Traditionally vs. Self-Published Books (again!)

July 4, 2014 self-publishing, traditional publishers 16

Yesterday, M @ My Closet Catalog posted a comment on the Print Books vs. Ebooks (again) post, asking “Now I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding professionally published vs. self-published.”  By the time I finished answering her, I had a whole post… so here it is.

I’ve written about that several times in years past, but less often as self-publishing has gained more respectability. Basically, I see no reason an author can’t choose to self-publish provided s/he does so professionally. In other words, self-published books should be well-written, well-edited, scrupulously copyedited and proofread, well-formatted for any platforms on which they are sold (Kindle, ePub, iBooks, etc.), and have a good cover design. Authors need to be honest with themselves regarding their skills; most aren’t great at everything, and may need to hire a proofreader, a formatter, and/or a cover designer, and quite possibly an editor. They also need to be prepared to market the book themselves… and behave professionally in regard to reviews and reviewers. (The last part goes for traditionally published authors, too!)

As for whether self-published books as a whole are as “good” as traditionally published books… well, unfortunately, there’s dreck in both arenas, but a lot more of it among self-published books, because there’s no way to enforce professional-level editing, proofreading, etc. on self-published authors. Some of them “get” that they need to do that; others don’t. Writers who are really serious about their craft do get it. I’ve read several self-pubbed books that I wouldn’t (and in two cases, didn’t) guess were self-published, because the writing, editing, and presentation were so polished.

Sadly, I’ve also read some traditionally-published books with typos, mediocre writing, and even copyediting issues — like a novel in which the heroines dispose of the bodies of the bandits they’ve just killed. Twice. They take care of them once, then the book cuts to another character far away for a chapter, and when it cuts back to the first set of characters, they’re disposing of the bodies again, in a slightly different manner. The author should have caught it. The editor should have caught it. And it was the copyeditor’s job to catch it. No one did, and the book went to print like that.

So… I’m in favor of self-publishing as long an author is willing to do what it takes to get it right. Mostly, I’m in favor of authors having the choice, particularly if they’re having a hard time finding a publisher for their work (and the problem isn’t due to the quality of the writing.)

But as a reader, I do approach self-published books with caution. Anything that smacks of amateurism is likely to keep me from buying it, whether it’s terrible cover design or a badly-written blurb or reviewer complaints about typos or grammar problems or formatting errors. Professional-quality presentation doesn’t guarantee a good book, of course, but lack of it could mean the writing is similarly “not ready for prime time.”  And my reading time is too precious to waste.

16 Responses to “Traditionally vs. Self-Published Books (again!)”

  1. M @ My Closet Catalogue

    Brilliant! Thank you! Again, you’ve given me much food for thought. As the cliched English teacher by day/novelist by night, I’ve long dreamed of having my own ISBN but have been loath to pursue the cutthroat world of publishing. Yes, rejection is my kryptonite. With the advent of the digital age/blogging/forums/fanfiction, however, a whole new avenue opened up to me and I began to hope once more. Still, the elitist in me was wary of self-publishing because of the very things you pointed out. The jury, then, is still out for me.

    P.S. Glanced at your fave books list and I see we’re practically book soul sisters. I couldn’t get into the Beka Cooper story, though. Maybe I’ll try again after I come down from the high that is Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Thank you – I’m glad you made me think. I don’t think self-publishing is better or worse than regular publishing; they each offer different perks and drawbacks. But I’ve certainly heard of authors being rejected by publisher after publisher not because their book wasn’t good, but because either the publisher thought there wasn’t a market, couldn’t figure out how to market it, or thought the market was saturated or dying. Of course, that means some good books don’t make it, and some readers who would really like a book that’s an odd mix of genres, or a new subgenre, or whatever, don’t get a chance to read it. Now that self-publishing’s stigma is fading, authors do have an option if a book doesn’t sell, as well as if they simply want more creative control or a larger share of the royalties.

      I always love finding bookish kindred spirits — I hope you’ll friend me on Goodreads, if you’re on there! The list isn’t comprehensive, though, because the woman who makes the little banners hasn’t made them for all my faves, just some of them. Re the Pierce books: The Beka Cooper trilogy has a different, much grittier feel than some of Pierce’s earlier books. For all the realism in the Kel books (when it comes to things like what it feels like to joust, for instance), Kel, like Alanna and to a certain extent Daine, spends much of her time dealing with and living around nobles. Beka is working-class poor, she’s a cop, and the Tortall of several centuries before Alanna and Kel is a rougher place, so the books are definitely grittier.

