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.

Attitudes in the book blogging community

There are some outliers that make the experience of sharing love and support for fellow writers very difficult.

I love reading. I love sharing my thoughts on what I read. I love recommending great novels. I also love sharing my experiences with writing and tidbits of information around writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. For the most part the online community is greatful and supportive. I have delightful conversations and garner knowledge from other bloggers on their own journey.

In dealing with a wide sample of the population we get a plethora of experience, knowledge, and attitudes.

Helping younger bloggers and writers elevate their content. Provide more critical reviews and recommendations, more insight into the craft of writing is what I consider what this community this community is all about.

One of my biggest dislikes has been the spam, the unsubstantiated emotional responses (*cough*trolling*cough*) and professionals coming back to members of the community with cold, threatening attitudes because they are trying to monetize and ‘own’ the content that a multitude of bloggers are posting for free. Granted it’s a small minority of the community at large, but it exists and can have an enormous impact on the person targeted with this type of behaviour.

I’ve personally had my content plagiarized. And it takes nothing to reach out to the instigator and politely ask them to either take the post down, or link it to your original material. There is no need for threats of lawyers, being rude, or charging them money for using your content. After all, you can contact the hosting service if they are in breach of copyright (WordPress has its own guidelines and governance regarding this) and the material can be taken down as a last resort. Or ultimately there is the registrar, the DMCA, or even google. (I have previously written a post with step-by-step actions about these topics here.) There are always steps to take other than a heated emails with no response.

On the other side of the coin, I have myself inadvertently breached copyright. In researching an article, I copy and pasted material into several documents for reference later offline, and to link to when I wrote and published my article. However after writing my post, I accidently deleted the finished article, and saved one of those source material documents under the title… and then it was subsequently scheduled to post. So what was published were notes cut and pasted without context of someone else’s material. Plagiarism out right. So embarrassing. A lesson learned in triple, quadruple checking the line-up of scheduled posts. I received an email the next day of a threatening nature. Granted it was my mistake, and I was able to find my original article and upload it in place of the mistakenly published article – the in-question material having only been live for 10 hours. However, this time I expanded on the topic, researched more and made it even better. The thing is, if I’d received a better toned email, I would have admitted my mistake, altered the article and the owner of some of the source material would have been credited and given a lot of hype in the article – benefitting us both. But instead I found alternate source material – who don’t require a paid subscription to access – and much more examples. My newly edited article was infinitely much better, and all reference to the nasty emailer removed. They missed out on engaging any audience funnelled from my publication just because of their attitude. I would have responded to a nice email… but I don’t reply to threats. You don’t get results for inciting negativity. You can escalate the issue for importance sure, but keep it neutral in tone. I hesitate to mention, that even after I had uploaded the correct and finished article, removing reference to the emailers original content, they continued to harass me to the point I had to block them on all of my social media accounts. This person clearly did not check the updated article, or check her tone. I wanted to issue a public apology, I wanted to contribute some of her material as inspiration for my article, but after the bullying nature and threatening nature of their correspondence (from a professional in the industry mind you,) I’m doing what my mother always said. Ignore the bullies and eventually they will find a new target to annoy.

I guess with a background in teaching – you learn a bit about reacting to attitudes; a little about conflict resolution. But with the rise of social media we are seeing a lot of this clapback mentality. Off the cuff posts, tweets, DM’s, emails designed to hurt, scare, or embarrass the target when you could take a night to sleep on the matter and craft your response more maturely. It’s hard to make this point in a world where sensational content trends regularly. Cancel culture, online bullying, clickbait, response videos, apology videos… they are big business in the news cycle. We are seeing more and more inexperienced (and some who rightfully know better) falling into this trap.

It’s a form of bullying, of hate culture, of negativity that stalls the growth of our community and the publishing industry as a whole. Sadly this is not going to go away. The only way we can start to change attitudes is to not react, or react appropriately. Know appropriate ways to respond to threats. Know the avenues you have available to protect yourself online.

Granted I don’t see this bad behaviour happen a lot within the book blogging community, but it does happen; and when it does it can really impact you.

Anyway I thought this was an interesting discussion to bring to the blog – have you experienced any of this type of behaviour? How did you deal with it? Have you made a faux-par with copyright or plagiarism, and what did you do to make amends? Do you think information around the craft of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing should be widely free and accessible to anyone online, or is it something that should be paid for?

