I am not a small press. I am an author with 18 titles for sale. That is more titles that some big publishing houses. I have advertising currently running in Locus, Publishers Weekly, Fantasy and Sci Fi, and Revolver magazines. I have blog advertising across the entire blog-o-sphere. I am not a small press or even self published. [REDACTED]’ books are PUBLISHED by [REDACTED] and should be treated no differently that any big named publishers title.

via my tumblr

The quote above is from a whirlwind surrounding a forum moving a post from one section back into their small press section where it belongs under their rules (for the curious you can read a good summary here: The Man Who Thought He Was King). I’ve [REDACTED] the author and their press as I don’t want to focus on just one author but more a principle that presents itself:

Where do authors get their validation in an age of self-publishing? 

In the case of this author sales aren’t enough. They clearly want that particular forum to recognise and validate that should be seen in the same light as a big-six publisher, which they can’t be. As an individual author they are successful but they don’t have the scale to be anything but a small/inde press. I could go as far as saying they are no more than a self-published author who is very good at what they do (I’m taking their word for it that they are successful). 

Personally I have issues with a self-published author with no platform  apart from being self-published as, at the moment, my instant thought is that it’s not going to be better than the quite high pile of books I already have to read. And I’m sure there are examples of authors who excel but I don’t have to the time to filter out the ones that excel to the ones that are OK. I have a hard enough time doing that with books that have already been through the hands of professionals. 

And before you start saying that books today aren’t edited yadayadayada it’s not going to change my mind. I’ve talked to plenty of editors and writers to know what influence they have. It’s also a straw man. 

Books that go through the whole gatekeeping process that is modern publishing does give those authors a platform to launch themselves. And I’m not limiting that to say Orbit or Tor. I’m including Immanion Press and PS Publishing because they have teams (or one person) that has experience in spotting excellent writing and willing to risk their money and reputation on it.

Now if you’re bigger houses you can take that risk more often or if you’re a smaller press you specialise and build a loyal reader base. But if you’re self-published you’ve created a book and hit upload. That isn’t to say that writing a book isn’t an achievement but I’d be lying that just because you’ve written one you should share it with anyone. Agents and publishers call it a slush pile for a reason. 

Yes they get it wrong, yes the miss great books, but overall they tend to publish books that attract readers. But when I say readers I’m thinking thousands, maybe tens of thousands for most published books. Most writers I know don’t solely write as they just don’t earn the same as they do doing something else. 

So if you do press upload and sit back you’re probably not going to get the money rolling in. You might. I’m not sure how readers will find out about you. But these things happen. Now people write I think because they want to recognised, praised and most importantly read. 

Which brings us back to; Where do authors get their validation in an age of self-publishing? 

If you’re picked up and published the people who recognise and praise you are your agent and your publisher and they validate you before you get to raw readers – for me this make those chosen interesting and exciting. 

If you’ve published yourself you could turn to those groups that seem to be their to pat each other on the back to raise each others profiles but I’m not convinced that they increase the quality of the work that comes out of them.

Even shorter fiction writers are need validation and getting into the right magazine makes them interesting. When I say magazine I’m pleased to see that online magazines have gained themselves a reputation for quality fiction. 

Now some publishers let authors go and they turn directly to their audiences to continue their career and this is where self-publshing makes sense – they have a fan base – they’ve honed their craft even if they haven’t gained a sustainable audience (in a publishers eyes). And authors are choosing to mix self-publshing and more traditional routes, which is really exciting as they can experiment for their core fans and keep drawing in a wider audience with a bit of luck.

But after all that I still can’t really answer: Where do authors get their validation in an age of self-publishing?

Can you?

31 Thoughts on “Thoughts: Where do authors get their validation in an age of self-publishing?

  1. Pingback: Blowing Off The Dust | Gav Reads

  2. Validation has to come from yourself if you even need to seek it in the first place. Being validated as a goal in a creative medium seems to be self defeating.

    I personally do not put much stock in “gatekeepers” since plain old luck is a major factor to an author’s success in the publishing process. Whether its luck to be in the right genre at the right time, luck to get someone to look at your book, etc. Being a great writer is not enough unfortunately.

