« The self-publishing paradox; or, why I love my editor | Main | And now for something completely different... »

June 21, 2012


Enna Isilee

I agree with everything! I think you phrased everything I've thought about self-publishing, but haven't had the brain-power to put into words. THANK YOU!


My wife has self published. Personally as a reader I never pay attention to who published a book. Personally I could care less. If I can buy three ebooks for the price of one, I will jump on it. I think that trade publishers are shooting selves in foot with how much they charge. Wonder if there will ever be a day when they just call them published authors?

M.P. McDonald (@MarkTaylorBooks)

I'm a self-published author and have been for a few years. I can't argue as to whether self-publishing is harder than traditionally publishing as I've only done it one way. It's the norm for me. I can't imagine that sending my book off and having to wait for others to do a bunch of stuff to it can be much easier though. It was hard enough when I sent my book to my editor and had to wait about three or four weeks to get it back. I can't imagine having to wait months. The slow pace of traditional publishing would drive me bonkers, so I'd rather do the work myself.

My grandma always said if you want something done right, do it yourself. I took that to heart. ;-)

Also, the IRS does not consider me an amateur. :-(



My concern with both of these posts is that you never define what you mean by the terms "amateur" and "professional," and from what you go on to say it seems as though you haven't really thought it through.

I tried to find a more polite way to say that, but I'm not sure there is one.

I agree that the dictionary definitions of these terms may be inadequate for our purposes, but to extrapolate those meager definitions to this conversation...I would say that "professional" indicates that a work was crafted with the express intent of producing a product fit for paid, public consumption, with all that implies about the application of common standards in the relevant market. "Amateurs" seek only to please themselves. (I left a comment using similar definitions on the Passive Voice blog, which is where I found your initial post.)

Hopefully you can see how your initial post, and, indeed, this post, might look in the light of such definitions?

I would argue that the more useful distinction between professional self-published authors and traditionally published authors is one of entrepreneurship: the self-published author is also engaged in running their own business. That is, undoubtedly, not for everybody. But it is absolutely a valid path, and to declare all writers who take such a path to be "amateurs" is, whether you want to think of it this way or not, both ignorant and disrespectful.

Of course there are people who don't take such care with their product, and simply throw unedited work that's never been seen by another pair of eyes up onto Kindle or whatever and wash their hands. And I think you would be right to consider those writers amateurs. Your error was in implying (and, I think, assuming) that this group was synonymous with self-publishers. They are obviously a subset of self-publishers; but that's quite a different thing.

Pat S.

Wow. You still don't really understand how insulting you were to people, and are still insulting them.

You're assuming that writers are doing everything themselves, without the benefits of "professionals". Some are. But many are hiring professional editors (for a one time fee, not a lifetime share of profits). (HINT: Some of those editors used to work at traditional publishers, and include copy editors, proof readers, developmental editors, etc.). Self publishers hire professional artists to create covers (and actually get input into what they look like. And again, it's a one time fee). The do their own marketing (because face it, how much marketing does your trad publisher REALLY do for you?) Some go so far as to hire professional publicists. Essentially, they hire the same kind of professionals you enjoy in YOUR writing. Except self pubbed authors pay those fees and THEY get to keep 70% of the royalties.

You say "Self-published authors are also working against a stigma." Yes, the stigma that exists in the narrow minds of people are aren't in step with the rapidly changing marketplace. And the erroneous belief that there's a line between self pubbed authors and traditionally pubbed authors. What about the thousands of authors who have a foot in both camps? What do you call them? Amateur proffessionals? Professional amateurs?

And on another note, since you still fail to make clear what you mean by "amateur", it's someone who isn't paid for their work. Then again, all you have to do is look at the "amateurs" participating in the Olympics to understand that not being paid is not the same as being without talent.

Jennifer Logan

Young lady, you should stick to writing books and ditch the blog. You sound like a politician trying to spin doctor a bad situation you've gotten yourself into.

Put the shovel down... you're just digging yourself into a deeper hole.

You're free to think whatever you want... but 'tis best to keep any opinions that might offend to yourself.

Amanda R

I feel the need to back you up here, Shannon. Especially after reading the previous couple of comments.

I'm not a writer at all, but I'm a pretty avid reader. I feel like I'm pretty up to date with books coming out. I read e-books with the Kindle app on my iPad. I really don't think I'm narrow-minded when it comes to the marketplace of books out there. But I've read an awful lot of junky self-published books out there. True, some weren't bad, but I agree that they needed *just a little* extra help to make them really good. And I'm sure there are a bunch of self-published books out there that ARE really really good, but as a reader I honestly don't know where I would find those books! In a bookstore? In my library? On Amazon as an e-book? ??

I think your blog posts have been very respectful, and as you said, your thoughts come from your own personal EXPERIENCE (and you do have a lot of experience!). I really this must be a tender subject to those who are feeling insulted, and they aren't REALLY reading into what you're trying to say. They're just being offended and making themselves look dumb in the process.

