Articles on Self-Publishing: The Need for Balance

The growth of the self-publishing industry is a popular journalistic subject. Some articles on self-publishing, such as the New York Times’s recent Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab, provide reasonably balanced coverage of the issue, while others, such as Time’s Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature, are fatuous and overstated, with a distinctly triumphalist “old publishing is dead, and good riddance!” feel to them.

With each of these articles, I get a flurry of emails from writers wanting to know what I think. Is it really true that that print publishing is “over?” Has the self-publishing stigma really vanished? Are publishers really combing through offerings from self-pub services for likely prospects? Has paying for POD really become a viable way for a new author to break into commercial publishing? So with the latest example, Elham Khatami’s April 6 article for CNN, More Authors Turn to Web and Print-On-Demand Publishing.

Articles on self-publishing often follow a similar formula, and Khatami’s is no exception.

1. Pick a rare instance of self-publishing success–in this case, Lisa Genova, whose iUniverse-published novel Still Alice garnered a major publishing deal. Make sure not to tell the whole story–omit, for instance, the fact that Genova hired PR firm Kelly & Hall–the same firm that propelled self-published Brunonia Barry to success–to publicize her book, and acquired a literary agent as a result of the attention Kelly & Hall was able to generate.

2. Segue to the growth of self-publishing and the great possibilities it offers for budding authors, while taking a swipe at the commercial publishing industry. Totally ignore the contradiction inherent in the fact the success of the self-published author just discussed hinged on her transition to a commercial publisher.

3. Toss out a few random facts about self-publishing (not all of them necessarily relevant–Khatami notes that the self-published author “retains the copyright to his or her book,” as if this were not the case with commercial publishing), while ignoring the issue of low sales (the average self-published book sells fewer than 200 copies) and limited distribution (most self-pubbed books are not distributed beyond the Internet).

4. Mix in some boosterish quotes from representatives of self-pub companies, such as Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions’ VP of Marketing, who “cited several pluses of print-on-demand publishing: the speed with which a book gets into the marketplace; the fact that readers, not critics, ‘decide whether your book is any good or not,’ and the environmental benefit of fewer printed copies.” (Now, there’s a comfort! My book only sold 50 copies, but at least I saved some trees.) Rhapsodize a bit about democratization. “‘Anyone can publish, that’s the beauty of it,’ said Gail Jordan, Director of Public Relations at Lulu. ‘Nobody’s going to say, We don’t like your cover. Chapter 10 should be Chapter 6.'” (Actually, a commercial publisher isn’t going to say that about your cover, either…because commercial publishers don’t expect authors to provide their own covers.)

5. Feature a happy self-pubbed author. Khatami’s example: Melinda Roberts, author of Mommy Confidential: Adventures from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood, who turned to self-publishing after being turned down by three publishers, and is pleased with her experience despite the fact that “she has sold fewer than 300 books, mostly by word-of-mouth.”

6. Conclude (explicitly or by implication) that “traditional” publishing is [pick one] dead/dying/running scared. For bonus points, include something that encourages inexperienced aspiring authors to make completely inaccurate assumptions about the possibilities of self-publishing. Keith Ogorek again: “‘Traditional publishers are looking at us to find new and upcoming authors,’ he said. ‘We provide that for them.'”

There doesn’t seem to be any question that the self-publishing industry continues to grow, even as the commercial publishing industry enters a period of contraction. Nor is there any dispute that self-publishing can be successful in specific circumstances: for writers who are able to sell directly to their audiences (frequent conference speakers, for instance); authors with niche nonfiction books that can be marketed directly to interested readers; people with non-commercial projects such as genealogies, family recipe books, or memoirs for limited distribution; and anyone who, for whatever reason, isn’t interested in commercial success.

For most writers, however, the path of self-publishing offers substantial downsides and pitfalls (for a full discussion of these, see Writer Beware’s Print on Demand page), and successes on the order of Lisa Genova’s remain few and far between. These hard facts are way less sexy than the vision of a brave new technological world that makes it possible for (a few) authors to bypass the traditional route to success–but they are no less real. In my opinion, journalists who write about this issue have a responsibility to cover both sides.

It’s a responsibility they too often seem to neglect.


  1. Hello! Victoria, I have been following your blogs for sometime now, and I think your have great and excellent ideas for we the young publishers. Pleas could you elaborate on some of the challenges and prospects of self-publishing?

  2. Great article and some great comments. I have just self published my novel and am on the self publishing band-wagon. My grammar is terrible and therefore paid for a full edit. I know my writing needs improvement but as one comment said- self publishing is an alternative – in a market which is flooded with budding novelists and therefore there is hard competition.

    I think the growth of e-books (and the low prices) will bring self publishing to the forefront. Most readers don't look at the name of the publishing house when they pick up a book- they read the blurb on the back.

    Either way readers will decide and new authors will have more of an opportunity to get out there- even if it is just one book out of ten that is great and self published- it is better than nothing.

    I think most authors that go into self publishing know the drawbacks- I doubt they are sucked in. And they get to live their dream and maybe, just maybe they will be successful! And that in itself is worth it. Most self pubbed authors don't release a book expecting high sales- but they work at it and if they are good then they will get somewhere and there is no harm in that.

  3. Good article, Victoria. I am interviewing self-published authors on my blog:, after listening to a talk by a literary agent, April Eberhardt. what she had to say was inspiring and exciting for those of us who have come up against the "gatekeepers". I agree that we shouldn't completely condemn the old but I also feel we are poised at the inception of a new paradigm.

  4. Good article, Victoria. I am conducting interviews on my blog with self-published authors after listening to a talk by the literary agent, April Eberhardt. I agree that we should be careful not to condemn the old but I do think we are poised at the inception of a new paradigm. My blog address is:

  5. I am very happy to discover this blog.
    Following on from the previous posts, I think one good reason for POD is that many publishers seem to be out of the loop, totally unware of what the public is interested in and only go for what was previously commercially viable.

    How many rejections did Richard Adams get when attempting to publish Watership Down? Publishers were incredulous: "Who on earth wants to read a novel about rabbits?" O how they laughed.

    Only about half the earth, it seems, when it finally became a world best-seller.

    Since then, we have had dozens of marvellous tales about the worlds of moles, badgers, weasles and and the like, and even ants, which would never have seen the light of day if it hadn't been for Watership Down.

    I am a published author of two books, the second of which, "Sharing the Quest" has also been published in Dutch and Italian as well as English and sold 12,000 copies. Yet when my UK publisher went into receivership, I could not find another publisher nor an agent to take it on.

    So I went the Self-Publishing route and don't regret it, as I find the book is still selling well and reaching out to those in need of its message of self-understanding. And that is despite the fact that the last agent I tried (in an esoteric publishing company) told me "Nobody wants to read this kind of book any more."

    Yet the book contains teachings and insights which were published long before similar themes in the now best-selling books like "The Celestine Prohecy" and "The Secret" came along.

    And as an ecouragement to other self-publishers, my book is on Amazon (even though legend has it that they are not promoting self-published books) and it is available in Waterstones flagship bookshop in London).
    I am presently working on a children's faerytale fantasy with deep spiritual teachings woven into the adventures of the hero, which has been summarily dismissed by all UK agents to whom I have submitted it (who, as one chidren's author told me, "Have not the slightest spiritual inclination unless it has a dollar sign in front of it.")

    So is it too different? Too advanced? Is it because it has more than five words to a sentence? Or because it is crap?

    It seems not, judging by all the postive and enthusiastic reviews I have from a wide variety of pre-publication readers, ranging from 8years old to 92. Even the philosopher Colin Wilson (age 74)thought it was brilliant and very publishable
    Again it seems that publishers (or their readers and agents) are not aware of what the public is hungry for. So once again I was in the mind of going for P.O.D.
    But suddenly (without going through an agent) an Irish publisher has now taken a keen interest. God bless the Irish for their spiritual sensibilities and love of the poetry of language!
    So I say keep on trying every commercial publisher and keep P.O.D. as a last resort.

  6. James Lee Burke got over 100 rejections for his first Dave Robicheaux novel. So I guess the answer is…as many as you can stand.

    Your rejections won't necessarily say that your work sucks. Rejections can be very complimentary. Agents and publishers do reject good writers, for a variety of reasons (for instance, the editor may love your book but feel it's too similar to one he's already publishing; the agent may love your book but feel she couldn't market it effectively). But if one publisher can't publish it, another one possibly can; and if one agent can't represent it, another may be eager to sign it up. Agents' and publishers' opinions and decisions are informed by their experience and knowledge, but there's very definitely a subjective element too (as all those rejection stories show).

    Also, the fact that you've written a not-ready-for-prime-time book doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad writer. Many writers don't break in with their first–or even their second or third or fourth–books. Sometimes you have to write two or three to get to the one that makes it.

    So query for as long as you can bear it, and be writing a new book in the meantime so that if you do decide to put your current book on ice, you'll have something to go forward with.

  7. My other questions weren't answered, though. If JKR was rejected 9 times, and her work became a phenominal success leaving her possibly richer than the Queen (as was said), and Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times, how can I be sure my work sucks like the rejection letters I'll likely get for my first submissions will politely (or not) say? How many rejections for a piece of work before I give up on it as a bad book or me as a poor writer?

  8. Dwight Clough, if you're a true self-publisher you can indeed make more money on the sale of each book than you can with commercial publishing or one of the POD services.

    But to have any chance of selling more than a handful of copies, you'll not only have to spend a sizeable sum upfront for book production, but invest a substantial amount of cash in marketing and promoting your book. Because individual authors don't have access to the distribution or marketing channels of the book trade, this is an uphill struggle, unless you're one of those niche authors who has direct access to his audience, or someone who can exploit a back-of-the-room situation (for instance, someone with a speaking career who can sell books at his lectures). Most self-published authors don't have those advantages–which is one reason why most self-published authors never make back their investments.

