Self-publish and be damned… or not?

There’s lots of discussion going on about self-publishing for authors at the moment. Over at Apex Online, Maurice Broaddus talks about why he’s resisted the temptations of self-publication:

I know the temptation of going the self-publishing route. I have a novel that I’ve shopped around, but have been rejected. I believe in the book, I want to see it in print, but I won’t self-publish it. The rejections have taught me that the book isn’t ready. Self-publishing would mean that I would have a bad (at worse) or prematurely released (at best) novel on my resume.


Self-publishing if fine if you’re a hobbyist and just want to see your name in print. It’s fine if you have a small niche you wish to reach. It’s also fine if you have a guaranteed audience that you can get product to. I know a few writers with dedicated fan bases for whom it made perfect sense to self-publish a project. It’s your career choice. Do your research.

The prevailing wisdom is that self-publication is a mistake for an aspiring author, though attitudes are relaxing in some quarters as times change. Here’s Jeff VanderMeer laying out the situations in which he thinks it can be beneficial:

I self-published my first fiction collection, The Book of Frog, and also The Surgeon’s Tale & Other Tales (with Cat Rambo)–the context for each consistent with my views on self-publishing as it exists today. If you can’t get traction in the publishing world with a first collection despite having had stories in good publications, I think it’s okay to self-publish. If you’ve got books out from major publishers and you want to do a less commercial project, I think it’s okay to self-publish. That said, within five to ten years, self-publishing in general will probably lose its stigma altogether and we’ll have a situation closer to what you find in indie music.

Self-publishing’s image is tarnished primarily because it gets used as a short-cut to publication for writers who – to be nice about it – simply aren’t yet up to writing a decent book. The obvious defence to that accusation is that not all unpublished writers are bad writers, and that’s certainly true… but I know from my editing work that the overwhelming majority certainly are.

So, as Jeff points out, things will be come much like the indie music circuit: the barriers to participation and distribution will be much lower, but it’ll be no easier to sell your work to people if you’re just not writing what people want to read (or writing it very well). Perhaps that will raise the profile of reliable reviewers and critics? A medium operating under the economics of abundance has a greater need for aggregators and gatekeepers to filter the infinity of choices, after all.

Any of you lot read any good self-published books that don’t deserve the stigma? And are there any self-published authors who’d like to share their experiences?

3 thoughts on “Self-publish and be damned… or not?”

  1. Paul, I think you have this one completely right. If I may add: there is simply no shortage whatsoever of excellent writers who can’t seem to get published. However, there is also no shortage of excellent singers and musicians who can’t sell their songs and videos. This is because being excellent, all by itself, isn’t good enough in these fields. So folks, write if you must, and write with passion! But always be pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful if you succeed in selling any of your work. And don’t quit your day job.

  2. I’m not self-published but an aspiring writer with one short story published at an ezine and articles published in magazines. With respect to self-publication, two books come to mind that were originally self-published before being published the traditional way with a New York house: Lovely Bones and The Time Traveller’s Wife. These were both well written, and once their sales reached 10,000 they moved over.

    Some of the self-published books I have read need a good copy editor to go over the material to make it presentable.

  3. I actually have blogged a lot on this topic lately and did a quick post of three of my favorite self-published books here:

    Neither of those books is perfect, by a long shot. Most, with exception to The Dark Dreamweaver, could have used additional editing to prune the occasional errors, but regardless, all were good reads, in my opinion, and worth my time. I can put up with occasional spelling errors. My problem with self-publishing has always been that it requires me to do a lot of extra work to find something worth spending money on. And to be honest, I’m not willing to do that unless I already trust the author, in which case I might read an excerpt to figure out if their newest SPed book is up my alley. I like bookstores.

    I do think Vandermeer gives good advice on how to proceed with a short story collection, though. If you can’t sell a collection to even a small press (which seems very unlikely considering the number of small presses out there, but it happens), then it could potentially be a great idea to SP it. The stories are already written and edited. All you have to do is put the collection together, pay someone for some damned good cover art, format the hell out of it (or pay a professional to do it) and then get it out there. You might not sell many copies, but that’s just the way the game works in the SP world.

    I’m done rambling…

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