Publishing Prestige

Let’s be honest here: writers want to be published. We want to see our names in print and receive a (preferably fat) royalty cheque that finally recognises all the hours we spent labouring over our creative work when everyone else was getting “a real job”. We want our stories to be read, our poetry to change lives, and our names to be synonymous with Literary Accomplishment. (Or some of us might just want a movie deal and some fast cash on the Popular Fiction circuit – come on, the thought hasn’t crossed your mind?)

There is an element of prestige around being a publishedwriter. I must admit, when someone tells me they’re the author of XYZ book I have instant respect for them … and then when I look into it and discover it’s a self-published book … my opinion of that “author” … wavers.

Now, I know that revelation will cause a few gasps and startled cries of “No! But … !” so please hear me out …

You see, for a long time self-publishing was considered to be … well … vain.Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin and William Blake churned out their own work, and Virginia Woolf published her own books, too. So when I suggest that self-publishing is lacking in prestige, I say so because … well …

There are a lot of preconceived ideas around self-publishing. I am being absolutely honest when I say that I have been terribly against self-publishing and have equated self-publishing with self-absorption. (They don’t call it vanity publishing for nothing, right?) So, factoring in the efforts of Virginia Woolf and William Blake (and many others), when did the prestige of being a published writer become exclusive to writers published by a publishing house? I’ve had my say on doing it right, so now I want to address the attitudes towards self-publishing. They are, undeniably, changing – my own attitude included.

I was involved in the self-publication of a book in 2009 and have since opened my eyes – and my mind – to the world of self-publishing. Needless to say, my opinion of self-publishing has changed (phew!) and I know of some excellent books that have been self-published, and I feel bookshelves are richer for them. I’m working on changing the assumptions that underpin the negative perception I have of self-published writers; I’m a lot more open to reading self-published books now than I was two years ago and I’ve had some pleasant surprises. I’m also eager to read the abundance of self-published work now available in ebook format because it a) is cheap; b) can be surprising; and c) could be me one day.

I enjoy the blogs and creative works of a lot of self-published authors with a cheer of “good on YOU for having the courage to get your book out there” (and a pang of jealously because I’m simply not that courageous)! I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing the options for “one day when” I get around to writing a novel I’m prepared to share with others and self-publishing is certainly looking like a viable option. Is there still stigma attached to self-publishing? Was there ever stigma attached to self-publishing or was I just led astray?

It’s a lot easier to self-publish these days; you have marketing tools at your fingertips to advertise your ebook and promote the print-on-demand service for a reasonable cost, and there are many platforms available to the writer who is prepared to put in the extra work and be a publisher, too. With the more readily available facilities to self-publish comes tougher competition for attractive cover designs, properly edited work, and an overall semi-decent novel to stand out above the crap and compete with the bestsellers.

I used to feel intimidated by published writers, but now it seems that anyone can be a published writer … and while there are some prime examples of terrible self-published books, there are also great novels that might not have been accepted by a publishing house yet have made their own way into the world – and into the hands of those who need it. There are many resources available to the writer who wishes to self-publish – so many that there’s no excuse to not doing properly. The stigma of self-publishing is being challenged by an increasing awareness and acceptance of self-published work and self-publishing success stories.

When it comes down to it, I’ve read bad books and I’ve read good books. I’ve also read books that have been seriously amazing – should it matter how those books were published? Wouldn’t it be better for a writer to have prestige based on the quality of their work, not on how it was produced and presented to the world?

I am curious to know what others think on this subject. With the very rapid popularity of ebooks has come a dramatic increase in self-published work; what do you think when you see the words “published author” in someone’s bio?

Is the prestige that has been associated with Published Writers transferable to Self-Published Writers, or is it exclusive to writers with publishing houses writing the royalty cheques?

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10 comments on “Publishing Prestige

  1. Oh and while I don’t care as much for fat cheques, recognition and fame (hard as that may be to believe…), I do definitely want to see my work published, know its being read and my ideas disseminated and absorbed, discussed, debated and just OUT THERE. You know?
    If I get literary accolades or recognition along the way? Thats just icing. Mostly, I just want to be able to write and make enough out of it to keep writing for as long as my mind can produce stories.

  2. Excellent post, one that as a writer I can relate to and as a novelist waiting to be published I know the dilemma closely! 🙂

    Honestly? I don’t believe there to be anything wrong with self-publishing and think it can have many inherent benefits, not the least of which will be complete creative control of what you bring out.
    The downside is that you lose out on the distribution networks, the marketing, the editorial expertise and financial capability to come out the gate strong that you would have with an established publisher – provided you don’t have answers or partners/friends/what-have-you who can help with these problems.

