Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is the Self-Published Book Always Inferior to Traditionally Published Book?

The Publishing Snob

I have come across a fairly persistent bias in my brief cybernetic wandering through the self-publishing world. There seems to be an idea that a self-published book can’t be as good as a similar book coming from an established publishing house. As a self-publisher, my first instinct is to reject this idea as propaganda from a desperate publishing industry and feigned elitism from those writers who can’t let go of the old 20th century model. But the more I think about it, the more I think that they might be right, for now.

What Does “Inferior” Mean?
Keep in mind, when I talk about the difference between an inferior and a superior book, I am not talking about the quality of the story. I have read quite a few books from prominent authors and released by prestigious publishing houses that were simply horrible when it came to the actual story. We have all read plenty of mainstream books with two dimensional characters, plots riddled with clich├ęs and created as pure money grabs. There are also brilliant writers who are crafting beautiful stories and releasing the books independently. The quality of the story is not determined by who does or doesn’t publish it.

I’m also not sure that sales can be a definite indicator of a book’s superiority. It is a highly touted concept that most self-published books don’t recoup their costs. I think that is true, but I think it is also true that most books that come out of traditional publishing don’t make back the money spent on them. So if the majority of books on both sides fail financially, the potential profit of a book might not have any connection to how it got published.

The Publisher’s Advantage
I have dipped my toes in e-book publishing for six months now. At this point, I can see that there are clear advantages that a publisher brings to the table. The secret is expertise and division of labor. Here are some likely facts about a book that has been released by a publishing house:
  • It has been vetted by a series of professionals for its market potential
  • It has been professionally edited, proofread, re-written and positioned in the market
  • It has been professionally packaged in terms of cover design, copy writing and formatting
  • Someone was willing to take a financial risk in releasing that book

Self-published books can be released without any of these factors coming into play. With today’s technology and distribution channels, a passionate and inspired writer (or anyone for that matter) can release a book without doing anything to create a polished product. We can to everything ourselves, even if we shouldn’t. The result is hundreds of thousands of books that don’t look or read as well as a traditionally published book. That is where the bias comes from. The ability that we have to circumvent the old system has robbed us of the benefits of that system.

Change My Title to Change the Game
I have no interest in going the traditional publishing route because I believe artistic freedom and innovation are greater in self-publishing. But I do think there is something to learn and even steal from the old guard. I haven’t given up on being independent. I have given up on being just a writer. I have expanded my focus from the story to the book.

A writer has a limited set of concerns and skills. We deal in plot, character, subtext and all the literary building blocks of our craft. But the story is only the first step in the book. It has to be refined, polished and packaged for consumption. It has to go through the same process as it would in a traditional publishing scenario. The only difference now is that I have to be more than the writer. I have to be the publisher.

That means I have to create the publishing process. I have to test the market to make sure the concept is viable. I have to hire the team of experts to create the polish. I have to manage the process. I have to position the book and build the audience. I have to take the financial risk. I can’t just write the story. I have to publish the books.

Remembering the Goal
I don’t read books based on whether they are self-published or not. I pick them up when they catch my attention and make me curious. I read them because they hold my interest. I remember them because they made me think and feel something. That is what I want to create for you in the end. I want to create the stories that will stick with you. If I do my job as a publisher properly, you’ll appreciate my effort as a writer much more. You won’t be able to tell the difference between my books and the ones coming out of Random House. Then you can focus on the story, which is all that really matters in the end.

Have fun.


  1. An Excellent post!! In fact, before I released my book, I hired the team of editors (formerly Robert Ludlam's), proofreaders, marketers, etc. I still got a lot of nose before I could meet eyeballs in the book world. Then I sold my book to Thinkk Smart Press and got respect because now I had a publisher. Until now, I've told no one that I own TSP and am it's only author. It's weird how that works. Elitism is pervasive in so many (too many) aspects of our lives.

  2. Thank you for the feedback. Your approach makes a lot of sense.

    Are you still on good terms with the editors and proofreaders in your marketing team? I'm looking to build my skill team and a referral would be great. Hope to hear from you soon.


  3. From my perspective, independent publishing allows me an audience of reviewers to evaluate and criticize my work from their perspective. Veritable groups of reviewers that I can freely gift my book too, in exchange for nothing more than an honest review for all the world to see. These are invaluable tools for any artist concerned with honing their craft.

  4. In an ideal world, there wouldn't be a difference between self-published and published. But, the big difference today is that authors who can not get anyone to hear them, go and publish their own books. They get punished enough for it: even if their titles are well written and well edited, the libraries won't buy them, bookstores turn their backs, too many fellow writers badmouth them 'in principle'-- and the readers don't get the chance to be the ones deciding whether or not they are worth reading. At The, we try to break the barriers as a strong voice for authors who can speak and write but have no say in the fate of their works.