Home / Features / Is a Self-Publishing Backlash On the Way?

Is a Self-Publishing Backlash On the Way?

It’s been a good run.  2011 was the year when self-publishing broke open with the successes of Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and JA Konrath.  The stigma is gone.  No one thinks a self-published book is bad just because it’s been self-published.  But people are creative – there are some out there who actively want to dislike self-publishing, and will look for reasons to criticize.  There are also plenty of people who still want to believe in the validation of a traditional publisher: if an agent and editor like it, I must be good.  So now the stigma is not: self-published books are bad, but self-published books are hard to sell.

This post is so wrong it’s almost not worth linking to, but it’s an interesting sentiment with a provocative title: Self-Publishing is Over -

I’m not saying self-publishing doesn’t work. The fact that I’m spending my days building a 40′ ocean going catamaran is proof that it does, or at least that it did for me.

I am saying that it takes a very particular sort of person to do it, and that person has to be comfortable with the idea that they’re going to spend upwards of 75% of their time and effort doing things they (probably) regard as secondary to the creative act, and that there’s no (longer) special reward for undertaking the effort. The chances of your work being embraced by the market are not higher than going the tradition route; the return on your investment of time and effort (and in the case of movies, money) is not higher than going the traditional route.

And self-distro is certainly not the (much hyped) solution to the chaos and uncertainty that reigns in music or movies or publishing. It’s simply another route that might work, but probably won’t.

Perhaps with all the hype about self-publishing’s successes, people have gotten the impression that self-publishers think it’s easy to make it rich. But most know that self-publishing is hard.  That doesn’t make it “over,” just…hard.  As is releasing any book.  And the argument’s so old but – traditionally published writers need to do a lot of work they didn’t used to do as well: social marketing, arranging book tours, etc.  All publishing has elements of self-publishing.

That post was responding to another in The Atlantic:

One of the illusions most common to writers — an illusion that may make the long slow slog of writing possible, for many people — is that an enormous audience is out there waiting for the wisdom and delight that I alone can provide, and that the Publishing System is a giant obstacle to my reaching those people. Thus the dream that digital publishing technologies will indeed “disintermediate” — will eliminate that obstacle and connect me directly to what Bugs Bunny calls “me Public.” (See “Bully for Bugs”.) And we have heard just enough unexpected success stories to keep that dream alive.

Well, here’s hoping. But a couple of months ago I decided to dip my toes into these waters: I wrote a longish essay called “Reverting to Type” about my own history as a reader — a kind of personal epilogue to The Pleasures of Reading — and decided to submit it as a Kindle Single. Amazon wasn’t interested, so I decided to publish it myself using Kindle Direct Publishing. I announced its existence to the world: that is, I posted a link on my tumblelog and tweeted about it. A few people downloaded it; some pointed out typos that I had missed, but that a copy editor surely would have caught. I thought about ways to promote it better but haven’t been able to come up with anything other than becoming a self-promoting jerk on Twitter. Last time I checked it had sold 98 copies.

This reflects the narrative that self-publishing can lead to more failure than success. There are likely huge swaths of writers who are now taking self-publishing seriously who may have never before.  They self-publish to the Kindle and – alas, nothing happens.  I can share the frustration.  I can’t claim to be an astounding success either.  But the “new stigma” of self-publishing doesn’t make any more sense than the old one. In the past saying all self-published books are bad is like saying all people with brown hair are bad – seriously, it’s that dumb.  And the new stigma that books won’t sell is also pretty myopic.  We’re just at the beginning: e-readers are just now getting into people’s hands.  Ten years from now, that Kindle single might sell more than 98 copies.

But it is understandable if people are disappointed if they don’t reach readers.  The freedom to publish what you want doesn’t always outweigh the deflation that nobody’s reading it. But that experience doesn’t represent all of self-publishing any more than some terrible novel represents every Kindle book.

The Hype Cycle

There’s a fascinating post on Forbes about The Hype Cycle – the bubble of positive hype that eventually bursts and levels out.  She compares self-publishing to blogging.  In the early days of the blog, there was also talk of astounding successes, but she adds, “Now, only an idiot thinks that they can make it rich by blogging.” Getting rich with self-publishing can happen, but counting on it to happen doesn’t really make a lot of sense, any more than it does with blogging. She continues,

Self-publishing, though, is still in the early stages of the Hype Cycle. The Technological Trigger in this case was Amazon’s Kindle Store which provides anyone with the ability to publish an ebook and gain access, theoretically, to a massive market of avid readers. The explosion in ereaders that people actually want to buy and read on, the expansion into ebook sales by vendors such as Barnes & Noble, and the development of ebook tools have all made the technical side of publishing an ebook almost trivially easy.

