The Stigma of Self-Publishing

I’m over at the Catholic Writers Guild blog today discussing the “Stigma of Self-Publishing.”

I am the self-published author of four books. Three of my books are currently on various bestsellers’ lists on Kindle. My second novel, In Name Only, won a Gold Medal in Religious Fiction in the 2010 IPPY Awards (the first Catholic novel to win this award). It has been #1 in its category for nearly three months (dropping to #2 for two weeks when my third novel Stealing Jenny took over the #1 position). Stealing Jenny is #2 in one category and has been in the top 20 of four other categories for three weeks. In the past year, my books have been downloaded by tens of thousands of readers. And yet, when I recently asked a local Catholic newspaper if they would write a review of my latest book, they replied, “We don’t review self-published books.”

Another time, I attended a large “book fair,” where hundreds of authors set up tables and sold books. There were other self-published authors at this event. At first glance, however, it wasn’t obvious that I was a self-published author. My books had professional looking covers and book trailers. I sat beside a published author who began conversing with a prospective reader. “Did you self-publish your book?” the reader asked. “Oh, no, I would never have done that. My books are published by a reputable publisher.” She would never have stooped so low as to self-publish. Ouch.

Self-publishers have come a long way. Years ago, authors who took the “vanity” publishing route were rarely taken seriously and they rarely sold more than a few books.

That attitude has improved in the seven years since I published my first novel, although many professionals in the publishing industry and some traditionally-published authors continue to have a bias against self-published authors and books.

I believe part of the reason is because self-publishing is so easy nowadays that just about anybody can do it and the quality of some self-published books is poor. Some naive first-time authors think they can do it all. Some newbies think that they are great writers and don’t “need” an editor. Novice authors often think they can design their own cover without any sort of advice from a visual designer. I have seen more than a few self-published books in my capacity as reviewer for Catholic in which the quality of writing was so bad I won’t even review it.

Another reason there may be a negative bias toward self-publishing could be the belief that self-published authors wouldn’t be able to get published by a traditional publisher or that perhaps they have already been rejected. This may be true for some self-published authors. But consider the case of self-published millionaire, Amanda Hocking who was rejected by traditional publishing houses and who is selling 100,000 books per month on Kindle.

On the one hand, I understand why some newspapers, magazines and websites need to have a blanket rule in place for self-published books (since there are many poorly written self-published books). On the other hand, I have also read extremely well-written novels by authors who self-published: Elena Maria Vidal, Gerard Webster, Christopher Blunt, Krisi Keley, Regina Doman, to name a few.

Although self-publishers have come a long way, we have not arrived yet with regard to “stigma” of self publishing. Despite the stigma, I don’t believe I would ever go the traditionally published route. After self-publishing four books (with lots of assistance) and after having 100 percent of the control, it would be hard to give my books to a publishing company. For me, it would be like giving my baby away to someone else to raise.

The stigma and negative bias of self-publishing will likely not disappear completely. However, if self-published authors continue to publish quality books, sell to thousands of readers and raise the bar for self-published books, it will hopefully lessen the stigma.

To learn more about self-publishing, I’ll be giving two chat presentations at the Catholic Writers Conference Online in March: Self-Publishing and Kindle e-books.

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach Images purchased from iStock


6 thoughts on “The Stigma of Self-Publishing

  1. As a Catholic reader, I’m glad you’re self-publishing, because it allows you to set the costs of your books at a price that seems reasonable. I have a couple of your books in my Kindle TBR pile, and even though you are a new writer to me, your low costs allowed me to risk trying something new.

    Some time last year, I read about another Catholic novel that seemed intriguing, but that author’s publisher didn’t even offer a Kindle version and the paperback version seemed too expensive for me to try an unknown writer. I ended up getting the book from an Interlibrary loan and that author lost a sale. (By the way, I didn’t end up liking the book enough to have justified buying it for the PB price of around $15. However, had it been an ebook around $5 or less, I would have purchased it.)