To Pat S in the previous comment. I believe she meant "Amateur" as in, not completed with the help of professionals. You're right, there probably are people who hire the professionals to help them. But I bet the vast majority doesn't. I see the difference between amateur and professional like the difference between a youtube movie and a movie that goes to theaters. There are some amazing youtube videos out there! Beautifully written, edited, shot, etc! But they won't be coming to my theater or movie rental store. There are probably millions of youtube videos out there (maybe just thousands or hundreds of thousands, I don't know) and to wade through all the junk just to find the good ones isn't worth my time. I catch the good ones when other people share them with me. Maybe someone will share a good self-published book with me someday, but it hasn't happened yet.

Tracy Edward Wymer

Self publishing and traditional publishing will remain to exist simultaneously, much like the big movie studios and independent films. Self pubbers can find success, without a doubt, but success is defined differently for everyone. It is much more difficult to reach readers, especially in children's books, as a self pubber. The silver lining is that neither is exclusive, just like an indendent film can be picked up by a studio, a book can travel the same path. I don't see choosing either one as a permanent decision nor should others. But self pubbers who do not go about it the RIGHT way could sink their ship before it leaves the harbor. Thanks for sharing, Shannon. Much appreciated.

Merry Michelle

Shannon, I can still love you and disagree with you. I was nervous for you when I read your last post. I could already hear knives being sharpened. The bottom line is that publishing houses are scared to death because of the e-book http://www.jeffbullas.com/2011/04/20/are-book-publishers-dying-e-book-sales-increase-by-300/.

Traditional publishing is becoming a dying art, a thing of the past, and yes, there are some casualties. I heard a great lecture by Haven Kimmel ("A Girl Named Zippy") who was saddened that most books go straight to paper back, and soon we'll be passing along our 'heirloom kindles' to our grandchildren ("What do I do with this, Grandma?" "You can cut a tomato on it..."). It's a scary time for those already embedded in the publishing world, and it's an exciting time for those of us that haven't signed our lives away yet. Hopefully the book-mobile will produce some sort of reverse Darwinism effect where inner city kids become the most well read and intelligent, because the rest of us only read one page and then zone out into Angry birds.


I listened to Haven Kimmel talk recently about how editors were some of the first people to go in the publishing industry and there are less per book and per author (with the exception of boutique houses she says) and how it negatively affects the industry.

As an avid reader, I cannot love editors enough. I think there a huge difference between a well edited book and one with little or no professional editor. It mostly makes me dissapointed about what could have been for the book that had potential and just wasn't edited.

I think you've never been mean or snobby thus far on your blog and you don't sound rude, but I also totally agree with you.

Kellie J

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
― Stephen King

Tracy Edward Wymer

And yes, if you're getting paid for your craft, or making money from it, you are deemed a professional. Some professionals act more 'professionally' than others, but that goes with any occupation. If you're a musician and get paid for your gigs, you are a professional. If you're an artist who sells artwork, you're a professional. Again, some much better than others. Some make a living off their craft, most do not. But just because your band doesn't sell out arenas and play to thousands of adoring fans, and your artwork is not hanging in a fancy museum, that doesn't make you an amateur. Most writers do not make a living from only writing, but that doesn't make them less professional. Regarding talent, See Olympic athlete comment above.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.


In response to "no one cares about the publisher", I disagree. if I have a few books I'm tryin to decide between reading, I will look and see who the publisher is because I have noticed there are books I Iove from the same publishers, and there are books I've been disappointed in routinely by a certain publisher. So there really are people who judge a book by its publisher.

Laura Christensen

Wow, some of the comments above are scarily hostile. I want to cool everything down by saying one thing -

Editors will always have their place. The good, so-called "self-publishers" understand that, as well. Writers will always need them because writers will always need an outside, professional view on their work, someone to come through and suggest ways to make it better that writers cannot catch simply because they're too close to it.

However, I should point out that traditional publishers are kind of...shooting themselves in the foot with the e-book. For example, your e-book version of Book of a Thousand Days is so shoddily formatted that it reads like a rough draft. I was greatly disappointed in your publisher for doing that. Not proof-reading before they hit publish on that? That wasn't "professional" at all. (Don't worry, I wrote them an e-mail politely pointing it out. I try to be helpful.)

I think most of the offense comes from comments made that one path is "more professional" than another. Perhaps it used to be that way, but I no longer think it is. Whether the professionals sit in a ready-made team to help your book, or whether you hire your own professional team, it's still professional because everyone tries to hire the best they can. Along either path, there will always be editors, copy-editors, designers, etc., that are more or less skilled than the others. That's why something like your Book of a Thousand Days e-book happened. They weren't equipped to deal with the new format, the way perhaps a freelancer who has to stay up-to-date or lose their job might be.

