3 S.R. Johannes: The Naysayers of Indie Publishing

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Naysayers of Indie Publishing

So here's another brutally honest post.

The hardest thing about indie publishing or self publishing is NOT doing the cover or writing the jacket copy or even the marketing.

At least not to me, anyway.

The hardest thing is coming up against the people who look down on self publishing. The people who don't give you a chance from the very start. The people who assume you are not good enough before they even read your first page.

The uphill battle we - as self pub or even indie authors - face is just getting our work to be considered equally as other authors.

We have our books judged by its cover - and I mean that literally. That's why it is so important to do everything you can to make sure your book doesn't appear self pubbed. Because then maybe - just maybe - you can sneak by the doubters and get a Kirkus Revew :).

Last week, I had one lady at a newspaper email me for an interview. She talked about how much she loved my cover and jacket, my press release, and the sample chapter. But the minute she realized I was indie/self pubbed - she simply cut the conversation short and said, "I'm sorry we don't review self published work."

Really? Why? She loved everything I gave her! My feelings were hurt and to be frank - it just sucked. In a moment when you are doubting everything you have done and are doing - those people just make it worse. Once again, the negative stigma of self pubbing gets in the way. Every time a friend turns her back b/c my book is self pubbed or a reviewer refuses to give my writing a look - it stinks. To be honest it breaks my heart. I can't help but immediately go back to that space of "I'm not good enough". Self pubbing still gets you rejection and its just as hard.

You don't have a team of marketers, or your agent, or your editor to pump you up and have your back.

You are alone.

And for me - at least not yet - those rejections never gets easier.

I just want to be judged on my work. My writing, my story. My plot, my character development, and my voice. I don't want any favors or undeserved reviews or breaks.  I just want the same chance for my little book to shine as the author that pubs theirs with a large house. And to be frank - it sucks when it's not.

That is why I have spent the last two long months showing you everything I have done - the behind the scenes - gosh to honest truth - about how to tackle doing indie pubbing the RIGHT WAY. I am not saying my way is perfect - it is different for everyone and just as in traditional pubbing - there is no magic formula.

But you will automatically hit discrimination to a certain extent because you do your book on our own. So if there is anything you can do to avoid some - do it.

Even typos come down hard. Every book I've ever read has had some typos.  But - if you are self pubbed - those typos (along with any plot holes or underdeveloped characters) are magnified. The typos suddenly mean you are not good enough and that is why you self pubbed.

You already get shunned by those who don't think you are good enough. And you would be surprised who those people are who turn their back on you. I guess it's a moment when your true friends and blogger buddies shine through. For some reason, self pubbing divides people and you can easily see (and quick) who falls on each side of the line. You can see those who judge you not based on your merit or writing but based on a perception...a judgement...that you arent' good enough or that you sold out in some way.

To be honest, I don't blame the naysayers to a certain extent - I've seem some serious crap put out and unfortunately - we ALL get lumped together in self pubbing or even indie pubbing. And even though some books that are traditionally pubbed suck - they don't all get mixed in together. They each get a small shot to stand on their own merit. Unaffected by their predecessors.

When a big house signs an author - that author automatically gets credibility - esp if it is with a big house or if it is a big deal on PM. People say - "Oh they must be good enough b/c a publisher bought it".

When someone self pubs, without even looking at the work, people automatically say, "Oh. They must not be good enough." And we self pubs have to spend all of our time overcoming that stigma by making sure what we put out is quality stuff.  We have to work hard to shine - we have to work hard to be seen as credible.

So from that perspective - self pubbing or indie pubbing is an uphill battle. I'm not saying that traditional authors don't suffer - they do. I have a lot of friends that don't get fair breaks on their books and don't succeed the way they wanted because they didn't get the support they needed.

What I am saying is that it is GUARANTEED you will hit that hardship if you self pub or even indie pub. There are no maybes, you WILL be turned away, you will be snubbed at some level, and you will work your tail off to stand out.

In the end - it is how hard you work and you hope your work will find a way to stand on its own.

To me, I'd rather face an uphill battle than no battle. And for 8 years, I've face no battle. I wanted to get in and fight but I was sidelined and was refused to be allowed to play.

But if you are going to self pub - you HAVE TO DO IT RIGHT. You have to find a way to set yourself apart from all the other self pubbers or indie pubbers out there. Good and bad.  If you don't - you may not stand out and you may get buried.

This process is not easy. It is harder than I thought. It is daily work to try and stay at the top of the pile so people see you waving from the top of the peak. If you don't, you will get lost.

So just know that this is a different way of pubbing. But it is not the easy way. We hit hardships just like traditional authors - they are just different.

You have to push forward and forget the naysayers. At the end of the day, you have to have faith that your little book will stand out. On its own.  And if for some reason it doesn't - that you did everything you could and have no regrets.

let me know if you have any questions!


Kristine Asselin said...

Sorry that you're hitting the wall of self-pub discrimination. Hopefully that won't always be the case! You're a trendsetter. Good luck going forward!

Cherie Reich said...

