Tuesday, July 15, 2014

(Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners

I'm sticking by that. Take as much offense as you want. Go on and rant. Get angry. Curse me from behind the screen. But you know what?


I've been in the writing business since 2004 and let me tell you: self-publishing was a tiny itch on the beast that is the publishing world. Over the last decade, that itch became a scratch, and that scratch, a cut, and that cut?


The year 2010 saw the start of a new era, an era where "self-published" grew from a whisper...TO A SHOUT. Before 2010, self-published books were like the underground of the literary world. Sure, Indie Authors have always been the "elite" of the DIY world. Indie bookstores, Indie festivals, Indie awards, etc etc.

But self-publishing has begun to swamp out the true meaning of Indie. Strictly in terms of writing, it's becoming increasingly difficult for someone with Indie aspirations to write a book, hire an editor (or edit themselves), and gain a reputation as an Indie author who can appear at awards ceremonies solely through the mere credit of his/her work.

And here's why.

Self-publishing, more and more, is being used as an excuse. People write a book, send it to an agent or publisher, and when they're rejected, they get angry and upload their book to an online POD. Tada! Book gets printed and sells a few copies...and the author starts laughing and bad-mouthing the traditional publishing world for not recognizing their genius talent.

Oh, so those ten 5-star reviews were all complete strangers who bought your book? You mean, you didn't give a copy to close friends and family and tell them to write reviews to make you look good? (And don't they dare give you anything less than 5-stars!!!)

Now that you have all those glamorous reviews, EVERYONE who reads your quoted tweets and Facebook posts to mass-advertising writing groups will instantly buy your book, and you'll be a best-seller by this time next week, right? RIGHT???

Let's take a step back. The whole point of this post lies in the title: (Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners.

You, reading this. Chances are you're a self-published author. In fact, I can almost guarantee it (unless this post goes viral and gets reblogged by "Writer's Digest," which is extremely unlikely). Answer a few questions:
  1. How many rounds of editing did you do?
  2. Did you submit to an agent or publisher?
  3. Why did you choose to self-publish?
  4. How many books have you sold?
  5. Are you making a living off of writing?
I put these questions in a specific order. After you write the book, you have to edit the book. And edit the book. And edit the book. And edit the book. AND EDIT THE BOOK.

Humans today are impatient creatures. Editing, for many, is boring, and those on whom editing takes its worst tolls inevitably convince themselves their writing is as good as it can get. They let the fact that they even wrote a book become their hamartia. This leads to a lack of discipline. And what is discipline good for?

Editing books, waiting for agent responses, and moving on from rejection to try again.

If you can't edit your book more than twice by yourself, there's a problem. Don't skim through and think readers will ignore technical and structural problems. They won't. Every time there's a typo, or a missing word, or a string of identically-structured sentences, readers get tossed out of the story. They WILL judge your writing based on little things you thought they'd forgive you for.

Then you submitted to an agent and got rejected. Maybe you tried again. And again. When the tenth rejection letter comes in, many people get frustrated beyond measure. "My book is genius!" many will tell themselves. "There is NOTHING wrong with my book! The agent is stupid!" others will say.

The excuses go on, and on, and on. This is where people instantly start turning to self-publishing -- and this is why self-published authors are a bunch of whiners.

Maybe this doesn't apply to you, but a vast majority of self-published books are ATROCIOUS. I've read my fair share of excerpts and full-length books from the freebies and discounts on Amazon, and let me tell you, it amazes me that anyone would let the public read such crap.

Basic grammar mistakes, dozens per chapter. Commas in all the wrong places, misspelled words, weird italicization and fonts, horrible paragraph and sentence formatting. Parentheses inserted every five words to introduce an internal thought. Chapters upon chapters upon chapters of backstory before the plot even begins. Terrible pacing, or an incomprehensible plot.

Yet what do many of these books have? 5-star reviews saying "the best new author in town!" or "promising to be the next Stephen King!" or "best book I have ever read!"

People. Please.

Then we take another look -- and what's this? A 1-star review? "Don't listen to the 5-star reviews," he warns. "They are clearly family members and friends who don't want to hurt the author's feelings. This book needs to be looked at by a professional editor, STAT."

The review has a comment...from the author himself. "How dare you accuse me of paying off my family and friends!" he argues. "Just because you're a nobody and my books are selling doesn't mean you have to spit on my success!"

Yes, that was actually based on a real response I saw from the author to a reviewer.

I've looked up some of these authors. I've read their blog posts. And you know what I've found? They all share similar stories, how they couldn't find agents (after writing two drafts and sending out six queries), so they decided to self-publish and voila! Instant author.

Now they'll go around tooting their horn, shoving their book down the throat of anyone they catch at the library or bus station. "It was a hard process," they'll say. "Every agent told me there just wasn't a market, but look! Here's the real thing, and it's got lots of 5-star reviews! You should buy it!"

These "Instant Authors" will sell 50 books in a year, and inside, they'll be boiling with rage. But when asked about sales, they'll pluck out a vague response, saying "sales are steady now," or "I'm taking some time off from writing to catch up on work."

Many will check their sales ranking every day, or read new reviews. Any reviews less than 5-stars (yes, 4-stars isn't high enough for most people) will wound them. If the person doesn't rant about good the book was, the author hates that person.

They'll never admit it, though. "What went wrong?!" they'll ask themselves as they read another bad review condemning the terrible writing.

What went wrong is that they didn't have discipline. They weren't patient enough. They were too prideful and didn't want to taint their reputation by asking for the help of a professional editor, or even a critique group. They believed a lie they themselves created.

