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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199 comments

    1. Rosie, spot on! Because people rarely do realise who it’s aimed at (I read a ‘getting it off my chest’ post ages that was partly aimed at me – took me a while to pluck up courage to actually ask if it was!!!)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Somebody in the comments below mentioned something that I thought too – that those who have just snagged a ‘yes’ from a small independent publisher and parade around as though they’ve just been given a 50K grand advance from Simon and Schuster, making snidey remarks ”who knows, self publishing might be my fate too’, are perhaps just terrible insecure. They very scared that they might not, in fact, be ‘real’ writers at all. And might be looked down on by the traditionally published in exactly the same way as they look down on us. Because they know (deep down, maybe), that most self pub writers who enjoy making their own decisions could have a contract with an independent just like theirs if they wanted one (re my remark lower down about there being a publisher for everyone these days)

      Incidentally, with regard to whether it’s Big 4, 5 or 6 – it’s 5: Random House, The Hachette Group, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, and HarperCollins – unless you’ve been published by one of these, you’re just the same as all the rest of us. So there.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. ps, I’m apalled by the amount of typos in that comment. I see them, I lower my head in shame. Wrote it first thing before coffee kicked in. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it 😉

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I think there’s a lot of truth in that – writers are, after all, notoriously insecure. I think there’s also quite a bit of naivety and unrealistic expectations of what a deal with a small (or even a big) publisher might provide.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well said. So much of this is the ‘luck of the draw’ and I’ve experienced snotty remarks – after I was extremly fortunate to get a good deal with one of those ‘big five’. It has taken nigh on twenty years and during that time I did earn a living from writing but with many forms of writing. I always say to my students that a ‘big five’ contract is not for life and enjoy it while it happens. Yep, the snobbery is from authors with small publishers who think they’ve arrived and then travel around social media saying how great their publisher is etc – not aware of what we all know and have heard about some of these. I’m still a humble writer who will share anything to help those new to writing and I’m still pinching myself – and grateful to people who can edit!!

        Liked by 4 people

  1. Thank you. Needed saying, and no-one does it better than you. 🙂

    Those who have automatically chosen the seeking-a-publishing-deal route with the first novel they wrote often do not realise that many self-published writers choose to be so, because we want to choose what we write, when we publish, and our own proofreaders/editors that we know can do a good job. Like you, I have read many books by small independents that read as though they were edited by my cat (I haven’t got one, but you know what I mean). I, too, have found more of the very best new authors within the self-pub than any other group (show me a ‘published author’ who writes better than Gemma Lawrence, William Savage, Keith Blackmore, Kate Mary, Carol Hedges, Mark Barry or Dylan Morgan, to name but a few, and I’ll take my hat off to you).

    You rock 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Exactly Terry – so many fabulous self-published authors out there, talent that publishers are missing out on. Ye, there are some crap ones but there are plenty of crap traditionally published ones too. The last book I actually gave up on after two chapters was by a very well known and very successful writer. You can never tell.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do need to know who the retired chap is, Alison – I might want to read him!

        One gets so fed up with seeing comments about the state of the proofreading and editing in self-pub novels. Makes one wonder if those who make such comments have ever read any, or more than one. Especially when one considers the less than stellar P & E in many produced by small, independent publishers.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Certainly couldn’t do a worse one, Jenny!!! I don’t think some of the editors attached to indie publishers actually understand what editing is.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So totally agree with you Alison, writers are writers, who is to judge what is good and what is bad, different kinds of writing appeal to readers at every level and self-publishing has given us all more choice, readers and writers.

    Being traditionally published by a big name is no guarantee the writing, the story or even the editing is good. I too have read a couple of novels this summer I wouldn’t review because I couldn’t find anything really positive to say about them – self-published and traditionally published. But again, that is my personal opinion.

