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The Reputation of Self-Publishing (and how you can prove the naysayers wrong)

A few months ago, I saw an… interesting post on Instagram.

It was by a fellow indie author, and it claimed that indie authors only go it alone because they’ve been rejected by traditional publishers too many times. In other words – because we’re not good enough to get a real book deal.

Well, friends, that’s bullshit.

I’m an indie author, and I’m 100% doing it without an agent or publisher because I want to do it alone.

But that’s the kind of mentality you need to be ready for if you, too, want to self-publish – that you’re only going the indie route because you’re not good enough for an agency to take you on.

(Which is also bullshit. It’s my opinion as a professional editor that every book has the potential to be amazing.)

Today, I want to make you aware of the reputation of self-publishing, so you know what you’re getting into.

Note: This post does not coddle. We’re all here for honesty, aren’t we?

Also note: This post uses an affiliate link, which means no extra hassle for you and a small commission if you buy via my site. I only recommend products I use and love,
plus affiliate links help me keep this website running, so thank you <3

The Reputation of Self-Publishing (and how you can prove the naysayers wrong)

Let’s look at the different kinds of prejudices I’ve come across and address how we can prove the naysayers wrong:

Indie authors only self-publish because they aren’t good enough for a traditional publisher.

Why, I’ve never seen so much nonsense. There are several problems with that statement:

  1. If you have queried and been told no, it’s rarely because your story isn’t good enough. The publisher might recently have signed a book similar to yours, or perhaps your book needs more revising before they take it on–and that’s only two of many possible reasons. It’s rare that books get rejected because the idea isn’t good enough.
  2. As a self-publishing coach and editor, I feel strongly about this: your idea is good enough. It will need hard work and commitment to polish it, but that’s true for every author. Even Stephen King can’t submit a first draft and get that published without any additional work. If you haven’t read his book On Writing, I recommend it. It’s encouraging af.
  3. As I mentioned above, I self-publish because I want to self-publish. Honestly, I never even queried my debut novel. I prefer the freedom of doing everything myself, and I’m happy to find my own team and do my own marketing. The same is true for many other indie authors.

How do you prove them wrong?

The only way I know is to self-publish a killer novel even the prejudiced will fall in love with. And if they don’t, never mind. Other people will. It’s still satisfying to show the naysayers your five-star reviews.

Indie authors self-publish unfinished books.

Well, sadly, this is partly true. Worse, prejudice has nothing or little to do with this one -indie authors did this to themselves.

Not all of us, of course, but I have read a shocking number of unfinished self-published books.

The truth is that many first-time writers finish their first draft and think it’s done. Some do a little more than that–they read over it again once (often right after finishing the draft), maybe give it to their BFFs or mothers to read, and then they publish it.

But, friends, that’s still below the bare minimum.

Taking the indie route means you won’t have an agent to back you up. It means more freedom in all decisions. It doesn’t mean you can skip the editor, cover designer, etc. You still need that team to help you polish your book.

How do you prove them wrong?

Please please please don’t publish your first draft. Or even your second or third. These things take time. The more you rush it, the more mistakes you’ll make.

Please don’t think your best friend who reads all the time can edit your book. Reading a lot doesn’t make her a professional editor.

Please don’t think Amazon’s cover creator will cough up a stunning cover. It won’t.

Take your time to find the professionals you want to work with. Book them early so they’re not fully booked when you need them.

Here, I’ve made a start for you:

Design for Writers creates incredible covers.

MonkeyBlood Design turns your sketches into stunning maps. (if your book needs a map, that is.)

Briana Morgan is one hell of an editor. Alternatively, you can hire me ๐Ÿ˜‰ Or you can pit us against each other in an epic battle of the sample edits.

Here are some other resources that should help you own this:

In this post, I explain the difference between beta readers and critique partners and how both can help improve your book.

Here I show you how to find the right editor for you.

In this one I explain the different ways to get your book a stunning cover.