    I have read some truly good self published work along with some truly bad work. What “gatekeepers” at least ensure is that the honestly terrible doesn’t get past the front door.

  3. Validation for a self publisher comes as soon as you hit upload, ad soon as.you declare to yourself that you are a writer. Why do writers hesitate? Dancers don’t. A dancer declares from day one that they are. A writer waits for permission.
    Give yourself permission by valudating yourself and work.

  4. I don’t accept self-published work either- for the reasons you mentioned and more. Time is a huge factor but mostly I just don’t want to volunteer to wade through the slush pile. There may be some great work out there, but the market has become so rapidly saturated that it’s a no-brainer that most of the work is not ready for print. On top of that, you regularly see these kind of self-pub author meltdowns- and those really scare me off. Frankly, there’s no upside in accepting self-published work as far as I can tell.

  5. Hi, I am M. R. Mathias @DahgMahn on twitter. I am the author who went off the rails the other day over the forum issue. But their summary, even my reaction took it all so off point that it became a “He said – She said” fiasco.

    First, the true reason why I was making my stand:
    The general rules at these kind of forums say: “Hey if a fan posts about your book in those threads, it can be there, BUT if you post it, it is self promotion and spam.”
    OK that makes sense, and they told me if someone else made that post, as a fan, on my behalf, it would have stayed up.

    Here is where the issue is. The published authors all have agents, editors, and even –GET THIS– PR people who go around all day posting in the forums on behalf of their authors. So that is where the tide is turned agains the indie in a forum like fantasy faction. Orbit, Dell, Tor… they all have a guy/girl who dinks around commenting/reviewing/posting on behalf of the authors who they represent. If they don’t they shouldn’t be in buisness. Its just a simple advantage that forces me, a guy who actually has published 22 titles (23rd on July 4th 2012) at a disadvantage.

    By wikipedia’s definition a small publisher is a house that makes less than 50 million a year, or publishes less that 10 books a year. I published 22 titles in two years, meaning that by wiki’s definition, I am in fact not a small press. That only matters because they threw that definition at me as a reason for moving the post. My original post said 18 books??? yada yada

    I want it to be known that I didnt get mad at the post being moved. I expected it. I got mad when they suddenly banned me from the forum. This let them all bashing me and me no voice to explain or respond. I went nuts. :-) I grew up in prison and I take no B.S. (One of the reeasons I have been able to produce so many books is because I wrote 7 of them in prison and it wasn’t that hard after The Sword and the Dragon sold its 20,000 copy. I just entered them into word and paid editors to clean them up.

    Those people, the author of this blog even dont understand what is happening. I sell 500-600 kindle books a day on the weekends and in the summer. That isn’t including iStore, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, SonyReaderStore.
    M. R. Mathias
    David Dalglish
    D. P. Prior
    B. V. Larson

    These are but a few of the Kindle Store fantasy Authors that are forcing the big pubs to have to create places like faction and sock puppet post about their authors to compete.

    I was making a point more than demanding to be heard. I am a proud member of The Independent Author Network and I really do embrace my indie status. Faction is a tiny forum. sffworld.com – KindleBoards.com – NookBoards.com – Goodreads.com – Wattpad.com Those are the places where the real readers are.

    We all hate Sock Puppets and deciet. Just remember that guy or gal that posts about authors or allways has that “your the best” comment might just be an intern.
    The author responding is probably the intern too. The author, if he was smart, is out on the golf course or taking a swim.

    FYI I made just over 6 figures last year. I write/promote my books for a living. When you hear self pubbed and think “Hack” you are missing the BEST stuff out there because it is breaking the dead money making formulas that cause one big pubbed novel to be just like the next.
    thanks for your time. M. R. Mathias

  6. I’d also like to add that I am a diabetic and my eyes get bad. My post typoes do not reflect the content of my books. A few reviews will cite grammar issues. Allways look at the date of a review. If you reviewed me and pointed out an error it would be fixed and reuploaded fifteen minutes after I knew about it. Its a new world. If you count reading texts as reading, then more people read on their phones and eReaders than they do from books.

    And think about this: If you can read a text on that screen, why not a chapter while your at the doctors office or waiting on the tire man?

