Self-publishing and the snobbery issue

lady-b

I work with all different types of authors, those who are hoping to secure a publishing deal, those who are chasing the self-publishing dream and even a couple who have gone on to secure a deal with one of the big five (or six, or whatever it is). Some of these writers are brilliant, some are really talented, some are steady, dependable story tellers who can spin a good yarn, some aren’t that great, some have accepted help and advice and have improved in leaps and bounds, a few I have advised to go right back to the drawing board and there have been a handful who I have had to advise that writing is perhaps not the path for them (this is at the sample edit stage – I never take a penny from authors in this situation).

You might be surprised to know that most of the authors that I’d put in the first three categories are self-published.

Some of these have chosen this path and some have had it foist upon them, as it were, as they have been unable to find representation. Plenty of them are far better, more skilful storytellers than some of those that have secured representation and publishing deals.

Now, I’m never surprised when people I know who aren’t authors sneer a bit at self-publishing. These ‘outsiders’ don’t really know how the publishing world works or how it’s changed in the last few years. But I am very surprised and very disappointed and angry when other authors sneer at self-published writers.

I mean no disrespect to all the very lovely writers I know and who I’ve worked with who have a publisher when I say that just because you’ve secured a deal it doesn’t mean you’re  a better writer than those who haven’t. Because it doesn’t. You might be a better writer than some of them, but many of them will be better writers than you.

Last week I read two books. One was by a self-published author. Another was by an author who has just been published by a small independent. The self-published book was brilliant. It was a real page-turner, professionally presented, skilfully written and thoroughly enjoyable. The other one, while not terrible, had far too many typos than are acceptable, the story dragged somewhat, and I found myself skipping huge sections.

I have read so many books recently that are ‘properly published’ and that are terrible. I’ve been unable to review quite a few of them. This isn’t always the author’s fault – quite often they are let down by these companies with poor editing. But I have also witnessed a few of these authors bragging all over social media about how wonderful they are and how they are proper writers, and how self-published authors can’t actually be that good, can they?

I really despise this kind of attitude. It’s a tough world out there for writers. We should be supporting each other, not crowing about our good luck and looking down on other writers who may have chosen self-publishing, or, even if they didn’t, might be much better writers.

I have one particular client whose books are an absolute joy to read, right from the first draft. They are intelligent, beautifully written, skilful, concise, the characterisation is a joy. This client is retired and is finally indulging his passion for writing. Can he get an agent? No. No one’s interested. Does that make him a bad writer, who obviously isn’t good enough? No. Absolutely not. It just means that the agents can’t see how to market him, how to pigeonhole his writing. He doesn’t have a social media presence, because he genuinely doesn’t want to do that. He isn’t a celebrity. And he’s far too sensible to be sucked into a lame deal with a two-bit company who’ll do nothing for him just so he can tell people he’s published.

So he goes on writing beautiful stories that I can’t wait to edit, and he makes me absolutely love my job.

So authors, do us all a favour. Learn when to keep your mouths shut. Be sensitive, be kind, be helpful. Celebrate your success, but don’t be a bragger. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower.

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196 comments

  1. Thank you for the encouraging article. Many of us who self-publish do so because we simply have to express what is burdening the heart. Getting our work in front of the (right) people, simply isn’t affordable in most cases but that doesn’t invalidate the nature of the burden. Taking a risk on a story to sell millions is in the best interest of the publisher and the good fortune of the author is simply a byproduct of that investment strategy. Of course it helps to write well with sparing hints of genius, provoking the reader to turn the page. As you’ve stated, there is a multitude of fantastically talented writers who can hold their own, if not surpass many a traditionally published author. Best wishes to us all. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My goodness Alison, you will now be realising just how important your post was, in particular for indies. I posted a link on a closed Facebook group, there are 37 likes and 4 shares, you struck a chord many people needed to hear, great stuff!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Bit late to the party – I was on a plane…
    Great piece. I have to say that some of the worst snobbery comes from authors published with the smallest publishers. They look out of their terraced house and see what they think is the slum across the street. Little do they know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, exactly, exactly, Alison. They think they’ve ‘escaped the fate’ – I was saying this to Alison W the other day: they criticise the most, like the working class chap who’s managed to get a job in junior management and bought his first house turns his nose up with he returns to mum’s council house for Sunday dinner (which he now tries to remember to call lunch).

