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What’s your take on self-publishing?

Aside from outlines, I don’t believe there’s any subject more likely to spark a ‘spirited’ debate between writers than that of self-publishing.   Personally, it’s not something I’d choose to do myself, but I can understand why some folks decide to take that route.
In all the discussion about whether self-pubbed novels are the public’s chance to read books that haven’t been vetted by ‘The man’ or just vanity printings from wannabe authors who aren’t good enough to make it the traditional way, we rarely hear things from the point of view of the most important person in the equation ie: the reader.
If you’ve got a minute, I’d appreciate your opinion/input on the following poll, but I’d like you to answer them from a reader's point of view, rather than that of a writer: 

Have you ever knowingly read a self-published book by someone who wasn’t a friend or acquaintance?


If I handed you a book (by a writer you’d not heard of, in a genre that you enjoyed), then told you it was self-published, how would that affect your level of interest/anticipation?

My level of interest/expectation would be higher.
My level of interest/expectation would be lower.
I wouldn’t care one way or the other.

As a reader, would you prefer to know whether or not a book is self-published before making a decision to purchase?

I wouldn’t care one way or the other.

As a reader, what editing quality do you expect from a self-published novel?

I assume it will have gone through the same editing process as a regular published book.
I think it will have had some editing, but nowhere near as much as that of a regular published novel.
I don’t expect it’s had much more non-author input than a spelling/format check.
I don’t care about editing quality when making my decision about buying a novel.

As always, everyone’s comments are welcome, but I’m particularly interested in hearing from folks who’ve self-published a book, or have ever considered doing so. 
I’d love to know which factors you took into account when making your decision, how you found the process, and what, if anything, you’d do differently if you had the chance to go back and do it again.  

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( 149 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 20th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Have you ever knowingly read a self-published book by someone who wasn’t a friend or acquaintance?

I wouldn't even read a self-published fiction book by a friend. The difference with a friend would be that I'd tell them, "What were you thinking? This will hurt you chances that a legit publisher/agent will even touch you!" Tough love.

Edited at 2010-02-20 03:26 pm (UTC)
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
You're braver/ more honest than I am!
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
Because the first question said "book" rather than "novel", I answered yes, but the book I bought was non-fiction.

As to self-publishing, I think that it can work well for non-fiction, especially if there is a clearly defined but possibly niche market. For example, a local history or a book of local walks/legends or similar.

With regard to fiction, there are certain situations where I think it works but that many people who go the self-published route are seriously misguided.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
You make an an excellent point about non-fiction - I'd include comic books and possibly juvenile picture books in there too.

Thanks for sharing.

PS: I love that icon :)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
You mention LuLu, and I do know a few people who've had books bound with them - but there, I think, you're getting into a difference between 'self-published' and 'vanity press'. The former being those who are trying to mainstream sell a book, the latter being for people who just want a few really nice copies of something (like a family cookbook) to keep/give to relatives. I do know people who've used (and been very happy) with vanity presses for that reason. But there you're just paying them for a service (printing and binding), not really 'publishing'.

Edited to add: I completely agree with everything you said about self-publishing houses being con artists, trying to fleece people out of their money. Very good point to bring up!

Edited at 2010-02-20 03:41 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 20th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
I had a hard time with the last one, because, frankly, the level of editing on 'properly' published books has been crap lately. I read a new novel by a best-selling author last year that had many, many glaring problems - from typos to wrong words to format/punctuation issues.

In the second question, it's not my interest that would be lower (my interest is set based on the synopsis), but I admit it would lower my expectations (which could be a good thing, I could be pleasantly surprised).
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
GUD doesn't accept self-pub for review, but I've read small-press-published pieces that were only a notch above (or not even) the stereotypical self-pub, for review. *twitch*

As for the editing level on 'properly' published books (and here I'm using the scare quotes to mean big-press-published), ... I've noticed a decline, too, but it really doesn't compare.
(no subject) - smeddley - Feb. 20th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kaolinfire - Feb. 20th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
Self-publishing niche nonfiction can make sense.