Also check out this page. It has everything you need to write your book. Oh, and this one has all the info on self-publishing.

Don’t think your job is easier because you’ve chosen to do everything yourself. It’ll be harder. You have to set your own deadlines and show up to do the work. You have to find your team of pros. So many readers will expect less from you because you’re self-published, so you have to give more. Self-publishing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a daily test of perseverance and dedication.

Self-published authors don’t write as well as traditionally published authors.

Friends, the idea that authors with agents and publishers were somehow born with more talent or skill is just absurd.

Being an author means constant learning and improving, whether you’re going it yourself or whether you’ve got a big publisher behind you. Talent helps, sure, but it’s not everything. In fact, it’s only a tiny part of the whole.

And besides, ‘good’ means something else to every reader. Your favourite book? Someone hates it so much, they couldn’t find the words to review it on Amazon. The last book you didn’t finish because it bored you? Someone is praising its perfection right now.

No one puts out a perfect first draft. No one. My first drafts? Messy. Neil Gaiman’s first drafts? Messy. It’s just what first drafts are there for. Having an agent and a publisher doesn’t change that.

BUT this prejudice came from somewhere, and it’s mostly my last point all over again. Too many indie writers publish too early, whereas a publisher doesn’t give you a choice, he gives you an editor and a deadline.

That’s all it is.

Every author everywhere writes messy first drafts. A publisher gives you an editor and expects you to polish it until it’s ready. When you self-publish, you find your own editor and then you polish it all the same.

How do you prove them wrong?

A shit-load of hard work and an editor who understands you and your book.

Any author is only as good as their dedication and their editor. That’s true whether you’re self-published or traditionally published. It’s roughly 50% awesome editor, 50% perseverance.

And, between you and me, I’ve read some traditionally published books with errors that would end an indie author’s career in a heartbeat. Don’t think they’re flawless pinnacles of creation just because they have a publisher.

Indie authors don’t care about quality.

The first time I asked my editor for a quote, I genuinely thought she’d get back to me and say, ‘That’ll be ยฃ5,000.’

Of course, it wasn’t. I paid a lot less than that for everything together – that’s the editing, cover designer, and cartographer.

The cost of self-publishing might actually be a lot less than you think – but there are costs, and they’re non-negotiable if you want to do this well.

A large part of the reason we have such a bad reputation is because we don’t want to spend any money. This results in books that haven’t been edited and are therefore hard to read, and covers we pulled from Amazon’s cover creator and are therefore not eye-catching, maybe even downright off-putting to some potential readers.

So, we end up with books readers don’t want to pick up because the covers scream ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ and that read like we couldn’t care less.

Not overly surprising we have a bad reputation when you dissect it like that. And the worst part? Many of us do hire pros, but the market is still littered with books that prove that indie authors care more about doing it on the cheap than putting out a good quality product.

What would you prefer? A wedding photographer who knows what he’s doing or someone who turns up with a bunch of disposable cameras and doesn’t know how to use Photoshop?

I bet you’d rather pay the pro – and your wedding is over after one day and really a private family thing, whereas you’re putting your book out there for the world to read.

Don’t think about the cheapest way to get your book out there. Think about the way that’ll add the most value.

Once your book is out there you can’t take it back. Once you’ve turned readers away with an unfinished product, it can be near impossible to win them back.

Why should they read another one of your books after the first one was so disappointing, when there are thousands of authors out there who do put in the effort?

You see my point.

How do you prove them wrong?

Be realistic with your finances and accept that this isn’t something you can skip if you want to build a strong, lasting readership.

Don’t settle with the first editor or the first cover designer you find. Ask for sample edits, check out their covers on their website, compare a few until you’ve found The One.

Fees differ massively. When I researched cover designers, I found some that charged ยฃ750 per cover and I found some that charged ยฃ100. I settled on ยฃ250 per paperback cover, because the ones for ยฃ100 weren’t up to much and the ones for ยฃ750 were overpriced.

