Bob Baker's Book Promotion Blog

Attack of the Self-Publishing Naysayers

Kent Larsen left a comment regarding my post "Self-Publish to Attract a Traditional Publisher." I decided to respond to it in this separate post. Please note, if my comments seem harsh, they're not directed at Kent. I appreciate the fact that he took time to respectfully comment.

But I'm not going to beat around the bush with this topic. There are far too many aspiring authors who buy into self-defeating beliefs about their ability to successfully publish a book on their own -- and I feel compelled to offer a different perspective.

Kent starts off with ...

I'm not sure I would say that self-publishing is an "ideal" way to reach traditional publishers. I see at least two problems with self-publishing: 1. There are a lot of companies that prey on self-published authors, selling them services that, they say, will get their books sold or better known. Some of the so-called "Print-on-Demand" publishers (really vanity publishers that use POD) are particularly egregious.

True. There are a number of "publishing" companies out there that do more harm than good when it comes to getting an author's work into the world. No doubt. There are also a lot of unethical car salesman in the world, but that doesn't mean I won't drive because of it. So I'm not following the logic here.

I totally agree with Kent in that I would rarely advocate someone using what I call a "service provider, book packager" publisher. These companies make money selling services to authors, NOT selling books. If you just want a one-stop source to get your book printed and can live with ridiculously high per-book "author prices" that will never allow you to make much money, then one of these services might work for you. (Although, from what I hear, BookLocker and iUniverse are two of the best bets.)

But if you truly want to self-publish, that means you "do it yourself." You form your own publishing company (which really isn't that complicated), purchase your own set of ISBNs, shop for and hire your own designer, editor, printer, etc.

Mr. Larsen continues ...

2. All self publishing has a poor reputation in the industry. Booksellers often assume, without reading, that any self-published book isn't worth reading, let alone stocking in their stores.

Kent's statement presupposes that authors should give a damn about what booksellers think of their books. As self-publishing guru Dan Poynter says, "Bookstores are lousy places to sell books." I've been a full-time self-published author for three years, and I've never concerned myself with retailers or what industry people think. My only concern from day one has been what readers think of my book. And guess what? They don't care who put out your book. They only care what benefit it delivers for them.

When was the last time you heard a friend say, "I wonder what new books Random House put out this month?" Probably never. But you have heard, "I wonder when Stephen King's new book will be out?" Why? Because people buy books based on the author and/or what the content promises to deliver. In fact, I'll bet that 99.9% of Stephen King's fans couldn't tell you who publishes his books. They don't care.

Stop obsessing about booksellers and the industry. And start putting a focus on readers and fans!

Another important thing: This negative self-publishing stigma is outdated and quickly eroding. It's a new world. Wake up and smell the megapixels. Indie music is huge, indie films are all the rage, and indie publishing is catching up too. Don't be left behind with an antiquated belief system. If someone you encounter has a problem with your book because it was primarily produced by you, don't waste your time with them. Move along to the next opportunity, because there are plenty of them out there.

Kent also writes ...

Self-published authors usually have to do quite a lot of work to overcome this disadvantage.

Once again, I question the "disadvantage" label, but regarding the work part ... Yup. Anything in life worth doing takes time, energy and effort. So I'm not getting out my violin just yet. Next.

I'm NOT suggesting that your comment is off the mark. Many self-published authors have found traditional publishing deals because they self-published. But if it is more than a fraction of 1%, I would be shocked.

I'll respond to this by pointing you to John Kremer's excellent Self-Publishing Hall of Fame page.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to artificially pump up would-be authors. But I refuse to join in the self-publishing doom-and-gloom chorus. I agree that, with the ease of putting a book out these days, there's a lot of crap in the pipeline. Yes, it's a noisy marketplace. Yes, it's rare for an author of any type (traditional or self-published) to make enough money to live off of. Yada yada yada. The same can be said for any industry.

Here's what I prefer to focus on: There are independently published voices that have something to say, that break through the clutter, that achieve impressive levels of success. Why discourage someone from taking that leap and giving it their best shot?

Again, I'm not trying to be harsh or get personal with my responses here. It's obviously something I'm passionate about, and I hope my little rant inspires you to at least think differently about your role as an author and your rightful place in the indie book world.


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  • "There are independently published voices that have something to say, that break through the clutter, that achieve impressive levels of success. Why discourage someone from taking that leap and giving it their best shot?" ... I agree 110%, Bob. It is one thing to understand the possibility of failure, quite another to not try simply because many fail. With that mindset, there would be no actors, artists, musicians or authors.

