Self-Publishing: The Conversation Continues, Part 2 (Post 6)

Ladies and gentlemen, the house is on fire.  It truly is when it comes to traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.  My post yesterday ignited such interesting conversation that my fingers are practically flying off of the keyboard as I write this today in anticipation of what you might say next.


book burning


So, I am holding off on the “pros of self-publishing” post for another day to continue what was started.  Today I’m going to discuss your comments (and play devil’s advocate) a bit and add a few more cons.


I’m also going to include some interesting reading / links.


Here goes.


Let’s start with Tin Woman’s comment.  It was the one that struck the biggest chord.  I’ll start with what I said and then Tin Woman’s response.


Sweet Mother’s quote:


“…there is the idea that if you can’t sell to a traditional publisher then your writing is not worth a sh*t at all.  Perhaps, this idea is not voiced out loud much, but it IS the pervasive train of thought.”


Tin Woman’s response:


“While I don’t deny that many feel this way, the thought in itself is bullshit (no offense to you, momma). I never once considered going the traditional route with my initial works.  The reality is that most traditional publishers are only as good as their own sensibilities and leaning in literature. For instance, Twilight – rejected 12 times at least. Harry Potter rejected – a publishers child demanded to know more and he published a “LIMITED TEST RUN” before committing whole sale.  Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Rejected 120 times!  Self-publishing is simply cutting out the middle man.  Those who fail at self-publishing either really are putting out shit or they are failing to wear the hats of the business behind the scenes of publisher, proofer, editor, cover artist, promoter etc.  I do have a book contract, in fact I have three, and I’ve gotten more results from my self-publishing so far.”


Okay, I love Tin Woman and I love her writing.  So, this is not a criticism of her in anyway.  However, I want to dissect this comment a little bit.


I think that we can all agree that this is a “pervasive train of thought” as I have said.  We don’t have to agree with the idea, but I DO think we have to acknowledge that people ARE saying it.  They say, “those who can’t publish, self-publish…” just as they might say, “those who can’t do, teach.”
If you don’t believe me, read this great article by Forbes called, “Publishing is Broken…”  Within the first page of the article, best selling authors are quoted as saying:


“The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff.  If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.”


So, it’s a commonly held belief – Good Writer = Good Traditional Publisher.  Of course the question remains is it true?


Let’s let that lie for a moment and talk about the second point brought up in Tin Woman’s comment AND in the disparaging of self-publishers comment written by the best-selling author.  That point is:




Does it?  Because I’m not 100% convinced that it always does.


The best-selling author says, “the publisher is there to separate the wheat from the chaff.”  Tin Woman also says, “Those who fail at self-publishing either really are putting out shit or they are failing to wear the hats of the business behind the scenes of publisher, proofer, editor, cover artist, promoter etc.”


But, is that true?  I would venture to guess that both Tin Woman AND the best-selling author are partially right.


However, there are lumps in the democratic, self-publishing, cake mix.  Let me explain.


In the Forbes piece, there is the mention of friends writing positive reviews for friends on Amazon.  The idea is that if you see a lot of positive reviews, you will buy the book.  But, if these reviews have been solicited let’s say or if these reviews are reviews from friends or fellow authors who are also hoping you will respond in kind, is that REALLY helping the cream to rise to the top?


No.  By that theory, the sh*t writer with the most friends would win.  NOT THE BEST WRITER.


Now, let’s take that idea in the converse:




If you don’t know, Amazon had a customer review upheaval recently.  You can read about it much more eloquently on this person’s blog : Joe Konrath.  From what I can discern, two things happened – the above mentioned, friends were reviewing friends and Amazon wanted to get rid of reviews that they considered disingenuous – AND trolls.


Trolls were hitting the pages of good books and good writers with a “sock puppet” avatar and without reading the book, giving it 1 star.  Thus, severely lowering a good book’s Amazon ranking.


Is that the cream rising?  If a troll or a dozen of them can take down your product simply due to their sh*tty prankster intent is that the beauty of self-publishing?


No.  That’s a gaping hole in the system.


edinburgh fringe festival


The entire state of the current self-publishing firestorm reminds me of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  If you don’t know, the Edinburgh Fringe, is pretty much the LARGEST theater arts festival in the world.  Thousands of live shows happen at once over the course of a month.  It’s great in a lot of ways for live performers, BUT there is one major problem with it – IT’S TOO BIG.


