Saturday, 26 August 2017

Are Self-Published Writers 'Inferior'?

Cover 'proof' of new book

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, as you do when you are supposed to be working, I came across a blog post written by an 'anonymous' independent bookshop owner, in which he listed all the reasons why neither he, nor any of his profession would contemplate stocking self-published books.

His argument was that far too many self-published writers produce amateur and inferior books, and then have the cool arrogance to think, my God, that he is going to place their shabbily presented and badly-written volumes on his hallowed shelves! Quel horreur! (He made an exception for non-fiction books, which, he opined, were produced to a higher standard).The tone was snarky, the points generic, so I took one for the team, and responded in the comments column.

Scarcely had I crossed the i's and dotted the t's on my comments, when a friend on Twitter informed me that her husband was unable to order any of my books in their local independent bookshop, despite them having an ISBN, because I am not listed by Neilsons, or offered by Bertrams, Gardiners or other suppliers. Nor can I be, as I use Createspace (the publishing arm of Amazon) to produce my books. More horreur!

The attitude whereby self-published books are viewed by suppliers and bookshops as inferior, needs challenging. Contrary to Mr Anonymous' assertions of amateurism, many of us employ professional editors and proofreaders to check our manuscripts. We also shell out for bespoke covers, working for weeks with designers, to produce the very best and most eye-catching ones that we can. You may well find the odd typo in our work, but hey, I have found them in many a mainstream-published book too, (certainly in my own books, when I was published by a 'big name').

Now, I could, as a 'publisher' (see spine above) try to kick down the door, and get the Victorian Detectives into my local Waterstones, or one of the independent bookshops in the area, but frankly, m'dear, I can no longer be bothered. Waterstones' latest policy means that all books like mine have to be submitted to their HQ for approval, and I refuse to be treated like some kid who is handing in homework to be marked.

Even if I got an A on said homework, there is still the 'discount' hurdle to overcome. Bookshops expect publishers to offer them a 45% discount. It covers premises, overheads, staff etc etc. Fair enough. Large publishers can do this, taking a hit on some writers, while making big profits on novels by celeb writers, or hyped unknowns whose readability often seems in reverse ratio to their publicity. Subtract the discount from what a writer is paid in royalties, and factor in the sale or return policy most shops operate, and the faff of the paperwork, you end up with so little for your time and effort that it seriously isn't worth it.

Therefore, until Mr Anonymous independent book shop owner changes his mindset, and others their methodology, I am going to stay exactly where I am, mistress of my own little book and ebook empire, and enjoy the company of hundreds of other self-published writers, whose books are as professional, as well-written, and just as worth reading as many that you will find piled high in your local bookshop. What's not to like?

So what is your opinion? Are 'bookshop' stocked writers 'better'? Have you struggled to get your books into local shops? Please share your views and experiences ....


























17 comments:

  1. I'm only a reader. And a book is a book. Self published or mainstream. No difference. Typos you can find in both. Editors are human beings too. No one's perfect. And if the independent book store doesn't want to sell your book. His/her fault. No one can force him but his/her clients. Btw, love the covers.

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  2. It seems to me a very 'old fashioned' view of self-publishing. It may have been true ten years ago, but professional editing, proof reading, covers, seem to be the norm these days. And you're right about the typos and editing oversights in trad published books - I'm published (at the moment) by one of the big six publishers and have had plenty. What attracts me most about self-publishing is the control an author has over all aspects of his or her work. I reckon that's worth not making it onto a few bookshop shelves.

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    1. Certainly is ...especially as regards ebooks...Amazon gives one 70% of the price (at a certain level) AND let's you play around with the analytics!

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  3. Thankfully my response nowadays is to laugh at those people who have a single view of independent books, and move on. There's a range, from the amateur and hobby (which is fine, but not aimed at matching trade-published), up to the professional which matches or exceeds trade-published books. Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey, Andy Weird et al. Blinkered views only equate independent as the worst. The term independent itself is confusing, since the best books are _managed_ independently, but actually involve a whole team - I work with cover designers, literary editors, proofreaders, interior designers, distributors and so on. Exactly the same as trade-published, but with more control over the whole artistic vision, and more royalties. It may be small potatoes to some (since I know independent authors making over £40,000 a year), but professional indie authors can earn more than trade-published if the books are good enough. That's the thing - the books still have to be good. I've been (temporarily!) at number 1 in an Amazon category, and been up for big awards, and recently sold over 1,500 copies of a book in a week. After that I see old-fashioned views from some people and if doesn't affect me at all. I feel like patting them on the head and saying "Yes, I'm sure you're right."

