Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Self-Published Books Get Bad Reputations

If you've been in the writing world much at all, you have likely stumbled across at least one "discussion" involving self-publishing versus traditional publishing. If you've never followed writers and agent blogs or email loops, you may not realize these two camps even exist.

As a writer, I've noticed a disturbing increase in the number of arguments that arise around this topic.

The Camps

Traditional publishing is what most people think of when they think of putting a book out there. Someone buys the book from the author, edits it, makes some cover art, and prints it for distribution in the bookstore. It's a really long process and the author is at the mercy of the acquiring editors, hoping to write a book someone wants to sell.

Self-publishing is just what it sounds like. Someone writes a book and does all the necessary work before publishing it. Sometimes these books are published in E-Book only, sometimes they run a small print to sell at speaking engagements and through a website. Rarely do they find their way into bookstores.

The Fight

Not all authors fight about this. Some happily rub shoulders with each other and celebrate every book, no matter the format.

But when things get ugly, here's what they say:

The self-pubbeds call the traditionalists lazy for not grabbing hold of their own careers and destinies. They say it's ridiculous to let someone else get such a chunk out of each book you sell. The publishing house is the equivalent of "the man" and he's out to get you and force your art into a certain mold. Besides, what's the publishing house doing for most authors these days? We have to do our own marketing anyway, so why not take care of everything else, too?

On the flip side, arguing traditionalists think self-pubbeds are impatient and sloppy, unwilling to perfect their work before throwing it out there. They also see that many self-pubbeds don't have a significant reach with their books. The audience is smaller, and the work load is higher.

Both methods have good points and bad points, and no side is ever really going to win. But I don't think the crux of the problem is really disagreeing with how someone chooses to publish.

The problem is the reputation of self-published authors. As a whole, their reputation is bad. Since I know plenty of really good self-published authors, I wondered about that.

The Problem

The problem is, if you self-publish right, I don't know you self-published. Your book looks professional, it's well written and well edited. Time and thought has gone into the plot and characters. In short, if the book is done right it looks like every other book put out by a traditional publisher.

But anyone can self-publish. And a lot of people do it badly.

EReaders give easy access to
self-published books. 
I was reading a book the other day with a great premise, an intriguing idea, and potentially lovable characters. I didn't make it past page three.

The writing was full of typos, the point of view was inconsistent (and I mean in a first person to third person kind of way), and the heroine's name changed on page four. I couldn't keep reading.

Sure enough, there was no publisher listed in the book's credentials. Someone had thrown their idea into a computer file, said "Wow! I wrote a book!", and noticed they could toss it out into cyberspace with very little money or effort.

So they did.

And the problem is that I looked and saw it was self-published. Unless I absolutely love a book, I don't make a habit of looking up its publisher. Closer inspection of my reading list revealed several self-published books I had enjoyed, but I wouldn't have looked if I hadn't been writing this article.

The Solution

Unfortunately, there isn't one.

Aside from a good self-pubbed author walking around telling everyone they published their own books, there's no way to make sure people know you're managing every aspect of your own career.

A group's reputation sinks to the lowest level represented. When there's no gatekeeper, the low can be pretty low.

There's nothing to do to change the general reputation, but we can stop the fighting by realizing the truth about the source of self-publishing's reputation.

All pictures from WikiCommons. 

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