Self-Publishing: A Question of Quantity vs. Quality?

self-publishingMy post on reading ‘goals’ for 2014 struck a nerve; several of the comments were about people whose choices last year were limited—by availability, by financial issues, by choices made via book club or other external factor and so on. People were delighting in the prospect of picking their own stuff!

One comment especially struck a nerve with me. ‘January’ had this to say:

“2013 was the year of the indie book for me. I vowed to give more new authors a chance and, at the same time, save money on my book habit. After 12 months of substandard writing, I can recall not one book that I would recommend to another reader. I found myself flying through so many awkwardly written books that I actually saved nothing because I ended up buying more books in my futile effort to find an indie author I could fall in love with. On January 1 I purchased a NYTimes best seller…and was reminded all over again why I love reading.”

This comment struck a nerve with me. I love self-publishing as a concept. I have championed its successes and rare hidden gems in the past. But…here is the thing: I sort of agree with January. Self-publishing, done right, really can be on par with mainstream publishing. But I think an awful lot of people aren’t doing it right…

Looking a little closer at my own ‘indie’ recommendations—the ten ‘best’ DRM-free books I recommended in my wrap-up on the Year of Reading DRM-Free—I found to my surprise that the vast majority of them weren’t actually ‘indie’ books at all. One was a public domain classic. Two were backlist republications of books which were initially published the old way. Two others were actual new ‘indie’ books but were written by authors who used to publish the ‘old’ way and know their stuff. And one—Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus—did start its life as a self-published indie but has now been run through the machinery of Big Pub too. Only two of the ten on my list were actual one-person shows.

So, what are the implications here? I’m not sure. I don’t think one can take one, or even several, books and use them to pigeonhole an entire industry. But with that said, there are some lessons here.

Firstly, I reject, 100%, the notion that all self-published books are all by definition inferior. I reject too the notion that all ‘mainstream’ published books are good. But what I do embrace is the motion that the concept of publishing as a ‘process’ is a useful one. I’m not saying you have to go through Big Pub to have that process. I think you can assemble your own cover artist, editor, proof-reader and so on, pay them a salary instead of having Big Pub do it, and get a quality book. That’s what Konrath and Crouch, the two who used to be Big Pub, do. And they seem quite happy with the results.

4 Comments on Self-Publishing: A Question of Quantity vs. Quality?

  1. Peter Kubicek // January 9, 2014 at 4:00 pm //

    Joanna Cabot, your post is much appreciated, but unfortunately I do not find it to be true.

    There is a major stigma attached to self-published books. I offer my own book, “Memories of Evil — Recalling a World War II Childhood,” (available on Amazon.com) as a prime example. This is the type of Holocaust memoir that is regularly reviewed by the Jewish press. To give you one example, “The Jewish Week” has over the years exhorted Holocaust survivors to write their memoirs, so that their testimony can be preserved for future generations. Yet, when I contacted “The Jewish Week” about my book, they would not give me the time of day. When I mailed a copy to their book reviewer, I received no acknowledgment of same; no apology: as far as “The Jewish Week” is concerned, I do not exist.

    I can give you other such examples involving Jewish publications, but I don’t want to repeat myself.

    Peter Kubicek
    Forest Hills, NY

  2. Finding good books is like everything else. You have to do your own research about what is best out there, find reviewers and other readers you trust, and find a sample of the book if you can.

    Doing that, you will at least avoid obviously incompetent books.

    I read “RTBookclub” for genre reviews. I also belong to a number of yahoogroups lists with readers of the kinds of books I most love to read, and I always read sample pages before I buy a book.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean all book you read will be great. I’ve read a few stinkers recently including an anthology that included a story by JD Robb, a mystery that read like a hack novel by two well-known writers, and a paranormal romance that was far too ambitious for the writer’s skills.

    Life is too short for bad books, and I am too cheap to buy bad books.

  3. The indie book market from a reader’s perspective is no different to the domain of established publishers, in that it takes time to explore what’s on offer and decide what (if anything) hits the spot. I’ve been reading indies for a couple of years now and out of dozens of books read I have discovered two or three writers I really like enough to seek out their other works. These discoveries are rare, but wasn’t that always the way when delving into the world of books?

  4. I’m sorry that your friend couldn’t find any good indie books. They are out there. In fact, I curate a page of “Indie Books Worth Reading” which consists of books I’ve given four or five stars to. I’m a former professional editor and a harsh reviewer, too.

    The link from my name goes to that page if you want to take a look.

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