    All I do know is this writing lark is the best job in the world and the worst job in the world and we all need the love and support of our chums to keep going. As they say in show business, be nice to people on the way up, because you sure as heck are going to meet them on the way down!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That’s one of the things I’ve found within the self-published community – so much support and generosity. It’s a shame that some authors I know of find it necessary to look down their noses at other writers, many of whom have made a choice to self-publish. It costs nothing to be nice!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Sadly, there is a ton of that, especially in reviewing. There are authors out there who read books in their genre then rate them all 1’s and vote down every… single… good review they get. It is rather sickening, really.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I KNOW! I had 3 books ‘properly’ published and people in general were so impressed. Having now self-published 3 more, the response has been almost entirely that of a balloon deflating. And that’s JUST to hearing who the publisher was, nothing at all to do with reading it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well written, and well said, Alison. There is so much snobbery about self-published authors. When I was on Pointless (name drop, name drop, but I want to make a point here!) Alexander Armstrong asked me if the novels I worked on were published – I could tell that what he meant was, ‘were they to be taken seriously because they’re under the wing of traditional publishers’. I deliberately misunderstood him. Some of my self-published clients are so good that I want to shout from the rooftops that they should be on the front display in Waterstones.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha! Well done! When I tell people I’m an editor they always seem a little disappointed when I don’t reel off a list of celebrities that I work with. But, like you, I’m really proud of a lot of the writers I work with and the wonderful books they produce.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s worth mentioning, also, that these days almost anyone can find a publisher if they wish, as there are thousands of small independents about, and it takes no experience or expertise to set up as one. ‘Getting published’ no longer means what it did, and is scarcely more worthy of congratulations than a self-pub author pressing the ‘publish’ button, if at all. I’ve explained this too a few people who’ve said how badly a book is produced, and followed up by commenting ‘and it’s got a publisher, too’, as if it should therefore be better than a self-pub. On the contrary.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Exactly. Being published is completely different now to how it was a few years ago and it is usually writers who sign up with these small independents who are the ones that look down on self published authors.

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  5. Hi Alison – very interesting post. I think, as you say, anyone outside the publishing arena won’t fully understand how we self-published authors work, unless we tell them. But I do think that more and more readers are becoming aware that good writing, which has been properly edited and produced, is in no way exclusively the domain of traditionally published authors.
    I was having coffee with a friend today and, when we first met over a year ago, she was surprised that I was a writer of books – and more than a little sceptical when I told her I was a self-published author. It was my job to defend myself – a tiresome thing to have to do, but necessary if we want to change opinion. And I think she has come around! If she doesn’t like one of my books, she’s certainly not afraid to say so, but she understands the work I have to do to bring a book to market and why I like to have the freedom to set my own deadlines and choose my own editor, proofreader and cover designer. We all know the importance of being in control of our writing, as most of the comments so far bear out.
    What is very encouraging is that mainstream book stores are ready to promote self-published authors (especially if their books include local interest), cutting out the publisher all together.
    There are great writers all over the place – and not so great writers. But the division between self-published and traditionally-published authors is being eroded. Which reminds me, I must get to my blog and take out my ‘Indie Reads’ section – it was meant as positive discrimination (read something new – go on, take a risk!). But perhaps any kind of division is unnecessary and could be seen as derisory by people who don’t know how our world works.
    Thanks for making me think!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Bev. I do think things are changing albeit slowly. Unfortunately it’s often writers themselves who, if they are signed, perpetuate the myth that self published writers are somehow less talented. You’re right – there are good and bad writers of all types.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Alison. Having a contract with a publishing house does not AT ALL mean you’re a better writer. It means an acquisition editor has believed he or she can sell the story. Period.
    There are plenty of independent authors who sell their stories every day to the people who count the most: our readers 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very well stated. I’ve been traditionally published since 1990, but in no way do I “put down” self-publishers, nor do I believe they are “inferior” to those who’ve landed an agent and/or publisher. The Big Four (I believe it’s now four; could be wrong) cater to the sensational and celebrity. I do have one book with “one of them,” still in print, but that deal was signed in 2003. Things have changed a lot since then.

    All that said, I’ve seen horrible books that were self-pubbed. I’ve also seen many beautifully crafted ones, inside and out, and the writing is good to superb. I believe self-publishing is one of the best things to happen in the long history of publishing. One celebrity/sensational book with its huge advance means hundreds of good writers are shut out. My only concern is that self-publishers take the time to do it right. There is no excuse for sloppy errors, poor punctuation (especially in dialogue), or an unprofessional layout or cover. Just my two cents.
    –Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Michael. I agree with you that self-publishers need to make sure that their work is up to scratch. I have seen some truly awful books and I strongly believe that if you want to be taken seriously then you have to treat your writing seriously and to expect any issues to be pointed out. I do hope that you’re right and that self-publishing does turn out to be a really good thing for writers – and readers too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish mainstream bookstores were ready to promote local writers. They will if they write non fiction but if a self published writer writes fiction they have to go through the big boys. If I want to be read I donate books to the library. If I want sales I rely on word of mouth. My readers are appreciative but I don’t make money. I’m lucky to be retired.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a boost for the morale of any indie suffering from the ‘nobody hears me!’ syndrome, plus a great encouragement to proofread that manuscript for the 120th time before uploading. Thank you Alison, and Rosie for tweeting it (which is where I saw it!).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well said Alison! There are so many great indie writers out there who come under your top 3 categories – and they’re brave as well as brilliant for taking their future into their own hands to boot! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well said. Great points. All so true. Thanks for reminding / pointing out that there are great and professional writers who are both self published and traditionally published. In my over forty years as an avid reader I’ve read plenty of traditionally published books I didn’t enjoy. Nowadays it’s so easy. Read the blurb and the first 10% for free and then decide if you want to read the rest. Instead of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, we’re now saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its publisher’!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Thanks for this post. Been slightly bruised at times by people who won’t review me, groups who won’t let me join, shops who won’t stock me – just because I’m self published. I think there’s gold and dross on both sides of the divide, and as you say, a great deal in between.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It must feel like an uphill battle – but hopefully things will change. And if the traditional publishers keep focusing on the same old people and celebrities then people (and shops) will have to be more open to self-publishers.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the worst was the six figure advance Pippa Middleton got for her book ‘Celebrate’ that turned out to be a complete flop. She reportedly got £400,000. How many new authors could have got a start for that money? Does make you think that self-publishing is the way forward.