  2. Katherine P

    I agree about avoiding the “amateurish”. There have been books I have avoided because the cover looked hokey that ended up being really good books. I don’t have anything against self-published and I’d definitely pick up one that was recommended but if I had to chose between 2 books I knew nothing about other than one was self and one was a large publisher I’d probably pick the large publisher because I would think there would be more quality control from the publishing house.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I mentioned that I’ve read books I didn’t realize were self-published, and it’s true; they were totally professional in appearance, editing, writing, the whole nine yards. I’ve also read some that made me wince, with bad editing/proofreading, horrible grammar, flat storytelling, and trite plots. Generally, I figure that if a book presents itself really professionally, it’s probably going to be all right, but I agree, I’ve seen some good books in so-so covers. (Not, so far, in horrible covers, however. Dreadfully bad covers seem to go with badly written and/or badly edited books, and vice versa.)

  3. kimbacaffeinate

    I have no problem with self-published books as long as the book has gone through the same process a traditional publisher would do. Editing, etc.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Yes! My feelings exactly. If you’re an author, be a professional and maintain high standards, no matter which publishing route you take. And there are some very good self-published authors out there who do exactly that.

  4. Bea

    ” But as a reader, I do approach self-published books with caution. Anything that smacks of amateurism is likely to keep me from buying it, whether it’s terrible cover design or a badly-written blurb or reviewer complaints about typos or grammar problems or formatting errors. Professional-quality presentation doesn’t guarantee a good book, of course, but lack of it could mean the writing is similarly “not ready for prime time.” And my reading time is too precious to waste. ” – Yes. This sums it up perfectly.

    I don’t care if a book is self pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed as long as it’s professionally done. It’s the quality that matters.

  5. Braine TS

    A good story is a good story and a good writer is a good writer. As for how the story is made, I believe it does take a village to complete one. That said, I put a lot of weight on honest beta readers. I’ve read books from both sides of the coin and had to ask myself, “Did their beta readers really thought this was good? Did any of them find this and that to be weird?” coz some really sucked or choppy or could use a LOT of editing. I think the one advantage trad-pub books have is they have a team of editors and publicity people so even when it’s a so-so book, it gets hyped and get talked about even when it doesn’t deserve to.

    Great post!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I do agree that it takes a village to turn a story into a good book. One major advantage that most traditionally-published books have is the editor. It’s the editor’s job to help the author create the best book s/he can write. That can mean telling the author that the last two-thirds need to be totally rewritten, or that this scene has to go, or that the pacing is terrible and needs to be fixed.

      Good beta-readers may be able to do the same thing for a self-published author, but they don’t have any training in it, and they may be too reluctant to hurt the author’s feelings. There are, however, skilled and experienced editors working freelance, and some self-published authors hire them to help polish a book into shape before the author releases it.

      Sadly, as traditional publishers tighten their belts, there are fewer experienced editors and more newly-hired ones in their ranks. That can mean, for newer authors in particular, that the book is in the hands of a less-skilled editor, and may not get the editing it needs or deserves. It’s true that marketing and publicity can do a lot even for a so-so book, but readers and critics usually catch on reasonably quickly.

  6. Rita_h

    I missed your previous post from which this discussion came from, but I agree with you & quote you “I see no reason an author can’t choose to self-publish provided s/he does so professionally”.

    In a nutshell! Writing can be a hobby but when you charge people to read it, it becomes a job and one should always do their job professionally, no matter if you are a new author, a copywriter or a publisher. Have pride in what you are putting out there and have someone triple-check for errors in grammar or plot.

    I will rarely read self-pub, and very carefully, as I have been burned in the past, and when I DNF it I have the unenviable job of telling the author it needs work still and I can’t review it. I hate to hurt someone’s feelings, but it has to be done. To ignore it is a disservice to the author and to the readers out there that will come after me and waste their money. Just my two cents…
    Thanks for a great topic!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Yes, yes, yes to your second paragraph! And I, too, approach requests to review self-published books with caution. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t read some terrific self-pubbed books… but I’ve also read some dismal ones. (Luckily, the worst ones were freebies I picked up, and I didn’t have to tell the author anything at all.)

  7. Angela's Anxious Life

    I don’t read as much as other bloggers. So I don’t read any self-published. I have only read one which is from an author my mom worked with so I also felt I needed to give it a good review. But it needed some serious editing. I don’t actively avoid self published but since I don’t read a lot I stick to traditional.

  8. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

    I’ve read some self-published books and a number of them have been very good. I agree authors need to have editors, proofreaders, copywriters and any other help they need to create a great book! And traditionally published authors need the same–and sometimes don’t get it.

    I’m willing to try a self-published author when the price for the ebook is reasonable, the synopsis sounds good and/or I’ve read good reviews.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Jan, you’re absolutely right that sometimes even traditionally published authors don’t get the support they need. Many debut and midlist authors get little to no help with publicity, and I’ve read books by well-known authors that clearly needed a stronger editor’s hand and/or better copy-editing and proofreading.

      Those are good criteria for deciding whether to try a self-published author. I use those plus the quality of presentation (cover, error-free blurb, etc.) when I decide. Time is also a factor; if my reading time is short (as it has been lately) then I’m less likely to pick up an unfamiliar author whether self- or traditionally-published.