Fiction, not so much. You can't even get it in the bookstores if you self-publish.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
I think you might have a hard time getting it into a library too (though your local branch might take it).
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
I agree with this wholeheartedly about webcomics.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rowyn - Feb. 21st, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
I read a self-published book by a friend-of-a-friend, not a friend. It was a novel, yes, and it was dreadful. I mean, poorly written, no editing at all... In short, everything that comes to mind when you think, "Self-Published."
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
I've only read one, Dream Dancing, by J.J.Lair (http://www.amazon.com/Dream-Dancing-J-Lair/dp/0595412084).

I quite liked it, though I think it's an atypical example, because Jim had it professionaly edited.
(no subject) - jjschwabach - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 20th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
A friend went that route recently--getting books that were out of print back onto the market. As I see it, that's separate from self-publishing; more like self-re-printing, or something along those lines. :)
(no subject) - garyfrank - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Feb. 20th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 20th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
I feel bad for those who self-publish a well-written, well-edited book. It must be an uphill struggle, trying to make folks distinguish their novel from the more common 'Run spell check and print' works.
Well... - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Well... - garyfrank - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Well... - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - garyfrank - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
I don't think I've ever knowingly read a novel that was self published that wasn't by a friend. A book that had huge influence on me, though, that I read when I was 12, turned out to have been written by a 12-year-old and published by her indulgent publisher father (this was back in the 1920s). So I guess that sort of counts?

In general, I think my opinion is the same as heleninwales.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Published at age 12. I bet that felt incredible for the author - especially since it must have been quite good for you to enjoyed it enough to remmember after all this time.

I wonder if she kept writing.
(no subject) - asakiyume - Feb. 20th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 20th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Self-publishing is a good way to ruin your career. I know people who do it think it's legitimate. But there are also people who believe in talking snakes and UFOs.

Feb. 20th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I think a lot depends on your track record (and whether or not you have one).

For example, if Stephen King or any other household name self-published, I don't think it would damage their career. I wonder if thosee folks ever blogged about whther or not they've considered going down that route.

As for there being no such thing as talking snakes, puh-lease! Have you not read Harry Potter? :P
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
As a reviewer: I have read many hundreds of books. You know that "filter process" the big publishers brag about? It's mostly in their heads. I have seen ghastly regurgitated tripe get published; I have seen even big houses who should know better put out books full of typos. What the publishers is skim the slush pile for stuff they like and think will sell. Some of this is good stuff; much of it is crap. They somewhat improve your chances of finding good books if you like what they like. If you do not, your favorite book is probably in their circular file.

So, yay for self-publishing. Yay for e-books, even though I rarely read them because they're hard on my eyes. Yay for crowdfunding. Yay for small presses. Yay for any business model that broadens what is available to the audience.

As a reviewer, if you hand me a book, I will look at it. If I'm busy, dear author, you have about 10 seconds to hook me. Usually you have a minute. If your book falls out of an envelope into my lap while my partner's running errands, you may have 20 minutes.

I don't explicitly care whether a book is self-published or not. I'm aware that there is more slush in self-published books than conventionally published books, which lowers my expectations a bit, but I know that there are good and bad books in both areas. I'm looking for quality. Since I have read actual slush piles of unpublished manuscripts, the presence of bad writing does not dissuade me. By all means, release whatever writers want to release. Reviewers and readers will pick out the good stuff eventually.

As a reader: I like gatekeepers who flag good stuff better than gatekeepers who block access to almost everything and only allow a few things through. Publish liberally, distribute widely, read critically, buy thoughtfully. Much excellent material will never get through the conventional channels, and since I would like to read that stuff -- having glimpsed some of it through other channels -- I wish that it will become more widely available. So, yay to all the stuff I already said yay to.

Feb. 20th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Thoughts
As a writer: Publishers make money by controlling the bottleneck between writers and readers. They can be very useful to building a career, if they like what you write. If they don't, they can prevent you from having any career at all. That sucks, because it's not about quality -- it's about marketability. Sometimes public taste is cheesy and awful, so that what sells has no literary merit. Sometimes the great stuff has a narrower market than publishers want to bother with, allowing it to get lost, which is a shame.

It is not true that all self-published writing is bad. It is not true that only good writing gets published. It is all about the money for most of the publishing industry. There are still a few people who are in it for the love of words, but they get laughed at and picked on and frequently go broke. Balancing literary merit and marketability can be very hard.

