Changing Attitudes Toward Self-Publishing

Differing book reviewsYou’ve heard the snide comments. Self-published books are crap. They aren’t edited. They are amateur. They are not worth our notice. Many such comments were deserved. They still are in some cases.

Most of these slurs came out of a time when the majority of so-called self-published books were put out by vanity presses that preyed on the desire of the unwary to have a book with their name on it. Often these books were written to share with friends and family, never intended for a wider readership.

Then word got out that “anyone can publish a book”. It’s true. Anyone can. And so many who believed themselves to be writers did just that – to the detriment of those who actually can write. Readers were angry – rightly so – because they paid good money for books that were substandard in many aspects. They were poorly written, had unappealing covers and were badly edited, if they were edited at all.

Throughout the infancy and childhood stages of self-publishing, traditional publishing houses, respected newspapers and other media that reviewed books were only too happy to point fingers at the poor quality of self-published work. In the beginning they were (mostly) justified.

A lot has changed since those early days. Writers have learned that they must have their work professionally edited, that their books must be well-written and they must have appealing covers if they are to find readers and fans. Yes, people still can, and do, publish substandard work, but those who write well are beginning to get noticed. The cream is slowly reaching the top and many self-published authors are garnering the respect they deserve.

Prejudice and a poor reputation are difficult to overcome. It is made even more so when big business, in this case those publishers and media that have a financial stake in keeping that negative reputation alive, do their best to denigrate self-published authors and self-publishing in general.

But the tide is turning. Sometimes it’s difficult to see those changes, they are so gradual. Of course, the trad publishers still do their best to deny those changes, all the while adding the very business practices they once vilified to their own stables. At the same time they are drastically reducing their services to the authors they publish. Many authors are now required to get their own editors. The result is that we are seeing the same issues in trad published work that publishers and media complained about in self-published books. Nor do the big publishers promote any but top ranking authors, the ones they make their money from. Authors are expected to do their own promotion and, if they do not succeed, they are dropped from their publisher’s roster. Royalties are shrinking. Advances are becoming extinct for all but top and high mid-list authors.

The result is that some authors, previously trad published, are jumping ship, leaving their publishers to become self-published. They cite greater control, higher incomes and even ethics. The prestige of being trad published is no longer the Holy Grail.

On the other side, self-published authors are recognizing the need for solid editing and good covers. They are learning how to promote and market their books. There are now several options that enable the writer to produce an attractive book, either paper or e-book, that rivals anything a trad publisher puts out. There are sites, such as ours here at Indies Unlimited, that assist authors to find the information they need to produce a fine product, much of it at no cost.

The Old Boys Club is beginning to take notice. What I observe demonstrates that attitudes are shifting. The lines are blurring between trad and self-published books. Readers and media alike are taking a new look at self-publishing.

There are the small things, like self-pubbed authors being interviewed in local newspapers, on radio and TV. Reviews are popping up in many smaller newspapers and magazines. The Camp Verde Bugle has an “Indies Bestseller List” alongside the trad list. It is not alone. The Tahlequah Daily Press featured an article entitled Self-publishing more lucrative for authors. On Dec. 8, 2012, The New York Times reviewed a self-published book, as reported in The Passive Voice. Earlier this year The Guardian, bastion of the Old Boys Network started their own self-published book of the month competition.

Late in 2013 the Writers Union of Canada announced that it would soon be accepting membership applications from self-published authors (pending a peer review). “We have concluded there is a population of highly professional self-published authors who would be well-served by membership in TWUC.” Until then they had stood adamantly against self-publishing, citing all the same reasons I mention at the beginning of this article. As a Canadian author, I decided to follow up on this announcement. Nothing happened for many months. Then, in late October they acted. The application for membership by self-published authors is available. I intend to apply. The “peer review” requirement is still there, and my inquiries have failed to produce an explanation of what, exactly, that entails. I’m eager to find out.

Book fairs are now setting aside space for self-pubbed authors and books. Occasionally one of these authors is even invited to speak or be on a panel with trad published authors. One day soon we will participate side by side as equals, instead of in a corner by ourselves. In 2013 300,000 people attended the Frankfurt Book fair where self-publishing was a major topic of discussion.

We celebrate these victories. We applaud and support those authors who have striven to ensure that the quality of their work matches or surpasses that put out by trad publishers. We laud those who found the courage to leave their publishers for the control and freedom that self-publishing offers.

The tide is shifting. Imperceptibly you say? I disagree. I can see it.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

34 thoughts on “Changing Attitudes Toward Self-Publishing”

  1. TWUC is being followed by other American Writers associations. In January we might have the same happening for a major one in the US. I know it first hand and confidentially. Let’s just hope that the new year brings the expected result.

  2. Excellent round-up of the way things are going, Yvonne, and they are definitely going our way. It’s interesting that the trad-pubs didn’t want anything to do with indies until we started gathering followers and making money. Money is always the great equalizer. But the best part is, we’re already making inroads; what do we need trad publishers for? We’ve proven we can provide all our own “expert” services and get excellent results; why would we ever hand the reins over to anyone else? Yes, the tide is turning, and we’re riding the crest of that wave.