© 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.

The boom in representation in our publishing landscape.

I was thinking over the BLM movement, and casting an eye back to an article I had written in 2014 regarding Indigenous characters in popular Australian YA fiction (you can read it here) and how the landscape has evolved recently.

This is not going to be an article on politics, or black deaths in custody, but rather what I have witnessed in the publishing landscape and my own personal experience throughout my reading lifetime around discrimination that has held back diversity.

It’s great to see POC representation much more prominent in today’s new releases. Diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation… it only serves to enrich and educate the reader. Which, apart from escapism, are the main reasons I read in the first place.

I still want to see more Australian Indigenous characters represented in our literature, particularly YA where we are introducing younger readers into literature.

In Australia, as in the US, only certain stories are allowed to take centre stage in our literary culture and the universal subject is still presumed to be a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and fully-abled male. The more deviations from this (limited and highly problematic) notion of personhood you possess, the more estranged from the centre you become.

“Thanks to a recent report from Macquarie University we know that within the genre of fiction in Australia, 65.2% of literary fiction writers, 76.2 % of genre fiction writers and 86.9% of children’s book authors are women. This makes those graphs showing that men get far more reviews than women all the more infuriating. But, as yet, we don’t have the figures for racial or ethnic diversity.

How many Indigenous writers are published each year? How many non-white writers are published? And what kinds of books are being published?

Part of this lack, I think, comes from constraints placed on writers who are “othered” by the industry. For example, I think that it is probably easier for an indigenous author to be published if they write about epic struggles, rather than breezy romantic comedy. Likewise, I think that migrant writers will have an easier time getting into print if they follow the well-established trope of the happy, grateful migrant.” Natalie Kon-yu Lecturer in Creative and Professional Literature and Gender Studies, Victoria University.

For a moment I want to take a short side trip to discuss the culture of discrimination, assimilation, and the Christianising of the indigenous population that I personally witnessed as a child. It may shine a light on the culture Indigenous people face in the community at large, let alone in the publishing landscape.

Police would routinely round up local aboriginals about our outback town of Alice Springs, (where there is an intersection of close to 60 tribal lands) because business owners would report them as a nuisance, (note: not breaking the law, but just a hindrance to them conducting their business, or an eyesore) then the officers would throw them into the back of the paddy wagon and see if they would bounce. I had friends in school who were of the stolen generation. The church would remove young indigenous children from their families to be educated (*cough*civilized*cough*) in order to save their souls. Because native Australians apparently had no souls. But what did all this assimilation really mean? It meant the indigenous population could then be cooks, cleaners, governesses, manual labour. No right to vote, to own property, just some form of indoctrinated slavery… short of being owned and sold off for money. I’d even heard first hand of how aboriginal women (and girls) were frequently raped. People held their breath when walking past them in public because they smelled awful. I won’t mention the names and slang parents and friends had for our native Australians. They were a joke, less than, diminished. And this is what they would let a child see and know about. Role models like police, priests and nuns, nurses, doctors, parents, business owners, they all exhibited this behaviour for children to see, out in the open on a daily basis. Think about that… this was deemed appropriate for kids; imagine the things that were inappropriate. It make me shudder.

Once I hit my teens, the culture was changing. Maybe it had a bit to do with the capitalisation of the Aboriginal culture through tourism. Aussies were proud to tout Dreamtime, tour sacred sites, sell dot artwork and digeridoos, spears, and wangaras… but you didn’t actually see an indigenous Australian running the show, or reaping the profits of such endeavours. In school we learnt Arande (an aboriginal dialect) as a part of our language course, bush survival skills and bush tucker from local aboriginal elders. The government were starting to offer benefits and handouts to the local aboriginals, and we never saw any more families being torn apart ‘for their own good.’ There were purpose built Aboriginal communities on the government dime… so some progress, but still a way off from the respect native Australians deserved as people. If you stood up for the Aboriginal population and the discrimination they faced, you were laughed at, dismissed, labelled a hippie. It was such a mixed message. So growing up in Australia, in particular, close to Aboriginal tribal lands and settlements, our native Australians were treated abhorrently… and this is firsthand knowledge, behaviour that was out in the open for everyone to see. Gosh I hate to even imagine the type of abuse and discrimination that went on out of the public eye.

