Alina Popescu, Writer

My Hammer (Keyboard) Meets the Traditionally Published Pedestal

My Hammer (Keyboard) Meets the Traditionally Published Pedestal
August 09
06:44 2015

…And it’s a bloody result! Or just a big mess left after I demolish it.

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have noticed that at some point I started having trouble keeping my mouth shut when it comes to things I believe in. I typically ignore the ignorant, but I can’t anymore, and I have to speak up. Hence this post.

Warning! It will be long, it will be a rant, and it will completely deconstruct a blog post I read a few days ago.

The post in question is titled “Self-publishing Is Completely Corrupt” and you can read it here. If you want a short version of my thoughts on this post, watch this video: (I will be using more finesse than the character in this cartoon though)

Anyway, let’s start with the disclaimers. I self-published my vampire series Bad Blood and I publish my LGBT fiction/romance stuff with Wayward Ink Publishing. Who is and INDIE publisher! And here’s the first piece of information everyone should read: Indie does not only mean self-published. It also means being published by an independent publisher (smaller or larger, irrelevant).

This is how this masterpiece of a blog post starts:

Thousands of authors every year get in touch with me and ask me how they should go about getting their books published. I tell every single one that they should not take the easy way and self-publish, but instead try and get a book deal by a major publisher.

I would like to point out at this time that if anybody imagines self-publishing (when done right) is easier than going through a publisher, they have no clue what they are talking about. I can tell you I have a lot more to worry about with my self-published series than the stuff I send to WIP. Here’s a little insight:


 Things I have to deal with  Self-publishing  With My Publisher
 Write the book  Yes  Yes
 Rewrites/editing  Yes  Yes
 Submissions  No  Yes
 Finding Editors  Yes  No
 Finding Proofreaders  Yes  No
 Finding a cover artist  Yes  No
 Formatting  Yes  No
 Distribution  Yes  No
 Blurb  Yes  No
 Video trailer  Yes  No
 Marketing Materials  Yes  No

***As my friend Aimee pointed out, this table might be misleading. While my publisher, WIP, does provide me with a blurb I am encouraged to comment on and creates a video trailer free of charge, most publishers won’t do that for you.

So… yeah, self-publishing is so much easier! *rolls eyes just like Shiki* In fact, it is so much easier, that I’ve decided that after Bad Blood, everything else I write that is not LGBT themed will go through a publisher as well. Yes, going through submissions and rejection letters is still a lot easier than publishing on my own. Less time, less money, less headaches.

Shopping your book around to agents and publishers helps you understand how to sum up your book in an elevator style pitch and deal with rejection. When you shop your title around you get a sense on what they expect your cover art to look like and get feedback on proper formatting.

Yes, of course, because when you submit to publishers and agents, they require your books to be formatted for print and to have a cover design ready, right? I should also point out that submitting to publishers and agents is sometimes a question of sheer luck. They are also a biased bunch that you will please a lot more if you are male, cause they care so much about the quality of your story! They also sometimes fail to recognize literary brilliance when hit in the head with it, as the Sunday Times has already proven (and many others, just use google for some similar experiments).

When you get a trade publishing contract it is important to note that you have a small army of people that have a vested interest in your success. Your agent earns a commission if you sell a ton of copies and in order to do that they will often schedule book tours and autographing sessions.

If you are naive enough to believe agents and publishers invest the same amount of effort in all their authors, you are in for a rude awakening. Not all traditionally published books are equal, people! And if you think a publisher guarantees you will never, ever have to worry about marketing, ever, the same faith awaits you.

Besides, there is a whole world of publishers outside the almighty major publishers. They follow the same pattern – get submissions, read them, accept some, reject others, assign editors, proofreaders, then get cover, formatting, distribution, then release and promote… Yup, same thing!

Also, after attending two author events (one of them focused on signing books) while being a virtually unknown writer, I have to tell you this. You really don’t need to split your royalties with an agent just cause they can arrange something like that. You can sort it out on your own. It will probably cost you less than an agent.