  9. Once and Future Author, you've answered your own question: "I didn't like it" is not the same as "bad" or "mediocre."

    Think about it.

  10. Someone explain Eragon (ripoff of StarWars and Lord of the Rings, anyone? And yes, I'm not going off quotes of others but read it myself all the way through.) and Twilight (fanfiction quality with original characters/plots. I read this one, too.) please? Explain how many times JK Rowling got turned down (9 times)? Or Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind (38)? (See this link for more: Inspiration for Writers: Amazing Books that Got Rejected Many Times Before Being Published )

    Please tell me why good books are being rejected as many as 38 times while mediocre to poor books are getting series of movies and merchandising to the point of being irritating? (Team Edward t-shirt/button/whatever anyone?) "I don't know." and "Those are just flukes." and "The time wasn't right for them until later, at which point they finally got the recognition they deserved!" won't do. How would you Harry Potter lovers (count me one who enjoyed it, too!) feel if we could go back in time and have JKR give up on rejection #5? If I get rejected 38 times, can I assume I'm just a misunderstood genius, like Margaret Mirchell was? If I only get rejected 5 times, and rejected hard, should I assume my book sucks and would make better birdcage liner? When are we supposed to give up? When do we get to know we only merit the slush pile? And how can I be sure of the credentials of the one who tells me these things in their rejection letter? Please tell me that the 5 people who could reject anything I submit would be completely and utterly right about the quality of my work. Then you must EQUALLY tell me that those 9 people who rejected JKR, or 38(!) people who rejected Margaret Mitchell were absolutely, unequivocally, and completely right about the quality of THEIR work, too!

  11. dear victoria,

    me & my husban now are running our indie book publisher in jakarta, indonesia. our first book is my book actually: "let's talk about friendship, love&marriage, ordinary miracles" by retnadi nur'aini and friends (halaman moeka publishing)

    that book released in march 2009, we printed 3,000 copies, and now, it sold 2,000 copies. sadly, we use distributor agent, that cut 55%.

    thanks for writing victoria,



  12. While some authors are better served by commercial publishers, in my view most are not. From an author's point of view, writing manuscript after manuscript, mailing proposal after proposal to traditional publishers who are inundated with slush is kind of like spending $10,000 to buy a five dollar lottery ticket. If you happen to win, and a traditional publisher picks up your book, what have you gained? As a new and unknown author, your chances of an advance are minimal. The publisher treats you like a Vegas slot machine. After their pile of quarters is gone, if your book isn't paying out, you're finished. So you need to work just as hard marketing your book as you would if you were self published. For what purpose? To get $1 per book (if you're lucky) rather than the $8-$10 per book you would get if you're self published. You get paid two years after you do your work, and, for most authors, that means getting paid under $2 per hour for all the work you put into it. I think that's crazy. Far better to create a smart marketing plan before you sit down to write, self publish, succeed, and let the big boys come to you.
    Dwight Clough

  13. David,

    For a commercial publisher to be interested in a self-published book, it usually needs to show an extraordinary volume of sales–on the order of several thousand copies sold within the first 6 months to a year of release. 500 copies is well above average for self-published books, but I'm afraid it's not enough to serve as a stepping stone to commercial publication.

    If commercial publication is what you want, I think your best strategy is to try for it first. You can always default to self-publishing if things don't work out.

    Depending on the genre of your book, I'd suggest caution with an agent who is out of his normal area of specialty. Some markets really require a high degree of specialization–science fiction, for instance, or young adult–and an agent who has never represented a book like yours before may not have the right contacts to be effective–even if that agent has a strong track record in other markets. Again, though, it really depends on your manuscript, the agent, and other factors that only you can know.

  14. Victoria, can you answer this… is it better to self publish, build some some sales and then seek a commercial house? Here is my scenario: I have a completed book and I have media lined up for newspaper write ups and some local radio station interviews. I probably could sell 300-500 off the top of my head.

    I also have an agent who is deciding on representing this project, but it is out of the scope of what he tradionally represents.

    What would you recommend? Thanks

  15. Victoria, you beat me to it!

    I agree: the majority of the titles mentioned are from small presses, or self-publishers, with some allowance for textbooks etc., some of which sell in tiny numbers. If you're talking commercial ficion or non-fic, then minimum sales are going to be counted in the thousands rather than the hundreds. Literary fiction traditionally sells in smaller quantities: but even so, will usually have a print run of over 1,000 copies even here, in the UK: in the USA, the numbers are proportionately larger.

  16. Actually, my understanding that 200-300 copies is above average for traditionally published books. Granting his statistics are woefully out of date, Dan Poynter cites a 2004 article in Publisher's Weekly stating 950,000 of the 1.2 million titles tracked by Bookscan sold 99 copies or fewer. So, basing discussion of success on number of copies sold needs to be taken in that context.

    I would guess that the bulk of those 950,000 titles were self- or micro-press published. The typical very low sales of such books really skews the averages. I think that may be why Bowker began separating out on-demand and short run titles into their own category in 2007.

    From my own experience with commercial publishers, sales expectations are (at minimum) in the thousands. Sales of 300 would be a career-killer.

  17. Actually, my understanding that 200-300 copies is above average for traditionally published books. Granting his statistics are woefully out of date, Dan Poynter cites a 2004 article in Publisher's Weekly stating 950,000 of the 1.2 million titles tracked by Bookscan sold 99 copies or fewer. So, basing discussion of success on number of copies sold needs to be taken in that context.

    If, as the Author's Guild declares, a successful book is on that has sold at least 5,000 copies, then condemning subsidy-published books (which are not synonymous with on-demand printed books or self-published books), even those for whose publication no subsidy was paid solely on the basis they don't sell is justified.

    However, the real reason to avoid subsidy publishing is simply that it's a practice encouraged by eager salespersons preying on the general ignorance of most aspiring writers. I don't say that as criticism. In most cases, and up until the last decade or so, there wasn't any real reason for writers to know anything about the mechanics of publishing. That's what agents and lawyers were for.

    I must have explained at least half a dozen times in the last several months why a querying author is wasting his or her time trying to pitch a subsidy-published book. And they really don't understand why there's a "bias" about it among publishers, because they've been fed the very success stories Victoria mentions. Those one-in-ten-million exceptions.

    But there are worse things even than that, by which I mean the evangelists who blog about the wonders and joys of "self-publishing," and how it frees the truly talented from having to deal with nasty, hypercritical agents and editors who are too busy watching the bottom line to recognize that true talent.

    It's those people who really get my adrenaline pumping, because they are inevitably even more ignorant of publishing than the ones they're determined to convert. At least the sales reps at the subsidy presses are just doing their jobs. This bunch just has a personal axe to grind, and does it at the expense of the innocent.

  18. I prefer traditional publishing. If I were to go self, I would do it only to make a few copies for family. I've listened as people proclaimed self-publishing as the way to go and safely ommitted the cost of their venture. These were the same people who were bittered by the rejection slips they recieved or were unhappy with their publisher. I prefer to write, not step into a publicists shoes and market my work, too.

  19. Victoria, nice post. I think that what is taking place in the publishing world is the same thing that has taken place in technology. Previously companies such as IBM and Dell ruled the roost, now Twitter and Facebook are the darlings of the sector. What has not happened yet, but will soon, is the seed change in how people acquire books or content, particularly in non-fiction. When a self published authors book is in the top 10 on Google driving sales, then the majors will set up and take notice.



  20. Great article and I think its "caveat emptor" approach to print on demand/self-publishing is a wise one.

    One other self-publisher who made a name for himself (at least here in Canada) was Terry Fallis. His book BEST LAID PLANS was turned down by everyone so he printed it through iUniverse. The book surprised everyone by winning a literary prize (the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour) and immediately afterward Fallis secured a high profile agent AND a publishing contract with a major Canadian house.

    But, as you rightly point out, such stories are few and far between. The rare exception rather than the general rule.

    I've been an "indie" writer for over two decades and I chose that route after a myriad of rotten experiences with publishers and agents, episodes I've recounted on my blog and elsewhere. For me, self-publishing was an effort to escape the narrowness of commercial fiction, the poobahs and gate-keepers of publishing (editors and agents who have acted in concert for years to destroy fine literary fiction and promote crap…which pays a lot more). Also, I wanted desperately to maintain control over my work and not subject it to inept tampering and idiotic input from an editor whose last book was some crappy "chick-lit" effort or fake memoir.

    But many writers are taking on the mantle of "indie" and self-publishing simply because they're terrible authors whose books are utterly sub-literate. These deluded souls imagine themselves to be undiscovered geniuses and by holding 20 copies of their self-published effort in their sweaty hands, they think they're now legitimate authors. I have nothing but contempt for those idjits–they are a blight on the face of the indie world and an embarrassment to those of us who labour long and hard on our literary efforts and don't wish to be lumped in with amateurs, nuts and weekend warriors.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and considered post. It was a breath of fresh air in a debate that has grown stale and boring.

  21. Ooh boy. Shelag Watkins.
    Haven’t heard about her in a while. She published with vanity scammers Publish America, as I recall, and is otherwise noted for not knowing, nor being willing to learn, anything at all about legitimate publishing.
    I wouldn’t take her advice on how to cross a street, much less getting published.

  22. is one of the oldest social networks on the web, originally envisioned as an experiment in six degrees of separation. It evolved to become a professional MySpace, if you will, without the fluff and folderol. (or falderal– the first time I’ve found a use for the word!) Therein, you’ll find doctors, lawyers, accountants, computer professionals, and writers.

    LinkedIn includes a number of ‘groups’, professional societies, sororities and fraternities, alumni groups, clubs, Girl Scouts and Eagle Scouts, and charitable organizations. Among these is the largest writers group called Published Authors Network. To visit it, you have to be both a LinkedIn member and accepted as a group member.