You are doing everything right, and it's a shame some people will turn up their noses just because it is self-published or indie published. Unfortunately, we can't win everyone over. But you are so correct about doing this the right way and not just slapping some book up there. Keep taking pride in your work, and the rest will follow. :)

Elle Strauss said...


lisanowak said...

Shelli, you're still in the early stages of the indie game, a place I was not too long ago, and I remember that angst. It still ticks me off when I read a reviewer's guidelines and one of the first things they say is "no self-published." Of course, it also ticks me off when they say "no ebooks" and then go on to say how their eyes are too bad to read them. Which obviously means they don't know what they're talking about since you can set the font size on an ereader. :) I had a similar experience to what you did with a newspaper review, only the person doing the snubbing was in my circle of authors and was someone I'd done a favor for in the past. You can read a blog post about it here: http://modicumoftalent.com/2011/08/27/double-standard-in-business-guest-post-by-lisa-nowak/ After a while, though, you get used to it. It's still annoying, but you don't care as much. When Zoe Winters told me that last summer, I didn't believe her, but I learned that it's true. There's a lot of prejudice out there. Not just in publishing, but in every walk of life. I encountered the same thing as a woman racing stock cars. The way I cope is that I just don't hang out with people who act like that. There are plenty of folks who will love and respect you for who you are. There's no sense wasting your time on snobs. Anyway, being indie has its advantages (total control, the rights to your intellectual property) and I've often been pleasantly surprised at how receptive and interested people are. I had an opportunity to speak to a Children's Lit class last week, and they thought the indie thing was totally cool. They were looking my stuff up on their iPhones while I was speaking to them. One requested my book at her library on the spot. So hang in there. It gets better. And the publishing world is changing fast. Five years from now, the lines will be so blurred no one will care.

Natalie Aguirre said...

It's too bad about the negative perceptions regarding self publishing. I think it's the same feeling for those of us who can't get an agent or publisher--that our work somehow isn't good enough.

Hopefully as more people like you are the pioneers in independent publishing, it will get easier for the rest of us. And you got that awesome Kirkus review, which is awesome and I'm guessing harder for independently published authors to get. It is a hard road though, without a team to help market. Easier for you maybe but still a lot of work. Too bad there aren't more agents like PJ Hoover's who are willing to help their authors with the independent publishing route.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm sorry that happened, Shelli. Newspapers have long drawn the line at self-pubbed because of vanity presses and the large number of folks who would aggressively try to get those books reviewed. Frankly, many were awful. But times are changing, and self-publication is happening on a more sophisticated level by people who are good writers. Even so, I doubt that newspapers will do much reviewing, because they've all been laying off staff for years now. Very few even have book sections anymore.
As a former features writer at a daily newspaper I would advise authors to try to get a feature profile of them and their experiences. That kind of thing still happens, although nowhere near as much as it used to.

Kai said...


I sent a request to a blogger to review my small publisher book. She replied "I don't review self published books." I blinked at the screen for awhile, feeling pretty mad. My first reaction was to defend myself and my book (I don't mean it as badly as it sounds) but then I realized that if she had that narrow of a view on books, I probably didn't want her opinion anyway. There is another group who reviews only books by publishers listed in CWIM, so again I was refused. I wanted to say, but SCBWI recognizes my pub...again with the narrow view.

If we are being really honest though, I've struggled with self published titles in the past. Good quality work, like PJ Hoover's Solstice and Susan Kaye Quinn's Open Minds has helped ease my concerns. Then I get one that's total crap and I sigh. As a writer it's hard to read glowing reviews for crappy books. Quality writers like yourself and those I've mentioned will put pressure on the others to step up, or step aside. (I dearly hope!)

Good luck!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow. Self-publishing is definitely not the easy way! I'm wishing you the best with your book. You deserve it!

Anita said...

I'm an indie author AND a newspaper book columnist...my paper doesn't review books by indie authors...but you can bet I'm working to change that policy! :)

word verification: bustm (sure will)

Anne R. Allen said...

This is so true. I've had people hang up on me when I said I was with a small publisher and not Big Six *real* publisher. It's a battle that has to be fought and we will win it, but so much of the public is unaware of the Kindle revolution and still remember when self-published meant "I got scammed by PublishAmerica." It means we have to be even better than the Big 6-ers. Like the early feminists, we have to be able to do everything they do, only backwards and in high heels. :-)

Valentina Hepburn said...

Hi Shelli,
Thanks for visiting my blog. I look forward to sharing posts with you. I'm amazed at the reaction self publishing gets. Who made the rules? If it's good, it's good. And I've read too many books that have been traditionally published that definitely shouldn't have been. Keep going, Shelli. Nothing stays the same forever, and when self-publishing becomes 'de rigeur' you'll be out there with the best.
Valentina x

Yvonne Osborne said...

I've learned that rejection is as much a part of the writer's life as weeds are to the organic gardener's. Even those published traditionally say there is no end to angst, the bad reviews and the worry over sales numbers. It's the hardest profession there is, the one we've chosen. But would we change? I wouldn't and I don't think you would either. You're doing a lot right. My God! That Kirkus Review? Geesz....don't worry about the newspaper lady. Happy Thanksgiving!