If a bestselling author can’t make it self-publishing, can you as a first time writer? Likely not.

Yes, some bestselling authors did make it by self-publishing their back list titles. Others made it on their own and refused to sign with a major publisher at all (or did so only for the print copies). Just check out this list here, and you’ll find those examples.

I should also point out that the Amazon Top 100 in several categories is very often dominated by indie writers. It does not always last long (I’ve been in the Australia top 10 in Gay Romance for exactly half a day – no. 6 with Strength to Let Go; I’ve also made it in the Germany top 30 for a bit yay!) but it happens. And there are indie writers that hit the Amazon bestseller list with every release. Cool, huh?

Do most indies or self-published authors manage to live off writing alone? Nope, most of them have day jobs, evil or not. But I hate to break it to you, being traditionally published does not always mean anything different. Just check this story!

The vast majority of startup writers have no understanding of a marketing strategy that will give them a leg up on the competition. Instead they spam social media with hashtags #buymybook. The vast majority of indie writers are also very lazy, they won’t even spend the $99 for an ISBN number so their books will be included in market data. Instead they just complain about research and reports on the publishing industry is skewed because they don’t take into account indie books.

The vast majority of any kind of creative person have no understanding of a marketing strategy. They either learn how to do it, or they get help from people who know how to do it. Oh, forgot another disclaimer – I have spent my entire professional life (before switching to writing) as a PR and Marketing consultant. And I now provide Book PR services to authors. My bad!

I also am connected with hundreds of authors and I have never seen #buymybook used! They use smarter hashtags, cause they are not morons – book genre for example 😀 Tagging something #paranormal #romance or #vampire is way more effective. And us writers know how to read and can find out a thing or two before spamming social media.

I should also point out that, after two years spent observing how writers behave on social media, I discovered their problem is that they don’t promote themselves enough. Most indies have trouble putting themselves out there in terms of marketing and selling their own books BECAUSE they fear they might spam people…

ISBNs are another huge sham. A publisher will bulk-buy ISBNs for 1 dollar a pop, while an indie will have to pay 98 dollars more for the same thing. Creating ISBNs is apparently a nice way to make money off individuals and not bigger companies.

Besides, dear blogger who does not know how to use Google, a lot of self-published books have ISBNs because platforms like Smashwords provide them free of charge. And most times, it’s not an issue of laziness, it’s an issue of how much money one can spend. Indies prefer to invest more in quality covers, editors, and proofreaders than an ISBN that is or isn’t important.

The author never said this is only about the USA, so I would like to point out at this time that there are countries where an ISBN is something you get for free. So… yeah, the world is not made up of the North American continent, minus Canada 😀

Market research that does not include indies is however created by lazy people. I am pretty sure they could track published books by ASIN (figure that one out!). Or just beg Amazon for their data. But we won’t speak of Amazon because they don’t exist and it’s not like they sell a lot of books. Besides, they support indie authors because they make Amazon a lot of money, so… bad, won’t speak of those evil bastards!

Bowker Market Research reported a little while ago that self-published ebooks now account for 12% of the entire digital publishing market. In some cases, the number actually rises to a very respectable 20%, but is fairly genre specific to crime, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and humor. 95% of these books are insufferable and are written to capitalize on trends in publishing, with authors trying to emulate successful writers such as E.L. James or Cassandra Claire.

I cannot begin to tell you how many traditionally published books I found to be pure crap! I do read a lot of indies, and I can safely say that 95% is a total exaggeration.

And don’t worry, all big publishers try to capitalize on trends. But it’s only wrong when indies do it! Funny, he mentions E.L. James 😀 That was the nicest thing he could have done because her book was initially….. SELF-PUBLISHED!!! Remember the list I mentioned earlier? Yeah, she’s there.

Speaking of emulation, he must not be aware of the fact E.L. James’ world famous series started out as Twilight fan fiction. So indies would be emulating the emulator 😀 Anyway, let’s not speak of the fact most indies writing BDSM stuff are closer to the realities of BDSM and don’t just hide abuse under the kinky cover!