    I joined briefly and learned it was intended for anything but Published Authors. True, you'll find professional writers, such as Toni Kelner, Dylan Powell, Sarah Honenberger, and Chris Hart. What I didn't realize is that the group was founded and 'owned' by Shelagh Watkins, a self-publishing evangilist, and run by "self-publishing professionals".

    The group features 'discussions' such as "Why is self-publishing taking over the traditional method of publishing?" and Shelagh's "To self-publish or not to self-publish", which are not exactly balanced discussions. You can feel the exaggerated patience, the dismissiveness, and finally the anger when professionally published writers point to the scams rife in the vanity press industry. Keith Snyder remarked that a thread was deleted that outlined the disadvantages of self-publishing. Note the term 'vanity press' is considered a politically incorrect word.

    Most of these people are selling something. In Jo-Anne Vandermeulen's case, she offers to sell positive book reviews in her company, Premium Promotional Services. Self-publishing proponents like Judy Cullins applauded.

    Judy Cullins claimes to be a traditionally published author who supports self-publishing. Really? She says, "My same book Write your eBook or Other Short Book is both traditionally published and on Amazon…" Curious, her book on how to self-publish is published by Your Own World Books, a ‘small press’ which seems to exist for the primary purpose of publishing Marshall Masters and fruitcake theories on paranormal Egyptology, multiple suns and Planet X. Masters is listed (surprise) as being a ‘contributor’ to Cullins’ book.

    Carol Denbow, ‘Independent Publishing Professional’, features this bio: "Never was a journalist, editor, or writer in any form, and only once in my lifetime did I read an entire book cover-to-cover (and that was only 100 pages). Absolutely despised essay assignments in my English classes; that’s right, no interest at all! So why in 2002 did I decide to write a book, good question!"

    I didn't see an actual question there, but I'm not a self-publishing professional. Like Denbow and Cullins, most successful self-published authors write about how to self-publish.

    I objected to the group's bait-and-switch name, suggesting it should be called Self-Published Authors Network. In the brief period I was in the group, it grew from 600 to 700 members. I detest the idea of misleading new writers who want to be published.

  23. Anonymous:

    Most readers don’t care who published the damn book…That’s because, with most self- and vanitypublished books, the readers will never even see them. It all comes back to editorial gatekeeping and distribution. And yeah, for a writer with any pretention to an audience, that’s pretty damn important.

  24. Most readers don’t care who published the damn book. Seems it’s only the authors who bicker back and forth on this subject. There’s room for everyone, good book or bad.

  25. Hi
    I’m a hybrid: former NY author (more than 30 pubbed books and one NYT bestseller) who turned to self-publishing several years ago via my own small press, BelleBooks, where I and my partners (also former NY authors) publish our own work plus the work of other authors. We use POD as a printing method, mixed with traditional print runs; we sell on both the Internet and traditional bookstores; we are repped by all the major wholesalers. We’ve sold numerous subrights, foreign rights, etc. and our author list includes several big-time authors who had niche projects they wanted published, regardless of the modest scale. So my point is: there is no simple and easy way to categorize the enormous variety of “self-publishing” ventures out there, and the over-generalizations handed out by most articles fail to examine the big picture. Publishing a book is like any small business: most efforts fail. Only the strong, determined and hardworking survive. That doesn’t condemn self-publishing or, indeed, represent anything specific to the venue. It’s just the law of the wild. As an author, I could have stayed in NY. But I like the control and relatively hassle-free environment of pubbing my own work. And for the record, sales on my company’s titles range from a few hundred to five-figures. We’re building an impressive backlist that we believe will succeed as a whole as time goes by. It’s a business that requires long-term vision, just like any business. The vast majority of self-pubs are happy hobbyists who just love seeing their book in print. Fine. That says nothing about the validity of self-pubbing in general. Using the logic of the naysayers, any activity that rewards only a tiny percentage of its participants with fame and fortune isn’t worth doing. But do we tell weekend golfers to give up their game because they’ll never be Tiger Woods?

  26. Ok then… so what do you say to a black author who writes neither ‘street’ fiction, nor tasteless, ethnic erotica? Not only will traditional publishers not publish them, bookstores segregate their work into the ‘black’ section — regardless of the subject matter. they have no choice but to self-publish. someone said that no agent wants to surf through all the self-pubbed dreck in order to find the jewels. so then, how does a black author who does not write about being black or poor or sexy ever get read? Are you looking for them? You’ve already declared… no.

  27. As Al Pacino said in the movie, “Vanity is definitely my favourite sin.”

    And I see that in both sides of the argument here. I loved the one about the author wanting to come across his book in a library or see someone reading it on a bus. Yes, that’s vanity. And I also see people who self publish. They get out their, encouraging people to buy their books (or maybe even ramming them down the throats of friends, neighbours and family). And they hope to get a phone call saying “Yeah, I read your book and I’d like you to tell me…” Vanity is a part of being a writer, not just a vanity published writer.

  28. Victoria —

    Your article is fine, but the publicist's name is misspelled — should be Kelley & Hall.

    — SpokeBloke

  29. My approach to self-publishing is that authors need to be strategic. For some authors, POD is the way for them and hopefully they do it with their eyes wide open. For authors serious about a writing career and trying to be one in 6 million authors to get published, then self-publishing with goal of selling several thousand copies, building a platform and working toward the goal of “getting published” is a sound strategy.

  30. I can see both sides of this discussion. I publish in a variety of ways–large press, small press, ebooks, micropress and self-published. It all depends on the story and the market. The trick that a lot of self-pubbed authors have to face is that there are two different targets when doing promotion and marketing. Authors with large presses (if they choose to market at all) approach the READER. That’s because the customer of a large publisher isn’t the reader. It’s the bookstore. That’s their market. They sell the book to the middleman and it’s up to Borders, or BAM or Target or whoever, to get the reader into the store. The publisher flat doesn’t care how the store reaches the reader.

    But with self-publishing, you have to do both, and it’s both frustrating and exhausting. I’ve lugged my share of boxes in the trunk of my car to consign to a store, have made bookmarks and sent out mailers through marketers. The truth is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to BOTH target the store with promotion and the reader. Had I not pretty much given up on getting sales of the small press books, I’d never have time to write another. Even the (slightly larger) small press, who could afford to hire a true distributor for its titles, simply couldn’t sell through. Why? Because there’s only so much room on the shelf in a store for books that the manager selects—and it’s shrinking every day. I wish it were easier, but it just isn’t.

    While I desperately love the stories I’ve written for the small presses, I’ll never see the income my large publisher books generate, so it behooves me to continue to write those.

    As for why a large press author would blurb a self-published book, Victoria had it right: I simply like to. I like the author, and the book is good. There ARE some excellent self-pubbed and micro-press books out there and it really pains me to see them languish with few sales. I know one SUPERB marketer who took self-publishing to the max. She self-published and sold nearly 30,000 books ON HER OWN before selling to a major press. But it exhausted her. The sheer press of the business of selling made it hard to write the next book. You can easily get trapped in the spiral of the business, as Chris so eloquently put it.

    Me, I’m in this for the profit, so while I’ll still continue to support small presses with stories and books, I MUST keep with the large presses to make my living.

    Just my .02.

  31. Thank you for your post. A very supportive and very business-minded friend sent me the CNN article, and I was at a loss to explain to her in any concrete way why I do not want to self-publish. Instead, I sent her the link.

    The truth is that I want to see an imprint logo beneath my name on the spine of the book. I want to go into a major bookstore and hold my novel in my hand; I want to wander over to the shelf with the letter of my last name in the library and see my work in its own shiny plastic cover, with a pocket inside (ok, it’s a bit late for that . . .a UPC code?). I want to catch someone reading it on the bus or the train, and smiling, or even laughing, to herself.

    That is simply not going to happen with self-publishing. It is a wonderful tool for the applications many have mentioned, but the example quoted is among the longest of the long shots.

    Thanks for your invaluable insight, from an appreciative newbie!

  32. Chris, you’ve made some great points.

    On your point about Lulu. I’m not quite sure they’re “publishers” in the way I understand the traditional industry. But they are a halfway house, in that they offer more than one service – although it is possible to cherry pick. One of my issues with publishing is that too many things are done under one roof, and I think it’s a very old-fashioned business model, because it’s inflexible and you get problems when you have a weakness in any one of the areas in which you deal. I think the way publishers need to go is towards a much flatter model, where there is a core (be it a writer or their representative), and then individual specialist tasks are outsourced. This is a more flexible business model because the person at the centre is never more than one step removed from CONTROL of any process; you deal with small, specialist companies, and if there is a problem in any one area, you can simply switch the people you outsource to. I absolutely agree you should get copy-edited and you should get your cover designed for you. It may well be an idea to get full-on editing as well. My issue is how you access these services. I know that publishers are beginning to take a second look at some of their imprints, but my guess is they won’t really work as long as they stay in house – it’s the age-old problem that big companies need to think like small ones – and if they don’t, small ones will take their place.

    Victoria, yes – there are two types of author, and room for both. I don’t understand the writer who locks themselves away in the attic, but I respect the fact they are out there and that their writing is every bit as important as that of those of us who want to get our hands dirty (I have a feeling it all boils down to whether you’re a Myers-Briggs introvert or extravert). I hope to be accorded the same uncomprehending respect in return (which by and large I am). I do think there are some philosophical points about the nature of culture to address (but the place for that is the conference circuit not the blogosphere); and I do question whether the traditional publishing structure is the right one to sit on top of the authors who just want to write.

  33. Hi Victoria, I haven’t got to the edn of the comments yet, but I wanted to answer you now as you were so prompt and courteous in your reply. First of all, thank you. It’s great that someone with such a busy blog takes the time to give a thorough answer to all her interlocutors (which I guess is one of the reasons you HAVE a busy blog :-))

    I’d like to respond to your three points – not in order if you’ll forgive that.