  7. Once I’d realised that the only way my novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains was going to see print was if I published it myself, I decided I had to do a proper job of it. So I bought some ISBNs, and paid for it to be professionally printed in paperback and hardback. Since I was doing that, I decided I’d start up a small press. It’s a small press because it’s open to submissions. Yes, Whippleshield Books will publish my quartet of novellas, but I also plan to publish -and pay for – anything suitable which I think is good enough to publish. If you only publish your own stuff, you’re not a small press – no matter how many titles you’ve published or how many you sell.

    As for validation… I sent out plenty of copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains for review. And the reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive. These are not 5-star reviews on Amazon by some meat or sock puppet, but proper reviews on people’s blogs and/or online review sites. (And there are a couple of reviews due to appear in magazines over the next few months.) That’s the only validation I need – that people who read critically took the time to read my novella and then write about it.

  8. Jon Simmonds on May 24, 2012 at 11:06 am said:

    It’s a very valid question and one that, as a first-time writer with a newly-completed first novel, I’ve been pondering in some depth. There is no equivalent validation to that of an agent/reader/publisher with years of experience telling you your work’s good. Or that it’s not so good but has the potential to be improved.

    There certainly is a level of validation from the honest opinions of friends, family and acquaintances who read widely. In effect, isn’t the approval of someone who goes out and buys books as valid as that of a publisher? we all know that there are books publishers put out that fail to gain any real traction with readers because those with money in their pockets and an afternoon in a bookshop simply don’t like them.

    The problem being, as you say, that the praise of people who read isn’t going to give you the funds to run a full-scale marketing campaign and get yourself on Waterstones’ best-sellers table. So it’s a case of using (in my case) digital channels to build awareness and an audience for a self-published work. At least, that’s the plan at this stage. If there’s enough support – not just from friends, that obviously will only ever run into the tens, not the hundreds of thousands – but also their extended networks and broader word of mouth, you should at least be able to build enough momentum to have a stronger pitch for a major publishing house.

    My thinking runs in the same direction as your final point; use the opportunities available in an age of digital with minimal boundaries to adopt a hybrid approach of marrying up self-publishing and traditional channels and fight the battle on both fronts.

    Or maybe I’m just being naive.

    • Gav Reads on May 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm said:

      I think that more authors are going to need to write shorts, novels, blog, twitter, join in conversations to get traction regardless of how they put their work out.

  9. Ian this was one of my first books first reviews.
    http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2010/09/sword-and-dragon-by-mr-mathias-reviewed.html

    It is from a reputable fantasy blog with over 3 million hits. My reviews are from across the globe. I have 5 star reviews for this title in Germany, the UK several from Austrailia. I have no need for puppet reviews. I have reviews at Goodreads, wattpad, iStore, B&N, Amazon, Amazon UK… I could go on, and on, and on.

    Its the big publishers who have the sock puppet reviewers on staff. Stephen King will blurb your book for 10k bucks. FACT!

    I was in prison for about 5 years. (possession of ecstacy) The last two years being in soliarty for guess what? Fighting.

    I read 300 words and wrote 3000 words a day for several years. I wrote a 750k word trilogy in longhand. Thats bigger than “The Count of Monte Cristo” and the “Odyssey” combined. I did that with an inkpen. No search, or backspace, no delete. A good 20% of The Sword and the Dragon is written in the margins of the notebook paper.
    Good luck with your small press.
    I publish under several pen names, which means I publish more than one author. I have an Award Winning horror thriller. It was in the top 25 of ALL OF Amazon UK a few months ago. Search Michael Robb, or Michael Robb Mathias.

    As for validation. There was none in prison. I didn’t even know what an ereader was, and I had no real intention of publishing while I wrote 7 novels. (Not the 300 page books that most indies produce, but (x7) 500-900 page epic fantasy novels.

    One of my biggest fans said that the reason they liked my books so much is because I wasn’t writing for an editor, or a profit.
    I was writing to keep my sanity, and every word on every page of The Wardstone Trilogy was a moment of FREEDOM I stole from the prison.