Map of Aboriginal language dialects by region.

My friends (and now family members) are Aboriginal and people of colour, and I was so confused growing up. Why did we treat people that way? Why did grown-ups think it was okay to hurt someone else? Coming of age in a small outback town was intense tutelage in race dynamics. We were isolated. I’d only ever met German or Swedish back packers, a number of Vietnamese of Chinese locals (and they experienced the same discrimination) apart from the Aboriginals: when I finally left home and moved to the city and discovered the wider world, Torres Strait Islanders, Maori’s, my brain just about exploded. Why did we dismiss or exclude our immediate neighbours?

I don’t need to mention that women in the workplace were mostly relegated to secretaries and department store sales if they dare step away from child-rearing. Being gay was seen a weak and an anomaly; publically shunned, ignored, or turned into a joke. There was no diversity of the LGBTQIA+ banner. It’s sad to say but all those terrible ‘80’s movie stereotypes weren’t too far removed from my reality. And to be honest, I don’t think I ever met anyone confined to a wheelchair, blind, chromosomally challenged – those individuals were removed from mainstream schooling to a place with specialised services, or home-schooled. Effectively erasing their existence from the youth’s consciousness.

I was scared to say anything about my experiences, because even though I was a child, a spectator, what does it say about me? I witnessed this discrimination and, frankly, criminal activity and did nothing.

As an adult and teacher I try my best to be inclusive in my ethos – elements of feminism and Aboriginal culture in all areas of the curriculum. Fair representation in literature, history, culture, politics, role models. Teaching awareness and critical thinking. I act with my vote, I act with my dollar. I’m not able to take to the streets and scream about the injustices, throw controversial topics of conversation in the faces of my peers and bosses. That would put an end to my career, label me as combative. Instead, it’s about a balanced conversation, opening people’s eyes rather than an in-your-face confrontation. Maybe it’s a part of my upbringing. Learning to manoeuvre in the background. Instigate change in increments. There is also an element of not throwing stones at glass houses – an all-out assault calls for retaliation. I see it in our politics, in cancel culture… slow and steady stand of principles wins the race. We’re seeing many of those role models of my childhood being replaced with a more educated and diverse culture (or they are simply dying out.)

It gives me hope. Hope that our society is becoming more one. Human beings. Slowly removing bullying, hate culture, discrimination, racism. I’m starting to see reflections of this in literature. Representation like I’ve never seen it before. Old points of view in history challenged. Culture being preserved. Identity cherished.

Movements like BLM aren’t necessarily about literature and representation, they are about civil rights, abuse, murder, discrimination… but the knock on effect is that we are starting to see the rest of society take a good hard look at themselves. Am I participating in a culture that allows discrimination to go unchecked? What can I do to help instigate change for the better?

That’s what I hope most of us are thinking. It’s the world I want to live in. Granted not everyone has these views, and this discussion is only from my life’s perspective as Caucasian. But I hope it challenges you to think about the underlying attitudes behind the lack of diversity in popular literature. About not forgetting the past. About having the courage to stare the ugly truth in its face and knowing things have to change… and how to go about implementing that change.

My family in itself is diverse. We have people of colour, over 7 nationalities, diverse genders and sexual orientations.

I am seeing change for the better. Seeing diversity represented in the industries I work in, in literature. But every now and then the old attitudes raise their head… like when we were shopping, my friend a POC, the shop assistant hovering over him in the store like he was about to steal something. It’s not okay. Not acceptable. But thankfully in my community I see much less of this behaviour than from my childhood. I check people in their jokes or slang. Because those attitudes harm my family.

I hope we are going to start to see statistics on writers from diverse backgrounds – not just male and female. Witnessing the diversity trend in publishing at the moment warms my heart. It makes all those feelings of injustice from my youth have meaning. That I was not alone.

What is the percentage of your diverse reads? Look at the books you’ve read: how many are female authors, authors of colour, ownvoices authors, how many have a diverse main character?

© 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.

Measuring Your Success as an Author

Measuring Your Success as an Author 01 by Casey Carlisle

You write, therefore you are.

