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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Self-Publishing: A Clarification (for those who don't know)

Apparently I've raised a tiny bit of a stink over self-publishing based on what I said here, particularly with folks who apparently are not familiar with my full position on self-publishing, which had no purpose being reiterated in that post. So, to make things more clear on my position, I give you this list of points:
  • Self-publishing is not the same as traditional publishing.
  • Self-publishing does not deserve unearned respect. Why? Because anybody can self-publish, and for free these days. You wouldn't give unnecessary respect to someone who ate a carrot, would you? That's essentially what is being asked of folks like me, that we should respect the process unconditionally, when there is no difficulty in said process. Self-published authors must earn the respect, and that often means through persistence and hard work; even then, there's no guarantee.
  • Most self-published novels are crap. That's reality, not just a talking point. You can cite a dozen novels that are exceptions, but that still does not change the fact that the vast majority of self-published novels are not worth the paper they are printed on.
  • When I say that they are crap, I am specifically talking about the quality of the writing: typos, grammar, style, etc. One could argue endlessly about the merits of plot or character, but when it comes to the quality of the writing itself, there are few, if any, arguments. Crappy writing is crappy writing.
  • Self-publishing is not legitimate. If it were, then you would be able to cite authors who have been successful doing it. But there are basically none. No, Paolini, Scalzi, and the handful of others you could cite do not count primarily because they didn't become successful, bestselling authors due to self-publishing, but due to being picked up by legitimate presses, which put them in bookstores. There are no bestselling self-published authors, only bestselling former self-published authors. If the form were legitimate, said folks would still be doing it, because why would you bother working with a traditional publisher if you could be just as successful by yourself?
  • Self-publishing will not be legitimate until such time as a filtering system can be put in to weed out the overwhelming majority of garbage. To expect the consumer to figure this out on their own is not only rude, but unacceptable. The consumer expects a certain level of quality in a published work and self-publishing, unfortunately, has not met that demand and won't until someone can figure out how to make it clear which self-published books are worth spending money on.
  • Telling the consumer to read excerpts to figure out if a self-published book is worth buying is essentially asking the consumer to go out of their way for you. The consumer is not your bitch. Their time is equivalent to money, except that they cannot earn it back. This is another reason why self-publishing is not a successful endeavor for the vast majority of would-be authors: because the consumer has no desire to take gambles or waste their time reading excerpts to figure out if a book is worth their hard-earned dollars when they can just hop on over to Borders and find a book printed by a legitimate press that they know will at least be of a certain written quality. The following are the only reasonable demands to make on a consumer:
    • To look at the price.
    • To look at the cover.
    • To read the dust jacket or the back of the book.
    • To glance inside to see if the writing is in a tense that the consumer likes to read.
  • Self-publishing is not an escape from an evil corporate publishing scheme, because traditional publishing is not an evil corporate publishing scheme. These sorts of untruths are the kinds of things spoken by bitter writers who couldn't hack it, for various reasons. Vanity presses are evil corporate schemes, and any press that asks you, the author, to pay for the honor of being printed is an evil corporate scheme, even if you're paying for something as simple as distribution or an ISBN. The reality is, if traditional publishing were such an evil thing, some of the most successful authors in history would not be published through them. After all, writers like Stephen King should just as easily be able to make a living publishing their own work rather than dealing with a traditional press, right? The problem is that people who are against traditional publishing are either delusional or sucked into a self-publishing trap and perpetuate the lies shoved onto the traditional platform. These people do a disservice to self-publishing as a whole by misrepresenting what it actually entails and by ignoring and even lying about what traditional publishing offers.
  • There are some excellent self-published novels. But one great self-published novel does not make up for an overwhelming supply of filth and wasted paper. With tens of thousands of self-published books being thrust on the public, most of them horrendous, you cannot possibly expect the consumer or anyone to wade through to find the good stuff. When I say good, I don't mean excellent or superb, just good, as in entertaining (gets the job done). This is really the only reasonable expectation by the consumer.
  • I do not begrudge anyone who self-publishes. I wish them all the success in the world, but that does not mean that I am not going to point out a harsh reality. You should know what you are getting yourself into when you self-publish.
  • I will begrudge those who lie and are deceptive about self-publishing. In particular I am thinking about people who create "presses" in order to publish their own work. This gives the consumer the impression that a work is legitimate, but what it actually does is confirm everything I've said here: that self-publishing is not legitimate, that it has a stigma attached to it that is not unreasonable, and that said author is much more willing to manipulate and deceive the consumer rather than let his or her work stand on its own merits.
  • Print-on-demand is not a self-publishing model, but a method of printing. It is used by both traditional presses and self-publishing firms. I do not agree with lobbing all POD presses into the same self-publishing bag, because it's not a fair association.
Yes, I acknowledge that some of my harshness in regards to self-publishing is the result of some particularly terrible experiences with self-published novels, but that does not remove the fact that self-publishing is a troublesome endeavor. You can get upset with me all you want, but this is only upsetting because it's reality, and one which is not at all favorable to the self-publishing scheme. If you want to self-publish, be aware of what you will face. There is a wall against it because it has earned itself a black mark in the consumer world. To fight that wall, you'll have to not only assure the consumer that your work is of exceptional quality, but also fight tooth and nail through a forest of spikes and thorns to get on top. And even then, if you make it after fighting and fighting and fighting, you still might fail miserably, wasting your hard-earned dollars on an endeavor that will go nowhere (or not wasting it, if you prefer to think that way).

Reality bites, but it doesn't go away no matter how much you don't like it.

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73 comments:

  1. I've been writing professionally for over 30 years. I've had books published my major traditional publishers (Doubleday) and small traditional publishers.

    I was not happy with the finished books, the time-to-market, or the income.

    A year ago I formed my own publishing company. I much prefer the complete control, the speed, and the income; and it's highly unlikely I will ever go back to the old way.

    Judging by the huge number of unsuccessful titles on the buck-a-book table that were produced by big-name traditional publishers, and the poor quality of some traditional books (inadequate fact checking, typos, choice of too-tiny type, dumb cover concepts), readers can't assume that a well-known brand name on a book means that it's a good book.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.MichaelsWriting.com

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  2. This is so harsh as to not even be worth a comment, but I'll just say, the idea that the majority of self-published books is crap is old and graying conventional wisdom. Tens of thousands of books are self-published every year, so to be able to claim "they're crap" is a bit, I don't know, omnipotent. You couldn't possibly know that unless you read the entire output. You say that one great self-published book doesn't make up for all the bad ones. But a few bad self-published books does not bring down the entire system either.

    Granted, there are poor-quality self-published books - of a quality that wouldn't be released traditionally (typos) - but this is an old stigma that is fading due to it being so much more difficult to publish traditionally these days - not just because writers can't "hack it." Traditional publishers are out of money.

    Finally, self-publishing is free expression - anyone can do it. One of your criticisms about self-publishing is actually one of its advantages. The better self-published books have a better chance of being discovered, the truly bad ones are not very good and so won't make much of an impact either way. But each type of writer should most definitely have the option because the alternative is a kind of censorship.

    All right, I commented, couldn't help myself.

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  3. Michael: Buck-a-book tables are not indicative of a bad book, nor are they indicative of a poorly selling book. They usually point to tow issues. 1. There are too many books published each year (over 200,000 by traditional means) for people to buy, so some books simply won't sell, no matter how good they are. 2. The publisher or bookseller is trying to get rid of extra books to clear up space for new inventory.

    And again, when I say "good" I am not referring to discussions of plot or character, because we could argue about what constitutes "good" in that department all day. People have different opinions when it comes to those things, so it's subjective. But the quality of the writing is another thing entirely. Typos in traditional publishing are rare.

    In any case, good luck to you.

    Henry: It's not old and graying conventional wisdom and it's based on deductive reasoning. It's called statistics, which is how we get polling numbers, etc. Based on that and the number of self-published books that have been utter drivel that I have tried to read or come in contact with through other means, I can safely say that the vast majority are drivel.

    The problem isn't so much that the majority of books are bad, it's that finding the good ones becomes impossible because of that overwhelming majority. There may in fact be some fantastic, amazing self-published books, but how am I supposed to find them without having to work my butt off as a consumer?

    So, your argument is that you should self-publish because getting traditionally published is hard? Does that mean self-publishing is equivalent to giving up? That is pretty much the definition of being unable to hack it.

    Of course self-publishing is free expression. That doesn't mean it's good, but you're welcome to do it all you want. I disagree that good self-published books have a better chance of being discovered particularly because the industry has a logical stigma attached to it.

    Again, I don't begrudge anyone who chooses to self-publish, but people that do have got to face the harsh reality that it is not going to be a picnic, that people avoid it like the plague for a reason, and that you're going to have to work even harder to get yourself noticed and respected. You don't get respect just by doing it precisely because anyone can do it.

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  4. "But how am I supposed to find them without having to work my butt off as a consumer?"