    2nd first – the direct dialogue. I guess I come at this forma skewed perspective because I AM writing an interactive novel, and have found it has energised not only me but my writing. Of course, as long as there have been patrons and middlemen there have been underground moevemts seeking to remove them and restore immediacy – I think there’s still a very important place for them from an ideological perspective – which is why I belong to one. On the other hand I am aware that both I as a writer, and my writing, are very much at the edge of fiction genre-wise, where the boundaries with performance art blur. I do believe, though, that any genuine storyteller (as opposed to someone who writes) ultimately wants what musicians want – to see the whites of their audience’s eyes, and to respond straightaway. POD technology (as opposed to self-pub) offers fantastic opportunities to do this. If fiction publishers come on board the way academic ones have done, then writers may well be able to utilise the benefits without going it alone. But publishers will need to learn tow ork bottom up not top down.

    second, the long tail. Your point is well-taken, but I disagree to soem extent. I have always thought that if I am going to make any kind of career as a writer I will have to write at least a book a year, possibly two (I currently take around 9-12 months, including rewrites). Over time that’s a lot of little amounts, which can add up to a larger amount – long after a publisher has dropped me for being uncommercial. The key is knowing that you have a niche, and servicing that niche.

    Third, I half agree. I adopt a two track approach – I send out submissions at the same time as self-publishing, because I DON’T think the self-pub market will be the same next year. We are in the early stages of the market change at the moment. For writers who get it right early there are some great opportunities. For those who try and jump on the bandwagon later, the opportunities aren’t so great. I would much rather go the self-pub route in 2009, and revert to traditinal means in 2010 with my next book. But that is based on part business hunch, part economic theory, and I also believe that 95% of people who try it will fail – so whilst I’m a “zealot for the cause” if I had only one piece of advice for new authors it would be do your research – and from primary sources not secondary ones like my blog or yours. I’m sure that’s something on which we’re absolutely agreed!

  34. Sorry, Victoria. I didn't know how to ask this of the writing community. I've tried going onto the absolute write water cooler. I've registered a number of times & it never seems to let me back in afterwards to ask questions.

  35. An excellent point, Victoria.

    Unrelated: I’m going on about 2hrs of sleep per night for the past week or so. I have a question of my own (semi-related , well, maybe not) posted in blog form for anyone who might be interested. Please excuse me if I’m rambling. I’m very tired.

  36. Writing Mom, it would only be a problem if you were querying for the self-published book. If that’s the case, you would need to mention that it had been previously self-published, because an agent needs to know the true history of any manuscript s/he is considering. But if you’re querying for a different book, no need to say anything at the query stage.

    I agree with ALC, with one exception. If you’ve managed to sell several thousand copies of your self-published book within the first year or so of release, an agent or editor might very well be impressed, because they know how tough that is to accomplish.

  37. That’s what I was thinking – just don’t mention it. But then I thought perhaps the agent would be upset to find out that your name WAS out there and that you do have prior stuff on Amazon that s(he) didn’t know about. I was wondering if it’s some kind of ethical breach not to mention it.

    But I wouldn’t publish under another name, since people already know me and are interested in the book, even though it’s not finished yet.

  38. I wouldn't mention a self-published work in a query to an agent or publisher. It will not help in any way & may actually get your query tossed aside. Agents & publishers do not consider self-published works to be legitimate writing credits – all for the reasons mentioned in prior comments.

    YOURS may be the exception. YOURS may be well revised & edited & highly readable. But, just mentioning a self-publishing credit to an agent or publisher will bring to the forefront ideas of horribly written & edited slush-pile drek.

    Just don't mention it. You could even use a pen name for your self-publishing works.

  39. So, here’s a question: Suppose you are a writer who has written a book to the very best of your ability, and it just doesn’t sell. For whatever reason, no one wants it. The project I’m working on has taken me two years (in my spare time) and might take another year to polish. So then supposing I spend another year trying to find representation, and nobody wants it.

    So then, not wanting to throw away the result of four years’ effort, I decide to self-publish. I buy 10 copies for gifts, and with a some effort I manage to sell another 50 more.

    Meanwhile, I’m working on another manuscript for which I then seek representation. Am I obligated to mention the self-published book in my bio? Will the fact that I did publish something as a hobby writer then damage my career permanently?

    It’s starting to sound to me like once you self-pub, your career is over.

  40. I’m sorry I’m a little late to the party…just wanted to add something I’ve been considering lately. After participating in writing critique groups and writer forums, and editing a couple of self-pub books, I’ve come to realize that most self-pub authors are delusional. Each thinks his book contains the most brilliant prose written since Dickens, and they are all sadly mistaken.

    I’m sure there is a minuscule percentage of exceptions, I just haven’t come across any. My point is that these people aren’t going to be published in any traditional manner, so self-pub is the right way for them to go.

    People who want to be serious authors will continue to submit to publishers. The only thing I’m concerned with is that the rising cost of publishing/promoting will result in fewer books published, but not in better quality. I think publishers will choose to go with celebrity titles guaranteed to sell based on name, based on the very relevant theory that “Paris Hilton’s Deep Insights” will sell more copies than a book comparable to “War and Peace” written by an unknown.

  41. I want to thank everyone for great comments, and for keeping it friendly.

    One of the things that articles about self-publishing often proclaim is that the self-publishing “stigma” is waning or gone. I think the experiences being reported by self-pubbed writers provides an interesting refutation of that.

  42. Although I haven't read the excerpts myself, the sample you just gave IS a prime example of telling rather than showing.

    Of the many varied reasons that I've yet to find anything I'd purchase on Lulu (Bana, I still haven't read any of your excerpts so this comment is not directed at you 🙂 ), I'd have to say that about 99% of the excerpts I HAVE read on Lulu suffer from the telling vs. showing problem.

    Anyone can "tell" you what happened or IS happening, it takes skill to draw the reader into the scene & have them watch it unfold.

    Telling is boring.

  43. “I invite anyone here to check out the quality of the writing…” – Catherine M. Wilson

    Catherine, I took up your invitation and read chapter 1. I hope you don’t mind a little feedback. I can’t complain about the technical quality of the writing, which means your book certainly has potential because that’s a giant hurdle (even barrier) for many people. However, I want to suggest that one reason you didn’t get commercial interest might be a failure to need the old “show, don’t tell” advice.

    I balked at the sight of paragraph after paragraph of text, each about the same length, with no dialogue. (I eyeballed subsequent chapters and many had large chunks that were dialogue-free.) This can be a symptom of telling rather than showing. For example:

    “A servant led me to a seat at another table, where I joined a group of girls my own age. They talked and laughed together, and bit by bit they drew me into their conversation. I learned that they were the companions. Each girl served one of the warriors. Many were apprenticed to their warriors and would become warriors themselves someday.”

    I wanted to be *in* this scene, hearing what the girls were saying and what the main character was feeling. Instead all I got was description. There are 2 short dialogue exchanges but the people involved have no personality and what they’re saying is far less interesting than the dialogue you never gave us.

    For a first-person POV story, the writing also a little short on internal monologue, especially considering the momentous change that’s taking place in the character’s life.

    Commercial fiction has trends, and the current trend is for immediacy, lots of dialogue, and “showing” as if you’re watching a movie.

    Just one reader’s opinion FWIW.

  44. Victoria,

    The problem with so many published articles are that the journalist/author picks their viewpoint first and then seeks confirmation. While this is how most people work, the spirit of true journalism is to look at a problem from all sides and provide a fair and balanced assessment.

    My uncle self-publishes and does so because the niche he serves really is only a few hundred people who can be reached fairly easily. For people who want physical copies of their books but will never be traditionally for one reason or another, self-publishing is there for them.

    But for aspiring authors who hope to garner attention/sales/a broader audience, it’s misleading. Self-publishing is not inherently bad, but it’s only good for those who understand what it has to offer. Too many of these articles either fail to grasp that, or are so completely overboard that they become a part of the problem for people who don’t know what they’re getting into.

  45. Thank you, Victoria, for an excellent article; and the rest of you for a very informative discussion in the comments.

    Victoria said:

    With each of these articles, I get a flurry of emails from writers wanting to know what I think. Is it really true that that print publishing is “over?” Has the self-publishing stigma really vanished?

    There’s a fairly easy way to detemine this. Look at your own bookshelf. Look at the bookshelves of your friends. Take a minute to think about your own book buying patterns. Who published the books you buy?
    I wish writers would use their member-of-the-reading-public brains rather than their author brains every once in a while. It would save many aspiring writers a lot of grief, not to mention money.

    Roland said:

    I haven’t seen anything listed in the article or comments that states what a major publisher can offer someone in her position that she couldn’t do herself with greater rewards.



    The fact is that there’s an ‘ivory tower’ affect with agents, editors, publishers etc. as if they were the guardians of all quality writing.

    The reading (and buying) public is the be all, end all of publishing. Agents, editors and publishers know this. It’s not a case of pretending to be guardians of anything. They’re simply looking for marketable products. Writing is art, publishing is business. Simple as that.

  46. Writing Mom,

    I understand what you are saying, but the situation you describe is where the line between hobby writer & wannabe a career writer becomes blurred.

    I'm sorry about your friend's bad experience. She could probably have known to expect this sort of prejudice if she had done a bit of research on the net before attending the conference. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have self-published, just that she'd have been prepared for this reaction.

    The reason traditionally published authors & the traditional publishing side has such disdain for self-publishing is not because anyone & everyone CAN do it, but because MOST of the ones who DO IT have self-published either unpublishable garbage OR have taken a manuscript with great potential & published it without decent editing & revision (both of which seriously hinder the enjoyment of the reading audience – not an issue if you're a hobby writer who just wants to entertain family & friends, but a serious issue for anyone who thinks that that sort of thing can hold its own against carefully revised & edited work).

    This, of course, doesn't mean that terrific self-published novels with proper editing & revision aren't out there, it just means that you'd have to wade through literally endless heaps of crap to find them.