      Mum, however, is quite happy in her council house. It’s cheaper, nearer the bus routes, she gets all repairs done for nothing, and she doesn’t have to live next door to people like her son 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ps, sorry, also meant to say this:

        One of my regular readers, who reads and reviews my books as soon as they come out, is published by Macmillan. I had a very nice message on Facebooks from the internationally successful Emily Barr, thanking me for my reviews of her books and asking me which one of my books I thought she’d like.

        The truly successful (and creative) don’t sneer at anyone. They’re too busy doing what they do, and, more importantly, understand how the publishing world works these days.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Than you, Alison, great post. My publishing story (abbreviated version) pans out like this. Got agent, could not get publishing deal. Won Daily Mail First Novel Award, got publishing deal, lost agent. Lost publishing deal, could not find agent who did not want me to compromise and make big changes to next book. Self-published, made mistakes, got better at self-publishing, Won best first chapter award. Won Writing Magazine’s Self Published Book of the Year Award, told that the winning book would suit the lists of any of the Big 5 publishers. (Sigh)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for commenting – it’s really valuable to hear stories like yours. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must all have been. Hope that you find success in your writing, however you’re published!

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  4. Linked here from a link on my proof readers blog

    https://juliaproofreader.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/self-publishing-and-the-snobbery-issue/

    Really interesting read and one that also stirs up annoyance in me. Especially Vanity Press authors who then denigrate those that haven’t got either the cash to throw away or the moral fortitude to say hang about is that really the right path for me?

    The biggest problem I have (confidence mind trauma self esteem eater) is an I any good? I write because I like writing. The answer to my question is, obviously, for readers to decide. As Julia will confirm, I am a terrible procrastinator for the reasons in parentheses. What, where and how to publish cycle round and round. I hear people saying, as you have eloquently put, self publishing is amateur. That annoys me….especially when it starts making me feel like maybe it is!! Silly that, I know, but in truth the market there has allowed exponential growth of some things that might have been better not actually published at all. This puts a quality author in a minefield of poor work that readers have to filter through or not even bother buying because of previous risks on new authors that have been less than palatable to read.

    I suspect my comment might appear snobbish in the last bit…. 👻

    Great post and sadly, for you, simply insists I must now follow you.

    Thankyou for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very glad to have you following! i do agree with your last point – there are some awful self-published books out there (and sme awful traditionally published ones too) and I do understand that that can put readers off, which is a shame for those excellent self-published writers out there. It is a shame thoguh becuase it’s easy to and free for most readers to take a look at a sample and then make up their own minds rather than judging a book by how it’s been published. The thing is that lots of small publishers are springing up, publishing to a very poor standard, and, unfortunately, some of these ‘published’ authors somehow think this makes them superior to self-published writers. Hopefully it won’t take long for readers to wise up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed, I know a few self published authors that are very good and struggle to get the right exposure. It’s also my belief that agents may well be scrutinising sales metrics on places like Amazon to weed out potential authors for taking on and into a more traditional circuit. I guess, if that’s true, then it’s not all doom and gloom. Breaking into, or gathering, a new readership following seems really hard though now. That’s the one aspect that makes me so undecided where to try first. The more I look at the plethora of self publishing merchants, the more I am convinced their market is actually authors desparate enough to pay to publish. No doubt some are good, but if it wasn’t then chances are they would still tell you it’s brilliant just to get you to part with cash. I may be wrong on that, but it’s a gut feeling that says an agent may say no for a reason whereas vanity press probably has an ulterior motive, may actually take advantage and not really care one way or the other if it’s sellable…let alone really any good. I had a rant about your last point on Julia’s blog…vanity authors thinking they are superior to self published ones. It’s kind of absurd really and in many cases a tad delusional and based solely on I’ve got cash to throw at something that those less able (and maybe equally or more talented) haven’t. I think the old adage is still functional; you should never have to pay to publish: caveat, services yes…editing, proofing and cover design, but not actually publishing. That said, for someone like me who does not fancy lodging with a US based service like createspace, it becomes hard to decide how to proceed. Ergo I write and have a growing slush pile. Some waiting for an edit and one through to proofing and me with mental indecision !!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m reading a top-ten paperback right now. Avon, I think is the publisher. Good reviews and the supermarket was offering a deal… Halfway through and I’ve had enough. So many different point son view, so many jumps from past to present and a cast of thousands at each change. Add that to the fact that different characters call each other by different names and I am so hopelessly lost and confused that I’ve forgotten the main plot of the story. Back to indies again …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true points here… and yes, it is sad but I think there will always be some people who feel they can only boost their self esteem by taking pot shots at others.