    I don't know: the Internet? Read some reviews. The vast majority of ALL books is drivel. Seriously. Twilight is drivel.

    Self-publishing isn't the equivalent of giving up. The gatekeepers of mainstream publishing are profoundly myopic. I could spend time to find a small press, but I like the idea of being part of a new movement in publishing. Self-published books are getting better - they just are. There are a lot more highly talented writers using the medium and a lot of what you're saying seems like leftovers from ten years ago.

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  5. Henry: Self-publishing isn't new. It's been around for decades. It just has new technology to help it along its way, but the concept is not at all new.

    Twilight is drivel to you, but to a majority of readers it is not. Here we're talking about personal preference rather than any discussion of actual quality. Quality is subjective up to a point, but typos and generally grammatically terrible writing are not staples of traditional publishing.

    If self-publishing truly were getting better, then we'd see it make headway in the consumer market. Since it hasn't and isn't I don't think what I'm saying here is at all a leftover, because reality shows that the consumer still prefers a certain level of guarantee.

    And no, I'm not going to do work for a self-published author to find out if the book is worth the paper it's printed on. That's absurd to demand of the consumer to have to do any work for you. The consumer is not your bitch. And the Internet is sometimes difficult to find honest reviews when it comes to self-published novels. I've seen the authors themselves leave 5 star reviews, not to mention the dozens of folks who have no qualms with giving positive reviews to books that are terrible.

    The problem is that there is a stigma on self-publishing for a reason and until it can shed that by make itself more about quality rather than "anyone, no matter how crappy, can do it," it's not going to be a viable market. It still isn't viable today. Look up the sales figures for self-publishing. A handful of authors will sell a "sizable" amount of books, but most won't sell more than a few copies, most to friends and family.

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  6. You're talking about accessibility. The reason that self-publishers aren't successful is because 90% of book shopping is done in-store. This is the MAJOR drawback to self-publishing: lack of distribution. That has nothing to do with the quality of self-pubbed books.

    You're making it seem like the majority of self-published books are riddled with typos - you don't know that. Frankly, I don't know that either. There are too many books published, but I would make the argument that people are way harder on self-published books - i.e. if there are typos in a trad-published book (there are) or there are grammatical problems, people don't automatically scream, See, this is why traditional publishing sucks.

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  7. I don't know anyone can deny that the majority of self-published books are appalling. Yes, there might be an increasing number of quality books printed that way, but there's also an increasing number of terrible books. The more positive publicity self-pubbing gets, the more god-awful writers are going to think 'hey, I can be successful this way!'. I know of countless people who have written a book and then put it up on Lulu, or elsewhere, with no editing whatsoever. The very best writers don't claim they do no editing, so how can anyone claim these unedited books, written by amateurs, aren't largely dreadful? I don't whereabouts you people loiter on the web, but I loiter around a lot of places where writers (who are trying to improve their work) hang out. Most of them suck. The people who don't bother improving suck even worse, and they're largely the ones self-publishing. As Shaun said, it's a matter of statistics, not opinion. Even from the relatively small number of self-published books he's received to review, you can extrapolate statistics from there. I remember him saying a couple of times of self-published books'I'm reading a pretty good book, but it has some flaws that could have been fixed with a little editing'. Most of the time he says 'I'm reading a terrible book, I don't think I'll finish it'. He's an opinionated moron a lot of the time, but for once it's valid.

    As for advising people to check out reviews, that might seem smart, but as Shaun says, that's skewed. I'll use my favourite example for this: book one of The Patokafus Trilogy. Google it and you find a number of book selling websites and a few forum threads. Now this guy is terrible. Really, eyeball-tearingly terrible. He's also a jerk and a vile human being. His book has 3.5 stars on Amazon, because someone related to him, or friends with him, or possibly his teacher, has reviewed it to counteract the truthful review. On Booksunlimited, the book has 3 stars--the only reason for this is because the writer actually contacted them and made them take down several one-star reviews. He even posted reviews pretending to be the previous reviewer retracting their one star rating! Now this was all done very obviously, because the kid's 13 and has no subtlety, and there were about 20 people stalking the review sites at the time and keeping an eye on it. If this hadn't been such a "high profile" set of reviews, then who would ever know anything had been taken down? Most people post a review and then never look again.

    It is not hard, if you have more than a couple of brain cells, to advertise as multiple people, to write reviews, and get negative reviews taken down. You can easily manipulate how potential customers see your book before they buy.

    Like I said on the last post, I admire people who can work hard enough to produce a quality product, and market it themselves, and make a success of it, but in the self-publishing world at the moment that's very, very difficult to come by. Until that's the rule of self-pub, rather than the exception, self-pubbing deserves the stigma it has.

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  8. Henry: Not true. Statistics show that most people do their book shopping online through places like Amazon.com. http://followthereader.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/bowker-reveals-new-book-buying-realities/
    Online has officially overtaken retail as the biggest selling channel for books, so that's not an excuse at all.

    Lack of distribution has a lot to do with both the quality and with the fact that self-publishing houses don't buy back the books that would be sold to the retailer. Since most chain stores require this, you'll never get your self-pubbed book in there. And that has to do with quality precisely because people don't trust self-publishing for very logical reasons: a lot of crap.

    If a traditionally published book has a significant amount of typos and errors, I'll rip the hell out of the book, because that's unacceptable to me. But that's me, and most people are, to be honest, too stupid to notice most grammatical errors or even typos. But they do notice them in self-published books because there is a higher frequency of them, or it's glaringly obvious. A book I just read the other day screwed up "weighted" only a few sentences after getting it right by having "waited." And the book was horrible beyond that, with prose so terrible I wanted to gouge my eyes out. And I've read some novels that were actually decent, but were riddled with typos. That sort of stuff has to be culled from self-publishing. There has to be a way to filter out the crap from the good. Maybe a magic stamp that tells us that a self-pubbed book has been professionally edited (not just line-by-line, but plot, character, etc.)? That might help. Otherwise it's a crapshoot and most consumers aren't willing to waste their time or money on such things, especially not now with the economy in the crapper.

    And by your logic we can't know anything at all unless we've encountered every aspect. So, we can't know that most people support a certain political candidate unless we talk to everyone, etc. That's not how statistics works. I've taken statistics, so I know. Statistics takes a sample and uses that information to create a percentile. I can use the same logic for self-published novels by taking what I have read or encountered and plugging that into the equation. If there was as much quality as you seem to indicate, I would have been exposed to a goodly amount of it. But I haven't.

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  9. Ellira: Thank you. I agree.

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  10. Oh, I just remembered one big point (for me) that reared its head recently:

    Plagiarism

    If you buy from a book shop you're 99.9999999% certain to have entirely original content.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine discovered their work had been stolen off their blog, and uploaded to Lulu by a complete stranger. He found it entirely by accident after clicking a random link on a signature in a writing forum.

    In self-publishing, you can literally print ANYTHING. You can call out tradition publishers for not checking facts correctly, but at least someone else glanced at the things, right?

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  11. That Bowker report shows that the majority of books still sell at bookstores - I don't know where that 23% ans 21% came from: when you add up everything, bookstores still win out. The problem with self-published books is returnability - and, yes, quality. But again - more and more people will be using the self-publishing system, both bad writers and good writers. The fabric of self-publishing is changing.

    I fully admit that self-publishing is a hard road, but we're on the edge of a transformation. So, say, if a print on demand machine gets put in every Border's, that will totally change the dynamic, and that new dynamic was unheard of only a few years ago.

    If you haven't clicked my profile link yet, I run the site selfpublishingreview.com. In the last 5 months, I've seen more self-published books than I have in my entire life. Typos and grammar are the least of the problems. The biggest problem is unlively writing - but that's entirely subjective. I see a lot of unlively writing in hugely popular traditionally published books.

    What it comes down to is not writing off the entire self-publishing process based on a few (or many) bad books. I'll grant you - there are terrible self-published books. There are also terrible self-released CD's, but for whatever reason, this doesn't make people want to write off DIY music. Self-publishing has a very particular stigma - some of it is warranted, but we're on the edge of a new system where A LOT more talented writers will be going down this path. The stigma is going to fade. It hasn't yet, but all evidence point towards it fading.

    Plagiarism - whatever. There was plagiarism in the New Republic (Stephen Glass). Is the New Republic bunk? People steal content from blogs and put it on their own sites. Should we throw away blogs? No, but self-publishing - again - gets painted with a broad brush because of one poor example. This is one of the greater myseteries of criticism of self-publishing - all self-publishers being culpable for all other self-publishers. It doesn't make sense.

    I just don't think it's necessary to so totally denigrate a process (you call services "evil") if it is at all possible for great books to come out of the world of self-publishing. The possibility of a true gem being able to find an audience to me outweighs whatever problems there are with other books.