    I have created several world. All of them deep and full of rich characters. I have read enough titles to know EXACTLY how good my books are against the greats.

    back to the self pubbed issue… If you read the wiki definition it states that most BIG publisher imprints cant handle 10 books a year. I did. All By myself.

    Gonna listen to Elvis now. He and I TCB. We did it our way. :-)

  10. An interesting note – The FREE preview of The Sword and the Dragon at Smashwords is over 300 pages long. THE PREVIEW. The Climax is also about 300 pages long. The few hundred pages between those 600 are pretty good too. ;-)

    Try reading it. All the real fantasy fans are. They want to know exactly what a guy wrote while in a modern day dungeon. Most are utterly surprised.

    And FYI I have turned down several publishing deals because I make more now, than they offered. My books would be BIG 6 PUBLISHED if I would take a pay cut.
    So when I am lumped with the 100 page novels of aspiring authors I am in the wrong place. That is factions loss. They are puny. Just read the drivel they posted trying to beat me down. While they did that, I uploaded another book. ;-)

  11. James on May 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm said:

    @Ian

    Thanks for posting. I’d heard about your book before it hit the US market and forgot to check back since. Now that it’s available, you have another sale coming your way.

    @ M.R. Mathias

    Tell me, who are these real fantasy fans you’re talking about? See, I belong to several message boards and follow a great deal of blogs, but from what I have seen… very few of these fantasy fans are actually reading your work. A great many of them have no desire at all to read any self-published work. Are these not the real fantasy fans you speak of?

    Fortunately, quantity has nothing to do with quality or else I would have no room for all these thick tomes I’d have to read to find some decent prose. I hesitate to read any book more than 450 pages in length because, even in the hands of talented writers, they often delve into tedium. Much more interesting are the books that manage to tell a complete story in a minimum of pages. But then, I have long since stopped being fond of the filler and frivolous detail that bloat epic and traditional fantasies and turn them into slogs. Since you seem to have writing 500-900 page epic fantasies down, why don’t you try your hand at the 300 page narrative you seem to look down upon?

    In any case, before you tell me to sample your work… I already have. And no, I am not from Fantasy Faction, though I did post there briefly when it first began. I wish you luck in your attempt to get others to view you as something other than a self-publisher or small press, but doubt that will happen.

    Once more, thank you, Ian, for reminding me about your book. I look forward to reading it and wish you luck with your small press. And sorry to Gav for being unable to answer the question, though I believe Ian did so very well.

  12. Jess K on May 24, 2012 at 10:30 pm said:

    All I feel I have read in Mathias’s responses are how much he loves himself and his books. Every post itself seems to push his books at whoever is reading. I feel like this author has pushed himself off my bookshelves and to-read list at this point.

    For the record I did read that “FREE OH MY GOSH FREE” preview of his book, to give it a fair shot. I couldn’t finish it. Many parts read like a telegram (commas are your friends), and it just seemed too two-dimensional.

  13. There are those who will embrace self-published authors, and those who won’t.

    I liken it to the indie music scene when MP3 files became the norm. I also liken it to my plumber of choice – he is self-employed and independent, and bloody brilliant. My previous plumber was also self employed and he was crap.

    I read some real rubbish from BIG NAMES, and some really good stuff from indies. My own work has several good reviews on Amazon UK, and I only know three of the people writing them. I think/hope they were being honest (one was a 4*, so I think that was genuine). I know none of the .com reviewers.

    These days, at least you can download the sample and make your choices, so there’s no need to discount indies just on principle.

    Incidentally, many indie authors work really hard to get a polished product, whereas many publishing houses get lazy with big names and tend to shy away from editing them. I’ve seen as many formatting errors in ‘professionally’ produced books as I have in indie books recently.

    So, validation.

    Mine comes from the numerous readings I have taken part in, and the reaction of those listening. Raucous laughter and applause means a lot!

  14. It’s too easy to point to bad books published by the Big Six and use this to validate self-published books. (Not “indie”, please. Self-publishers are not independent publishers because they’re not true publishers.) Big commercial publishers will publish what sells, and the more it sells the less likely they are to a) mess with a winning formula, or b) upset an author who may take their best-selling books to a competitor. And yet, despite this, I’m pretty sure there is a much lower percentage of truly awful books published by commercial publishers than there is by self-publishers.

