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The Real Source of Self-Publishing Stigma

So here is the thing…

There is a lot of talk about the “stigma” of self-publishing. But for the most part this stigma is rather contained. For example:

Mainstream Publishers/Agents: They don’t really care whether you self-publish or not. I mean think about this for a moment. If you’re self-publishing, you’re one less manuscript in their slush pile. If you fail, they don’t have to deal with you. If you succeed, then you are a proven quantity to them… a sure thing, which is something publishers like. So exactly why would they care? Publishers and agents reject bad writing all the time. They don’t remember the bad writing because they see so much of it, it all bleeds together (from one of the horses’ mouths.)

Agents DO discourage self-publishing very often on their blogs and such, but the stigma doesn’t really flow from them. More about that in a minute…

And while there is much talk about how if you self-publish you’ll ruin your future chances at a career because bookstores won’t order your books from a publisher because your self-pubbed books sold so poorly, that’s not a very strong argument and I’d like someone to bring in an actual bookstore book purchaser to confirm this. BOOKS are all returnable inside the brick and mortar bookstore system. They don’t HAVE to assess risk with a major publisher.

Chances are really good they NEVER stocked your book. So… if you’ve got bad sales, and since everyone claims brick and mortar distribution is Distribution Mecca, then… oh gee, maybe they’ll “get” that it may be a distribution issue and not that the book isn’t good. The double standards out there are astounding. Either way though, with a major publisher backing a book and taking their sales people around, do you really think bookstores are doing intensive background checks? Who cares if you self-pubbed a book?

With bookstores the stigma isn’t so much stigma as shelf-space. While it’s a common belief that self-published books can’t get shelved on brick and mortar bookstore shelves, this is BS. There is a vetting process whereby small press and self-published authors can get their books vetted and into the store, even the MAJOR chains. I know of many self-pubbed authors whose books are sitting on major bookstore shelves.

But if you WANT that, you have to do the legwork necessary. You have to produce a quality book and you have to get into Ingram and Baker and Taylor (the primary distributors of the book trade), but it can be done. At the end of the day it isn’t “stigma” that keeps a self-pubbed book off a bookstore shelf… it is the self-publishing author’s lack of education about the process to do it or willingness to do it, or the quality of their book. Plain as that.

Also, even if you can’t get on bookstore shelves, you should ask yourself whether or not this is something that’s necessary for you. The bookstore returns system can cannibalize your sales and for a small operator, that might not be the place you want to be at. Especially not in the beginning as an indie. Though your mileage may vary.

So far we’ve established that agents, publishers, and bookstores don’t really “care” whether or not you self-publish. If you’ll note bookstores don’t start big blogs ranting and whining about self-publishing. Neither do publishers. In fact, many are open to the idea of finding authors to sign among those who are successfully self-publishing. They understand due to distribution issues that it’s still hard for an indie to sell a lot of books and they adjust their expectations accordingly. While agents may discourage writers from self-publishing… it would kind of be contradictory to their business model to do anything else. It’s called self-interest, folks, not empirical reality.

If an author self-publishes and THEN gets picked up by a publisher, the agent wasn’t needed to scout out and find the talent. The author is then the one in the power chair. And that author is unlikely to call up that agent for representation. They may call AN agent, or they may call an intellectual property lawyer to handle their contract. But the important part in this scenario is that the author has the power, not the agent… more about that in a minute.

Now granted, the odds of succeeding as an indie are slim (but the odds of succeeding ANYWAY are slim.) If you’ve got the goods, you’ve got them, no matter how you publish. Agents have to wade through a lot of crap to find gems but right now their job is still necessary. If all hopefuls were to start self-publishing, or even if ENOUGH of them did, that publishers got all the work they needed from successfully self-published books, then the agents’ job description all but disappears.

Most of the “self-publishing stigma” hinges on the idea that all self-published books are bad and written by deluded morons who can’t really write. The moment enough truly GOOD writers buck the system and self-publish, this stops being true. In order for the stigma to continue, it must remain a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in order for THAT to happen, everyone WITHIN the system must heavily discourage anyone working outside it by appealing to their vanity and their fear of being ostracized from the community.

And if the agent’s job doesn’t completely disappear (i.e. they could go back to just doing what they were supposed to be doing: contract negotiation), their perceived power among writers does, because then their position in the system as the writer’s employee, is reinforced. I believe many of the agents out there on the Internet who verbally abuse the writer community every change they get, enjoy this false power they’ve been temporarily granted. But, if there is an easier and more drama-free way for publishers to find talent, besides the slush pile and agents, then agents go back to being employees and not a second round of gatekeeper.

I find it insane that while many in traditional publishing will pontificate about how indie authors aren’t “vetted,” GUESS WHAT? Agents aren’t vetted. Anyone can call themselves an agent and a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. Most top agents aren’t taking on new clients because they don’t have to. They’ve got enough good authors making them plenty of money.

Reviewers: What about all the review sources who won’t review your book? Another myth. There ARE self-pubbed books that are reviewed in major sources. If you do things the right way the issue of whether or not your book is self-published shouldn’t even come up. i.e. You have an imprint that isn’t YOUR name (like not Sally’s Books), you have a professional-quality book, and you’re presenting yourself as a professional.

You may still not get reviewed, but… it’s not because of the stigma of self-publishing. It’s because of ALL the books out there and how competitive it is. Most trad published books don’t get reviewed in major sources either. Also, most major sources for reviews are drying up and being replaced by the voice of readers on book reviewer blogs that gain a following. It is a WHOLE different landscape out there, and yet many are still functioning as if it’s 1999.

Readers: I don’t care what anyone says, readers are why writers write. There is no other reason. If you want to make money you can find something that will pay you far better than writing. Writing is what you do because you have something to express and share with the world. So reader opinions? The buck stops with them I’m afraid.

You just can’t delete readers from the equation no matter how much the industry seems to want to. They are the end consumer of the book. And the more the traditional publishing system abuses and disregards the wants and needs of the readers, the more readers will shrug and go find other entertainment options, whether it be small press and indie books, or reality TV. Either way, they’ll get tired of the shit eventually.

So what do readers think? Well, for the most part, since most of them aren’t exposed to bad self pubbed work, since crap doesn’t rise to the top, they don’t care. They don’t know who your publisher is and they don’t care who your publisher is. While there are SOME readers who have either somehow been exposed to a lot of bad self-pubbed work and got a bad taste in their mouth over it, or who are plugged in enough to the pulse of the publishing industry that they have become influenced by the “stigma”, most readers don’t know about all this bullshit politics. Nor do they really care one way or the other.

You don’t have to overcome reader objections to your method of publication if you produce a quality book. The reason you don’t is that publishers never branded THEMSELVES. No one knows who Dan Brown or Stephen King’s publisher is… or not average readers anyway. They don’t know the different imprint names or publisher names for most mainstream-produced book. They can’t tell a small press imprint, from a division of a larger well-known publisher. SOME of them, can’t even tell AuthorHouse from Random House (This one is Henry Baum’s brilliance, not my own.)

So you don’t have to overcome reader issues. In fact, if I didn’t interact at all with the writing community on the Internet, and just went about my business self-publishing, I’d never run into any drama whatsoever about my method of publication. I choose, for better or worse, to get into the debates that I do, because while I know I won’t change the pig-headed views of the person I’m talking with most likely, I *may* influence the view of someone reading who hasn’t made up their mind yet. And that, to me, is worth it.

Okay… so if the source of the stigma isn’t “really” agents, publishers, bookstores, reviewers, or readers, what is it?


Traditionally published authors who get bent out of shape about self-publishing, may, in fact, have a partly altruistic motive of protecting authors from making bad business decisions, though I think the better alternative is to teach a writer how to assess business risk, rather than making up asinine rules like “money always flows to the author.”

However, don’t ever be led to believe it is merely altruism that causes a traditionally published author to rail against self-publishing. Self-publishing is a threat. It doesn’t matter that a lot of self-published work is bad… many trad pubbed authors suffered through years of rejection to get “accepted.” They have been validated by a certain system.

If it becomes socially acceptable to work outside that system, then where does their validation go? It becomes less valuable because readers already don’t care. Bookstores already don’t care. The only people who REALLY care are other writers. And so it’s important to set up this “cult of truth” for writers and make everyone goose step and ostracize those who don’t.

If someone won’t march in line like the rest, you attack the quality of their writing, their character, and their mental state or capacity. They aren’t good enough, they haven’t been validated, they are lazy or taking a shortcut. They are delusional. They are naive. And if none of that works, you define them as “the exception” and say they shouldn’t encourage anyone else to do what you’re doing. Writers are so desperate for validation that often they will ignore their own will in favor of being accepted by their peers.

But guess what? Indies have their OWN peers.

Unpublished writers generally want to be accepted by those they look up to. And so because the self-published author is the only one “beneath them” on the food chain, they join in the mob to attack as well.

So let’s sum up… in a really competitive industry the stigma against going outside the system is your competition.

Have a different view about that stigma now? The moment you stop associating with these people and focus on the readers, they just fall off your radar. I’ve chosen under this name, to be loud and out there about being indie and to confront stupid arguments head on because I know for many it’s too hard to stand up to the people who have either been elevated or elevated themselves to grand high potentates of publishing.

Though now I need to probably take a bit of a break from arguing, so I can get something worthwhile accomplished… like I don’t know… publishing.

Cross-posted from zoewinters.wordpress.com.

  • http://www.selfpublishingresources.com Sue Collier

    What a great post! So nice to read something from someone who understands what true, quality self-publishing is. As long as authors put out a top-notch book that is well-edited and well-designed under their own publishing company imprint (not “Sally’s Books” or Author House or Lulu, etc.), they have nearly every opportunity a traditionally published book has. Their book shouldn’t even be identifiable as a self-published work if they’ve done it properly. Authors just need to promote–and preferably they already have a platform for this (incidentally, the traditional houses are starting to demand this as well!).

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Exactly, Sue. And they don’t have to be a big loud-mouth about being indie like me. I know I can write good arguments so I want to use that to be a part of the discussion but everybody doesn’t have to be a part of the “drama” of it all. They can just do their thing, go about their business, etc.

    “Being indie” has become a “part” of my platform, garnering me many readers who aren’t generally readers of my genre, just out of curiosity, so it works for me. But it’s not necessary to be loud and proud and Ya Ya about it if people don’t want to.

    Just make a good book. Get it out there. Learn from mistakes and get better.

  • http://litadventuresinpod.blogspot.com Judith D. Schwartz

    Hi Zoe (and Henry). What a great post — nearly a manifesto. I’m out there too as an indie (the Espresso Book Machine variety). I don’t know if you’ve seen this piece I have up on Huff Post’s book page: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-d-schwartz/publishing-taking-the-pow_b_490172.html

    Meanwhile, I’ll share this post

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Judith, your post was GREAT!

    I especially loved this line:

    “The obedient side of me was willing to relinquish the book to the electronic drawer. You see, it was comforting to believe that there was this distinct entity called “a good book” that a writer aspired to and that an editor would recognize and embrace.”

    Ironically I mention writer obedience in my blog post scheduled for tomorrow.

    Can you tell me more about the Espresso Book Machine? I knew there were rumblings but I wasn’t aware there were any out in retail environments yet. How exactly do you get your book into the Espresso Book Machine “system?”

    • http://persephonegreen.com Persephone Green

      I read through the entire conversation/debate, Zoe, and I’m kind of pissed off at J right now, TBH. On the one hand, he’s really doing future Kindle authors a service by posting publicly about his stats and experiments. On the other hand, he’s certainly not the first person to switch to ebooks. It astounds me when so many genre authors ignore the innovations the romance genre has brought to publishing. Know where our bread is buttered, and respect people accordingly. Sheesh. When I fel the first hints of the accusations of ‘Hysterical woman, gee, you’re cute!” coming on, I stopped listening to him. Do people not understand how condescending it is to imply that 1) readers are just cash depositors with no feelings, 2) money is the only reason to write, and 3) anyone who cares about personal customer interaction or writing for the joy of it ‘must be insane’ is incredibly insulting?

      Also, he’s selling with Lee Goldberg. AUGH. FHL.

      As for the Expresso Book Machine, it is a feat of wonder, a marvel of the future age. LOL. I just examined the new one at the Harvard Square Bookstore and talked to the manager about the time it takes to print books and what kinds of books can be printed, etc. It’s fast; it prints a book usually in under five minutes. The loading of the PDF files usually takes longer.

      The resulting books look like normal trade paperbacks. The only noticeable difference I found was that if my hands were moist, a full-color cover felt the tiniest bit tacky/sticky. I wasn’t smudging or messing anything up, though, so I suspect it was just the feel of that particular cover paper on skin.

      More info is here: http://www.harvard.com/bookmachine/

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        Hey Persephone,

        The thing that struck me was… J feels he’s a revolutionary, but it’s not exactly revolutionary to tell traditionally published authors to put their damn reverted rights reprints up on the Kindle. I mean that should be common sense. And any author who couldn’t figure that out for themselves is in trouble.

        True revolutionaries are people like Mark Coker, Henry Baum, Amy Edelman, April Hamilton, Michael Stackpole. These people are shaking things up and doing things that are DIFFERENT and aren’t playing it safe by any stretch of the publishing imagination.

        It doesn’t take a revolutionary to publish your out-of-print books on the Kindle. Just common sense and the slightest desire to make money.

        Also I agree on romance. Romance is so discredited. And really self-pub is only one step below romance according to the disdain most people in other genres show it. If Romance does something, it’s like it didn’t even happen. E-publishing was trailblazed primarily by romance and erotica.

        That ship has sailed.

        In fact about the ONLY publisher I respect from a business savvy standpoint is Harlequin (ignoring their Harlequin Horizons debacle because THAT was epic fail.) But overall they know business. They know what their readers want, they’re engaged WITH their readers, they do demographics studies, and they deliver. They’re not running around scratching their heads going “Der… but we don’t know how to market it.”

        Maybe other publishers need to hire some Harlequin people. That’s all I’m saying. Perhaps the average Harlequin novel won’t go down in history as great literary art, but with some people’s attitude toward money as god in this industry, maybe they should show Harlequin a bit more respect. They need to decide whether they’re in it for money or art, because at this point in time mainstream publishing in general is succeeding on neither score.

        LOL yes, I noted the condescension too, but I ignored it. The fact of the matter is, he doesn’t what to deal with someone who can stand toe to toe with him and not back down. You’ll note that after exchanging banter with me for about three back and forth posts over what made me think I was a good writer and expecting me to produce some kind of formal checklist, when I put my money where my mouth was and gave a link to a short story of mine… radio silence.

        Not a word. From anyone. Either he read it and thought I could write but refused to make the concession, read it and thought I couldn’t write but didn’t want to hurt my delicate flower feelings, or couldn’t be bothered to read 3,000 words of text despite his willingness to read 10,000 words of argument.

        I like to argue, but when it’s time, I’ll put up or shut up.

        Interesting about the Espresso Book Machine. I’ll have to look into it.

        • http://persephonegreen.com Persephone Green

          True revolutionaries are people like Mark Coker, Henry Baum, Amy Edelman, April Hamilton, Michael Stackpole. These people are shaking things up and doing things that are DIFFERENT and aren’t playing it safe by any stretch of the publishing imagination.

          I know of the first and the last you mentioned. I’ll have to look up the others. Good to know!

          Yeah, I noticed no one commented on your writing. I don’t know if that’s a knee-jerk reaction to romance with explicit sex in it or what. (I could say a thing or two about the discrepancies between the glorification of violence in art and the vilification of sex in same and how we need to stop taking our cues from our colonialist, Puritan roots here in the U.S., but that’s another rant for another time. ;D)

          In any case, I read it and loved it! Are those characters in KEPT or any of your upcoming books? It was so haunting. I like dark fiction and power imbalances. Ha!

          They need to decide whether they’re in it for money or art, because at this point in time mainstream publishing in general is succeeding on neither score.