And it is this ease that has attracted vast numbers of people to take a punt on becoming an author. The success of edge cases such as Amanda Hocking and John Locke serve only to fuel the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people who want to repeat their success. Writers, like bloggers before them, are throwing themselves at self-publishing with expectations that simply can’t be met by reality. Like gamblers who see someone else getting a massive payout, they think that all they need to do to win is to play the game.

But anyone taking an objective view of self-publishing can see that it shows every sign of reaching the Peak of Inflated Expectations. And that can mean only one thing: Soon it will take that inevitable, unavoidable tumbling slide down into the Trough of Disillusionment. Just because new tools make the technical aspects of something easy doesn’t mean that the creative side of it becomes easy too.

Everything she says is true.  It’s just that self-publishing was so recently the armpit of the publishing world that you could see people quickly falling back into old habits.  A chorus of gloaters saying, “See?  I told you self-publishing was bad!”

This will happen.  However, it won’t stick the same way that the old stigma stuck for decades because e-readers are going to become more entrenched in everyday life.  I’m waiting for the time when Walgreen’s sells e-readers for $15 the way you can find a cheap CD player.  This will also happen. And while it will still be difficult to find readers, so much of publishing will be via ebooks that you won’t be able to blame self-publishing for the shortfall.  It’s just hard to sell books.  If you’re going to blame self-publishing that it’s hard to sell books, you may as well blame traditional publishers as well – because they’re facing the same market.

  • http://onewomanseye.blogspot.com Joanne Tombrakos

    Great post! As a self-published author, I never jumped in because I thought it would be easy. My corporate media background had taught me enough about distribution channels and marketing to know the challenges. But I find it increasingly hilarious how those in the traditional world continue to find 1001 reasons why self-publishing is over when it is just getting started. But that’s what happens when change occurs. The group not part of the change tries desperately to hold on to what was, thinking that will stop the tide.

  • http://www.pigeonweather.com Tom Lichtenberg

    I found The Hype Cycle article interesting, but comparing blogging with self-publishing might be a bit off the mark. Blogging was an entirely new internet creation – you could never have sold your diary-in-progress before, and the money to be made from it is largely in ads and click-throughs – nothing at all like books or the history of bookselling. Nor is self-publishing a monolithic prospect. I think we can already see that certain genres – romance and erotica come to mind – are likely to sell better than others and perhaps even better than they ever did in physical book form, erotica especially! Other types of books are never going to do well in ebook form (coffee table books, for example).

    Also, the overall picture of people jumping in hoping to get-rich-quick and then having that overgrowth die off is natural in any kind of gold-rush scenario – you hardly need a theory like ‘The Hype Cycle’ or some fancy chart to figure that out. Just check out the classic book ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ (free from Project Gutenberg – http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24518 ) …

    What’s classic here is the irony of people jumping on the “bash self-publishing’ bandwagon while it still sells magazine articles! Let’s watch that hype cycle hit the doldrums in due course :}

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/ronfritsch/ Ron Fritsch

    You said it, Henry: “It’s just hard to sell books.” Despite that “Trough of Disillusionment,” though, this independent author isn’t giving up.

  • Mark Say

    Interesting piece. I’m planning to self-publish this year and don’t have any expectations of a runaway commercial success, but feel it’s better than the book sitting on my hard drive for just a handful of friends to have access to a Word doc or printed copy.
    Also, I can see that self-publishing gives authors the chance to take advanatge of a trend similar to that in the music industry over recent years – making it possible for artists to get their work out there without major backing and build a following online.
    I don’t expect it to be easy or to have any guarantee of success, but for someone who’s spent years trying to get published through the traditional route with no success, it offers something positive.

  • http://endless-satsang.com/ Nirmala

    My wife and I have been self-publishing for several years. When we first started out, we would have been thrilled to sell 98 copies of one of our books in a couple of months like the author of the article in the Atlantic. We were lucky to sell 5 copies a month. But we kept at it and have published 20 books now and they still only average about 100 copies a month. Well guess what: 20 x 100 x $2.09 (70% of 2.99) in royalties equals $4180 a month. Not exactly Amanda Hocking territory, but all of our hard work is paying off. I guess maybe we have made it to the plateau of productivity!

