Why “Self-Published” doesn’t have to Mean “Terrible”

Something happened recently on social media that both annoyed and saddened me. The details aren’t important, but the message is: that a stigma still attaches to self-published books as opposed to those published by small or traditional publishers. But are self-pubbed books really so terrible?

Book publishing revolution

The self-publishing revolution took off more than a decade ago when Amazon, followed by other platforms, made it much easier to publish a book. The tools for producing e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks came within the reach of even the least techie authors, like me.

At the time, the standard opinion was, “Self-publishing is only for those who can’t get published by other means.” In other words, those authors whose books weren’t good enough. Of course, there are books that fall into that category. But mainstream publishers are not entirely innocent of publishing books of questionable quality, either.

A number of successful authors now choose only to self-publish, having realised that being in control of the process is well worth it. Other authors have opted for a hybrid route: some of their books are mainstream published, others are self-published.

Are too many books published today? That’s a big question to which there isn’t a clear-cut answer. Who is the arbiter, anyway? I will duck that one and focus instead on what I know.

Choosing to self-publish

I have been published by a small publisher, and I’m eternally grateful to them for giving me that opportunity. I am now self-published, for several reasons:

  • First (sigh) I’m not getting any younger. The process of submitting to agents and publishers can take years. Some very good books fail to get published that way if they don’t hit the market criteria or the right person at the right time.
  • Second, as I mentioned above, being in control of the process is important to me.
  • Third, yes, money rears its ugly head here. After Amazon and other sales platforms take their cut, all the royalties come to me. There is no middleman (or woman).

Quality control

Ocelot Logo
Ocelot Press author collective: a vital part of my quality control process

What about quality? I can only speak for myself and from what I know of other independent authors. Let me take you through my quality control process:

  • Sharing sections of the novel while I’m writing it with critiquing partners and the writing groups I belong to.
  • Asking Beta readers (writers and non-writers; all of them are readers) to critique the whole manuscript, and then revising it accordingly. No less than nine people read my latest novel and provided invaluable feedback.
  • For my previous novel, commissioning a literary consultancy to give me a critique.
  • Employing a professional editor to edit the final draft.
  • Commissioning a cover design from a professional designer.
  • The formatting and uploading of the finished files I do myself, having scaled a steep learning curve to acquire the necessary skills. No complaints from readers so far.

Also, I’m now a member of an author collective, Ocelot Press. We pool our writing, editing and book production expertise in order to help each other publish our books to the highest possible standards under the Ocelot Press imprint. So we retain individual autonomy while benefiting from the experience of fellow authors.

I make a significant upfront investment, not only in the production but also in the marketing and promotion of my books. The production of each book costs me more than €1,000, and that’s before I’ve even begun to spend anything on marketing and promotion.

Proof of the pudding?

What do readers of my books think? Well, you’d have to ask them, but judging by the reviews and the private comments I receive, they are satisfied. All of my single-authored novels have an average of 4+ stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

I get the impression that most of my readers don’t mind if a book is self-published provided they enjoy it and it’s well-written and produced. And these should be the criteria we apply to all books, regardless of their route to publication.

You might also like:

Introducing Ocelot Press
The Role of the Editor: Guest Post by Sue Barnard
10 Things not to Say to an Author

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2019. All rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

19 thoughts on “Why “Self-Published” doesn’t have to Mean “Terrible”

  1. Having read some of your books, Vanessa, I’d say that you have proved that there is a quality self-publishing route. Well done. I’m not sure which way I’m going but I lean towards self-published if I ever have anything worth offering the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree whole heartedly with everything you say and would like to add the case for non-mass market books.
    While the big publishing houses are all looking for the Harry Potter or Mr Gray some of us aren’t interested in writing something that will be an international best seller. I for example write naturist fiction (generally cozy romance with characters who don’t wear clothes all the time). Not the sort of thing that interests publishers.
    Self published I have a market and a loyal following. Many of whom I interact with on social media. I enjoy writing for my audience and have no great desire to become as well known as Ian Rankin or Steven King.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good for you, Mr Ted. I think there’s always a market for more original books that the big publishing houses may pass on. I wouldn’t like to be a well-known author – not much chance, anyway – but I’m pleased if people say they like my books and want to read more. That is my reward.


  3. Making it so easy to publish anything on- line has resulted in some slightly less than wonderful material finding its way on to the self published writing market. This has had a detrimental knock- on effect for writers everywhere. Fortunately, quality will always prevail, so those snobs will eventually have to eat their own words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course, some self-published books fall into the terrible category, which can never be good. Equally, some wonderful books have been published that might never have seen the light of day if the self-publishing technology hadn’t been available. This expands the choice available to readers. It does make it more difficult for authors to make a dent in the market; but that’s another debate.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You are youthful Vanessa, with many, many, years of wonderful writing ahead of you. I agree that being in control of the publishing process is important whereby you can employ a professional editor and commission a professional designer for the book cover. Constructive critiques are extremely worthwhile.
    With Adelaide Writers’ Week commencing on Saturday I shall take note of your 10 things not to Say to an Author. What a hoot.
    Cassandra, John’s wife.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I wish I were youthful! I was a late starter when it comes to writing fiction, which is why I feel I can’t hang about.

      The 10 things were a bit tongue-in-cheek but with a serious undertone. I hope you enjoy the Writers’ Week.

      Liked by 1 person

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