    "Stop obsessing about booksellers and the industry. And start putting a focus on readers and fans!" ... I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Kaufman (self-publisher of 14 books in two series). He's done exactly that by focusing on his reader's needs (which are also his clients...he's a consultant). He even customizes the book in some cases. All of this VERY successfully, independent of booksellers. BTW, he also had a lot of great tips he's learned from marketing his books.
    The interview's here if you are interested:

    By Blogger Bobette, At Friday, January 19, 2007  

  • Bob . . . One of the best reasons for self-publishing is to build the market so you can sell the rights -- in as many formats as possible. Not just as a book, but as an audio, an ebook, a seminar, an online course, etc. Self-publishing can be fun, but it is a lot of work. Or at least, persistence.

    By Blogger John Kremer, At Friday, January 19, 2007  

  • An important consideration is why you want to self-publish, too. The people who dismiss indie publishing quickly tend to have bought into the same mass-culture obsessions that make people think The daVinci Code must be a good book because it's sold a majillion copies. If you can't sell a majillion yourself, the thinking goes, why publish?

    Um, because it's art. Because you've been moved by something inside you to create an original work from the stuff of your imagination.

    If you focus on outcome ("I want to be rich and famous") when writing, people will smell it and stay away -- and they should stay away. Focusing on the response you want is also a perfect formula for generating writer's block -- which doesn't otherwise exist; writer's block is always a matter of putting the frilly cart of expectations and fears before the workhorse of your ability.

    Last year, I started my own micropress, producing books start to finish from home and selling them online ( All the equipment cost a fraction of what the 500-copy print run of my first book cost back in 1999, and now I can publish anything and everything I want. This allowed me to release two of my novels, a book of short stories, and even a full-colour 'zine last year.

    I have tens of readers, maybe a hundred. Kind of funny, eh?

    But you know what? I'm really happy. Much happier than when I was mailing manuscripts around to editors who weren't interested in anything that wasn't a guaranteed sale or a tie-in to some outside media thing, or who were so busy being consolidated into another company that they lost the manuscript, or, in the case of the one editor who starting championing my last novel, getting fired: the press shut its fiction imprint to focus instead on joke books and tourist attraction books.

    Meanwhile, an old university friend of mine has written a book that's selling really well in Canada, and her publisher is totally dropping the ball on it. She's scoring all kinds of media attention and people are loving the book, and the marketing director of the press won't even return her e-mails. So "getting published" isn't necessarily the answer we tend to think it is.

    As you say in one of your excellent articles, Bob, there's no point fighting against the gravity of what's so about the publishing industry. What's been beautifully liberating this past year, what's buoyed my spirits, is connecting my work with actual readers, putting my focus on them instead of publishers. No more bitterness, no more frustration, just lots and lots of things to learn and do.

    Too much of our focus is on reaching countless strangers and yearning after status that's supposed to be some sort of salvation. Reaching real readers, people you can see and meet -- I think that's a far better beginning for an author than playing a numbers game and trying to reverse-engineer existing work, seeking success instead of substance.

    The big challenge for me, what I now need to learn about most as a writer and self-publisher, is how to find other readers around the world, people beyond the community of my existing readers.

    Yikes! Sorry for the diatribe.


    If anyone would like to know more, I wrote an article outlining my process for creating books, both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound, which you can read here on the website.

    By Anonymous Hamish MacDonald, At Saturday, January 20, 2007  

  • As a post-script, I realise my remark about finding other "readers around the world" may have sounded contradictory to what I'd said a moment before (about not seeking fame and approval through numbers).

    My existing readers 'get' what I'm trying to do, and are, I realise, my audience. Having the micropress has helped me see that if someone doesn't like my work at this point, they're just not my audience. Of course I'm going to keep working to get better at what I do, but there's no value in my going for a vague, scattershot appeal to everyone.

    So the trick now is finding other pockets of similar-minded readers. That's harder for me than laying out, printing, binding, and finishing a book.

    Most self-publishing material is geared toward non-fiction, instructional books. It's trickier to say who the audience is for a particular type of fiction.

    Anyway... thinking aloud on your soapbox. Thanks for the indulgence, and all your helpful articles.

    By Anonymous Hamish MacDonald, At Saturday, January 20, 2007  

  • My POD company, BookLocker, is mentioned by Bob in his post as a "best bet."

    I wrote a formal response on my blog here:

    But here is the summary - basically, Kent assumes, incorrectly, that the book has to be “stocked” in a bookstore in order be a commercial success. Not true. We sell lots of books direct to the public.

    Here is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about - the traditional publishing process sucks. Many manuscripts go unpublished every year not because they are bad, but because traditional publishers don’t know how to find the book’s market in a cost-effective manner. That is where POD publishers like BookLocker can provide a real service, as long as the return on investment is good. And the return on investment is good if, and only if, the upfront costs to get into the market are kept low.

    Unfortunately, I have to concede to Kent that many POD companies offer a poor return on investment for authors.

    By Anonymous richard hoy, At Monday, January 22, 2007  

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