The responsibilities of a self-publishing author

blogger3aIn the last few years self-publishing has gone from being thought of as only something for the unpublishable (and by definition second class) to being a real choice for new authors.  It is so easy to format and produce quality e-books that anyone can do it and if you’re still worried about the technical side there are companies that will do it all for you for a reasonable fee.  No longer does the decision of what constitutes a ‘good book’ lie with agents and publishers who would normally reject the vast majority of manuscripts they receive.

You may be appealing to a small audience or perhaps they simply don’t like your style.  But if you’re convinced there are people who will enjoy your work you have the opportunity to put it out there yourself, and why not?  There are now authors that have turned away from traditional publishing so they can stay in control of their works.  Also agents are looking for successful self-publishers.

However, having read many self-published books I believe with this freedom comes certain responsibilities for the self-publishing author we can’t ignore if we are to continue to grow in stature and challenge the world of traditionally published books:

1)  The first and most obvious is quality.  I have read well written and presented e-published novels (mainly science fiction in my case) that would be hard to distinguish from those of a traditional publishing firm.  However I have read a number that are either badly written, and I don’t just mean in a style that I didn’t appreciate, or are littered with typos and formatting errors.  And often if you find a publication with one of those you will have the other as well, as if the writer just doesn’t care.  I know it is not easy.  I revise my books many, many times before I send them to a professional proof reader (who goes beyond just proof reading) and yet I know, as soon as I press the publish button I’ll find an error.

So to my mind your story can be as ‘left field’, whacky, off the wall as you like (see below) but we have to produce to the highest quality possible.  I have said in previous blogs that as self-published authors the readers may be prepared to forgive us a few errors, but beyond that I know myself I just stop reading.

2)  As self-published authors we need to commit to reading, reviewing, helping and promoting other self-published authors.  If we’re not prepared to do that for each other why should the general reading public choose our books?  At the beginning of the year I blogged my writers resolutions for 2015, I now think I should add this to the list.

3)  We need to be responsible in how we promote ourselves. Social media is full of ‘read my book, read my book’.  I don’t know about you but if I see too much of that it has the opposite effect.  I’m a member of ‘Books Go Social’ which, yes, helps promote your books but also encourages its members to read, review and help other authors in the group.

4)  Following on from 2) we also need to be honest with each other.  By that I mean not just give a 5 Star, everything is wonderful review, if it isn’t, in the hope of getting a reciprocal 5 star review.  If we keep doing that, what value do they have?  I am not saying we should publish ‘rubbishing’ reviews, but rather that we should go back and in a constructive manner explain where we think the work needs improving, why and give encouragement i.e. treat people with the same curtesy we would like to receive from them.

5) As self-publishers we should applaud people who push the boundaries, try something new, tell a story in a different way.  By their very nature traditional publishing houses are less likely to take risks.  As self-publishers we have so much more freedom.  We can write the stories we want to write.  We can then replace ‘I don’t think it will sell’, with ‘give it a try’.  On the proviso of course that it is well written and as free of error as it can possibly be.

Covers-DROP-SHADOWSo those are some of my feelings on the subject.  You may have others, let me know.  The bottom line for me is that if, as self-publishers, we want to be taken seriously along-side traditionally published authors, then we need to take ourselves and our work seriously (as I know many do).

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

13 thoughts on “The responsibilities of a self-publishing author”

  1. I think you’ve summed it up very nicely, Ian. As a hybrid author (traditional non-fiction and indie fiction) I’m certainly enjoying the indie experience far more than the traditional route.
    I work with an established writer’s group, all of us published in one form or another, and years of critiquing gives me, I hope, a fair approach to reviewing other author’s work, which I do on a regular basis. I do, too often, come across work that is far short of what I could consider suitable quality, and that is when the ‘behind the scenes’ private email comes in useful – as a rule I don’t do a public review if I can’t give at least 3 stars.
    On the plus side, I’m finding some great new authors out there, who probably would not fit neatly into a publishers list, despite assertions from commissioning editors that they would like to see more genre cross-over books.
    Thanks for sharing ‘Books go social’ – I hadn’t come across that one before. Off there now to take a look…

    1. I agree I wouldn’t give a review if I couldn’t give at least three stars. I made one exception on Gooreads, but that was for a traditionally published book which seemed split 50/50 between 4/5 and 1/2 ??

  2. Great info! I’m publishing by a small press, but I am thinking about self-publishing in the future and I love to get my hands on everything I can about the truth of self-publishing. Even though I’m published with a small press, all of this still greatly applies to me too.

    1. Thanks – I’ve written a few blogs on the mechanics, frustrations, dilemas etc. etc. of self publishing (have a search). Not that I pretend to be any sort of expert, they’re just my experiences as travel that rocky road (apologies for another cliche!).

  3. May I ask why you wouldn’t review a book if you couldn’t give at least three stars? A lot of people say that. My view is that if people don’t give one or two stars to a book that deserves only a low rating it devalues the star rating system and gives buyers a false view of the standard of the book.

    1. I know and it’s a difficult one. I also feel that ‘liking’ a book can be subjective. As a self publishing author I know how critical those reviews can be and how destructive one or two bad ones might be, so if I just don’t like it I tend not to score it. If there are lots of typos and what I consider plain poor writing (I know this can be subjective as well) I generally don’t finish the book, so don’t feel I can review it. As a fellow writer, if I have been asked to review something and its full of typo’s and writing errors I would rather go back to the author with honest (and hopefully helpful) comments explaining why I feel I can’t publish a review. If you’re a reader only it’s perhaps easier to give 1/2 star reviews, although again I would ask people to guard against doing it for something that is just ‘not their thing’.

      1. This is a thorny issue. I won’t review a book unless I feel it’s worth 4 or 5 stars. Even 3 stars is not enough in my view. But I agree with tbrpile in principle, I suppose I just don’t have the courage to give out poor reviews. When I’m considering buying a book I always check out the 1 and 2 star reviews first, if there are any, and try to find the genuine discerning ones. Life’s too short and I’m too old to waste time reading badly written stuff.

        1. Thanks for the comment and I feel much the same. ‘Enjoyment’ is subjective and giving a 1 or 2 star review because it’s just not your thing smacks me as unfair. Also I guess as a self-published author I’m all to aware of the effort that goes into writing that book. Therefore, I would rather go back to the author with what I hope is constructive criticism. Although, in I have to admit in a couple of instances recently I believe even a modicum of self critiquing would have pointed out some fundamental issues, which should have been put right before puiblication.

          1. We are largely in agreement. However, the problems I find with books that I refuse to review are much more fundamental than typos, punctuation, or subjective judgements about ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ the book. The sort of things that turn me off are: Badly constructed plots, info dumps (exposition), horrible saidisms and adverbs, head hopping, etc.

          2. Ah – you’ve touched on some of my pet hates as well, especially the generous use of adverbs, he thought ponderously while steadily typing his next wonderfully exciting blog.

  4. Extremely important is quality. I recently read a novel (ebook) which I promised to review – interesting story and characters – but full of grammatical errors. It really distracted me from following the story line because I was busy noting the errors. But having said that, I read a short novel by a well known author (will not mention) and the punctuation for dialogues was all wrong. So…indie authors are not the only ones.

    1. I agree typos and errors leap out at you. A few I can forgive, but too many are distracting and then I start looking for them rather reading the story

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