The hostile comments above make me cringe with sympathy. You don't deserve to be bad-mouthed like this, but I agree with your own comment, there's more going on in the industry changes and re-shifting strategies than perhaps you know yet. That's okay. *amused* Really, no one is perfect. I just wanted to say here publicly that I really respect you and all that you write, even if I don't always agree with it. Your books have changed me and helped me think in new ways.

Z Parks

Whew! I'm going to avoid the whole argument and just say that for me, I'm hoping to get my books published the "traditional" way simply because I don't have the money to back myself up in self-publishing, not because I believe one way is better than the other.

That out of the way, I've read books which were self-published and most definitely amateur-ish and in sore need of a good editor. I've also read some which were excellent. I think it depends on the money and time and patience the author puts into the project.

And that said, I just think you're wonderful and your books are charming and you've touched on a sticky subject which doesn't seem to be earning you any friends (but they must already be fans since they're here in the first place, right?).

Good luck. Your readers still love you :)

Jennifer Leeland

I heard about this from an author friend of mine and I just want to say a couple of things.
I, too, believed self-published books were "giving up". The difference is that I KNOW people who self-publish and I KNOW what they go through to find perfection.
The problem I'm having with your post is that I remember so many posts/articles that said similar things about romance, about Harlequin, then about ebooks years later.
How interesting that the same arguments are used again and again.
My take? Everyone must make their own choices. Yes, it sucks when an author slaps together an idea, edits it themselves and puts it up for sale instead of vetting it. But I've seen some traditionally published books that went through editors and line editors that were pretty appalling.
I can see that you aren't really trying to slam other authors, but the fact is that making any generalized statements might be viewed as "elitist".
I'm sure you're not suggesting that authors who have unique voices, unique plots and unique characters who are told by traditional publishing that they're "not marketable" should change, conform and go along with whatever Harlequin or Penguin tells them?
Everyone has their own path.
Personally, I haven't self-published because I AM afraid! I'm afraid I don't have the knowledge, the professional chops, the energy that it takes to be a self-published author.
It's unfortunate that bad books (in any publishing) can ruin an entire genre or an entire group of writers.
A good editor is gold. So is a good critique partner. Frankly, I know a lot of authors who don't use a crit partner either. Do they suck? Well, certainly some of them do.
When someone asks me why I don't self-publish, I always tell them. That's not my journey.

Nick S

I'm just curious... what do those "professionals" in the marketing department at your publishing house think about an author with a blog that offends so many people... and is costing you book sales as your previous post goes viral?


Thank you for your clarification, Shannon. :)

To be honest, it (that self-published books can be quality books) wasn't really clear in your earlier post. There was also some misinformation about what's involved in self-publishing (having to pay someone to format your book and put it up for distribution--many learn how to format their books themselves or pay a one-time fee. Also, it costs nothing to make your book available on Amazon and other online bookstores. Just about 5 minutes of your time to check some boxes, put in your blurb, and price the book.) that comes from not being familiar with the process. (This happens on the other side too, with people spreading misinformation about trade publishing.)

I know that you probably didn't mean to be dismissive, but that's how it read to me. I made as sure as I could that I was reading as objectively as possible (I read it a few times to sort out and separate my emotions from the post) and reading only the words that you had actually written. This reminds me a lot of a post you did a few years back (apologies if I'm remembering wrong) where you were surprised by the way some of the other professionals tended to be dismissive of those who wrote kidlit. The ones who asked you when you were going to write a real book (even though you've written a lot of great books). Those people automatically dismissed you because of the age range and genre that you wrote in, probably without ever actually reading one of your books. That's what it felt like, and still feels like, you are doing here, only you're being dismissive by publishing route instead of age range and genre.

Everyone has their own path, and should definitely go down the path that works best for them. It doesn't (shouldn't) matter what anyone else thinks if each person educates themselves and makes a choice based on what they feel is best for both them and their book.

It's blog posts like these that hurt. Not because we're not all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing songs together. The world would be a boring place if we all agreed with everyone on everything. Posts like these are hurtful because their greatest function is to divide, to separate "us" from "them". You are a talented and eloquent writer. For a long time, I looked up to you and wanted to be just like you when I grew up. (Not sure if I'll ever grow up all the way. :D) You could have made your point beautifully about the importance of editors (as both a reader and a writer, I love and adore good editors) without tearing down a whole subset of other authors. It is possible to have very strong opinions and beliefs and express those without *ever* tearing down another person while you're doing it. There is never a good excuse to do that. I don't believe that was your intent, but that doesn't take away the sting. :)

Are there always going to be people who are going to be offended no matter what? Yes. But I would rather offend people because they didn't agree with me or didn't like my points or writing style than to offend them because I've hurt them. And that hurt is caused because in making my own point, I've torn them down as a person.

