Self Publishing is a Fool’s Enterprise


It’s been a very difficult path, this road us “genuine” authors have traveled. We have all been offered the chance to do something previous aspiring authors could only have dreamed of ten years ago. But now, as I mull over the latest results of my statistics, something leaps out at me as very clear. I will never achieve the dream I set out to achieve. The reasons for this are many.

There are right now simply far too many “authors”. Some good, a few excellent, but most are, well, terrible. There are close to an estimated twenty million authors on Amazon alone and the vast majority are self-published. This fact alone makes the odds of seeing the dream become a reality so high as to be almost impossible. Adding to our woes is the ridiculous, flawed system of listings on Amazon which place established authors at an advantage. But that’s not the only thing standing in our way.

I learned recently that cashed-up authors can artificially give their books a leg up on the New York Times best sellers list by making it seem as though lots of their books have been bought. In fact, I read an article by one such “gentleman” who declared that he spent multiple tens of thousands of dollars on “purchases”, thereby boosting his sales stats and “earning” a place on the list. How on Earth are fair and honest authors supposed to compete with that?

In addition to this, the shear numbers of sites now stealing our work and putting it up for free download is staggering. I have personally issued almost twenty take down notices, of which only one was honored. This situation is of great concern and naturally if readers can get a book for free, they will. Now some might argue that this is good for the author, but I disagree. I have never (to my knowledge) received feedback from someone who has got my book for free (unless I specifically gifted it to them).

Amazon has made it even harder now with their regime of listing which places new authors consistently at the bottom of the list, with zero chance of discovery.

I have read it said time and again that the more books you write, the greater your chance of being “discovered”. Well, I am here to tell you that despite publishing eighteen children’s and young adult books, far from increasing my chances, my sales have decreased to just a handful in the last ninety days. This is a waste of my time. My books are listed on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Createspace, Barnes and Noble, Angus and Robertson and a dozen other outlets. It has been two long years since I received a cheque from Amazon and when I did get my last one I had to pay tax and also a fifteen dollar fee to transfer the check into Aussie dollars. The net result was that the $115 dollars I earned turned into $80 (AU). Since then I have only managed to earn $80 more, not enough yet to be sent a second cheque. Total for four years effort? Less than $200.

In that same period I have spent almost a thousand dollars on buying, promoting and advertising and the net result of that has been negligible to zero. People seem to be sick of authors constantly pushing their books (if you could call what I do “pushing”) on the public. They largely ignore it. Some don’t tolerate it and block you. One person wrote an article condemning me because they were so inconvenienced by my “spam” that it had a negative impact on them. Can you believe that?

As to gifting my books. Well, I have to say despite the many promises of reviews for books I paid for and gifted, perhaps as many as ninety five per cent of recipients not only have not reviewed, but did not even bother saying thank you. According to my own stats, my attempts at advertising my books have reached almost two hundred thousand (that’s 200,000) people. Yet for all my efforts, there has been little to no positive outcomes. I have to add here that if not for my closest online friends, I would not even have gone this long.

So why am I so angry? Isn’t this all part of being a self published author? Well, yes, but, I am annoyed because I know how many terrible books are out there. I know how many of such books have flooded the market. I know that this flood of average literature (putting it mildly) has had a tremendous impact on all good authors. Are my own books perfect? No, but they are at least as good as the top twenty percent of indie books, in my humble opinion.

What about reviews? I hear you ask. Again, I am here to tell you they are not worth the digital paper they are written on, not any more. It doesn’t matter whether your book has five, fifteen or fifty positive reviews. Thanks to Amazon’s refusal to take down fake reviews, people have come to see them as “friend reviews” and they have lost all credibility.

With odds like one in twenty million (add to that the shear volume of books which at present stands at almost a hundred million titles) I may as well enter the lottery, because I have better odds.

So what does this mean for me and for all such “genuine” authors? Well, I can tell you that if things keep going as they are, we may as well all just give up and go and take up painting or knitting. We will sell more mittens and knitted dog jackets than books. At least you can’t download those for free.

What authors need is a real author site which selects books based on merit and lists them properly to give every book their moment in the sun to shine and on that basis, sink or float. What we need is a place where “real” readers are encouraged and rewarded for exploring new authors. We need a site endorsed by the established literary hierarchy (like that’s ever going to happen). We need genuine exposure through mainstream media without having to beg for notice. We need a regime of review writing which puts back the integrity lacking on sites like Amazon, where readers can trust that the review accurately reflects genuine love for the book and not just another friend writing a helpful, but ultimately worthless (in the eyes of the potential buyer) review.