    There are currently two methodologies to self-publishing:

    1) braindump your novel into a wordprocessor, make some token effort at editing it, then upload it onto Kindle (and perhaps onto lulu.com as well, for those desperate enough to pay over the odds for a shoddy paperback)

    2) write your novel, get it edited (by a pro, or otherwise), buy an ISBN, and get it printed up by a proper printer

    The first method is easy and costs nothing. It is also swamping the ebook market with inferior books. The second method is expensive. Neither method is guaranteed to be more successful than the other.

  15. That’s excellent news on the upcoming magazine review spots, Ian. You’re on my summer book buying binge list. I’ve been looking forward to reading a copy of Adrift for some time now.

    Quality and quantity are the buzzwords in this ‘argument’ for me.

    Throwing a shedload of poor quality material on Amazon (and its equivalents elsewhere) does not make one a successful writer. Neither does grabbing a Twitter account and building as many followers as possible by following the ‘follow-back’ crowd and allowing all the bots to remain in your follow list. The best self-pubbers and the best small presses are the ones which don’t use every tweet for promotion. They build a rapport with current and potential readers; they engage critically in conversations without hijacking that conversation to make another sale; they also learn that good marketing involves not making every contact a potential sale.

    I’ve read seven self-published books this year, and at least two dozen more free samples, including one recently by M R Mathias. From that small selection of material I found one good novel and an excellent short story. The novel wasn’t quite my cup of tea (it was about vampires), but I saw a lot of potential in this author’s work, enough to make me want to read more of his material. I count myself lucky I was able to find anything good at all in the self-pubbed market; not because I think all self-pubbed novels are rubbish, but because, when anyone and everyone is throwing poorly edited dross online, it makes the good stuff a damn sight harder to find.

  16. “Not “indie”, please. Self-publishers are not independent publishers because they’re not true publishers.” — Ian Sales

    I am a writer and am independent of a major publishing house. Legally I am an independent publisher – I would be the one facing lawsuits for libel, copyright infringements, etc. However, MY use of “indie” relates to my status as a writer, not a publisher.

    I, for one, have no intention of being a publisher of other peoples’ stuff. I never intended to be the publisher of my own stuff. What inspired me was that for my latest work I have received plaudits from several publishers and agents, but the work did not fit into what they were looking for.

    I do know the difference between a good and bad rejection, by the way, because much of my early work received ‘bad’ rejections, and I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing any of it in its original state.

    My intention is to gain a readership and then try to get published by a traditional publisher, using my track record as a basis for negotiation. Frankly, the effort I put into editing, marketing, formatting et cetera eats into my writing time. Also, I have no advertising budget!

    I do agree that using Twitter purely as a means to thrust adverts down followers’ throats is pesky.

  17. What is an “indie” writer? And how does it make you different to other writers?

    • What is an “indie” writer? And how does it make you different to other writers? –

      think I answered that above:

      “I am a writer and am independent of a major publishing house.”

  18. But all writers are “independent” until they sign a contract. And once that contract has been completed, they are “independent” once again. And for the bulk of writers, non-independence is the condition they aspire to.

    AFAIK, “indie” was co-opted by self-publishers in analogy to the use of the term in the music industry. Except “indie” in music terms meant an independent label – ie, a label that wasn’t owned by one of the major record companies. If a band recorded and cut their own single – as the Buzztones originally did – it was still known as “self-released”.

    If you write, you are an author. If your work is picked up by a publisher, small press or Big Six, you are a published author. If you publish your own work, you are a self-published author.

    • “Except “indie” in music terms meant an independent label – ie, a label that wasn’t owned by one of the major record companies. If a band recorded and cut their own single – as the Buzztones originally did – it was still known as “self-released”.”

      I don’t know if that’s strictly true, Ian – The Wedding Present started off releasing their own records, and are releasing their own records again now, and I doubt there’s a music journalist in the world who wouldn’t call them an indie band.

  19. We are not in dispute. I know I’m self published, as I have mentioned several times.

    I did not coin the term ‘indie’, but I certainly don’t mind using it. Also, a contracted author is not truly independent – the contract prohibits it.