There is enough nastiness on both sides of the fence. It would be awesome if we could all just get along be a whole ocean of authors and writers instead of drawing lines around ourselves to keep the "others" out.


I didn't respond to the earlier post, because I thought several people voiced my opinion better than I could have. However, after reading some of the super negative comments here I felt the need to say something. Yes, Shannon has a definite point-of-view, and yes, as she admits herself it is colored by her successful experiences as a published author. However, much as I agree or disagree with the original post (and it's equal parts both actually) I think that a thoughtful blog post on the topic by a well-respected author is a great way to have a conversation.

Shannon, I doubt you need to be told this,especially from a random stranger, but I wanted to do it anyway. I hope you don't let the negativity in response to your post keep you from blogging about things that matter to you. I think it's a brave thing to wade into tough conversations and you do so with wit and humility which I appreciate even at the rare times I disagree with you.

Huzzah for squeetus! (Ok, I'll shut up now.)

shannon hale

I didn't realize how affected I've been by all this until I read jenelcc's comment and broke down sobbing. Thanks, random stranger. I really, really hate making people feel bad or looked down upon. I've gone about this badly--Danyelle, note taken!--but I appreciate the discourse it opens. Thanks.


Thanks for sticking up for the editors in this world. As long as we have writers, we will need editors (and that comes from someone who has done both professionally).


Dear Shannon, I think of you as a human being entitled to your opninons. Of course people won't agree with everything you have to say, but that does not stop you from being allowed to say them. People are bolder online than they would be in person, and sometimes they forget the human element. Please don't stop sharing your words. This human being loves what you have to say, and you frequently make her smile and laugh out loud.

Kim Hall

When I recommend your books to others, I always tell them, "I love the way she puts words together. Every word, every phrase feels important to the story." I'm a reader, not a writer, so I only judge from this perspective. I can tell you have a good editor. Kudos to both of you for giving this reader so much joy. Anytime you share an honest opinion, you are sure to attract critics. Your books speak for themselves. Your readers & fans have your back!

I am giddy with excitement that you will finally make an appearance in Atlanta soon! The Decatur Book Festival is such a fun event.

Mary mom of 4

Well, I can tell you one thing. There is no way I would ever read a book/article/story/poem (self-published or traditionally published) written by some of the ignorant and rude commenters here. It's ridiculous that people can't be respectful and still try to express their differing views. (exception: well done Laura Christensen) That being said, I can see many of your points as being valid and a few that I wonder if you might someday reconsider a bit. But what's great is that even you recognized that and pointed it out. (i.e. "Let me acknowledge that every single thing I wrote could be wrong, and if anything I said is right, things change so quickly it might be wrong tomorrow.")

I am NOT an author, but have read and read and read. :) That being said, when it comes to professionalism vs. amateurism...

I agree that your definition needs a better reply. I think most people consider these terms in two ways. Either how much one gets paid (do they get paid for their work) or the quality of ones work.

1. If you are talking about quality...
I can see so many parallels to my current business, photography. It's crazy how everyone who has a "good" camera can consider themselves a pro photographer these days. I guess that means that since I have written stories before, I can be considered a pro writer? Again, ridiculous. It can be frustrating for sure. Here is a thought, though... There are different ways of producing an amazing story (or an amazing photograph) and USUALLY, the past dictates and shows the best path of production. I do think time sometimes changes or alters that path. Just as time changed film to digital images, BOTH can create with great results, time may be changing the publication process of stories. I think BOTH can create great results. Right now, I tend to agree that a HUGE majority of the best results are traditionally published... but that's also a bit subjective, I suppose. Does that mean that things will remain that way? I just don't know.

2. If you are talking about how much one gets paid
Honestly, I can see that the majority of traditionally published authors far surpass the pay of self-published, even with their 70% or whatever number of royalties. There just isn't as big of a market for self-published still. It may happen one day though that it ends up in reverse. Again, time will tell.

I LOVED reading your thoughts on this. I think you are one of the wittiest and interesting writers I've had the pleasure to read - truly. (and that includes your blog writing!) And, these are my thoughts. :)


My very biased opinion based only on personal experience:

I don't think you came across as "hoity-toity" or "smarmy" at all. Let's be honest, self-publishing is how horrors like Eragon are inflicted upon the world (i.e. works better confined to fanfic mashup sites ("I think I'll write a highly derivative story that combines LOTR with Star Wars and throw in a dash of Anne McCaffrey...all my internet friends will LURV it!!!" But I digress...) than a beautiful hardcover or space on my e-reader and a spot on a best-seller list).

If I can also be completely shallow for a moment, marketing is a huge part of the professional publishing process, and as much as I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, I inevitably do (it's also how I found one of my favorite authors, Patricia McKillip- seriously the most gorgeous and dreamy cover art). Simply knowing how to slap images together in Photoshop doesn't make one a graphic designer, and, dear self-published author, your cover image looks unprofessional and doesn't draw me in. Your book could be amazing, but because you didn't feel that an amazing product was deserving of an amazing presentation, I'm going to go back to my copy of the Riddle-Master of Hed.

