How self-published authors can overcome the DIY stigma.

13 July 2012 by 37 Comments

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So, we had an interesting discussion on Tuesday about self-published authors and book bloggers. Something that I’ve heard again and again in the past week is the notion that self-published authors have a stigma slapped on them that book bloggers perpetuate by refusing to consider their works. While my original stance on the matter stands, I don’t want this to be a war between self-published authors and book bloggers–not because I feel sorry for self-pubbers, or because I feel that we bloggers have an obligation to them, but for one simple reason: I want to read more good books, and I know there are some self-published authors that do have a good book in them. I’ve seen it firsthand.

I’d like to help self-publishing overcome its own stigma. To do so, we need to understand exactly where the stigma originates; this is the part that might sting a bit for some, but it must be faced to make progress. Without understanding, a solution can never be found to what seems to be a huge problem for authors who decide to go it alone–which, in theory, could be a very profitable option for authors. I certainly don’t think the basic concept of self-publishing should be one that comes with a stigma, so it must lie elsewhere.

Let’s start with the “common wisdom” surrounding this issue. Strap in, darlings; it’s going to be a long one.

Myth: Book bloggers don’t accept self-published books because of an unreasonable prejudice.

Contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, most of the book bloggers I know don’t seem to care where good books come from as long as they’re good. One of the points in the post that I referenced in Tuesday’s Reading Rage was that bloggers might feel “tricked” if they read a good book that was self-published. Honestly? A truly good book is a good book, and only the most awful snobs would turn down a good book due to its origins.

“But, then–why the no self-published books policies?”

Excellent question.

Fact: Book bloggers often don’t accept self-published books because of the small benefit for the amount of time invested in going over review requests.

So what, some people say? How hard is it to look at a pitch and say yes or no? Difficulty isn’t exactly the issue. If I want to do your pitch justice–and you want me to do it justice, right? You want a fair consideration, I assume–then I need to take the time to read the pitch. I also need to take the time to read sample chapters (which might mean that, if you don’t send them, as many authors don’t, I may end up spending time tracking it down via Amazon or Google), look at other reviews of your book, and see if it overall would fit the tone of my blog. I hold review books to a higher standard than I do books I might read for myself; I’m not just reading your books, I’m also providing content based on what I’ve read. My content, if I am doing blogging correctly, should be high-quality, cohesive, and fit my blog’s direction. (This is why I also don’t review traditionally-published authors that I might love but that don’t fit the direction of our blog.)

In other words? Blogging is work, and I have to weigh whether or not I accept pitches based on whether it will add value to the work that I do here. Self-published authors of all stripes send me pitches (whether they fit the blog or not) because they want to tap into the audience I have built through my hard work. The catch is that, if I were to let my standards drop to accept many of the ill-fitting pitches that I receive, I would lose that audience and be able to help no one.

Myth: Book bloggers are snobs that only like to support legacy publishing or are in the pockets of traditional publishers.

Same premise as Myth #1, really. It’s not that we’re snobs about where our books come from. It’s not that we’re beholden to traditional publishers. As consumers of entertainment, we’re looking to be entertained from any quarter, and we seek the entertainment that we like best.

Fact: Traditional publishers offer added value for many book bloggers for the amount of effort put into research.

With self-publishing, quality is all over the place. I have absolutely no past experience on which to base whether I will like a self-published book unless that particular author has put out work that I’ve read before. With a press, small or large, I get two major benefits: one, I can assume that the book has undergone quite a bit of quality control (editing, proofreading, formatting) based on the publisher’s reputation; two, I often have a large body of work to choose from once I find out that I like the selections that the publisher releases, not to mention the fact that they’re releasing new books all the time. Tracking that information down for every individual author takes a lot of effort and doesn’t give a lot of overall benefit at the end. If I find one author out of dozens who has put the time in to create a spectacular book, that author might have two or three books that I can read; then I’m off to sort through dozens more to find the next gem. If I find one publisher I like, they will often have a backlist of dozens of books that I can peruse; the effect is inversely proportional in favor of publishers. (Note: I generally blog small press books, so I do pay attention to who publishes the books I read and review. Even if a person doesn’t pay attention to individual publishers, benefit #1 still stands.)

“Yeah, but it sounds like you’re saying that bloggers are taking the easy way out. That’s not fair to self-published authors!”