Anna Staniszewski said...

I'm sorry things have been so emotional. I understand that newspapers, etc. have certain criteria for books, but there are ways of letting you down gently without hurting your feelings!

As you said, some of the stigma is understandable. I've read some pretty mediocre self-pubbed books, but I've also read some that were great. You've clearly put in a ton of work into yours, and I, for one, am excited to read it!

roh morgon said...

Hi Shelli,

I experienced similar feelings to yours when I attended the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego a few weeks ago.

Small and large publishers were pushing their latest titles, and book launch parties occurred every night into the wee hours.

As I drifted from party to party, I watched proud publishers showcasing their authors and their new releases. Posters of book covers, giveaway buttons, tables filled with food, even alcholic drinks named after the new titles - all were part of the celebration of literary achievements by teams of authors, agents, and publishing staff.

It was a little lonely to be on the outside looking in. I couldn't help but wish I had a team of people to throw me a party and celebrate the results of 2-1/2 years of writing, editing, and revising.

I am the team. You, and other indie authors like us, do it all - writing, publishing, marketing. Each one of those tasks takes copious amounts of hard work and time.

So for all those naysayers who frown on indies, I just want to say, "If you think it's so easy, why don't YOU try it?"

Thankfully I have folks like Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Rusch and others to follow and provide me encouragement.

And you. Your blog is awesome, and provides a great model for someone who truly wants to do it right.

The longer I'm in this, the more picky I'm getting about what I buy to read. And lately, I've only been buying indie, because I want this indie thing to work for all of us.

Kelly Polark said...

Thank you for paving the way for other self pubbers, Shelli.
I hope due to excellent books like yours, the self pubbed stigma will eventually disappear.
Because I do find errors in traditionally pubbed books. I do read some traditionally pubbed books and wonder how they got through acquisitions. That will happen in traditional and self pubbed. People need to respect both parts of the industry.
Thanks for your bravery, your honesty, and your dedication to excellence, my dear!

Jemi Fraser said...

I've read a lot of self pubbed and indie pubbed authors over the last few years. As you say, there are some who are really not skilled, but for the most part, the authors I've read are very skilled and have created wonderful stories and fascinating characters I'm glad I spend time with.

Kath said...

Clearly your book and your work to publish your book, prove that the publishing world is changing. for the most part, it's those stuck in the old publishing world who cannot see the change. Publishers do not fail because they are expert at finding the best books. And they are failing fast.
It's a new world for the writer who does the work, and knows their writing deserves publication.

Kriston Johnson said...

When I reviewed Untraceable on my blog I purposely did not mention that it was indie/self published. I am very aware of the stigma attached to indie books and did not want future readers to judge your book before they even read it.

I feel indie authors have work harder for the reasons you mentioned, when there's a typo it is magnified if it is self published. I am currently reading a new release, high fantasy book that is over 850 pages. It is well into an established series by a well known, traditionally published author, and guess what. I found a typo within the first 100 pages.

When I finished reading Untraceable I was riding in a car. After I read the last page I set my kindle in my lap, stared out the window and shook my head. My husband asked me what was wrong and this was my answer. "If this is what publishing houses are turning down...I'm never gonna get my book sold."

Untraceable is top notch and I hold it at a standard as high as any well written traditionally published book. You did it girl. When your book is released people will see it is good and that indie authors are just as worthy as any other author. You're kind of like a pioneer...blazing the trail, breaking the mold. Helping bring a good reputation to indie authors.

Christina Farley said...

I am sorry you are hitting this block, but if anyone can do it you can. And you are not alone. We bloggers and readers are here to be there to support you. I'm so excited about what you are doing and I think you are taking a big leap into an amazing adventure.

Julie Hedlund said...

I've been reading this series with a lot of interest because I, too, recently considered self-publishing. I decided against it (temporarily) for a lot of reasons, but what you are facing right now was definitely one of them.

So I thought you might like to know that I admire your courage, your belief in your work, your dedication. You are taking a risk and going on a journey a lot of us would like to take but we're too scared. Probably in a year from now, maybe even less, those "no self-published" rules will be out the window because they'll recognize how much quality work is out there. There's good and bad in both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Yours is good!

Heather Kelly said...

I am so sorry to hear that this is a lonely publication process--I wonder if there is a way to create your own team--and I bet you have in a way. All the blogger and writer friends who truly support you. I hope you feel less alone as your big day draws near!!

And--I'm so glad that you could talk about this on your blog. You can be so much more honest when you aren't worried about stepping on publishers toes.

I am so excited to read UNTRACEABLE! Woo-hoo for you!!

I think that anyone who isn't considering all three forms of publishing--self, small press, big six--are selling themselves short. Or not selling themselves at all.

So glad you are putting your book out there!

Great luck!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I think you've done an amazing job with your promotion and the book looks incredible!!! And a review from Kirkus? How COOL is that?!

Ordering my copy today. Can't wait to read it :)

Best of luck, Shelli! You've worked hard for it!