Do self-publishers still need to explain why? By Roz Morris

This time last year I sent a tweet that said ‘after so long ghostwriting, this book’s for me’.

I was preparing to self-publish my first novel. In the sunny land of tweets, I was keeping up a front of jolly emancipation. Behind the scenes, all was frantic. I’d done a last edit that turned drastic. I was pleased with it but my first advance reader bawled me out for my robust treatment of reincarnation. Although we’re now great friends, this was not reassuring. I had no clue how to market the book, but if I aimed at the wrong readers there’d be hate mail.

I was blogging about it here and there, attempting to sketch my multilayered story in a thumbnail. Each time it sounded like a different book. And as for a back cover blurb? I was totally failing to write one that grasped the novel satisfactorily.

But flap copy was a detail because I had no front cover. I was designing roughs and hated the way they were going. Even if I was going to use a designer (which in the end I didn’t), I had to give them something to start with. 

Happy days
Those troubles eventually passed. But they were the minor half of the battle. This time last year, professional authors who self-published had a lot of explaining to do.

I launched My Memoriesof a Future Life at the end of August, but my campaign really began four months before that, in April. Not to promote the book; I didn’t even mention it. I needed to make my co-conspirators in the writing community understand why an author with two agents and previous bestsellers had to self-publish her novel.

In post after post, I laid the groundwork. What the industry is like. Why ‘new’ authors - or old ones without their disguise - can’t get a foothold. Why publishers say they want ‘originality’ and shrivel away from it hissing. Elsewhere on the ether, other authors - who had sworn they’d never self-publish their fiction because it would blitz their credibility - were conducting the same careful campaigns.

Were we being paranoid? Apparently not. An author and writing tutor told me off, saying I shouldn’t admit I’d got an ‘unsaleable’ novel, especially as I have another on submission.

(A year on, my husband has just been to a meeting where an editor admitted most of their new authors will have self-published first. A friend who’s a Big 6 editor ignores his slushpile and instead trawls the indie bestsellers on Amazon. So much for torpedoing our chances, if that’s where we’re aiming.)

I no longer feel I have to explain why I self-publish. But there’s still an old guard who wants to keep us as second-class writers. Plenty of literary competitions and review sites specifically bar indie authors. Just this week, Porter Anderson’s column Writing On The Ether was tackling the subject of professional bodies that exclude (or seem to) indie authors. And will the reading public, gorging on EL James, ever expect anything more of us than a good spank?

Thanks for the pics bohemiandolls and SarahWynne
Do you feel you have to explain why you self-publish? What do you think are the biggest battles we face now?

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at Nail Your Novel  and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. Her books are Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How YouCanDraft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available in print and on Kindle  She also has a novel, My Memories of a Future Life available on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.


Dan Holloway said…
I've always been fairly unapologetic. If it comes up, I explain I self-publish because I enjoy it and think it's right for me and my books

I think the real challenges we face are to get the media to take us seriously as artists (stories of people trawling indie bestsellers drives me stark staring bonkers) and to get literary festivals to do likewise. I have to say I've actually found the latter, certainly, much easier as a poet than as a novelist - people who are receptive to performance poetry don't care about publishing credits - they just want to see something on YouTube - it's much more democratic
Lee said…
Also, Dan, maybe there's more widespread acceptance of and respect for poets who self-publish because there's a longer tradition of it - maybe even because poets are expected to earn their living from banking or insurance ... ;-)

I'm not only unapologetic, but proud of self-publishing, and though at the very start - after my experience with a UK agent - I tended to explain why I prefer my independence, I stopped once I realised that an awful lot of people didn't believe me. The response I often got was: 'Yeah, but of course you're really just looking for a conventional publishing contract.'

It is nice to know, though, that editors have become more open-minded, Roz. Or maybe simply more realistic.
George Fripley said…
I don't think you need to justify yourself if you self-publish...that just gives the wrong impression in my view - a sort of tremourous voice asking for approval. You don't need approval, you just want to publish.

If you enjoy writing and want to share your work, that is reason enough. People will either like ot or not...que sera.
@Dan - unapologetic, yes that figures! It makes a difference where you start from and performance poetry is a different world from traditional publishing.
I totally agree that we have a hard time proving we're worthwhile and mature artists (mature in terms of our craft, that is... ). It makes me cross that the talent-spotters of the industry are only looking at pound signs instead of at the craft.
@Lee - Editors always knew they were driving good writers away for the wrong reasons, although I think it was the indie uprising of last year that turned the spotlight on it. I don't think they admit it in public, yet...
@George - it depends where in the industry you're coming from. Many of us have grown up with the notion that we were aiming for 'a publisher' and for a very long time that was the only artistic recognition we had. That's changing, of course, as more authors talk about the realities and the way books are chosen or rejected. If you're starting now it's a whole different ballgame.
Stacy Green said…
I've recently decided to self-publish my second book after going with a small press for the first, which is out in November. I've been studying review sites, and I was frustrated with the amount of ones who refused indie authors. Sorry, but there are plenty of low quality books published by the Big 6. Figure out a system to vet indie books - or all the books. Ask for a chapter excerpt first or something, but don't write them up completely. Then there are groups like International Thriller Writers. They don't accept my small press or indies. It's frustrating.

