07 February 2014

Poisoned Wells

There's been a bunch of articles lately about how the vast morass of terribly written self-published books on the market poison the well for all self-published authors.  Readers are being tricked by untrustworthy reviews into paying good money for incompetent work.  The dreckworthy quality of these books causes the reader to swear off self-published books, and Something Must Be Done.

These articles primarily come from trade published authors who claim to support self-publishing (while proclaiming the majority of it dreck), and usually produce irritated/angry responses from self-publishers (along with many reasoned arguments pointing out that bad videos haven't killed off YouTube and Snooki hasn't killed off trade publishing, etc, etc), which are then used as evidence that self-publishers are delusional, hostile and crazyballs and overreact so much when people tell them what's wrong with them.

It's not a particularly productive conversation.  Self-publishers are able to impact the quality of their own work, and maybe give some helpful feedback on the work of others if and when asked.  But the truly incompetent either never ask for feedback or (as I've seen) simply don't care even when a forum full of self-publishers point out that they have a dozen typos on their first page.  There already is a strong culture of "make your books better" among some self-publishers, while others are more interested in the latest trick for discoverability, and others still don't talk to any other self-publishers, but do their own thing.

The Borg has not yet gotten around to assimilating self-publishers.  There is no hive mind here.

Nor is this an argument anyone's going to win.  Some people won't read self-publishers.  Some people will.  Some self-publishers will put out good work.  Some self-publishers won't.  Some trade published books are good.  Some trade published books are used as the fall-back example of "trade publishing puts out bad books too!".  Some of those books make trade publishing millions of dollars.

One person's dreck is another person's doradango.

The majority of the books I read are trade published, but I'll happily buy self-published if I'm drawn by the cover, the blurb interests me and the sample's good.  I've never chosen books to read by who published them.  I'm undisturbed by the idea that some readers will never touch my books because I'm self-published.  They can join the readers who won't read my books because I'm a woman, or because they contain swearing, or the occasional bi-normative world.

Long story short: wow, there's been a lot of Chicken Little posts about self-publishing lately.


  1. I think it's been a few years now that I've felt exactly the same way: it doesn't bother me at all what other people think about self-publishing. Self-publishing offers authors so much freedom, I almost can't imagine publishing any other way at this particular point in time. I purchase both self-published and trade-published books, indie films as well as films from the big movie studios, and both indie music and music produced by large studios. I feel that we're living in a modern Renaissance. I can't imagine not figuring out how to evaluate modern art/entertainment to find all the treasures out there! :)

  2. I wouldn't say it doesn't bother me what people think about self-publishing. I find it tiring, and sometimes it gets me down. So many things specifically exclude self-publishers, and there's a constant background noise - like a passionate couple of posts from a trade author talking about her personal journey, which in passing equated self-publishers to snake oil merchants, and self-published books with shit. And people I read and respect link to and praise that post, and I pass on with a sigh and rolled eyes because there's no point me saying anything.

    There was another post that went up yesterday, decrying the us v them attitude. And I agree that us v them is a pointless attitude. But self-publishers not being us v them means constantly swallowing posts like that, and choosing to be as positive as possible about all the things that say: "Sorry, no self-publishers" - a thing not just related to review blogs overwhelmed by a flood of requests, but also people collating lists of "books that are an example of x", memberships in professional organisations (not that SFWA is currently sounding attractive at the moment!), awards, and all manner of thing.

    I don't promote very much, partly because I don't like it, and partly because battling against that swell of 'no' would take a lot of my writing fun away from me. I am _enormously_ lucky that the Aurealis Awards don't exclude self-publishers, that some readers have become fans and been incredibly generous in recommending me to others.

    But I think there is a very long way to go indeed before self-publishers aren't 'them' to many writers. And that will continue to tire me.

  3. It is too bad that there is an us vs them attitude amoung writers. I for one love this new Renaissance, as a previous poster mentioned. I love the fact that us readers no longer have to depend upon the major publishing houses to produce books that we want to read. I wish some of my favorite authors from years past that were dropped by their publishers in the middle of a series would discover the world of self-publishing and reactivate their work.

    I have started to read some really terrible self-published work, but I can usually tell by the sample so don’t buy it. If I mistakenly thing the book will be worth reading and end up by buying, just to discover a few more chapters in that I can’t stand it, I return it for a full refund.

    I’m not a very harsh critique, if the story is good and the writing decent, I’m good with it. The one issue that I have is authors that I can see a lot of potential in them, but they just aren’t tightening up their stories or growing in their writing skills. I will become impatient with them and usually stop reading their stories if after several books I don’t see any growth. I person should always strive to improve and grow in their chosen career.

    Honestly, if I could write I would be pounding the key boards and self-publishing, but I’m a reader and will happily remain in that category.

    Thank you for the hours of entertainment that I’ve gotten from your books 


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