    In another example, there’s a traditionally published nonfiction Catholic ebook I’m interested in now, but it’s almost ten dollars. Once again, that’s a lot for me to pay for an “unknown,” especially for essays. So that book and the one mentioned above didn’t get a sale from me, but your books did.

    P.S. I used to work for a publishing company, and I know their authors weren’t the ones who set the prices. So it’s not the authors I’m blaming. I’m just describing how I make purchasing decisions.

  2. Thanks so much for your comments, Mary. I agree with you…although I’m an author, I’m also a reader and I love my Kindle. I figure that if I purchased an expensive device to read e-books, I expect the books to be cheaper so I won’t purchase an e-book over $5.00. Also, as a reader, I won’t risk spending over 5.00 for an author whose work I’m not familiar with. As a self-published author, I can set the price for my books cheaply to persuade readers to buy my books. I don’t understand why traditional publishers can’t do the same thing…after all, there are no printing costs. Of course, expensive Kindle books by well-known authors often DO sell extremely well. I’m just thankful that I am able to make a living by offering my books on Kindle. Again, thanks for your comments!

  3. Pingback: Sunday Snippets – March 18 « Plot Line and Sinker

  4. When we come across high quality self-published authors like you, it helps lessen the stigma. Like you, if I self-publish another book, it’s because I want total control. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want people to help me by reading and evaluating what I write before I publish. It’s just that working through a publishing house means working on their timetable and with whatever constraints they establish. So keep up the good work. I know it’s really hard work, but it’s a great benefit to be able to charge less and give more.

  5. I write in a very specific niche – history of the wild west. I would say that 85% of the work in the field is self-published. A few of the books in the field go through the traditional process, but they are few and far between, and that includes the university presses. We are writing things that mainstream publishers won’t touch – there’s a very limited market. Seriously, who wants to read my 528 page magnum opus with 2200 footnotes about Frank Waters and Wyatt Earp?

    The strange part of this is that there is money to be made this way. I’ve not sold that many copies of my work (life gets in the way with elderly parents) but, I’ve already been able to realize more money from two of my projects than a colleague who was nominated for a major award via the traditional route.

    Editing is a pain. My “Travesty” spent three years in the editing process because I wanted each and every footnote vetted, every single fact confirmed. I am fortunate to have a very good friend who was the head proofer for a major university press. I had a professional editor who went back and forth with me over things in the book. To me, it was important, because I’d put ten years of my life into research.

    I am well aware no one is going to sit down and read the book cover to cover. I wouldn’t. It is a research tool and an obsession. I have a book-seller who has managed to get it placed in the libraries of every major university in the country. To me, that’s terribly important.

    My second non-fiction took another decade, not of research, but getting hold of the diary and then getting permission to publish. Because it is the diary of Endicott Peabody’s building of the first Protestant church in Arizona, and because the church is near and dear to my heart, I have a tendency to simply give the parish boxes of books to give away and sell. That’s my tithe.

    It is all about control. I am fortunate to have a very good small press behind me. A decade ago they were doing maybe 1 book every six months. Now, they’re churning out one nearly every week for someone. Many are pathetic, but some aren’t bad. I’m now working on a book about American fashion using about 2200 old photos from 1860-1910. Let’s be honest, no publisher in their right mind is going to bother with it. I must do my own layout because of the subject matter and the graphics. “Travesty” was self-indulgence. This one is just a good book, something I would go out and buy. It is also niche.

    We must be aware of the limitations. I also know people who are making a comfortable living this way. It takes awhile, but there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction. My one complaint is that “professional” writer’s organizations and guilds refuse to recognize us as professionals and grant full membership status.

    I read a critique of self-publishing that stated a self-published author would be lucky to sell 150 copies. That is a bit deceptive because the average sale of all books sold (before the self-publishing explosion) was about 100 copies per title. I’ve reached the point where I no longer care what they say. I know I am turning out quality work. When the biggest pain in your field, a legend, thorn in everyone’s side, worst critic, etc. says you’ve produced the book they wished they had the courage to write, then that’s enough for me.


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