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  12. >>>Telling the consumer to read excerpts to figure out if a self-published book is worth buying is essentially asking the consumer to go out of their way for you.

    Well, duh. That's essentially what people do for the "legitimate" books they read. Why should it be different for direct-published ones?

    Now, can you show me the post you did about all the "self-published music"?

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  13. I certainly hope that everyone reading this, and I mean the consumer/readers, know that this is merely your OPINION and holds absolutely no merit in the book industry whatsoever. You can think and say whatever you like, but nobody has to care or take it as true.

    Crap is crap no matter who pays for it, and unfortunately the readers are the losers when they are forced to pay for crap, whether 100,000 copies were printed or 10 copies were printed.

    But you do prove one very important point, anyone can write crap.

    http://klsyed.com

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  14. Anonymous3:19 PM

    You say that one point of criteria readers use to determine whether to purchase a book is

    "To glance inside to see if the writing is in a tense that the consumer likes to read."What are you talking about? What does that even mean? Are there really people who only read books in the past tense or the present tense? Do you even know what the word "tense" means?

    But as you say, "Crappy writing is crappy writing." I guess that would include this blog, huh?

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. You know you're getting under people's skin when they start attacking you personally. At least Henry is being civil about the discussion, and I'm enjoying arguing with him.

    Anonymous: Actually, yes, there are people who only read books in a certain tense. I know loads of people who refuse to read books in present tense in any form, and others who won't read certain kinds of past tense (such as first person past, or second person, where that exists). I generally don't read present tense novels, so I would be one of those people. A book has to sound really interesting for me to read it in present tense.

    And clearly this blog isn't crap, because people are reading it, including you. If it was crap you wouldn't have bothered hanging around long enough to comment.

    Mike: Actually, no. Most book buyers don't buy books after reading an excerpt, and it's not expected of them at all. They don't "do" this for legitimate books. Some do, but most do not. A lot of books bought are impulse buys, which means that they saw it in the story and bought it...on impulse.

    Self-published music (indie) is different from books primarily because there is an instant gratification moment with music. The same with art (comics, etc.). I can listen to a song and know immediately if I am going to like it. That's not necessarily true of a book. A book might be cleanly written to start, and then 50 pages in it will start sucking. Books are not instant gratification. The entire structure of music is different from books and it's not a fair comparison. It's like trying to compare a book to a movie.

    Karen: Again with the personal attacks. Wonderful! And yes, this is just my opinion, but unfortunately it does hold merit since clearly I'm not the only one that holds this opinion. The vast majority of consumers do as well. And no reader is forced to pay for crap. Consumption of books is voluntary. Are you implying that traditional publishers try to force us to buy garbage? And that's unfair to the consumer who tends to determine what is quality anyway. You may hate Dan Brown's books (I don't like them all that much), but millions of people do. The same with Harry Potter, Twilight, Eragon, etc. The consumer has pretty much spoken on the issue.

    Now a separate comment or Henry, cause I like Henry.

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  17. Henry, I don't think either Shaun or myself have ever said that self-publishing should be done away with. Indeed, he's said that he considers it a useful option for several types of books. We just both object to people acting like it's something wonderful, when the reality is that at the moment it sucks big time. I don't doubt more decent writers will start using self-pub, but that's akin to saying that more babies will be born ... in a growth situation you will have more of everything.

    I do find it disturbing that you cast aside the plagiarism issue with a 'whatever'. It's a nasty, soul-destroying thing and is never something to be brushed off. Blogs are an entirely different matter--those stealing content can be easily found in search engines, and they don't make profit directly off it. How can you search Lulu, or AuthorHouse, or anywhere else for your prose if the title has been changed? The lack of checks in this instance goes beyond merely making it unreadable or just rubbish.

    Mike, this is a blog about literature ... why would you even think he would talk about music? It's irrelevant to this discussion.

    Anon: I know several people who loathe books written in the present tense. I even know a few who hate those in the past tense. Why wouldn't they check inside? I guess you don't talk to many people about their reading habits ...

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  18. Henry: Do you have a link to the Bowker report? I'd be interested in seeing that.

    The problem is that with the ease of self-publishing there are going to be more crap writers than good ones. A few good ones certainly show up, but they're overwhelmed by the filth. And it's unfortunate, because if it damages the reputation of those few writers who deserve recognition.

    I'm looking forward to those printing machines, but I don't see them anytime soon primarily because they too expensive. Maybe in the next ten years if bookstores can hold out long enough.

    Any system that requires you to pay them to publish your work is evil to me. Why? Because authors should be paid. Period. Writers get paid shit in this world and that isn't right. Authors deserve to be paid for their writing and unfortunately that isn't changing (it's getting worse in a lot of cases).

    I don't see the stigma fading at all. The problem is you're making the assumption that more good writers are going to flood in and change it. But that hasn't happened in the entire history of self-publishing. Ease of self-publishing doesn't make for more quality, it just makes it easier for everyone, good or bad, to get "published." As much as you might think more good writers would go down that path, they are going to be overwhelmed by the writers who shouldn't have their work in print at all, who are utterly dreadful. That's reality, not just a talking point here. There are more crappy writers than good writers, and always will be.

    The only way self-publishing can pull itself out of the stink is by figuring out ways to make it easier for consumers to find quality works. As I said, a stamp on the book that says it was professionally edited might help, and since most self-published authors don't do this, it will be easier to weed out the crap (particularly because the vast majority of the crap happens be by authors who didn't pay for editing services). But it can't shed the stigma just by getting more good writers, because for every one good writer there are a hundred shitty ones. It's harsh, I know, but there is far too much crap in the self-publishing world to grant it the merit you think it deserves. The consumers see this, which is why self-publishing hasn't drastically changed except to add new technology to the mix, and why publishing in general has not drastically changed.

    My problem is that while I have read some good self-published books, I have been inundated with garbage. As a consumer, I'm not willing to put in the work to find those few good ones. Why should I? I'm satisfied with what traditional publishing has offered me w/ basically no extra work.

    This has all got me thinking, though, of running some sort of self-publishing challenge...I'll think on that some more.

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  19. According to the Bowker study, for fiction books, online sales account for between 9% (over 65) and 22% (ages 30 -54). The converse means between 78% and 91% of all fiction book purchases are done in some sort of physical store - be it large chain, corner indie, or your friendly neighborhood Costco. (Slide 24)

    Self published books have an all around hard time. The underlying sales mechanism is one designed for an ideal sales system - nearly-direct to the consumer. However, the pricing is often higher than traditionally published books, partially due to volume constraints, but often due to those facilitating the publishing.

    This poor pricing is compounded by a lack of reputation to trade on. Readers are paying a great deal more than the cover price for a book, they are also dedicating hours and hours of their time. In this area, traditionally published books benefit from the reputation of the publisher - a reader can rest assured that the book they are buying and dedicating time to, has been through several sets of hands.

    That's really where the difference is. Self published books tend to skew more expensive and lack a reputation beyond that of the author.

    There is, of course, a way around this. As recently witnessed in the music industry, a high profile artist breaking from the traditional middleman structure, can net a greater profit for their work by embracing a faster, vertical delivery system. Should this happen with someone like Meyer or King, the resulting media circus would remove a lot of the stigma.

    All that would be needed then would be a general means to curate books. This would naturally require self-publishers finding a way to get copies of books to reviewers. This act, of eating cost, can serve as curation tool in and of itself.

    In an ideal world, self pub would be able to compete right along side traditional published books. However, in an ideal world, authors would get more than 10% of proceeds from a sale. Both methods are changing, and the end point will likely be somewhere in the middle.

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  20. The Bowker Report link: http://www.slideshare.net/bisg/4-making-information-pay-2009-gallagher-kelly-bowker-1406744

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  21. Bradley talks sense (the parts I understand).

    Also, Shaun, I'd like to point out that you don't have to be professionally edited to be good. It helps, that's all. I would like to say I'm a damn good editor, and my only credentials are reading a ton of books. You just said the other day that my work is better than 50% of the published stuff, and that's without any professional editing, so there. *sticks out tongue*

    I'm done. Have fun saying the same things over and over again.

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  22. Obviously plagiarism sucks - my point is that one issue doesn't overwhelm the benefits of self-publishing. I may be repeating myself, but the good stuff generally rises to the top - through Goodreads, Amazon, blogs, whatever. That's not a lot of extra work for the consumer. If a book is good, it doesn't matter how it was published and you'll find it because more people will be talking about it. The absolutely crappy books will not get as much attention, so they're not going to "overwhelm" anybody. Really, that's no different than how people find traditionally published books.

    I don't think you can talk about the entire history of self-publishing because the Kindle is a new development. Ebooks were laughed at not too long ago. Things are changing rapidly. My stance about self-publishing is what it can - and likely will - become, not necessarily what it is today, and I think the potential is pretty exciting. Imagine where authors were able to reach readers AND make a good profit. It's not totally far-fetched - even if it takes many years to take effect.