      Debbie… where do you go to find Indies? Shouldn’t retailers have a search function or something, so you can click through and weed out all the Avon, Harlequin, type pubbers? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The trouble is, you might find there are books within those “Avon, Harlequin, type pubbers” you might have loved if you’d given them a chance. Not everything HQ publish is cupcakes and chocolate shops, so even if they’re not your thing, you’d probably find some little gems. It’s a shame that snobbery extends, not only to self-publishers, but also to those published under an imprint with a particular reputation.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. The thing is that people want to say, ‘My publisher says…’ – it’s snobbery yes, but it’s also what people have for years been told means they have arrived. In fact for new writers, all too often the publisher will do no more for you than if you had self-published: they may not edit or publicise your book, but they will take a cut of your earnings anyway. If you can find a good editor, and make sure that your book is the best and most polished that it can possibly be, with a good and relevant cover, you are already ahead of the game.
    I too have reviewed, or refused to review, badly constructed or poorly written books. There are books that an editor should have seen, corrected, suggested revisions for, or politely advised that the author has had fun writing it, and if they want to self-publish that’s fine, but they are not commercially viable.
    What I want from a novel is a good read: I don’t want to be getting out my inner red pen and highlighting the errors of plot, fact, or typing. If you can produce a good, clean copy of your work, then go for it – publish it yourself. The person who sells their work and has a following is a good author, no matter how they are published.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed your post, Alison, and totally agree with you. Even though my first book was traditionally published, I have since self published and am thoroughly pleased with the whole experience of being in control!
    I will add, however, that being traditionally published first did give me an idea of how the publishing processs works which has helped me a great deal. Also it enabled me to make an informed decision about self publishing. Best Wishes, Jill Paterson

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Isn’t bashing traditionally published authors getting a little tired? Most of my friends are self-published and their quality is excellent. I choose a publisher. Why do all the articles diss my choice as if there was something wrong with me? I’m ill and can’t afford to take time from the slow speed of my writing to learn to self-publish. It took me 4 years to get my last book out, and it’s a bestseller. It would never be published if I had to do all the work my publisher does for me by myself. But it’s my choice, just as much as my illness forced it on me. So let me be and quit bashing people who prefer a publishing contract.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment Suzan. The post really isn’t about dissing traditionally published authors and I’m sorry that you took it that way. The post is about some authors who, when they are offered a publishing deal, feel that this somehow makes them better writers than those who either choose to self-publish because they have chosen to do so or who self-publish because, although they would like a publishing contract, haven’t been able to get one. What I’m saying, and what many others also feel, is that getting a deal doesn’t necessarily make you a better writer and that those who do, shouldn’t assume that that is the case and look down their noses at their fellow writers. If you have chosen to go with a publisher – whether traditionally or with a small indie – that is entirely your choice and no one is criticising you for it, certainly not me. What I am criticising is the attitude that some people have that a publishing deal makes them the bee’s knees and that self-published writers are rubbish – because that simply isn’t true.

      Like

      1. If I were to write a post about how “some” self-published authors diss traditional publishers, I would have my head taken away on a plate for dissing self-publishing. The article may specify people who are in ivory towers, yet if you really look at your comments, the readership didn’t take it that way.

        I was lucky to work with a quality indie publisher with one submission and no agent. Some send out dozens of letters and deserve to finally be happy. Some of the commenters are critical of hybrids, yet what is a person to do if the other choices don’t work for them for very important reasons? I say, if that’s what works best for you, go for it.

        Are we not allowed to say we’re happy we got that contract we tried so hard to get? I’m relieved I didn’t have to self-pub because I don’t want to learn to do the things that my publisher does for me, and as I mentioned, I am not well enough to do it. But I’ve been personally attacked, my Amazon reviews sabotaged, and my publisher lied to by a well-organized group of self-published authors. Why? For offering to help an author get on with my publisher rather than put out a book full of grammatical errors and lazy prose because she couldn’t afford an editor.

        My decision not to self publish is a choice, not a way of putting down others who do so much work, learn several other jobs, and put out real money to get their book out. Of course some are lazy and lucky and some are lazy and it shows. No need to paint them all with the same brush, nor say that someone thrilled to get their dream is in an ivory tower. Good and bad can be objective or subjective, and both are found in every type of publishing out there. What we should be saying is “Congratulations on your book.”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. No-one is bashing traditionally or independently published authors, Suzan. If you read the post again, you’ll see that it’s about the few who sneer at the self-published, because they think they’re ‘better’. I’ve read enough nasty little comments on the blog posts of writers who decided to submit their books to an independent, been accepted, then consider themselves to have ‘escaped the ghastly fate of self-publishing’, or whatever, or say things like ‘who knows, that might be my fate’, or ‘the font on the cover of the book clearly showed it as self-published’ as though it’s a last resort, the lowest of the low, and the domain only of the talentless.

