Andrew FranklinI went through a phase where I wanted to become a book reviewer. Not just the books everyone else was reading, but indie books as well. My plan was to read a self-published book one week and a traditionally published book the next. I intended to go back and forth that way for quite some time.

I stopped after about two months.

Some of the self-published books I read were not good. But that’s not why I stopped. Between work and other commitments, I couldn’t keep up that pace. But I still review books on Goodreads, just not at a frantic pace.

Andrew Franklin
A. Franklin

I bring up the fact that some self-published books were not good because of a post I read on Good E-Reader. But first let me say some of the indie books I read were actually wonderful. I read a fun thriller that revolved around baseball, and a wonderful children’s book that I recommended to my nephew. Some of the other books were good in theory, but needed a better editor to bring the true story off the pages.

I thought about this today when I read “The Overwhelming Majority of Self-Published Books are Terrible” on Good E-Reader.

These weren’t actually the words of the post’s author, Michael Kozlowski; they were the words of but Andrew Franklin, the founder of Profile Books, based in the UK:

At the Writing in a Digital Conference in London, Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, blasted authors who self-publish. “The overwhelming majority of self-published books are terrible—unutterable rubbish, they don’t enhance anything in the world.”

Franklin went on to say, according to Kozlowski:

These books come out and are met with a deathly silence, so the principle experience of self-publishing is one of disappointment.” He went on to voice his increasingly disparaging remarks by saying, “I was very shocked to learn you can buy Facebook friends and likes on social media. That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing.”

First of all, ouch.

Secondly, I have read some awful books that have been traditionally published as well. One of the main differences, however, is the process. Most traditionally published manuscripts go through rigorous editing from agents and editors before the final piece comes out. Some self-published authors often don’t take advantage of services out there that will do this for them.

And what about Franklin’s suggestion that self-pubbed books don’t enhance anything in the world? Maybe not in your world, Franklin. But any self-published book could mean a whole lot to a great number of people, not least the author and his or her family members. The very accomplishment of completing a project as intensive as a book, for instance, could be just the confidence-boosting push some writers need to go on and accomplish even more with their careers.

While there aren’t hundreds of success stories of self-publishers becoming big sensations, there are authors who have had marginal success—and their books are getting read for a reason.

Probably not because they’re terrible.


  1. I often see editing mentioned as the biggest advantage traditional publishing has over self-publishing, and, on one level, I think you and they are right. There are a lot of self-published authors who need editing. But I’m seeing less editing being done at the traditional level also. There are authors I used to like who seem to have deteriorated over the course of their career. Early books are tightly written. Later books seem sloppy. I read a comment on a blog recently where the person said new authors tend to write long, and their stories are better when they are trimmed. I agree. But I’m seeing established authors doing the same thing. I love Jim Butcher, but as his series has gone on, we see far too much exposition and repetition. (Really, Jim, we know that Mouse is huge and that Thomas is gorgeous. No need to keep going on about them.)

    All this starts to make me wonder. Is there a point in an author’s career where they think they don’t need an editor? If so, they are just as wrong as the self-pubbed author who ignores that part of the process.

  2. I think you’re right. I have seen that too I think once a writer makes a lot of money, they might skip the editor part.

    I actually always wondered if Stephen King still going through the same process. I like his books, but I just wonder about it. Does he hand in a manuscript and just say, “OK, here it is, now go to print.”

    Editing process is so important, but one thing I learned when I first started my career was you have to take your ego out of it. And it’s so hard to do.

  3. Susan,

    I really enjoyed your thoughts. I agree with them too. I have read a few self-published books. One I absolutely loved, but as the book progressed there were more and more minor errors. I also happen to have a husband who writes. We’ve self-published two of his books and e-published another on Smashwords. Prior to publishing, however, I can not tell you how many times we went through the books. He did and I did; probably 30 times in all. Over and over. And we still found two mistakes we missed in the first one.

    Michelle Murphy

    If you’d like to look him up, or review a book down the road, let me know.

  4. @Juli and Susan — I have been a professional editor for more than 30 years and based on my experience, I can say that some authors, as they become increasingly successful, demand that their books be printed as submitted, some insist that “editing” be limited to what essentially amounts to spell-checking, some insist on doing their own editing (self-editing), and some allow the publisher to do a traditional edit and then ignore anything done or suggested by the editor (sometimes even reversing any changes made by an editor). There are many authors, however, who value the input from a good professional editor.

    Professional editors are constrained by several things: (1) what the client has hired them to do; (2) the increasingly shorter schedules demanded by clients; (3) the unwillingness of too many authors to view the editor-author relationship as one of partnership rather than as adversarial; (4) the belief by too many authors that once they hand in a manuscript they no longer have any editorial responsibility for the manuscript; (5) the globalization of editing so that authors and publishers believe that as long as an editor can be reached over the Internet all editors are the same; and (6) the pressure by the bean counters to reduce costs and thus the reduction in fees paid for editing because editing is not something that is readily seen and errors are not seen by consumers until after purchase.

    In addition, there is the problem of editing and language skills of both authors and editors. I have found it increasingly difficult to hire new, young editors because the same lazy skills that they use to text friends (gr8 rather than great), they use in editing. Similarly, authors are not being educated in traditional writing skills. Consequently, bad manuscripts meet bad editors and then are published in bad form.

    There are many excellent editors and authors; they just are not always meeting. Too often an author or publisher’s primary concern is cost of editing, not quality of editing.

  5. @Richard Adin – Good points, all of them, and we appreciate your taking the time to comment. As an author myself, I can relate to most of these points, and I can assure everyone reading that what Richard wrote is pretty much the reality.

    As for point #4: I’ve written a number of travel guidebooks, and I’ll admit that when I did my very first, I had absolutely no idea how much work would still be remaining after I filed my manuscript – in other words, after I’d assumed I was finished.

    On one particular guidebook job, which wasn’t merely an update to an existing title but a first edition I’d researched and written from scratch, I probably did just as much work *after* the manuscript had been submitted as I had on the actual process of writing the book. The work just seemed to go on forever, and ever.

    Of course, I was prepared for that sort of thing after that initial experience. And while I did find myself wondering why my editors hadn’t really prepared me for the piles of work that would come my way after the project was “finished,” I think the truth may be that it’s tough to prepare anyone for a first-time experience like that.

    At some point in every writer’s career, there comes a time when you realize that this is really, really hard work. And you’re either OK with that and you keep plodding on, or you’re not OK with it and you quit. But for the most part, the majority of young writers (or young editors, or whatever) haven’t fully experienced that moment quite yet; a lot of them are still under the impression that a career in publishing or writing is a sexy, glamorous undertaking. As a result, most of them probably aren’t putting quite as much effort into their jobs or careers as they really should be. Which is to be expected, of course, since after all, they’re still young.

    But here’s the problem: The publishing industry as a whole seems to be increasingly hiring young workers, because they come cheap. You can offer a much lower salary to a 20-year-old with no real obligations and very little real-world experience than you can to a mid-career type with a family, a mortgage, and 20 years of experience. We all know why this is happening, of course: The economy’s still not great, and the publishing industry is still very much in flux, and there’s less money to go around. And yet less money and less talent often results in a lesser-quality product. Which, one would assume, often results in less sales, and then even less money to go around. It’s a creature that eats its own tail, really.

    Sadly, I’m not sure there’s any solution aside from somehow convincing employers to spend more money on real talent. And how one would go about accomplishing that, I’m afraid, is beyond me.

    And while yes, this is a conversation our industry has been having for years now, I’d still love to hear any thoughts or potential ideas from our readers. Please feel free to post them here as a comment.

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