Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sigma of the Stigma

I've been catching up on some writerly-world blogs lately, including Dean Wesley Smith's. I just finished his sum-up of the year 2013 in publishing. Plenty of good thoughts and observations in there, as is expected from this particular industry vet. If you haven't yet, definitely peruse his and his wife's blogs: they have lots of info for aspiring authors of all stripes.

A few of the comment's to the post I was reading sparked my memory of a topic I'd wanted to revisit for some time now. The stigma of self-publishing: how it continues to affect reader perceptions and how it is changing. Especially in the area of copyediting.

I can say without a doubt that two out of the last four traditionally-published books I've read recently had a higher rate of typos and other proofing errors than my own offered books. I've been hearing more and more from non-writers who are beginning to notice this downward trend in quality from the major houses.

Yet, in most reviews I see of trad-published books, such a thing as a typo is never mentioned, whereas in reviews of indie-published books they are mentioned with a high frequency even when it is to say "I didn't find many."

In many ways, the stigma of the self-publisher is dying. People rarely bat an eye anymore when I say I'm self-published as opposed to traditionally published. The world of the serious indie publisher is becoming more refined and polished, with business and production practices trending to a standard much closer to the major houses. In a lot of cases (including, I hope, my own) you cannot tell the product of one from the other.

Except, it seems, in the case of editing, in which self-publishers are taking the lead in quality. Because we have to. When a reader stumbles across an error in a book they know is self-published, it becomes a major event. That still-present stain is seen more clearly; the book feels soiled in their hands. It becomes a confirmation of the "not-quite-there-yet" status of the indie crowd.

But the same reader takes no similar notice of errors in traditionally-published books, even when present at a higher rate. With indie published work, the reader is on the lookout for that confirmation of a second-tier status they still believe in. Thus to be taken seriously, self-publishers don't have to be "as good as" a traditionally published work.

They need to be better.


  1. There are still the poorly edited (and even basically unedited novels) being published, in equal if not greater numbers. It's just that readers are now more aware in what to watch out for if they're considering a self-published work. And many self-published authors are now considering it more of a business investment and paying for editing, especially when their editing skills (or those of folks who they can get to do it for free) aren't up to the task.

    1. "readers are now more aware in what to watch out for if they're considering a self-published work."

      But "what to watch out for" should be the same regardless of publisher. Right now, a double standard exists. Traditionally published books are allowed to have lower production values - at least when it comes to editing - and it is rarely (if ever) mentioned.

      If on the other hand you meant readers are learning to sort out the seriously self-published work vs. the books published with the "gold rush" mentality, I would agree - but then, I never thought it was that hard to tell them apart.