Why, I beg to differ. It’s absolutely fair for me to want to get the maximum benefit for my efforts to produce content on my own site that I developed and continue to pay for, especially considering that I don’t earn a profit (or if I do, it’s probably been about ten dollars so far) off of this site. Even if I did profit from the site, it’s because of my own work; it wouldn’t make me beholden to anybody. If someone paid me to seek out high-quality self-published authors, then that would be my job, and I would do it without complaint.

Myth: Book bloggers refusing to review self-published authors perpetuates the stigma placed upon self-publishers.

I can honestly say that if I spent, say, six months reviewing every self-published work that has been pitched to me for review, this would do very little to reverse the stigma of self-publishing. Because IB does allow self-published authors to pitch work to us, I look over the pitches we receive very carefully (except when it’s apparent from the beginning that it’s not for us–we get a surprising amount of genre fiction pitches, even though we don’t review genre fiction). I read excerpts. I do research. I do this because I don’t want to waste a self-published author’s resources or accept a book that I know in advance will not be well-received. Most of the books pitched to us would probably get poor reviews from this site–not because they’re self-published, but on the merits of the actual writing. (The one SP book we chose to accept got a four star review from us. We’re not biased, but we know good writing when we read it.) If my readers saw review after review of self-published books that said the books were poorly-written, poorly-edited, or poorly-conceived, I don’t think that would do much to reverse any pre-conceived notions.

Fact: The large number of low-quality self-published books perpetuates the stigma of self-publishing.

I would never shame an author who pitched me a book in earnest, but I have to say that I wish I could dig out some quotes for you from cover letters, synopses, and sample chapters that I have received. If you are one of the few self-published authors who has created a great book, you might not realize that you’re a minority. A very small minority–I mean, just statistically, you’d have to be. There are hundreds of thousands of books self-published per year; if you compare it to the ratios of good books vs. crap books that even traditional publishers put out, where there’s usually at least a little quality control before the book hits the market, the number of great books out of that number would be small. Because there’s no standard of quality control associated with self-publishing, I think we can safely assume the number would be even smaller than that.

Everyone, though, thinks their book is awesome. And they want to get it reviewed because they want to sell a bazillion copies. They know they stand little chance of getting it reviewed by, say, The New York Times, so where do they turn? Book blogs. This is how we get inundated with review requests, most of which aren’t amazing work. We don’t like being buried under the slush pile; it’s not what we signed up to do. It’s not good times. Moreover, readers who buy books don’t want to pay to wade through slush piles. By the time a product reaches the consumer, it should be excellent quality. The fact that it so often isn’t is what creates the stigma associated with self-publishing.

Solutions.

I don’t know if there’s an easy “fix” for this across the board. Do I honestly think that the majority of self-published authors will read this and up and decide that they all need to hire editors, designers, and learn to market themselves, etc., to beat down the stigma of self-publishing? No. I don’t think that’s going to happen. What’s more, they’re going to continue to pitch their books to book blogs . . . especially to blogs that have high traffic, which means that self-published authors who have taken the professional route and want to get reviews on these blogs will be a single voice trying to yell over a very frustrating crowd. The more popular the blog you want to submit to, the more people you’ll have there ruining it for everyone else.

If you really want to overcome this stigma, though, it has to start with you. This isn’t a stigma that we have randomly decided needs to be a part of self-publishing. There are root causes that should be addressed. My tips?

