Is the self-publishing industry being held back by hack writers?

I’ve been reading articles and having discussions with my peers and industry professionals regarding the future of self-publishing, and while the outlook is generally positive, the reputation isn’t so bright.

When canvasing readers about self-published titles I generally get a pensive face… and when I push harder, the responses I get revolve around poorly produced cover art, poorly written novels that have not been sufficiently developed or edited; and occasionally, the reader desires a physical copy, only to find the novel is available only in ebook format.

Admittedly this mirrors my own experiences with self-published authors. While it is not the rule of everyone, but it does seem to be a common thread. When I start to push for examples and numbers however, we start to see a slightly different story. And I have to think about that saying of “If you get ten compliments in a day and one person yelling a derogatory comment at you, you are more likely to only remember that one bad comment.” So too, readers tend to remember bad reading experiences more prominently that good ones when it comes to self-publishing… leading to the self-fulfilling prophecy that self-publishing is amateur and rife with a whole lot of sub-par material.

So basically, the self-publishing industry, more often than not, is getting judged by readers on the authors either inept at the publishing and writing process, or doing it for the wrong reason entirely. That’s a pretty harsh and bleak statement to make – and it infuriates me – but the results into my research and discussions with readers support this statement.

Granted, there are self-publishing success stories, and reports of various increments of success across the board. But, it is those poorly produced and written tomes that readers are using to pass a blanket opinion on the industry in many cases.

There are many authors whose body of work can dispel this assumption, and the tide is slowly turning, but what do we have to do to eliminate this attitude completely? The cost of self-publishing is weighted fully on the author, and services like cover art, editing, marketing, and manuscript development services are expensive – they are steps self-published authors shouldn’t be skipping, and it is unfair to ask professionals to offer their services at a discounted rate or for free for self-published authors. Do we start booting off under-cooked material from online stores? That’s censorship. Can we force self-published authors to do a minimal number of steps in the writing development stage before allowing them to publish on a given platform to ensure a certain standard is being represented? It’s hard to start putting regulations like that on a free-form market. There are authors churning out up to ten novels a year (or more) just to earn enough money to live off, but does their content meet the cut?

I read a number of self-published authors personally and I have to say there is a 50/50 split between books that if I didn’t know any better I’d say were traditionally published, and the rest have really obvious mishaps: spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, formatting errors, poorly developed writing style, novels that have been rushed to publication… don’t get me started on some of the cover art. While some are exceptional, others look like clip art from the 1980’s.

When I first started blogging and reviewing I accepted review requests from self-published authors hoping to support those trying to carve out a career in writing, but I found nearly all the manuscripts I received were sadly not up to scratch. I teach English in High School and any of these novels wouldn’t have even received a passing grade. So after that I stopped accepting review copies and focused on a curated selection of novels appeal to my tastes.

Another aspect I found my readers reporting was regarding career authors: not only were many of the self-published authors they listed falling into the ‘rushed to publication’ category because they were trying to get a high volume of work out there to earn a suitable income. But also the readers were inundated with online marketing and blog posts. Spam and junkmail seemed to add to their discomfort with self-published authors. It seemed like some of these authors were not selectively marketing effectively and barraging their subscribers with continual and repetitive content. This kind of strategy quickly turned readers off as they unsubscribe… and subsequently stopped reading the authors books.

I understand the whole self-publishing journey is a learning experience, and your mistakes are going to be out there for everyone to see with a google search, but I guess slow and steady wins the race. Reputation is the biggest commodity for an author to have in their arsenal. That and a solid, professional body of work. The publishing industry as a whole (traditional or self-published) is a slow moving creature. It takes hard work to get a novel published, time for readers to read and review a book. Heck I still have unread novels on my shelves from five years ago that I am still keen to read once I get the time. But after all this, I still ask myself what can I do – all of us do – to help the self-publishing industry? It does have a valid place – not everyone can afford the cost of a physical, traditionally published book, not everyone has access to physical book stores. Traditional publishers set and follow trends and an author’s work may not fit into the current marketing trends, and self-publishing may afford them that niche market they need to reach. Increasingly we are seeing textbooks and manuals reach the self-publishing industry because of the volume of pages in their publications, why try and carry around 2 or 3 books over a thousand pages long, when you have an e-reader? Readers read for a variety of reasons and in a variety of forms, and self-publishing has its place, but I was sad to read the results of the survey of my peers, industry professionals, and readers alike when it comes to the general feel of the self-publishing industry.

Which I find astounding considering the market share e-books have in the economy. Though, that share is dominated with traditionally published authors. The whole situation feels a bit of a quagmire. And don’t get me started on the number of pirated copies of books then self-published by ghost profiles stealing income from popular authors.

I think the reality is, we need some policing on standards for self-publishing, but also a more transparent view of the amount of work – the number or tasks and roles you need to perform above writing the book – for a self-published manuscript of a certain standard. With so many resources online – for free – and courses you can access, I’m still a little bewildered why some authors are not taking advantage of these to give themselves the best possible chance of success for their book launch and their career. Did they just run out of steam? Are they ignorant of what they need to do? Do they just not care? Too harsh? Well, it’s because I get a little heated over some of the attitudes I’ve been reading – and come of the poorly developed work I’ve seen around the self-published industry. I hear people saying “But so-and-so is a successful self-published author, why not use them as an example?” Well. They have put in the work, educated themselves, invested money to get that success, why should another author who’s put in a fraction of that effort ride on their coattails? Don’t they need to put in the hard work too? Again it comes back to reputation – the author who has put in the effort, maintained a quality body of work and found that balance of marketing and a target demographic will thrive in the self-publishing environment over time; those who do not, will falter. I just hope readers stop judging the industry as a whole on those of the latter.