      Like

  13. A wonderful post, Alison 🙂 I agree with everything you’ve written. As a self-published author I’ve been put in a position several times where I’ve had to ‘defend’ self-publishing, but now I refuse to. I work with an editor and a cover designer, and I run my books like a small business, seeking opportunities, marketing them where and when budget permits, and I retain full control. If one of the big five wanted to pick up my books one day, well of course that would be great. But I count myself extremely fortunate to live in a time when I don’t have to rely on the caprices of agents to find a publisher, and can manage the process myself. Like you, I’ve read some terrible traditionally published books, and some wonderful independently published books – it’s a mark, I think, of how much the publishing world has changed.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I’ve just finished reviewing a novel sent by a ‘small publisher’ and, as you describe, it was badly edited, there were lots of typos and punctuation errors and I was crying out to say: LOOK ~ this plotline doesn’t follow through! I laugh at the scorn heaped on self-published, having been published by 2 of the BIGGIES, who did very little to promote me. It was my choice to start my own imprint, and do all the work associated with it. And boy is it a lot of work! Far more than any small publisher would do! In the end, it’s content that’s important, not the ‘label’ on the book jacket. And I get far more help and support frm my fellow self-published brethren than from any other kind!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a wonderful post, Alison. I was away yesterday so am only now catching with what’s in my inbox, which means deleting most of what is a day old so am very glad I spotted this before I hit the button. I love the post – agree with all of it – and have enjoyed reading all the comments.

    One of my books is with a small publisher whose idea of editing was to convert my MS into a pdf and send it to me to ‘look over’. He moaned a bit about the dozens of corrections I made. He hadn’t even spotted when one of the character’s names changed half way through.
    One writer I know was forever banging on about being tired of spending money on badly edited, badly written books by indie authors. I asked why she didn’t download the free sample to check it out before spending her money. She looked a bit sheepish – I think she just likes to put down other writers – and manage to slip in the phrase ‘my publisher’ at every opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary 🙂 Unfortunately I’m not surprised about your experience with the small publisher; must be totally frustrating. And I don’t understand either why more people don’t download the free samples. I do that before I buy any book now.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh Mary, those ones who love saying ‘my publisher’….!

      It’s the presumption that they’re ‘better’ that gets to me – as if they think that all self-pub authors have submitted their manuscripts to their small time outfits and been rejected. Er, no. I have never submitted a manuscript (not in 13 self pub books and 10 novels written in the 1990s) to an independent publisher, and never will. I am too unimpressed by the standard of editing and proofreading that comes out of most of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Without self-publishing, I wouldn’t be writing at all, because I’m sure no acquisitions editor or agent would be interested in Georgian historical whodunnits set in Norfolk! Terry Tyler is far too kind. I don’t pretend to be a brilliant writer, but I do enjoy telling a story and mean to go on doing it my own way for as long as I can. If that makes me somehow inferior to people writing for a traditional publisher — well, as Clark Gable said in “Gone with the Wind”, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Excellent post. I’m not yet published – traditionally or independently – although I did have an agent for a while until she retired! I’ve been appalled by some of the traditionally-published books I’ve read and similarly delighted by the self-published ones and I’m so happy to read a post that makes absolute sense! (Arrived here via Smorgasbord).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Love this post! I’ve been hoping to get my book published but so many people seem to look down on my decision to possibly consider self-publishing 😦 I understand how being traditionally published may seem more of an accomplishment, but I’ve read so many self-published books that are excellent and far exceed the quality of some traditionally published authors that I’m inclined to disagree. And so, I’ve been looking more into the self-publishing option! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t bother looking for a publisher or an agent because I would rather write and post my work to my site. I may not have a lot of readers or followers, but I appreciate them all, and I’ll take them over the rejections and non-responses from the publishing industry. My writing is particular and not easily given to marketing schemes.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Wise words. I read a complete mixture of books (in terms of how they are published). There seem to me to be overlapping statistical curves and sure, the self-published line has a longer tail at the less readable end, but the overlap is considerable and I am baffled by some beautiful books that have not found mainstream publishers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the whole point, in a way, Hilary – self-publishing is, these days, a choice, not a last resort. Of course you get the utter garbage, and the unreadable by the delusional, but that’s the bad end. The good end is genuinely talented writers who want to do their own thing and don’t even submit to publishers, because they’re happy as they are. OR, have been rejected by Big 5 because they don’t fit the current trend (because publishing is a business, not a celebration of creativity).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That last bit is key I think. The big 5 don’t want to risk losing money on someone who isn’t a name already or a celebrity, after all, their main priority is to make money. I read an article by an agent recently in Writing Magazine who says ‘writers are often preoccupied by being told they are ‘good’, That is not an agent’s – or publisher’s – job. Our job is to find things that will work in the market place and that is a slightly different thing.’ And in the process, I suppose they pass over things that would do well, because they have to weigh up the risks.