Do your research and have a think what you’re prepared to spend. If the professional you want is a little more expensive, consider if they might be worth it. We don’t charge what we charge to be mean, we charge it because we know what we’re doing and because we can add a lot of value to your book.

Stay off content mill sites like Fiverr. Not only do they undervalue people’s work, but you’re also not likely to find pros. I mean, do you really expect a quality book cover for a tenner or a quality developmental edit of your 100k+ epic that’ll take at least a month for ยฃ50? Really?

Look for someone that can give you value.

If money is tight, see if the professional of your choice is willing to work out a payment plan that works for you.

Never go into debt over your cover or edit. Save if you have to, and get a quote early so you know what to aim for.

Fortunately, professionals aren’t monsters. We need to eat, but we appreciate that you need to eat, too.

Well, shit, Sarina, should I even consider self-publishing?


Look, I know it looks rough, but there’s a simple answer:

Work your butt off and don’t take shortcuts.

Don’t cut corners–find professionals. If money is tight, ask if they’re prepared to work with you. Editors and cover designers aren’t monsters. Most of us understand and are happy to come to an arrangement that works for you.

Don’t take criticism personally. Learn from it. Constructive feedback is good.

If you don’t think you can do those things, then I’m sorry, but this industry might not be for you. Nothing will come from nothing, as my grandma and mama always say. If you’re happy to publish your first draft and get your cover from Amazon’s cover creator, expect that to reflect in the reviews.

Being a self-published author isn’t a hobby, it’s a job. Like with any job, you have to show up and put in the work – and lots of it at that.

So, to summarise:

You can own this if you’re prepared to work hard, don’t take shortcuts, and want to improve your skills.

It’s as simple as that.

Make a tea and tell me about the prejudices you’ve faced as an indie author. Or maybe you want to self-publish but are worried about something? Tell me about that, too <3

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Published inA Writer's Musings


  1. Ruth Miranda Ruth Miranda

    This is the kind of post that really puts me off self publishing anything else. I had just started planning my next release and then I read this post. Now, I’m gonna pull back and not get the books out there any longer. Because “A large part of the reason we have such a bad reputation is because we donโ€™t want to spend any money.” this doesn’t always apply. There are – rare – cases where someone just CANNOT ever come to afford to pay for certain services related to self publishing. I can’t. I can’t save money for it either. I know most people who have never lived under the same circumstances as I do think I’m a liar, or am exagerating, or am just not willing to pull my weight, that is hardly the case but I’ve long given up trying to explain to anyone why I cannot save money even for my son’s college fund, let alone pay for a cover designer or a cartographer. It’s the simple, harsh truth, and from the moment I decided to self publish my first novel (after a year of revising, editing, re-writing it all on my own) I knew I would need to learn how to do a lot of stuff on my own, as I couldn’t afford to depend on others for it. But apparently it is not enough, and if one does not have the money, then one does not have the worth. Because that is basically what this post is telling me – we all interpret what we read differently, insert smiley emoji here, I’m not bickerin, just stating a simple fact. As you’ve pointed out “If you donโ€™t think you can do those things, then Iโ€™m sorry, but this industry might not be for you. ” . This keeps resonating with me, it’s not the first time I come across this kind of opinion. And guess what, you’re right. It isn’t for me, at all, and the more I think about it, the more I know this in my heart. I love writing, it’s the one thing in the world that grounds me and chases the pain away, but maybe my writing isn’t meant to be seen by the world. Maybe my writing is only meant to stay hidden in a folder on my laptop, for me to peruse once in a while and think about how much pleasure I had writing that. Because I can’t spend one single cent on things like editors, cover designers and what not. So my books will NEVER be good enough to be put out there. But in the end, this makes a lot of sense. If a five star review is enough to destroy me, then I should stay off self publishing. This has actually been a very helpful post, I have lots of food for thought here, thank you!!

