3 S.R. Johannes: Not all is equal in publishing

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Not all is equal in publishing

So a few things have come up over the last few months that have got me thinking and I wanted to open a dialogue about it.

Traditional authors and indie author book are not held or measured against the same standard.

Even though traditional authors have the SAME problems as indie authors, the standard is different.

Here is reality:
1) all books have typos. 
2) not all covers are great
3) not all books are as short as they should be
4) not all people love the MC
5) not all love interests float your boat
6) All books can be too long.  
7) All stories can drag. 
8) All covers can stink.  All love triangles can be boring. Sequels can be disappointing.

It happens to ALL of us.

But if an indie author suddenly has a few typos,  it's b/c they weren't good enough for publishing. It's b/c they must have done it alone and not gotten any input from anyone because they were in such a rush. It must be because they decided to *whisper* self publish. And let me say - even when authors pay for copyediting - there are still typos. *sigh* and it sucks b/c it is expensive.

Even if I haven't run into some stigma as much as others - it exists - big time. And it's hard to watch friends deal with it when they have fabulous books. And it's frustrating to run into myself.

Books bought in traditional publishing automatically get an A in readers mind just b/c they got bought by a publisher. Most indie authors start out with an F and have to prove they are credible - one reader at a time. But it's not just readers, it's peers - the people you admire and respect. The organizations that support writers. The reviewers, to indies, the doors are closed.

I understand why it's at that point but it doesn't make it fair (whaaaaa!)

That is why I say if you decide to indie pub - do it right?

The more quality work, the easier to break the stigma. Don't scrimp, don't cut corners. It's not worth it in the end. You already have to prove yourself so why make it even harder. Don't get your brother to sketch a cover and don't get your mom to line edit. the odds are against you and you should do everything you can to put out the best you can. 80% of indie books sell under 100 copies. That is a lot to overcome.

This is why indie authors are much more open online about sales or awards or milestones - it is the only way to get away form the auto F grade and move up. 

Now, I will admit, in general the quality of indie pubbing is questionable. There are tons of crappy books out there in the indie world and some wonderful books in traditional pubbing.

But there are tons of crappy traditional books and there are tons of great indie books. 

Maybe it's time to judge a book by its writing...as opposed to its publishing process or path.

Being an indie author is hard. Getting past the stigma of indie pubbing is the most difficult part of this whole publishing process - for me. It makes me sad and I struggle with the double standard. The doubt. Sometimes no matter what I do - it still feels like it come up short.

Sometimes it feels like when I was back in high school - when the popular crowd wore Jordache (yes Im aging myself!)  and I could only wear Lee Jeans. Even though they looked the same...because the label was different, somehow I wasn't good enough. I even remember sewing different tags in my jeans - yes I did that. :)

Labels didn't matter then and they shouldn't matter now - but they do and that's just a reality. And being someone who likes to treat everyone equally and who hates to hurt people's feelings or make them feel less - i wish it was different.

What do you think? Is there a stigma? And is there a way around it?


McKenzie McCann said...

Of course there is stigma, and publishing companies want it that way. I think all people are ingrained with this idea that if wasn't acknowledged by something 'superior', it isn't very good.

I doubt this stigma will ever go away completely, but great self-published books like yours are beginning to chip away the stereotype.

One step at a time. That's the most effective way to reach a goal.

Unknown said...

I think there is still a stigma but it's not what it used to be. With the rise of Amazon and uber-successful self-publishers like J.A. Konrath, the landscape of publishing is changing rapidly. In self-publishing, the readers are the gatekeepers who decide if something is "worthy," rather than the publishing house.

One of my reasons for wanting a traditional publisher was to have my book in a bookstore, but both bookstores near my house closed this year. Interestingly, a new book store is opening just south of me that will carry only self-published books. It's definitely given me some food for thought. Congrats on making the bestseller list! :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, sadly there is definitely stigma. I don't agree with it but it's there. However I think over the next few years there will be a lot of changes in publishing, e-books, etc. and hopefully everyone will learn that there's no better or worse way to get published. Just the best way for each author. We should respect the choices an author makes and move on.

You're right that there are great books both independently published and traditionally published. There's too many though to read them all.

Congrats on your accomplishments.

Sallie Mazzur said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. There are times when I see a published book from a major publishing company and I wonder how in the heck did they get past the first run?

I think it's also beneficial like you said when self-published authors make themselves available online through blogs/twitter/facebook. I'm still new to the blog world, but I'm learning about tons of new authors that weren't published by Random or HarperCollins. It's also really nice as a reader to be able to see some of the process authors go through, which I've found on both published authors and self-published authors. It's the extra features on a movies DVD in book form.

One of the things I've noticed about publishing house cover designs is that they have no creativity! Putting a good looking model with a lightning bolt or something pertaining to the story on the cover is pretty cliche nowadays for book covers. Most novels try to convey a new type of character who isn't the "popular" girl and by putting a generic model on the cover is a major turn off. I'm a fan of the more obscure cover designs. But it can be expensive. Which makes complete sense when self-published authors have to "cut corners" as you said, because they're doing all the work and have no outside help.

But just the fact that self-published authors work even harder to prove themselves show they are the bigger man, so to speak. They not only wrote a spectacular novel, they continue to put effort into their work by offering more, instead of just pushing the book until it's published then letting the book speak for itself. (Which sometimes works)

Anyways, excellent post. Gave me lots to think about. Thank you!