    And my wife was published by several traditional publishers in the past, but they all managed to not sell many books. So for us, self-publishing is a no-brainer!

  • http://www.SelfPubSmart.com Andrew Chapman

    As someone who first self-published in 1987 and has been thoroughly immersed in “indie publishing” long before that term was coined, I can tell you firsthand that — really — nothing has changed in terms of what it takes to succeed. The secret, and only secret, is work. You work at it. The times may change and the tools may change, but beneath it all is just plain work.

    The process for getting a book out to the world has changed immensely, and self-publishing has largely shed its longtime stigman, but it still all comes down to gaining the attention of your intended audience. And although there are many more ways to do this in 2012 vs. 1987, anyone’s intended audience is also far more overwhelmed with information than ever before. The term “attention economy” is very apt. What we self-publishers have effectively traded is the monetary cost of our venture (e.g., expensive print runs; paying for classified ads and selling via mail order) for time cost (e.g., hours on social media; slowly building an email list).

    But there’s no way on earth I would trade self-publishing today for what it was 25 years ago. As others have pointed out, we’re only seeing the beginning of an amazing time to be able to create and publish our works to a worldwide audience.

    • http://www.SelfPubSmart.com Andrew Chapman

      *longtime stigma (what the heck is a “stigman”?)

viagra online med viagra 50mg value cheap phenergan cialis 100mg cena levitra generic cheap cheap viagra 150 acquistare levitra generico doxycycline on backorder viagra 100mg value cialis 80 mg tadalafil nexium online apotheke levitra buy discount cheap buspar online doxycycline 50mg 30 tablets cipro 500 mg yorumlar viagra pricing 50 mg zoloft 400 mg cheap viagra index cialis 10 or 5 mg levitra not workimg generic levitra brazil periactin tablets 4mg viagra 1 cpr 50 mg get nolvadex online lexapro generic 20mg synthroid cytomel online take 2 levitra 10mg viagra 500mg buy cialis 5 mg riabilitazione propecia 5 mg online cipro xl mg erythromycin purchase online buying viagra pattaya 2011 cialis usa buy prospect augmentin 625mg clomid 50 mg round 2 augmentin bid 200 28 mg liquid nolvadex online metformin 1000 mg n3 prednisone 20 mg ingredients generic levitra usa get cheap viagra generic viagra 150 mg online kamagra uk generic viagra jakarta lisinopril vs generic cipro 250 mg harnwegsinfekt cialis generic risks cheapest generic lexapro viagra 100mg ejaculation propecia generic australia zoloft 50 mg indicaciones generic viagra supplier kamagra 100mg lisinopril generic identification lexapro withdrawal 30mg amoxil 500 mg overdose cialis c50 online 50 or 100 mg zoloft doxycycline 100mg vaistai viagra buy levitra 500 hcl metformin mg metformin hcl 850mg levitra 20mg tab viagra erection disorder walgreens cialis 20mg levitra 20 mg treatment buy atomoxetine strattera viagra hrvatska 200 mg cialis 40 mg safe clomid online generic cialis naturale online levitra 20 mg 3 free levitra go generic cialis 5 mg diarrhea generic 50mg cialis xenical 120 mg slovakia taking lexapro 20mg bactrim 80 400 mg tablets viagra 50 mg tabletas 500 mg zithromax chlamydia viagra online segura cialis 05mg amoxil 500 mg presentacion cipro generic dosage cialis 20 mg daily 7.5 mg buspar generic150 mg viagra buying doxycycline 100mg take 50 mg clomid zithromax 250mg hinta cialis 20mg malaysia doxycycline hyclate 100 mg tab propranolol 10 mg indications zoloft 100 mg augmentin sciroppo 140 mg cialis 2.5mg wallgreens buy propecia without prezzo viagra generico xenical generico prezzi easybuy viagra buying viagra men wellbutrin 150 mg online cipro 500mg buy generic lexapro symptoms propecia uk order generic black viagra cialis 5 mg results buy celebrex discount lisinopril 40 mg 3761 nexium 40 mg propiedades apotik online cialis generic nolvadex pct prednisone tablets 20 mg buy viagra bahamas nexium 120mg zithromax 1 gr online levitra super generic everyday