Then too, publishers often mistreat writers. Publishers must therefore attempt to defend their position as the only game in town, because if there are accessible alternatives, writers will try those after a bad experience with conventional publishing. So the publishers attack the alternatives by exaggeration and personal put-downs: "All self-published books are crap," "Only bad writers self-publish," etc. These are self-serving but very effective lies. A free market depends on viable alternatives, so if you don't like what one company offers, you can shop elsewhere.

So, yay again for the alternatives. You want to publish your own writing, go right ahead. Good luck to you. Please hire a competent editor so you don't make your readers' eyeballs itch. But don't be dissuaded by the false claims that self-publishing makes you a bad writer. It doesn't. Your quality is up to you and your hired help. Some of the best writing I own, out of a collection over 10,000 books, has been self-published and I am deeply glad those authors took that route because no conventional publisher would ever touch fiction that far from the beaten path.

Which ones? Currently available examples:

I'm currently planning to experiment with self-publishing. I've sold a nonfiction book and some other stuff on the conventional market, but evidence suggests that I might make more money handselling to my fans. I already do with poetry.

As someone who has considered publishing: Sure, go ahead and self-publish your books. You and the folks who enjoy shucking oysters for pearls will have fun finding each other. No reason you-all should go unsatisfied. Meanwhile, I'll shuck these oysters in this slush pile here, and publish the pearls for people who prefer their books pre-sorted for quality. You and I won't be competing all so much. I'll be competing with those conventional publishers over there, and we'll see who does a better job of finding readers that like the same books.

Some people like the publishing industry the way it is. Some don't, and want alternatives. The alternatives should be there for anyone who does want them. Every business model and publishing path, including the conventional one, has its own pros and cons. Study them. Pick the one(s) most likely to meet your needs. If you've done your homework and done a good job, and people are still yapping, ignore them.
Re: Thoughts - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thoughts - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thoughts - jongibbs - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thoughts - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thoughts - alycewilson - Feb. 20th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thoughts - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
The self published book I read came from an immensely energetic guy who self published his quartet AND marketed it vigorously. It was picked up and published by a leading conventional publisher. The only difference I could see between the two editions was that the 'professional' cover was significantly better - not that his self published covers would have looked out of place on any number of conventionally published books.

The book wasn't my cup of tea, but sold well enough for the publisher to take his second quartet. He remains an energetic self publicist.

Self publishing - in printed form - is not an avenue I'm looking to explore, whether as writer or reader.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Sadly, I suspect that for every self-pubbed success story, their are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of folks who never come close to recouping their investment.

Thanks for the input, Martyn :)
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
I was actually having this conversation with my sister this morning. IMO, those who might seriously consider self-publication as an option are non-fiction writers and children's (picture book) writers. In the former, it's a good option for someone who lectures or attends/participates in conventions specific to their subject matter. For the latter--it's probably THE hardest category to break into. My sister, for example, has a lovely children's book that a friend illustrated for her. She teaches kindergarten now, but was a 1st grade teacher for ages. She's been reading this book to kids for about 13 years. Former students come back years later and mention it to her. For HER, self publishing would be great. She could sell them at the school book fair, in local libraries. She'll never be famous, but she'll get what she REALLY wants, her books into kids' hands--even if they're just her students.

Self publishing is never going to make anyone famous--well, maybe that lightning strike--but it's an option.

As a reader, I'm obliged to read a self-published memoir (sigh) this month for book club. I've scanned it, and while the writing seems good enough, it could use a hefty edit. NO AUTHOR should be the sole editor on her/his book!!! No exceptions. EVER. That said, should you, Jon (or someone else I trusted,) hand me a self-published book and say, "It's good! I think you'll like it." I would read it as enthusiastically as a traditionally published book.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
Hehe, I'm honored that you'd consider me a worthy slush reader ;)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Feb. 20th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
*laugh* - ysabetwordsmith - Feb. 20th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: *laugh* - bogwitch64 - Feb. 21st, 2010 02:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
I've run across a few author published works and all of them were in dire need of editing by somebody besides the author. Good editing is pricy, I know, but if you want to self publish your book, please please spend the money for editing.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
Of course, the question then becomes, who do you pay to edit your novel?
(no subject) - kaolinfire - Feb. 20th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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