    Yes, there's plenty of room in the world for both career writers & hobby writers. But, anyone who is strictly a hobby writer should be aware of the prejudice if they intend to dive into the waters with those who are seriously striving for a career. Your friend should have stood her ground & just pointed out that she was a hobby writer & that she didn't give a horse's hiney what the others thought about her self-publishing because she was doing it for her family & friends & it was nobody else's business.

    Unfortunately, because of the issues I mentioned above, the prejudice will not be dying down anytime soon. Until those issues change (& they never will – good writers will make the effort to edit & revise, writers who THINK they're terrific & that every word they write is gold won't ever change & don't really stand much of a chance for a real career anyway) the prejudice is actually justified to a large degree (not toward the hobby writers – but, unless a hobby writer flat out says that they're hobby writers, how are the rest to know?).

  47. This is truly a fine post, great discussion, and your “PRINT ON DEMAND SELF-PUBLISHING SERVICES” info page of equal value. I wanted to move the discussion over to eBooks, which seem to be overwhelming even the POD discussion these days. The hype pattern is very similar to the POD hype pattern you so well evoke. As I point our in the most recent blog entry on my site, The Future of Publishing (, total eBook sales in the U.S. are currently LESS THAN 1% of print book sales. Beware the latest apocalyptic hype on the future of book publishing. Change, as always, is slow.

  48. ALC,

    I followed a link here from another blog, so I didn’t know what the purpose of this particular site was.

    My point is that self-published writers aren’t posing any threat to traditionally published writers, but trad-pub tend to make self-pub feel very bad when their paths cross. I have a friend who self-published her book because she is very shy and lacks the self-confidence to try to get published traditionally, even though she’s quite talented and I think she could do it if she really pursued it.

    She attended a writer’s conference in order to learn more about writing and publishing, and to improve her own writing, only to be both very discouraged by the prejudice she encountered there from both writers and editors, just because she decided to self-publish her first book.

    It’s very sad. The world is big enough for both types of writers, and I think the snobbery (which admittedly can be on either side) needs to stop.

  49. Yes, writing mom, that is absolutely true. But, what people are forgetting here is that this particular website is specifically geared toward helping those who are actually desirous of a writing career & commercial success. Therefore, hobby writers who are getting their feathers ruffled by blogs that point out the folly of self-publishing for most (most, not all) writers who want these careers should really take a step back & realize that this advice is not actually intended for them.

    Self-publishing for hobby writers is absolutely okay. It is perfectly acceptable (so long as the hobby writer uses a reputable service that actually provides what the hobby writer is paying for).

    I still have to assume that even a hobby writer expects a certain level of quality in their bound volumes. But, that is just a question of shopping around & is entirely subject to individual opinion.

  50. I should add here… that for those who write for personal enjoyment, the quality of the manuscript isn’t as critically important as just getting the words on the page. So let them be sloppy if they choose to… Mom will still be proud.

    They have their day jobs to think about as well – just finishing a semi-decent manuscript is a huge accomplishment, and one to be proud of. Hobby writing isn’t perfection… it’s a hobby!

  51. I think there is a false dichotomy being set up here.

    As I see it, there are two goals of writing a book: 1. Having the satisfaction of completing the darn thing that’s been on your mind for so long and 2. Actually making money off it.

    If you are writing for the pleasure of it, and just want to be able to have an actual “book” you can give your mom and your friends for Christmas, and maybe sell a few copies via, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing. I really resent the snobbish attitude many people have towards those who simply write and self-pub for the satisfaction of it.

    If you want to make a career out of writing professionally and earn real money at it, then by all means pursue the traditional publishing route! But don’t assume everyone else is writing with the same goal.

  52. per some of the various articles and posts, publishing houses troll the POD sites to see which works are getting attention.

    I know that various publishing functionaries say this. And it sounds really good and Web 2.0 and all. But do they actually do it? I’m not so sure. It would be interesting to do a survey of the self-pubbed books recently picked up by a commercial publisher, and see how those sales actually happened. My hunch is that a lot of them come through agents, not through publishers taking notice.

    I’ll also point out that where any analogy between self-production in the music world and self-publishing in the book world breaks down is that musicians perform. This is not only an alternate income stream, it gives them direct access to their audience. That’s something that’s simply not available for writers.

  53. Linda A. said,

    My big gripe is the fighting and snootiness between trad and self-publishers.

    I agree there’s snootiness toward self-publishing on the part of many commercially published authors. Blanket judgments are never a good thing (there, I just made a blanket judgment).

    However, the defensiveness on the part of many self- or POD-published authors is equally tiresome, especially since it often takes the form of putting forth misinformation or myths about commercial publishing, in order to make it look “bad.”

    So there’s bias on both sides. A lot of it centers on the issue of quality, with those who point out the poor quality of most self-published books being accused of prejudice or labeled as out of step with that new publishing paradigm that’s forever approaching but never seems to arrive.

    Here’s how I see the issue of self-publishing and quality.

    Since anyone can self-publish, just as anyone can submit to an agent or a publisher, the catalog of a self-publishing company probably closely resembles an agent’s or publisher’s slush pile–that is, there are all kinds of different manuscripts from all kinds of different people with all kinds of different goals and all kinds of different abilities. In other words, the hard truth of the slush pile–-that most manuscripts in it don’t even approach publishability–-is also the hard truth of self-published books.

    So the fact that most self-published books aren’t publishable is simply a reflection of the larger truth that most manuscripts aren’t publishable.

    Are there good self-published books? Yes, of course. But as with the publishable books in the slush pile, they’re very much in the minority.

  54. If a major house publishes a novel and no one knows about it, it will die, no matter how good it is.

    If that author self-publishes the same novel, including rigorous editing and design, then markets the hell out of it, it might stand a better chance.

    Look, if an indie band or filmmaker self-produces and markets a piece of crap, no one says it will kill their career. In fact, self-production in those spheres actually show determination and can help their work get noticed.

    hy should it be any different in the literary world?

    As a first time novelist with modest short story and poetry credits, I’ve been playing the find-an-agent game for close to nine months now. I don’t blame the agents who don’t respond to queries, but if nothing happens after a certain point, the only options left are to self-publish or to give up.

    I hope that the times are changing. I find it very interesting that, per some of the various articles and posts, publishing houses troll the POD sites to see which works are getting attention.

  55. Chris, thanks for a great comment. You’ve obviously been there, done that. I hope people read and pay attention.

  56. Roland, in most cases, that agent would be right. Genova’s success is an exception. That’s why it’s newsworthy.

    She was already in the spotlight. What can the big publisher do at this point that she hasn’t already done on her own?

    Provide her with national distribution, publicity, and shelf presence. Self-publishers just don’t have access to those marketing channels.

  57. @Roland:

    I think Genova would have taken the traditional publishing deal because she knew the realities of self-publishing. It’s hard to be have a writing career if you are dealing with the everyday complexities of running a publishing business. There just is n’t the spare time available when considering the scale of sales she needed to manage.

    I think many authors would scuttle their self-publishing dreams if they had first hand experience of the infamous ‘returns’ system. When a distributor tells you that 50% sell through is above average you soon realise the business can be a great way of bleeding cash.

    Imagine being told that half or three quarters of the books you printed ended up in stores but never got sold. Then imagine being told that you still owe the distributor for distribution costs, plus return freight or pulping! Then imagine discovering that the cash from the books that did sell will not be forthcoming for several months, possible six.

    Goodbye self-publishing business.

    POD can be the solution, but margins here are low and quality is not comparable to offset. Great for back-list, not so for new release.

    Genova got noticed. Offloaded the stress and gets some cash to pursue her next book. That, for an author, should be what successful self-publishing is. She got published because of what she did by herself.

    For those authors who want to pursue the self-pub route, please start small and learn the ropes before spending any money at all. Otherwise, you will without doubt, lose thousands of dollars. Not to mention inheriting the inconvenience of having thousands of unsold copies sitting in your garage.

    Low-cost, Low margin: Go eBook. Go POD. Build your title. Understand that there will be very little money in this option because there is very little financial risk on your part. It’s also pretty laid back.

    High-cost, High margin: Offset print (offshore perhaps), high volume, keep a tight reign on the distribution, ensure you have some cash-flow, promote, promote, promote. Profit margins are bigger with this option but so are the risks. Not to mention the massive investment of time. Think you’ve had sleepless nights … try running a small business.

    My first foray into the market lost us $10,000 in 2005. A few years later we made $70,000 gross … and I still couldn’t make wages. I cannot explain the huge workload it took to achieve 70 grand in revenue. Nor can I explain the pressure it places on ones family. Publishing is tough.

    To be successful you have to find out where the pitfalls are. Of course, no one in self-publishing is going to tell you them – they simply don’t have the time waste.

    There are tons of ebooks and pbooks out there telling you how to self-publish (self-publishers making a living out of self-publishers!) but there aren’t too many resources to educate you on the intricacies of how to successfully self-publish a mainstream novel. And there is good reason for that … it’s nigh on impossible. Wanna succeed? Get in the trenches and have a few battles first. Then go back to the drawing board and build a strategy that really kills.

  58. A stigma towards POD for the sake of being POD is ridiculous. The writing is the writing no matter who bound it. It’s annoying when critics argue that people did it for x reason or y reason. The fact is that there’s an ‘ivory tower’ affect with agents, editors, publishers etc. as if they were the guardians of all quality writing.

    You know who also seems to be sore right now? Newspapers? Why…

    Could it be bloggers? What’s a blog… Oh wait a blog is a self published article online.

    Hypocrisy pure and simple.

  59. When I first started investigating the publication process, I stumbled upon It took me a while to realize the site’s guidelines meant nothing if I wanted to go through a commercial publisher. Assume I wasted much effort, and much time.