          Blasphemy! Don’t you know you’ll never achieve anything in this world without recognizing your betters? ;)

          I used to buy into all of the stereotypes about romance. Then I realized that all of the complaints about formulaic writing could easily be applied to any literary genre. I mean, think about it: there are literary tropes all over the mystery and thriller genres. They’re more “respected,” I suspect — and this is all relative, because genre fiction on the whole is disrespected compared to literary fiction — because anything that is perceived to be flowery, feminine or emotional in the mass consciousness is considered for women only and thus is regarded as inferior.

          It’s my eternal frustration with the entertainment industry as a whole. Look at film. There are so many crappy films out there, and half of mainstream movies seem hackneyed, dull, and pointless to me. On the other hand, it’s the 20 percent of movies like Scary Movie [#] and Saw [#] that pay for the production of films like Revolutionary Road and Finding Neverland. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, where the films with good acting, direction, writing, etc. are about subjects that I find boring or distasteful, like every single film about boxing in the past decade or so: Ali, Million Dollar Baby, The Hurricane, Rocky Balboa, and Cinderella Man. People in Hollywood apparently like boxing. A lot. (Thanks, Stallone.) I hate it; the only instances where I thought it was well-done on film were as parts of larger plot arcs, like in Far and Away. I want a happy medium here, the equivalent of Neil Gaiman stuff for film, where something can be educational or beautiful AND entertaining. I love historical fiction, but we don’t need any more twentieth-century historical fiction unless it’s about the cultural revolution of the Sixties or the Roaring Twenties, and even so, those areas have some coverage. Similarly, I don’t mind social justice in my entertainment, but there needs to be a hopeful ending. I want to escape from the real world, not be even more depressed. It’s the difference between A Time to Kill and Dangerous Minds. The latter is not appealing. That’s just me.

          Back to romance. The publishing industry does itself a big disservice when it discounts a third of its total sales. There’s shooting yourself in the foot, and then there’s the publishing industry. -.-

          I mean, honestly, I wish people would make up their minds. Either you’re in it for the art and you need to listen to and respect readers and cultivate patronage to survive, or you’re in it for the money and you throw your weight behind enterprises that resemble Harlequin. They want to have it both ways, but they don’t want to change the system to accommodate both ways. Why not take the readership-loyalty practices of Harlequin, the business savvy of Baen, and the open-minded ebook/print practices of Samhain? I’m not saying any one company is perfect, but there is risk inherent in any sea change. The worst thing to do is bury one’s head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening.

          The Expresso is really cool. I actually found out about a trad. published author who is now selling some of his titles exclusively through POD/Expresso with the Harvard Bookstore. His name is Steve Almond, and he is FANTASTIC. He pulls no punches when it comes to lambasting the short-sightedness of the industry, and I actually went to the store and bought his book, THIS WON’T TAKE BUT A MINUTE, HONEY (stories and essays on writing) because of his opinions on the future of publishing.

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

            Hey Persephone, I classed that story as more erotica, but it could be classed as kinky romantica maybe because there is love between these two. The way I saw it was: A Safer Life was short, so I wasn’t asking someone to get into a big long sprawling story. Giving less text than I’d given in debate seemed a good way to keep people from having any excuse to weasel out except that they’d prefer to keep their stereotypes in tact.

            And also Joe writes gory serial killer stuff. If he can write and handle THAT he can handle kinky sex that isn’t even that graphically written or that appalling on ANY level. I continue to be shocked by people who freak out over anything beyond standard sexual fare but think torture porn like Hostel is A-okay. That’s just creative expression, but openness about sex is evil. Um, yeah, okay.

            The other thing was… it takes several pages before you even get to anything that’s going to upset most people as far as even the level of graphic I went to. By that point, even if the reader has to check out cause they can’t handle the subject-matter, it’s enough to form an opinion about whether I have the ability to write fiction or not. Which was what it was about to begin with. Not: Is this your thing? Do you like the story itself?

            And no that’s not related to KEPT. That was something for an erotic fiction contest (I won second place, and $300.) Typically I have to write erotica under a diff name cause I’ll censor myself otherwise worrying about alienating people who like my paranormal romance but can’t handle the rest.

            The paranormal romance is very sexually tame which oddly makes some think I’m some kind of sex-writing prude, no, I just don’t find overly explicit sex, sexy. And when it’s romance, not erotica, it’s about the relationship dynamic, not how many sex scenes you can cram into the book. If it doesn’t push the plot forward it doesn’t need to be shown. I mean do you walk us through every meal a character eats? Or all their bathroom trips? We have such weird views about sex, that when we get to romance some people have to have it on every page.

            And KEPT is the paranormal romance. It features shapeshifters, vampires, demons, etc and is less serious and more campy/fun. Though I guess there is always the power balance subtext in the paranormal romance. Some readers pick up on it, some don’t. I guess it depends on how their brains are wired.

            I’ve had some people want me to expand A Safer Life, but I don’t think present tense will work well for a longer piece, and because of how stupid people are about sex, I really need the space to be able to write that without people going “OMG did you see what Zoe Winters wrote?” If A Safer Life is enough for them to judge me, then I don’t care, cause that wasn’t even that graphic to begin with.

            Revolutionary Road was a GREAT film. And COOL to all the other stuff you said! Yeah I just don’t have much respect for much of how publishing is run. I can’t see myself begging at the gates to be let into an industry where the standards of business are so low and weird.

  • http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com scott nicholson

    Zoe, what an incredibly astute post. As someone who DID go through the traditional system and had some of those same industry lessons drilled in, it was hard for me to take that next step of faith and go out on my own. But I believe it was the best thing I’ve done for my career, because now I have a baseline for what my work is really worth. I will still work with agents, but it’s not essential–if they can get me more than I think I can make on my own (over the life of a contract), then they are a cherished ally. Otherwise, I already have Plan A in place.

    You are right about the self-pub notion in the writing community. I used to say it myself, and I got a ton of lousy iUniverse and Xlibris review copies at the paper where I work. Crap will still be crap. Some traditional authors would look like crap if they didn’t have skilled people shaping their copy and prose. But increasingly, it’s not whether you should self-publish, it’s “Is there a good reason NOT to do it?”

    Frankly, the longer the traditionally published crowd sticks with what they do, the more time I’ll have to strengthen my foundation.

    Scott Nicholson

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    LOL Scott, that’s true. On some level maybe we should keep our mouths shut and let people waffle while we get established. :P I should be happy so many people WON’T branch out. Because some of them can probably write circles around me and they might be in my genre hahaha. Still I get too much of a sense of pride seeing an indie put out a great book.

    It’s a rush to me to step back and look at the whole long journey of book from start to finish and say: “I did that.”

    Right now my biggest issue is that I’ve only got one thing out under this particular name, which will change by next month, but still. Having a $1 novella on the Kindle isn’t exactly the place to pontificate from. Still, I’ve got crap to say and I’ve never had that filter that said… Zoe, don’t say that out loud.

    I agree that the only real reason NEVER to self-publish anything is just cause you don’t want to. Most other excuses are outdated but people still wish to cling to them.

  • mattyoungmark

    Put out a great, professional-looking book, and nobody cares if it’s self-published. In my experience, there is no self-publishing stigma.

    There is, however, a stigma associated with bad writers publishing unreadable books, but you know what? There should be. I’ve never been able to get excited about being a defender of self-publishing as a whole, because I don’t need to. If a hundred thousand people every month, or however many, shovel their bad books onto Createspace and Lulu (etc.), that has nothing to do with me. I admire those who tirelessly defend self-publishing against anyone who assumes that such books are the sum total of the industry, but it just feels like a losing battle.

    I can completely understand the desire to bring some base level of respect to self-publishing as a whole. But the act of self-publishing, in and of itself, doesn’t warrant respect. Forgive the imagery, but I could take a dump on a ream of college-ruled paper right now and upload it to Createspace. If I want the respect of peers, readers, the industry or whoever, though, I have to produce a great book.

    I let my work stand on its own (and in case anybody thinks I’m being pompous, it’s a zombie choose-your-own-adventure, not a literary masterpiece), and don’t worry about how anybody feels about something as nebulous as “self-publishing.”

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    I believe the act of self-publishing DOES deserve respect when it’s approached seriously, just like the act of working hard to create and produce and distribute anything deserves respect. Obviously I don’t think slapping your rough draft out there without any editing and cover art that looks like a dog pooped on it is worthy of respect. However, that’s not what I’m defending when I’m defending indie authorship.

    Also, while the stigma doesn’t exist in most groups, it DOES exist with trad published writers (not all, I have many trad pubbed friends, but many) as well as unpublished writers who look up to these people. So the stigma does exist and it exists in the place where it’s most harmful, because people too afraid of losing the respect of their peers won’t self publish even if they are good enough, capable, and would be happy doing it.

    Though it also I supposed could be argued that if someone doesn’t have the ability to ignore the naysayers at that stage, they’re unlikely to have the staying power to make it work as an indie. So perhaps I should just totally ignore the “OMG OH NOES not Self Publishing! Burn the witch!” people.

    There are no real barriers to reaching an audience because no matter how badly other writers want to invent them, they just don’t exist. The stigma is all contained within the “writer community.” Any indie can step outside of that merely by interacting either with other indies or with writers who aren’t so closed-minded.

    However, until the stigma ends in the one place it really has a foothold, self-publishing being “what bad writers do” will be a firmly ingrained myth because too many good writers will be too scared of the social lashing from their peers to do it.

    Though I do agree with you that people who put work not ready to be published out there, don’t have anything to do with me and what I’m doing.

    AND OMG I HAVE TO READ YOUR BOOK. (choose-your-own-adventure squee moment over.) And hey… I write paranormal romance, so right there with ya! :D

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    What’s the name of your book?

  • http://thefiddlersgun.com A.S. Peterson

    I agree that the stigma is mostly myth. I published my book independently and because it looks professional and is well-written, it sells. I even get a lot of interest from folks in the book world because it is self-published that I might not otherwise get. People get excited when they see something done independently and done well. And because it looks and reads as well if not better than many ‘professional’ books, distribution is possible through all the same avenues as any major publisher (though, not so the marketing.)

  • mattyoungmark

    It’s called Zombocalypse Now (I’m not sure why my name on the post doesn’t link to my website like everybody else’s, clearly I have set up my profile weird) and you can check it out at http://www.chooseomaticbooks.com

    And don’t get me wrong, I try to treat everybody with respect. It’s just that, to me, the fact that you’ve self-published means you have access to a word processor and an internet connection, not that your book is automatically anything I want to read. :)

    Also, I’ve kind of accepted that self-publishing IS what bad writers do. It’s also what I do, and what plenty of other serious writers do, but we’ll always be vastly outnumbered by the unreadable. That’s just math. So I think of myself as a “publisher,” since I’m using my vastly inferior resources to compete on the same playing field as traditional publishers anyway.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    A.S. Yes your book looks amazing! And eventually once I get out from underneath my big to do list, I will read it! I agree that people do tend to get more excited about a book when they find out it’s independently published and very good!

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Matty, I totally agree. *I’M* not even going to go out of my way to read a self-published book BUT I will never snub my nose at a book where it’s obvious the author has done the necessary work, just because it’s self-pubbed. And I know you wouldn’t either. And that’s really all we’re asking from people. Just admit SOME self-published work can be good… AND being self-published doesn’t give someone the automatic right to deride them as if they’re some little know-nothing peon.

    I like the idea of seeing oneself as a publisher because it is true bad writers DO self pub, and they self pub as the overwhelming majority, but so do good writers. I also like the term “indie author.” Of course I’m sure bad self publishing writers will try to co-opt that term too.

    LMAO @ vastly inferior resources. Going to check out your books now.

  • nova

    I think something else is at work here that was not mentioned. That agents, as gatekeepers, are passing on books that don’t match a preset screening criteria. What?

    Who the audience is. How many books read as if they were written by an English Lit grad from a first tier eastern university? Like poetry, which in the US is only written by Assistant Professors for tenure and workshops.

    That certain subjects are considered “low brow” and not worthy of publication?

    That the publishing industry, like the major music labels, is no longer attracting the eccentric types that have an ear or eye for the material that with the bean counters won’t even register?

    Then again maybe I am just pissed at the 135 rejections I have received.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Okay Matt, I’m putting you on my buy list. You bitches are making me have to raise my game. I’m really impressed with your cover and interior layout. Holy crap. And I read the first page which is totally enough to make me want it. I’m buying this as soon as I get some extra discretionary funds. I also still have to buy Moriah Jovan’s “Stay.”

  • mattyoungmark

    Thanks for the kind words Zoe (also, I AM NOT BITCHES:)) Can’t claim that paranormal romance is really my bag, but I will say that our book looks as good as the ones I see at the supermarket, and your website is super fancy!

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    awwww Nova, stop counting them. Burn them. You don’t need the bad juju.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Matty,

    awwww but it’s a term of endearment! You’d be surprised how many male readers I have, lol. *I* was surprised. And thanks on the website! I designed it using the templates at wix.com FREEEEEEE. :D

    That’s the book that’s releasing next month (well next month for E, May for print. I’m in the final edits and formatting stages.)

    Are you on Twitter? And if not… why not? All the cool people are there.

  • mattyoungmark

    Nova — I think it’s certainly true that agents are only looking for something that they think will sell, but I hardly fault them for that. It’s pretty much their job. It’s always tough when our own work is at stake, but we should keep in m mind that publishers exist to sell books, not to reward artists for being awesome.

    And Zoe — of course I meant “your book” looks as good as the other romance books I’ve seen. Typo made that sentence weird.

    Plus — A.S. Peterson’s book looks sharp as all get out. There’s a dude who is clearly in this game to win it. :)

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    LOL Matty, yeah I figured you didn’t mean “our” book. I know I would have remembered if we’d written a book together.

    … are you on Twitter?

    • mattyoungmark

      Haven’t jumped onboard Twitter yet, but you can be my facebook friend if you’d like. http://www.facebook.com/mattyoungmark

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        YAY! (but Facebook sucks…like K-mart. :P )

  • klcrumley

    Great post, Zoe! I totally agree with everything you said. It’s mostly T.P. writers exibiting their elitist snobbery…

    It’s like Dr. Suess’ star bellied sneeches. They love to boast that they were actually published, and how great they are…because their crap (and yes most TP books are crap too) got chosen from the slush pile. It’s what makes them “special” but when we put stars on our own bellies…
    TSK. Shame on us! So they have to put two stars on their bellies.

    You’re right that readers don’t care. A lot of people I know wouldn’t know an indie book if it hit them over the head.
    And 2 people I talked to thought Dragondreamz was a real publishing house…LOL.

    Recently read two TP best sellers that SUCKED!
    I gladly pick up indie titles, you know why? NO FORMULA, NO MARY SUES, and stuff that is actually UNIQUE. BTW, I read your book Kept. It was awesome!
    You have a great knack for creating believable characters.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Kl, it IS rather bizarre, the whole thing, when you step back and really think about it. It’s more bizarre than fundamentalism. I guess in a way it is it’s own fundamentalism. I already detoxed from that crap so this was just more of the same.

    And thank you so much about KEPT! I think I can do better. I feel some parts of it were a little choppy and underdeveloped. I think the other two novellas being released in Blood Lust are stronger.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/henry-baum/ Henry Baum

    This should be added here. Interesting discussion, but there’s no trackback: http://www.adampknave.com/2010/03/10/self-publishing-and-the-stigma-within/

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/rjkeller/ RJ Keller

    Well, I friended you, Matt. Facebook is cool. Zoe just doesn’t know what’s good for her.


  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    LMAO, bite me, Kel! :P TROUBLEMAKER!!! :D

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/rjkeller/ RJ Keller

    Aw, go eat’cher spinach. That’s good for you, too.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    haha actually I love spinach. I’m contrary that way.

  • Jenn Topper

    great great great and while i at this point should just shutter up and enjoy the banter, in the wake of my own post this morning at http://dontpublishme.blogspot.com about indie writers competing for dwindling eyeballs in the enormous muckstorm of shit writing and mainstream formula vomit, i do have an issue, echoing from my post.