    I'm done too - people wonder why I go into these debates, but I enjoy it.

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  23. Zoe: Not really. I'm quite happy. I just like pointing out reality.

    Bradley: That's making the assumption that people buy their books from stores, but there are numerous other means to get books besides going to a bookstore (garage sales, library sales, flea markets, auction places, etc.) So I think it's unfair to assume that 78% is from physical stores.

    It's, again, unfair to compare books to music, particularly because of the method of delivery. The rest is good stuff, though :P.

    Ellira: I agree, but the difference is that you've been told by people who do read a lot that your writing is good. And you take constructive criticism and have improved your craft. That's not necessarily the case with a lot of other folks (I've known a few people who couldn't take constructive criticism and essentially self-published a crappy book). I understand your argument, though, but an edited stamp is really the only way I can think to weed out all the crap so people know what is quality...

    Henry: "I may be repeating myself, but the good stuff generally rises to the top - through Goodreads, Amazon, blogs, whatever. That's not a lot of extra work for the consumer."

    Some of the good stuff does, but a writer's worst enemy is obscurity. Some excellent books I've read haven't had the commercial success they deserve, which is unfortunate. But you also have to remember that it's just as easy for crap to get to the top too, particularly when you get the terrible practices Ellira has described going on (such as cheating the system, etc.).

    "Imagine where authors were able to reach readers AND make a good profit. It's not totally far-fetched - even if it takes many years to take effect. "

    It's a nice thought, but you also have to remember that traditional publishers do provide services for authors. When you self-publish you are in charge of EVERYTHING from distribution to marketing. While a publisher may not put a lot behind you in the marketing department, they do take care of distribution and you get paid up front. People think that the author gets screwed with traditional publishing because they get such a small royalty (which I think is too small, but that's me), but they also ignore the fact that those books which have been successful were the result of a lot of work and money on the part of the publisher. It's understandable that they want to take some credit for it. If you self-publish, you have to do all of that on your own, with your own money. And it can cost if you're serious about it.

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  24. And people say I'm rabid against self-pub. On this page I can look calm, rational and nice! lol

    As long as anyone with money can self pub, the stigma will not go away. I've seen some HORRIBLE self-pubbed books. Including one where the nicest comment I could make was "You have a problem with your verb tenses." His response was "Verb? That's like a name or something, right?" But hey, he was published!

    I feature traditionally published authors on my website, www.writerschatroom.com. I don't feature self-pubbed authors UNLESS they have sold over 5,000 copies of their book. In 3 years, we've had one. Why 5K? If it's sold that many copies, it's probably one of the rare self-pubbed books that's worth reading.

    At this time, I don't feature authors who are epub only. We discuss this all the time, but epub just isn't quite to the place trad paper is. Not yet. There are still quality issues there. Too many epresses are more concerned with churning out a high quantity of books instead of high quality.

    I agree that the publishing world is changing, but it can't go into a free-for-all with no quality controls. New standards need to be set, and new ways of finding and sharing the results.

    Personally, I'm depending more and more on reviewers I know and trust. I ignore most Amazon reviews, because too many are fake.

    Now I have to send all my readers here, so they can see me look SO sweet and polite. Ah...life is good. :)

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  26. Audrey: Thanks for stopping by. I agree that if self-publishing or any publishing is going to change, it will need to establish new quality controls. There's just no way it can be successful or even good for writing in general if there isn't a push to keep quality at the forefront.

    And send all your readers over here all you want :).

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  28. Acknowledgment - I have worked as a journalist in music and publishing (and to a lesser extent, technology).



    @S.M.D.

    The other avenues you mentioned are second-sale avenues for which neither the author nor the publisher will actually earn any money. The Bowker statistics are first sale stats.

    With regards to the bit about it being "unfair to compare books to music" to a certain extent this is true.

    Music is easily broken down into chunks which can stand up independent of the greater works. However, when talking about the overall delivery system and the industries which have arisen to provide those deliveries, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two mediums.

    For instance:

    -The income of both musicians and authors in selective or traditional publishing systems currently rely on advances.

    -Though no concrete evidence has been collected throughout an entire industry, it is assumed that 9 out of ever 10 productions (both book and music) fail to "earn out" of those advances.

    -Though it feels like a great many products (again, both books and music) are released each year - these pale in comparison to how many are on the backlist.

    -Of the prices the customers see on either a book, album, or song, a very small portion of that is ever returned to the artist, even if a work has earned out. This ranges from around 10% on a hardcover to 5% on a mass market paperback for authors. Musicians typically can expect around $0.25 per album and often as little as $0.03 per song. The remainder of costs go to operating costs - physically producing the work, shipping, storing, etc.

    -Both music and books come in multiple formats, each with their own expenses and established price points. For books, this is the hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, audio, and eBook. For music we have the vinyl LP, vinyl EP, compact disc, and myriad digital formats. Each format has it's own strengths and weaknesses as well as costs associated with the production and transporting of those products.

    -Both authors and musicians are inherently capable of assuming more roles in the production process thanks in large to the digital renaissance enabled by the personal computer. There are few reasons why a top-tier or even a midlist author wouldn't pair up with a competent editor and find a means to cut out the majority of the items between author and reader which eat up the author's profits.

    Clipped for length...

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  29. A major qualm that could arise to stop authors from doing this is that they will likely have a hard time getting their book into bookstores, especially in light of the Bowker numbers I cited earlier. The converse, as shown through various musicians (including those kids from Hanson) is the author makes a great deal more money on self-published sales, and thus can do more with less.

    In terms of pure numbers - an author who receives a $50,000 advance on a trade paperback with a 7% royalty rate will need to sell nearly 55,000 copies, at the industry average of $13 per book, to earn out. Conversely, if a self published author earns 50% of that same $13 cover price, said author could earn $50,000 in just shy of 7,700 books. Obviously, the more risk the author assumes, the higher they can push the profit rates and the fewer books they have to sell.

    This means that, at least theoretically, self-publishing is better for the author. I say theoretically because no matter how an author chooses to publish, no sale is guaranteed. Through traditional pubs, authors at least get an advance.

    I am not personally a fan of self-publishing, but I can see where it would be beneficial. To people who do a lot of direct sales, say at conferences or speaking events - self publishing gives them a good deal more money. For authors with an established audience, again, self-publishing can make smart financial sense. For new authors who can "hustle" as Gary Vaynerchuck says, self-publishing's higher returns can make the difference between working a day job or eeking out a starving artists lifestyle.

    However, for readers, the best results are still going to come from traditional presses. Why? Because these presses do have reputations and they are putting them behind authors when they slap the imprint's name and logo on a spine. And for readers, curation still counts.

    If a solid system for determining what's a quality self-published book (solid writing, tightly edited, commercially viable) develops, then both the readers and authors will be on the same page, leaving the publishers out in the wind. But until someone manages to do that, I think the majority of authors are going to benefit in the same way that the majority of readers do - through traditional presses.

    And the ultimate bit of irony? Gary Vaynerchuck would could easily have been the posterboy for a new self-publishing revolution signed a 10 book, $1 million deal with HarperStudio.

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  30. Zoe: You're making a lot of assumptions about me.

    Firstly, I have had my hand in the self-publishing pot, so I'm not speaking about the process as if I don't know. I know what goes into it because I've be a part of it. I didn't publish my own stuff that way, but still, I had to go through the same channels, and am even in the process of using Lulu to publish an anthology (though they are only the printer, not the publisher). So, it's not like I just waltzed in and started speaking out of my ass. My experience with self-publishing is both direct and indirect. I've read the stuff and been a part of the process, and I won't be a part of the process again except to use POD as a way to publish anthologies for my own imprint.

    I also have no problem with slamming the traditional publishing system. None whatsoever, so long as the slams are truthful. If you're going to lie about traditional publishing, which a lot of people do, or misrepresent it, then I have an issue with it, as I do anywhere.

    And you don't have to do something to criticize it. This is absurd. Should sport's casters not criticize the abilities of football players simply because they don't play football? No. I don't have to do it to criticize it or form opinions on it, nor do I have to do it to be able to see the crap that is being produced by something. I dismiss the arguments made here largely because they don't deal with reality. Just because you think you're doing something well doesn't mean that you represent all of self-publishing. Assuming that the efforts of those who have commented here are good ones, producing quality material, that means that are only a handful of good self-pubbed writers, but the vast majority of self-pubbed work I have read does not live up to the expectations I have for printed material.

    And I'm not going to self-publish...don't know why you would think I would. That doesn't mean I can't have an opinion on the stuff. I don't play football, but I still hate Michael Vick...

    "so I don't know why you're so worked up."

    I'm not, really. I'm enjoying myself.

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  32. >>>A lot of books bought are impulse buys, which means that they saw it in the story and bought it...on impulse.

    Oh, isn't that cute. What, "I like the cover?" Stop it!