  • Hire professionals to help you launch your book. Just because you’re DIYing it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to invest in your book; whether you’re paying for the editing, design, and possibly marketing out of your own pocket or you’re taking a reduced profit cut and letting a publisher foot the bill, any published author should be investing in professional assistance to create a quality product.
  • If you’ve hired professionals, mention that when you do a pitch. (Ask your editor, etc, if they’re okay with name-dropping–if not, don’t use the name . . . but I should think if they’re proud of their work, they’d be more than happy for you to put their names on it.) Acknowledge the short-comings of the industry in a mature way and highlight that you have invested in your own work to elevate the quality of your book. This won’t guarantee a review, but it will get your foot further in the door.
  • Consider not aiming for high-traffic blogs to start, as these bloggers will be dealing with the highest number of requests and may be frustrated with pitches from self-published authors. Aim for blogs with smaller but appropriate audiences and build up a few reviews; this will build the buzz about your book. When you pitch to the high-traffic blogger later, you can point to good reviews by other bloggers–but, always ask the blogger if it’s okay to link their review in a pitch to another blogger. Otherwise, this can seem like shady name-dropping.
  • Endeavor to be professional at all times in public spaces on the internet. Authors behaving badly have made some book bloggers wary of reviewing books that don’t have professional PR attached to them. Be courteous and friendly. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Build your reputation as an author that bloggers love reviewing. This can only help you.
  • If you’re not sure if your book fits the blog, or if they will take a self-published book? Ask politely before you pitch. Accept the answer graciously. This can go a long way if you encounter the blogger again in your promotional travels–or, if you fail to do so, can work against you if bloggers talk to other bloggers about you, which happens sometimes when we have negative interactions. Ranting at book bloggers or reviewers on the internet will instantly put reviewers off of working with you.
  • Remember that you’re competing with a number of self-published authors that approaches a million a year, not to mention the number of traditionally-published books that have been and continue to be released. (Perhaps that self-publishing number has already arrived at a million; the last numbers I saw where in the 800,000′s in 2009.) If you want to stand out, you have to work at least twice as hard as other SP authors, and you have to put in the same investment as traditionally-published authors. As readers, many of us don’t separate the two in our minds as far as considering which books we want to buy; it’s not as though we have a special budget for traditional authors and one for self-published authors. We just want the best books, period. Experience has shown many of us that these books lay in the realm of traditional publishing. If you want to stand out, you have to compete against them as well as other SP authors.

The bottom line for self-publishers is that more of them will have to step up a little before they will see an improvement in the way that self-published authors are viewed. The process is already beginning, really–self-published authors may not yet be fully accepted by the reading community at large, but the stigma has dropped considerably from what it was before the internet age made self-publishing a financially viable option. Over time, if the quality of work improves, the association with self-publishing will improve.

I know you guys have all of the opinions about self-publishing, so I’m going to let you have the floor now.  Tell me what you think–am I off-base? Am I right? If you’re a blogger, what would it take to get you interested in self-published books? If you’re a self-published author, do you hire professionals or do you do everything yourself? What has been your reception? Drop me a comment below!

Susie

Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Book Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

37 thoughts on “How self-published authors can overcome the DIY stigma.

  1. Excellent post! I am not opposed to self-published books in the least! If anything, I want to help an unknown author get exposure. But usually these books are not very good or are full of grammar, spelling, punctuation errors and typos which makes it very difficult to read. Or the synopsis isn’t written very well and so it doesn’t even sound appealing at first glance.

    • Oh yes, that can be a problem, too–a decent-to-good book can have dreadful marketing copy. Synopses are important for the buyer to choose, which is why publishers include one in every book :D

  2. Appreciate your opinion. I agree that fighting over right and wrong is useless. Everyone has their own opinions on the matter.

    As a successful self-pub’d author (two bestsellers on Amazon, one in Top 100 Paid) and as the founder of my own media and book marketing company, I always advise authors to work with a crit group, use professional editing, formatting, and proofreading services, as well as a pro graphic artist. If people want to write for a living, they must be professional about their processes.

    I read both indie and traditional. I personally don’t care whether a writer has been vetted (a process I chose not to participate in).

    Interestingly, I’ve been contacted by two NYC agents and one top book marketing exec after publication of my books. Many times, they find us through Twitter or Google (and of course, Amazon!), and use self-publishing as a pre-selection process. If a book has already been successful, there’s proof for future earnings.

    That is all. Thanks for giving us space for discussion.

    Rachel Thompson (aka RachelintheOC & BadRedheadMedia)

    • “Many times, they find us through Twitter or Google (and of course, Amazon!), and use self-publishing as a pre-selection process.”

      It’s good to hear that some self-pubbers get ascended, but I have to wonder how viable that strategy is for them in the long-term. Amazon has already stuck its 800-lb toe into the waters of book publishing, using a very similar strategy. And who holds all that sales data? Amazon. Who has the nerdage to identify how self-pub sales relate to marketability? Amazon.

      The publishers are voluntarily creating a new field of competition, one in which their most dangerous competitor has a built-in advantage. That can’t end well for them.

      Also, this strategy is what gave us Fifty Shades. I’m not ready to forgive it just yet.