Self-published authors constantly try to game the system, instead of understanding proper marketing. Not only do they buy Twitter and Facebook followers, but also book reviews.

Yes, because self-published authors don’t know anything about anything, not even to ask others for advice. I hate to break it to you, anyone investing in Facebook ads (read big publishers here) is buying likes. So yeah, self-published authors do invest in their advertising. The number of those who think it’s wise to pay 20 dollars for 1000 followers is very limited. They are the exception, not the rule.

But let’s move on to the myth of buying book reviews.

Todd Rutherford formally ran a website called that reviewed books for $99.99 a pop or arranged 20 reviews for $499 or 50 reviews for $999. He would post them on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other self-publishing websites to help authors get noticed. It certainly helped indie darling John Locke, who ordered 300 reviews and went on to sell over one million ebooks on Amazon. Before this website was shut down, it was generating $28,000 a month from authors looking for a competitive advantage. There are plenty of other services that offer the same type of book review scheme, most indie authors know who they are.

First off, apart from reviews on Goodreds or Amazon or B&N or wherever from people who have actually bought the book, all other reviews are bought. That’s a fact. If you give a free copy for an honest review, you bought it with the price of a book. There is no difference between sending an ecopy of your self-published book to a book reviewer and sending everything you publish to literary journals. Or mainstream media.

Actually, if anyone wants to investigate, I am sure a lot of big publishers also advertise their books in mainstream media – want to make a wild guess on how that relates to book reviews in newspapers and magazines?

Now, there is an ethical way to get reviews, and an unethical one. Paying someone for a review is not wrong. Paying someone for a positive review is. Before you throw rotten eggs at me, I am referring to giving “free” copies and to literary magazines that charges indies to get their book reviewed. It does not apply to big publishers, only to indies. I can’t be bothered to find the link now, but I am sure my readers are far better than the author of the post I am deconstructing at googling.

Indies actually know how to use social media. Book bloggers, readers, other authors – these are all great sources for a review. Most of them are open to it and very honest.

Don’t even think of telling me it’s friends who review, not other authors! Not our fault that us indies are better at making friends with our peers! Not our fault that we support each other, even when we are signed by different small publishers who are actually competing against each other. At the end of the day, we all want to promote reading and succeed as a community, not as individuals.

I am an indie, I did not know about that service, and I have no idea who is active in that niche now. Nor do I care. Thank you very much! I am actually pretty sure the vast majority of great indie authors do not even have the time to think about such schemes.

But the PR person in me knows of a few crises where big companies (of various other fields) were caught investing a lot in false reviews.

When you self-publish, you have no understanding of how the publishing industry works and you never will. You will constantly make mistakes and never learn from them, because nobody will bring them to your attention.

Yes, because self-publishing has this weird effect on your brain: it makes it stop working. Not like there are a million people criticizing you – bloggers like this one, critics, award committees, readers who can post bad reviews everywhere... You cannot tell what sells and what doesn’t by talking to other authors and figuring out the difference between your titles and how they perform. And of course, no one will ever try a few marketing strategies to see what yields great results. We are just drones who write and publish tons of crap with no thought, no strategy, and no future.

Trade publishing is the only way to go if you want to win awards and enjoy worldwide acclaim.  Most literary awards are closed to self-published books.

Depends what awards you are interested in… I can tell you of a lot of book blogger awards or other independent awards that help authors quite a bit. But I won’t because this guy says self-published and indie mean the same thing. They don’t. And you can submit to whoever you want if you work with a publisher (but not the major ones).

I will use bullet points for my conclusions, hoping I wrap this up before I hit 3000 words! So here goes:

  • crap is crap, whether self-published or traditionally published
  • self-publishing, when done right, is nowhere near easy
  • Indie is not limited to self-publishing
  • There are publishers beyond the big sharks in the game
  • Big publishers sometimes have issues recognizing quality in writing
  • Big publishers are gender-biased
  • Google is your friend! Use it 😀

About Author

Alina Popescu

Alina Popescu

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