Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Morning Marketing Tip - "Self-Published Does Not Mean Published Author"

Rob Eagar's Monday Morning Marketing Tip
is written to help authors, businesses, and non-profits
spread their message like wildfire.

This week's focus:

As technology makes self-publishing easier than ever before, numerous companies have cropped up that use suspect marketing approaches to gain new business. In order to gain new business, some of their claims prey on the emotional dreams of aspiring writers. For instance, these companies will make advertising statements, such as "become a published author" or "get published this year." To an unsuspecting author, these ads can seem appealing.

However, the truth is that self-publishing does NOT make anyone a published author. The only way a writer can be considered a legitimately published author is when they are paid an advance by a publishing house to create and distribute their book. In contrast, when the author has to pay their own money to get a book produced, that is self-publishing.

Why do I tell you this? It's not because I'm against self-publishing. I self-published my first book back in 2002 before all of the new technological tools we enjoy today were available. Self-publishing is a great option for authors who write books for a narrow niche, already own an audience, or need a way to quickly create spin-off resources. Self-publishing will continue to grow and improve. But, it's not equal to traditional publishing. This point is proven by how so many successful self-published authors, such as William Paul Young, Amanda Hocking, and myself, all go on to sign contracts with traditional publishing houses.

I'm talking about this issue because paying someone else to make your book does not make you a published author. Just like paying someone else to get married wouldn't make you a real husband or wife. So, when these self-published companies make emotional appeals to help you become a published author, they're not giving you the full picture. As a self-published author, you will remain at a distinct disadvantage in the following ways:

1. Readers still view most self-published books with skepticism, because they wonder, "If there are hundreds of publishers in America, why couldn't you convince one of them that your book was good enough to publish?"

2. Bookstores will not carry self-published books on their shelves. So, self-published authors will struggle to get national distribution that they really need. And, don't tell me that having a self-published book on Amazon or B& is enough. That's narrow-minded thinking, because online retailers only make up a minority of the total book-selling pie. Why severely limit yourself?

3. The majority of self-published books that I see still look homemade and substandard, including those coming from the so-called market leading companies in self-publishing. They contain dreadful covers, bad editing, unprofessional page layouts, and hard-to-read content. You would think that the self-publishing industry would try to prevent these occurrences, but that's not the case.

I'm glad self-publishing is here to stay. But, don't confuse self-publishing with being a published author. Until retail bookstores gladly carry self-published books on their shelves, which won't happen anytime soon, there will always be a distinct difference between the two options. If you want to be considered a legitimate author, continue pursuing the traditional publishing route. That road may be harder, more time-consuming, and laced with rejection, but that's true for most of the things in life that are truly worth it.

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Marta Daniels (@Marta_Daniels) said...

I have to disagree with you. I believe most people considered Amanda Hocking a published author before she agreed to accept a contract.

Rob Eagar said...


Thanks for your comment, but I think you're missing the point. Not even Amanda Hocking considered herself happy with being self-published. Even after selling thousands of e-books on her own, she signed a $2 million dollar contract with St. Martins Press, a major traditional publisher because they provided more support, more opportunities, and nationwide distribution that she couldn't get while self-published. Her story reinforces the point I'm precisely making.

Suzanna E. Nelson said...

I agree with Martha and Rob, your answer to her does not apply. Happiness has nothing to do with whether anyone considers themselves published or not. A book is either published or it is not. There is no gray area.

Rob Eagar said...


You're missing the point, too. Just because I might write a song doesn't mean I'm a professional musician. Likewise, just because someone writes a book doesn't mean they're a published author.

A published author means a professional author, because someone else paid them to write the book and bookstores gladly sell it.

When you self-publish, no one pays you to write the manuscript and bookstores won't carry your book. Therefore, you're not a "published" author.

By the way, this is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of the entire publishing industry (literary agents, publishers, and bookstores). If you don't like it, you're welcome to file a complaint with everyone in New York City who set up this system.

Amy Shojai, CABC said...

Thanks for posting your blog--but I believe you've missed some important points. Amanda published with St. Martin's because she was tired of having to work 12-18 hour days promoting herself, NOT because she was unhappy with her success. (Ask her...she'll tell you *s*). And any number of very successful "traditionally pub'd" best selling authors from Barry Eisler to JK Rowling have decided to SELF-PUB because they have the control, and make a higher royalty. I myself pub'd 23 nonfiction books (some best sellers) through Ballantine, NAL, Rodale, et al and yet now am self-publishing because I get 70% royalty instead of...well, nothing while still doing the publicity myself. Published is published. And these days, a number of mainstream publishers no longer pay advances--I've been pub'd for 20 years. Published does not mean the same thing as successful--now that's the sticking point. *s* My self-published books ARE carried by Amazon, B&N, and anywhere else books are sold. Ingram distributes them, too. *shrug*

Rob Eagar said...


Thanks for your post. However, you are also missing the point of my blog post. Stay focused.

I wrote this article to warn unsuspecting authors about falling prey to advertising from self-publishing companies who say they will make their dreams come true to be a "published author." You know as well as I that is misleading information. Instead, those authors will only windup with less money in their bank account and a broken dream. I've seen this confusion and misinformation too many times. So, I am calling a spade a spade, because someone needs to tell the truth.

People can debate what "self-published" really means all day long...that's fine. I'm simply pointing out that if you choose to self-publish, don't do it because you think it will make your publishing dreams come true. At the Writer's Digest conference in New York last month, it was mentioned that the average self-published book only sell around 83 copies...need I say more?

Michael Mueller said...

In reality, self publishing and traditional publishing are the same thing if you take the steps to do self publishing correctly. My wife has written and produced 9 books. Her final editor used to work for Random House and now teaches at CUNY. My wife contracts book layout for a final product that cannot be distinguished from books produced by "traditional" publishers. Her print broker shops the world for the best quality printing at the best price. She has a nation wide distribution company that is a feeder for B&T, Ingram and B&N.
Her books are "modeled" by B&N. Her titles have been reviewed by School Library Journal, Kliatt and other national publications as well as major newspapers. Her books have placed well in national award competition. Traditional publishing "guarantees" quality. Self publishers can and do provide that same quality. The definition of "published" is expanded when the quality is provided.