Why is that a problem?  It’s a problem because tiny, quality, shows pay a lot of money to self-produce themselves and get utterly lost in the noise.  No one ever finds them.  Whereas, bigger, promoted shows with publicity budgets behind them get seen.  So, we are right back to the “get lucky” system again.  When the field is that crowded, you have to “get lucky.”  Say the right reviewer stumbles in to your show or you happen to hit the right note perfectly in just the right time slot on just the right night and -wham-o- you have a hit.  But, for every hit, there’s a great, little, show that fails and fails miserably.


Does anyone see the similarity between that and self-publishing?


Because I do.


If you can’t take my word for it, read Amanda Hocking’s blog post where she talks about her BETTER (by her own assessment) writer friend who does everything that she does marketing-wise and yet sells LESS books than Amanda.  (Read it here.)


Again, I’m playing the devil’s advocate as I suss this out.  Tomorrow I will go over the self-publishing pros.  I do believe there are a lot of them.  As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.



Sweet Mother is finishing up the final stages of her 365 post quest.  Her blog is updated daily-ish.  If you’d like to join the madness click the “follow” button above.



You might also like:

Self-Publishing, Part 1



Photo creds:

book-burning, fringe



30 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: The Conversation Continues, Part 2 (Post 6)

  1. Awesome post. I think my favorite thing was how you compared it to food, really, that’s how to reach out to me.

    I don’t know much about publishing in general so I’ll keep my mouth shut but I do enjoy a good intellectual debate 🙂

    1. did i compare it to food? i don’t even know what i write anymore… loool. glad you’re reading though, vy. this is really helping me get things clear in my head… xo, sm

      1. Yes, I think so. I saw something about wheat and immediately thought of delicious, warm bread. Then I saw that there were “lumps in the democratic, self-publishing, cake mix” <- That's no bueno. You gotta really mix that stuff up until it gets smooth otherwise you're going to have a weirdly textured cake.

        Then there's the whole part about the cream rising. Don't know what that means exactly but it could be dirty or it could be food related. I went with the latter 😛

        Haha! So, there's my interpretation! 😛 Well I'm glad you can clear your head. I do my best to clear mine but shit keeps building up in there. No fun 😛

      2. ah, yesssss, the old lumps in the cake mix. lots of lumps in the cake mix today. sitting here slowly trying to beat them out. time will tell if it works… 😉 sm

  2. Wow .. I’m both flattered and ducking now!

    First thing, I never meant to imply that I wasn’t acknowledging that it IS a commonly held belief, only that I don’t agree with it at all.

    Now, that being said. We can go on and on about people being able to recognize talent. One man’s trash another’s treasure, etc. and I personally do not think the cream is ALWAYS rising to the top as a result.

    Also, it is apparent to me that there are certain underhanded tactics going on. I’ve been trolled before. I’ve also had my book used as fodder for some weird tween argument on Barnes & Noble??!!! The comments were all 5 stars but they were talking to each other not reading my book and openly stating they were between 13 and 16!

    I flagged them all.

    Personally, I only want real reviews. I don’t solicit reviews from friends and I expect honesty period.

    I believe in my work. It can stand for itself.

    1. you never have to duck from me! i just thought your comment was so good, as is this second one. you know what? how about i do an interview with you around your self-publishing process. i’d keep your anonymity secure, of course. would you be into that at all? we could do it via email with links to your books, much like i did to rubes… you can see that in the archives. i think you have a lot to say on it and i think it’s mondo-helpful. anyway, up to you. but, either way thanks for inspiring a post! xoxo, sm

  3. I agree with Tin Woman. “The cream doesn’t always rise to the top” and “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The problem is that art, writing, music – it’s all so subjective. Everyone has their own tastes, and so what one person may love another may hate. Then of course, the anonymity of the internet has opened up the arts to a lot more criticism than it would have received 15 years ago (my sidetracked response to your Amazon example).

    The other problem is again, one person might love something another hates. Just because you didn’t get picked by a publisher doesn’t mean that your piece isn’t good. Maybe you just went to the wrong publisher(s). There’s always the chance that the publisher that was solicited didn’t like the kind of book you wrote. There are so many variables that make it so easy for a writer to get overlooked.

    My feeling is that you do something that you love, something you can really stand behind and then everything will fall into place. There are billions of people on the planet, so chances are that as long as you do something with significant quality, you’ll find an audience. There are just too many people to not have shared interests. You can’t expect that everyone is going to like what you do, even if that means its the majors publishers. If indie writers and musicians weren’t successful then that whole scene wouldn’t even exist. But it does.