    I wrote a bit more about indie publishing here: http://www.karldrinkwater.uk/2016/05/a-world-of-writers-and-readers.html

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  4. I'm right beside you on the indie-writers barricade!

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  5. The most frustrating thing for me as a self-published author is the fact that there are far too many awful self-published books out there which clearly haven't seen an editor or proofreader and the author's three year old did the cover and the formatting! Like it or not, this impacts the rest of us (unfairly of course) who pay a lot of money for editing and cover design but I can see why some take the attitude they do. The price of free speech and the digital era, I suppose, is no regulation; the flipside being that the 'non-commercial' fiction in the eyes of publishing houses gets out there and has a chance. The bad books are usually easy to spot so it is more down to laziness on the part of bookshop owners about stocking self-published books. In Ireland you are also competing with publishing houses that pay to have their books front of shop, etc. Making a living from writing is extremely difficult and I am in the lucky position of not having to depend on it to put a roof over my head. My work isn't in book shops either and frankly everytime I look into it, I come to the same conclusion - it's not worth the hassle (or the pittance paid). It will be interesting to see how the industry develops in the next few years. PS: love the new covers Carol.

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    1. You can only make a living from writing, Pam, if you are the tiny end that gets 'discovered' or or sells via word of mouth. And there are drawbacks to both states ~ in the amount of intrusion into your personal life that follows. It's a dictotomy: writers are generally shy, loners.We do it because we love writing. That's it.

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  6. One of my favourite authors is self published on most of her books. I find her quality very high ranked up there with the greats.

    Time I read what I like and if I happen to like an author i will hibt down books online to buy.

    It is very short sighted to dismiss these wonderful authors.

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    1. An awful lot of ''classic'' writers from the past self-published! We forget this!

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  7. Answering as a reader. Before I got my kindle I relied on my local Waterstones and I spent most of my time rereading the books I love, because there were so few stories there that appealed. Now I buy far more books, many of them indie. I have found books I love and books I really can't be bothered with from both indie and trad publishers and I don't discriminate on publishing method when I buy. Things are changing and the people who rely on the old system will always fight back. But change will come anyway.

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    1. Thanks Martha! The snobbery seems to emanate from certain 'BIG' names in the book world, who clearly feel threatened, and people like Mr Anonymous ...who I suppose is also being jogged out of his comfort zone by pesky writers!

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  8. I'm so with you on this, Carol! As for the big name publishers, I've read books where whole parts of sentences are missing, let alone the odd preposition, and with real spelling errors, not just typos (and not UK/US differences either), so if that's the standard they accept, then that's not a valid argument to refuse indie authors!

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  9. Love this post and the comments! For whatever reason, there are still industry professionals out there who believe there is only one way to publish a book and that eBooks don't count. It can get really tiring and fair play to you for taking one for the team! I think self-publishing is the best way to learn this business and often find that indie authors are much more savvy about what is involved in writing and producing a good book. We've all seen traditionally published books of poor quality, yet they're not barred from bookshops. Like other people have said, it's lazy, old fashioned and uninformed. (Love your new covers btw)

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  10. Hi Carol. Interesting post - as always. I just want to share my own experience - might be of use to someone.

    I visited Waterstones in Cambridge last year and spoke to the person in charge of ordering books. She was charming and very approachable, spending time explaining how things worked and showing me the latest books on display, one of which was by an independent author (unfortunately, I can't remember the title/author, sorry). It was selling well.

    She looked up one of my books there and then, read some of the sample chapters on Amazon and said she'd be happy to receive a copy (I live in France and it was a flying visit, so I offered to put one in the post). Then she asked where it was listed. I publish with Createspace, just as you do. She explained that it would be impossible to order copies and suggested that I publish through the Arts Council funded FeedARead.com, as they, and most other UK book shops deal with them. As it happens, I'd already used FeedARead to publish the first edition of Bunny on a Bike. I loved the quality of the paper (the colour is perfect and it's silky smooth - my Createspace edition, although excellent, isn't quite as good). The problem is, you guessed it, FeedARead charges to publish and also to make file changes. In addition, there is an annual subscription charge per book. It's all quite reasonable, but can mount up and make the whole venture expensive.

    I'm afraid that Amazon and the larger book shops have come to an impasse - that's the real problem. Whether it's a matter of quality or discounts, until they agree I'll have to stick with Createspace and forego the chance to see my book sitting on Waterstones' shelves. That said - I love what I do and, like you, Carol, I think that's the most important thing.

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    1. Thanks Bev ..yes, I wondered about Lightening Source...a printer ...but similar. We get so little profit on books ( as opposed to e-books) that it isn't worth it, as you said. Shame.

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