking at them.  But what has become increasingly meaningful to me is…a large percentage of my books were written by my friends.  Some of those friends are trad-published, some are indie authors, but either way, what matters to me is this feeling of a close-knit community where we are sharing our stories together.

And that in essence is what the new media is about.  We are all essentially tired of “Press 3 if you’re ready to slash your wrists from all our stupid corporate menu options meant for our convenience rather than yours.”

We’re isolated and we’re tired of it.  We want to connect with other people.  Even though there is something still inherently isolating about online communication, it’s still better than nothing.  It’s better than passively watching TV if we want to get our community fix.  Books are personal.  They are a conversation between author and reader.  Into this world we’ve found ourselves in, what better entertainment option than a book?

It’s my argument that more people are reading, not less.  More people than ever before are reading, they are just not reading as many books in print, but material they find on the internet.  Which is why ebooks are so important.  Even though I like to lay out in the sun with a paper book and just not interact with technology at all when I’m reading, it doesn’t mean that’s how everybody likes to read.

The fact that there are so many different electronic formats for reading, including your iPhone, is an indication to me that books have not become insignificant in our culture, but are important enough to move forward into increasingly more-relevant forms of technology.

In addition, as more and more people write books and self-publish them, whether those books are good or bad is immaterial, because when someone becomes invested enough in the written word to self produce their own book, you can bet many of them are more likely to start engaging more with the written word as a reader.  Especially as they start to understand that if they want to improve their writing and gain readers for themselves, they have to pay it forward by cracking some books on their own.

So more writers and more self-published books isn’t something to fear.  It means that fiction is still relevant as a form of social communication rather than just another form of widget production.  As always, the cream will rise to the top, the rest will fall to the bottom, and interest and fascination with the written word continues to grow.

To quote Martha Stewart, “That’s a good thing.”

  • Great post. I used to worry about the “stigma” about self-publishing, but recently have realized that the people who perpetuate it are dinosaurs. These are the people who have become (mostly) unnecessary over the past few years — “professional” book reviewers, agents and traditional book-marketing and publicity folks. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these folks are going out of business fast, and that nearly every newspaper book supplement in the country has folded in the past few years.

    In my opinion, if you write for a living (or you want to) and you’re not famous … if you don’t seriously investigate self-publishing, you’re a chump.

  • Hey Steve, I think considering how well you seem to be doing, the stigma should be the last thing on your mind. 😀

    I think it’s a case of the appeal to authority no longer working. While I’m sure there are still many readers who follow the word/views of professional critics in mainstream sources, there are also many readers who don’t, who would rather hear from real readers. Which levels the playing field considerably.

    On the point of writing for a living, if you crunch your numbers right and use POD technology through Lightning Source for your print version… you can make a teacher’s salary with 5,000 book sales. That’s at least moderately “livable” if you live alone, or a good supplementary income if you live with someone else. Provided you don’t live in an area where it’s crazy expensive to live.

    I *do* want to make a decent amount of money writing. IMO writing fiction there are two ways to do that… self publish and market the hell out of it, or… get a really really good contract with a trad publisher. But the latter is too big of a gamble for me. I’d just as likely end up dropped if I didn’t meet some sales quota, then I’d be back to square one and Self publishing, but I’d have to figure out how to get my rights back to the other work.

    If over several years I wasn’t able to come close to my sales goals, then I would probably still write and publish but it would take a smaller chunk of my time and energy as I sought out other more profitable profit centers.

  • I’m a new author and I only self-published one book. The reason I did it was because publishing a book was one of my goals in life, I knew I had a good story to share, and I didn’t want to wait for someone else to see the potential in my book. My book has been out for almost 6 months and I’ve received more positive reviews than negative. Being an author is not my career choice and I didn’t publish a book for money or to become a best-seller. Self-publishing fit my goal, plain and simple. It also fit my personality being that I am a very self-sufficient person and I pride myself on doing things myself. For me, my only issue with self-publishing is the misconception that self-published books are bad quality. I’ve read a lot of books released by traditional publishers that I thought were pure garbage. I scratched my head and wondered how the heck the book was published. Traditional publishers can put out garbage, and I’m sure there are gems among self-published books. The method in which someone publishes shouldn’t determine the quality of their work, and people shouldn’t assume a self-published book is poor.

  • Hey April, I really feel that in the next ten years we’ll start seeing more and more truly good self published books and the idea of the “indie author” being somewhat like the “indie musician” or “indie filmmaker” will be firmly planted in people’s minds.

