Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Quality and the Self-Publishing Author

If you’ve missed the recent spate of self-published (as well as a few traditionally published YA) authors imploding over negative reviews, consider yourself lucky and don’t bother trying to find out who went postal where. It’s just like every previous author-reviewer drama in memory and you won’t learn anything new, only that even those who know history seem doomed to repeat it. The only reason I mention them at all is that the latest round of this behavior resurrected the idea for this post, which I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Ever since I decided to start self-publishing original work (as opposed to re-releasing previously published titles), I’ve been feeling a vague sort of discomfort. Despite all the things I love about self-publishing—control over cover art, content, and release dates, instant access to sales figures, and no need to wait for a publisher to decide whether to publish my work or not—there’s one concern I can’t shake, and that is that no one other than me necessarily thinks the book is “good enough” to publish.

When a publisher offers a contract for a book, it’s a kind of endorsement; it says, “We are willing to make a financial investment in this manuscript because we think it’s worthy of publication.” How much that “endorsement” is worth certainly depends on the publisher—the more selective the publisher and the better that publisher’s end products are, the more it means. It also means more if there’s an advance involved and how much the advance is; the more money the publisher is willing to put at risk, the more confidence the author can have that the product is worthy.

But when I’m the only one taking any financial risk in the production and distribution of the book, how can I be confident that any book I publish myself is truly ready for prime-time? Even if my beta readers and editor tell me they loved it, maybe they’re just humoring me. I would hope not, but they aren’t fronting the money to publish the book, so they don’t have anything to lose by avoiding conflict and telling me what they think I want to hear. This leads to the inevitable fear: “What if this book actually SUCKS?”

Or, at least, it does for me because I am massively neurotic and insecure. That was the case even when my books had publishers behind them. Now that the publisher is me, I am just that much more neurotic and insecure. This isn’t to say I don’t stand 100% behind or believe in the quality of The Lesson Plan, which is the first book I’ve self-published that wasn’t already released by another publisher. I think it’s as good as or better than anything I’ve ever written and published before (which, depending on how you feel about my other books, may not be saying much). But that doesn’t mean I don’t toss and turn just a little more, because I feel my reputation is even more on the line than ever–I’m not just the author, I’m the publisher, which means I’m responsible for everything. And being responsible for everything means there are more things I can possibly screw up.

Okay, so I did have a point here vis-a-vis the apparent tendency for self-published authors to melt down in the face of bad reviews at a higher rate than those who are not self-published. To wit, I believe self-published authors think they have more to prove (and realistically, they do) and are more deeply stung by criticism because they already have a greater degree of insecurity/fear of failure.

This doesn’t justify lashing out at reviewers, of course, or trying to convince readers who didn’t like your book that they are wrong. Nothing justifies that. An author’s books are not their babies/children–and anyway, since when was no one allowed to give your child a low grade in school if he performed poorly?–nor is the “effort” of writing and publishing a book in any way an achievement that warrants universal praise and reward.

We all have to suck it up once we put a book out there and let the work speak for itself. But self-publishing authors have to suck it up just a little more, and that’s just the way it is.


  • Will Entrekin January 10, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    In recent months, as I’ve tried to take on a way more positive attitude regarding writing and publishing (and mostly succeeded in doing so! I feel way better, anyway), I wrote a number of posts about “good enough,” and what it means, and etc.

    Do you know the popular Sturgeon’s Law maxim? Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction writer who, when once told that 90% of science fiction is crap, replied that 90% of everything is crap. (I’m paraphrasing.)

    To that I’d add the corollary that what any one person considers crap might not be considered so by another. Ah, the subjectivity of taste. As well as agents’ and editors’ constant reminders that publication and representation and etc. are all such subjective endeavors.

    You said: “When a publisher offers a contract for a book, it’s a kind of endorsement; it says, ‘We are willing to make a financial investment in this manuscript because we think it’s worthy of publication.'” But really that’s only partly true. “Worthy” might actually not be the best choice, there, and that phrasing, and what the endorsement of agents and corporations really means, might be better put. More precisely, it might rather say “We are willing to make a financial investment in this manuscript because we believe we can sell it,” or “We are willing to make a financial investment in this manuscript because we like it.”

  • Jackie Barbosa January 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Hey Will, I absolutely agree with you. I’m not really saying that what publishers decided to buy is necessarily or always “worthy”. Rather, I am saying it’s easier for an author who has been picked up by a publisher to console him/herself when a bad review rolls in because he/she knows that somebody in publishing liked it enough to take a risk on it. When you are the only person/entity who thinks your book is “good enough,” there is a considerably larger potential for you to be wrong. Not to mention that if something goes wrong in the production of the book, be it editing or formatting or something else, it is DEFINITELY your fault. You can’t point your finger at the publisher and say, “They goofed.” Because it was YOU who did the goofing.

    None of this is to say anything negative about self-publishing per se. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was the right choice for me. I am saying that if you take the step of self-publishing, you have to be prepared to take your lumps–all of them.

  • willaful January 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I sent my husband Meljean Brook’s hilarious mocking of the “I google myself every morning” writer, with a note on the source, and his comment was that he bet it was a self-published author, because they don’t have anyone doing their publicity and need to do things like google themselves. I can’t remember if he was right, but I thought that was an interesting perspective.


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