    >>Indie writers have their own peers.

    THAT’S fucking scary, you know why? Because we are all running around congratulating each other one our blogs, and Twitter and galavanting around with self-satisfied grins that we are DIY, and uncut, and fuck you world, we are great. We are our own worst enemies–worse than the gatekeepers, worse than the industry that is strangling itself with its own flesh-eating disease. The culture of swapsies that has arisen in the indie writing community is our own apocalypse–as if authonomy was the Lord of the Flies (thanks, Marion Stein for that imagery) and the pubbies put us all on the island to duke it out. That’s why I left authonomy promptly after joining. That’s why I can’t stand one moment of the Amazon author threads. This polite I’ll-read-yours-if-you-read-mine is poison.

    And I disagree with the contention that booksellers will stock a book that looks and reads well. The booksellers I’ve encountered in my travels are fucking pussies and so risk averse they are quivering in their comfortable shoes when you even mention the notion of consignment. While 29 Jobs is available in Ingrams et al, it’s distribution (which I believe you DO mention in your piece, unless I’m mixing it up with something else I’ve read tonight, since I’m a little spent…). Distro was what killed me and my record label years ago, and distro is what’s going to make or break me. Sarah e Melville made the point on my blog that many indie books have a regional reach at best. She’s right–I’d love to break that pattern. I’ve reached out to a couple of anarchist-esque book distro collectives on the west coast, and alas, no response.

    I’ll keep putting books out my way, and hope someone beyond my own contact list enjoys the works.


  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Jenn,

    I agree… to a point. I think it’s dangerous for us to get into the back patting club of we are all so awesome. BUT I don’t give out praise just to give it. If I think an indie rocks it’s cause I do. I’m constantly impressed by a lot of what many in our community are producing.

    On the other hand… there should not be an implied expectation that we are ALL going to read ALL of each other’s work to “support each other.” And if we DO read it, we should be giving honest and helpful feedback. When I have a crit partner I expect them to rip it apart so I can put it back together again better and so readers won’t think I’m a tard.

    If I put out something half-assed after I’ve listened to the “OMG Zoe is so awesome anthem” then it’s my ass when it gets out there.

    As for bookstores, there *are* ways to get your books into bookstores, but consignment ain’t it. Your book needs to be returnable and you need to follow the protocols for getting small press books reviewed at the top level of the bookstore chains. If you go through the proper hoops then yes, you do have a shot at getting in the bookstores. One of the indie authors of the Backword Book collective, Kristen (I can’t spell her last name cause I’m a moron but she wrote “HomeFront”) is on real bookstore shelves.

    Also as for distribution you HAVE distribution. You have the Internet. I think most indies need to stop worrying about brick and mortar distribution and take advantage of this amazing thing we have, the Internet, to get heard and build audience, and figure out how to utilize THAT.

    You’re never going to run out to people to market to on the Internet.

    • http://www.kristentsetsi.com Kristen

      Last name: Tsetsi. :)

      As for bookstores, there *are* ways to get your books into bookstores, but consignment ain’t it. Your book needs to be returnable and you need to follow the protocols for getting small press books reviewed at the top level of the bookstore chains. If you go through the proper hoops then yes, you do have a shot at getting in the bookstores. One of the indie authors of the Backword Book collective, Kristen (I can’t spell her last name cause I’m a moron but she wrote “HomeFront”) is on real bookstore shelves.

      It’s actually only in one. I thought it was in two (Davis-Kidd and Books-a-Million), but Books-a-Million only shelved the leftovers from a signing and didn’t order more once they sold out (and they sold out within a day – 9 of them – so, figure that one. Anyway…not bitter. Not bitter!)

      To get it into Davis-Kidd, I had to ask them a) what it takes to get a booked stocked in the “local author” section, b) fill out a submission form, c) give them a copy of the book for review, and d) wait.

      When they decided to take it, they only ordered one at first because, as a POD from Lulu, it’s not returnable. When it sold, they ordered a couple more.

      If you get your book in a store, obviously you have to be a pain the butt and ask if they’ll let you do a signing, or ask if they’ll let you hand out little fliers about your book with their store logo on it, etc.

      The best way to get on shelves is, as was mentioned, get the reviews, then ask every single local bookstore that sells new books.

      Also as for distribution you HAVE distribution. You have the Internet. I think most indies need to stop worrying about brick and mortar distribution and take advantage of this amazing thing we have, the Internet, to get heard and build audience, and figure out how to utilize THAT. Seconded. And use it creatively. RJ Keller and are making the “Inside the Writers’ Studio” episodes purely for fun, but – as a nice bonus – it allows us to find creative ways to promote our writing, if we want to.

      You’re never going to run out to people to market to on the Internet. True!

      Read the news, read the latest big reviews, read anything and everything “big” that day and, if there’s an angle that applies even remotely to your book, find the best place on the internet to direct attention to what you’ve written. There’s almost always something, whether it relates to one of your characters, one of your plot lines, your own personal story, or whatever.

      (If I’m saying things people already know and that is stupefyingly obvious, my apologies.)

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        Hey Kristin,

        My apologies, I thought you’d gotten larger distribution in the chains. I think I need to clarify this issue. Self-published authors have gotten major bookstore distribution for DECADES. Folks like Tom and Marilynn Ross made a career out of teaching savvy self-publishers how to accomplish this.

        There IS a protocol. And I know people who ARE self-published, who HAVE gotten major bookstore distribution as self-published authors. But you can’t go through Lulu. You’re probably not even going to want to go through LSI. You’re likely going to want an offset print run, to work with a distributor, and the book must be returnable. You must have your own ISBN’s and your own imprint.

        I realize some indies may see this as some form of discrimination or unfairness or stigma against self-published books, but I just don’t see it that way. If you make soap, but don’t go through exactly the proper protocol, you aren’t getting stocked on Wal-mart shelves. Wal-mart doesn’t have some personal vendetta against small businesses (despite the vitriol leveled at them for driving smaller business out of towns with their lower prices.)

        I do not believe ANY indie really needs to focus on bookstore sales right out of the gate. It’s more a vanity thing than a fiscally smart thing in the beginning. (And please don’t take that personally but indies want to fight to get on bookstore shelves often to prove they are “good enough” to get on bookstore shelves, when that isn’t the point. Any decision made from vanity, is unlikely to be a good business decision.) So one or two bookstores stocked a couple of books for you.

        I don’t want to diminish this achievement but from a business perspective, this is not a great use of your time. Think about how much time and energy went into doing that, and then how little financial return you actually got.

        Too many indies want to put the cart before the horse, and IMO it’s just better to focus on Internet POD sales (Preferably through LSI or CreateSpace where you can turn a decent profit while still pricing the book competitively), and ebook sales.

        THEN, when you’ve built enough platform online and you’ve sold a large enough quantity, then consider trying to get into larger bookstores if that’s what you want. Though you may discover that’s not what you want.

        I think the bookstore returns system is asinine and it will cannibalize your profits. Therefore I don’t at this point foresee myself participating in it. Not because I “can’t get in due to stigma,” but because I don’t want in. I’m fairly sure if I was willing to jump through the hoops, I could get in. But I have to look at whether or not it’s a smart business decision for me and where I’m at right now. And at this point, it’s not.

        Instead, if I want some kind of physical distribution, I’d look for brick and mortar retail establishments that are NOT bookstores and do not expect wholesale sales to be returnable.

        In every other sector of business wholesale sales are final. The fact that the publishing industry made and continues to make this devil’s bargain, is part of why the pub industry can barely keep their head above water.

        For a smaller business like an imprint run by an indie author, it’s even more detrimental to your bottom line.

        So I guess to me, even though I don’t really see it as a stigma from the bookstores, that my attitude is: “Why would I WANT to be in outlets where my sales will be cannibalized?” I fail to see how the set-up benefits me when I have the Internet.

        And I truly believe that once indies stop looking at the cake they “can’t have” (that doesn’t taste that great to begin with), and focus on what they can have, and what will actually benefit them from a dollars and cents perspective, they will be better off.

        • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/kristen-tsetsi/ Kristen Tsetsi

          Zoe – I do have my own ISBN and my own imprint (I just use Lulu to print). So, then, I would just need to find a different printer and get distribution. Hm. A project!

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


            That’s about the size of it, though I TRULY believe if you want to make money self-publishing, and Aaron Shepard echoes this same viewpoint, then it’s best to avoid bookstores entirely. Selling in retail environments like stores that are NOT bookstores, is a different fish altogether because any of those sales are final. Though, you may still be on the wrong end of the 80/20 rule there.

            But bookstores will cannibalize your sales because of the returns system. Traditional publishing is hurting so much in part because of the asinine bookstore returns system. It’s not sane business at all.

            For a small time operator like a small publisher or self-publisher, this can be business suicide. I would caution against it personally but if being in bookstores is THAT important to you, hey, go for it. Just be warned it might not be the bright/shiny you think it is, when bookstore returns start coming in.

  • sleepyjohn

    Well spoken, Zoe Winters. I recently published a small fairy tale novel myself a good few years after a professional writing career spanning 12 non-fiction titles and hundreds of magazine articles. My editor at the time loved it but could not persuade the bean counters to invest, so after many other publishers also shied away from ‘a most unusual book’ I put it away in the cupboard. When technology enabled self-publishing I decided to do it myself rather than trail again round endless disinterested publishers. It has been a fascinating adventure, during which I explored writing blogs all over the place to feel the water, as it were, and get to know people.

    Well! After about a month and a few comments here and there I gave up, quite unable to cope any longer with the patronising ridicule, ignorant rudeness and ‘bitter old woman cattiness’ that was directed at self-publishing. It was like being in the playground of a rather nasty inner city primary school, whose pupils were trapped in their own little self-centred time warp and could only kick out at anyone who challenged it.

    I think it is wonderful that virtually anyone in a modern country can publish their own books, be they for themselves, friends and family, or the big wide world – even if they are ‘utterly talentless’. If no-one wants to read their books, so be it, but why should others scream and rant that ‘it should not be allowed’ (because in their opinion the book is not good enough). Dear oh dear, they’ll be burning them in the streets next.

    After early shock and embarrassment I now just think “Well, what business is it of yours? I shall seek out more encouraging company” As in the music business the middlemen are being dispensed with and they are very frightened. And those who cling to the faded, self-important notion of ‘being published by …’ will be dispensed with too.

    Contrary to what one pompous prat of a writing blogger tried to assert, a publisher does not pay you for the privilege of producing your wonderful work, he charges you – a huge percentage of the profit – for his time and trouble. And when he pays you an advance it is not out of the kindness of his heart, it is to keep you fed in your garret so that you finish the contracted book so he can make money out of it. A publisher is a businessman, and a writer’s work is his product. He must sell it for a lot more than he pays for it if his business is not to collapse. I say this not out of enmity, but simply because it is a fact, one that the precious writers of too many blogs either cannot grasp or deliberately ignore in their determination to appear superior to the rest of us.

    Successful self-publishers who are offered contracts by established houses may now be grabbing them, but perhaps mainly for the respectability they afford. I think that increasingly, as the stigma fades, self-publishers in that position will say: “What do you offer me that I cannot do myself, in return for your huge percentage?”. And I think increasingly the answer is going to be ‘not much’. Even the tempting offer of a fat advance is just a loan. If the publisher’s bank has indirect faith in your book, perhaps your bank will have direct faith. Take the contract to your bank and say, “This respectable publisher offers me $30,000 at effectively x% on the basis of the sellability of my book; can you better that?”

    The New Podler Review recently asked “Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?” It is barely on the starting blocks. I am reminded of my son’s careers master telling him that some huge percentage of the careers that will be open to him on leaving school have not even been invented yet! The world is changing very rapidly and, as King Canute demonstrated to his fawning courtiers, not even the most rabid, ranting, anti-self-publishing blogger will stop it. Power is devolving to the people.

    • klcrumley


      I wonder if all these “mean girls” brats who are saying “It should not be allowed” realize that they’re being unconstitutional.

      I it falls under Freedom of the Press. And, they cannot take that away from us. Ever.
      We can print whatever we want, whether it’s earth-shatteringly great or total rubbish. And why are these snobs in such an uproar over it? Are they afraid that a POD book is going to rub up against their CP book & give it the literary cooties? come on.

      Why aren’t they in an uproar over all the crap that gets traditionally published? Like celebrity memiors and glorified fanfic…?

      You’re right. It’s schoolyard bullying, and with bullies you either fight back or just ignore them. ;)

      Most of these CP anti-self-pub types are completely ignorant of the real reason for 90% of rejections; that it just doesn’t suit that market (genre-wise or other reason). And, small presses going out of business and/or shutting their doors to new submissions.
      The last 2 stories I ever submitted to a magazine were rejected because the magazine stopped publishing horror AND the one story was way too long.

      It’s unbelievable that they are really so threatened by those of us who are assertive and ambitious enough to take things in our own hands; learn about the business…and master 2 arts at once. ;)

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        KL, I once read a book that was trad published and glorified fanfic. In fact it was marketed as original fiction but you only had to change the names to Spike and Buffy for it to be fanfic. I don’t care how many books that sold, it wasn’t original fiction. I like fanfic occasionally as much as the next person, but I won’t pay money for it. Fanfiction is fan wank. It’s fun, and some of it is good, but it doesn’t change that you took someone else’s characters and just changed the names to make them yours.

        • klcrumley

          I know what you mean. It seems the exact formula for the last TP book I read is:

          Add 1 part Sword of Shanara
          to 2 Parts Harry Potter
          Mix (not so) well.
          Add a dash of LOTR just to be sure you give it the MAXIMUM
          epic fantasy flavor.

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

            LOL. The sad part is that the books were probably actually good when they were first written, but then some agent or editor with a marketing plan got behind it and said: “It’s great, but could you slip in this element so we can appeal to this demographic and sell more copies?”

            And of course, being trained to believe that NY publishing is just the “best thing evar” that could happen to your book, they happily comply and kill all their own originality, murdering it on the altar of more units shipped, where at least half of them will be returned by the bookstore anyway.

            Yeah, that’s the dream. /sarcasm.

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


        I also find it interesting that someone who wishes to master two arts: writing and publishing, would be so derided when that much ambition, determination and the hard work and skills necessary to accomplish it SHOULD be seen as admirable.

        As to 90% of rejections, I would say that is true once you get into the top 10% of the slush they’re going through. On the whole I’d say most of what gets rejected deserves to be rejected because it’s crap. There is some TRULY bsd writing out there. Not everyone can do it.

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      Hey SleepyJohn, that was a GREAT comment. Yeah I don’t get all the whining about self-pubbing. If it’s not for you, don’t do it. Simple. It’s like people who bitch and moan about what people who aren’t them do in their bedrooms. HOW does it affect you in ANY way? *head desk*

      But anyway, despite the heavy denial, I believe self-publishing is a SEVERE threat to many on the trad train. The reason I believe it’s a threat is because it lowers the sense of validation from “doing it the right way.” (And it also creates more competition from those self-pubbed books that ARE good. Without a narrow funnel that everyone has to pass through, I think there is major fear about how, especially a new author without much marketing support, will stand out and survive in a world with so many options.)

      The more good authors who successfully self-publish, who chart their OWN course instead of just walking the path that was pointed out to them, the less validating the former validation becomes.

      Anyone who thinks this whole argument is about anything more than ego and fear, is smoking the wacky weed. And they aren’t scared of the bad books. They are scared of the GOOD books. But the best way to convince good writers NOT to self-publish is to attack their ego by pointing to how they MUST suck if they self-publish. It has nothing to do with the reality, just peer pressure to stay in the gates like a good sheep. If this was a genuine problem, (bad books glutting the market and destroying literacy), then READERS would be bitching. But they aren’t. Readers aren’t affected by books they never find.

      Bad books won’t sell. A MILLION bad books could be published daily and nobody is going to know about it. The market isn’t going to be “glutted.” Server space isn’t like physical store space.