    >>>A book might be cleanly written to start, and then 50 pages in it will start sucking.

    You know how many times that has happened with "pro" published books I've begun? Probably more times than total number of books you've read.

    >>>The problem is that with the ease of self-publishing there are going to be more crap writers than good ones.

    Look around. Have you read much? You argue "crap writer" then dismiss *crap* writers because they have sales figures. What guides you? Quality or a cash register?

    >>>The problem is you're making the assumption that more good writers are going to flood in and change it. But that hasn't happened in the entire history of self-publishing.

    And if you took the totality of traditional publishing, OMFGZ, you'd find the same thing THERE TOO.

    Really, you're entirely dismissable at this point. I shouldn't have bothered.

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  33. Yup, using Lulu and THE PRINTER, not as the publisher. We're putting out a magazine of works not written by us, so it's not a self-publishing endeavor, but it is using a POD platform. But that would have required a bit of reading to actually have understood.

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  35. Zoe: Lulu allows me to put my own publisher icon on it, get an ISBN, yadda yadda, but I'll look into the other. Thanks.

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  37. Different: Because I'm not publishing my own work, so not self-publishing.

    Better: Same reason. We're not publishing the work of the editors (except my co-editor, who I brought onto the project after I accepted one of her poems, but so be it). The difference is the process and the setup. It's not our work, it's the work of others, under a publishing imprint run through a young writers website.

    There's no comparison between what I'm doing and what self-published authors do, since my own work is not a part of this process. The only connection is that I am using the same technology, which is really the same connection all publishing has. Material is accepted and rejected based on merit and what the editors are feeling at a particular point.

    And I probably will learn from self-published folks, since I'll be handling formatting and all that fun stuff. Again, you can self-publish all you want and best of luck to you, but you still have to face reality, and sometimes reality isn't nice.

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  39. Zoe, he's actually said that he knows not all self-published stuff is rubbish, so I don't know where you get that impression. Nor has he said self-publishers have "failed" with traditional publishing.

    For me, the difference between him using Lulu to print an anthology that will likely have a small distribution over the members of the website, and maybe a few others, and a writer slapping their own "publishing" label on their work, is huge. Shaun can't afford to buy a book printer/binder/whatever else they use. He's using some technology to print something that will be for a pretty niche market. All the stuff inside will have been vetted before acceptance (and he's, unsurprisingly, a harsh editor), and then carefully edited by a number of people. He is the "publisher", and Lulu is the printer.

    The writer, however, is taking their work (unedited, or very carefully worked on), and instead of embracing self-publishing, they're sticking their own imaginary company logo on, and then selling it on Amazon etc. It's deceptive. If you see a book printed by 'Happy Elf Press' (I suck at names ...) you think, "oh ok, this has been through a few people. I've never heard of it, it must be a small press. Cool, it's probably had some really careful editing and must have been really special to be picked up." ... when it hasn't been. It might have been through a similar process, but you have no guarantee. With traditional publishing it does offer one guarantee than self-publishing never can: someone other than the author liked it.

    Also, I don't know why you seem to think he needs to have experienced self-publishing to have an opinion on it. My experience with it has been setting up my novel to be printed so I can red-pen it and store it with more ease than 500-odd A4 pages flying about. I'm self-published! It took a lot more MSWord skills to do it than it did writing skills. If I was marketing it, it would take a lot more publicity skills, and social skills, than writing skills.

    For my part, self-published writers will gain a lot more credibility when they start saying 'yes, self-publishing is mostly awful. But look, I'm the exception.' And then prove it.

    Good luck with your work, I hope you do well by it.

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  40. I shouldn't have posted on your blog if it was going to piss me off this much. I don't normally let people on the internet get me this riled up. But I will say this: You come off as incredibly condescending and arrogant and that won't win you any friends.

    The community you'll be a part of, of indie publishers, will also be comprised of those who publish their own work. Many who have done it for years, who have done it seriously, and who have done it successfully.

    Many who know far more than you know about how to publish and many who know far more than I do about how to publish.

    If you spout crap like what you've spouted in this blog, you will find fewer and fewer of those people willing to help you on your own journey to gain publishing knowledge.

    You are essentially biting the hand that helps you when you carry this attitude. If you don't learn to separate in your mind the good indie authors from the bad, then you may have some issues.

    I will not be back to view your reply.

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  41. What Ellira said. Although it seems Zoe has removed all her posts, which is ridiculous, because I have all of them saved in my email account...

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  42. Zoe: You need to read what I actually have said here, because you're not getting it. Read Ellira's comment just a couple up, that should clarify things.

    Good luck with your writing.

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  43. It has all been said here, I would just like to add my two cents and a slightly different perspective. I write for kids and teens, publish traditionally, and speak and teach writing at writers' conferences. I have had many experiences with self published authors, most of whom give me signed copies of their work and ask me for blurbs or comments on Amazon if I enjoy the read.

    I say this quietly and respectfully,aware of the effort they expended writing and marketing their work: I have yet to write a comment or a blurb for a self-published novel.

    I think the problems with self publishing are the obvious ones, and this: It’s really, really hard to get published traditionally. Agents serve as the gatekeepers between the publishers and all the would-be writers because publishers no longer have staff, time, or desire to read through their slush piles. So writers now begin searching for an agent first, as they must, because most publishers will not consider work from individuals without one. Agents are swamped, buried, slogging through submissions and they often take months, sometimes a year or more to respond to a query, even with printed rejection slips. The frustration for writers--especially those who don’t live in or near NYC, and who don’t know someone who knows someone--is terrible.

    I just googled “self publish” and came up with 49,800,000 hits. The sites have phrases like, “Set your OWN royalties” and “Eliminate middlemen”. One promises to end “unneeded and endless re-writing”. Another says, “Have your books in a week and start selling!!”

    Lots of exclamation points. All very seductive if one is driven to write, to be read, and frustrated to the screaming point.

    Conventional publishing is an antique industry and is in MAJOR flux. The returns system is a whole separate topic and a complex one. Amazon is rumored to be thinking about building brick and mortar stores. And new opportunities abound.

    I have a friend who is selling downloadable stories and yes, I will write one for him soon. I am also writing a real time twitter novel and loving it. Most traditionally published authors I know are not old fashioned nor blind and they are experimenting with formats, structures and sales channels. I am certainly not pretending to know what the future of books will be or saying that the system as it stands serves writers or readers as well as it might.

    I am just saying this: It takes years of writing with purpose and intent and energy and feedback from people who don’t love you and who understand writing, to get good at writing. Prioritizing publication and marketing, assuming either one is a validation of the work in and of itself, can be a discouraging, even heartbreaking for the writer.

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  44. Kathleen: Thanks for that. I agree with you 100%. And I think that is something important to acknowledge regardless of how you intend to get yourself published.

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  45. Bradley: I 100% agree that there are similarities in the industries, but what I'm getting at is that the mediums themselves are drastically different. Listening a song is different than reading a book. That's what I'm getting at. I understand that the industries and deliver are much the same and that revenues certainly have similarities, but what differs is how one is perceived by the consumer, and I think that's what is important to notice.

    Otherwise, I agree, there are logical comparisons in deliver, cost, etc. and I do agree that authors should have more input into their works when it comes to traditional publishing models, but I also understand why some writers do not have that sort of input in trad pub (some are just not smart enough to know how to market themselves).

    "In terms of pure numbers - an author who receives a $50,000 advance on a trade paperback with a 7% royalty rate will need to sell nearly 55,000 copies, at the industry average of $13 per book, to earn out. Conversely, if a self published author earns 50% of that same $13 cover price, said author could earn $50,000 in just shy of 7,700 books. Obviously, the more risk the author assumes, the higher they can push the profit rates and the fewer books they have to sell."

    The problem here is that this sounds lovely, but the reality is that to sell 7,700 books is not only going to cost the author money to promote (unless he or she magically has a big enough fanbase to make such sales easy), but also be difficult to attain.
    A traditional publisher requires a payout on the advance because it provides professional services that you would otherwise have to pay for: editing, copyediting, distribution, warehousing (unless it's POD), ISBN, promotion (even unknowns get a little of this, though obviously not much), etc. A $50,000 advance would imply that significant promotion will be done, because to give that kind of money is to assume a certain kind of return.
    I think people assume that self-publishing and being successful at it is free or easy, or it's just not pointed out that it's not easy, but extremely difficult, and takes a very professional kind of attitude to pull off. That's my problem: there aren't enough professionals in the self-pub world to make it viable.

    "If a solid system for determining what's a quality self-published book (solid writing, tightly edited, commercially viable) develops, then both the readers and authors will be on the same page, leaving the publishers out in the wind. But until someone manages to do that, I think the majority of authors are going to benefit in the same way that the majority of readers do - through traditional presses."

    Absolutely! As I said. Give me a filter system and I'll be happy to read and buy self-pub books. Otherwise it's a crapshoot and as some have said here they expect me to do work that I don't have to do to find the quality in their industry. As you said, the consumer doesn't have to do these things when traditional publishing is trusted.