So there is no easy answer, no easy solution. The industry will be swayed by larger platforms and their market share. Newer authors are still going to blunder their way through the digital publishing process and either succeed or buckle under the enormity of the task. Our industry relies on word of mouth and marketing – no matter how good a writer you are – a book does not sell itself. I have heard of online platforms dropping authors and works that do not sell, and algorithms for how your book is listed in search results plays a bit part in that behaviour too. That’s why it’s important to have a marketing plan and cover all your bases. Build a subscriber list. Argh! So many thing for an aspiring author to think about… and try not to spend too much of their own money to achieve it.

What’s your opinion on self-publishing? Are there too many low quality books saturating the market? Do you have any solutions that could help rescue its reputation?

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What an Author can do – apart from writing a book.

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You’ve written your novel and want to start marketing it… here’s some things to help you on your way…

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Start honing your sales speak – when people start to ask what your book is about have a brief 30 second pitch to entice your listener. You want to excite them ad encourage them to buy your book. If they start asking questions once you’re done, you know you are on the right track.

Make some bullet points about the protagonist, the challenges she faces; your genre and target market. Think of the blurbs you see on the back of books… you want the speech to be punchy, give all the relevant information and leave your listener wanting more.

Memorise it! Say it over and over out loud so it becomes second nature to talk about without stammering. Remember to make eye contact and feel excited to talk about your book – your listeners will feed off that energy.

Keep it short. Don’t drone on afterwards. Have some business cards, or bookmarks on you at all times with links and information where to buy your book, or visit your author’s page online. And leave it there! Make your listener eager to jump on line and purchase your baby 😉

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Attend events. Be it writing or publishing seminars, author get togethers, or events that are associated with your book (i.e. spiritual expos if your book is about that topic, talks at the library, festivals…) Socialise! Make friends, talk to people. I know it’s daunting, but if you want people to buy your book you’re going to have to put yourself out there. Or in the least have some friends and family come with you and do it too. Put that elevator pitch into practice.

Usually when you meet someone and ask what they do for a living, they’ll ask you back. If you say “I’m a writer.” You are always going to get asked what you write – there’s you in. Don’t blow it!

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Get artistic. Take some pictures, of your book with people and at interesting places. Get your friends and online followers to post their own. Create promotional banners and gifs. Make a bookmark. Design a big poster. The ore material you have at your disposal, the more chance you have at placing it somewhere to direct traffic to your website or online store to make a purchase. Get creative too. There are no rules to say you have to stick to tried and true methods. It’s possible you’ll reach a wider market.

You need to spend time talking about your book. Don’t just do it once, or for the month after the book is finished… marketing and promoting your book is something you need to do from here on out. There are free and inexpensive ways to get the word out. Community television, newspapers and radio, podcasts, social media, bulletin boards, explore and search these places out. And not just in your local community, look everywhere, other towns, states or even other countries. Your only as limited as your imagination.

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Maybe look into writing with someone else, or guest post on a blog. The point of this is to tap into a different audience, reach their followers. Maybe if you have a group of writers you meet with regularly you could publish an anthology: the combined force of all of your followers/fans/readers extends your reach and sales. (Especially if the other writers have a preferred different genre and target market to yours.)

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This is the flagship of your armada! Create a website. Make sure it is interesting, attractive and has all the relevant information about you, your book, and where to buy it. Have a subscribe button and collect email addresses so you can have a database of fans to sell your next book to, and email out alerts of events and upcoming releases.

You don’t have to spend money either, or be a web genius. It can be as simple as setting up a WordPress blog, or facebook page. Explore other options, there are many free web building sites, and some with low cost hosting. Take the time to do a little research and find something that will fit into your capabilities and budget.

But if you have the funds to get someone else to do it for you, make use of it. It will free up valuable time you could be doing other marketing activities – or writing the next book!

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Don’t just rely on selling your book through Amazon.com – have an online store on your website. Or get creative… see if there are a bunch of authors in your local area and host an event at a bookstore or library. There’s nothing to say you can’t set up a stall at your local markets either. The more places you can find to place your product, the better. Contact independent bookstores, they love to support local talent and will most likely create an event and promote your book off their own bat.

Start local and then keep on expanding.

Selling and promoting is like a snowball rolling down a hill, it will keep getting bigger the more motion you give it. This is definitely a case where the more effort you put in, the more rewards you will get in return.

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If you need financial help in publishing costs if you are not signed to a publisher, don’t let that stop you. Seek out some sponsorship. You could promote a book store or local business in the front or back of your novel (and on your website). Maybe start a gofundme account and link it from your website. Post excerpts or the first few chapters as a teaser and people can donate to see the book published to finish the book.

e-publishing can be free too. You make sure you read the fine print before clicking accept. There are many pitfalls that can leech away your income.

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You are only limited by your imagination!

It was good enough to write a book, so it’s good enough to come up with some creative ideas to engage an audience into buying it.

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.