      I mean do you know how many utterly crappy websites or blogs join the Internet daily? Are web surfers overwhelmed by the sheer crap? No. People who can’t “compete” never get found at the search engines and never bother anybody else.

      Same with self-published books.

      The only group that it makes sense for them to care about the quality of self-published work is other self-published authors because too many seem to think we are one homogenized blob.

      Nobody thinks that every mom and pop restaurant represents the quality of every other mom and pop restaurant, but apparently folks in the publishing industry don’t have a more advanced thought pattern than that.

  • http://www.kristentsetsi.com Kristen

    Edit function!

    “RJ Keller and I are making…” (etc.).

    And, of course, space between paragraphs.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    hehehehe Kristen!

  • sleepyjohn

    Nice one Zoe, plenty of room in digital land. The two PDFs making up my book (text and cover) total less than 2MB. My hosting server allows me nearly 600 Gigabytes of storage, so I could put 300,000 books on there, all of them rubbish, without intruding on anyone! I think we are just seeing the death throes of an outdated industry, lashing out like headless chickens running around in a butcher’s shop.

    Staying on the animal analogy, I really do not see why a salmon should be banned from laying eggs just because 90% of them do not survive the course. Even those give sustenance to something, if only, in the case of books, the writers themselves. And what is wrong with that? Why shouldn’t my neighbour write a book and get it printed? The local printer won’t complain. And there’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s the snobbish aspect of muscling in on ‘publishing’ that gets them all going. The hoi polloi ‘publishing books’? They’ll be wanting the vote next.

    I’m sure if it was called ‘self-printing’ there wouldn’t be an eyelid batted anywhere. I don’t see internet-wide whingeing because people can now print their own birthday cards and posters.

    I had an argument in a pub once with a rabid socialist who told me it was wicked that people working in the City of London earned so much money. I asked him if he had any idea of the knock-on benefits to the economy, and therefore all of us, from their earnings? The work they generated for taxi drivers, restaurants, bars, shops, trains, airlines, builders, plumbers etc etc; the many jobs that were then created to tempt their spending power? He hadn’t of course, being so blinkered by his envy of them. I see the same here: a whole new industry spawning jobs that never existed before; opportunities that never existed before; all available to anyone with a cheap second hand computer (or even just a free one in the library).

    The ‘golden age of self-publishing passed”? We aint seen nuthin’ yet. I can hear my children’s children: “What! You weren’t able to produce a book unless someone else could make money out of it?”

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      LOL @ “I don’t see internet-wide whingeing because people can now print their own birthday cards and posters.”

      What gets me is people who speak in absolutes saying: “A self-published author will NEVER succeed on a larger level UNLESS a “real publisher” picks them up, which invalidates self-publishing as a valid business model.”

      Um, yeah, and they said women weren’t ever going to vote too. We all see how that one ended.

      Self-publishing IS a scalable business model. The issue is that most people who self-publish seem to still prefer a trad publisher or think a trad publisher can do “a lot” for them, so when an offer comes along, they generally sell.

      That doesn’t mean they couldn’t have slowly expanded their business and reach on their own.

      And oh yeah, in ten years this whole: “ZOMG should you self-publish?” argument is going to look completely stupid.

  • http://www.twinsoftessar.com Christine Castigliano

    As a newbie-indie who pubbed my first novel via LSI and Amazon, I find all this fascinating. I love the attitude, I love the opportunity, I love going around the gatekeepers. I didn’t even try to submit to traditional publishers. Most writers/agents/publishers assume that you couldn’t make it in the traditional pub world.

    And yet to be realistic, the workload of publishing/distribution/reviewing/promotion/PR/blogging etc. is very daunting. Period.

    When I began novels two and three while still building a fledgling audience for novel one, I simply could not keep up.

    I do have a day job, though. If a pile of money landed on my doorstep, I could see doing all of it.

    But at this point, I plan to seek an agent and go traditional. At least I know how to get a platform going…

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Christine, thanks for commenting! Yeah I can’t imagine doing all this if I had a full-time job.

  • http://dontpublishme.blogspot.com jenn topper

    um, yeah, i do have a full time job. and two kids. and a 3 1/2 hr roundtrip commute. bring it!


    • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/rjkeller/ RJ Keller

      Yep. It can be done. Because who needs sleep?

    • http://chooseomaticbooks.com/ Matt Youngmark

      Man, I actually miss my 2-hour commute. It was on a train, and that’s where I wrote about 70% of Zombocalypse Now!

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        You guys are all better than me! When I have a job, I’m not able to write. I just don’t have the mental energy. I need sleep and I need space to NOT work. While I love writing, it is hard work. It can be incredibly emotionally draining for me. Especially some of the darker stuff I’m working on under a diff name. It’s rewarding and I’m proud of the work I’m doing, but… it drains the f*ck out of me.

        Having a job on top of that would be too much for me. Indies who can do both, I really admire.

  • http://www.tonileland.com Toni Leland

    Zoe! Thank you so much for this detailed and comprehensive post.

    For years, I have offered manuscript services to writers, including self-publishing options and guidance. Authors of non-fiction have embraced the concept more easily than the novelists and poets and, you are correct–most of them have the mindset that if their work isn’t published traditionally, it has no merit in the eyes of the reading world.

    Being in the publishing industry, it only made sense that I would use the tools and expertise available to me to publish my own work. Argh! The members in the writers group to which I belonged were so disdainful that my affiliation with them didn’t last long. And yet–these same people were most impressed with the work my company produced for other authors (from all over the country, by the way).

    I write for a very small genre niche–equestrian fiction with romantic elements. (Who doesn’t love a hunky cowboy or gorgeous rodeo queen?) My manuscripts are vetted by first readers and fine-tuned by advance readers; when reviewers were easier to find, my books were well-received; I have a loyal fan-base; I promote my work as much as I can without being obnoxious. And–each title is in the Amazon catalog and eventually in Kindle format. Sales are consistent from month to month.

    Quite honestly, I cannot imagine going through the way-too-long process of trying to be published by a traditional house. Life is too short, I have too many stories to tell, and I have no ambitions to find my name on the NYT or USAToday lists. My audience loves my work and tells me so. What more could an indie author ask?

    Thanks again for an excellent discourse on this subject. I think the wave of the future will have the Indies riding the crest.

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


      Something interesting I’ve noticed is nonfiction self-publishers tend to say things like: “I’d never self-publish fiction.” WHY THE HELL NOT?

      I mean they say that it’s because there is no money in self-pubbing fiction, but as opposed to what option? Since most NY pubbed fiction authors STILL have day jobs, I’d say there isn’t much money for most in publishing fiction anyway. So you may as well just do what you want to do, figure out how to monetize it, and just understand it “may” not be one of your larger income streams.

      Or it might.

      I don’t know.

      I don’t really think enough competent fiction authors have tried going indie with the intent to scale their business model up as necessary instead of selling their main rights to a publisher. I think a good writer and marketer, with a backlist and a strong grassroots marketing campaign on the Internet can build an audience and a sustainable business especially as we head more fully into the digital age. I mean really… if digital becomes the primary delivery method in several years… what can a publisher do for me that I can’t do for myself? Nothing.

      If I’m well-positioned by then, I’ll be in a very sweet spot, AND I’ll be totally independent, which is even better.

      I think where people go wrong is:

      Looking at it too short term and selling out to a publisher. Yes, they will have more readers, but unless they hit it BIG they overall are not going to be that much better off financially when the excitement and dust settles.

      And then I think the other issue is, a lot of indie novelists are writing things in small niches, or literary fiction, or things that cross so many genres they dont’ know how to categorize it. And when you get to the marketing end, that makes it tough.

      I do write some stuff like that under another name, that’s hard to classify, a little more deep, a little more literary. I’m more proud of that writing as far as personal writing accomplishment.

      The paranormal romance though, that’s fun, it’s entertaining. I like writing it. I’m not writing it cause it’s “commercial and popular.” It’s stuff I also happen to like. But… the PR is far more scalable than the other stuff I write. I have a far better chance of building a big audience for the PR, so that’s where my marketing efforts are focused.

      Everything else, I just put out there to sink or swim because it’s more about the art than the money, though obviously I want to make as much money as possible from all of it because the more money I can make the less time I have to spend doing stupid crap I don’t want to do that takes away from the writing.

      Every content mill article I have to write to pay a bill or keep my publishing enterprise afloat, is time I can’t spend doing the important stuff.

  • sleepyjohn

    I think as writers, independent or dependent, we have to face a few facts:

    1 The world does not owe us a living.
    2 Of the many thousands of folk throughout the world who write novels, the ones who make a living at it can probably all fit round your dinner table.
    3 If writing is important to you, consider trying to find a part-time job that will just finance your basic needs, yet be sufficiently undemanding as to leave you time and energy to write. Or marry into money.
    4 Consider developing a non-fiction line, which will keep your writing juices flowing but stands a much better chance of earning money than your novels. Write your novels as a sideline to this.
    5 Whatever the current pros and cons of independent and traditional publishing there can be little doubt that digital books marketed on the internet are the future. As Zoe points out, you do not need a publisher for this, so why not start now while the opportunities are strong and the medium is young and eager. By the time you secure a traditional publishing deal (if you do) and your book actually gets published, you could have had three years head start as an independent. And three years is a very long time on the twenty-first century internet
    6 None of these suggestions and options are perfect, but it does seem to me that before relinquishing control of your book to complete strangers, who are likely to lose interest in it the moment profits fall below a specified figure (while still retaining the rights), you should consider the other options that modern technology has made available to you, very, very carefully indeed.
    7 One of the other options, that I personally think has considerable merit, is for agents to become marketing managers – advising on preparation and presentation, then simply selling the book that you have produced, directly to the public using marketing expertise and business contacts. All rights and all control remain with the author, a very simple contract being drawn up giving the agent a percentage of the sales and either side some months notice to terminate. That way you avoid abandoning your book to the inaccessible depths of a publishing house; you get expert marketing and advice at a reasonable price; your book is not just added to the list of millions of other equally faceless ones on Amazon; and you get more time to write. The agent has a much simpler task than trailing round publishers, arguing contracts and waiting for years; he simply looks at your book and thinks: can I sell this on the internet or not? This seems very simple and efficient to me – author produces book; agent sells it. Am I missing something?

  • lindareedgardner

    Oh I love this one. Yes indeed.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Thanks Linda!

    SleepyJohn, I agree the world doesn’t owe anyone a living, but I also don’t think people should follow the “starving artist” mentality if they want to make money. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And I think nonfiction self-pubbing can help make that way as part of an overall publishing portfolio.

  • sleepyjohn

    I think my first point might have come across as critical; if so, I apologise for that. I only meant it as a sort of rock-bottom starting point as in “Here we are, owing nothing and owed nothing, and we want to write. What are the many and varied ways in which we can create an environment that will enable us to do so”. And there are many, varied ways of making the thing work.

    However, Zoe made the point that she cannot write if her mind is occupied with other works. I am the same, and I am sure, with the concentration and immersion required for writing, that we are far from the only ones so afflicted. As a result it is not easy to find ways of financing one’s writing that do not create a block on it. In my experience the simple, undemanding part-time job is one – I had an artist friend who paid his bills by running a small ferry boat back and forth across a harbour, his mind totally elsewhere at all times.

    The other is non-fiction writing, and I am sure many writers have a specialist interest/hobby of some sort that they could competently write about, both in books and magazines. I made good money for many years writing about sailing. There is an enormous appetite for specialist non-fiction of every imaginable kind, and if you are involved in something it is quite easy to assess the market and decide how best to write for it. You don’t even need to be very good at the subject; enthusiasm and practical ability are what readers look for.

    Anyway, I think this is an interesting discussion and I am sorry if I have thoughtlessly raised hackles.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey SleepyJohn,

    No don’t apologize. I don’t think you said anything that wasn’t true.

    For me the solution is a husband who pays most of the bills, and also some nonfiction writing. Right now it’s not stuff I’m publishing on my own as part of my self-pubbing efforts, but it will be very soon. One can prepare a nonfiction manuscript a lot faster than a novel which needs more time to percolate. (IMO)

    You didn’t raise my hackles, and I don’t *think* you raised anyone else’s. It takes a lot to push me to that point. And if you did, I wouldn’t be shy about telling you so. (As anyone who has ever engaged with me in an Internet brawl can probably attest to, lol.)

  • http://www.tonileland.com Toni Leland

    I have to disagree with the perception that nonfiction is different from fiction, vis a vis pre-pub preparation. Many of our nonfiction authors include DOZENS of photographs and illustrations or graphs, and of course the fact-checking aspect of a nonfiction work can be mind-boggling! A few years ago, we prepared and published a 978-page tome on the Civil War soldiers from Appalachian Ohio. At that time, I honestly thought I might slit my wrists! LOL However, the book won critical claim and awards from historical societies. Other historical nonfiction has included memoirs and resource works for specific regions or eras. (You can look at these on the website, http://www.newconcordpress.com)

    I think the main idea here is that anyone can be successful as a self-published author as long as they are willing to do the work: vet the manuscript, use a professional proofreader or copyeditor, take extra care with the design and content of the work, do the advance publicity, and promote themselves. Zoe is right-the “world” doesn’t care how the book was published, but does care about the quality and message.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Toni,

    You’re right, I shouldn’t have projected my situation out onto nonfiction books in general. Some take a LONG time to do. I have plans to write many short nonfiction ebooks selling them at a low price point, about many different categories of knowledge I have, under diff pen names (people find it hard to trust one person knows a lot about a lot of diff topics. Easier for them to think you’re an “expert” on one thing and a moron in everything else.)

    So for *me* it will take me about 2 months to turn around ebooks of the type I want to write and I have a long list of topics I can write. Whereas, with fiction it takes me much much longer. Because with nonfiction I’m just “talking” to my audience, telling them how to do things. But fiction, IMO, an in my situation, is harder.

    But, you’re right, there are MANY nonfiction books that do not fit into what I said. I wasn’t thinking about those because they didn’t apply to me. Sometimes I get tunnel vision.

  • RF

    This is an interesting article, but its conclusions are frankly odd. Professional writers are stigmatising vanity-published authors to protect their own lofty position? Why would they do that?

    Based on the most recent statistics I have seen, the average vanity- or self-published book sells 71 copies. On that basis, their authors probably lose a considerable amount of money on each title they publish. “Money always flows to the author” is neither asinine, nor is it a rule: it is, quite simply, the defining difference between the professional and amateur author. Anyone who makes money from their writing is a professional (I think it was Stephen King who defined professional status as being able to pay a utility bill with a royalty cheque), whereas anyone who loses money on it is someone with an expensive hobby.

    As for validation: who needs it? People who sell thousands or millions of copies of books every year? Why would they? On the contrary it is usually the aspiring or amateur author who is obsessed by status: it is the coveted moniker of “published author” that allows vanity publishers to ply their frequently dubious trade, and very often part writers from thousands of pounds of their hard-earned money.

    Of course, there are those authors who are truly self-published and beat the system, whether on a large scale (by selling their books in thousands) or a small one (carefully targeting a specialised book and coming away with a solid profit on a small print run). But by and large, it’s the system that wins and the vanity-published author that loses.

    Further, most vanity-published books are poorly written and littered with grammatical errors, as a simple glance at the samples on the websites of AuthorHouse, PublishAmerica, iUniverse et al will confirm. Their authors did not reach a courageous decision to work outside the system; their writing was never of a standard where they would have been able to work inside it.

    In summary, I have every respect for the self-published author with a quality product that generates a real profit. But to suggest that I feel in some way threatened by authors who lose money on selling a few dozen copies of an incoherent, improperly proofed book is nonsense. Assuredly, they are authors, but our paths never cross: I do not see their works on the shelves of bookstores or in the bestseller lists, and I do not encounter these authors at industry trade fairs or prominent writers’ parties. In short, they are my competition in their own minds only.

    • klcrumley

      I just knew some elitist would come in and comment on this post…Proving EVERYTHING that Zoe said was true.

