The Self-published Stigma

For a long time, I resisted the idea of self-publishing my books. In my mind, a self-published book was a book that wasn’t good enough—a low quality vanity project for a person with no skill and no training.

I have a lot of confidence in my stories and have worked hard on them. I have taken classes and gone to conferences to hone my skills. My degree in English should also count for something. I wanted my books to be categorized among the best.

Then I read Collateral Damage by Taylor Simonds. I wondered why it hadn’t been put out by one of the big publishing houses. Having read a lot of books in my life—and having devoted my education to learning how to read books—I like to think I can tell which books are great, which ones are mediocre, and which are simply terrible. Collateral Damage is one of the best, most-memorable books I’ve ever read (as you can tell from the fact that I mention it so often).

I have read quite a few other indie and self-published books since becoming more active in the online writing community. Many online friends have chosen to go the self-published route and love it. Reading their books, I am impressed by their dedication and skill. Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve come to realize that the self-published category is much like the traditionally published category. Both avenues produce great books, mediocre ones, and those that are simply terrible.

A term that is becoming more and more common in the conversations I engage in is “gatekeepers.” In the writing world, this would be a literary agent or the publisher’s acquisitions editor who receives the writers’ submissions.

Think about that. One person is reading the first few chapters of your book. If that one person doesn’t like it, no one else will see it.

One person.

There are many reasons why this gatekeeper is necessary. They are employed to know what readers are interested in and what will sell. Managers, editors, executives—they don’t have the time to read every submission the company receives. With all of the writers in the world, they just don’t have the resources to publish every book submitted. So, judgments are made. Manuscripts are requested. A book is either accepted or rejected. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean a book is bad; it could easily mean the publisher or agent doesn’t have time for the book or that it doesn’t suit the current market.

I have submitted my book to agents before. It’s been rejected many times. I’ve submitted it to publishers. Again, it’s been rejected. The book has gone through multiple edits. I’ve learned more about the craft of writing. Finding beta readers last year showed me that the story is good. With some outside perspectives, I was able to get it to the point that I really like it and I’m not afraid to let the world read it.

When the realization came that I should self-publish my book, I felt peace. I felt like I no longer needed to impress one person into giving my story a chance. The self-published books I’ve read taught me that “self-published” is not synonymous with “low quality.” It doesn’t mean that the book is bad. It doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time.

Indie books can actually be amazing. Perhaps the author didn’t want to wait the two years it would take for a publisher to release it. They likely didn’t want to be rejected by a gatekeeper when they knew they had something readers would like. The decision could easily mean that the author cares less about a lucrative book deal than connecting with people who will value their words.

Of course, an indie author isn’t going to have the luxury of editors and marketers paid for by a publishing company. This is one reason why I’ve decided to be more forgiving of errors in their books. If an indie author wants professional editing, they have to pay for it themself. The indie author’s budget might not allow for the best editor money can buy. Even traditionally published writers will tell you that the majority of writers don’t get rich off of their writing. But the best authors will do all they can with the resources they have.

I’ve heard it said that, with indie or self-publishing, the reader becomes the gatekeeper. The agent or publisher is the middleman who the author decided to cut out. Hopefully, the indie author has taken the time to get outside opinions before sending their book out into the world. The best writers are intent on releasing high-quality work.

Traditionally published or not, the reader can tell.

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