Sunday, November 29, 2009


There has been a lot of conversation on the net recently regarding self-pubbing, e-books and associated attitudes from various writer’s organizations. I ‘spect more than one or two independent publishers are also conversing with their counterparts on the subject. Much of it provoked by recent business moves from a long-established publishing house.

I think it’s fair to consider self-publishing print materials such as novels, short stories and non-fiction as one kind of business model. Perhaps more informal than going to an established publishing house. There are success stories and failures, just as is the case with the formal publishing of print materials. I also believe that e-publishing is simply another kind of business model. None of these models are inherently good or bad, in terms of product quality, any more than publishing with a small or independent press is good or bad.

An author who makes a rational decision to self-publish should be neither derided nor congratulated and wouldn’t be if folks on the sidelines were less emotional and more prone to pragmatism. The same should be true of decisions to publish via electronic means instead or in addition to traditional paper. Self-publishing puts a work into the realm of individual investment of time, talent and money. Publishing with a press that requires an investment of funds by the author should likewise be neither condemned nor applauded. It is the product that should count. Every year entrepreneurs come to the market place with new inventions. Most fail, some go on to fortune, if not necessarily fame. Why should it be any different for writers of books?

I don’t understand why it’s okay for a musician or a band to produce and distribute its own music via CDs or a website, but it’s not okay for an author to do the same.

If an author takes on the production of his or her work using the same or higher standards of quality in the editing and production of a given work, as the standards set by a business called “publisher,” why cannot the result be judged using the same standards? Instead, the work is largely ignored and the focus of most negative criticism falls on the decision regarding how to publish. Moreover, most of the critical comments are couched in broad terms. We read constantly, often from sources that insist they don’t read ebooks or self-pubbed work, that such work is inferior, not worth time and effort. How do these people know that? If you press them they’ll suggest that a long time ago they read an ebook, or a self-pubbed novel and it was really bad.

That kind of discrimination—which is exactly what it is—is injurious to our society.

Right now there is a kind of upheaval in several national organizations relative to policies regarding membership and association linked to the decisions regarding how a book is published. Interestingly much of the negative rhetoric is similar in nature and tone, if not identical. One could almost believe there is a small group of individuals who are dedicated to stamping out publishing business models which do not conform to “the way it has always been done.”

I don’t believe in conspiracies. Restraint of trade is a nasty way to interact with the Federal Government and can be very costly. Conspiracies to defraud are almost always found out, sooner or later.

What I really wish is that more time and energy would be spent helping authors to understand the business models that exist, their advantages and disadvantages, so that those who are unlearned in these areas could be guided away from the scam artists, the thieves and robbers who would take your money and deliver nothing. Or maybe there are and I just haven’t run across them yet. Maybe distribution is at fault. Which reminds me of an incident to illustrate my points.

As a reviewer of mystery fiction, a self-pubbed author once verbally attacked me when I read and reviewed her work but refused to submit it to the newspapers for which I was freelancing at the time. Before I read the book, I had determined that the paper would not print my review of the book because it was not available in local bookstores. That was their policy. Not set by me, but I was quickly perceived by the author to be the barrier. I was standing in the way of her success. She assumed it was my fault that the book would not receive local coverage. This author should have done some research into marketing and promotion before she elected to self-publish the novel. What local newspaper is going to devote space to any author whose books are not available in local bookstores? The answer is fairly obvious, although there are, of course, exceptions.

Authors need to learn in detail about the business model they wish to use and professional author organizations like RWA, MWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC could provide great service to authors by concentrating efforts to help their members learn what they need to know for success, instead of squabbling over whether e-books are legitimate and whether publically admitting to having self-pubbed is a death knell for a writing career.

Woe betide the author who believes e-publishing and self-publishing are simply neat ways to get around the costs of fact-checking, copy and line editing, content editing and professional cover and book design.
Most emphatically, they are not. Like it or not, authors, to be successful are in business and they need to learn some basic facts, like how to protect themselves from thieves and charlatans, and how to improve their product to help it attain recognition and success.