  60. I love this part of the Times article:

    When Genova had reached the end of her unsuccessful search, she told the last literary agent who rejected her, “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to go self-publish it.” “That was by e-mail,” she says. “He picked up the phone and called me within five minutes and said, ‘Don’t do that. You will kill your writing career before it starts.'”

    Yeah, that’s probably what happened.

  61. Also, commercial publishing houses do quite a bit of the work of promotion as well. Sending out Advance Review Copies, for example, is an incredibly time-consuming process for the self-publisher–if you’re publishing with a large commercial house, there are several somebodies whose job that is.

    There are considerably less somebodies in 2009. I’m not sure if that’s significant in terms of how the authors and their books are treated, but I had to mention the publishing career apocalypse we seem to be witnessing (you know amidst every other business career apocalypse we seem to be witnessing.)

    I’m glad David de Beer mentioned the point about POD printing. I too foresee the major publishers adopting a POD printing method, at least for their older titles. If they haven’t already. It just makes great financial and environmental sense.

    I don’t think there are different types of self-publishing. Either you publish your own books through a traditional model or you’re not a publisher, which means you’re not a self-publisher either. If you go through a vanity press like Lulu, then they’re technically your publisher. You’re paying for vanity publishing… because you’re vain and want to see your novel in the shape of a book. That those sites advertise it as a way to self-publish is further evidence of the scam.

    Incidentally, a traditional publishing model could include POD printing. We’re just talking about how your books are made, and POD can be a cheap way to test the waters. But you still have to invest some real money for promotion.

    Mention of Lisa Genova reminded me that there’s always been something about her success that bugged me, and Victoria put words to it. Her success as a self-publisher equaled a major publishing deal! I wonder why, with all that she was accomplishing on her own, she wouldn’t just embrace self-publishing and reap the awards of larger royalties? She was already in the spotlight. What can the big publisher do at this point that she hasn’t already done on her own? With the rising momentum of her book’s popularity, the very thing that attracted the major publisher, couldn’t she make the 6 figures on her own?

    I haven’t seen anything listed in the article or comments that states what a major publisher can offer someone in her position that she couldn’t do herself with greater rewards. It’s more like a self-publishing failure.

  62. George, did you miss the part where I said that self-publishing can be successful for some authors in some circumstances?

  63. Victoria,

    At the recommendation of someone on Authonomy (HarperCollinsUK), I read your latest blog post.

    Though I am aware of, and respect, Writer Beware (and have used it several times in the past to check out agents and scamsters), I must venture the observation that your blog post is not so much an expose as a swipe at POD as a whole. I don't even think the CNN article is the issue, and though your points about the usual structure of self-pub stories are valid, your post is simply an opinion piece against self-pub in general.

    Self-publishing takes many forms, and while there are still companies that can be considered shady vanity presses, POD technology has given the writer the ability to publish her/his own book for little or no money. The actual quality of the writing is the big variable, but the publishing mega-conglomerates don't have a monopoly on editors.

    Obviously, the mainstream publishing industry considers self-publishing a threat. They don't get a piece of the action! But it is sad to see otherwise-savvy professionals perpetrating the same old stereotypes.

    George LaCas

  64. Linda A. said: "My big gripe is the fighting and snootiness between trad and self-publishers."

    You're quite right. That particular conflict shouldn't exist. The actual ire should be, & often is, raised against vanity publishers who convince people that they are getting all of the same bells & whistles that they'd be getting via traditional publishers. AND, against those who convince newbies that they ARE traditional publishers & that pay for play is how it works with the big houses. AND, the fallacious rumor that these vanity publishers spread that "sure, you're work will be available in every bookstore in the country" without pointing out that the work will only be available by order to those who actually already know about it.

    For someone who has decided to go the indie route & has learned the realities of distribution & store-shelf presence, this is a non-issue. That person has already done their homework & knows how the real publishing world works. It's in defense of those who are misinformed or misled that the arguments arise.

    Hopefully, we can all remember this.

    Unfortunately, it's those poor, misguided, misled, vanity published authors who actually become the most venomous in the face of blogs & articles that point out their folly. They don't want to hear that they've been duped & drained financially dry with no hope of being the next Stephen King because their publisher publishes every piece of crap that comes along, does little to no editing, & has no distribution network other than their website which lists the other ten million things they've "published" along with theirs.

    For someone who knows what they're doing & what to really expect, again, it's a non-issue.

  65. just a thought here: there’s a difference between self-publishing and print on demand. They’re not precisely the same thing, although self-publishing nowadays tends to make use of POD.

    Personally, I would like to see traditional publishers explore the options available through POD. Specifically for the backlist.
    Judging from what I’ve seen so far even reputable small presses who use POD for an initial print run tend to have disappointing sales.
    It makes sense to me that for the first print run publishers stick largely with the current model but use POD on the backlist; that could have tremendous benefits to author and pub house both if done correctly (not to mention readers, who’d be able to order older books by a favourite writer and not face the flipping frustrating “out of print” or “no stock available” options. of course that’ll bring copyright questions into play again, but that’s a long overdue overhaul as well).

    anyways, a bit off tangent and I’m mostly responding to the remak at point no4, that appears to automatically equate self-publishign with print on demand and that’s not true at all.

  66. It was articles like those you’re discussing that got me to publish with Authorhouse (a vanity publisher) years ago.

    If I hadn’t read articles and seen (on CNN or perhaps C-SPAN) TV news about how the stigma was gone and how it was yet another viable route to get real publishers to pay attention to your book and publish it for real, I would not have done so.

    Thank you for this blog post.

  67. Kudos on an excellent post! I read this earlier today, and finally have a spare minute to say thanks.

    Thanks. Much food for thought.

  68. What if you had an illustrated book and you wanted it professionally bound and the spreads (for those out of the loop… spreads would be what you look at when you open a book, as in page to page.) to line up? I could have gone to kinkos, but it’s more convenient to have a POD. (After of course the usual revisions, edits by others in academia, more revisions etc. ) It took a long time to illustrate, digitally edit, photoshop and indesign the whole project. Setting up the spreads to specs and everything. The thing took one LONG year.

    However I’ve was slammed (On blogs, by agents, by traditional publishers etc) simply because of the ‘self published’ branding, which I think is unfair, because the work makes better sense if lined up with the illustrations. I just wanted it professionally bound and lined up. Is that so wrong? None of these individuals actually SAW my writing? How ridiculous is that?

    But whatever, I understand your point, there are dreadfully writers out there, but the treatment I got over this has been over the top bad. Even before the work is read it’s tossed because of a stupid label. I think agents or small presses should actually take the time to read work rather than machinate over the method used to produce those lovely sheets of paper they are holding.

    I love writing. I seem to loathe the publishing industry as a whole at this point though because of the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through. Querying is horrid because one can’t send images through attachment and a manuscript must be called for. So I’m reduced to ‘describing’ a book that’s illustrated and a bit difficult to explain in ‘ten words or less.’ I don’t have a degree in marketing that’s why I’d even bother querying someone in the first place.

    I feel like self publishing wants your money, the regular publishing industry wants your soul. They want you to take your project and put it in a tiny little box for display. I feel cheapened by this process, I don’t mean this in an egocentric sense, I mean in the sense that I don’t see much light around this process, whether it’s the writers submitting piss poor stuff or the agents and publishers responding cruelly towards those who honestly wanted a shot at just being heard.

    I guess I’m just cynical.

    Sorry I had to do the obligatory ‘anon,’ but I’ve been harassed recently for stating unpopular opinions and I don’t want to incur the wrath of some in the blogosphere who know my name.

    I don’t mean to cause a stir, but I’m a ‘little’ annoyed by this horrible circus that surrounds the fact that I chose a POD. Not for ego, not because of rejections from the traditional publishing establishment, not because I never wanted my work to see the light of day… just because it’s easy to bind and copyright work. ($50 investment is worth protecting a manuscript)

    That’s my story.

    (Btw if there are ridiculous typos I blame true blue dyslexia and lack of sleep…*)

  69. Good comments on both sides, here. I’m a member of a publishing assoc that works mostly with those wanting to self-publish and our last meeting was filled with new people! We push the importance of good editing and design to give self-publishing a better reputation. Most members end up starting their own publishing company.

    Being traditionally published is nice, not a sure way to riches either as many new books end up as remainders after a few months and that’s the end of them. Trad publishing also does not ensure quality or diversity – these are big businesses that want what sells to the masses. Celebrities, the notorious, the disgraced are welcome. If Marley sells, how many other dog and cat books can we come up with quickly.

    My big gripe is the fighting and snootiness between trad and self-publishers. There are pros and cons to both, there is a place for both! Writers determine what path will make them happy. Personally I chose indie publishing for my book and don’t regret it at all. I have learned so much and a whole new world has opened up. My little memoir does have a type of dist thru LSI/Ingram which has helped it sell (without much help from me lately) over the 200 needed to announce “indie success,” but the biggest success is the fun I’m having and the thrill of having strangers seek me out to say how they loved the book. We each have our own definition of success and riches. If I had spent years trying to find an agent and a big publishing house with no guarantee of “success,” I would have missed out on a lot! That said, I encourage newbies to try for small publishers who seem willing to take more risks – most newbies aren’t ready for the business end of the stick.

  70. I think there are two distict self-publishers:

    1. The author who wants to see their book in print and isn’t concerned with the fiscal reward, and,
    2. the business owner

    I’ve never self-published a novel, despite being an aspiring fiction writer, but I have self-published a nationally distributed magazine. Our title sold at $14.95 RRP and ran at 180 pages. And even though we sold many thousands of copies of each edition I’d be reluctant to consider the venture a success.

    Self-publishing is hard work. Especially if you choose offset printing (large print runs as opposed to POD). In my opinion, offset printing is the only way to make ‘good’ money in the industry.

    What’s ‘good’ money?


    How do you make wages in publishing?