    Viva la Resistance! 😉

  • I originally didn’t go with self-publishing because it wa actually quite expensive, and I didn’t want to do all of the marketing. However, I have discovered even with being published regularly that I am doing a fair bit of the marketing. So I suppose there are ups and downs to both sides. Which one will pay off in the long run though? Unless your book is highly successful, probably regular publishing. But with self-publishing costs being lowered, it is only a matter of time before it really becomes a competitive market and competes with regular publishing.

  • Hi James, thank you for adding your perspective! As for “which one will pay off in the long run” I think that largely depends on the goals of the individual author. Some use self publishing (whether it’s a print book, an ebook, or a podcast) to start to build a platform in order to attract an agent or editor, some want to go it alone to see what they can build on their own (I’m in this camp), and some just want to share their stories with people.

    Self pubbing and trad pubbing aren’t mutually exclusive paths and more and more I think we’ll see some cross-over as writers seek to build an audience through some form of self publishing, while also submitting other work to the traditional gatekeepers.

  • Have you seen what’s going on with indie movies?

    It’s not just the book publishers that are in danger of being flooded by amateur auteurs – music already is, and film is on the way. For good or for bad, the distinction between small-town theater and Broadway is under siege in every media.

    If you apply economic theory, you’ll agree this can only lead to the lowest common denominator, which would be bad thing, except the mainstream publishers already went for the lowest common denominator so they could make the most money (Twilight, I’m looking at you!).

  • Yahzi, things have changed from being vetted through gatekeepers in order to get to the mainstream public, to being vetted by “the public” itself. If something is crap or sucks, it doesn’t generally catch on. If it’s great, often it does. It’s a truly democratic form of art. Which was kind of how it always should have been.

    Different people have different tastes and most people’s tastes aren’t very highbrow anymore (and actually probably weren’t ever.) However, as film, music, and books move more and more toward mass consumerism, people with more refined tastes are actually benefited by all the indie work, because you’ll be able to find stuff that isn’t on the radar of most Britney Spears fans.

    Instead of having a culture of art dominated entirely by what thirteen year old girls like, we have an opportunity to reach the tastes of all readers.

    If crap continues to rise to the top, even among the indie set of films, music, and books, that is a reflection more on our culture, than it is on the nature of indie.

    One of the arguments I’ve heard against indie authorship that’s diff from movies and music is… supposedly indie films and music do something “different” from the mainstream and indie authors just produce more of the same. But with increased mass consumerism as a guidepost for what to publish, and more and more indie authors breaking out of this mass consumerism mindset, I think we should all be prepared to see things that are “different” in fiction.

    Culture is created by all the people of a culture, not just a few.

    You may also notice that the internet is jam packed with crap. But most of that crap most of us aren’t constantly exposed to unless we are actively seeking it out. Cream rises to the top. This is true with movies, music, blogs, and books.

    Further, human beings by nature organize systems by which to separate the wheat from the chaff. Already websites are popping up to act as filters and review sites for books both mainstream and indie.

    Don’t worry so much. 😀

  • Oh and Yahzi, rereading this a day later… eek sounds like I’m going off on you. I’m rant girl, so please don’t take it as a rant “at you.”


  • M. D. McGinley

    I have to disagree with some points about self-publishing. First of all, too many self-published authors treat traditional publishers as the enemy, when they are actually there to help the authors, not work against them. The real problem is that not all self-published authors are educated enough or “crack a book” when they need to, and the fear of rejection–or even the thought of rejection–is too much for them to bear. Thus, having the $3,000 or so for the initial print run, they will be so excited just to see their work in print that in their jubilation they overlook simple spelling, typographical and syntax errors, as well as diction and usage mistakes, and just basic fact-checking and research (for non-fiction books). I am a self-published author myself, and after ten years since my first book, I realize that it could have been vastly improved, and I only desired that I had had the courage to send it off to a major publisher instead of trying to fly solo. My second book was much better written than my first, and I expect that my forthcoming book, ‘Highliner,’ will be better than ‘The Modern Driver.’ But I regard publishers not as an enemy bent on ensuring that I don’t get printed, but as a line of defense against illiteracy—a company offering the basic, yet invaluable services of line and copy editing before going to hardcopy. I have seen so many self-published books (as evidenced on the verso) that were just flat-out garbage, chock full of fundamental errors that any first-year line editor or college student would have caught right away, and would never have allowed such uncorrected material to advance beyond the proofing room.