  3. Yep. This is what I suggested in another article. Quality control. If you tell me in the pitch email that your book has been edited (and not by your bff), I am much more likely to take a look at it. And as someone who edits, I’d gladly let an author use my name in a pitch. Some may not, but it would still be helpful to have that information. For those self-pubbed authors who have done this, it may feel insulting because they’ve done the work they needed. But if it works in the author’s favor, why not?

    Like you said, the stigma exists, but if I started receiving pitches like the ones we’ve discussed, it would change (at least within these circles).

  4. I think your post is spot on. I work with a group of book bloggers and in our secret group we get to comment on all the things (smart and dumb) that authors do. It helps relieve the stress and we stick up for one another when an author gets out of line OR when an author is absolutely gracious and everyone wants to work with them.

    Yes, we do gossip like a barn full of hens. It’s called social media. :)

    I’ve been fortunate to ONLY review self-pubbed/Indie authors/small press and I when I say fortunate, I mean it. I’m booked with reading material until 2014 and there’s the rub. There are so many books/authors and only one of me. But I’ve met and read some of the best reads and I don’t regret my decision when I decided to start book blogging.

    It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it. Be nice to book bloggers and they’ll be nice to you.

  5. What you’re saying makes complete sense. No one’s entitled to have you review their book just because they wrote a book and you review books.

    I understand the factors you mention that can increase an unknown’s credibility in the pitch. But I disagree that having paid for editing or marketing necessarily makes a book good. All it says is that the author thought spending money might make the book better. It increases the chances the book will be good, sure. But what about the bad writers who think that spending money on an editor will be a shortcut to success? Paying for an editor can be a statement of sincerity (I’m investing in my book’s success) or it can be a statement of laziness (I don’t have to bother with details; I’ll just hire an editor).

    When I decided to self-publish my YA novel, I chose not to pay for editing, artwork, etc. Four typos snuck into the published version, and my cover isn’t as gorgeous as an artist would create, but I’m intensely proud to have my name on that book because I think–and readers have told me–it’s every bit as good as some of their favorite best sellers.

    Choosing to self-publish involves tradeoffs. You get many benefits (e.g., keeping all your rights, faster time to market, full creative control, higher royalties, etc.) but give things up, too (access to channels, promotional muscle, perception of legitimacy, etc.). If being reviewed by book bloggers is something I gave up (for now) when I chose to self-publish, so be it.

    In my view, the best way to get over the stigma of self-publishing is through prolonged, consistent production of quality material. In this internet age, we expect so much so fast that we have forgotten that slow and steady wins the race. All authors want the boost your blog can give them today. But self-published authors should be more concerned about the long term than the quick hit. And I think the really good self published writers are. The bad ones, the ones that throw a tantrum about you not reviewing them–they’re the ones who looked at self publishing as a shortcut to success. Which it isn’t.

    • Editing encompasses a lot more than finding typos, though. A good editor–and if you hire a freelance editor with a respected name and body of work, that will be significant when you’re shopping your book around–doesn’t just look for spelling errors. An editor also provides an outside perspective on a book, which can be crucial, as even the best writers are so close to their work that it’s difficult for them to see it from another angle.

      Fitzgerald famously had an editor; without editing, The Great Gatsby might have been forgotten in time. Fitzgerald’s editor urged him to bump up the character of Gatsby, who had previously been undefined. Hemingway had an editor. Faulkner had an editor, and etc, and etc. Many editors of literature are famous in their own right for their significant contribution to literature.

      So . . . to me, it seems a little rash for people who are self-publishing to proclaim that they don’t need editors, you know? Especially when there’s this “stigma” surrounding them that they dislike. A lot of serious readers say that when they read self-published books, they need editors. It’s a common criticism in the community.

      Yes, it does mean that the author puts in a lot of work, and that’s the first step. Dashing off a first draft and doing some tweaking certainly seems to happen far too often. I just think there’s more that can and should be done to produce a high-quality product.

      • A thousand times yes. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I should probably confess that I’m a copy editor, and . . . well, I like to feel needed.

        But even as a working editor, I know that I need someone ELSE to edit my writing. That’s an indisputable fact. If a writer chooses to skip the editing stage, that writer is cutting a crucial corner. End of story. Will the book still be good? Sure. It might be. But will it be as good as it COULD have been? In my opinion, there’s no way in hell.