generic cialis kamagra tablets 100mg buy dapoxetine online viagra 1800 mg cialis online naruciti cialis 10 mg tab generic drug cialis levitra orodispersibile generico taking 2 10mg levitra cialis 5mg boner doxycycline 100mg x14 wellbutrin lawsuit generic propecia generic merck online wellbutrin erythromycin 1000 mg db doxycycline dispergeerbaar 100mg nolvadex 25mg testosterone mejor viagra generico cialis 5 mg everyday cialis half 20mg buy clomid germany cialis 10 mgs teens cialis 5 mg kosten diflucan 50mg capsule cialis 5 mg original celebrex 400 mg dosage generic lisinopril dangers cialis 2 5 mg costo generic priligy online .2 mg propecia sides buy some cialis doxycycline generic names cheap levitra australia zoloft online review erythromycin 250 mg tablets 5mg cialis kaufen online viagra singapore 100 mg viagra kullanimi cialis 50 mg instructions generic cialis rating buying viagra saudi clomid 25 mg online lexapro 10 mg valor diflucan 150 mg kapseli real levitra online amoxil online prescription Levitra pills order viagra direct buy koop cialis online propranolol sa 80 mg tijuana viagra online buy clomid legal levitra 5 mg price zithromax online ordering 5 levitra 20 mg tablet buy kamagra nz genrx doxycycline 100mg generic strattera 80 mg doxycycline tablets 50mg viagra generically hydrochlorothiazide 12 5mg viagra online india buy viagra overcounter fake clomid online lasix 40 mg cheap generic viagra europe generic strattera reviews 75 mg wellbutrin dosage generic viagra taiwan remedio generico xenical levitra 10 mg 2 comprimidos nexium 40 mg info viagra tesco online propranolol 30 mg amoxil 875 mg used assunzione levitra 5 mg order 5 cialis cheap alternative nexium xenical 120 mg posologie misoprostol cytotec buy cialis generico infarmed prednisone anxiety disorders comprar levitra 20mg cheap zithromax online metformin 500 mg kosten generic levitra italy celebrex 200 mg infarmed buying priligy uk cheapest viagra 150mg kamagra apteka online viagra order mastercard prednisone 20mg nebenwirkungen vestibular disorder prednisone generic viagra importance buying propecia online nexium online sale cialis doses 10 mg cialis 5mg bayer 200 mg zoloft overdose generic zoloft buy clomid buy generic viagra 100 mg upotreba cialis 5 mg torrino cialis 40mg dosage cialis 5mg holland hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg daily sublingual viagra online cheapest authentic viagra taking 5mg cialis buy cialis greece zovirax 400mg erythromycin buy canada zovirax 200 mg posologia cialis 10 mg. cost zovirax generic available strattera kopen online lisinopril al 20mg buy lasix injections paypal order cialis zithromax generic online doxycycline 100mg indonesia citalopram online kaufen levitra 2 cpr 10 mg generic viagra deutschland top generic cialis wellbutrin mgs augmentin syrup 457mg buyin viagra online generic viagra eu doxycycline 100 mg orally zithromax 500 mg n2 onlinestore buy viagra hydrochlorothiazide dosage 12.5 mg diflucan 200mg notice panic disorder zoloft buy real priligy wellbutrin teva generic levitra generic 20 mg kegunaan doxycycline 100 mg generic discount viagra buying levitra line nexium generic australia discount order viagra priligy generico acquisto fungsi lasix 40mg clomid 150mg ovulation zithromax 250 mg 3 pack cialis non generico prednisone 50 mg 50 mg lexapro ocd doxycycline mono 100mg viagra de 50 mg reviews 100 mg cialis 2 5 mg di levitra cialis 10 mg etkisi strattera 25mg generic synthroid thyroid disorders generic doxycycline dosage lexapro generic side cialis 100mg order lisinopril 10 mg used manufacturer generic levitra lisinopril 10 mg e101 order cialis phone prednisone 50mg tab cialis en genericos 10 mg nolvadex enough diflucan 150 mg dose cheap viagra wholesale levitra 10 mg fiyat buy hebal viagra buying viagra philippines nolvadex 20mg 40mg cialis strips 10 mg viagra cheap 20mg 5 mg of lisinopril cheap propecia ireland online ordering viagra cialis 20 mg posologia levitra uk order prednisone 50 mg pl wellbutrin 150 mg sr generic cialis buy viagra online sites diflucan 100 mg dosi viagra rezept online viagra 50mg relato google viagra 800mg cheap 100 