  3. It is amazing to see all the changes in the last three years. Yvonne, you have laid the journey out with great detail. Your presentation will be something for future generations of writers to think about, and encourage them in their challenges. Inch by inch respect for indies is being earned. Well done and Happy Holidays.

  4. Excellent roundup, Yvonne.

    I agree with Aron, the changes in the last three or four years are pretty incredible. However, as you point out, there are always going to be some books that are unedited, unproofed, and with writing that is bad by any standard. That’s always going to be the case. But I also think readers are learning how to spot those books and I expect new methods of both discovering new books and avoiding those not up to snuff will continue to rise. Meanwhile readers have more choice. It’s a great time to be a reader or an author.

  5. Your post is very encouraging, Yvonne. Yet I continue to read poorly written books edited by a “professional.” It’s difficult to find a good editor. Editing styles are often based on an editor’s personal preferences rather than what is or isn’t grammatically correct. Still, I do think that many indies are taking more responsibility for their work and learning the “tricks of the trade.” No book, whether traditionally or independently published, is ever perfect. As authors, we must do the best we can and hope that everything else will follow.

    1. You have a good point, Linda. But sometimes when a book is touted as being professionally edited the author has ignored the advice of the editor and gone with their own erroneous inclinations. I have come across more than one instance of this. It’s a two way street. That’s why some editors no longer allow their names to be included in the credits when a book is published.

  6. Thanks for this great roundup, Yvonne. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re in the middle of a crowd to realize how far you’ve actually come. Here’s hoping we continue to make great strides in 2015. (Hello, SFWA? Are you listening? 😉 )

  7. Cannot disagree with a single word or thought you have expressed. My overly simplistic view is that literature is returning to its roots, a type of creative small business. As the big book stores chains continue to disappear, there eventually becomes nothing that a big traditional publisher can offer. That business model is dead.

    In the end it’s the story that sells books, I really cannot recall the last time I was told I had read this book because the cover was so great. Or how about I only read Hudson & Barnes books because they have really great editors.

    All the tools are out there for all authors to create a professional book that can amaze readers. Writing a story that accomplishes this however is just as elusive as ever. A truly great time in history for those with a passion for writing and who are willing to try.

    1. Thank you, Marc. I agree with what you say but would add a bit to that. The grassroots movement, which is what I would call what you describe, is a great one. But the world has changed in so many ways that it has become problematic for authors to find readers. Yes, we need good stories but,even really good ones, need to be noticed and stand out. It takes more than a good story. We still need to find effective ways to promote. The organic way works, but only to a point. And there lies the rub.

  8. Thank you Yvonne for this solid reminder and I’ll admit–a good confidence builder. I self-published three years ago and the book has received two significant awards; Silver from the Military Writers Society of America and last year the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, James Webb Award. If I had not self-published these, awards would never have happened. Working on two other books and will self publish those too.
    Thanks again for this great article.

  9. Very good post, Yvonne, thanks. But I think there are cultural differences at work here. Americans, to generalise, are much more accepting and less likely to judge on “pedigree”, thus a good self-published book will be competing on a level playing field with trads. But in places like the UK, that isn’t really happening, and I’m not sure it ever will. The British Science Fiction Writers Association isn’t going to let writers like me in any time soon. If anything, they’re becoming more entrenched with their trad exclusivity.
    The other problem that remains is discoverability, but that’s probably a whole other post 🙂

    1. lol, yes, that’s the hard part – finding what works to increase discoverability. As for that Old School Empire pedigree requirement, I think things are beginning to sift there, too, if that article in The Guardian is any indication.

  10. I’m happy to report that the indie writer community here in NZ is steadily banding together to help and support each other. I’m hoping that next year we’ll start to convince bookstores that their point of difference is to stock and recommend LOCAL books – good, well-written NZ stories that reflect the world we live in. Otherwise all they seem to stock is cookery books and sports hero biographies. Funny how they’re all going broke!

  11. I love your enthusiasm, Yvonne, and you have written a terrific, upbeat article. I couldn’t agree more with you and I can truly see the market (current and future) exactly the way you describe it. In the end the writing will determine its own level. Eventually, persistently good stories, constantly written well, over time, will be the only defining qualities of a successful author.

    1. Thank you, T.D. Persistently good stories over time – that’s the challenge, both individually and collectively. Individually some won’t make it, collectively I think we will – just as was always the case even with trad publishing.

  12. I wonder what it will take, and how long, for this wave to propagate to the independent book stores? There are readers who are savvy and buy books on-line and don’t care whether a book is self-published or not, rather, is it good? But my local bookstore, for instance, won’t go near anything other than a title from a traditional publisher. This doesn’t seem fair to me as an author or a reader. I want access to the best books; I would like a bookstore’s help finding them.

    1. Steve there are some bookstores that will carry Indie books. Often it is at the request of a reader or author. A very few will even buy them and stock them. Others will have them there on commission. Independent bookstores are suffering due to the higher cost of buying stock over the bulk stores. It will happen.

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