        • Meg, I can’t agree with this enough. I also like Peter’s comment: “the best way to get over the stigma of self-publishing is through prolonged, consistent production of quality material.” — yes, though I suspect this will happen one self-pubbed author at a time. The Booksluts’ point that a publisher has an established backlist of authors you can go to when you find one of their books you love is well-taken — unless the self-pubbed authors band together in groups, I suppose.

          • Which, honestly? I don’t know that this is a bad idea, to form groups. It can be a group that does quality-control to allow members in and to have the group label on it, but then also all of the individual authors would still be self-publishing.

        • I think those of us who are both writers and editors are the most painfully aware of the necessity of editing – it’s a fact of life that you cannot edit your own work. You can barely even proof it properly for typos. Your head fills in what you thought you meant, or what you wanted to say, or what should be there, and you certainly can’t pick out the developmental flaws yourself.

          “Kill your darlings,” people, and then get someone else to kill a few more of them for you, just to make sure.

    • Peter – I appreciate what you’re saying, but I also wanted to clarify: editors don’t just catch typos. And, as someone currently working with two authors on manuscripts, laziness wasn’t the motivating factor. In fact, one writer is having to do a ton of work because there were competing moods in the book. There’s a great story there but not the way it was written initially.

      I also disagree that the author thinks “spending money [on editing] will make the book better.” Most know and understand that one person/the writer alone isn’t going to catch inconsistencies or problems in plot/character/voice/etc. It’s difficult whether you’ve been writing for six months or six years. The people who hire me know the places the book is weak (usually). Editing is looking at that content, suggesting a chapter be moved, removing paragraphs that are unnecessary, asking questions when an aspect of the ms doesn’t make sense.

      The ms *should* be better after editing. Period. It may not be a perfect book. Not everyone will love it, but it is better and more finished than it was before.

      As you say, quality writing matters. I also teach college English, and we workshop student compositions. Why? It’s the difference between a student turning in a paper he or she thought was perfect as is and actually understanding that a sentence or paragraph didn’t make sense to someone else. It is invaluable to have another review your writing.

      But you are very correct in saying many want the shortcuts, but I’d argue that hiring an editor is anything but.

      • Whoops. Should have looked at my sentence again. I meant to say, “Yes, they think spending money and TIME will make the book better.” Editing is a lengthy process. It isn’t just about the money for the writer or the editor.

  6. Excellent post. I avoid SP most of the time because so often, SP means no editing. At all. Or they decide that they are above all rules of grammar and punctuation and venture out in their own little format. I think SP authors have their work cut out for them to make a better name.

  7. I think you are most definitely on base. I’m self-published, although there is some level of snobbery within these ranks, which says that I’m not “truly” self-published because I used a Print-on-Demand (POD) service. Whatever, man.

    Anyway, I’ve been fortunate enough to have received many of the tips that you offer here before I went out and released my book. Even with the warm reception I’ve gotten from many people over the last two years, I still know that the final product could have been much better.

    What could have been a great book is presently only a good book, because I rushed and took shortcuts. One big no-no was not listening when my editor said to let her take another pass at it once I’d made the initial corrections. If good books were mashed potatoes, then editors smooth out the lumps. And yes. I will find a food reference for just about everything. Anyway, no bad experiences here. And I’m confident that the book will do much better when I’m done with the revisions and produce a 2nd Edition, for which I have hired another editor (the last one, although a professional, was a friend, and I think I about drove her to kill me), and a cover designer.

    Having said that, I was fortunate to get it into a few brick and mortar stores, including my college bookstore, which is great, considering homecoming season is upon us.

    I’ve gotten a (very) few really great reviews, and a couple of lukewarm ones. And I lover every reader, book clubber and book blogger who thought enough to post something. Shucks. I cannot even count the number of reviews I didn’t get, and I must have sent out a hundred pitches to some of everybody. Rejection is no novelty to me. :)
    But whatever happens for any author, there is no excuse for behaving badly and calling it a venting episode. Baloney! Behavior like that tends to make it harder for other authors to get any attention.

