The Stigmas Associated With Self-Publishing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll know that the self-publishing industry is more than thriving. Since 2006, the number of self-published books has grown by 287%, especially with the Print On Demand revolution.

You can find self-publishing success stories across the New York Times bestseller list and the Amazon bestseller lists. There’s no doubt that there are indie authors out there who are making it happen for themselves.

You’ve also heard the happy endings for the likes of Matthew Reilly and Lisa Genova, who, originally self-published, went on to acquire book deals with traditional publishers.

Today, there are more platforms and services to assist authors down this road than ever before: Createspace, Lulu, Smashwords, KDP… not to mention the manuscript assessors, freelance editors and cover designers who are all there to help bring your book to life.

So what’s the problem? The problem is the stigmas associated with the idea of self-publishing and the self-published authors themselves.

Here are the common stigmas indie authors have to deal with…

1. You’re Not Really Published

When a writer states they’re a published author, more and more often the question that follows is: ‘Oh, did you just self-publish?’

This question immediately takes away the writer’s authority and implies that if the work is self-published then it is of lesser value than if it were traditionally published.

This is a particularly ignorant attitude. A self-published work is still published. It simply means that the author has taken on a much more major role in its production, for whatever reason.

Unfortunately, whether spoken or not, there is certainly a superiority complex when it comes to the notion of being traditionally published versus self-published.

Going DIY with your book doesn’t have the same ‘respectability’, apparently… Even though it shows that the author themselves believed so much in their work that they chose to get it out there no matter the investment in time and money.

2. No-one Wanted Your Book

How many people view those who self-publish their writing.
Image Credit: Marsmett Tallahassee via Flickr Creative Commons.

Another assumption people make about self-published authors is that ‘real publishers’ didn’t want the book. That’s not always the case.

Some authors opt for self-publishing for a number of reasons: higher royalty rates, more overall creative control, faster turnaround…

All of these factors are compromised when a writer signs a traditional book deal with a publisher. For some authors, publishing a book may not be about signing up with one of the ‘big five’, it could simply be about getting their work out there and having something to show for all the time and effort they’ve put into their writing.

Some self-published authors may not even attempt to get a traditional book deal before choosing the self-publishing path!

And as for those who have tried and been labelled as ‘unsuccessful’ in the ‘real’ publishing world – it could have been a simple matter of wrong time and wrong place.

3. Self-published Books are Poor Quality

Here’s another one. Many people assume that all books that are self-published are, for want of a better word, ‘trash’ (as if traditional publishers never publish ‘trash’).

The lack of restrictions on self-publishing does mean that there will be work out there that is certainly ‘less-literary’ than others, but arguably, that is the case within traditional publishing as well.

Granted, you may need to search a little harder within the self-publishing industry to find a gem, but you will no doubt find one (as many traditional publishers are realising, as they snatch up talented self-published authors).

Some thoughts on Self-Publishing

I read something exciting the other day: that the University of Central Lancashire will be the first university to offer its students an MA in Self-Publishing. Which is perhaps what the industry needs to be legitimised.

Originally, I wasn’t even going to submit my manuscript to traditional publishers. I loved the idea of having greater creative control, having a faster turnaround time and being able to simply throw myself completely into my own project. It was my baby after all.

However, I must admit: the stigmas attached to self-publishing have stopped me from doing so. I want to be respected as a writer, and self-publishing seems to be a path that isn’t taken seriously.

Writing is everything to me, and so I’ve decided to give traditional publishing a shot and use self-publishing as a ‘backup plan’. Not because my book won’t be good enough, but because it’s possible that it might not find the right set of eyes.

Personally, I think it’s really sad that these stigmas have discouraged me from pursuing what could have been and may well be, a life-changing experience.

Perhaps this is something I’ll get over or grow out of in time – or perhaps in the future, the industry itself will be taken more seriously, and its writers treated with more respect.

However, despite my own reservations, I certainly won’t deter other authors from taking a chance (isn’t that what writing is all about anyway?). 

There are so many exciting opportunities within this thriving industry, that I truly believe if you’re passionate enough and disciplined enough, you can make it work for you.

Helen Scheuerer

Helen Scheuerer is a novelist from Sydney, and the Founding Editor of Writer's Edit. She has a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong and a Masters in Publishing from The University of Sydney. Her #1 bestselling YA fantasy novel, Heart of Mist is available now. You can grab your copy here. She also chronicles her writing process and current work over at

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