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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
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.
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 £5,000.’
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 £750 per cover and I found some that charged £100. I settled on £250 per paperback cover, because the ones for £100 weren’t up to much and the ones for £750 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 £50? 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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