    But I just keep plugging away, and I’ve got no complaints about the results. I was recently invited to a book blog with a great list of Q&A. Whatever comes of it, just know that you book bloggers are appreciated. And your tips on this post are spot on. By the way, I actually bought The Earthquake Machine based on your review. :)

  8. I have been lucky enough to do line/copy editing for The Beautiful Anthology, plus some editing for an author in Mexico City, plus I just received another upcoming memoir I can’t wait to read. Yes, it is hard work, but I say ‘lucky’ because it is work that I enjoy immensely. These books are all indies, but I also want SP authors to succeed. I have read a number of mss of writers going the SP route, and I have had to return all of them without getting past the 1st chapter—they needed a level of rework way beyond my available time and patience. And guess what? They published anyway, errors and all, so why even seek my help?
    Recently, one gracious SP author gave me his published book for my opinion, and it has SO much potential to be something exceptional—but how to tell this to a SP author, especially since I have a tough love approach to editing mss? Have there been successful “re-dos” of published books? I don’t know. But I absolutely agree with you, GG. You are not off-base. With SP books for review, what would get me interested is first impressions of both the author and of the 1st chapter or two of the book. But considering my own past experience in mss intended for SP, I have lost interest. Thank you so much for addressing this.

  9. I appreciate this post. I’m currently attempting to write my first full length novel, but I think I’m going to go the route of beggaring publishing companies to like my book. If I do fall into the category of self-publishing I think I’m going to remember this post for a long time. Not just because it was another post you made that inspired me to start writing again, but because I would want the support of the book-loving community, since as a consumer I’m currently part of that side of the equation.

    Even when you “rant” you stay fairly unbiased and I appreciate that because as uneducated as I am on the industry, you make me feel a little more informed. *hug* All I can really say is… Thank you!

    • Aww! I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That’s what I try to do, ultimately–inform and help where I can . . . and it doesn’t do me any good to be all overly biased and stuff :D

  10. The unpublished ms of my novel, Tell A Thousand Lies, was shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia award. I was offered a publishing contract, which I declined, because the publisher and I could not agree on the terms (we have 2 or 3 agents in India).

    I hired a professional editor from the US (it seems pretty important for people to know the editor is from the West), I commissioned a book cover, I had 3 people proof read, then I published – on Amazon.

    In the 4 months my book’s been out it has garnered:

    4.6 stars from 67 reviews on Amazon
    4.10 stars from 47 reviews (91 ratings) on Goodreads
    525 people are signed up for my book giveaway on Goodreads (it ends July 25).

    I pitch to book bloggers all the time. My queries, I hope, are professional and respectful. I *have* had a lot of bloggers review my books.

    And yet, I still get a lot of firm, but polite, emails from book bloggers I query saying they, as a policy, will not review self-published books. No matter the kind of reviews. No matter the response to the book. No self-published book. Period. One fellow writer actually forwarded someone’s submission guidelines (which I read very carefully, btw) warning writers better not be sneaking in self-pubbed books because she will find out. She always does!

    In the light of the above, balanced posts like yours are highly appreciated by writes like us. (There’s quite a few of us out there, believe me.) Book blogging is a great commitment on time/effort, and I salute you for it.

    • Yes, unfortunately there will be people who stick to their policy no matter what–and I can see the reasons, really, even if I don’t agree with them. (Reasons could be: my policy is 100% absolute and no exceptions, sorry; if I review one self-published author I might get called out or have a deluge of submissions from other self-published authors, etc.). Some bloggers are still willing to take it on a case-by-case basis, and some bloggers aren’t.

      I think, though, if enough people are self-publishing books that create positive buzz, many of those bloggers will begin to relent… if for no other reason than they don’t want to miss out on books that other people are saying are so good :D

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  12. As a new author who is self-publishing, the most difficult thing to overcome is the lack of recognition in a world that is incredibly competitive for eyes. I have a spreadsheet I use to track the review sites and bloggers I’ve contacted, and it currently has about 70 entries. That’s out of at least 300-400 sites I’ve looked at.

    For authors to deluge bloggers without reading their review policies is rude. To make a poorly-written pitch is stupid. But not as stupid as to publish a written work that makes a reader sorry they wasted their time.

    The main reasons bloggers refuse to accept self-published works are:
    - poor editing – typos, misspellings, poor grammar and punctuation, awkward and confusing sentences;
    - poorly constructed stories that a good editor would help to tighten or direct;
    - experiences with SP authors who reacted poorly to a bad review.

    Since no one has yet recognized my genius and offered me seven figures for the movie rights to my first novel, I have to work for a living. Recently, I spent four months unemployed, during which time I finished writing, revising, editing, and publishing two novels.