    Unfortunately I don’t think most writers would have access to enough money to make it happen properly, let alone know people who could help with these things – though thats just my general opinion and not a rule, anything’s possible with enough determination and if the book is basically good.
    I have heard terrible stories about some of these ‘vanity presses’ so I think that would also make it harder still as you’d need to find someone who could do it for you properly and without ill-intent.

    In my case though, I don’t look at it as an option though. Not because I think it’s bad – hell if I could publish my own work my way I’d do it in a heartbeat. In fact I’m working to establish my own comic publishing label so that I write not only for the other local publishers but put out my own work and hopefully promote others as well. Maybe books could be an arm of this endeavour? I hope so.
    The problem is that in India (where I am) writing fiction is a niche and limited field in general and self-publishing here would just be asking to get punched in the face unless you are either utterly brilliant or have something that could catch like wildfire and even then there’s no guarantee. Your chances of surviving on print-on-demand and online orders unless you were selling internationally/tying up with someone for p.o.d there you stand to get badly hit.

    I hope this changes, but not yet and not clearly, especially at this point when publishing is in the early stages of some amount of upheaval with e-publishing and such now established and gaining ground.

    Sorry if that was too long. Cheers!

    • Ah, I am also curious as to how different countries perceive self-publishing, so thank you for sharing your knowledge!

      Money certainly is an issue when it comes to effective marketing – competing with a major company that can afford bus ads and pull strings to get TV interviews is definitely a challenge to the self-published writer who might barely afford the start up costs to get their books in ebook format!

      Thank you for writing such a thoughtful comment on the subject 😀

  3. I’ve been mulling over the same question (novel currently on ‘authonomy’) and while I still like the paper-in-the-hand, read-in-bed version better, there’s no doubt e-books are taking over, and is it dinosaur-stupid to resist? My reservations were the same as yours: the ‘vanity’, ‘terrible rubbish’ aspects. But judging by some of the books I’ve borrowed from the library lately, hard copy publishing is equally hit and miss. My other reservation is that if you self-publish, you need to self-promote. which is nervous breakdown stuff. (see http://helenmeikle.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/a-squeak-from-the-trumpet/ )

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head (turned the book to the right page?) with hard copy publishing – yes, the big publishing houses DO get it wrong and they produce flops that should never have been released in the first place. I think that’s a really important factor to consider when you are reading self-published stuff – some “properly” published stuff can be poorly edited and terribly written, too.

      Self-promotion is certainly a difficult part of self-publishing – I enjoyed your post on the subject! I’ve also experienced the opposite end of the spectrum where I’ve gotten sick of certain tweeters plugging their work CONSTANTLY. It gets very repetitive and VERY frustrating. Balance in all things!

  4. An interesting conundrum. Self-publishing has a stigma attached to it that a lot of people struggle with, and it’s great to hear some (cautious) support for this method of publication.

    I thought of Matthew Reilly while I was reading this post. He started out as a self-published author trying to flog his novels to Sydney bookstores. He managed to talk a sales manager into putting copies in the front window of a large, centrally-located bookshop (I think Angus and Robertson on Pitt St), alongside the likes of John Grisham and Tom Clancy. He also spent a lot of time pretending to read during peak-hour public transport, holding his novel up so the cover faced the front door of the bus and giving loud, spectacular descriptions of the story to anyone who asked.

    Needless to say, his meagre self-published supply in the Pitt St store sold out. The book was then picked up by an astonished publisher, who just happened to walk past the bookshop window and did a double-take, wondering why on earth this unknown new writer had been placed alongside international best-sellers.

    Reilly’s now written several more books and is a multimillionaire.

    • Wow, what a great story! And talk about the power of marketing – fantastic!

      I DO support self-publishing and, as you have observed, it is ‘cautious’ support. I think that’s because I’m very much aware of the poorly produced self-published work that has made its way into the world. I believe anything can be a good thing, if it’s done properly and with respect to the overall medium.

      • I completely agree with you about the merits and dangers of self-publishing. I also think there’s a whole lot of crap that’s being published through traditional channels as well. When it comes down to it, both methods have their triumphs and pitfalls, and, really, neither is significantly better than the other. It just depends on what the author wants out of it, I suppose.

        And yeah – Matthew Reilly’s shenanigans make a pretty good marketing story. The best thing about this is that I first read about his strategies in an early edition of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace – a book written for emerging writers.

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