    Well, we had an advantange. Not only did we have a niche product, we also had paying advertisers who covered our print costs. We also had lots of free publicity: newspaper articles, magazine space, radio interviews and website. Novelists can strike out the advertisers right from the get-go. So that leaves: product and various PR activity. Honestly, no amount of publicity or advertising is going to contribute to your financial success in self-publishing if you don’t have a saleable and distinct product.

    The argument that novelists choose self-publishing because they avoid outside interference (editing, cover design etc) suggests that those people are too protective of their work. You need an editor. You need professional critique. You need design input. Without any of the above you are most likely going to fail financially.

    If you truly want to succeed financially, I’d suggest selling your work to a mainstream publisher who has noticed your self-pubbed effort or, conversely, become a ‘real’ publisher, ie replicate the role of a mainstream publisher. This entails large print runs, distribution contracts, accounting, PR and a whole host of other business realities.

    The greatest misconception is self-publishers believing they are self-publishing when using a service like – in actual fact, lulu is essentially the publisher/distributor/retailer. They print the books. They sell them to you. They post them out. No guessing who makes all the cash in this set-up?! A mainstream publisher would be financially insolvent in a turn of a page if they turned to POD.

    If you don’t want to replicate mainstream methods, I’d suggest this: write the best book you can … find the best agent you can … let them find the best publisher they can … take the cash and go write a better book.

    Much easier.

    Of course, if you have a platform to market from, a killer book (edited and rewritten within an inch of its life), a descent cash flow, some media contacts, a saleable personal tale for the bloggers/newspapers, a killer book, a score of friends employed in bookstores, an understanding partner, a high tolerance for failure, a killer book, a degree in ‘Personable Human Interaction’, a vague understanding of tax laws, a love of email/phone calls, a never-say-die attitude and a killer book … then you just might go a long way to making good money.

  71. I will admit I did not start out the gate self-publishing. I submitted to agents and publishers and all of them rejected me. I suspected as much because the theme of my book dealt with uncomfortable topics during an uncomfortable time, and the timing of it wasn’t the greatest, so I decided to self-publish. I agree, however, touting it as the sole wave of the future is disingenuous. I use Lulu, and I love it, because the only thing I pay for are the proof copies I buy myself–everything else is free for me. I’ve also become savvier, so I know how to format my books and know which avenues are open to me as a self-published author. I will say it has helped me to have a book or several with respectable sales because it shows I have an audience and people are more willing to listen to what I have to say. It is NOT for everyone, but I won’t discourage people from going for it–especially if they’ve gone years doing the traditional pub route and have little to show for it. I also tell them to KEEP SUBMITTING to publishers and agents. If they are like me, they have MULTIPLE manuscripts so it is possible to do both. I never tell aspiring writers to give up one for the other–not unless they’re very happy with the situation.


  72. This has been a burning question in my head for quite some time. Thank you for your well thought out and informational post.

  73. Also, not to diminish the value of capitalism (after all, it's entrepreneurship that made this country great to start with), most new businesses fail within the first 5 years. For every successful entrepreneur out there there are hundreds of unsuccessful ones. If you have the funds to just keep on going without breaking even, go for it. (I would recommend Lulu to anyone who's truly insistent on self-publishing. I've heard it's the cheapest route.)

    Coming from a business background I can say that the biggest downfall of most new business owners is not really understanding a thing about business. People just assume that if you start a business doing something that you're good at &/or passionate about you'll be a success. You may be a terrific horticulturist & flower arranger, but if you don't know squat about business, you probably won't be able to run a successful florist shop.

    If you're truly intent on being your own publisher, please do yourself the courtesy of studying a bit about business, sales, advertising, etc.

  74. Agnieszkas and Bana, I think you’ve both done a great job of articulating some of the reasons why authors might choose to self-publish. Just a few comments in return.

    First, the long tail. The usefulness of this concept been seriously questioned recently. Moreover, if it has any validity at all, it benefits vendors (i.e, Amazon), not providers (i.e., authors). In fact, as it pertains to books, the long tail theory runs on the same principle as the author mill or the POD self-publishing service, both of which make a bundle on selling tiny numbers of tens of thousands of books. For the authors, though, there are just the tiny numbers.

    Second, if you want to write an interactive novel, you certainly want to go directly to your audience. But if you don’t, commercial publishers not only don’t get in the way of your dialogue with your audience, they enhance that dialogue by ensuring that your books get greater visibility, thus making it possible for a larger audience to exist.

    This is just one reason why, while acknowledging that there are valid reasons to choose self-publishing, I always suggest that writers who are really interested in a traditional-style writing career (including a wide readership and professional recognition) try going the commercial publishing route first, by searching for an agent and/or a commercial publisher. If that doesn’t work out (and you can’t know whether it will or not unless you try), self-publishing is always there as an alternative. But if you start with self-publishing, you’ve got a much, much bigger chance of laboring in obscurity than you do of success. This would be a shame if you have a publishable book.

    Third, the entrepreneurial model of authorship is congenial to some, but others it’s not. One of the things that irks me about the entrepreneurial evangelists is that they seem to believe that all authors should accept, even if they don’t want, this supposed “new model” of authorship. But in my opinion, there should be room for both: the authors who want to get out there and run a business and handsell their books, and the authors who would rather poke out their eyes with sharp sticks.

  75. ALS,

    Completely understand, and I do not disagree with you that a very large number of self-published work–ESPECIALLY on Lulu and other DIY publishers–have vast and sundry issues. My problem stems from the belief that ALL authors who self-publish do so because they can and will never hack it in the traditional publishing arena. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve spoken to who DO have those traditional contracts have turned to self-publishing and love the freedom that self-publishing brings–may it be through Lulu or iUniverse or on their independent presses. I did my homework before I made the active decision to self-publish, because an audience of a few hundred is better than no audience at all, and in those few hundred may be the one person who can get me into a more traditional publisher. And if I have a story I really want to put out but has a minimal chance of getting a traditional publisher to release it, I can, and not have to rely on a traditional publisher to do it.

    I agree with Paige–it’s definitely an alternative, but it’s one that’s served me very well at this point. As I’ve said, it’s opened so many doors for me and has helped me learn about the industry in ways I would’ve missed had I not done so. I’ve been able to talk with authors, booksellers, and publishers who have been very encouraging, and it also probably helps I am a proofreader/editor as a profession so I have basic command of grammar and sentence structure! But it is true that self-publishing lends itself to certain genres more than others, and perhaps I’m primarily writing in one of those.

    But another author with whom I speak (traditionally published) reminds me the publishing industry is slow to change, so many of us self-published authors are ahead of the curve about things people will read/want to read because we write to them. I think they can and should coexist, because it allows everyone to be a writer; but more importantly in many ways, on their own terms.

  76. And about those really awful uses of a successful self-pubber to disprove the nay-sayers. I’ve often drawn similarities between publishing now and the dot com bubble. I think things will change, and I think the people who get everything right will stand a good chance of succeeding with a huge dollop of following wind and a vast amount of research and hard work. But most of them will fail. Just like most dot coms failed. But the fact most will fail doesn’t mean 1. that it isn’t an opportunity or 2. that things won’t change.

  77. Victoria, what a balanced take on an emotive subject. I am a very bullish proponent of self-publishing, and futurologist of publishing, and as such nothing irritates me more than other proponents of self-publishing and futurologists using arguments that beg, borrow, and steal, every weapon in the rhetorician’s armoury. They give the rest of us a bad name. True, my blog (, currently running a weekly column on the subject, is populist in tone, but only for the sake of readability. I am happy to back up my comments with something more rigorous. As this isn’t really the place for depth (how many words do we get in a comment?) I would like to say, very briefly, what attracts me as a writer to self-publishing, and how I think it “challenges” the industry. I will gladly answer all questions (after the weekend – forgive the delay). And please, be as abrasive as you like – I can take it, and will always answer politely.

    Why, as a writer, do I like self-publishing?
    1. I write niche books. I like the fact POD caters for the long tail. That allows writers who otherwise would be (understandably) dropped to make a reasonable sum
    2. This is what writers who decry self-publishing don’t often get – as a writer I’m an artist. My art consists in a dialogue between me and my readers – it’s a back and forth, a conversation. POD, and the web, allow me to have that without the mediation of middlepeople. I know there are people who write in their attics, but for me culture is public, and literature is no different from music, fine art, film. I’m writing my current novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, on Facebook, interactively, and giving it away – and loving it because it’s vibrant, raw, alive
    3. I’m in control. As writers seeking to make a living, we are in business. Like other businesses there are those who like to be self-employed, and those who like to be employed. I like the flexibility of being self-employed when it comes to my writing – I’ve done my research, know my audience, and can reach them. I can work with a graphic designer I choose on my cover, I can hire an editor I trust, I can manage my own marketing, arrange my own signings, talk without having to toe a party line
    4. I can join with similar writers to form a collective, using our shared expertise without losing control of my work
    How will self-pub and new tech change the industry
    1. I see POD machines in supermarkets and on streetcorners
    2. I see a flatter business model – where specialisms are outsourced to smaller companies that can offer specific services (see above – the big company with the best editors doesn’t necessarily have the best cover artists),and nothing is more than one step from the author
    3. I see bookshops being small and independent, specialist, secondhand, or showrooms with single copies of lots of books.
    4. I see writers making money out of things other than their books.

  78. This latest CNN article would bother me a lot less if it was written in a manner that suggested even a high school B-level of composition.

    The transitions are jarring, and many of the paragraphs are structured in such a way that they make no sense. Case in point: where the construction of the paragraph suggests that traditionally published authors lose their copyright.

    I wish Writer Beware was on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report…

  79. I admire the route Savannah has taken to self publishing, I admire the authors who go the route of submitting to traditional publishers, what disturbs me is what exists between these two. The Vanity press, disguising itself as a publisher and all the while, exist off of authors money, not by the sale of books.
    While Savannah knows she has purchased a printing service for her books, these other scams prey on authors who are allowed to believe this is the way publishers work, they charge you for everything from page layout to illustration and then you then pay to order books.
    These are the companies that give “self-publishing” a very bad name.