mg viagra take 2 10mg cialis viagra 200 mg dosage buy lasix 500 cialis online contrassegno lexapro 10 mg foro zovirax cpr 800 mg lisinopril 20 mg generico pfizer 100 mg viagra levitra 20 mg fiyatlari cialis esiste generico price cialis 20mg compra buy doxycycline fish cipro 500mg cheap dubai viagra zovirax 800 mg precio propranolol 10 mg contraindicaciones sc 50 generic viagra metformin ratio 1000mg 1000 mg of zoloft viagra europa generic priligy 30 mg preis clomid 100mg miscarriage wellbutrin difference generic buy viagra brighton buying lexapro diflucan cheap walmart levitra 20 mg doxycycline mg ml nexium 10 mg bijsluiter women viagra 500mg strattera 100mg cost doxycycline 1000mg overdose order zenegra viagra nexium mups 20 mg buy cialis dubai doxycycline hyclate 110 mg lexapro 10 mg cena synthroid abbott generic prednisone 20 mg 12 days 100mg pink viagra cialis kupvina online generic indian viagra cialis 5mg 14 szt pedir viagra online nexium 20 mg gastritis buy viagra ecstasy efectos cialis 20 mg forum cialis generico buy 1 gramm zithromax viagra safe online kamagra 50 mg cheap cialis 40 bula bactrim generico periactin buy online viagra 50mg buying buy amoxil online cialis cheapist strattera 60 mg bestellen zoloft 50 mg reviews nolvadex online prescription viagra cost buy lexapro 10 mg pharmacy buy propecia 12 months lisinopril 30 mg use cialis cheap delivery buy nexium dublin viagra online argentina nexium pediatrico 10 mg kamagra jelly 50 mg get generic propecia harga doxycycline 100mg 600 mg of zoloft cialis 5 mg forum viagra manufacturer online thuoc nexium 20mg 100mg zoloft dosage levitra generic cost cialis generic thailand bula bactrim 200mg clomid vs generic viagra 25mg price propecia generic patent cheap zovirax sale lisinopril 2.5 mg coupon pret viagra 100mg cialis tadalafil mg generic cialis daily wellbutrin 300 mg adhd lasix 80 mg buy lasix 20 generico viagra online 24 hr levitra compra online cialis 5mg prostatectomie tablet lasix 50 mg wellbutrin generic bad lexapro overdose 40mg koop kamagra online levitra 10 mg kosten viagra online efficacy generic cialis wordpress is clomid generic cheapest online cialis lexapro 20mg tab acquisto levitra generico bactrim online buy order viagra 25mg prednisone 50 mg kaina lisinopril 5mg tablet lisinopril 5 mg hypertension superovulation 25mg clomid hydrochlorothiazide tab 25 mg lek propranolol 10 mg cialis 10mg. daily tetracycline cheap prednisone 10 mg online nexium 20 mg coupons 10 mg cialis online buying cialis bangkok cialis 10 mg prospecto buy clomid legally lasix order online generic bactrim ointment generic lexapro images comanda online cialis prednisone pack 4 mg strattera buy australia buy diflucan brasil synthroid mail order amoxil 500 mg amoxicillin clomiphene generic clomid zovirax 500mg tablet levitra 10 mg 2 tablet buy cialis pharmacy cialis 20 mg somministrazione generic viagra use ordering vaginal viagra zovirax o generico cheapest cialis Washington erythromycin stearate 250 mg viagra online nederland buy zithromax iv celebrex 10 mg deltacortene 25 mg prednisone cialis 5mgaustralia vendita online viagra viagra y sordera green viagra 3800 mg lexapro 20 mg forums 800 mg zovirax online lisinopril tabs 5mg zoloft 200 mg bipolar levitra singapore online brand levitra buy levitra online cvs prednisolone 20 mg levofloxacin buying cialis budapest levitra 20mg canadian wellbutrin buying online buy lexapro paypal zoloft tic disorders cialis 10mg directions prednisone 1mg buy propecia men 300 mg lexapro overdose amoxil generic cipro 500mg 3 days cipro siprofloksasin 500 mg phenergan tablets 50mg viagra buy spain increase lexapro 10mg anwendung levitra 20mg generic strattera canada xenical 120 mg priser lasix 150 mg injection generic cialis thailand order clomid forum 8 doxycycline 100mg levitra online doctor clomid buy clomid viagra jet 20 mg zithromax 500 mg fungsinya glucophage online bestellen clomid 50 mg dose lasix 20 mg preis lexapro generic dizziness generic wellbutrin sr 150 order viagra india amoxil order online potenzmittel cialis 5mg strattera 40 mg pret generic viagra details prednisone 5 mg dog cialis 20 mg cortado