Amazon only need one book by every author to sell just once and they already are making millions. They don’t care how many books you sell. It doesn’t make any difference to them. They are not searching for the next best seller or undiscovered author. They already have many of those. They are a business. They might have said in the past that they are about authors, but this simply is no longer true. They own the Internet and have forced the hands of publishers the world over to accept their horrendous, disadvantaging regime so that they can maximize profits. Profits, I will argue, largely coming from indie authors like you and me. They are happy we are putting an endless stream of books up. They are more than happy we are stupid enough to buy our own books, sometimes as many as a few hundred or a few thousand. This is good for them. But it is not good for us.

A while ago I refused to buy any more books. I made up my mind I was no longer going to engage in “review for review” or “purchase for purchase” or “like for like”. I tried this. I invested huge amounts of personal time in helping other authors, some of whom have books which I have to say I would not have bought in the real world because, to put it bluntly, they are trash. Yet I gave them positive reviews they didn’t deserve. I offered feedback which was ignored and I made promises I could no longer keep, mainly because of the volume of such offers or requests. All of it was a waste of my time and only resulted in further adding to the problems as I saw them. Is this selfish? Possibly. But it is what I decided.

You won’t see traditional authors making the same sorts of sacrifices we lesser souls have had to make. They simply don’t need to. They have an almost guaranteed number of books published and available to an established readership. You won’t see them on the side of the road in their little tent with a pathetic signs reading “Author signing”. They wouldn’t be happy to sell only ten books on the day. They don’t need to spend their own money on advertising. They don’t need to blog relentlessly. They don’t have to buy their own books and then attempt to sell them. They don’t worry about how many followers they have. We do.

At the risk of sounding like I am whinging, let me add that I am truly grateful for the opportunity I otherwise would not have had. But I have better things to do with my time than sit around, wasting hours every day blogging my way into oblivion for next to no result. Will I keep writing? Yes. It is in my blood. But maybe I am over “publishing”.

You won’t hear many authors say this, but I’m going to say it right here and now. Self publishing is a fools enterprise. We are chasing good money after bad. We are investing in ambition only and that is not enough to guarantee a return. It is a waste of time, pure and simple and anyone who says “but oh, publishing itself is the real goal” and “it’s not about the money” are kidding only themselves. Everybody who enters this game do so for the same reason. They want to be discovered. They may say this is not the end game, but it is. At least it is for anyone who is serious about their writing.

Paul G Day.




5 thoughts on “Self Publishing is a Fool’s Enterprise

  1. As a noob who’s realizing a lot of those trends for the first time, I appreciate the honesty here. There are a million posts out there about the wonderful indie life, yet I’ve seen very few success stories and few posts on the negatives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks like a post I could see myself writing in about two years time. I think you have been operating in the self-publishing industry at a bad time: the early starters will have cashed in on the new phenomenon; in years to come readers will grow tired of wading through the rubbish and demand a service with better quality control. But for now, in the hinterland, where self-publishing is experiencing exponential growth, it is a buyers and resellers market.

    You’re right to point out that the likes of Amazon are benefiting massively from this influx of writers and there is a huge predatory industry growing up around self-publishing. (A similar third party industry grew around the music industry when musicians and song writers realised they could release their music without going through established record labels.)

    Your point about the need for a ‘real author site’ is a good one, and something similar already exists: it’s called the mainstream publishing industry. Self-published authors bark at the mainstream industry because it won’t publish their books, but that’s because the mainstream industry has a comprehensive quality control system in place, and whilst many books will be rejected by agents for a number of reasons, I would guess quality control is the biggest reason for turning down a debut novel.

    The mainstream industry has a professional review system, it is properly marketed and professionally edited. That’s why it is so difficult to break into. It’s also why mainstream authors are best-sellers. They write what readers want and the quality of the product is strictly controlled. (And before anyone says ‘I’ve read badly edited books by mainstream authors.’ No, you haven’t. Shut up.)

    I can’t offer you any advice, I won’t offer any empty encouragement. You are in the best position to decide where you go from here, but I won’t be self-publishing my next novel until I’ve exhausted the openings offered by literary agents. I used to be a staunch supporter of self-publishing when I started this lark two and half years ago. Now, I’m not so sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m afraid I have to agree with everything you said Paul. I have been posting blogs ( I admit not as much as you) but I’ve also made a concerted effort to “connect” through various social media and to be honest I keep getting a flat line. Sometimes I put up a really good post and attract a couple of new followers in one day, and then the next….nothing! It’s like you don’t even exist! I’m at a loss to know what to do to get recognised. I haven’t put up as many posts because I’ve been watching others spend countless hours talking about stuff that only a few are interested in. So I didn’t put as much effort into it as I could have. Is it information overload? Maybe! I think maybe I’ll try and let my legs and not my fingers do the walking

    Liked by 1 person

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