      A) There is a HUGE difference between indie authors aka “true self-published” authors and vanity authors. So if you want to slam vanity authors go to some Xlibris form and have at it…

      Or maybe, just maybe you do not realize what true self-publishing and indie publishing is?

      B) Last I’ve read the adverage self-pubbed book (indie and true sp) sells in the hundreds (200-300 copies, NOT 71). But if you’re checking old outdated stats …well that would explain it. Books that are marketed better sell better. Often into the thousands.

      C) As far as “money should flow toward the author” who says it doesn’t for some self-published authors? With POD and Kindle we don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on printing costs. At all.

      My start up cost for my first book was 12.99…boy I really went broke on that venture. *rolls eyes* I have made a decent profit from it. Well more than what I invested…and now that I know more about indie publishing I can do even better with my latest endeavors…

      I know of one CP author who had their book dropped within a year. Dropped. And, she was financially well-off because her husband is a doctor…not because she made 100,000 in royalties from her book. Not everyone who gets TP’ed is Stephen King…Just like not everyone who self-publishes isn’t some teenage kid who only sold to friends and family.

      D) The notion that “all SP books are bad” is just as ridiculous as “all TP books are good”…
      Of the 5 most recent commercially published books I read, only 2 I really liked. The other three were HORRIBLE! One is a “best seller” big deal. It sucked.

      Of the ten most recent SP titles I’ve read, only one was bad…and that was from a teen writer who gave his anthology away for free in order to GET FEEDBACK on how to IMPROVE his writing.

      Aside from that I have previewed others. And YES, there are bad SP books out there…but (and this is an educated opinion of someone who actually looks into things) MOST of the bad self-pubbed titles are written by teenagers and/or people who need a professional translator (from a foreign language).

      E) Validation? Who needs it? Wasn’t that Zoe’s point (as well as that of the rest of us defenders)?

      It’s not indie authors that “validation” matters to. It’s the TP elitist snobs who wear that “validation” like a crown and put others down because they are “better than thou.” It is the star bellied sneeches senario, as I always say.

      A lot of us were “validated” before chosing this road. But we don’t need someone to say “your book is good enough”…we’ll let the readers make that choice ;)

      I did chose indie publishing AFTER having some of my short stories traditionally published in magazines, etc. And, I make more money now publishing myself off those same stories in my own anthology and on kindle. It was a win-win for me.
      Validation can come in many forms. I seek it more in the form of good sales, good reader reviews, and pride my own creations.

      So who cares that I put a star on my own belly? The elitists, who see it and insist on putting two stars on their own.

  • http://blog.nathanbransford.com Nathan Bransford

    This is a terrific and balanced post and I think it is a great overview. My one quibble is that I don’t think it’s productive to think of your goal as making an agent your “employee.” I mean, I ain’t scrubbin’ yer toilets!

    I think the intent of the connotation is to make sure writers aren’t putting agents on a pedestal, which I wholeheartedly support. But at its best the author/agent relationship is much more collaborative and mutually beneficial than the word “employee” implies. Both sides are working together for the same outcome (though let’s also bear in mind that agents can fire clients just as easily as clients can fire agents). The goal, in other words, isn’t subservience, it’s positive collaboration.

    Also, a good agent will have far more to offer even the most successfully self-published author than simple contract negotiation. If that’s all agents did for successful authors we would just be replaced by lawyers and that would be that. Let’s not forget about career shaping, connection-making, opportunity-creation, and most importantly: the all-important subrights.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


    You’re trying to reframe things. Here is the reality as I see it:

    1. There is next to no money in fiction for most authors no matter how they are published. The vast majority of NY pubbed authors have day jobs they can’t financially afford to quit.

    2. There are SOME good self-published books. Those good books are not met with any derision by readers and readers don’t really know who anyone’s publisher is anyway.

    3. Most NY pubbed authors don’t get famous, nor do they get a lot of marketing for their books.

    The only REAL thing most NY pubbed authors have that self-pubbed authors don’t have (besides better distribution “right now” while we still have dedicated bookstores), is the ability to say: “Look, I was validated by NY publishing. I’m a “good” writer.”

    IF self-publishing is considered as valid an option as trad publishing (and believe me, in ten years it will be, the attitudes are already shifting), then what is left for the trad published author?

    When books are mainly vetted and validated by readers and not NY publishers, and there isn’t much money for most authors of fiction in NY anyway, then what motivation can there possibly be to stand in that line?

    That’s the point. it’s not how bad most self-pubbed books are, or how little most of them sell. It’s the fact that writers are an insular community where everybody has to go along and prop up the illusion. If more and more writers see self-publishing as a valid option, and if more and more good writers self-publish, then some of the cache will leave the traditional way of being validated.

    Since there are very few other rewards immediately apparent in the NY publishing system for most authors who reach it, that fundamental belief system MUST be propped up by continuing a “stigma” against self-published work.

    No matter how bad most of it is or how little it sells, those realities are also in play in indie film and music since anyone can play those games too. Yet there is no stigma. Because filmmakers and musicians have not put ALL of their eggs in the corporate validation basket.

    On the money flows to the author rule… then why exactly do so many traditionally published authors do book tours they finance, pay for promotional materials, pay to go to conferences, pay for workshops, etc. etc. ?

    Also, if a professional author is anyone who makes money doing it, then you’ll have to concede SOME self-published authors are professional authors, since many serious self-publishing authors (rather than the vanity POD press pubbed authors that people so love to characterize as “self-published authors”), DO actually make a profit, some of them making more money than they would have made going the traditional route, then what is your argument?

    Pamela Aidan self-published her Mr. Darcy books because it was a smarter business decision for her. She wrote and packaged her books well and found a better way to reach her market than a publisher could have. She turned down 3 offers from Simon and Schuster before finally accepting one. Why? Because she was making good money doing what she was doing and it made no sense to take an offer until a publisher could give her something she couldn’t do for herself.

    Self-publishing for many is a business, not a hobby.

    I haven’t been speaking about vanity publishing. I’m talking about self-publishing. ACTUAL self-publishing.

    And if you think trad published authors don’t hunger and thirst for this professional validation you obviously don’t follow many of their blogs. I’m not saying every trad published author is this way (and if you are trad published maybe you aren’t this way either), but enough of them are for it to be statistically relevant.

    Self-published authors are your competition to the extent that they can get on Amazon and take potential attention away from your own books. When ebooks are the primary delivery method, every book put out into the world is your competition. And that’s a scary thing indeed. There is therefore an emotional need on the part of many authors to make sure everyone goes through the same funnel they went through, at the very least, the good writers.

    Crap doesn’t rise to the top. So those people don’t matter “as much”. That’s why it’s important to constantly stigmatize something like self-publishing. If you repeat over and over again that only bad writers do it, then the good writers who want to do it are less likely to do it. That’s less competition out there floating around that didn’t go through the funnel.

    I at least appreciate that you respect self-publishers who are doing it right.

    And I hope you don’t think I automatically respect self-publishers who are putting out crap, I don’t. But I don’t judge them based on the fact that they self-published, I judge them based on the crap they released into the world.

    That is all any good self-publisher is requesting. That if they do it “right” that you don’t look down your nose and go: “Oh, but it’s self-published. It must suck.”

    If you don’t do that, then awesome. But you should be aware that many of your colleagues do.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey Nathan,

    You make very good points, and out of all the agents I’m aware of that talk a lot on the Internet, you’re one of the few I really respect. I’d throw 15% of my money at you just on sheer principle of your awesomeness.

    I do agree that it “should” be a collaborative partnership type of situation, but I’m also heavily influenced by Dean Wesley Smith’s posts on the Sacred Cows of Publishing. So I’m torn on the issue. Then again, I don’t really have a horse in the race so it’s merely an intellectual type of “torn” not an emotional one.

    I think I’m probably not wired like a lot of writers. Being so fiercely independent is why I’m “indie” and the idea of anyone “shaping” my career makes me throw up a little in my mouth. But for most writers, that’s a great situation.

    I DO see the value in an agent for sub-rights. I had an agent email me once from my website contact form wanting to know if I’d like a call to talk about representation.

    I was flattered because anytime someone thinks they can make money from me I know I’m doing “something” right. But I like being indie, and the only way I’d ever need an agent is if sub-rights became an issue. Like if I did well enough on my own that we could reasonably sell foreign rights. I explained my situation and asked her how well I’d have to do domestically on my own before being able to sell something like foreign rights.

    She never replied.

    I can only assume she thought I was on acid, too naive, or too much drama for her. Either way though, it was an honest question and I was polite about it. I’m not saying I’ll ever do well enough on my own for foreign rights to be an issue, but she had nothing to lose by answering my question. I wouldn’t have troubled her again until I reached the sales threshold necessary.

  • http://blog.nathanbransford.com Nathan Bransford

    Thanks, Zoe! I like your approach and think it’s much better than Smith’s because I think you have a healthy sense of “this is what works for me but it might not work for everyone,” whereas I think some other people approach this question as “this is what works for me and therefore everyone should do it and forget about other ways and the people who are involved in the other ways are likely corrupt and evil.”

    There are lots of different ways to publish a book, everyone should decide what works best for them, and no one, sacred cows or otherwise, need be killed in the process.

  • RF

    Some good points there Zoë, but there’s still a huge difference in scale between commercial publishing and self-publishing. Any author signed to any commercial publisher, large or small, is likely to enjoy a first print run of 5000 copies. Commercial publishers would consider sales of 3000 copies of a new author’s first novel a huge disappointment, whereas I suspect only a fraction of a percent of self-published books ever reach these heights.

    Admittedly, nobody is going to get rich on a few thousand sales, but if an author is receiving, say, a pound a book in royalties that’s a few thousand pounds she didn’t have before. In contrast, self-published and vanity-published authors can potentially lose several thousand pounds on publishing a book. The writer with a commercial deal has no financial risk whatever.

    But, of course, many commercially published books don’t just sell a few thousand copies. The first print run sells out, and the book is reprinted again and again. Why does this tend to happen to commercially published books and not self-published titles? Nothing to do with real or imagined stigma, in my view: it’s that commercial publishers have direct sales forces and promotions departments and money to invest in marketing and networking, meaning they get their books onto store shelves. Put simply, the difference between commercial and self-publishing is books in stores, and it’s a vast difference. The odds are weighted against a bestseller in both cases, but where a writer’s books are not available on the high street they become astronomical.

    Some commercially published authors assuredly do finance their book tours and pay for certain promotional materials, and presumably see it as speculating to accumulate. Each to their own: I’ll be visiting the London Book Fair to launch my new book next month, but my publisher is paying for everything.

    As for my argument about money flowing towards writers, you’re absolutely correct to separate self-publishing from vanity-publishing: they’re two very different beasts, with widely differing business models. But many people conflate the two, this site being an example: it’s called the Self-Publishing Review, but many of the major features seem to concern vanity publishers. It’s obvious from viewing your website that you’re truly self-published, and that’s a valid choice for a writer with business acumen; but we need to be careful that no aspiring author sees your post as vindicating vanity-publishing. It’s another beast entirely, and 99 times out of 100 it’s a terrible choice for an author (irrespective of the quality of the book). In fact, I’d argue that it’s worse for a stunning book to be vanity-published (as distinct from self-published): with a bad book, the author will merely lose money. With a great book, she can lose her one chance at stardom.

    • klcrumley

      Alas, I misspoke and apologize in realization that you do see the difference between indie publishing and vanity publishing. SO disregard that portion of my previous reply.

      Still though, there are A LOT of good indie books out there…and people who do make a good profit doing so. It’s all in marketing..and that is one unfair advantage that CP authors have.
      That and getting into borders, etc…

      but good indie writers can find ways to market themselves and make sales regardless of big chain bookstore availability.

      • RF

        I think most people involved in the publishing business probably understand the difference between self-publishing and vanity-publishing, but there is still confusion out there. (As I said in another post on this discussion, I think this forum is guilty of perpetuating that confusion – despite the name, much of what it deals with is actually vanity-publishing). The only issue I’d take with what you said is your use of “indie” publishing – to me, that means something entirely different from self-publishing.

        • klcrumley

          Oh, yes I’ve had other people try to “school me” on the real meaning of indie publishing. LOL. But if one runs her own small press/imprint independantly of big Commercial houses …yes, as I see it that’s indie. WHether it’s a ten-author small press or a single-author small press/imprint (which most real self-publishing is) it’s still pretty much the same. I also would like to publish other people…I’m working on launching a magazine.

          I don’t consider vanity presses self-publishing at all. none of them permit you to use your own ISBN or your own imprint name. Most of them try to mask their scamming so well that they try to pass themselves off as real publishers. (It happens…) somebody on another message board was whining about their “publisher” who promised them book reviews, book signings in major chain bookstores, the whole 9…and did nothing for them.
          but they charged them over $300 to set up, $200 or something for marketing fees, and priced their books about two times higher than any regular book of its size.

          She was scammed by an “Author Mill”.

          Similarly, A long time ago I got an acceptance letter for one of my children’s books…WHich said they’d gladly publish it on the condition that I purchased 2-3 of their other titles.

          I smelled rat! So I gladly declined. I was really young then, and probably didn’t do proper research into publishers I submitted to.

          I can understand some people vanity publishing if they know what they’re getting into…or they have no lofty expectations (Piers Anthony himself uses Xlibris, which continually shocks me…but I guess it suits his needs).

          But I feel sorry for people who go into anything blindly.

  • sleepyjohn

    I think Zoe’s original point is that many traditionally published authors are horrified that ‘the coveted moniker of “published author”’ is no longer the preserve of those who have been accepted, and thus validated by traditional publishers – anyone with a secondhand computer can now become one. Oh dear. The sky is falling in. RF’s somewhat patronising and sweeping comments do little to place him outside the realms of those to whom she refers.

    I actually think that most self-publishers, whether using vanity presses or taking their own road, do so simply because they want to produce a book. If a traditional publisher will not do it for them they will do it themselves or pay someone else to do so. I really do not see this as such an affront to society as to warrant the extraordinary vitriol that I have come across since taking up the game myself.

    I actually have a foot in both camps, having had twelve non-fiction books put out by traditional publishers. I chose to publish my current novel myself simply because it was outside my accepted genre and I could not face the prospect of trailing round the conventional route for months or years, possibly fruitlessly. The fact that thousands of self-published books are considered ‘awful’ by professional standards is quite irrelevant to the business of self-publishing. Many will simply sink without trace; many will bring great pleasure to family and friends; some will even sell in respectable numbers to total strangers. All will support the printers, freelance editors, designers etc who will work in what is clearly developing into a full-blown industry. Why should the likes of RF care about it, unless Zoe is right?

    • RF

      SleepyJohn, I’m solely interested in the issue of vanity-publishing (different, I emphasise again, from self-publishing, which is usually pursued by people with a broader understanding of the publishing industry) because I don’t wish to see people lose a lot of money in pursuing their dreams. You’re right that anyone can adopt the moniker “published author” irrespective of quality of book or level of sales, but it has always been thus: the old-fashioned vanity publishers like Dorrance have been with us for decades. As I said before, the average self-published book sells fewer than 100 copies: good luck to the authors concerned, but in terms of my own work they don’t even register on my radar.

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


        You and I are both on the same side when it comes to not wanting authors to lose their money in pursuit of their dream, but from my perspective it’s more about realistic expectations and wanting people to have all the facts before they make a decision.

        Unfortunately most writers just badmouth and mock self-publishing writers instead of carrying on a productive dialogue meant to inform writers. Most of these writers you want to protect are grown adults. If they don’t have two brain cells to rub together to research and verify before spending money, there might not be much you can do to help them.

        Also, in the interest of shooting down this 100 books sold idea, that’s true of vanity press, not true of true self-publishing. When you do it right your odds go up to small press odds since you ARE a small press in essence, and those sales odds are average 500-3000 copies. Though that’s still “average,” some do much better. Some do worse.

