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Self-Publishing Misconceptions – Part Three

September 12, 2010

This is the final installments. I apologize for the lateness. Yesterday was a hellish day, and I was in bed, asleep, by 7:30pm.

Traditional publishers market books.
You might say I have no right to speak about this because I’ve never been published, but I’m not an idiot and did do research before I chose the path I’m on.

Usually, this is phrased in discussions as ‘I could never self-publish because I’d have to do all the marketing to promote my book’. The unspoken assumption there is that traditional publishing houses market for their authors. For about 95% of the traditionally published authors out there, this is not true. There’s a reason why you have to submit a marketing plan with your query letter. It’s because publishers aren’t going to do any work beyond what they must. They are counting on you to make them money.

Yes, there are certain benefits you receive by default, but by and large, a rookie or mid-list author gets buried on the shelf – if they even make it that far. A publishing company would much rather spend its very limited marketing budget pushing well-established, proven, money-making authors. Do you honestly believe Joe Schmoe will be put on a bookshelf instead of James Patterson? Many people who have gone the self-publishing route have done so because they decide that if they’re going to be doing all of the marketing work themselves anyway, they might as well be getting the lion’s share of the profits, too.

And with e-presses, the marketing you get is the built in audience of the website and maybe their newsletter. Then again, those presses put out a slew of new books each week, and so titles are quickly buried and lost. The author, once again, needs to do their own promo work. Publishing houses are all about the bottom line, and marketing is a drain on a budget that they can off-load onto the author, and if the author doesn’t sell any books, well, they’ve not lost any money.

Self-published books will never be in bookstores or libraries.
This is like saying an independent movie will never show up on the shelf in a video store. So what? What’s a video store again? Oh, you mean those places that are out of business now due to the online storefront making them obsolete? Yes, you might find one here and there, but the selection is too low and the price too high when compared to what you can find on the internet with minimum effort.

Bookstores are quickly going the same route. Book shelf space is very limited, and you get none of the benefits that you do by shopping online (meaning reviews, excerpts, bundles, discounts, etc.). This also assumes every self-published book is mainstream and appropriate to be shelves in bookstores and libraries. It also assumes that it is the goal of every self-published author to be in those places. Yes, print sales still do account for 90% of the books sold, but do you truly believe that’s all bought in bookstores? Hell no!

A book that is a $15.00 trade paperback at Borders brick and mortar will cost me $10.20 at Amazon. If I spend over $25.00 with Amazon, I also don’t pay a cent in shipping! So even that can’t be use as a benefit to the bookstore (though, that benefit would be lessened by the fact I have to spend gas to drive to the bookstore—which is on the OTHER SIDE OF TOWN for me—in an economic climate where gas is $2.63 a gallon).

And with the advent of the affordable e-reader, you can even have that instant gratification of having a book in your hands right that second, and for a fraction of the cost. Existence on a shelf in a bookstore is simply not the end-all-be-all of publishing for every author. Not anymore.

With all the available e-presses, there’s no reason to self-publish.
It’s true that there are a growing number of small e-presses cropping up, and they are giving lots of people who might not otherwise have a chance to be published a way to see their books made available for sale. However, many of the same issues with traditional publishing houses still exist here – primarily the fact that these presses still expect the authors to do their own marketing and promotion.

There is also the simple fact that most e-presses are just that. They either do not offer print versions at all, or only offer them for a select few of their releases. So, for any author with aspirations of print sales, the e-press is not a viable option.

Also, by contracting with an e-press, an author is subjecting themselves to that company’s business model. For instance, some e-presses will hold onto rights for a decade all the way up to the lifetime of the copyright, depending on which company you sign with. If they decide to take your work out of rotation, there’s very little you can do about it. Further, it seems that every other month or so, there is a major kerfluffle centering on one of these presses not paying royalties, mistreating their authors, or otherwise engaging in somewhat shady practices. These sorts of things do not inspire high levels of confidence in a lot of people.

There are plenty of reasons why people choose to self-publish, and they cannot be boiled down to a few trite generalizations and assumptions made by people with an already established bias against that particular publishing format. They vary as much as the reasons why other people choose to submit to traditional houses, and are, frankly, nobody’s business.


The simple fact is, there’s virtually no argument that can be made against self-publishing that can’t be made against traditional publishing in some form. People are different, and people have different goals. While traditional publishing is the dream of many, it isn’t the dream for all of us. I don’t want to hand my rights over to anyone else. I don’t want the control of my cover art or my editing decisions or my print duration to be taken out of my hands because someone wants to make money for themselves off of my work and maybe throw me a few cents a book here and there. No, thank you, I’ll pass on that.

By self-publishing, I know that my success or failure depends on me and me alone. To me, that is important. Other people have other goals, and that’s wonderful. For them, there are other paths they can take. Traditional publishing, in my eyes, is no better or worse than self-publishing. It has its merits and its drawbacks… just like everything in life. It is simply not acceptable for those who have read none or very few self-published books to condemn the entire process as a failure based on a tiny fraction of their personal experience mixed with a healthy dose of confirmation bias.

Is self-publishing for everyone? No. Is traditional publishing or e-publishing the only options to being an author? Not at all. Will the bias against self-published material eventually disappear? For the most part, I think it will as the state of the industry continues to shift and grow. But don’t condemn me as some two-bit hack with dreams of grandeur just because you read a badly self-published book once.

Read my book, and then tell me I suck, please. 😉

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2010 1:20 pm

    >>You might say I have no right to speak about this because I’ve never been published<<

    I_have_ been published by traditional publishers, large (Doubleday) and small (you never heard of them). One thing they had in common was that I didn't like the books and I didn't like the income.

    In 2008 I formed Silver Sands Books to publish one book. Book #10 should be on sale in a few days. I won't say I'd turn down a million-buck advance, but assuming that won't happen, I'm much happier with the control, freedom, quality, income and speed of self-publishing.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Independent Self-Publishers Alliance,
    — "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don't be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"
    — "Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company,"
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"

  2. September 13, 2010 3:47 pm

    If I were ever offered a million dollar deal, I’m pretty sure I’d take it as well, but… honestly… those don’t happen but to a select few, and I’m not going to hang my hopes on a system that’s built around paying the author as little as humanly possible. 🙂

    Self-publishing is rewarding, and I know none of my books will ever go out of print or have their rights sat on by a publisher who just doesn’t have much interest in making me a success. I’d rather put my effort and time towards making myself a success, and I’d like to reap the rewards of that, not be given a small handout after everyone else takes their share.

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