One earlier commenter implied that the self-published author who simply slaps up an unedited work is a "subset" of the group. I would alter that to say (speaking from experience) the the majority of self-published "authors" fall into this group, and that the thoughtful author who self-publishes a final product is the notable exception to the rule. I'd like to echo the sentiments of another earlier commenter. Where exactly does one look to find high-quality self-published work (and I ask this sincerely as a librarian who you would think would know where to find such a thing. I don't. I've tried.)? I've honestly had experiences with self-published books that range from bland and forgettable to downright insulting to my intelligence (note that there is not a positive end on that scale. And example of the truly terrible: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/95596). Obviously there are many commenters on this and the last post who are not only well-spoken, but who are passionate about this issue. Where do I find *those* books?

Basically, Shannon, I agree with you. There will always be people who *choose* to take offense at your opinion and experience simply because it does not agree with theirs rather than carry on a reasonable conversation about an issue, but I hope that won't affect your resolve to carry on discussions like this. I appreciate your openness, and I've appreciated reading about other perspectives. You're a star!

Margaret Yang

I have a different opinion than you do, but that does not bother me. I can call myself a professional, and you can't really do anything about it. You can't dictate terms for the entire publishing industry.

For better or worse, this business is changing.

The fact that you went on the offensive says more about your fear of that change than about other people's unworthiness.


I personally agree with everything you say, Shannon, and I think people who are reacting so vehemently already have a chip on their sholder about publishing...

Honestly, I think traditional print publishing also keeps trash(including a certain series made popular by the annonymity of e-book sales) from being put in front of us. It turns my stomach to walk into a book store and see displays of a book so vulgar and immoral.


I read this quote and thought of your writing:

"The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart."
-Maya Angelou

Thanks Shannon, for writing with heart (on your books & blog). I know you don't mean to offend and I appreciate your sincerity.


Shannon, my current publishing path is different from yours and my situation has forced me to look at things from a self publishing perspective. But regardless of differences of opinions and our varying experiences, I love you and I love your books. Your stories have filled many lonely hours and colorless days and some of your words have been so achingly beautiful they made me gasp. I will always be a fan, I respect you, and I will continue to own every single book you write. They will remain required reading for my children.
I'll admit, the first post stung me (it poked at all my own personal misgivings about self publishing) but I'd shaken it off by this second post. I think some really wonderful perspectives and thoughts were shared but I'm sorry to see that some very unkind things were said as well, from both sides of the debate.
Regardless of opinion, I think respect is due to anyone who puts their work out there. Some offerings may be less than stellar, but we all learn in different ways and our individual journeys through the writing world are always unique.
Anyway, I truly hope you don't take the unkind words to heart. Please don't! Controversial topics always get heated. But in the end, it's just a discussion and it's all just opinion. And he/she who stays respectful wins.


I plucked the following definition of 'amateur' out of my nearest dictionary. How could a 'professional' writer not understand that the previous blog post would be insulting to the growing band of independent writers who enrich many lives with their work?

AMATEUR |ˈamətə, -tʃə, -tjʊə, ˌaməˈtəː|
a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.
• a person who is contemptibly inept at a particular activity: that bunch of stumbling amateurs.
engaging or engaged in without payment; non-professional: an amateur archaeologist | amateur athletics.
• done in an inept or unskilful way: it's all so amateur!


I enjoyed reading the post and the comments, and I love your books. It's fun to read your blog posts and get to know more about your opinions. If people take offense, oh well. I don't think you meant to give offense.
I personally loved Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck who self-published her first two books of the series on Kindle. The raw material was so good that she ended up getting an agent and a publishing contract. While reading her kindle edition I kept on thinking how good this is, and wishing there would have been some proper editing. I then read the edited version (they were republished after she got the contract), and now it they are so much sleeker, the story moves better, the reader isn't burdened with loads of unnecessary little descriptions of things inconsequential to the story (and who exactly edited Dan Brown's last book The Lost Symbol?)

I can see how paper books might eventually be no more than references in future encyclopedias, much like cave paintings and papyrus) but personally I still prefer the feel of paper between my fingers, when I turn just one more page to read to the end of the book. Kindle just doesn't quite do it for me yet.


Not sure if you're referring to me, Jessica. :)

This is where our experience is different. I'm friends with and I follow a lot of authors online--both trade and self-published. Since we're talking self-publishing here, those are the authors I'm going to discuss. The group I follow is not small, though it would be, as they all are, in comparison to *all* published authors. Most of them are very successful and put out a polished product that is, in my opinion, just as good as trade published books.