Jemi Fraser said...

There really is a stigma - but I think the amount of really strong self pubbed books is helping change it. I hope!

Susan Oloier said...

I like to think Indie authors are breaking through the bad rap. I read A LOT. And I cannot believe the amount of errors in traditionally-published books. Of late, I have found much better quality of writing in the Indie works I've come across. But the model of traditional publishing is ingrained in many of us. It's going to take time to break out of that. Great post!

Kate said...

There is definitely a stigma. I must say that, honestly, I'm one of those people that only buys traditionally published books. Not because I don't think that there are wonderful self published books out there, but because I don't know how to find the good ones. I've definitely read traditionally published books that I haven't loved, but the majority of the books I buy, I end up really liking. When I'm going to spend time and money on a book I guess I like to know that it's been put through the wringer to get where it is. I feel kind of guilty saying that!
Yours is a book that I really want to read, but that's because I follow your blog and really like you. I'd be curious to hear what advice you'd give to a reader like me.

Kimberlee Turley said...

I think the cover is one of the most important marketing tools for a book. Definitely spend the money! First impressions are so important.

A few weeks ago someone had a cover reveal and I thought it was so cheap I could recreate it in 15 minutes in my photo program. And what really shocked me, was this was a cover from a larger publisher!

I've heard from an editor that one of the things B&N is very picky about, is actually the cover. (It's like, really? The writing isn't first?)

Jaima said...

I have to admit that I'm an offender . . .I've only started to read some self-published books, because I thought you only self-published if you couldn't make the cut. I know better now, and have read some amazing books by self-published authors that are in a league above some of the stuff that makes it into the stables of the publishing companies. Can be hit and miss though. I rely pretty heavily on reader reviews and recommendations from my friends when I choose self-published books.

Kelly Polark said...

Yes, unfortunately I think there is a stigma. Which is the only thing stopping me from jumping into indie publishing this second. Which is silly.
I want the respect of my peers. Which I should have whether I traditionally pub or indie pub.
We are all authors. There doesn't need to be indie pubbed label or traditionally pubbed label.
I'm hoping that an author like you will change others' feelings about the indie vs traditional. So thank you!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

From Trish Slay -

I read this on Friday and have been chewing it over in my mind all weekend. I apologize in advance for writing too much.

First, Kristi, I sure would like to hear more about this bookstore that only carries self-pub books! Where is that? I'd love to check it out.

Like Kelly P, I am STRUGGLING with this question right now. I've written a contemporary YA novel in epistolary format. It's set in 1977 and draws heavily on the early Star Wars phenomenon (so HUGE platform of pre-existing SW fans out there, right?)

I've spent THOUSANDS of dollars on critiques and writing conferences. Every critique has been positive and highly complimentary of my writing ability. HOWEVER, they all question the marketability of my story. I've won an award and NY Times best-selling author Joshilyn Jackson read the first 20 pages and told me I could write "like a house on fire." She even agreed to submit my entire manuscript to her agent with her endorsement (he declined to represent me, but she told me he read the WHOLE thing, which is a very good sign since he will set aside a manuscript as soon as he finds a problem or loses interest. Again, his main concern was marketability.)

Since I started on this serious-writing-for-publication path, the attitude toward self-publishing has evolved...a bit. But the stigma still exists. McKenzie mentioned the publishing companies wanting to keep the stigma alive. I have news for you...traditionally published authors want to keep it alive as well. They "ran the gauntlet" and came up victorious, why should their books compete for readers with someone who bypassed (aka cheated) the system? I once sat through a writing seminar where a respected creative writing professor (with the GA college system, who has traditional publishing credits) absolutely POUNDED us with the message that self-publishing was NOT publishing it was printing and in was vanity printing and it was always, always, always LAZY. He actually said, "Don't you dare think you can sit next to me and call yourself a published author if you paid to be printed." ZOINKS! It was UGLY.

At the Writer's Digest Conference (Jan 2012), we heard from editors and agents that this is all changing. An editor from one well-known house confessed that he used to publish 30 new authors every year. Last year his house published 5 new authors. This year, they'll maybe publish 3.

So the openings to be traditionally published are DISAPPEARING. The old gatekeepers admit they are looking at self-pub books to see what works with the readers.

And yet, when I started researching some self-publishing companies by Google searches returned mostly hostile postings about how "vanity publishing is disgusting." So UNFAIR and vicious!

And yet...I must admit that I have read only 5 self-published books in my lifetime (NOT Shelli's books or any other SCBWI or Indelible author, though I plan to correct this). ALL 5 self-published books I've read (to date) were HORRIBLE!!! Seriously, just terrible storytelling plus the typos and poor editing, etc. That said, I've also read HORRIBLE traditional books.

I agree with Kate, it is DIFFICULT to find the quality indie works amid the vast pile of dreck. I truly think that will be the next great entrepreneurial opportunity in this brave new world of publishing. Finding a way to sort through all the muck to find the GEMS (which are out there, I know).

Again, I apologize for the LONG comment. I truly hope your grace & talent will prove the evil anti-self-pub bullies wrong. No matter what happens with my journey, I'm cheering for you!