Riddle Me This: What Is So Horrible About Being Self-Published?

Riddle me this:  Is your dream to have your work available to millions of people or is your dream to have your work published by one of the “big” publishers?  That really is the only question you need to answer when you think about that dirty word “self-publishing”.

For someone like me I find all this “yelling, screaming, and gnashing of teeth” over which publication route is better rather funny.  Why?  Because when I set out to publish my poetry, this debate was not even around yet.  In fact, my first official publication, other what I had entered in contests and magazines, was in 2005 when I published Poetry for the Chronically Heart Broken and Depressed.   Back then, I was determined to have my poems in a printed collection.  I never set out to be a million dollar poet.  I just wanted a book to have on my table and I sure as hell did not want to run 25,000 copies of a book from a “vanity press”.  I thought that was a little ridiculous.  That is when I found two POD companies…Lulu and Blurb. Lulu was simple to use and you could sell your books online there with no need of a store front or a trunk full of books.  Well duh.  That sounded great.  Blurb was a very good outlet for my “art and photography books” and they looked just as beautiful as any other coffee table book.   They had the same online storefront model.  I could sell books while I slept.  What wasn’t to love?

I eventually branched out into writing prose and published two more books through Lulu.com.  Still, the options for a self-published author were minute at that time.  There was global distribution, but it was not what it is today.  Sometime in 2010, one of my friends turned me onto making my own eBooks.  In 2011, after I had finally figured out how to make an eBook, I converted Athine Verses:  The Beginning and uploaded it to Amazon.   You see, before 2011 I had no clue what a “digital book” was. Heck, before 2011 if your name was not Anne Rice I had no desire to buy your book!  However, after I began my venture into eBooks I found a whole new world of authors to love.

I don’t think I will ever understand why self-publishing takes such a hit on the “cringe factor”.  Any other self-employed person, which is what you are according to that damn 1099 they send you at the end of the year, isn’t looked down upon.  Are mechanics that are independent of dealers any less of a mechanic because they have their own shop?  Is the Amish woodworkers’ furniture automatically crappy because they do things by hand and don’t mass produce their items?  Are the farmers at the farmer’s market “hacks” because they grow their own produce and sell it directly to the customer?  Are independent, small stores any less of a business because they aren’t Walmart?  Is the blogger out there that blogs daily just a hack because nobody knows them?  No?  Then why would self-publishers automatically be lumped into the “hack” category because they chose to take on all the hard work themselves?

Sure, you are going to have some people that think it is “easy” and yes “they” let anyone put crap out there for sale unfiltered, but it is the same in any business industry if you stop to see the parallels.  Ever have your car towed?  Bet you did not like the price.  Bet you thought it would be “easy” to open your own business and do some towing.  Yeah, wanna check into the price of equipment and insurance?  Not to mention the back breaking labor you have to put into the work?  Not so easy to get up at 3 AM when you want to sleep, but you have to tow some drunk out of a pot hole.  But there are “hacks” out there every day that try it because they think buying a truck and renting a storefront makes them master tow truck operators.  It takes a lot more than having the tools.  However, I bet if you were towed by a hack job you would not be totally off on calling another independent operator.  Would you?  Why?  Because you don’t usually have to pick an independent worker for things like tow-trucks, plumbers, mechanics, handymen, etc.  There are millions of real life businesses that consumers are burned by every day.  Yet, no one is saying that the “independent” store owner or “self-employed store owner” is a horrible awful hack.   Don’t you love to support the “Shop Local” or “Local Saturday” initiatives?  That seems to have a pretty positive movement along with it.  That leads to my question to you.  Why is it any different when it comes to books and reading material?  Before we had the printing press, people could not even afford to get books because they were all hand written and time consuming!  Why is publishing such a “snobby” business to the “little person”?  Is self-publishing the Tom Branson of the publishing family?

My theory is that self-publishing is looked down on because the publishing industry has controlled things for so long and they don’t like this massive change. (Remember the whole “the world is flat” debate?  The Church didn’t like the game changing idea that it was round, nor did they appreciate being questioned.  It seems when there are large shifts of ideology of any kind it causes great uproar both for and against whatever it is!)

Until recently, authors had to try hard to get their works published and create their fan base the traditional way.  They had to wait for the payoff of writing those query letters with their fingers crossed.  Then here comes this group of authors that can just be like “click” and make money without a single rejection letter.  I am sure that makes some of those traditionally published authors feel cheated.  But, really, it isn’t any different than when I took the ACT and didn’t get to use a calculator.  The next testing group did a few months later did.  Sure, it made me mad, like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the rules changed mid-game and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

Too, I bet people think it is “cheap” for an independent author to produce his or her wares.  You think digital equals cheap.  Why do you think pirating of digital items is so high these days?  Because for some reason we equate download with no money involved.  But, if you ever tried producing a book yourself, you would understand that much like the towing scenario it is not “cheap” or “easy”.  Editors, cover artists, the computer they typed the manuscript on, the program they used, these cost something. It definitely is a LOWER overhead for digital books, but they are in now way or shape “free” to produce.  The majority of your self-published authors put a lot of time and effort into their books.  It may not cost thousands of dollars for them to produce it, but it does take a lot of time and effort.  It seems our society has devalued things like creative excellence and art in favor of how many dollars did you spend on making it?   Is a painting any less beautiful if the artist went out and ground dirt and rocks to make their paint themselves?  Does the paint have to be a certain name brand if someone has skill?  Is a dog turd worth any more if you dip it in gold?  You can pay to dip it in gold, but it is still crap on the inside.  Just like you can throw money at creating a book, but if the writing is crap it is not going to do well.

Therefore, for me, it all boils down to what you as an artist want.  Do you want to have a book in your local library that you learned how to format yourself and blah blah? Do you want to be that person with the trunk full of books you paid to have made?  Do you want more creative control in the process?  Or, do you really only want that publishing contract?  There really is nothing wrong with any of those paths.  The result is usually the same–a book that is available for others to enjoy.  It is just how you choose to get to your end result.  Plus, nobody said you could not choose option A and then later choose option B.  You are not locked into anything for life if you do not want to be!

I am not the type of person that relies on others a lot.  I also do not like to give up creative control.  Even if I had not self-published, I am sure I would not have bothered with “traditional publication” if it were the only option because of the limitations it puts on the works.  I’m too head strong.  I don’t like imaginary rules.   I made up this world and I own it.  I can’t just fork over control of my characters and be told see you later if we have a disagreement.  That soooo would not work.  LOL.

That is why this whole debate is funny to me.  It has escalated for years and almost everyday there is an argument of indie vs traditional.  When I started doing the self-publishing thing, none of this was a debate because it was not yet changing the landscape of the publishing world.  It had a stigma assigned to it, sure, but it was not a headlining debate.  I never even bothered to think about submitting anything to anyone because I was fine being the master of my castle.  Now I can’t imagine doing it any other way.


Interested in knowing if I am a hack or good author?  Want to know if  this mostly self-taught artist/author/poet is capable of creating awesome things you will enjoy?   Just visit www.myepiclore.com to check out my prose book page.  I even have links to a few freebies 🙂

You can also visit www.shannonmcroberts.com to find links to my poetry and art books.

You can also search blog posts on my blog listed as “Shannon’s Work-Athine Verses The Beginning” if you want to read my entire first book for free.

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Commenting area

  1. Beautifully well said Shannon.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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