    At the beginning, everyone relies on their friends and immediate network to support them, but the goal is that you eventually gain attention outside that circle. Chances are, that once that happens, you’ll get the promotion, attention, etc. that you need to become successful without a publisher.

    I don’t know about writing, but a huge trend in music right now (and it kind of always has been) is that musicians kind of get famous first and then the labels sign them. The labels need the artists to prove that their worth signing by building up an audience, creating music, etc. FIRST. Why can’t it be the same for authors? They write, create an audience, self-publish and once that shows some success, a publisher picks them up…

    I know I’ve thrown a lot of things out there on this, but I have a lot to say as I’m sure you can tell. But mostly, I agree with Tin Woman – just create something you can stand behind and that you’re passionate about and all else will fall into place.

    1. sk, honestly, i think i could do a whole piece that is simply a roundtable discussion between you, tin woman, and myself. at least i would be endlessly fascinated by it! lool. the immediate thing that i thought of when i read your comment was of amanda palmer formerly of the dresden dolls. i’m sure you know the story, but if you don’t (and for the others on here) amanda went to kickstarter to fundraise for her next album because she was NOT with a label. she asked for 100k. she received 1.2 million. i mean, holy feck. so, clearly, these things CAN be done without any kind of big house or big label behind you. however, with all of that said, i do believe for every major success story like this there are thousands, probably more like tens of thousands of people who fail. what i would like to do through these posts is whittle out a plan that will at least somewhat minimize failure. i’m not even sure that’s possible, as i believe a lot of this stuff is not totally in our control. but, on the other hand, and as you and tin woman have mentioned, a lot of it IS in our control. i want to figure out how to best handle that stuff… thus, this series of posts. i do, as a comedian, (and a writer) have a bit of a problem with the supposed democracy of social media and building up your fan base online because artists should be working on their art. you could easily spend 25% of your time on your art and 75% on the marketing of it these days and i think the art will suffer for it. i truly do. even palmer mentions that at one point that she had to stop making music and writing songs for a month or more just to market the kickstarter… so, the question is – how does one person manage what an entire PR team, manager, tour booker, and creative department used to do? how does one person do all of that and do it well? i’m not sure i have the answer… much love, sm

      1. Freaking wordpress erased my comment. Gah!

        Anyway… Let me see if I can recreate it 😦

        That definitely is the Catch-22 of the independent artist. You have to market to have successful products but you have to have successful products to market… I like to try to keep a nice balance of the two. For every one hour of marketing I do, I work on my music for two. It doesn’t make any sense to do marketing/promo/whatever if you don’t have a quality product to push (I made that mistake when I was a kid).

        I would post a glimpse of my schedule, but that might be a bit too much. Plus, I can save it for a post of my own.

        I also don’t designate certain days for certain tasks. I try to do both music and marketing EVERYDAY so that I get a nice and consistent balance between the two.

        As far as the whole Kickstarter thing… I actually ran one for my last album and I doubled my goal. I started out with a low goal to begin with – I didn’t want to ask people to invest in something I wasn’t willing to invest in myself – but I was more than elated with the results. I’m no Amanda Palmer, but I think 195% of my goal is something to be proud of.

        AND even though I was running and promoting my project during that time, I was still making plenty of time to work on the album, record at a level I was happy with, design artwork I was happy with and begin to work on the live performance of it all. There aren’t enough hours in the day, but if it’s what you really want you find the time and the means.

  4. Publishing is a business, no matter how you do it, and most writers aren’t good business people. In a perfect ebook world writers would not have publishers, they’d have business managers.

    1. this is such a great statement, meeks. i think in any kind of artistic/ online pursuit these days we all need business managers and a goddermned team of interns. i know i need them. it’s quite frankly impossible to do everything yourself as i mentioned to sk above… xo, sm

      1. Over at Indies Unlimited we’ve been having long discussions about the whole indie experience, and what we all seem to agree on is that serious indies have to be in it for the long haul, because we sure as hell aren’t going to get rich and famous over night. 😦

  5. Good post again, Donohue!

    My own outlook (as someone who plans to publish shortly) follows.

    Cons of self-publishing e-books:

    1)You don’t get to hold that shiny new book in your (okay, *my*) grubby little mitts. I’m not sure if I’d feel like a “real” author without that.
    2) There’s no book tours. I think this one is my biggest con. I want to meet the folks who bought my book and talk with them briefly. Maybe shake their hand and sign their book.
    3) There’s no pretty display in Barnes & Noble, or other book stores. I think that ties in with number one.