    Mike: Clearly your ridiculous reaction indicates that what I've said is true. Thanks for the support with sarcasm and anger. Have a nice day and good luck with the writing.

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  46. I think the obvious issue here is that most who have commented here have focused on all the negative points I have made and have completely ignored certain points that Ellira has made clear.

    I am not saying that ALL self-publishing books are horrible, just that a majority of them are. I fully acknowledge that there are self-pubbed books that are fantastic, or at least good. I have read some of them and support the authors fully, but they are exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. A handful of good authors, again, doesn't make the entire industry suddenly better, and if anything those of you who are self-pubbed and also good should be more in a rage about people who are damaging your reputations for people who haven't read your books. Why aren't you more up in arms about? Why aren't you pushing for better ways to let the consumer know what is quality and what is drivel? Why aren't enough of you pushing for people to get honest, harsh critiques, to work their writing to death, and buy good editing services where applicable? This should be a call to action to find solutions, not to get bitter and angry over what has been said here.

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  47. I said I wasn't going to post again, but I've cooled down since yesterday. The issue is that your original post was the kind of condescending crap most of us have to deal with "regardless of" whether or not we suck personally. (If you didn't mean it that way, it came off that way.)

    Most of the things you're saying about an eye toward quality and good indie authors rising above the noise of the crap is exactly what many of us are working to do.

    But I have NO control over people who can't write self publishing crap. None. And it's not going to stop. All I can focus on is "my own" work. And encourage others to do the same. But I can't "make" others do the same, and screeching constantly about it is a waste of time I could be spending to improve my own work.

    What irritates "me" is this obsession people have with method vs. content. Just judge the book, forget about how it got here.

    I believe "how it got here" will be increasingly irrelevant in the face of a good book.

    Also, you create an environment where an indie author cannot win when you say things like "creating your own imprint is lying" It's not lying anymore than indie musicians who have created their own record label.

    It's called starting a business with a DBA just like every other business person. It's called being taken seriously enough as your own business entity to get some of the things you need to further be taken more seriously down the road.

    It has nothing to do with "lying" to anyone. I mentioned lightning source to you, but you HAVE to have your own publishing imprint and ISBN numbers to work with them.

    Why on earth do you think you, because you happen to be publishing someone else, have the right to work with LSI, but I don't, because I happen to also write?

    It makes far more sense for a savvy indie to use LSI than to use Lulu, both for the costs involved for printing (being less) and the many distribution options you get through using LSI which can enhance an indie author's shot of rising above the noise.

    But in your worldview, that's dishonest. So you seem to want self publishing authors to rise above the noise and crap, but you at the same time seem to want to cripple them from doing that, because even if they are open and honest about the fact that they own their own imprint, the fact that they have one is supposedly some attempt at subterfuge, rather than just a smart business decision and part of an attempt to rise above that crap.

    THAT is part of what pissed me off so much. You were pretty reasonable in a lot of your comments but that got obscured by the fact that your original blog post was so rude and condescending. At least in my opinion.

    I should not have reacted like I did and been a flaming emo about it. I surely should not have come across as a self-righteous ass, but it does tend to get my back up when someone complains in one breath about the dismal quality in self publishing and the need to rise above it, and in the next breath attempts to close off options for doing that, by claiming anything truly independent such as creating one's own imprint, is an act of dishonesty.

    That is a case in which you spoke from a lack of information to pretty much slander an entire group of self published authors, including myself.

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  48. Anonymous11:20 AM

    SMD: Zoe Winters is trying to make fun of you in her blog. TRYING. Take a look:
    http://publishren.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/why-self-published-music-sux/#comments

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  49. Actually anonymous person,

    It's not just him. He left himself pretty open by making such blanket statements. But what I'm actually parodying are not just things SMD has said, which is why it's amusing to anyone who has actually heard many of these strawmen.

    But thanks for the extra traffic.

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  50. Are you kidding when you say it's just too demanding to ask a customer to sample the product before buying?

    Is that how you buy? Just write a check for any ol' crap someone else picks out for you?

    You're not only insulting self-publishers, but also the reading public.

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  51. Gigi: The average consumer of books spends less than 25 seconds on a book before deciding to buy it. That's how it has been and how it still is, even if certain buyers have different habits. I personally put in a couple minutes on a book before knowing if it's worth spending my money on, but I am not the average consumer (I own over 2,000 books, which should be a clear indicator of that).

    So, I'm not insulting the reading public here. I'm pointing out a reality. The problem is that you assume that readers have to read a book to determine quality, that they should go out of the way for you as a self-published author because there are issues with your industry. But why should they when they largely already trust traditional publishers to bring them material that meets their demand of quality? They already have a market that accommodates their desires and works for their consumption habits. Asking them to do extra work when they don't have to is honestly ridiculous, and most consumers won't do that.

    Now to Zoe...

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  52. "The issue is that your original post was the kind of condescending crap most of us have to deal with "regardless of" whether or not we suck personally. (If you didn't mean it that way, it came off that way.)"

    It wasn't meant to be condescending, but do you at least understand why that opinion is held and why you HAVE to combat it when you self-publish? If you happen to write well and you have risen to the top, then great, but do you understand why it is difficult, why people hold this opinion? It's not a bearing on you personal, but on the industry, which has problems that have no been logically addressed.

    "Most of the things you're saying about an eye toward quality and good indie authors rising above the noise of the crap is exactly what many of us are working to do."

    Good. Keep doing so.

    "But I have NO control over people who can't write self publishing crap."

    Yes, this is true, but there are people who aren't self-publishing who do talk about it, who give advice, and for those people it would be logical to point out the harshest of truths, to make it known that it is not easy, that you have to be good at it, that you have to work hard on your prose to produce anything of quality. Not enough people are doing this and too many opportunistic individuals are dead set to make self-publishing out to be something that it is not, including companies with less-than-ethical practices.

    "What irritates "me" is this obsession people have with method vs. content."

    The problem is that this assumes that the consumer is a certain kind of consumer, when most of them are not, and when an industry is flooded with garbage the consumer is not going to trust it and most will avoid it. Same with bookstores. If a major publisher started putting out absolute trash, people would stop buying from them, and that's a similar issue with self-publishing. The quality is important to them and finding the good stuff requires effort that they don't have to give.

    "Also, you create an environment where an indie author cannot win when you say things like "creating your own imprint is lying" It's not lying anymore than indie musicians who have created their own record label."

    Both would be liars. Creating an imprint to publish yourself is essentially a ploy to manipulate the consumer into believing that the work has not only gone through a traditional acquisitions process, but edited, copyedited, and of quality. But the reality is that that is not guaranteed with self-publishing, so what it essentially is doing is trying to use traditional publishing "label" to trick the consumer into thinking it is something it is not. Whether that is your intention or not, that's what is happening. It's manipulative, especially when the people that do it go to great effort to hide the fact that they are publishing themselves (and some do this). If you support self-publishing and want to do it, then why make yourself look to be something else?

    Part two coming next.

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  53. "Why on earth do you think you, because you happen to be publishing someone else, have the right to work with LSI, but I don't, because I happen to also write?"

    I don't. It's a free country and if you can do it legally, then you're welcome to. But that doesn't mean I can't criticize it for what it is.

    So you seem to want self publishing authors to rise above the noise and crap, but you at the same time seem to want to cripple them from doing that, because even if they are open and honest about the fact that they own their own imprint, the fact that they have one is supposedly some attempt at subterfuge, rather than just a smart business decision and part of an attempt to rise above that crap."

    If they are completely and utterly open and honest about the fact that they created an imprint for the purposes of making it easier on themselves to print their work, then I have no problem with it. But that information needs to be upfront, and it rarely is. I've been to countless "imprints" which were essentially for self-publishing, but in order to find that information out I've had to dig and dig and dig. That's my problem with it: the effort to hide what they are doing.

    "That is a case in which you spoke from a lack of information to pretty much slander an entire group of self published authors, including myself."

    Are you open and honest that your imprint is for publishing your own work? If so, I don't see a problem with it, because the consumer can know that what they are looking at.

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  54. I don't agree with everything you're saying, but obviously I won't. I don't have a lot of problems with most of it though, and really my primary issue was the tone of your original post.

    As for the whole lying thing, yes I'm open about the fact that it's my imprint, created to publish my own books. But just because I'm open about that doesn't mean every single person finds that out.

    Even though it's easily accessible information.

    Hell even in my about the author page I say i'm an independent author. That's pretty clear.

    So if someone can bother to read teh about the author page, they know.

    I'm not in hiding primarily because I want to put out quality work and smash some of those stereotypes so at least when someone reads my stuff they say "well all self published stuff doesn't suck."