    I also did a lot of reading. Being broke, I gravitated to cheap or free works available on my Nook. At least three works that looked promising were left unfinished. Poor editing drives me nuts (I’ve been editing professionally for 25 years). Incorrect word choices jolt me out of the story. Awkward, confusing grammar makes me want to throw the book out the window. Plot choices that strain my suspension-of-disbelief make me go pour myself a drink and never pick up the book again – or anything else by that author.

    I use two critique groups and three editors. My third novel is in the hands of six beta readers, and some of the criticisms so far are brutal. I will attempt to address every one. The final step before I publish is always a read-over by an eighth-grade English teacher. I’ve spent as much time in revising and editing each of my novels as I spent writing them.

    As a result, the reviews have been far better than I would have hoped. But the poor quality I compete against in the “self-published” genre is going to be a drag for a long time. The only way I know of to overcome that is work on improving my writing while continuing to create characters readers love and stories they enjoy reading.

  13. Great post. I’m happy to review SP books and I’ve reviewed a few now – plus one unpublished novel! However I do always worry about what the quality of the writing is going to be like with a SP – I’ve seen too many bad examples.

    As you’ve already said, the pitch from the writer is important, and I will then go away and do a bit of research on the writer, their book, any previous books, and see what existing reviews I can find. If I think that I’ll like the book (exactly the same as if I was thinking of investing in a published book) I’ll agree to read it.

    Having said this of course, I don’t get inundated with requests from SP authors, so I’m in a slightly different position to you. If I started getting loads of requests, perhaps I’d have to reconsider, but I hope that I’d still always be able to consider a well-written SP.

  14. You are totally on target here, lady. Absolutely. I’m in the interesting position of juuuust finishing up editing on the 3rd draft of a manuscript, and juuuuust beginning to think about submission and efforts at publication. And there are some veeeery compelling aspects to self-pubbing! No rejection slips. No wait to hear back. No fights about the cover or the blurb. No agent. A MUCH larger profit per book sold. No lost rights to my own works. And sure, no advance, but advances are puny nowadays, right? And unless publishers think my books is TEH AWESOME, I’m gonna have to basically market it myself, right? Yeah! Screw those guys, why bother? I mean 50 Shades got ackshually and rilly published, so what the hell do those trad publishing dickbags know about quality anyway??

    Except…

    Well, a lot of things. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to try and get your work traditionally published. But at any other job, whether you are self-employed or an employee, your skills, abilities, training, competency and character are considered and reviewed by the people who pay you money. Writing is the same damn thing. It is not a skill that everybody automatically has. If you want to be paid for your work, you need to demonstrate that you are qualified to it. Outside editing is like a training process. In some cases, if you have the skills, you don’t need to pay for it – in the same way that you can get a job where you are paid for your training if you’re willing to search hard for a position that’s a good fit and manage to demonstrate a high enough level of skill going in, taking the time to search for and find a traditional publisher generally means that you will have your book edited as part of the publication process.

    Similarly, if you don’t have the requisite skills to get the job you want, you can usually pay for classes or training that will help you gain a leg up or strike out on your own – and that’s the same as paying for an edit of your book if you’re going to self-publish. But if you can’t get a job as a plumber because you don’t know shit about gaskets, you probably won’t just decide to start your own gosh-darn plumbing business and wave a wrench in people’s faces until they buy your services. And if you did, I would hope you wouldn’t be surprised when people didn’t want to hire ANY self-employed plumber after watching you spring a leak in their bathtub.

    This thoroughly mixed metaphor aside, I do have to say that expecting self-published authors to pay for editing, or blanket-preferring those who are willing to, can be a problem of its own because it means that only those who can afford to do so will rise up through the slushpile. (Not unlike the fact that there’s a huge divergence in SAT scores between income brackets – not because rich people are smarter or better students, but because they can afford to hire special SAT tutors.) Of course, what’s basically at stake here (as far as I can tell) is the fact that a lot of self-published authors want a quick route, and there is no quick route to creating a good book. A self-published book needs the same amount of patience, time, and investment that goes into going through the traditional process. If you’re going it on your own, though, without any experienced or professional voices around you, I don’t know how on earth you would determine what that amount is. I don’t think authors are the ones best qualified to make that judgement about their own work – and that extends to my own work as much as anyone else’s – any more than we’re better qualified than a mentor, teacher, or employer to know when we’ve got the skills to do a new job right by ourselves.