The subset, to which I was referring, are people I don't even see. Most average readers don't see them either, because they sink to the bottom rankings--if they are ever ranked at all. Are there plenty of self-published books out there that I've stumbled upon and thought could use some extra editing? Definitely yes. But I could give the same answer to trade published books. This is not meant to be a put down, but is based on my own experience. I am a picky reader and I own that. :)

Self-published books that I have read and think need more editing usually need help with line editing and proofreading. There are a few that could have benefited from a major content edit as well. I have not yet happened across books that are so poorly written that they're unreadable. By the law of averages, they've got to be out there somewhere, I just haven't personally run into any.

Trade-published books I read are usually clean so far as line editing and proofreading--although I have noticed more and more typos and such over the last year or two--but some also fall apart due to plot holes and weak characterizations. I'm saying this as objectively as I can, because none of us can be totally objective. This isn't just my opinion, which could be biased because I have self-published. Reviewers and critics have been picking trade-published books apart for years.

The difference here, to me, is that *in general* people are not running down trade publishing and those who choose to do so because their books aren't perfect. Part of 'perfect' is based on subjective tastes, but there are other qualities like pacing, character development, plot, etc. that books can and will be judged on.

I say *in general* because, like anything else, there are going to be loud people that tear down anyone and everyone.

The thing is, good books and bad books exist in both realms. More and more self-publishers are working hard to meet professional standards, and that's a good thing.

I also adore Patricia McKillip, but I don't understand why you would need to run down self-publishers while you're admiring her. The people I assume you're addressing--the ones who slap things together and sit back to make millions aren't here reading this blog. Some of the people who are? Self-published authors who take their craft seriously and are striving for the same professional standards trade-published authors work toward. It is comments like this--addressing a group as a whole when the people you're really talking to aren't even here--that help foster some of the resentment both sides are feeling. The snide comment about bland being on the positive range isn't helping things either. Bland books can be found anywhere.

I can't speak for all self-publishers, but many of those who are successful have hired editors--content, line, and proofreaders. Often, more than one of each type of editor. They also hire cover designers or pay artists to do their covers for them.

To be honest, you will find exactly what you're looking for. If you're looking for mistakes, you will find them. It doesn't matter how the book was published, all books have their strengths and weaknesses. The mindset you go into a book with is going to affect how you perceive it.

(Caveat: some mistakes are so glaring, you'll find them whether you're looking for them or not. But we have a choice here. We can focus on the books at the bottom of the scale--both self and trade-published--or we can focus on finding the good ones and letting other people know about them--both self and trade-published.) Personally, I prefer to focus my energies on the good books. There's so much negativity already. Why add to it?

I find good, well-written self-published books through GoodReads (I love my friend feed!), being acquainted with various authors through the writing community, and word of mouth. There are also places like Pixel of Ink (the young edition) that send you an email every day with free and low cost e-books. Because of the nature of the beast, some recommendations are better than others. I've found a few authors I've really enjoyed this way. (Enjoyed enough to plunk down the money for their other books.) There are also days where I hit delete without checking any of the books out. It's a mixed bag, but it's also another way to find great books you might otherwise miss.

Genevieve Ford

I thought this was about why editors (and agents and marketing departments) are wonderful? They are. They can help bring a new perspective to a work, ferret out nasty typos, and I always feel despondent when I see some of our local self-published authors sitting at our grocery store or the Farmer's Market trying to sell their books. Having web sales does help some of them, but personally I'd rather be working on my writing that trying to sell my wares. Most people don't say, "When I grow up, I want to sell my books from a stall!" and that is one of the disadvantages of self-publishing. I'm sure it works for some people, but to me it doesn't seem ideal.

Rachel Coker

Shannon, your last post was seriously one of the best I've ever read. I'm a published author with Zondervan (a part of Harper Collins) and I posted it on my Facebook fan page for all my readers to check out. You would not believe the number of emails I get asking about publishing and self-publishing! It drives me crazy sometimes! That's why I loved posting a link to your post. "Here, look--Shannon Hale is going to tell you all the blunt stuff about publishing that I'm too scared to!" ;)
But, seriously, thanks. :)

Catherine M Wilson

I would like to point out that sometimes it is difficult to tell if a book is self-published. Self-publishers who are serious (i.e. professional) about their work know enough not to list their publisher as "Jane Doe Press" or "John Doe Enterprises." They go to the trouble of setting up their own publishing business, complete with a publisher name.

If a book is awful, riddled with grammatical errors and typos, and has no "name" publisher listed, people assume it is self-published. What they often don't realize is that the beautifully designed and formatted book, well edited, with few if any errors, and, oh yeah, a great story, was also self-published. But it was done by someone who approached the process as a professional.

I have no objection to talking about writers and publishers who achieve a professional standard vs those that don't but to equate tradpub with professional and selfpub with amateur is misleading to readers and insulting to self-publishers who are doing all they can to produce a top quality product.