        I’ve sold inching very close to 5,000 copies of my novella on Amazon Kindle. Caveats of course is that it’s only $1.00. I doubt I would sell that many of a hardcopy in the same time period. Still, it’s a proof that audience is out there and many of these readers will buy my next release at the $2.99 ebook price point I’ve set it at, or in print.

        I also don’t say that to brag. This isn’t the “pinnacle” for me, but it’s a decent start with test marketing.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


    Yeah, I worry sometimes that something I say might draw someone into self-publishing who shouldn’t be doing it, not necessarily cause they’re a “bad writer,” but because they might not be wired to be their own publisher.

    If someone is a bad writer and can’t take the steps necessary to improve, they aren’t succeeding the trad way either.

    At the same time I say all the crap I say because it’s not my place to judge someone else’s abilities or aptitude and where someone is today isn’t where they’ll be tomorrow. I’m thankful for the people who wrote about self-publishing and got me interested in it. If they hadn’t taken the time to write about it, I wouldn’t have known I could even try it.

    I really don’t think it has to be “us vs. them,” though I’m sure sometimes I come off that way to people, but that’s because so many people are determined to ostracize and stigmatize anyone who self-publishes. It smacks of a type of censorship to me that raises my hackles.

    If people would just take each book they stumbled upon as it came and judged it only on itself and not on it’s method of publication, I wouldn’t have anything left to whine about.

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


    Sorry this is so long. I don’t know how to be concise in a discussion apparently. :D

    True self-publishers are entrepreneurs. We know the risks we take. But IF we succeed the rewards can be very big. And many of us don’t like a system where we can’t control as many variables as possible. That’s just part of the entrepreneurial mindset. I am the WORST employee in the world. I can’t stand working for others and to me trad publishing is too much of me not being in charge. (yes, I’m very type A)

    As an indie I control far more variables than I could trad published. Something which suits me fine.

    Yes, I probably won’t sell as many copies as a trad pubbed author, but… consider other factors here. An author’s career is built over many books, not just one.

    Once you beat the odds to get traditionally published, MOST trad published authors do not get a second contract. Of those that do many are eventually dropped by their publisher. Of those that aren’t dropped by their publisher, most of their backlist is “out of print” and not making them any new money. To compound that problem, many books are out of print several years before the rights revert back to the author.

    An indie by contrast, never gets dropped by their publisher. They can take as long as it takes to build an audience because aside from their ultimate death, they have forever. They can keep every single one of their books in print, so when they have ten books out, they are actually making money from 10 different books, and not 2 or 3 while the rest are “out of print.”

    They also make 4-5 times what a traditionally published author makes per book. So in order to reach the same level of financial success they have to sell a fourth or fifth of what their trad published counterparts have to sell.

    You argue from the majority. But the fact is that the majority of everything fails. 95% of ALL small businesses fail and yet most people don’t spend all that much time discouraging people from opening flower shops and restaurants.

    Self-publishing isn’t right for everybody, or even most people. But trad publishing isn’t right for everybody either. And unfortunately within writing circles the general assumption continues to be self-publishers self-publish because they had no other options. That’s not always true. Many self-publishers do it because they love the act of publishing as much as the act of writing.

    It is true that trad published books have better distribution “right now.” However, savvy self-publishers have more and more distribution options open to them. For the most part that doesn’t include chain store distribution, but I’m not sure how long chain bookstores are really going to survive. Especially as we move into the future.

    I truly believe that at some point probably sooner than we all think, ebooks will be the primary delivery method, which means purchasing will be digital. So this brings us to online platform.

    There are plenty of ways to build audience through online platform. Free reads, podcasts, interacting with readers online. Yes, a lot of other people are competing to do this, but many trad published authors have to do a lot of their own marketing anyway. So this is stuff you’d have to do anyway.

    Most trad published books just don’t get great marketing, they don’t earn out, and the author is gone and forgotten. When I originally decided to self-publish it was because I wanted a platform. I didn’t want to risk my “one big shot” being wasted as a one book author.

    But the more I got into it, the more I discovered I loved self-publishing for the sake of self-publishing and the lure would have to be damn big to pull me away from it. (And I’ve said this before, but I’ll be REALLY glad when I get this next book out under the Zoe Winters name, because one little novella isn’t all I have out in the world, it’s just all I have out under this particular pen name.)

    One other point is that I think a lot of people like to argue odds of success by assuming a trad publishing contract. MOST writers will never get a major NY contract (and a small press can’t do more for you than you can do for yourself if you know how to publish. They’ve got the same distribution challenges an indie author has.)

    But if we take Writer A and Writer B both as unpublished writers who are GOOD writers and also well-informed individuals, and we set them both on different paths, one down trad publishing and one down self publishing, I think the odds of either of them “hitting it big” are about even.

    Why? Because the indie author who is really good and sells several thousand copies will have publishers calling them wanting to pick up their rights. That’s not “my” goal. But it’s no more unrealistic than starting out the other way either.

    I also don’t think this site necessarily is promoting vanity publishing. I use print on demand, but NOT a vanity POD press. There is a difference. Lightning Source is a POD printer utilized by university presses, small presses, mid-sized presses and some larger presses for their backlists. They also have a lot of automatic distribution channels. So it’s still “real self publishing.”

    Most of the people involved in SPR are doing real self-publishing. And I think someone can still do it if they’re using a vanity POD press, BUT I think it’s a poor decision from a profit and loss standpoint.

    Some indies start out using something like Lulu or iUniverse and then they change to CreateSpace or better yet, Lightning Source.

    But we all gotta start somewhere and self publishing is a HUGE learning curve. I discourage people from using author services companies but… sometimes people have to start there, get their feet wet, figure out the landscape, and then upgrade to something better.

    • RF

      The only bit I’d strongly disagree with is your final statement about “author services companies”. I suspect what you’re referring to is what I’d call, in blunter language, vanity publishers. Yes, some authors have published with these businesses and moved on to better things; the vast majority have never been published again.

      Why? Because these companies flatter to deceive, whether it’s PublishAmerica describing itself as a “traditional publisher” or AuthorHouse talking about its £600-per-year returnability programme making its books more attractive to bookshops. In both cases, there is the thinly veiled suggestion that the author will find her books on shelves, while in reality there’s a 99.9% probability that she won’t. What will that kind of disappointment (coupled with the loss of hundreds or thousands of pounds in the case of AuthorHouse and publishing rights for seven years in the case of PA) do to a writer? Do you think she will have the confidence to write and seek publication again?

      This is even leaving aside the issue that this type of publisher is totally non-selective: they will cheerfully publish barely edited first drafts, clumsy writing or even borderline gibberish. Pity help the vanity-published author who does beat the system and make it big, as her juvenilia could be floating around to embarrass her for years to come (especially as both the firms I mentioned have been accused of not taking authors’ books out of print when the contract ostensibly ends).

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        Hey RF, yes author services companies and vanity POD presses are the same thing and I don’t “endorse” them, but when you’re talking about someone who wants to go indie, for whatever reason, they aren’t all created equal.

        My friend and indie author RJ Keller wrote a wonderful book called “Waiting for Spring.” She published it on Lulu. Granted she was smart and used the free publishing option and didn’t buy any “packages.”

        Then she switched to CreateSpace and I think she’s about to jump again over to Lightning Source.

        But I didn’t consider her less of a self-publisher or less of an indie author when she used Lulu because she was just taking advantage of the best option she knew at the time and she was still in charge of everything.

        It’s a learning curve. A lot of indies use a vanity POD press before they learn about a better option. I’d never encourage someone to use one, but hey it happens. It’s not the end of the world. Usually no one dies from doing this.

        It’s not the best option from a financial profit and loss perspective but it’s also not exactly world-in-peril stuff. Anyone who self-publishes and gets involved with the indie author community and hangs around a little bit, eventually figures out CreateSpace is a smarter option than Authorhouse and once they get the learning curve, that Lightning Source is the best option of all.

        But it takes some time. LSI is a pretty well-kept secret as far as the average wannabe self-pubbing author finding out about them. I discovered them cause I read probably every book written in the past two decades on self-publishing before deciding to do it. But most beginner indies don’t know yet.

        They get in, they learn, they pick a better option for the next book. It’s all about learning and making better choices as you go. The first book isn’t the only book and it doesn’t have to be that epic.

        Also, I think any writer who can’t handle the kind of disappointment you just described, will never make it anyway. You have to be tough to be a writer. Pansies need not apply. Someone who is going to make a bad decision with a POD vanity press, then pack up their card table and go home was never meant for this business in the first place.

        You know that’s true. What about the disappointment authors face who get hundreds of rejection letters? Won’t THEY also give up writing? Either someone has the staying power to keep going or they don’t. If they can’t pick themselves up after an initial poor self-publishing decision (meaning choosing a vanity POD press and spending too much money), then they wouldn’t make it in trad publishing either.

        • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/rjkeller/ RJ Keller

          Thanks for the mention, Z. Just to clarify, though (and forgive me for taking this wildly off topic):

          I chose Lulu because, as you mentioned, while at the bottom of my personal learning curve it was the easiest option. Very “Push Here Dummy”-type of formatting, which is exactly what I needed at that time. Also, it was free to set up…another big plus.

          However, the price for readers was out-frigging-rageous. That’s when I turned to Create Space (free set up because I “won” NaNoWriMo, and you get a coupon), which made Waiting For Spring available on Amazon without the hoops-jumping Lulu required (I think they’ve since changed, but I’m not 100% sure). I did use an ISBN provided by Create Space, so they are listed as publisher.

          Whatever. It may seem like a big deal to other indies, and someday I probably will buy my own block of numbahs and go through LSI, but right now that’s a matter of semantics to me. Maybe I don’t care as much because my book sells far more on Kindle and Smashwords than it does in print. I don’t know.

          But there are still a lot of very good writers who put out excellent stuff who use Lulu. For them it’s the right way to go, and I respect that.

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

            Totally Agreed, Kel. Thanks for your input!

            I think there has to be a serious line drawn between the concept of:

            1. Best dollars and cents option


            2. What makes you a “real” indie author.

            I think it’s unhealthy for us to create haves and have nots. personally I would rather list among my indie friends people who put out AMAZING books with Lulu, than people who use LSI but put out crap.

            Who your printer is is not the defining characteristic of whether or not you’re an indie. Yes, you’ll make crap money on Lulu, if any at all, so it’s not the soundest business decision, but if you’ve cared enough to get your book up to a good quality standard, chances are you’re mingling with other indies, and you’ll find out about your other options soon enough.

            And truthfully no matter who owns the ISBN, I think it’s a good idea for many indies to start out on CreateSpace. It’s just an easier place to start. And it gets your feet wet and lets you learn what you’re doing. THEN if you determine LSI is right for you, awesome. But I know several indies where CS meets their needs just fine. And if they’re happy, I’m happy.

            I’m certainly not going to look down on my nose at them from on high and act like I’m better. Especially since many of them can write circles around me.

    • klcrumley

      Zoe, I admit I almost made the HUGE mistake of using Xlibris when I first considered self-publishing. But after they hounded me and hounded me for a manuscript that wasn’t even revised & edited yet, let alone press-ready…and one of their sales reps showed their true colors…I thought twice. Thank Heaven.

      I did use Lulu for the anthology though, and learned from that mistake. I am a firm believer in having your own imprint & ISBN’s.

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        If you’d used Xlibris you would have learned and dusted yourself off and tried again, just like you did after Lulu. In the end no one died. :D

        • klcrumley

          LOL so true. It’s all about trial and error.

  • http://www.selfpublishingresources.com Sue Collier

    What a great discussion! :D

    I have a few more cents of my own to add in response to this (by Zoe): “But if we take Writer A and Writer B both as unpublished writers who are GOOD writers and also well-informed individuals, and we set them both on different paths, one down trad publishing and one down self publishing, I think the odds of either of them “hitting it big” are about even.”

    The main reason their odds of hitting it big are even is because both will be responsible for their own marketing and promotions. So why NOT self-publish–and keep all the profits rather than the measly percentage offered by TPs?

    I have a TP book coming out this summer; it’s the 5th edition of a book (I’m the coauthor on this edition)–and even though the book has a track record of 100,000 plus in sales, the advance was paltry (half of what was offered for the 4th edition). So even advances are dwindling. We have a second book coming out this fall–and we’ll be self-publishing that one, thank-you-very-much. There is just no benefit to doing it the other way.

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      Hey Sue,

      I agree with what you’re saying, but for me the main reason was that the person on the trad pubbed path first had to GET a publishing contract and then had to KEEP a publishing contract, while every single element is fighting against them.

      Almost everybody making the arguments against self-publishing are arguing from the assumption of every writer getting a NY contract. Which is insane when you call them out on it, but almost nobody does. They get too distracted by the arguments that ignore that it’s a hypothetical reality JUST LIKE self-publishing success.

      I mean a book only gets 3 months on the shelves in traditional publishing to “prove itself” before returns go back.

      I think it’s insane to put all your hopes and dreams on a three month opportunity. And yet… tons of writers go for JUST that brass ring. Makes no sense to me. I can’t grok it.

      An indie has as long as they need. Sure, if it takes you 5 years to sell 5,000 copies maybe a trad publisher won’t call you (if that’s what you even want to begin with), BUT… if that’s just the first book, maybe the second book you’ll have built up enough platform that you’ll sell better and faster.

      And while most self-pubbed books are bad, most writers are bad anyway no matter how they seek to get published. IF you have “the goods” though, and can also market or learn to market, you stand a good shot if you bust ass, to sell enough copies to attract a publisher IF that’s what you want. Then the advance will be bigger because it’s a known quantity.

      I think too many people see self-publishing authors as impatient one-book authors. I have 9 books so far planned for this series and I plan to publish them all myself. I’m publishing other things under a different name. I stupidly bought a 10 block of ISBN numbers when I should have bought 100.

  • sleepyjohn

    I do think it is rather unfortunate that the emotive phrase ‘vanity publishing’ is so casually bandied about in connection with self-publishing. Is there any evidence to support the obvious inference that writers following this road are vainer than those contracted to traditional publishers? When my first book was published the Editor’s Assistant confided to me over lunch that most authors in her experience were insufferably pompous and self-important!

    It seems to me that what we are dealing with is not a publisher who ‘preys on the vanity’ of an author, but simply one that offers him a poor or deceitful service. A second-hand car dealer who sells cars stuffed with paint and putty ‘flatters to deceive’, but he is not a ‘vanity car salesman’, he is a crook. Why should dodgy ‘publishers’ be given the excuse of the author’s vanity? Those in the know should be outing them, not mocking their unwitting customers.

    There are now increasing numbers of unconventional publishers offering perfectly honourable proposals. Even my local printer offers a publishing service at very fair and reasonable rates, and I am sure he is not alone. We should hope that sufficient publicity will bring these to the attention of authors, in preference to the ‘paint and putty’ brigade.

    I cannot see that charging a fair price to publish a book written by a customer is any more wicked than charging a fair price for welding up a gate designed by him – even if both are rubbish. Nor that paying for your book to be published is any more vain than paying for your gate to be welded. I really do not accept that vanity comes into this anywhere. If an author accepts a bad deal from a ‘publishing house’ (or a welder) the cause, it seems to me, is likely to be naivete, impatience, exuberance or stupidity rather than vanity.

    The trouble is, ‘vanity publishing’ is such a catchy phrase.

    • klcrumley

      Good points SleepyJohn. I once read that “all publishing is vanity publishing.” I see the point of the person I quoted (whose name escapes me for the moment).

      In a sense I understand it…all of us want to be published. All of us want to be read and hopefully people will enjoy what we write. I don’t consider that “vanity” though necessarily.

      People who think “commercial publishing is the only way” actually seem more vain in thier statements than anyone else. Craving large advances, film adaptations, etc…
      Their name in proverbial lights.

      Real self-publishing/indie authors seem to me like anything but vain. Self-publishing is a lot of work; a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And, IMO more true artists are indies/true self-publishers. More CP authors sell out for a dream, and compose based on a formula that is known to sell…

      So who’s so vain now?