        Like

    1. That’s certainly a massive problem with a great deal of books I’ve read published by some of the smaller independent companies. I’ve worked with authors too who have been really badly let down and have had terrible experiences. It makes me so cross!

      Like

  21. My first book was reviewed by lovely the Terry Tyler (her tweet directed me here!), and has done moderately well… My second book has been labeled as ‘uncommercial’ as the first… according to the agent rejections I have received so far. I am thinking about self-pub but find it very daunting. On the other hand, I have done all my own promotion, ARC review queries and events anyway with a small press, so I really wouldn’t have much extra work!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha – thanks! And you certainly won’t be any worse off self-publishing. Also, all the royalties will be yours. Your book was stunningly good and is already in my drafted ‘highlights of 2016’ post on my book review blog 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  22. I was at a genre writing conference recently (No names) and appalled at the number of unpublished writers who were totally desperate for a book deal that they would accept almost any offer. One said she’d got a book deal but when asked what the contract was didn’t know because she couldn’t find it, but didn’t care anyway because she was going to be published. At least 50% of the audience said the would never consider self-publishing because it did not offer the validation of a publishing deal.

    Well – I used to be published, used to have an agent, but when I started to write again later in lfe as retirement approached I made a deliberate decision to go Indie. I would rather be master of my own destiny than slave to another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David, that was me giving you a round of applause. So many of the naive and egocentric are so keen to be able to say ‘my publisher says’ and ‘my editor thinks’ that they’ll take any deal by any one man band publishing books out of his spare room that doesn’t actually mean very much.

      I am sure Alison won’t mind me adding a link to this post I wrote about why self-publishing isn’t a last resort, but a creative choice. I think you’ll like it (re your comments, partic the part about where your validation comes from!)

      http://terrytyler59.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/thank-you-anton-newcombe.html

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Great post, Alison. Great comments too. My suggestion for new authors searching for a publisher – before signing on the dotted line, please check whether an indie or small press offers a professional edit and a professional proofread.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I found your post quite fascinating both as a writer and as a compulsive book buyer. I am I regular at my local Indie bookshop, the op shops and also at Book Depository. I rarely buy novels and largely stick to non-fiction and poetry.
    Even though I buy a lot of books, I am still pretty discerning about what I buy and I genuinely intend to read all the books I buy, which is clearly impossible.
    Unless I’ve met or interacted with the author, I wouldn’t buy books written by indie authors.
    HOWEVER, as a tip for Indie authors, I love going to author talks and I always buy the book.
    So, I’d brush up on your speaking skills and start signing books and kissing babies!
    If you want to read about how to turn a book talk into book sales against the odds, you can read about Graeme Samsion’s first book talk in a small Australian country town. He wrote “The Rosie Project” which is going to be made into a film. He recommended his book as Christmas presents. He had some good tips: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/how-to-make-it-as-an-author/
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a lot of books, which I haven’t read and I’m really trying not to buy any new books but I can’t stop myself. I would probably buy 2 books in an average week, not necessarily new.
        I am conscious of the huge number of classics I haven’t read and I feel I should read those before I try something unknown…especially when it comes to novels. I mostly read non-fiction.
        Also, you need to hear about the book in the first place to buy it.
        I should also mention that I’m a person who needs that personal interaction in a sales transaction. I chat to my butcher, book shop people, and need a face. I live a bit out of Sydney by the beach and people say hi when you’re walking your dog.
        I guess I’m much the same with buying books. A good referral from my local bookshop would have me buy an Indie book. She knows what I like.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. I really enjoyed this post, particularly how well-balanced it is. There are good and bad self-published authors and good and bad commercial published ones. That’s not too difficult a concept to graspe, is it?

    Liked by 1 person

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