    Another problem facing inexperienced authors is that they fail to accept the fact that whatever they write is not sheer genius–that every line is not profound, truly enlightening or something we didn’t know before. First-time authors should be able to demonstrate a minimal amount of English composition abilities, and so many times I have seen errors in books that any tenth-grader would have caught before his teacher would have redlined the whole paper with an automatic “F”. Many first-time authors simply cannot accept criticism, but instead insist on foisting an ill-prepared, ill-conceived or outright wrong publication onto the public. Major publishing companies are in business to ensure that garbage doesn’t get printed, but with the advent, proliferation and affordability of self-publishing software and computers, anybody with $2,000 or so can print practically anything, provided it isn’t overtly offensive (and even then, some companies don’t care, they just want to take the author’s money). The result is a nearly insurmountable deluge of books that should have never been made available in the first place, thus diluting the legitimate stock of quality books that were traditionally published. The line, copy and senior editors that have been summarily removed from the equation by anybody with a few bucks means that garbage is allowed to mix with Filet Mignon. It’s a travesty that well-trained, educated and established authors have to share bookshelf space with amateurs that just can’t write. Maybe there are a few self-published authors that are an exception to this rule, but the unfair problem is that it forces readers to sift through a pile of rocks to find a jewel.

    As far as fiction goes, first-time authors have a duty to ensure that they do not plagiarize others, even if the new work is a melting pot of others’ ideas. A book speaks for itself. If only first-time authors could comprehend that if their books are not selling, they should accept the fact that they were meant to do something else for a living. If not, they’ll only be advertising their own incompetence, thus sealing their fate and eradicating their ideas of would-be fame and delusions of grandeur to be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen Hawking. New authors need to stop regarding major publishers as the enemy, since their business is every detail of the printed word. They weed out and reject all material that is not fit for publication, since not everything is fit to print. To cut major publishers out of the loop is often self-destructive. It would be like somebody desperately needing surgery, who, not having a clue how to wield a scalpel, let alone hold it correctly, has the audacity to tell the doctor, “that’s okay, Doc, I can do it, so I don’t need your help.” What happens is that instead of recovering from a healthy operation done by a professional, the patient dies on the table. He doesn’t even have a second chance to prove his worth, because he died before he left the operating room. He who has himself as a publisher often has a fool for an author. If that analogy is untrue, then why not permit a professional editor, or at least someone with a degree in English, examine the composition or manuscript before publication to ensure that the basics of plot, style, structure, mechanics and overall salability are at least minimally acceptable?

    Sometimes college students will be all to happy to review a manuscript before publication for no charge just for the experience, or perhaps having their name listed in the acknowledgments as full compensation. It never hurts to ask.

    There should be some kind of writing standard or active commission in the United States to block self-published garbage from reaching the marketplace, whether brick-and-mortar or online venues, and that is one downside of a free country that does not censor every publication. I’m certainly not advocating that. Not at all. If the writing has integrity and fills a genuine need for a specific audience, then it will sell itself. Otherwise, readers’ apathy and distrust of all books printed after, say, 1990 (when desktop publishing began to soar), will only proliferate as they justifiably ask, “is this going to be another one of those self-published pieces of crap, or can I just see a major publisher’s imprint on the cover and heave a huge sigh of relief?” One can only hope. Otherwise, new authors have an obligation to brush up on the English skills and not let the thrill of the chase overwhelm their common sense.

  • M. D. McGinley

    Yeah, I caught a couple of typos in my post, so there! 🙂

  • There’s a lot that’s right about your post and a lot that’s wrong. The right: self-publishers go to print before they should and should hire an editor. The wrong: the idea that mainstream publishers provide a magically perfect service that weeds out only the bad books and lets the good ones through. This isn’t true: “If only first-time authors could comprehend that if their books are not selling, they should accept the fact that they were meant to do something else for a living.” Plenty of highly-talented writers have problems selling books.

    This is also wrong: “…they justifiably ask, ‘is this going to be another one of those self-published pieces of crap, or can I just see a major publisher’s imprint on the cover and heave a huge sigh of relief?’” Your strange argument is that self-publishing is the reason that people are cynical about reading. Mainstream publishers have put out a long list of crap that is contributing to people’s distrust of reading.

    You’re also ignoring a large wing of self-publishers who have tried to get published traditionally and have been rejected for very stupid reasons – marketability, not grammar problems. Here’s my story:


    I’ve been published traditionally and self-published. I didn’t put out stuff myself that wasn’t “ready for prime time,” but stuff that got the reaction, “Why the hell did this have to be self-published?”

    There are also those who self-publish not out of fear of rejection, but to avoid a system that has so many flaws and to be in control of their own fate. Granted, there are a lot of self-publishers putting out books before they’re ready, but this is just one type of self-publisher, not everyone.