      Such remarks must surely be made by writers who have dismissed all self-pub books as dreadful without bothering to look inside, because if they’d read a selection they would know how foolish their remarks make them look.

      To me, a book is a book. Which is why, when I compile my ‘best of’ lists at the end of each year, I don’t differentiate between trad, indie or self pubbed. And neither should anyone else.

      May your success continue.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. I’m sadden to realize how to the point your words are; however, I’m fortunate to know and interact with some great authors – both self-published and not – who make up for this kind of nonsense snobbery. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fabulous post, and I’ve read many of the comments (but only skimmed a few others, sorry – I’m meant to be writing today!) and agree. I’ve been hugely lucky to have been published by 2 of those *big 5* – but I’ve also self-published a series which has been my heart and soul, and all my years of craft-building has gone into it. There are so my hybrids out there now, that it’s absolutely impossible to say, with any conviction at all, that one route is ‘better’ than the other and means you’re more accomplished. Those who pick up a small-press deal and start crowing, are due for a rude awakening. – and by the way, one of my *big 5* experiences has put me off publishing with them again, and I’d rather do it all myself – bring on the sneers! I turned down a 3-book deal with them, so it’s not all sunshine and roses by a long shot.

    I absolutely love my self-published series, it’s too niche a genre to attract the big names, but that doesn’t mean I put less effort into writing it. Quite the opposite, because I know there’s no editor at the other end to pick up plot-holes and character deficiencies! It’s all down to me. AND I FREAKIN’ LOVE IT! Great post, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That brings up another point, Terri – when you self pub (particularly if you don’t use an editor, as I don’t) it really IS all on you, isn’t it? It must be lovely to be a big name author and write a first draft, perhaps re-draft it a few times then hand it over to the editors, safe in the knowledge that all those little inconsistencies will be sorted out for you! But when I publish a book it means that it’s all my own work (aside from that of my proofreader, who somehow manages to spot all my missing words and full stops that my brain doesn’t see, even after 10 rewrites!). There’s no-one to tell me that such and such a character had a bit of a personality metamorphosis in Chapter 12, or that Joe wouldn’t have used that particular colloquialism. I have to spot it all myself.

      Hell – maybe those who self-pub successfully are superior to the independently published???!! Should we start crowing over them? No, of course not 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Just want to say this a lovely article and I agree with all the sentiments.

    I have been lucky enough to write reasonably well-received novels (Mark Barry) and a few people writing comments here have read my stuff – thank you xx – but I want to comment under my other hat, as a Creative Writing tutor.

    I have co-taught around seventy adults in three years and the vast majority – I’m talking ninety percent – prefer traditional slushpile/lottery ticket models and are focusing purely on that in their writing aspirations.

    I have had some success in persuading others to self publish, but not as much as I expected: It appears to be a deeply ingrained perception that trad is a superior methodology to self-publishing.

    Self publishing is often viewed with suspicion – and scorn, on occasion – by some of the students we teach. As you say, Alison -snobbery. Some have compared what I do to a cheap form of “vanity” publishing. We have experienced one or two students who have been, quite frankly, rude, especially to me, as a self published writer. Others pat me on the head as if I am the local village idiot dancing on the green. They pay lip service to my experiences, nod enthusiastically when I mention them and then carry on down the traditional route regardless.

    I think, in summary, us selfers have an awful lot of work to do and its going to take time and effort to change.

    Thanks, Alison – excellent article. I’ll be sharing this on the course tomorrow night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Mark. I think it will take time for people’s views to change, and the best thing indie writers can do to help that change along is to produce fantastic books! Having read one of your books myself, I know there is absolutely nothing at all to sneer at there 🙂 It’s a shame that some of your students are passing up a wonderful opportunity.

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  12. I’m proud to say I am CHOOSING to self-publish. I think the publishing industry is dying a slow painful death and I don’t want to be part of it. I like the idea of control and also, more importantly, the fact that if I don’t succeed its my fault and if I do, that’s my fault too. I want to have total control and be able to iterate and trial and fail and try again and not be told what and when I can do things. All hail the indie as far as I’m concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sacha, I remember you writing about this on your blog, and I agreed with you 100% – I think that self-pub is the way of the future for publishing, as it was for the best music a few decades ago. And I’m not saying that because I can’t get a publisher, because I could have one if I wanted one!