  1. Enjoyed reading this blog. Distribution seems to be the elephant in the room. Without timely & reliable distribution neither the self-published nor the authors published by small publishers can get their books into brick & mortar stores to compete with the large publishers. E-publishing may level the playing field as more readers purchase e-readers. But right now the cost of e-readers is prohibitive for the average reader.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  2. Hi Carl,

    I read your comments always with much interest and usually with lots of "Rah Rah" cheerleading on the sidelines.

    I wish those who read your post could change their minds and their hearts but alas, I believe the struggle will be longer and further uphill. And with some organizations seemingly adding more firepower to those who want "to do things the way they have always been done," only turning up the volume of the voices like yourself and other like-minded authors, will change prevail.

    When even places like Amazon increasingly make it more and more difficult for the self-published author or e-Books, the battle is still very one-sided.

    I can speak from the experience of having had contracts with several publishers and yet deciding to self-publish with my own imprint. Will I get reviewed in major newspapers? No. Will I get reviewed in Mystery Scene? Probably not. Does Betty Webb consider an author with their imprint as a Small Press? I wish they would add a column for self-pubbed mysteries. Lots of good ones out there.

    I can tell you that I have a very well-established editor work on my books. She is expensive but by the time she's done, I think I have a book as good as any other out there. Thank God she allows me to pay her in installments. And yet, chances are my book will get ignored and reviews slim to none.

    What can we do? Keep writing posts like this, Carl. I also have a blog that focuses on self-published authors. After all, it took a long time to put the walls up and it's going to take some time to tear those walls down. Thank you for your take on this. Wish more were as enlightened.

  3. The biggest problem self publishing has is the authors themselves and the books they produce. I rarely do self published books anymore having found the hard way that a lot of the self published authors are on the attack unless the review without question loves the book and the books they produced are of very low quality. Sure, there are rare exceptions. But, after awhile, one does get tired of dealing with the nonsense.

  4. Right now I think the brouhaha circling the net is not over what the publishing medium is, be it self, vanity, or traditional, but over the preying on those who will do anything to obtain their dream of becoming published. The various writing organizations are rightfully putting their foot down over this latest business venture of pairing a self-pub press (or whatever you'd like to call it) with a critique service owned by a traditional and respected publisher and I applaud their efforts.

    I well remember the first time I received a notice in the mail (back before the internet, advertising a critique-to-get-published venture. For only (about) $600, I could learn to be published and sell my books to NY. There were quotes from satisfied customers who went on to be published (allegedly). Since this was in the early '80s, that was big bucks. I was tempted. I had the money and thought this was the way.

    This latest venture will prey on the aspiring, eager, and uninformed writer, of which I once was. Thankfully I took the time to join writing organizations such as RWA, MWA, etc., and learned about the business before making my first sale. But prior to that, I was tempted on more than one occasion by shady "small" presses and critique services. I have friends who traveled that road, thinking it a faster way to publication. Seeing the nightmares they have gone through, I am very glad I avoided temptation.

  5. Patty, it's true,reviews by the "biggies" almost never happen for self-pubbed and authors from small or independent publishers. As a reviewer, it is my sad duty to tell you that survey after survey indicates that reviews, by anybody, are not very influential on buyers.
    So I tend, as an author, to focus more on distribution, being sure buyers for chains and stores know that my publisher does accept returns and fashioning deals that make the books attractive.

  6. Evelyn,

    I do agree that distribution can be problematic, but don't all publishers use Ingram and Baker and Taylor? POD publishers and independent authors use the same distributors. The far more insidious evil are the bookstores themselves, not the distribution. They are in bed with the big publishers, raking in money for in-store placement and such. Not until the old model of distribution among bookstores and the corporate publishers is discarded, will there be any hope for digitally-published authors and presses.

    And Carl, thank you for your frank assessment of reviews and their worth for the author. So many authors are hung up on their Amazon sales ranks. How does a book with no reviews look to the potential Amazon reader in search of the book?