As you mentioned, I grew up with the idea that self-publishing was for the failures, and when I started my publishing journey just a couple of years ago, I never dreamed I'd go that route. However, I got my head out of the sand and educated myself. Hopefully others will be able to do the same, because they're missing out on some great books.
PT Dilloway said…
Just yesterday I read an article about Big Six publisher Penguin (or their owners anyway) buying AuthorSolutions, a self-publishing group. Between that and all the agents offering self-pubbing services, which seems to add to the legitimacy of self-publishing now. But that hasn't really erased the stigma in the public's mind though. And there are still plenty of poorly-written, poorly-edited "indie" books out there.
Ryan Casey said…
Good post Roz. When I tell people I have a book coming out, many of them are quick to ask, 'are you published?'

I know people who are 'ashamed' of being labelled as a self-published author, but I'm definitely not one of them.

I always explain to the person that I am self-publishing, because it gives me more control over the book, and works better for me. That's usually all it takes. At that stage, people are typically just impressed and proud that I've managed to actually write a novel!

I have experienced a few situations that have been trickier to convince people, but I like to think I made a good account of myself and my decisions. A few cynical, 'well how do you plan on getting a physical copy out if you aren't published' style comments. I think it displays a lack of understanding more than anything. The truth is, people are just as likely to have a self-published book on their Kindle as a published one today. The notion of the publisher is not as relevant any more; sample chapters, a good cover, and brilliant editing, more so.

Good post Roz!
Susan Schreyer said…
I've been an indie for 2 years now, and freely admit to being extraordinarily cautious before embarking on that path. Are there still people/organizations/businesses that don't feel we are legitimate? Absolutely. However, I've noticed a change in how much I care -- which is to say I'm no longer trying to convince those people, etc., I am capable of writing a good book. The industry continues to change and, as your husband noted, in many cases the old guard is now making a valiant effort to catch up with us.
Daniel said…
What Dan and Lee and others said. For me, unapologetic is too weak of a word, but proud is a bit strong. It was a business decision, and I don't regret it.

I wrote a good book. My sales and my reviews are telling me so. I know many other self-published authors who have also written good books. The majority of my reading these days is self published works.

Thanks to self publishing, I'm able to connect with many wonderful authors and read their stories. The stories are often unique and "unmarketable" for a big publisher, but that doesn't affect my enjoyment of them.
Debbie Bennett said…
@Daniel. That's the key for me. As a writer I'm too "unmarketable" for a trad deal. As a reader, I've found many great indie books that I would never have otherwise had the enjoyment of reading.
Dan holloway said…
It looks like blogger has eaten one of my comments - can't remember what most of it said, but Lee has a point about not justifying yourself - the moment you do there's a whole group of people who won't believe anything other than that you're still stewing over your rejections - they can't quite believe we'd *choose* to self-publish
Kathleen Jones said…
I admit to being guilty of snobbery originally - with 11 books published by the big 6 I was pretty sure that self-publishing was for amateurs. How wrong I was!! It took me a while to realise that self-publishing was a far cry from Vanity publishing, that the stranglehold of mainstream publishers and their policies was killing creativity, and that the E-book revolution was a liberation for authors.
I don't justify at all now. In fact, I'm trying to wrest some of my rights back from my agent and publish things myself rather than carry on in the traditional market.
Linda Austin said…
It's no longer "have to" self-publish, it's "want to" self-publish. I never considered trade publishers, and that was back in 2005. But, until most indie authors get on board with hiring pro book designers and editors, we're not going to be able to kick in the door to the trade groupies. We're getting better, but I still see so many... Yes, trade publishers esp these days are taking in more trash because it will pay the bills, but they still do produce many more quality books than crap. They are creating or snapping up pub services companies because they see the money in it, not because they think indies are so great. And if an indie breaks out, sure they'll take it on - it makes money and they have no risk!
@Stacy - you're right about the review sites and it makes me cross that they won't judge us on our work. It's funny you should mention ITW - that was the subject of Porter Anderson's post that I linked to.
@PT - yes there are still a lot of poorly produced indie books - mainly because the writers don't realise what actually goes into a published book. Even blurbs have to be written, rewritten, bounced off other readers, honed to perfection - and that's just one paragraph. The perfectionism and attention to detail that goes into a published book is extraordinary - and makes all the difference. But if you always thought the manuscript goes straight to press, why would you stump up cash for editorial services?
@Ryan - certainly the Kindle has evened things out - and in fact self-published books don't have to be electronic only (despite the name of this blog...)

@Susan - interesting point about who we're trying to win over. I just do my best to win readers. And it is funny how the old guard are changing their tune - in some cases...

@Daniel - hello! I think self-publishers are growing in confidence as a community. We can demonstrate good feedback from people who liked our work - and if we're getting that we can't go far wrong.

@Debbie - ditto, ditto!

@Dan - maybe I'm too honest... :)

@Kathleen - the creative stranglehold is one of the things I used to feel I had to explain, but actually it's been going a lot longer than these last few years. The author Robert Irwin started his career in the 1980s (I think) by self-publishing his novel - which was later republished by Penguin as a Modern Classic.

@Linda - good point about presentation. And the printers publishers use have tricks that aren't as available to us - such as spot varnish or metal on covers - so they can give a physical book more feel appeal. You can get a lot more flexibility with Lightning Source but Lightning Source are harder to use and more expensive. Also Amazon seems to have 'difficulty' keeping Lightning Source titles in stock, which puts off buyers.
AJ Knauss said…
It's changing. It's just as hard to succeed as an indie author as a traditional author; just hard in a different way. I am learning marketing as I go. But after the 2nd agent who read ROOM FOUR gave me the same "I love it, it's quirky and I don't know how to market it," I thought it was time to go indie. No regrets!
At this point, I have to explain why I might consider trad-pub (in addition to self-pub, which I will, without a doubt, continue to do). :)

Great post! Will tweet it out!

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