Are Self-Published Books Not As Good As Mainstream Books?

Post written by Tahlia Newland

The general perception is that self-published books are inferior to those published in the traditional way, but that is a generalisation and, of course, is not always the case. Unfortunately, however, many of them are every bit as poor in quality as those who subscribe to this generalisation would have us believe of all self-published books, and such books bring all self-published and indie published books down in the public perception. This is a shame because some of the best books I have ever read are independently published, and it takes only a glance at the Awesome Indies site to see that there are many that are every bit as good as, and in some cases better than, traditionally published books.

 So what to do? How do we remove this damaging generalisation from people’s mind streams?

First, I think it’s important not to deny the fact that many self-published books are of poor quality. In an informal survey of Awesome Indies reviewers, on average, the percentage of books that reviewers rejected as unsuitable for the Awesome Indies list – and therefore not up to the same standards as traditionally published books – was between 40 and 60 percent of the books submitted to them for review. Many don’t even pass the test of reading the sample. If these numbers are taken as representative, then in conservative terms, around 50% of indie books available for sale are not what a traditional publisher would consider a publishable standard. I’ve asked my reviewers to take numbers over the next few months so we can get a better idea of the actual percentages, but the main point is that a significant number of self-published books are not up to standard.  That’s just how it is.

If we don’t want all those wonderful indie books to suffer because of the ones that aren’t so good, then we must point readers to sites like Awesome Indies where the books listed have been vetoed by what is essentially the equivalent of a publishing houses’s editorial staff.

These, we can say, are the good ones.

Apart from that, we can keep up our efforts to educate those who want to publish their books and hope that they learn enough to either publish something up to standard, or to desist from publishing at all. Even so, there will always be some who will publish just because they can, and readers will always have to negotiate the minefield of books published without a gatekeeper and hope that the one they bought won’t blow up in their face. For so long as there are mines set to explode, people will always avoid the minefield. At least the Awesome Indies offers a field free of mines for readers to browse in, but we have to direct them here or the industry risks losing their patronage next time they are burned by a self-published book.

As my regular readers know, I am a great believer in indie publishing, but sometimes when I look at the next book in my to be reviewed list on my Kindle, I hope it won’t be an indie book. You just can’t be sure that you won’t be wasting your time, and after a few unfortunate reads, I long for something reliable. So I understand exactly where people are coming from when they say that they don’t read self-published books. I also know that they miss out on the most exciting books being published today.

The only answer is to buy your indie books through sites like the Awesome Indies, or on the recommendation of someone you trust.

How do you feel about the quality of self-published books? Are sites like the Awesome Indies the answer to the readers dilemma?

6 comments… add one

  • Mari Biella February 8, 2013, 3:37 am

    Sadly, there really is a great deal of dross out there – quite enough for me to understand those readers who avoid indie authors like the plague. At the same time, however, there are vast numbers of excellent, entertaining and often innovative books that probably would never find an audience without the advent of e-publishing, for which I’m immensely grateful.

    At the moment I suspect that there’s a bit of a ‘gold rush’ mentality. People see the success achieved by indie authors like John Locke or Amanda Hocking, and perhaps view self-publishing as a get-rich-quick scheme. I’m hopeful that this will level out over time, especially when people begin to realise that it really isn’t that simple!

    In the meantime, sites like Awesome Indies (and there are a few springing up, happily) provide an incredibly important service. Speaking purely as a reader, I’m very keen to read quality indie books – but, given the huge number of them, finding the good ones can be tricky. Trustworthy sites like this make all the difference!

  • Mary J. McCoy-Dressel February 8, 2013, 4:31 am

    Many of my friends have the attitude that they will lower themselves if they self-publish. I hear this often. I get it. They just haven’t been down the long road, yet. After having a trad publisher hold my manuscript for two years, and then ask for revisions and return it to them, only to have that editor leave, I know the road is long.

    I’ve read some bad self-published books, but I’ve read some terrific ones, too. I chose to self-publish this time around. My name is on the book, so I did my part to make it the best it could be–cover design and professional editing, formatting. We’ll see. But, still, some of my friends look down on self-publishing. It’s great what you do here for Indie authors.

  • Renee Field February 8, 2013, 5:04 am

    I think the Indie revolution is a great thing for authors. As the revolution continues the quality of self-published books will improve as many “new” authors will quickly learn they have to have a well written book to make it in this industry. I, personally, like the ability to self-publish my books but like many other authors I invest in a professional cover, and editor.

  • Michelle Proulx February 9, 2013, 2:46 am

    I’ve read/reviewed maybe 10 indie books so far, and … it’s tough. You get some really great books, some mediocre books, and one or two real flops. Then again, that’s not so different from traditionally published books. I was really excited about a book I asked for for Christmas, but it turned out to be excruciatingly average. You know — just good enough that I can’t call it bad, but not nearly good enough to be classified as “a worthwhile read”. It’s less hit or miss with traditionally published books because you at least know the book has crossed an editor’s desk, but other than that … it’s all a crap shoot :D

  • Tahlia Newland February 12, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Thanks for your comments everyone. Well said.I hope that things will level out too eventually when people discover that their books do actually have to be of a professional standard.

  • Paul Sutton Reeves February 12, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Thanks for that, Tahlia – an interesting article. In a sense, there is no difference between a published and a self-published book, or indeed, an unpublished book. All books are a collection of words assembled into an order that makes some kind of sense to the writer. A tiny minority will connect with an audience of readers and most won’t. In my view, inevitably subjective, many of those books issued through the means of a traditional publisher are undeserving of an audience. By the same token, the money-making monolith that is the publishing industry undoubtedly misses out on some superb novels. One has only to think of John Kennedy Toole, failing to find a home for ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’, which a publisher picked up on only after he’d committed suicide. How many other great works might be out there that no one will ever read?

    The difference now is simple – technology. The ease with which a manuscript may be committed to a publishable format, placed on an e-reader and disseminated across the internet is a billion miles away from the world of twenty years ago. The writer who wished to self-publish back then would have to deal with physical objects and would have precious few ways of bringing his or work to the public’s attention, unless he or she happened already to be established like Timothy Mo, say. The desire had to be much greater, although that in itself was no guarantor of quality. And therein lies the danger – that we will drown in a vast ocean of words, reaching out like Pincher Martin for something solid to hold onto and finding nothing. I have no doubt that solid literary rocks are out there. I’ve read some very good books that have yet to find a conventional publisher. I’ve read many more that were quite frankly awful. So I’m going to have to disagree with your estimate.Why should it be higher than those of traditional publishers? I suspect that the figure of self-published books suitable for a wider audience – and this might prove an unpopular view! – is more in the region of 0.5%.

    If a wider range of books, especially those that conventional publishers might consider unviable commercially, becomes available to the reading public then I’m all for that. The problem is that it’s now even more difficult to find books of genuine quality. The self-congratulatory, self-referential world of the big publishing houses and review columns hasn’t served us particularly well. I shall have to take a look at some of the books you recommend…


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