  80. Thank you, Victoria, for this well-argued piece. I do so wish the media weren’t so keen on jumping on the ‘self-pubbed author confounds the nay-sayers’ type of article without checking all the relevant facts first.

    (Word ver: defirili. Your piece, Victoria, is most definitely defirili.

  81. I respect anyone with the guts to try out self-publishing; I work in radio advertising, I know what the industry is like. It’s not easy.

    I agree that it should remain as an alternative – but just that, an alternative. It has its niche, it has its times when it’s appropriate, and again, kudos to anyone who wants to try it. But I don’t think it should be touted as a replacement or even a young writer’s first goal.

    Getting published on a large scale, by a publisher, should and probably will always remain number one. Your best advantages are there, the best numbers are there, and you’re going to reach a wider audience. Not only that, if you’re a young writer, I really think you need that rejection and feedback to help you improve your craft.

  82. traditionally published authors must also do a substantial portion of their own marketing

    No. At least, not with Big New York Houses.

    Authors have to participate in promotion and publicity, but they don’t have to do any marketing or sales–the sales and marketing teams do the latter.

    “Promotion and publicity” means stuff like book signings, readings, and interviews. “Marketing and sales” means getting books into bookstores, onto online sellers’ catalogues, and into readers’ hands.

    Also, commercial publishing houses do quite a bit of the work of promotion as well. Sending out Advance Review Copies, for example, is an incredibly time-consuming process for the self-publisher–if you’re publishing with a large commercial house, there are several somebodies whose job that is. Similarly, in-house publicists often arrange interviews, even for new authors.

  83. "Has the self-publishing stigma really vanished?"


    And, so long as 99 out of every 100 self-pubbed books is error riddled drek, the stigma will remain.

    Not only are we talking about poor grammar & proofing, we are also talking about badly constructed plotlines. (Yes, I realize that dull books are published by big houses all the time, but at least they're edited.)

    I like to peruse LULU periodically and read excerpts (I'd never buy anything without reading a sample of the writing to begin with) & have yet to find anything written well enough to warrant purchasing. (Bana, I haven't read any excerpts of your work so this is not intended as an insult to you. Also, I don't read romance.) I did find something in their horror section that was so badly written that it was entertaining. I'd have bought it if not for the fact that I refuse to reward bad writing that way.

    Maybe someone here is a brilliant writer who has self-pubbed through Lulu or some such. If so, I wish you the best of luck. The real problem is getting buyers to trudge through all of the crap that surrounds your work in order to find it. If you're good, you deserve to have your work in better company.

  84. Sometimes I think we are creating a false dichotomy here. POD and self/indie publishing offer an additional way of producing books, better in some ways than traditional publishing, worse in others.

    Quality writing is only one of many criteria used by agents and publishers to evaluate manuscripts. As the author of a very large (1000 pages) book, which I eventually published as a trilogy, I knew that no traditional publisher or agent was going to accept a weighty tome by someone nobody had ever heard of. (I did try the traditional route for a year without receiving one request for the manuscript.)

    I invite anyone here to check out the quality of the writing. I have the entire text of Book I of the trilogy posted on my website:
    , and I am giving away free ebooks of Book I from my author website:

    The free ebook offer has been posted for about 6 weeks, and so far over 600 people have visited the site.

    Self/indie publishing does require that the author shoulder the entire burden of the marketing, but traditionally published authors must also do a substantial portion of their own marketing.

    I hope that eventually we will all recognize that there’s room enough for everyone, and that even books I find dreadful may find their audience.

  85. Excellent breakdown of how many of these articles work. I’ve had them shown to me with a “what do you think” on a regular basis, too … so now I can just point them here. 🙂

  86. I didn’t pay anything to publish these books; only thing I paid for were the copies I bought for myself.

    And that’s not true–I do both. I submit to mainstream publishers and put out my books. Why shouldn’t I make any money as I try to reach wider audiences?

  87. I just figure the more who go for self-publishing leave more room for me with the traditional publishers when I submit. 😉

    But it sad that anyone would be happy paying to get their book out in a limited release, have to pitch every sale, and think 300 copies is fantab. 🙁

  88. Nicola,

    I don’t understand what well-controlled means, but I’ll take the compliment!

    I only brought up my sales figures thus far because it seems that 200 copies per self-published book is above the normal sale expectancy of a self-published author. If you are with a traditional publisher, of course you should have more sales because a traditional publisher has more resources at its disposal. Nevertheless, it seems to me as I’m doing much better than expected with each book I’ve put out with limited access to a mainstream audience, self-publishing isn’t, nor should it be, considered a place where those who can’t (and will never) hack it go to pasture. I’ll admit I’m trying to go to a traditional publisher, mainly because it has the resources to get to those wider audiences I’d like, but I’ll never tell a person not so self-publish–especially when there are companies such as Lulu and Createspace where you don’t pay for anything but a copy of your book.

    Also, it’s made me smarter by learning that goes into creating a book, so if and when I get that offer, I have more knowledge on my side about what they are asking of me in that contract rather than just be happy to get an offer at all.

    And you’re right about inferior stories being offered contracts, but that’s a completely different conversation than this one, but ultimately, I’m grateful for self-publishing because it proves there’s always an audience for a book, and traditional publishers don’t have to be a final no.

  89. Victoria, stunningly clearly set out – thanks. I never manage to be as clear as you on this subject, but tend to get myself tangled in irritation when I read the sort of glib misleading stuff that you have so brilliantly unpicked.

    And Savannah – I respect your well-controlled comment, and good for you having the energy etc to go the self-pubbing route, but I’d need to point out that as a “traditionally published” author, I’d be distinctly unimpressed by my publishers if they only shifted 200 copies. But I’d be very proud of myself if I’d managed to sell that many on my own without my publisher’s initial editing, marketing, designing, covering, distributing, promoting etc etc. Also, of course you are right that some self-pubbed books deserve an audience (and may in that case be picked up by a traditional publisher and turned into a commercial success) and certainly that many published books are inferior. But the thing is, the publisher has made the commercial decision that there are sufficient readers for the “inferior” one – and 200, or even 500, readers is not sufficient as a business model.


  90. I have been following this blog for a while and I think it’s full of very worthwhile information. However, I’m a primarily self-published author and I have sold more than 200 books (or am about to) of each the five that I have released myself. And I’ve sold the books more quickly with each subsequent release, and only three of them are available on Amazon. I like the setup because it means a no from a more traditional publisher isn’t the end of the road, and it shows that this story does have an audience where before a publisher might not have thought so. Besides, I think there are books that are released by publishers that made no sense to me and books released with self-publishers that I wonder why they aren’t with more mainstream houses. I guess all this to say sometimes taking matters into one’s own hands is the best marketing strategy, as it’s certainly opened far more doors for me that would’ve been closed if I only had manuscripts.


    Savannah J. Frierson

  91. Victoria, thank you so much for this very timely post. I was all prepared to write a detailed comment to a post which appeared on the Guardian’s blog yesterday, but have instead simply advised people to read this. Much simpler, much easier. Brilliant.

  92. Anonymous from Canada, I can’t say why Neil Gaiman has reviewed self-pubbed books, but I can say why I’ve reviewed them–because I was personally approached by the author, and because I thought the book I read was good.

    I can also say why I haven’t reviewed most of the self-pubbed books I’ve gotten: they were mediocre or just plain bad. Given all the other hurdles a self-pubbed author must face, I’m not comfortable giving a bad review to a self-pubbed book.

    In order for a self-published book to transition to commercial success–as in, get an offer from a reputable agent and/or a commercial publisher–it must fulfill an essential criteria: it must be publishable (which is a somewhat different thing from whether it’s “good” in any conventional sense). This is apart from any other factor, and it’s the great unwritten truth that lies behind most stories of self-publishing success. The plain fact is that most self-published books–just like most manuscripts doing the slush pile rounds–are not publishable.

    Can dedicated self-published authors with bad or mediocre books leverage sales success if they seriously work their butts off? Yes. I personally know of several examples. Can those books transition to commercial publication? No. The authors’ terrific salesmanship can’t overcome the fact that their books just aren’t of commercial quality. And again, these sales-successful authors are very much the exception. Most self-published books sell in tiny numbers and result in zero exposure for their authors. The notion that the self-publishing industry is any kind of threat to commercial publishing is a figment invented by the self-publishing industry. The two fields sometimes intersect, but other than that, there’s little interplay.

    As to those book trailers, websites, and so on…their value as sales boosters is unproven, in my opinion (besides, everyone’s doing them, self-pubbed and commercially-pubbed authors alike). I’m not seeing that do-it-yourself “viral” marketing trumps good distribution, or can be a substitute for the kind of pre-publication marketing that involves sending out ARCs and deploying a sales force.

  93. A case could be made that we should be urging all would-be novelists to publish via POD. This would cut down tremendously on the size of slush piles, improving the attitudes of of agents, and making it easier for those with a clue to submit.

    So yes. Please. Publish your masterwork via POD. Right now. All of you. Then maybe the agents would get around to reading my submission.

  94. That's a great article, Victoria, and I agree completely with your points. But if all of this is true, why are established authors like Neil Gaiman reviewing galleys from self-published authors? As well, my concern as a professionally published author is that aggressive marketing (TV commercials, Youtube trailers, fancy websites etc.) are creating a successful viral marketing paradigm for self-pubbed fiction that has the potential to impact trad publishing & leave writers wondering "why bother with the arduous and often heartbreaking process of queries, rejection slips, the endless waiting, etc. when the neighbor simply threw up a website, hired a gang of marketing professionals and bingo, Neil Gaiman is reviewing their book before it's even published?!"

    No, not bitter. Not bitter at all.

    Discouraged in Canada

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