      The term “vanity publishing” just seemed to stick; as the term “vanity publishing company” to a lot of those companies that make landish promises and charge authors an arm & a leg…

      I guess it’s just human nature (or something) that puts X-label on something, and everybody else starts calling it the same thing. Like how all facial tissues are refered to as “Kleenex” even if they are not Kleenex brand.
      Sometimes a phrase just sticks.

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        LOL KL, I think it was me. I know I’ve blogged about this before and used the phrase “all publishing is vanity publishing” LOL. But, I used that statement to highlight the fact that trad published authors are just as, if not more vain than self-publishing/indie authors.

        Most human beings are vain. It’s not just in publishing. If that wasn’t true there would be no market for expensive cars, clothes, jewelry, make-up, etc. Capitalism largely survives based on human vanity in one form or another.

        Saying any author is vain is like saying “humans breathe air.”

        Sometimes that labeling thing works in our favor though. The term “indie author” seems to really be catching on, and I think that term is cool as hell.

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      That’s a very good point, John! I never thought of it that way before. I do think it’s rather crass to blame the victim, which is what the term “vanity publishing” ultimately does. It may be the author’s fault for not researching more fully, but it’s the publisher’s fault for being dishonest and purposefully conning the author. Even though people should ALWAYS research things, plenty of people get taken by other con artists but their aren’t mocked for it.

      I think also this type of mocking sets up a situation where writers are afraid to truly explore all their options or ask questions or learn anything for fear of being mocked or seen as one of those “stupid authors”

      As for vanity… IMO there is NOTHING more vain than: “I will never release my words out into the world to touch or inspire or inform or entertain another human being until it says Random House on the spine.”

      I mean seriously?

      • klcrumley

        Zoe, so true. It’s like those women that only cary Coach or Dooney & Burke purses…
        Or only wear Prada shoes.

        It’s silly really.

        • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

          Hehe or Manolos or Jimmy Choos.

          Or Tiffany.

          Though quite frankly I believe every woman should receive a gift in the “blue box” at least once in her life.

    • RF

      An interesting question, John. Based on the evidence I cite below, I would say that some vanity-published authors are indeed more egocentric (not quite the same thing as more egotistical) than their commercially published counterparts. My examples, all collected from the internet:

      1 A vanity-published author who issued four volumes of a science fiction series on AuthorHouse before switching to PublishAmerica for the fifth instalment. By his own admission, none of the first four volumes sold more than 20 copies.

      2 A book review website — we’ll call it the Novel Nook, although that’s not its real name — staffed by clients of a particular vanity publisher and almost exclusively reviewing books issued by that publisher. Their reviews are essentially interchangeable, and in essence every one is a slight variant upon the following: “This is one of the best [genre] novels I have ever read. [Author]‘s characters feel like old friends from the first page. This book will make you laugh and make you cry. You won’t be able to put it down! I can’t wait for the follow-up! Five stars all round!”

      3 A vanity-published author who contributed to a well-known writers’ forum defending her choice of publisher. When a respected and prolific author who posts there suggested that the publisher might be a poor option due to their lack of editing and willingness to issue unaltered first drafts, the vanity-published author responded that unlike her commercially published counterpart, her first drafts were flawless and needed no additional work. When another member inevitably critiqued some of the writing on her website, the vanity-published author exploded with rage and responded with a stream of abuse.

      The common denominator? None of these writers is particularly interested in readers. The first has issued four books that sold appallingly, even by the standards of vanity publications; whilst it must be obvious to him that no-one except himself is interested in his writing, he just keeps on publishing. The Novel Nook reviews are utterly useless to readers: they offer no proper critique of the works under discussion, eschewing even the most basic synopses for saccharine, gushing praise. Their only purpose is to bolster the author’s ego, and nobody would dare offer constructive criticism because the reviewers’ own novels are uniformly appalling. In the case of the final writer, she believes that anybody who does not consider her writing brilliant is “stupid” (her choice of word).

      Commercial novelists live or die by readability. To some vanity-published authors, this is a totally alien concept, since they have no readership to begin with.

      • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

        RF why is it automatically vanity if a book only sells a few copies? And what is WRONG with wanting your work in a bound book form? If I come up with a T-shirt slogan, and I want to print a T-shirt on cafe press, does that make me vain? Good lord. I think people need to look up vanity in the dictionary before going out of their way to apply it to others.

        So your view then is that because he sold less than 20 copies the books shouldn’t exist at all? Not even for him and his friends? WTF?

        What does example 2 have to do with the vanity of authors? They’re being scammed out of their money. (Many of these types of reviews are paid reviews. For non-paid it seems to be a case of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”.) I would say those authors are more naive than vain. They need to research and become educated about the publishing industry but there are a LOT of morons in this industry. Some of them in the upper strata.

        Example 3 sounds more deluded than anything and also common among newbie writers in general, not just those who jump the gun and fall for a vanity press scam.

        What you’re forgetting fundamentally in all of this is that most unpublished authors in the slush pile have similar viewpoints. And self-publishing IS the slush pile. There will be some gems, but I can’t stop tards from self-publishing or “vanity” publishing. I have NO power there.

        Should we equate seeking trad publication with vanity as well? There are just as many vain and deluded morons in both camps. It’s only in self-publishing where all of the slush is visible to those who are looking. That doesn’t make one path more or less “vain” than the other.

        And I realize you make a distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing but the problem with that is, you would probably consider Lulu or CreateSpace “vanity publishing.” Your issue doesn’t seem to really be about financial scams perpetrated on authors but on some easy way to pigeon-hole people (my assumption only based on this discussion).

        At the end of the day someone can publish on Lulu and have all their sh*t together, but not know about LSI yet. Or maybe they want to get their feet wet and can’t yet afford a big block of ISBNs. And someone can have their own ISBNs, and self-publish the “proper way” but still be putting crap out into the world.

        So of those two, who is vain? Vanity is a pointless concept to argue in publishing. The very idea that you could write words on a page that other human beings want to pay money for, is kind of vain. It’s all just a sliding scale.

        And I stand by my view that MANY on the trad train are equally vain since many won’t put their words into the world without Random House’s name on the spine.

        Plenty of trad pubbed authors and those seeking trad publication don’t care about the readers either. They just want the validation and ego petting. I am aware of a few fairly successful trad published authors who show an almost contempt for their readers and their readers opinions of their work. Most on the trad train don’t seem to be doing it “for the readers” because they get too wrapped up in the “business of publishing” and the politics of the publishing industry. They care what their publishers think, not the end reader.

        Do SOME trad pubbed authors care about the end reader? Sure. But that’s true of self-pubbed authors as well. You really can’t point to one group as being more “vain” than the other.

        I think all writers are vain. The ones who become very successful are just good at hiding it because they recognize vanity is a personality flaw. But it seems to be a flaw existent in one form or another and to one degree or another in nearly every writer. Show me a writer who isn’t in some way vain. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

        • RF


          There’s nothing wrong at all with wanting your work in book form, even if nobody wishes to read it: writing can be an extremely pleasurable hobby. But your original article suggested that commercially published authors were in some way afraid of those who self- or vanity-publish, and this gentleman’s minuscule sales record is another good reason why we’re not. Besides, I think my original point was correct: publishing five novels that nobody wants to read is a somewhat self-involved activity, is it not? On this basis, I’d strongly disagree with your assertion that “the very idea that you could write words on a page that other human beings want to pay money for, is kind of vain”. Far from it: putting out words that nobody wants to pay for is far more egocentric, in my view.

          As for example two, writers with that particular vanity press are indeed frequently targeted by scammers of all kinds. “The Novel Nook” isn’t one of them: it’s free, and operated as a favour by other authors with the same press. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” sums it up perfectly: it exists to bolster the writers’ egos and make them feel good, with the needs of potential readers not entering into the equation.

          Example three was like watching a car crash in slow motion: a little searching around the web should locate you the thread. That sort of arrogance is certainly common among newbie writers, but it was magnified in this case by a vanity press posing as a commercial publisher: she really thought they’d admired her first draft so much that it had made the cut.

          But your most interesting observation is that “self-publishing IS the slush pile”. How very right you are. And that, I would argue, is the true source of stigma against it, rather than whatever writers like myself may feel. I’m not really in the business of pigeonholing people as you suggest, but there is such a thing as stigma by association: in other words, the minority of truly brilliant self- and vanity-published books very easily get overlooked amid the slush.

          I could not, however, agree that commercial publishing can be equated with its vanity counterpart. Doubtless, plenty of “vain and deluded morons” have indeed landed mainstream publishing deals, but they’re vain and deluded morons who could write to a certain minimum standard and/or generate ideas that tap into the zeitgeist.

          Finally, you want me to show you a writer who isn’t motivated in any way by vanity? You’ll just have to keep waiting.


          You’re right in a pedantic sense, I suppose: a writer who has sold 20 books has sold 20 more than one who has never published anything. But in the global scheme of things, both are utterly irrelevant to the mainstream book business.

          The “419” presses did indeed make me smile, but much as I may dislike some of their business methods, vanity presses have their use. Our friend who sells 20 copies of each of his novels is a good example, and if his idea of fun is spending £1000 or so on production to earn £20 back in royalties, then the very best of luck to him.

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters


            Have you even read anything I’ve said from the article onward? I’m not trying to be nasty with you but I was very explicit about what I meant by self-publishing being a threat to trad-published authors. It has NOTHING to do with how much any one given book sells. NOTHING.

            PLEASE listen to what I’m actually saying and HAVE been saying this whole time. THIS is why it’s a threat, please cease and desist reading things into it that I didn’t put there:

            If self-publishing is seen as “valid” in ANY way, and I don’t just mean sales numbers, I mean SOCIALLY VALID, then where is trad validation? You have all these people right now standing in lines to “be published.” But if they can publish themselves and there is no real stigma against it, then the trad path becomes a little less shiny.

            Sure, most people don’t make a living self-publishing, but most people don’t make a living publishing with NY either. Either they dont’ GET a NY contract, or they do and don’t keep it, or they keep it but the advances aren’t good enough to live on. I know of many NY pubbed authors who still have full time jobs and they’ve all been in this business for awhile.

            Another way in which self-publishing is a threat… again having NOTHING to do with how much any one individual book sells is:

            We are moving toward a digital age. If you want to deny it, that is fine, but talk to me again in a decade. At that time the majority of reading is IMO going to be via digital devices. Now I may be wrong and if I am you can come to me and say neener neener, but I sincerely believe I am right and until the time passes you can’t say I’m “wrong.”

            In a digital world where print is a subsidiary right like audio is now… where most of the money is in digital publishing, it’s all online. There is NO shelf space. Indies can get in.

            As an indie author RIGHT NOW via the channels I have set up, I can get into Fictionwise (through LSI), booksonboard.com, Kobo, Sony ebookstore, B&N.com, Amazon.com, Apple ibookstore, Smashwords, Scrib’d…

            Do you see my point now? Do you truly not see why this is a threat? Do you not understand that in the Amazon Kindle store I’m a threat to you? As is every other indie author? Do you not get that indie authors can price their books much cheaper, and many of them do price between 99 cents and 2.99 meanwhile major publishers want to price ebooks at OVER $9.99?

            And before you make the “argument from crap” that many trad authors are so fond of making, I’ve read a LOT of good indie work. And indies having the ability to get wider online distribution and price lower will open many people’s eyes to that fact.

            I’m already seeing a lot of Kindle discussions about “where can I find more good indie writers?” And they are NOT writers themselves, but readers. They’ve figured out that there are a lot of good indies out there and their books are cheaper in digital.

            That is a threat. It’s a threat to your continued existence as an author. If you don’t have the foresight to see that, I can’t help you. But if you aren’t worried, you should GET worried.

            It’s not about any one author’s success self-publishing, it’s about the giant inundation of books in the virtual world to the point where it’s hard for ANYONE to get found online. There will be more slices of the pie, but they will all be smaller. It will be even HARDER for an author of any stripe to make a living writing.

            When it’s all virtual, or mostly virtual, and someday it will be, given newer generations as well as the baby boomers having weaker vision and adopting e-readers as a way to be able to read anything they want in larger print on a screen that’s easy on their eyes… (Wow run-on sentence there) then you should be very scared and very threatened.

            NOT based on quality or individual sales of any given book, but again, based on the huge amount of stuff out there and available because it no longer mostly passes through the ONE trad publishing funnel.

            I hope this has been clear, finally. This is what I’ve been saying from the beginning. You either haven’t seen it or have elected to ignore it and turn it into strawman arguments.

            I could wait forever and nobody could ever show me a writer who isn’t vain. So why “self-published authors” are classed as vain and trad published authors get to fly under the vanity radar, I’ll never know. But it’s all the same bullshit.

          • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

            Also, it should be pointed out that the more the stigma for “going indie” as an author, lessens, the more GOOD writers will self-publish.

            The bad writers have been self-publishing for ages. The uninformed writers have been self-publishing for ages. They’re too ignorant to know any better. But those who have been “groomed” for traditional publishing to follow all the “rules” etc… those who have crit partners and care about quality and growth as a writer…

            Once the stigma drops enough more of THOSE writers, the GOOD ones, will self-publish. That’s when all bets are off. Because the more good indie work out there, the more people will be exposed to it and start actively supporting indie authors as a way to avoid “crass commercialism” etc.

            I just see it as a really bad time to be or become a trad published author, no matter what anyone else says. Unless NY is giving you REALLY high advances and your name is everywhere, you aren’t really safe in a world with increasing numbers of “good” indies with competitive sales prices, and wide online distribution.

            Another reason it’s a threat is, that all this can hamper a midlist author’s sales, since midlist authors are generally “unknown” to most people. As more readers take chances on more indies and have less reading time to discover trad pubbed midlisters, guess who starts losing contracts?

            So yes, it IS a threat. Denial doesn’t change the facts. I don’t wish contract loss on any author, I’m just saying, I “get” why they don’t like self-publishing, especially the direction it’s going in.

          • RF

            Zoë, I have indeed been reading your comments with interest. However, where I think we differ is that my definition of validation rests with sales: anybody can publish a book, but not anybody can make several thousand people buy and pay for it. As for whether I consider self-publishing valid: yes, if it’s a quality product that sells.

            Whether ebooks are the way of the future is debatable. I don’t believe that they will capture a vast market share, but I may very well be wrong. My publisher is at the forefront of ebook production, and their view is that it will be very many years before ebooks capture a significant proportion of the market.

            But you’re certainly right that if electronic publishing becomes the norm, then that creates a much more equal playing field. However, even here let’s be clear: people do not routinely go online to purchase books they have never heard of, so once again commercial publishers will have the edge (assuming they invest significantly in the marketing of their titles).

            Really, what you’re describing is akin to what happened in the rock music world about fifteen or twenty years ago. With the advent of cheap CD production, output of albums increased about tenfold compared to a couple of decades previously. Obviously, this led to reduced shelf space for each band, but big selling bands continued to sell as many of the newer albums on private labels failed to secure national or international distribution.

            In other words, self-published titles may well account for the majority of releases, but odds are that they will only account for a minority of sales. Until that changes, I think any threat that self-publishing presents is limited and surmountable.

            [Please note: This reply is posted in the wrong place, but I couldn’t find a link to reply under your comment.]

        • klcrumley

          Zoe, I agree. Anyone who practices any art form is vain.

          The irony though is Indie musicians are not considered “vanity musicians,” nor are artists who don’t have their work procured by museums considered “vanity artists.”

          My take is that a lot of Trad pub authors do not care about readership. They don’t have to…they have marketing, publicity, and sales people to do all of that FOR THEM. We true SP/indie authors DO focus on developing their own readership; we have to. We look for new, creative ways to reach readers…
          Most trad pub authors don’t have to because they have others doing it for them…

          THere are a lot of delusional morons who get trad pubbed; I think a large part of it is due to an editor/publisher having poor taste…or merely looking at “what sells” (ahem*formula*ahem) rather than what is actually well-written.