      Mark B (Wiz Green) – how infuriating and demoralising your experiences must be. The only way one can convince people is to be successful, I think. I hope you tell them how many copies of Ultra Violence you sell…. also, most of the yet-to-be-published don’t understand the difference between traditional publishing (which usually means having an agent, the Big Five, and advances, etc), and independent publishing – which can be any company who wants to call itself a publisher. They submit to and get accepted by the first of these ‘publishers’, and think they’ve made it – and that’s when the crowing at the self-pub starts.

      I always remember this girl saying to me ‘I don’t know why everyone says it’s so hard to get published. I’ve submitted my books to 4 publishers and they’ve all accepted.’ Oh no, she wouldn’t want to be self-published. She chose to go with one of companies and thought she’d ‘made it’, so much more easily than most. Very proud of herself, she was. A few years down the line, her books have scarcely sold and you never hear a peep out of her.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you! I have gotten my fair share of being judged for self-publishing and was far from impressed with the “properly published” books I had read. I assumed I may have just been biased, but I know I will always have room for improvement. I wonder if self-publishing keeps you humble? Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Bit late – but thanks for this! I was both cheered and shocked to read it. I suppose the snobbery and a kind of exclusivity exists in all groups really. I found it in the home education community for which I write. I’ve both used a publisher and published Indie so have a foot in both camps, but would always like to think I was supportive of anyone, as I’d hope would be shown to me however I was sharing my work – which is why we do it anyway, isn’t it?! Great to find your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My name is David and I am a self-publisher. Do I feel under-priviledged? No, because the likelihood of finding a publisher was remote and the process filled with disappointment. I am also one of Alison’s ‘children’, and what started as a vanity publication with very low expectation of sales, has with Alison’s encouragement, raised my optimism.
    So, for me the reward is having a tangible outcome after a long gestation period, rather than substantial (and unlikely) sales. If those who have been published want to look down their noses so be it, but I suspect I’m not the only Petunia in this cabbage patch.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    Excellent post, well stated, and (in my opinion), very true. I’ve read some pretty poorly edited traditionally published books lately, and some absolutely perfect self-published ones. And it’s time for “some” writers to stop trying to paint self-published writers as authors who couldn’t make the grade.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent article. I have had two books published. One the first, a novel, was self published with the excellent aid of a firm that specializes in self publication. The second book, a collection of humourous literary essays, has been published by a small firm seeking to broaden their scope. Both experiences were and are satisfying. I am not averse to utilizing either process if and when I complete one of my numerous works in progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I enjoyed your post (and would love to know who the author is who makes your day!). I think we know what the problem is—your pigeonholing remark is right on the money, all agents and publishers want to see is “All the Light We Cannot See and Gone Girl ran off and had a baby and it’s this novel before you”—but I’d love to see the literary world groping for the solution. How do the wonderful self-published works break through the clamor and get the attention they deserve?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I too have been so disappointed in some of the traditionally published books I have been reading lately. And some by New York Times best-selling authors. I can’t get past page 5. And then there are indie author like you whose work is as riveting as anything I’ve ever read.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I’ve only just been notified of this post. However, I agree with every word you say. There is one writer in particular whom I come across on numerous threads, who had a big ‘down’ on ALL self-published authors. He, he tells us, is traditionally published. Funny thing is, another writer whom I have a great deal of fondness and respect for, looked up this ‘traditional’ publisher and found it to be a vanity publisher!

    I agree with you on your comment about some self-published writers being better than some traditionally published writers. I read a dreadful trad published book full of errors of fact, grammar, spelling, syntax, word usage etc. as well as having very flat and umbelievable characters with no development. She claimed to be an English undergraduate at Oxfotd University!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this!!! VM, it’s surprising how many writers don’t know the difference between Big 5 (traditional publishing), independent and vanity publishing. It’s great fun to put them right, though. The ones who think they’re ‘all that’, I mean…. ;^D

      As for the claims in the second paragraph, alas, I think some biographies are less than truthful. I reviewed a book for a woman who claimed to be a journalist on various national US papers. She appeared to think that a double hyphen was a punctuation mark that could be used in place of all commas, semilocolons and em dashes. Amazing none of her editors on the Washington Post had ever put her right…..

      Liked by 1 person

  21. When I first started out as a primary school teacher my dad (a miner) asked me l when I was going to become a secondary school teacher. He thought you started in primary and worked your way up!! Bless him. It’s a bit like writing – people seem surprised that I don’t want an agent and I’m happy to remain an indie author. Great post thank you xx

    Liked by 1 person

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