    Pros of self-publishing e-books:

    1) When you press that send button, within 7 hours, your book is available to the masses. I’m not the patient sort. (shrugs)
    2) I get up to 90% of the sales price of each one. With the tradintional route, I’ve hard that the only money you get from your hard work is sometimes only the advance. WTH? I deserve more! It’s my intellectual property, my sweat, tears and cramped fingers that made this book.
    3) *I* decide when the book is no longer available, not a random accountant. My book has been out for 6 months and 1 person bought it? I guess that means I have to re-examine it and fix the flaws, or promote it another way. The other route? It sold 1 copy in six months? Pulp it.

    But, that’s just my two cents.

    1. foster! and a great comment response from you. i’m going to throw in my 2 cents at what you’ve said…

      1. you can’t hold the book in your hands – i say you can, if you sign up with a pod (print on demand) company and order a couple… because i agree, if you only publish it virtually it can really take the wind out of all of your hard labor. so, when and if i do self-publish, it will be with a an e-book for the most part and then with a small, pod, print run. at least that’s the way i see it right now…

      2. very true on the book tours — but, i will say that carrie rubin for one has done an excellent job doing what i would call, ‘virtual’ book tours. going from blog to blog and getting interviewed and having others talk about your book. it’s not face to face, but it’s a start. also, i’m a fan of chris gillebeau (sp?) the art of non-conformity guy and he built up such a strong fan base on his site that through meet ups and what not, he basically started booking his OWN book tour. so, it’s a lot of work, but it’s not impossible.

      3. i feel like barnes and noble and the other megastores are dying… even with myself and wifesy, i find we’re buying all hardcopy books through and the majority of our reading is happening through the kindle readers on our phones. that’s the way it’s all moving as far as i can see…

      1. well, you’ve just hit one of my pros right on the head. i’m tired of waiting and nothing is faster than format, press, and publish…

      2. what i’ve seen thru amazon is 70% if you sell the book for over 2.99$, if you sell it for under, you get 30%. Regardless, both your figures and mine are ABOVE AND BEYOND what a publishing house would offer…

      3. creative control — back before the internet was a real thing, a fellow put up a website about comics. he asked to put up my headshot and bio and a clip about me. i said yes and he put it up. i was around 23 years old. for the next ten years, i couldn’t find the guy and i couldn’t get the image down. it’s not that it was a bad picture, it’s that it was no longer representative of me because it was taken so long ago. i had way more professional shots of me out there, but people kept using that one because it was the first search link that came up when you googled. long story short — CREATIVE CONTROL IS PARAMOUNT.

      these are my thoughts. at the moment… xo, sm

  6. Reviews could be a whole other post, couldn’t they? Stories of authors reviewing their OWN books, sabotaging others, etc. But I don’t think the review problems fall with independent publishing alone. An unknown writer published by a bigger publisher could fall into the same risks, I would assume.

    1. i think the biggest problem is when you start to make really money. from how i understand it, reviews AND sales drive some of the rankings on amazon. so, a bad review could truly hurt, it seems. and it could hurt the wallet. truly, amazon needs a better system. i think they know that and i bet something new will be happening down the pike not too long from now… xo, sm

  7. Traditional publishers publish what will make them money. It does not have to be good, it just has to be lucrative. This is why the shelves are lined with trashy romance novels and formulaic thrillers. There are good works in there too, but being snatched up by a trad. pub. is not proof that one is a good writer, I don’t think. I think it means that you might write something that people want to read. And that’s more about timing and mass appeal. But what do I know? I’ve never written a book.

    1. the best example of what you are saying, TWILIGHT. i mean, that book is NOT good writing. but, it DOES have mass appeal. there’s a reason why a lot more people know who dane cook is over say dave attell or patton oswalt, but i would not say dane is the better comic. it’s a ‘mass appeal’ thing. so, i totally get what you’re saying. i think what a publishing house does right off the bat is it gives OTHER people an ‘oh, wow, they got published by who? harper collins? then, it must be good’ without them even reading it. i think it makes it easier for you to get on radio/ tv shows/ bigger blogs without the having to sell yourself factor. the ‘backed by a major publishing house’ acts more as a stamp of approval and whatever helps in the marketing process is a good thing because it seems that whether traditional pub or self, the marketing efforts ALL now rely on the author… xo, sm

  8. “Good Writer = Good Traditional Publisher. Of course the question remains is it true?”
    I know you’re not necessarily buying into this conclusion, but here’s the problem I have with it. Before you can establish with an agent or a publisher that you are a good writer, you have to first establish that you can write a good query letter — a talent that is very possibly dramatically different than being a good writer. To be able to write a good 80,000 word novel does not mean you can write a 50-word synopsis of said novel that will attract anybody’s attention. Unfortunately, probably 99% of the decisions made by agents and publishers are based on a writer’s ability to write that synopsis and not on the actual quality of their writing.