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      I respect that you may not be able to save enough money, but you also say that you’ve accepted that you have to do everything on your own. That’s not true, Ruth. Beta readers and critique partners work for free, for one, and you can still improve your books a huge deal by working with both. Have you tried that route? If you really can’t afford it, go through an extra round of critiques and betas. And if they don’t get back to you, try again until you have that feedback. I know you’ve got reviews, too, so you can also learn from those if something comes up again and again. All without spending any money–there *are* ways. I’m sure you can do that, can’t you? ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Ruth Miranda Ruth Miranda

        I’ve already given up on the betas and the critiques ๐Ÿ˜‰ lol. It’s what I’ve been doing all along, just working with those kinds of feedback, but the general consensus on the self publishing world – and it’s becoming my own opinion as well – is that without a certain investment (the covers, the editing, the formatting, the ads) there’s really no point to self publishing, because one will be just putting out there an -as you said it – incomplete book, one that’s not ready to be published, and giving all other indie authors a bad rep. Being an admirer of other indies because I know how much work and blood and tears go into our books, this is the last thing I want to do. And if I can’t get a book complete for publishing, then I shouldn’t. I thought my first was ready, I took so much time with revisions and rewrites, an entire year, but I still get emails from readers letting me know I should edit it further and do more revision as it’s just not good enough for print – even after I’ve kept doing this year after year. At a certain point, one has to let it be, right? But it does confirm my previous assumption that *I* personally am not cut out for this, for the publishing – either self or trad, mind! So it’s good to read something that validates what I’ve been considering for such a long time, it’s like having sudden clarity and someone telling me ‘there you go, you always knew this, didn’t you? It’s ok to give up.’ so I need to thank you for this post again ;). it really will help settle my mind into a definitive decision, know what I mean? Plus, it’s very well written as it does not coddle at all!!

        • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

          I do get that. I used to do things that made me unhappy until I realised I was doing them for other people who didn’t care I was doing them, so I stopped. Realising it’s okay to move on (because that’s not the same as giving up) took such a huge weight off my shoulders!

          Finding good critique partners and betas can be hard. I tend to always take one or two I already know and have worked with before, because I know I can trust their feedback. It’s horrible that people emailed you telling you your books aren’t fit for publishing, that’s just rude. Did they give any constructive criticism? Anything you can apply?

          I always hope my authors self-edit at least once before they send me their books because there’s so much you can do yourself. I’ve been sent first drafts, I know the difference ๐Ÿ˜› But it can also feel overwhelming, so let me know if you’d like some book recommendations. I happen to know quite a few that might make it easier, if you did consider self-publishing again ๐Ÿ™‚

          Oh, and if you can’t afford a full edit, have you considered manuscript critiques? MUCH cheaper, and they give you a good overview over what you’re doing well and where you can improve. A professional opinion is better than hate mail, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. HI! I am just brand spanking new to this. I am wandering around cyber space like a hippie hiking across Europe! LOL! I am retired and wanted to give writing a try. I have a blog/web page I started to start writing about something I knew about. I was a therapist for 37 years! I do NOT know what I am doing with the website either. I am just practicing and learning by default. Any input you could give me would be great. I do have a first draft short story but not sure what to do from here.

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Hi, Lisa! Welcome to the writing world ๐Ÿ™‚ We’re all learning by doing, so you’re not alone. If you’d like help and/or guidance, I recommend you have a look at my services for writers. The coaching option might be for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This is such a fantastic post! As an indie author myself, I know how much work goes into a book and it’s hard work. But the payoff is well worth it when readers read your work and enjoy your story. I’m coming to the end of edits for my current WIP and am thinking of editors now so I’m definitely going to be referencing your posts on editors when I know I’m going to be closer to finishing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Thank you! Finding the right editor for you isn’t as easy as writing to the first one you find, but when you do find the right one it’s so worth the search. I’m extremely lucky that I found my editor immediately. We just get on. And then my authors are just the best <3 Happy editing, Jenn. Sounds like you're close!

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