Before we get into what can be a touchy subject for some, please note the title: I mention success, not commercial success. Which I feel is an important distinction. The latter seems to be the standard in order to gauge whether being a writer is, in fact, a worthwhile profession.

This topic came about from a discussion I was having with a few fellow authors when I had noticed an ex-business acquaintance posting about her award winning novel. How it was ranked #1 on Amazon. Now, from knowing her personally for over 10 years, I know she was never inclined with superb literacy. And upon hearing that I was writing books, and was going to be editing my mothers work (posthumously) to release under her name as a dying wish. It felt like she wanted to become an author to throw it in my face. Like anyone can do it. Like I wasn’t all that special.

Measuring Your Success as an Author 02 by Casey CarlisleTruth be told. Anyone can write a novel. But this woman was coming from a place of negativity. The past aside, I thought good for her. I’ve been toiling for years on content and yet to publish. She has achieved this in six short months. Though, when I investigated her claims, found out a little more about her book, nothing added up. No listing on Goodreads, no search results on Amazon, or Google for that matter. I couldn’t find it anywhere apart from a link on her website. It was a little overpriced. In the genre of self-help, and to be completely honest, nothing particularly unique or original. I could jump on Pinterest and scroll through the inspirational quotes and get the same sort of content.

Did that mean she wasn’t a success as an author?

So the discussion with my little gaggle of writers pondered the idea that you are a writer as long as you are writing, and an author as long as you have published something for public consumption.

The woman mentioned above may be an author, but she exposed herself as a bit of a liar by making sensational claims on stitched together content from very generic sources. My fellow writers wanted to discredit her because of how they put in so much time and effort to craft a novel, or memoir, and someone else produces something, in their opinion, substandard.

But that’s the thing about the access to self-publishing. We have started to see work that is solely produced as a revenue stream, a low-cost method to get your work out and support your claims that you are an established author.

I say good for them. Everyone has different tastes in literature, different ways they want to spend their own money. There is an audience for all types of writers.

Eluding further on the conversation, many of us were mixing up published online content with traditionally published and self-published material. It is such a diverse field. I had to bring up the fact that I do a lot of writing for web content, textbooks and manuals, technical writing, and ghost writing. Very little of which has my name attached to it. So it falls into the grey area of being labelled an author. I can’t point a something and claim I wrote it when I don’t have a by-line, or am not credited in the end pages. Today, we have infinitely more access and diverse modes of writing and publishing. I think the past ideas of a successful author aren’t holding true in today’s climate.

Not all authors are credited for their work. Not all writers earn money from their craft. Not all writers and authors are commercially successful.

Measuring Your Success as an Author 03 by Casey Carlisle

Talking to many writers, it seems the dream is to be getting that elusive best seller from being traditionally published. However there are alternatives to this ideal. Traditionally published authors reap the benefits of a system that has their work edited and published by a team, having their books positioned in book stores, department stores and online shops. It’s nothing a person with some basic know-how and a bit of savvy, and a lot of hard work cannot accomplish today. Online marketing has provided a great opportunity to anyone willing to have a go.

Blogs and podcasts have found success on their own. E-books have cornered a niche market. It is truly an amazing landscape in comparison to what existed 15-20 years ago.

Getting back to defining success as an author… is success earning a living from your publications? Recognition? Or merely the fact that you have been published? With the market being flooded with sub-par self-published material, general opinion on simply being published has become devalued. In a culture of influencers and social media, recognition seems to have taken a more dominant role. But that is tied into image, behaviour, content, and relevance. It’s a full time job managing an image just to market your publication. But individuals are doing it and winning. And as for earning a living from your published works… there aren’t a lot of writer friends in proportion to the number of writers I know of who are living above the poverty line solely on the profit and royalties they make from sales alone.

So, unfortunately, success as an author is a subjective term. It’s interpreted by the individual and their perspective. In my opinion as long as you are enriching the publishing landscape, touching readers, then you are a success. But don’t be like that woman lying about her book – she’s like a Karen. Don’t be Karen. Write with passion. Believe in your work. Support fellow authors and make the publishing experience a pleasant one, because heaven knows it’s hard enough for most of us to write a book in the first place.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

How would your measure success for an author or writer?

What is your opinion on a lot of these false claims made in marketing a book?

Do you thing self-publishing is sullying the reputations of published authors?

UPPERCASE lowercase 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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.