    • The thing about paying for editing is definitely true. It pretty much says that only people who are either already successful as writers (and earning an income that way) or who have another reasonably paying job should try for book blog reviews. To be fair, I suspect this is a large number of the self-publishers. But there’s also a lot who just can’t afford the $1000 or more required to get started with a quality book production and marketing crew. I guess the only hope for them is either massive production or going the traditional route (and there’s a lot of micro presses that will provide the book production). The money is going to be extracted from them one way or another.

      • I know it does seem unfair, but I can’t think of any other product that I wouldn’t expect some sort of quality-increasing investment in before I purchased it. If I’m going to buy a CD, for example, I expect it to be recorded with decent equipment so it sounds nice–that either means the musician needs to rent out space or buy their own equipment. If I buy a movie, I’d want it put together in a professional way, which means investing in (or renting) cameras, lighting, sound equipment, etc. A book isn’t any different for me. Some people have to hire out to get the tools they need; some can make it happen on the kindness of people that they know.. but I’ve often said here lately that by the time a book gets to me, it should be worthy of having people spend money on it, because the next thing I’m going to do is tell people whether or not I think they should read it, you know? I’m a last step in the chain before it gets purchased by someone.

        There are a lot of fundraising options for authors, too. If they want to raise money for editing, they could Kickstart their project, or look for grants to apply for (if, heh, there are any left after the funding slashes–I’d love to see the arts endowments get beefed back up). They could save their money from the time they start writing the book; small amounts add up over time, and by the time they were three or four drafts in, and ready for an editor, it might be more feasible for them. They could slim down their budget or do some freelance work to help add to their savings, or trawl garage sales and put stuff on eBay (my dad makes good money off of that). There are options–it’s hard work, but if you’re putting out a product, you should be working hard on it.

        Hubs and I are wanting to start our own business, so I understand the desire to put something out there but not having enough money to drop everything and do it. I still think if it took an author a few months, or even a couple of years, to save up money to put that investment into their book, it’s worth it if it makes a superior product that will fare better when it hits the market. And it would make self-publishing much higher quality overall if more authors did so.

        • I really love this post and the quality and courtesy of the comments. It’s very refreshing after some of the recent bickering :)

          I just self-published the Kindle edition of my novel The House of Closed Doors and am in complete agreement with you about the need to invest. I spent money on cover design, editing and formatting so that I could feel that if people didn’t like my novel, it wouldn’t be because it wasn’t produced to a professional standard. As you say, you wouldn’t expect to buy a music track that wasn’t professionally recorded!

          I’m approaching this venture like I would any business; I have money put by to launch the next book in the series as an ebook, but to produce a printed version of Book 1 I will have to wait until I have sold enough copies. Putting out the subsequent books in the series for those readers who are already engaged in the story has to be my top priority. I may at some point try Kickstarter, or I may simply look for more freelance work to earn the money to invest in my fiction business.

          So I’m in the same position as most new small business owners: I have to be patient and work hard. Part of that hard work is to find reviewers, and I know that’s going to be tough. Having a hissy fit because someone doesn’t want to read/review my book is just not part of my plan. That time and energy is better spent on writing, editing, and raising my visibility in the reading world however I can.

          None of this is easy, and nothing is going to happen quickly. Self-publishing really isn’t a fast track; if you want to do it well it’s going to take just as much time as the traditional round of contacting agents and publishers. I chose to self-publish because I wanted creative control, my own timetable and the ownership of my rights, not because I think it’s a get-rich-quick scheme.

          I applaud those few authors who have made it big with unexpected speed; they are the proof of what everyone knows about the book business, that sometimes a book will just grab readers’ imaginations and take off against all odds. For most of us, the long uphill climb will offer no shortcuts.

  15. This is a fabulously eloquent post! My main roadblock with self-published authors is mainly that they use the e-book format; however, I’m a traditional girl and I enjoy a tangible, turn-the-page-with-my-own-two-hands book.

  16. It’s part of the trade-off, no? I just put up two backlist titles and at the same time have a new release coming out with Samhain. The Samhain title, pre-release date, has a few blog notices, two reviews, etc. For that, I’ve given Samhain a larger slice of my royalties. It’s a choice one makes, in my opinion. I’ll have to work a lot harder on the self-pubbed titles to get them noticed.

  17. Pingback: Decisions, Decisions: Traditional or Self-publishing? « Living, Learning, and Loving Life

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