Self-Published Books

I’m having trouble discarding a preconceived notion. I’ve always considered books that were self-published as inferior, work that didn’t meet traditional publishing standards, books that lacked the qualities that make for a good read: tight writing, proper punctuation and sentence structure, and good story telling.

More than once over the years I’ve been talked into purchasing a self-published book only to wish I hadn’t wasted the money. I always felt I knew why the writer had to resort to paying to have the book published. When I read an article about an author’s first book being published and realized it was self-published, I mentally scoffed and felt superior. I, at least, had been able to convince a legitimate publishing house (4 different publishing houses over time) to publish my books. I didn’t have to pay someone to print it.

Well, times have changed, and I guess I’d better change my attitude. This past month I’ve been judging published books for a national contest. Three of the five books I’m judging are self-published. I groaned when I first received the package, but then I started reading. The two books that have blown me away…

Yep, they’re self-published.

I will say the authors of these two books weren’t complete novices. One mentioned the help of her agent (along with her critique partners and the fact that she’d had the book edited) and the other has had several short stories published. But for some reason or another, these two writers chose to self-publish their books.

I also noticed last week that two of the top ten best sellers on the USA Today list were e-books published through Amazon. Another two self-published e-books were listed in the extended list of best sellers.

E-publishing and many of the print-on-demand digital publishers are changing how books are published. In many ways that’s great. Being the writer and the publisher takes out the middleman, gives the writer more control. It’s also giving us more variety. With major publishing houses worried about the bottom line and afraid to take chances on the new and untried, bookstores and stands are loaded with the same well-known authors. Self-publishing is an opportunity for those new voices and new categories or genres to be published.

Oh, I’m sure for every good self-published book there will be dozens of not-so-good to terrible books. But you know, not all of the books published by traditional publishers are that great. The old adage is: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, I guess, you can’t judge it by its publisher either.

(I’d tell you the titles and authors of those two books I loved, but I can’t. Not until the contest is over.)

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18 Responses to Self-Published Books

  1. rfirasek says:

    I’m glad to see your mind opening up to a whole new world. I’ve read just as many bad books from the big pubs as self pubs. In some cases, it becomes very obvious that the press has stepped back and slacked off on edits for the more proclaimed authors.

    We judge each book by our own interest and expectation… 🙂 Write on!

  2. Connie says:

    I guess I never thought of it the way you put it. I have been trying to get published for some time now and I have been thinking that if I self-publish my first book, it would look good for my other books. I was thinking that publishing companies would look more favorably to publishing my other books. I have heard that some folks have had good success with self-publishing. Interesting read.


    • Maris Soule says:

      Connie, publishing companies will look favorably if your self-published book sells lots and lots of copies and in a relatively short time. Most self-published books sell 100 copies. That doesn’t impress publishers or agents. On the other hand, who’s to say your book, if you take the time to have it professionally edited, if you put a good cover on it and do the necessary promotion won’t be one of the books appearing on a best seller’s list? You must decide for yourself what the best method will be.

  3. Terry Odell says:

    Self publishing a book isn’t bad. Doing it badly is. Anyone who would publish without going through the editorial process is adding flame to the “self-published books are garbage” fire. No traditionally published book gets put into print without an editor (or several). Why should someone who decides to go indie leave out this critical step?

    Terry’s Place

    • Maris Soule says:

      Excellent point, Terry. It’s those writers who go through the steps (being edited and revising) that create the good books. It’s the naive or lazy writers who simply think putting words on paper (or in an electronic version) is enough that give self-publishing a bad rep.

      • Jill James says:

        Don’t assume just because a book is traditionally published that it was edited by an editor. I had a friend who sold to a traditional publisher. They “loved” her book just the way it was. No edits. She realized later, it really should have been.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    Great post! I feel that self-publishing isn’t paying to publish myself but putting myself in the driver’s seat! I would rather choose how I spend my money than put it out there for someone else. 🙂

  5. Annette Briggs says:

    So right, Maris. Times have really changed in the publishing arena. I believe the trick is to not be blind to what your book needs to be “ready.” And to realize how much work it will take to promote, have it professionally edited, formatted, blurbed, and covered. I’ll bet there are many more things I haven’t even figured out yet. Some people have done it well.

    It’s a new day. Annette

  6. Who says you can’t be both TP and SP. I am and I make more money from SP because I make 70% of the sales price. I might sell more books via TP but the income is better SP – that is what is driving many TP authors to try and embrace SP.

    I get professional covers done, I pay an editor (my TP editor who is now freelancing) and I do no more promotion than I do for my TP books, the difference is I make more money.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Bronwen, I certainly think you can be both TP and SP. In many cases it’s the only way for a book that doesn’t fit the rigid criteria many traditional publishers have for their genres to be published. I do think it sometimes helps if a writer has been traditionally published first so the writer is aware of the steps necessary to produce and promote a finished product; however, writers’ groups and the Internet itself can also fill that role, so it’s not an absolute necessity.

  7. Bill Hopkins says:

    Thanks for the post, Maris! You’ve given us a lot to think about.

  8. Ellie Searl says:

    Self-publishing is no longer the ‘thumbs down’ approach to book publication.

    I design, format, and manage publication of ‘indie’ print and digital books for authors who choose not to go the traditional route. Almost to a person, my author clients have their work edited by professionals before they send their manuscripts to me.

    Traditionalists say that all writers should pay their ‘publishing dues’ of ‘wait, rejection, and wait again’ before being published . . . or not—i.e., being accepted or rejected by publishing gatekeepers.

    I say let the public be the gatekeepers. Authors know to trust the reader. Same with publishing: trust the reader.”

    • Maris Soule says:

      Ellie, I think your point of clients having their work edited by professionals is the key and why I’m now finding well written self-published books. The ones who soured me on SP were those writers who didn’t take the time to get a professional edit (or if they did, decided to ignore the editor’s suggestions). The readers will be the gate keepers, and the fact that we can now read a percentage of a book before purchasing is making the selection process much easier. (Easier to weed out those poorly written/edited books.)

  9. Diane Burton says:

    Publishing is changing very rapidly. All books need to be critiqued, revised, proofed, edited, and proofed again before being published. In self-publishing, the author pays for the editing and cover (unless, like Maris, they have artistic talent). I agree there are some really bad self-published books just as there are some really bad traditionally pubbed books. Always best to read the beginning (Amazon and B&N, let you read several pages) before buying.

  10. Maris, your comments are not only timely, but spot on. The key to all publishing is three sided: well written, well edited and well presented (cover and formatting) I’ve read many TP books with editing problems or mediocre cover art.

  11. read with interest.