    Though even if I didn't do that, I'm not sure I would agree with you that that is "lying."

    people start businesses run as fictitious names all the time, it's not illegal and it's not dishonest. It's "doing business as"

    If I start a bakery called: "Yummy Pastries" no one thinks that's dishonest.

    I think the reason you think it is on the author front is because you assume that an author automatically doesn't have any experience/expertise/knowledge as a publisher and they're trying to pass themselves off as something they are not.

    But I AM a publisher. A publisher is someone who publishes. And I have taken the time to learn about the business I'm a part of. But it's not like being a doctor or lawyer. You don't have to go through a special licensing board.

    Millions of small businesses are started and most of them fail. Many many small businesses put out a crappy product or service, and those businesses fail, but we cannot fault every other small business owner.

    And the primary issue I have is that anyone who self publishes is "at fault" for all the other crap that other people have self published.

    Those are not my crimes. But that's the problem with judging a "method"

    The point is... my stuff doesn't LOOK self published. Nor does it "read" self published. There is nothing about my work that screams: "OH my gawd, not a real boooook!"

    So the fact that it's self published is entirely irrelevant.

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  55. "I'm not in hiding primarily because I want to put out quality work and smash some of those stereotypes so at least when someone reads my stuff they say "well all self published stuff doesn't suck.""

    Right, but I'm not even saying that. I'm saying most sucks.

    "people start businesses run as fictitious names all the time, it's not illegal and it's not dishonest. It's "doing business as"

    If I start a bakery called: "Yummy Pastries" no one thinks that's dishonest."

    No, because "yummy" is a subjective term. Self-published and traditionally published are clearly defined terms, so to give the impression you are one, when you are, in fact, the other is dishonest. I don't know how you can see otherwise. If I say I am a plumber, but in fact, am not, is that okay? If I show up at your home in a plumber outfit, looking like a plumber, acting like one, is it not dishonest if I am not actually one?

    "But I AM a publisher. A publisher is someone who publishes. And I have taken the time to learn about the business I'm a part of."

    A publisher, a traditional one, doesn't just publish. They have acquisitions editors, copy editors, etc. There is a whole process. A publisher doesn't publish itself, it publishes the work of others which are submitted. You don't submit your own work to yourself.

    "The point is... my stuff doesn't LOOK self published. Nor does it "read" self published. There is nothing about my work that screams: "OH my gawd, not a real boooook!""

    Good. You still have to work for it, though.

    "So the fact that it's self published is entirely irrelevant."

    I still think it's relevant, but that doesn't mean you can't get away from the stigma with hard work, which maybe you have.

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  56. SMD - In one breath you say that readers don't spend any time checking out a product before they buy it and you can't expect them to read a sample of a book first. Then you're saying that self publishers that have set up a small press to get their work out there need to be plain and upfront about it. Where and how exactly?

    If a reader doesn't spend more than 20 seconds deciding to buy a book, why on earth would they go searching around to make sure the publisher is not the same as the author? You're setting up contradictory arguments.

    More to the point, why would the reader care?

    If I go into a bookstore I look at the cover, read the blurb on the back and have a thumb through the opening pages. If I shop online I do the same thing, usually using the Amazon Search Inside function. I NEVER check the publisher. I don't care. If I like the look of what I see, if it sounds interesting and the early pages appear well written and engaging, I'll buy the damn thing. If it turns out to be crap, so be it - it happens regularly.

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  57. Alan: Mostly likely you'd have to mark the book somehow.

    And, to be fair, those consumers that spend 20 seconds deciding on a book also shop at stores that do not carry self-published books (they rarely carry POD, but that's changing a little). So not setting up contradictory arguments.

    And the average consumer cares because they have a built in trust for traditional publishers, whereas they do not have the same trust wit h an SPer.

    You are not an average consumer. People who shop online either already know what they are looking for, or have a good idea.

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  58. Sounds to me like you're really trying to shoehorn your point of view into something. Does an indie band put a disclaimer on their CDs "By the way, we made this ourselves"?

    Why the hell would you "mark the book somehow"? You say that quality indies should strive to change the perceptions of the public and you wish them all well, then you say they should put a sign on the book marking it as something different. That's setting people up to fail, preventing people from trying that otherwise might have really enjoyed the book and not cared how it got to them.

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  59. Alan, I tried explaining this same stuff to him. I think he thinks he's being logical.

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  60. I already explained why the indie music/movie argument fails. If you can prove to me that a person consumes a movie or a song the same way as a book, I'd be happy to hear it, but since that's not the case, you can't compare the mediums themselves, only the industries, which is irrelevant in this instance precisely because the medium is consumed differently.

    Let me get this straight: It's setting up people to fail by telling them that they should do something to set themselves above the crap that downs their industry? I'm not saying label them as NOT self-published, but label them in a way that separates them from other SP stuff that is garbage so that a consumer knows that someone actually did some work on this book, so they don't take a gamble with their money or time and end up despising the industry as a whole.

    We can sit here and argue about whether SP is wonderful or bad, or a mixed bag, but ultimately if the consumer has repeated bad experiences in an industry, and unfortunately SP doesn't have the luxury of being separated by brand names, they aren't going to continue with that industry. I said this on Henry's blog: if I were to read a bunch of really horrible, awful novels from Tor, I would likely never read any of their books again (even if they improved they would have to prove to me that there was improvement in the first place, because why would I waste any time or money, both valuable pieces to the consumer, when I have no trust in said product?).

    Heck, all I'm really asking for is a stamp of approval, like getting an award stamp on your book tells people "this is good." Why wouldn't you want a stamp that says "this SP book is good because it was actually edited by someone who gives a crap"? To not want to help your industry find better ways to let the consumer know what is good and what is not worth the paper it's printed on is essentially to ask for the continued condemnation of the industry as a whole. Consumers want something, but if an industry cannot provide it for them, they will move elsewhere.

    Zoe: Not think; I know I'm being logical. But if you want to be rude about it, go for it.

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  61. Compared to movies and music, books are marketed differently, thus marking the main issue with self publishing. With movies and music, the consumer is able to spend less time browsing the product, making the shopping easier. This is one of the reasons more people watch movies and listen to music than read books. The average consumer does not read excerpts or go in-depth to research books - they feel like they don't have the time. They'll just pick something that looks pretty good or is from an author/publisher they know. Self-publishing does not offer good marketing and it takes much longer for the consumer to shift through these books to find something they like.

    Not only that, but traditional publishing offers editing, the quality of which depends on how much effort the author and the editor put into it. Twilight, for example, was not edited well in the beginning, but the author and the editor didn't really care to edit, because they knew it would sell. But there are several authors that care about their books and editors that take their jobs seriously that publish great books.

    So, to sum it up: Movies and music are easier to market than books, making the comparison difficult. The average consumer wants to buy something quick, not spend all day looking for the right book. They've got lives outside of leisure, you know? Also, traditional publishing offers editing, and I haven't heard of a self-publishing agency that offers pro editing.

    In conclusion, don't bash Shaun. He's simply pointing out the disadvantages, such as those described above, but he's also said it's okay to self-publish for certain things.

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  62. "Heck, all I'm really asking for is a stamp of approval, like getting an award stamp on your book tells people "this is good." Why wouldn't you want a stamp that says "this SP book is good because it was actually edited by someone who gives a crap"?"

    How do you suggest those marks are made? What book do you see out there that has such a thing? It just marks it as different once again.

    The indie movement is all about making books indistinguishable on the shelves from trad published books. That's why there are books published under press names (but you consider that cheating). The book should stand up for itself and, if it does, it doesn't need any other stamp of approval.

    If a buyer sees a cover they like, reads a blurb that appeals and then enjoys a good book, job done. Nowhere does it require some stamp from some contrived quality control process - the quality speaks for itself.

    Anyway, I'm done here. You have a fixed idea and won't change your view, so I hav e better things to do than try to change it. Just try not to lump everything in together with innaccurate generalisations.

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  63. Right, so the goal is to make self-publishing so good at disguising itself so that everything gets seen under the same hat. What happens when a reader happens to find one of those particularly horrible novels? Not just a bad plot, but bad writing? Are you going to demand that they change their buying habits? And then you run into the problem of bookstores having to take extra steps to protect the consumer, because a consumer won't buy from them if they carry books that would essentially be a waste of money.

    But if you consider it to be unreasonable to have a stamp of approval, which wouldn't have to be so subjective as to approve works of anything other than quality writing (almost no typos, decent grammar, etc.), then I suspect you're going to hit an even bigger wall than me.

    But whatever. No need to take constructive criticism or advice; no need to improve the industry by doing anything to help the consumer. Ridiculous. Pretty much all of it is ridiculous, to be fair, because what you're implying assumes that the really bad SP authors won't be capable of doing all of those things you mention that a consumer likes. Except they are. They're really good at it. And that's a problem you don't seem to want to address, which is fine by me, because it makes the split between traditional publishing and self-publishing exceptionally easy to see.