I read so many posts today saying "traditional publishing is corrupt and ruining the industry!" But you know what? I think anyone who says that is just whining that zero of the five agents they queried picked up their half-edited manuscript and turned them into an overnight bestseller.

"Traditional publishers take all the money from the authors!" And yet those authors are still making more than you. Besides, there are employees to pay, ink to purchase, and shipping to account for. In the end, everyone makes just about the same, because the success of the company depends on the success of the authors.

"Traditional publishers don't market! It's not fair!" And....self-publishing is different? Hmm. Who's doing the marketing? That's right: YOU. And hey, at least with a traditional publisher, you might get an advance that lets you pay for that marketing, rather than being all out of pocket.

Here's the point: self-publishing, in today's society, is being used as an excuse for why you aren't famous and making millions off the book you wrote last month. Many people -- and I mean the authors -- want to see their name on the book and give it to everyone they meet on the street. Fail-proof plan. They just expect readers to fall in love with their books, not cringe and write bad reviews.

The quality of self-published books, as I said waaaaay above, is ATROCIOUS. This trend is ruining the credibility of people who actually take their time to develop their characters and plot, tighten up the story, and weed out all those little mistakes. There are a few self-published gems, but they're so difficult to find when so many others are pathetic attempts at fame and fortune without caring for the basic principles of writing.

Sure, the traditional market has its fair share of crappy books. But you can be sure that most of them are scrutinized under a microscope to fix as many errors in content, structure, and technical, before ever seeing the light of day. Some editors read the same book 500 times before it reaches stores. That's more than most authors, the people who wrote the book.

So let this be a message to anyone who blames the traditional market: stop blaming the big publishers for your problems. Stop cursing agents for rejecting you. Stop believing you wrote the best book ever. Stop, and edit your book one more time. Send out one more query. That's all it might take to get a yes.

Because if you have to tell a story, even a bad one, at least make sure it looks good. But if you don't care enough to revise your book until it's polished to a professional level, then get off your high horse and let someone with more discipline take the reins.


  1. Great post! I've thought much of this before. It really bothers me when people just suddenly decide to self-publish their book after they receive a few rejections.
    In my opinion, if you whole-heartedly believe that self publishing is the correct choice for you, you need to completely edit your work. I mean, hire a editor or even two, to look at your work. I worked with three editors through my publisher, besides all of the help I got from critique partners and my own editing. Only a rare person is able to edit their book at a professional level on their own.
    I know quite a few people who decide to self-publish "just to get themselves out there" when they are truly being counterproductive. If you self publish just to get "out there" and your book's quality is not 100%, what good will that do you? That agent or that publisher will find that book, and see the poor quality.
    I hate to see so many of my young writer friends do this. /Especially/ my young writer friends. There are some people who just aren't ready to have their book published at such a young age, and yet they think that they are. Some think that if they co-author and self publish with another young friend, it will be fine. But the same standards should still apply. It just really frustrates me.
    Okay, I think I'm done ranting now. :)

    1. Exactly. I still think the benefits of traditional far outweigh those of self-publishing. Credibility, advances, and a wider reach of market. 99% of self-published authors don't take the time to make sure their books are quality.

      We have a few really nice success stories of people who've built careers because they knew they couldn't settle for "good enough." K.M. Weiland is probably the most prominent SP author I know, and she built herself from the ground up. Her blog is fantastic, she has multiple books in the works at all times, and she gives crash courses to help writers.

      Amanda Hocking is another example. Her first check was $15, and six months later, she made $2 million. How? She edited all the books she had written, made sure they were quality, and released them. The following year, a publisher contacted HER offering to publish with an insane advance against royalty, and to this day she thrives.

      It's all about how good you're willing to make your product. Young people have it harder because of school and lack of experience and whatnot, so for them it's all a learning process.

      The market is so diluted with crap, but so many self-pubbed authors wave it off and gloat (keyword GLOAT) about how they don't need a traditional publisher, when, in reality, it would have served them much better in the long run. It shows you what kind of person they really are when they have to justify themselves by hating on traditional publishers, who actually didn't want their book because of the typos every three lines.

    2. Alex, thanks for the shout out! I appreciate your kind words. I tend to stay out of the indie/trad arguments, since, in my experience, they're nothing but firestorms. But I do agree with what you're saying here. The best thing any author can do, whichever route he takes, is keep his head down, work hard, make sure he's presenting a product *he's* proud of, and then let the chips fall where they may.

  2. This is an exceptionally fabulous post.

    1. I'm glad you think so :P and this is only the half of it!

  3. Great post! Though I'm primarily going the traditional route, I may self-publish some stories later on. Being a hybrid author seems to be the way to go these days. The reasons you've listed are why I've been a bit wary about self-publishing. I think anyone who considers it needs to really analyze why they are self-publishing. I've read a few excerpts too and numerous errors stuck out like a sore thumb which almost discourages me from finding self-pubbed stories that actually are truly good when you have to wade through so much muck. But like you said, in the end it's the work and dedication the author puts into a story that makes it a good one traditional or self-pub. I don't think either one is good or bad. Both have their bad sides as well as their good sides. They're just different routes of putting a story between two covers and getting it out there for the world to see.

    Stori Tori's Blog

  4. Excellent post. There are many who self publish because of rejection and often times the quality of the work suffers from this action. I have created an indie publishing company that has a model that I think will overcome this problem. We have a submission system in which the author submits their work (for a fee), and then they either get accepted for publication with 70% royalties, or they get comments on how to improve the manuscript. They can then make revisions and resubmit the manuscript for another round of comments or acceptance. this can be done up to three times for one submission fee. Our promise to the author of no form rejections is one we can keep with this model. In this way we hope to improve the quality of the work and make the final product great. www.cawingcrowpress.com