The so-called stigma of self-publishing is something we have been struggling against for a very long time and I'm not surprised that these blog posts have been perceived as hurtful. For so long we have heard, "If you had to publish it yourself it must be crap."

The fact is that the traditional publishers in NYC simply can't publish every good book written. The fact is that many writers are writing books that appeal to a niche audience that mainstream publishing isn't interested in serving. The fact is that the ability to self-publish has brought many more voices into the conversation. Sure, there are bad books being self-published. Traditional publishing publishes bad books too. But the readers who have been waiting to hear all these new voices know enough to sift through the dross to find the gold. And how does one find the gold in self-published books? The same way one finds the gold in traditionally published books.

Catherine M Wilson
Shield Maiden Press


I personally love self publishing, not from a readers or writers perspective, but from a free market capitalism perspective. Print on demand technology and the internet (specifically Amazon) have taken the chains off of the writing "market" and made "writing" a truly accessible trade for all. Yes, you might buy a bad book, but only because you were too lazy to download the free sample. What I don't get is why successful, well established authors don't self publish in today's market .... too lazy to do the hard work?. That is my only conclusion. There is WAY to much money to be made by the author, instead of giving it away to the publishing house, when taking the self publishing route. JK Rowling is going to make a bloody fortune self publishing her digital books.

The other joy I get from this is more in the people watching category. Watching the "have's" squirm because the "have nots" are encroaching on their territory is quite entertaining from the sidelines.


Thank you for your words, Shannon. Generally speaking, there's an obvious difference between the quality of a self-published novel and the quality of a traditionally published novel - and a difference in the reader community surrounding each as well. Generalizations, while helpful for context, are by definition not the whole picture - but I don't think you need to acknowledge every distinction and anomaly to discuss the subject. Anyone who thinks you'll lose book sales by being honest about your opinions in a blog post has a very odd view of how book selling works, and must not have read your books to begin with. Because seriously, who would miss out on one of your releases just because of a blog post? Self-published writing has a lot of champions online (incidentally, mostly from self-pub writers), and it's good to hear the other side get a voice. As an editor and publisher, I'm grateful for your support. Not because I want job security, but because I've seen the before-and-after manuscripts and the difference is remarkable. It's very easy to be rude about a subject like this because writers are sensitive people. Because...they're people. So many self-published writers have chosen their path because they didn't believe the rejection letters they received from publishing houses were the final word on their manuscript. While on the one hand that might be bold, brave, and daring of them (all of the best have been rejected along the way!), on the other hand it might be pig-headed and blind. Criticizing you so vehemently for having an educated opinion suggests the latter might be more prevalent than the former. Traditional publishing is not dying. The book industry always likes to speak of itself as though its in the midst of a literary apocalypse. Methods are changing, but flooding the market with self-published works only makes traditionally published work more valuable. And I say that not as a publisher, but as a reader. There's no substitute for a good release from Bloomsbury, Chronicle, or Candlewick (I don't work for any of them, FYI). And I challenge any self-published author to find a cover designer as phenomenal as Coralie Bickford-Smith. Shannon, you are the best. Not because I like your blog and its honest humanness, but because your writing is phenomenal. You have earned our respect - and you have earned an authoritative position on this. Thank you.


Danyelle- I was actually responding to the fourth comment, but thanks for the rebuttal!

When I complain about *that* subset of self-published authors, I'm not just railing against those who put something online and sit back to make millions (do people like that exist? I can only think of one...or two), I'm mostly talking about the subset that *is* very amateur. Unscientific and personal example: I have an uncle who I love, but honestly, it would have been better if his self-published book had stayed in his brain. In my experience (I have yet to undertake a systematic study of...oh let's face it, that's never going to happen), I would be surprised if people like this were not the majority of self-published authors (but it also strikes me now, that I may understand a broader definition of "self-published" than some, in which case, ignore me please. Also, maybe my main problem here is the proportion- of course some bad stuff gets published professionally, but the proportion of bad to good seems (again, very unscientific) to be higher when works are self-published- there's no vetting process at all to keep the bad from making it through). As long as that is true, the quality product will have a much harder time overcoming the stigma of the self-published work- this is unavoidable.

But as I said, and as you repeated, I don't doubt that there is a smaller group of self-published authors whose works pass a more thorough review and end with a higher quality product (hopping over to Goodreads after this to search around again and hopefully find some examples as you recommend). I hope my first comment did not come across as derogatory to this group.

Also, to answer your question re: why focus on the bad- "for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?". I can't help it, I find enjoyment in the ridiculous (which also explains why I slog all the way through the worst YA ARCs, and why I inevitably end up watching "Time Bandits" every time it shows on TV- feel free to mock me :) I can barely believe it of myself).