    1. hello there king, thank you for reading and commenting. i hear you, a good query letter is WAY important. and i do agree that it’s a different process than writing a long form story/ novel. what i will add is that i landed my book agent through stand up. yep, through stand up. she saw me perform in nyc about 5 times and then asked me to go for a drink where she told me that “she thought i had a book in me” and asked if she could rep me for that. so, the agents are looking beyond the query letter. they’re looking at live shows AND they are looking at blogs. and then of course, they are reading queries. prior to landing my agent, i wrote a query based on another website i had around the year 2000 that was doing quite well. i received mostly rejections, but a ton of great feedback and a few ‘try this and this’ and we will look at it agains. this being my third jump into the deep end of the publishing pool, i AM feeling like maybe i need to try a new avenue… not sure yet though. not sure at all. xo, sm

  9. You make some excellent points here Sweet Mother. Speaking as a “lump in the democratic, self-publishing, cake mix” (HA! that’s what it feels like sometimes) as promised, here are some links about self-publishing:

    First, the CNET article that made me look at self-publishing in the first place.

    Next, I started re-reading some of my posts about self-publishing and realized it might be better if I did a re-post that is a bit more focused than my only slightly humorous/mostly incoherent rants of the past year. You’ll find that here:

    Lastly, here is a post about the Smashwords/Paypal debacle.

    Smashwords is a free platform that functions as an aggregator for ebooks sold through online retailers such as Amazon. When Mark Coker, the creator of Smashwords, started the platform it attracted authors of erotica. As more and more self-publishers began looking for an ebook platform, genres became more the variety of popular online book sellers. I have my own view of what was happening behind the scenes between Smashwords, Paypal and Amazon, which I won’t share here, but the fact that the “core” of Smashwords authors was up in arms claiming their freedom of speech was being trampled made it difficult for authors of less controversial genres to market their work.

    Thanks for letting me tat up your comment section. XO

    1. hello there honie, yep, smashwords is huge. there’s another one, createspace, i think that amazon actually bought. there are a ton of these, ‘pay us and we’ll format you and get you up on amazon’ sites. then there’s the whole method you have to use to get your book formatted and available as an ibook for ipad. i mean, that ocean is a mammoth one to navigate in and of itself. if i do this, as far as i can see — i’m going to hire a ‘firm’ that will format the interior of the book for me across the platforms where i’d like to sell it – specifically amazon and ibook, then i’m going to hire an e-book cover designer (i found a guy who specializes in this that i really like), then i will also try to ‘partner’ with a pod (publish on demand) firm so that i can get some hardcopies to sell when i’m out performing. if i can do that all well, i might, MIGHT have something really worth selling. however, i don’t even see how i can begin to do it for under 1,000 dollars. and i’m not sure how i’m going to do that $1,000… a kickstarter? i don’t know. anyway, i will for sure read all of your links, as i’m doing my damnedest to read as much as i can on all of this stuff and THANK YOU for leaving them here. xoxoxo, sm

  10. ” By that theory, the sh*t writer with the most friends would win. NOT THE BEST WRITER.” somehow this line has stuck in my mind..

    alot of us buy a book based on reviews..never do we think even for once who wrote the review and if that person has even read the book

    Sweet Mom a major pro of self publishing is you get a platform to start…you sell…you become a published author…

    i dont believe being rejected by a publishing house means you are not good enough…i i read in your blog about Mark Ruffalo and his 800 he didnt think being rejected meant he wasnt good..he kept on going…self publishing is a step towards getting the dream ..

    when you get published and the big label of a publishing house may be missing…
    think of it as “you want coffee, you get coffee but ofcouse its not in a starbucks and doesnt has the tag but hey a non big coffee house coffee for now is not bad…it also doesnt mean you cant ever get your next coffee from starbucks (or you cant send your next book to publishing house…)

    im babbling 😛

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