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  64. Telling people to advertise that their books are self-published is hardly constructive criticism.

    Talking about making sure people use editors and proof readers is constructive criticism. Telling people to use quality cover designers is constructive criticism. Telling them to hone their writing skills, take part in workshops and courses, and so on - all that is constructive criticism.

    Telling people to put a note on their book saying, "This is self-published, but I promise it's really good!" is far from any kind of constructive criticism. Convince people to do the other things adn the books will speak for themselves, same as a book from any other publisher.

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  65. Well you tell me how you're going to convince every single self-published author to properly edit their work and you may very well be rich. There are no legitimate traditional publishers who do not use professional editing and copy-editing in the production of a published novel, but that guarantee is not one that self-publishing can offer. Sitting here and saying "hey, you all should make sure to edit" is like telling the kids who don't want to play baseball to be better baseball players...you can say it all you want, but that doesn't mean they're going to put in the work to do it.

    Your argument pretty much ignores human nature and the reality of self-publishing in its current form. But it's your industry, so if you don't want better options for making it a more viable one, that's your decision.

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  66. We're obviously not going to agree on this.

    My point is fundamentally that self-publishers that do a good job of it will rise above those that don't. You're lumping all self-publishers in together and suggesting completely unviable methods to try to differentiate between them. A sticker on a book cover saying, "Properly Edited Self Published Book" is an absolute kiss of death. If the book is otherwise not recognisable as self-published, why put a badge like that on it?

    On the other hand, if a book is obviously self-published, then buyer beware. If a reader doesn't even take the time to thumb through a few pages and have a look at the writing and grammar, etc. then they deserve everything they get. Would you buy a car without test driving it and then complain that it was a piece of crap?

    You take this moral high ground and say that you're suggesting helpful ideas and I'm not prepared to consider them, when your ideas are actually really bad. I won't bother continuing this conversation any more, as we have plainly have different positions.

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  67. You're suggesting something that is not consistent with reality. You're also suggestion that self-publishers should actively seek to lie to the consumer and to do it so well as to literally trick the consumer into buying a product that you're unwilling to adjust so as to offer a guarantee that said work has been properly edited, etc. So, lie to the consumer to get them to buy a product under the assumption that the product is the same as products which have been edited (i.e. the same as traditionally published works). Not only is that unethical, but it makes assumptions that only good SPers will do such things, which isn't true, since bad SPers constantly manipulate the consumer anyway, and will only adapt as necessary to continue to do so.

    And then let's just assume that your little method works and it becomes common in bookstores. What happens when the consumer buys a bunch of books that were absolutely horrible? Since you don't agree with any sort of quality control, this means that it's possible that the consumer will be exposed to said works, and thus stop taking their business to any business that carries them. Without quality control, that means the business has to do extra work to get rid of the filth, because, again, the consumer is not your bitch (or the store's bitch).

    And to compare buying a car to buying a book is completely absurd. Modes of consumption are different in such a case, and it, again, ignores the reality that the average consumer will not do these things...ever. Reiterating once more, the consumer is not your bitch, so if you expect the consumer to do extra work for you, then you're essentially shooting yourself in the foot...because average consumers will not do extra work, and never have. They are born into a system that satisfies their needs for as little extra work as possible on their part.

    Given the kinds of things being said by SPers who disagree with me, it's clear that said folks are either completely oblivious to economic reality, or they choose not to entertain a fantasy that consumption culture can drastically change to provide for them. At best, if this attitude is to be maintained, SPing will only have a niche market, because essentially all the suggestions being made are "shoot-self-in-foot" ones, which would not only be damaging for SPing in general, but publishing and bookselling too. Contrary to popular opinion, when the consumer has multiple bad experiences at the same venue, they will stop going.

    Read some modern Marxist texts, or, at the very least, pick up a dummy's guide to the capitalist market or the consumer. Because this stuff is not that hard to grasp, even with rudimentary knowledge, and explains fully why one should support quality control in an industry that essentially has none whatsoever. If you want SPing to break out of its stigma, then you need to understand how the consumer operates and adjust accordingly. Otherwise it'll remain a niche market only.

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  68. I really was going to let this go, but you make it impossible.

    "You're also suggestion that self-publishers should actively seek to lie to the consumer and to do it so well as to literally trick the consumer into buying a product that you're unwilling to adjust so as to offer a guarantee that said work has been properly edited, etc."

    Completely incorrect. If it's a quality product then it HAS been well edited. Therefore, who's lying? You're assuming that a book is not properly edited and that by not advertising it as self-published people are trying to hide that fact. Or that it has been well edited and it therefore needs some kind of sticker to say so. What rubbish! In the first instance, it should have been well edited before it was published. If it wasn't, and I agree that happens a LOT with SPing, that fact is plainly evident very quickly.

    If a book is indistinguishable from a trad published title, in quality of production, editing, design and story, why the hell does it need a special mnention of how it was made?

    "Since you don't agree with any sort of quality control, this means that it's possible that the consumer will be exposed to said works..."

    Completely incorrect. I DO believe in quality control. I'm always advocating quality writing, editing, proof reading, cover design and so on. And of course consumers are exposed to "said works". Consumers are exposed to everything. I regularly get emails trying to sell me Viagra. But I ignore them because they're plainly bullshit.

    "Modes of consumption are different in such a case, and it, again, ignores the reality that the average consumer will not do these things...ever."

    Completely incorrect. If a book is by an author I don't know I always have a read of a few paragraphs before I buy. On Amazon I use the Search Inside function. I read the back cover blurb and reviews, etc. On occasion I'll randomy try a book sight unseen and I'm prepared for it to be crap. Books often are crap and not just self published ones. Buyer beware. The quality of a product is apparent in the product itself. Buy with your eyes shut and you deserve to get random results.

    You're so convinced that your ideas are great that you're refusing to see the reality of the situation. The simple fact is that SPing is always going to have a bad reputation because so many people churn out crap. For the quality SPers to rise up they need to make a quality product so that the fact that it was SPed is irrelevant. A good book is a good book, and no one gives a shit how it was made.

    I'm really going to try to stay away from this conversation now. Don't accuse me of any more things that are plainly incorrect.

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  69. "You're assuming that a book is not properly edited and that by not advertising it as self-published people are trying to hide that fact. Or that it has been well edited and it therefore needs some kind of sticker to say so."

    No, you didn't read anything I said, clearly, because I didn't say they were hiding the quality of the work, just the fact that it is, in fact, SPed. An SPed book is already a gamble for the average consumer, and hiding the fact that it is SPed from said consumer is basically lying to them. This would be like selling a Ford engine, but putting a Toyota design over it.

    "I DO believe in quality control."

    Not true. What you've made clear is that you only believe in quality control from an illogical standpoint that is completely inconsistent with the reality of consumer culture. You can tell people to edit and be good writers all you want, but that doesn't mean they're going to listen, which equates to essentially doing nothing to have quality control in your industry if you face reality.

    "If a book is by an author I don't know I always have a read of a few paragraphs before I buy."

    All the stuff that went with this quote are about YOU, not the average consumer. If you actually KNEW what the average consumer is willing to do, you wouldn't be sitting here spouting bullcrap about how you're some sort of representative of the average. You're not. Far from it. Most people who blog about books are not, but we're a minority, not a majority. Look up the statistics and read some books. Seriously. I of all people shouldn't have to tell you to do this, because as someone who is interested in this industry you should have an invested interest in such matters.

    "Books often are crap and not just self published ones. Buyer beware. The quality of a product is apparent in the product itself. Buy with your eyes shut and you deserve to get random results."

    Except the average consumer does not generally have these problems. Average consumers are perfectly satisfied with the quality of material published by traditional publishers, and as such already have a trustworthy market. It's not buyer beware for them. So to expect them to change their habits for you is essentially asking the consumer to go out of their way, and that's not the way the market works.

    "The simple fact is that SPing is always going to have a bad reputation because so many people churn out crap."

    Well, we agree on something, then. Glad that after all that arguing you've come around to my side of things.

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  70. For crying out loud. Can I make the point here that a good self published book cannot stand out in the crowd of utter tripe because there is absolutely NO way to tell if it's good without reading the entire thing. Why do you all have such a problem with marking a quality book as such? Answer: because you don't want to be marked out as a self-publisher. Why, I don't know, maybe you all have some kind of crazy complex, or are jealous you couldn't get/didn't try to be published traditionally.

    In summary: get a life and actually read what you're critising. You're worse than Shaun is.

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  71. Ellira: Criticizing :P.

    And thank you for pointing out the lack of reading being done here.

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  72. Criticising.

    And it was like 8am and half my finger is chopped off, give me a break.

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  73. Ellira: I know, but you correct me every once in a while, so I thought I would do the same here. I wouldn't want you to be a critique :P.


    Yeah, her and I are the only ones who probably get the joke of that last sentence. And yes, critic is spelled incorrectly. That's the point :P.

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