    Finally, I came here to partake in an interesting debate and not to defend a certain author above. I am merely stating my own views.

  20. Apologies. I just find the use of the term “indie” problematical. Perhaps there should be a term to describe those self-published authors who make an effort to produce a proper book and then market it, rather than just uploading a braindump to Kindle. But if it’s “indie”, it’s already been abused past the point of usefulness.

  21. Pingback: Thoughts – Reasons Why We Reviewers Won’t Read Your Self-Published Book | Gav Reads

  22. “Stephen King will blurb your book for 10k bucks. FACT!”

    I find this very unlikely, MR, but in case I’m wrong please provide a link to wherever we may find verification of this.

    I’m fascinated by the notion of interns or other people at my publisher spending all day promoting me on blogs and forums. You forgot to mention the champagne dinners and hot tub parties with starlets. The ‘fact’, MR, is no amount of publicity will make a book sell unless people want to read it. Rowling became huge not through publicity, but through word of mouth in playgrounds. You can’t buy word of mouth, although many will try.

    Validation: people seek validation as writers for a variety of complex personal reasons. Validation for a pro author comes first from creating something out of nothing and then having someone else give you preferably large sums of money for the right to publish it, and secondly from having lots of people read it and (hopefully) enjoy it. I suspect it’s the same validation an artist gets from selling a painting, or an architect from completing a building. It’s a public, rather than private, act, an expression of the intrinsic human desire to make a mark. To be honest, I’m not sure about the whole question of validation myself. If you ask me why I’m a writer, I’d say it’s because I’m otherwise essentially unemployable, and if I wasn’t doing this I’d probably be juggling on a beach somewhere for spare change from people with real jobs.

    However, life being what it is, validation as a traditionally published writer can’t happen for everyone. A Guardian survey a few years back found the dream job of the people they surveyed was to be a novelist (I looked for the link, but damned if I can find it). That means a lot of people hoping to be published.

    However, only a very few people have the patience and endurance to improve their skills to the point where they might be publishable. Those with some natural talent have a head-start, but even they will fail to succeed without the desire to persist. I have known many very talented writers who you’ve never heard of because they lacked the desire to keep going and to keep working until they were published. Those who succeed are the ones who persist, and who learn, and who strive to become better. It means sacrifice, an uncertain career, a hand to mouth existence. A willingness to work for years towards the goal of being published.

    Now any idiot can hit a button and call themselves ‘published’. 99% of them are wildly deluded. A minuscule fraction, like Ian (his novella, btw, is really very good) and a number of otherwise traditionally published authors are not. It’s not true validation for that 99%. They simply haven’t yet developed the necessary critical skill to recognise the failings in their own work, and without learning that skill they won’t do anything but disappoint those who make the mistake of hitting the ‘buy’ button.

  23. Pingback: » On Being a Real Writer MissManifesto

  24. My validation comes from two places:

    People I don’t know leaving excellent reviews on Amazon.

    And people I know very well who are blunt with their opinions.

  25. True Story: The day, after my first book’s second year on Amazon, when I received a good review I hadn’t requested, I felt validated… then when a reviewer I had requested somehow received an old, poorly edited first edition of my first book and subsequently docked me the equivalent of a full star because of the punctuation errors, I lost that validity in my own mind, despite her mentioning that she really enjoyed the story and characters. The next day, I gave up on validation as a reason for writing. I also made a promise that despite my shallow pockets (editors are not free), I would make sure nothing like that ever happens again. So far, so good. Two books out, three more in the works, one being read by a small press. I wish that self-publishing would not be so consumed with self-promotion, but that is the nature of the beast. For me, the only validation that is important is that my writing connects with readers. It doesn’t have to be a lot of them, as I’m neither very lucky or in the habit of writing in a genre that sells lots of books. But just enough to know I’m not wasting the countless hours.

  26. Pingback: Reasons Why We Reviewers Won’t Read Your Self-Published Book | The Passive Voice

  27. Pingback: Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 17, 2012 « cochisewriters

  28. Validation comes from sales, at which point the author shouldn’t be worrying what industry types and peers think of them. Write the best book you can, publish via your preferred method, write the next book.

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