      • sleepyjohn

        I really don’t think any of your examples prove anything. Do you brush your hair in the morning? Does that make you vain? Why should someone be considered vain simply because they want to write science fiction books that are read by 20 people? It seems to me they are more successful as authors than those who don’t.

        Semantics aside, I am quite sure ‘some vanity-published authors are indeed more egocentric … than their commercially published counterpart’. I am sure many amateur woodturners are more egocentric than their commercial counterparts; and I am equally sure that some unpaid priests are more egocentric than their commercial counterparts. And vice versa. I am equally sure that the sun comes up in the morning.

        I am also sure that this world of ours is littered with imperfections, dreams, scams, arrogance and patronising criticism, but I do not see any of these things as reason for not publishing a book if you want to, even if no-one reads it but your cat. Should backyard tomato growing be damned because ‘some tomato growers only sell 20 tomatoes’, or their pals at the market tell everyone how wonderful they are? I really cannot see what vanity has to do with any of it. But if my Editor’s Assistant was right then, as Zoe says, this ‘vanity’ is not the sole prerogative of those who publish outside the mainstream.

        PS I hope my bit on 419 presses gives you a chuckle.

        • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

          Dude, your cat can read??? That’s awesome! :P

          Also, your comment was the 100th comment on this post. You get a girl scout cookie. (Made from real girl scouts.)

          • sleepyjohn

            Hey thanks Zoe. Do you post to New Zealand? I do hope it wasn’t made by a vain self-girl-guide-cookie-baker: I might catch something.

            Seriously, it was a good topic and deserved the discussion.

          • sleepyjohn

            PS My cat can certainly read me like a book. Does that count? And I just noticed my girl guide Englishism; sorry about that. If the postage for real girl scouts is too much I’ll settle for the cookie. And if that’s too much, I’ll just dream.

      • klcrumley


        I posted a longer reponse to you last night but it somehow disappeared. Technichal difficulties, I suppose…but it’s just as well as I was cranky last night and feared it might have come off as mean-spirited (which would not have been my intention).

        As to your examples:

        1) Well with the sketchy info in your example, I can only guess that the young man needs Marketing 101. LOL Other than that, I see nothing wrong with wanting to put a book into print.

        2) Well, yeah that I would call a “vanity review”site (and I think I know exactly which site you are talking about…) Their “rules” are really stupid too, IMO. There are sites/businesses like that for virtually all art forms. Elfwood I think is another prime example. While you cannot really consider it a “vanity pubishing” site for art & literature as we do actually reject about 1/2 of what the members upload…the comments factor is mostly for “back patting” and giving thumbs up to its artists & writers rather than provide any sort of constructive criticism.

        3) Well I would consider that childishness & over-sensitivity rather than vanity. LOL. Believe it or not, I’ve come across several TP authors (and writers seeking the TP route) who are exactly the same way. I could name about 2-3 of them (if I was into calling them out on it…which I’m not) which I came across on OWW & Criters.org. These are writers who have sold short stories to paying publications…not self-publishers or vanity publishers.
        Some people just cannot take constructive criticism; writers who cannot will never grow or improve in thier craft. But, yes there are writers like that on both sides of the publishing fence.

        However, I see your point that that particular writer was misguided (by the vanity publishing co) and assumed that their MS was “accepted” by the publisher and needed no further revisions. There are non-paying markets out there like that (not so much vanity, but just non-paying) and that is a seperate rant of mine entirely….

        which brings me to another example of my own:

        In college a young aspiring writer & fellow student was so happy he got published (by our College’s own press in their quarterly periodical mind you) that he threw his briefcase up in the air and said “Yes! I’m Published! I’m Published!”
        I was also published to, in that same periodical. THey did not pay one dime (unless you entered their contest…and won that). I didn’t enter the contest just submitted a poem. He entered the contest, didn’t win…and they published him anyways because they published all contest entries. Mind you we didn’t have to pay or buy a copy of the issue in question…but there was an entry fee for the contest. However, I still think that some sort of “Vanity” goes along with non-paying markets…and they cannot even list those as paid publishing credits, half the time. Although there are some that screen for quality, you’re still not making a dime. You’re only seeing your name in print. People claim they submit to them for “recognition” but it rarely helps them get discovered…(but like I said, that’s another rant of mine).

        Here’s another example of vanity (which you can take with the proverbial grain of salt…or a pillar). A commercially published author comes to a site populated by hard working indies to try to debunk a theory on the SP stigma, but only makes it more clear by exibiting his condescending snobbery, and better-than-thou attitude in almost all of his statements. Quoting misguided/archaic sales figures; stating that self-publishers “don’t even register on his radar” and are not worthy of traveling in the same literary circles as he does. ;-)

        That, my friend, was Zoe’s point I believe. Not that you are “afraid” of us or intimidated…but that you look down on us as being “Unworthy” of publication by any means.

        Although, I have witnessed that there are some other TP writers who are threatened by indie authors who do well, and do “register on thier radar”… It tends to get their shackles up after they had to deal with rejection after rejection…
        They have a certain “How dare you!” attitude towards indie authorship, and do feel somewhat threatened by indie authorship. It’s the mentality that comes from resentment that their manuscripts had to languish in slushpile after slush pile for decades…only to have some “sidewinder” beat the system and publish *gasp* an actual book! How dare they?!

        As far as “having no readership” well, no writer is actually BORN with a “readership.” Those have to build, and grow over time…
        We indies do not have suits in boardrooms to help us with that…we do it all on our own. So it’s a slower buildup of sales, etc…
        I’m sure a lot of “true self-publishers” realize this.
        Some others may not…And maybe just having a book in print is good enough for them.

        • klcrumley

          Pardon the redundancy in my last post…Not enough cafiene in my system yet ;)

  • sleepyjohn

    Perhaps we should rename vanity publishing to ‘The 419 Presses’ or ‘Nigerian Publishing’. I was amazed to discover, while checking the number 419, that this famous scam is apparently the ‘third to fifth largest industry in Nigeria’!!

    “Dear Kindest sir,

    My Grate-Uncle and famous Publisher The Noble King Croesus Scammalot has herd of yor wondrus book and would like to publis it in a fitting manna, with gold leef on evry page, hand-rolled on the dusky thighs of young Nigerian virgins, This will be verry expencive, I most Respectfull request that you forwerd yor bank Detals so that your nobel buk may be properly deceratid by these voluptus maydens … ”

    Perhaps if the vanity (sorry, 419) adverts were worded like this they would catch out fewer aspiring authors.

    • klcrumley

      419 publishing fits. LOL

      I think most of them will go buy the wayside soon…
      The fact that you can publish elsewhere FREE will certainly be more enticing to aspiring authors than paying $400 or more to a 419 publisher.
      Hopefully, anyways…

      However, like RF’s example #3 above…I think that they mask themselves too well to unsuspecting by making writers feel thier work was “accepted” and mask themselves as a commercial publisher. IF they crave “acceptance”so bad that they’d pay for it that’s kind of pathetic. but whatever…

      • sleepyjohn

        I trust ‘buy’ was a simple typo and not a Freudian slip

        • klcrumley


  • sleepyjohn

    I am posting this at the end as it is a general comment, and also I am in a bit of a muddle about where replies are ending up. And I want to catch Zoe’s attention as there were no girl scouts or even cookies in my post box this morning. I trust that offer was not just a scam to persuade us to post comments.

    Although I am the proud 100th commenter and have thoroughly enjoyed this discussion, noting the absence of the vitriol and bitchiness that so often accompanies this topic on other blogs, I do think in a way that we are talking about something of nothing. It seems to me that we all have interests in our lives: some of them cost a lot, some a little, some even pay a bit, and some even pay a lot. It seems odd to me that in the world of publishing, so many of those who make it pay quite a lot do seem to look down their noses at those who make it pay little or nothing, or to whom it costs.

    There is a local speedway track not far from me where hordes of folk turn up in home-made cars and roar around a track for a few hours (many miles out of my earshot fortunately). I am sure this costs most of them a great deal more than RF’s science fiction writer’s publishing, yet there is no mention in the paper of how dreadful it is that folks other than professional racing drivers are allowed to race round a track. I am sure they, and self-published writers, and potters and beekeepers, and surfers, and fishermen all get pleasure from what they do, regardless of how inefficiently or expensively they do it. And what business is it of ours anyway?

    I think there is an irony here, and a rather delicious one, in that the novice writers who aspire so desperately to being ‘PUBLISHED’ do so because the publishing industry has created this mystique that it is somewhat akin to ascending to a higher plane. This aura does not seem to penetrate stock-car racing or angling or music or even art; it seems to be a prerogative of book publishing. Perhaps because it conjures up ancient, dusty private libraries peopled with earnest, high-browed gentlemen residing on a plane way above we mere mortals. It is a remote, almost god-like image that simply is not seen in stock-car racing, or even, interestingly, in art.

    Writing is both art and craft, and why shouldn’t anyone have a go at it if they want to? I find it both challenging and fascinating, and I am presumably not alone in that. Seeing a book actually printed and bound is just the final stage of the process, much like racing the lovingly-built stock-car around the track. Who are we to deny even the most obnoxious and ignorant person that culmination of their endeavours? Until the advent of digital publishing, they, unlike other artists and craftsmen, had no chance of ever seeing the manifestation of their dreams. We should be pleased for them; they are not all obnoxious and ignorant.

    If professionals do not feel threatened by this, either because of the potential competition or the perceived ‘dumbing down’ of the ‘published author’ status, why is the internet awash with them screaming about how dreadful it all is? I seem to recall one demented author actually claiming that self-publishing was causing the deaths of starving African children! I had to admire her wonderfully convoluted reasoning, and was not surprised she wrote fantasy novels. The really worrying thing was, there were loads of people agreeing with her. Wish I could remember where it was so I could point you.

    In terms of its overall importance in life we should perhaps wonder how many African children have starved to death during the time we have spent discussing self-publishing. We should be thankful we have a society in which people live long enough to be able to do it. And that, methinks, is in no small part due to the many writers, craftsmen, engineers, scientists, doctors etc who have been able to pursue their dreams without being stomped on with discouragement.

    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      Good words, John!

      I couldn’t have said it better. Which is why you must be eliminated. muahahahaha!

      Just kidding.

      Probably. :P

      • sleepyjohn

        There goes my cookie!

        • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

          Yep! Saves me overseas shipping. :D

  • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

    Hey RF,

    Yes the nesting of the replies gets a little wonky after a bit. So I just started over again here.

    You equate validation with sales, and that’s okay “for you.” I think the problem comes in though when you assume that what YOU need for validation is what everybody else needs too. And when you label someone who sold 20 copies as necessarily more vain than you, it shows that prejudice.

    Everybody gets their validation in different ways. Having had the experience of selling over 4,000 copies of my ebook (and of course I’m not saying this is OMG wow or anything, especially considering that it sells for a dollar), and getting lots of fan mail from readers… I can’t really imagine myself somehow feeling “more” validated with 100,000 more readers. You know?

    And if your validation comes from sales numbers, then your validation comes from the EXACT same place mine does, the end reader. And therefore your choice to trad publish seems to be merely a practical issue of distribution. Unless your validation “also” comes from “XYZ publisher thinking you’re ‘good enough.’”

    I know what I’ve written is “good enough.” Now it’s not the BEST thing I’ve written according to the people who have read what’s coming out next. (And of course I hope they’re right), but I know beyond any doubt that I’m “good enough” to be “trad published” were that in fact something I wanted for my life. It isn’t.

    The issue for me is distribution. However, given my beliefs about ebooks that may not always be a big issue for me.

    And I would argue with you that your publisher is on the forefront of ebook production if they are a big publisher. Unless your publisher is Harlequin. Because Harlequin seems to be the least tardtastic of the publishers when it comes to business. Even then though, Epubs like Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have made a successful business model out of epub.

    And the big issue here is, as an indie I don’t NEED to sell a GIANT number of copies. Once I get to the point of selling 10,000 copies of ANYTHING I have out in a year, I’m making a decent living. (assuming at least some percentage of this being print copies, and e-copies selling at around $3) That’s not an insurmountable goal at all, given time, quality writing, marketing, and backlist.

    If I got to that milestone, then I would have to sell OVER 50,000 copies of a book (instead of 10,000) for it to be really worth my while to have a trad contract financially. Because *I* don’t find 50,000 readers more validating than 10,000, it’s pointless otherwise.

    Of course I want as many readers as I can get, but that’s largely about economics. Not validation. Once you get to a reasonable number of people for a good sample you get a general percentage of the people who enjoy your work and think it’s good and those who do not. If that number is scaled, likely the percentages will remain close to the same, provided readers of the book continue to be the book’s target audience.

    I mean seriously, once you’ve had a few thousand readers who love your book, what different viewpoint are you waiting to hear?

    I, and most other indies I know, don’t “need” validation beyond that, and we don’t “want” it because the sacrifice is often things we aren’t willing to give up like creative and production timeline control.

    Again, my validation mileage and yours obviously varies, and that’s okay. But you project what is validating to you onto other people and assume they have the same feelings you do about it. Then you can label them, “vain.”

    My goal is to position myself well with ebooks now, and over the next few years while I have the chance, because it will benefit me financially when ebooks do become primary. I realize you don’t think they will, but again, talk to me when 2020 gets here.

    Even if your validation comes from “sales” you really can’t see the “threat?”

    Let me put it to you this way:

    As it stands, most writers feel a lot of social pressure NOT to self-publish. Because it will make them look like a noob or a bad writers or someone taking a shortcut or any of the other asinine stereotypes that gets lobbed at anyone with a DIY ethic.

    For awhile this has worked out well.

    But then too many things happened. The economy suffered, the Internet got big. It got easier and cheaper to self-publish.

    Suddenly, while many “bad writers” are self-publishing, so are many good writers. The more good writers who self publish… the more tempting the option becomes to other good writers.

    While most writers think they are “good writers.” Some of them are actually right. Those who are right who self-publish slowly help diminish the overall stigma. Because while you’re right that bad books don’t get found, very often good ones do. So the perception that indie authors are just as valid a concept as indie musicians and indie filmmakers, grows larger.

    And you talk about people not buying books they’ve never heard of… well… that’s not entirely true. I do almost all my book buying online. And a LOT of the books I buy now are indie books. While many of them I ‘hear of’ before I buy them, ‘hearing of’ a book doesn’t have to come due to the power of a megacorporation.

    Often it’s ‘hearing of’ on a blog, or from an online friend, or even while I’m shopping at Amazon and I see the “customers who bought this book also bought…” list.

    So the good stuff will rise to the top. As the good stuff rises to the top and more good stuff is independently published, and increasing numbers of people shop online or buy ebooks… that’s a threat to you, because the competition isn’t limited to just those people who passed through the trad funnel like you.

    It’s possible you truly do NOT see this threat. It’s possible that most trad pubbed authors truly do not see this threat. But if that’s the case, all I can call it is denial. You can think I’m too strident and wrong in my assumptions, etc. But as I’m fond of saying, talk to me in 10 years.

    If I’m wrong you can sky write “I told you so” with a plane over my house.

  • sleepyjohn

    As it is already tomorrow where I live I thought you might like a preview of the headlines:









    “SEE, I TOLD YOU! NOW GET ME A TOWEL” – QUOTE FROM ‘FUTURE SHOCK’ BY KING CANUTE (with apologies to Alvin Toffler)




    • http://www.zoewinters.org Zoe Winters

      LMAO @ “Woman writes book without permission”


      Guilty! (But those other women did it too!)

      • sleepyjohn

        Got the goat back in and sat down with a cup of tea, only to spot these:





        and many more like that

        What on earth did we find to write about before the media industry was struck down with mental palsy? I didn’t know you could catch such a debilitating disease by not embracing something. Is Facebook responsible for that as well?

    • klcrumley

      ROFLMAO!!! @ Sleepyjohn!

      • sleepyjohn

        KL & Zoe
        Glad you enjoyed them. I know these should not appear after noon but I couldn’t resist this final one:


        And that is the end of this day for another year.