  • MD:

    I’ve never said Trad publishing is the enemy, I’m simply not interested in it. Why is it an attack on an industry if I don’t want to do something a certain way? It’s a personal choice.

    Further, “blocking self published books” from publication at all is censorship. The crap falls to the bottom, most people can’t see it. People need to be wiser with their buying decisions when buying a book. Read reviews, read a sample, check for recommendations from others, do a google search for God’s sake.

    I didn’t choose to self publish because I didn’t have the courage to face rejection. I had to work up the courage TO self publish because I felt it was what was right for me.

  • I’m an aspiring author – that sounds crap but I do have achieved a few successes in other fields:) This was a great read so thanks for writing it. There’s no doubt that the publishing world is being shaken up right now and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out.

    One great thing about self-publishing is that writers get a decent amount of profit for their work. Traditional publishers seem to only pay writers 10% of book sales which truly sucks.

  • Hey Annabel,

    Yes, there is more profit per book in self-publishing. This may or may not mean more money overall. If you have a trad publishing contract and sell a lot of books, you make more money obviously than if you self pub and sell only a few books. Though you have to sell fewer books on your own to make the same amount of money.

    I figured up that If I sold 5,000 copies of a book I would make about what I’d make if I sold 20,000 – 25,000 going through mainstream channels.

    So the only way I personally would ever consider a mainstream publishing contract is if they were going to market the hell out of my book and I was guaranteed to sell enough to make way more money than I could make on my own. (Not that selling 5,000 copies of something would be an easy feat and I’m not trying to diminish it, but it is, IMO a not impossible goal.)

  • Richard

    I have a serious problem with self publishing, I’ve had two books through it and nothing is ever done. I have pushed and pushed at getting interviewed and asked nicly for reviews but nothing has happened.
    It’s the biggest crock ever and it needs to leave, personally I would rather write for a real publishing company, people just ignor me most of the time. Now it’s getting to me, I need an interview and a review of many types.

  • Richard,

    How about not being so abrasive and just deciding self publishing is not for you personally. That’s a perfectly acceptable life choice. You don’t “have” to self-publish if it isn’t right for you. Plenty of people (though not giant numbers) have succeeded self-publishing and have overcome the obstacles you seem to be having.

    Clearly it’s not right for you. Acting like because it’s not right for you that it isn’t right for anyone and just shouldn’t exist is a bit egocentric.

  • Richard

    In the beging I didn’t kow what I was doing, I simply wanted my fantasy book on the market. I knew very little about publishing ans as time went on I learned that the do it your self marketing was the biggest mistake around.
    The reason I hate it is because the author gets little respect and isn’t credited for their own published books, one of the many reasons why it’s a crock to begin with.

    Yes, your right it isn’t for me but my next step was to get an agent which I researched as many as possible and ended up with the wrong one. At that time I had no idea that they were crooks, they told me that they knew of a company that could help me. Foolish me that once again I was being fooled.
    I ended up with Eloquent Books and had better sales than before, I’ve tried to get reviews and other things. I kept on giving them money thinking that they were helping me, in truth they were stealing me blind and I wasn’t paying attention.

    Once I learned that they too were using me I dicided that the only way to get credited is too work for a real publisher. Right now I’m not working and I truly hate having too much time, but on the other end of the stick I’ve been fixing my work and trying to promote my first book without them. The company helped me launched my second follow up to the fantasy world that I have created.

    Now I have dumped the literary agency which wasn’t doing anything since I was contacting the so called publishers that they said they were talking to. I learned that they weren’t, late last month I discovered a warning about Eloquent Books.
    Maybe it’s bitter hated toward one company that has hurt my feelings, the first book has only sold at least 50 copies. I know it takes time to become reconized but I hate being used.
    I’ve taken to promote my first two books on my own, any one of the companies that is assortated with Eloquent Books I will not use at all.

    In the past week I have been thinking and planing to approch a much better Publishing company which my second cousin has gone through. I sent in one of my better works and waiting for a reply and I’m also looking for a much better agent, what ever happens in the future for me I will tackle any challenge that comes my way, I just won’t be used again.

    I commend you or anyone else that has become their own author what I think about self publishing is a giant warning for anyone who wants to break into it. If they truly want that path they can go for it, but a real publisher like Tor/Forge will never ever reconize them as an author.

    You may think I’m closed mind about it but I assure you I’m not. It’s opened my eyes to the real possiblity that some of them have been dragging self publishers down to the broke lever, some of them only want your money.