I cannot believe how nasty some of the commenters have been. I just want to say that I read your blog avidly and I appreciate your thoughtful opinions. I also love and will continue to love your books. Thank you for being Shannon Hale! :)

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

I know there are already a million comments here, and you may not be reading this, Shannon. But I say, bravo! This past week I've been at a writing conference, and I know now more than ever before how important editors are. You don't realize sometimes how much you need them, and how invaluable their insights can be. I'm not saying there aren't some good editors for self-published books, but I can definitely see the pros of doing it the "old fashioned way." I'm sorry that some people have gotten their dander up so much about this. I don't feel as though you've been rude, at all, and I wish that whether or not people agreed with you, they would recognize your good intent.


I don't really care how you choose to publish, Shannon (insert Harrison Ford's line from the Fugitive here, "I didn't kill my wife!" "I don't care!"). Just keep writing, please. I love your books and your fun-loving personality.

I've read bad self published books full of errors, and I've read bad industry published books full of errors. I've read fabulous self published books, and fabulous industry published books. Just keep writing. The good stuff will keep rising to the top. :)

And for the record, a little controversy is fabulous for sales. Type on!


Being offended is a choice. Shannon did not offend anyone unless they chose to take offense. My take from the last two posts and comments, is that regardless of the route you choose, don't rush, don't put your story out there before it is really ready. I appreciate Shannon's blog, I can read that she doesn't just throw it out there. I appreciate the well thought out comments whether they agree or not. I believe that we can have this conversation civilly and even on the internet, "If you can't type something nice, don't type nothing at all."


I think it's great that you have a blog and that you are willing to talk about current trends in publishing, among other things. There might be some jealousy or envy associated with many of the "attacks" and negative responses here. Some of the above posts have resorted to name calling and condescending advice to you, Shannon. The people behind these remarks are the true "amateurs" and always will be.

Patrice Fitzgerald

Well, this has indeed been interesting. I am sorry that Shannon had her feelings hurt by some of the comments on this post and the last... it starts to look a lot like politics, where folks are busy pointing fingers and saying, "well, YOU criticized our guy first!"

I want to raise my hand as someone who worked on her first novel for about 12 years, had it critiqued professionally and by other published writers, and had it edited. This was a book that my first almost-agent was thrilled about -- she told me she stayed up till the wee hours reading it and she NEVER does that -- but alas, she decided it was too controversial to take on. It's published now, with a cover done by an artist who does covers for the Big 6, and it has earned me so far about twice the average first-time advance for novelists.

Haven't found any self-published books that are up to the standards of traditionally published books? Try these:

FLAT-OUT LOVE, a charming YA book that I recently read and adored.


WOOL (The Omnibus, Vols. 1-5), a post-apocalyptic collection of layered stories that work really well. The author just got a tradpub deal, and the material has been optioned for film by Ridley Scott of "Alien" fame.


Okay, and I can't resist. Try this, a fast-paced campaign thriller about two women running for president. Action, romance, laughs, and a little bit of sex.


I THINK I've banished all the typos! Tell me if you see any...

Shannen Crane Camp

I'm an author published through a small publisher and I can see the similarities of what I've done to both sides. My small publisher covers the cost of everything, they edit my book, they designed the cover, they've printed it themselves, they distribute it, and they've put their seal of approval on it. On the other hand, they don't have much time to market and other than setting up book signings I'm on my own for most of the marketing.

I'd say if I have the opportunity to get an agent or be published by a larger house I'd take it in a heartbeat because I'm just not cut out to market or network extensively. I just don't have the time or money. I think self-publishing would be very hard as far as that aspect goes but not impossible. I know a lot of self-published authors who are amazingly successful because of their incredible business know how. Because that works for them I say more power to you. That being said, having someone who knows what they're doing edit and put your book together is a huge blessing and I just can't forget all of the hard work my publisher has put into my book.

If you can't tell, I'm a fence sitter. Self-publishing is a great resource for the people who know how to utilize its possibilities, I'm just not that person. I'm not an entrepreneur. I definitely wish I was because the control of self-publishing is nice. But I'm forever grateful for the traditional publishing route.

Megan G.

Not that what I'm about to say hasn't been said, but I feel the need to comment in defense of Shannon. She's a lovely person from everything I've read and heard about her. I read her previous post and thought she stated her opinion kindly and respectfully. What else could you ask for, Internet? That she not have an opinion?

I've met several writers who believe that traditional publishing is dead and that self-publishing is reclaiming the money and power that belongs solely in the hands of the creator/author.

Sure, okay. That's one way of looking at it. If self-publishing fulfills your creative needs, awesome. If you find readers for your novels, awesome. More power to you.

But I get uncomfortable when the attitude is that the Big 6 are the bad guys. They're not. Those editors and agents are hardworking, talented, and underpaid crusaders for good stories.

And no matter how the publishing landscape changes, a smart writer, whether published by a NY publisher or by Amazon.com, will recognize that a good editor can only make their story better.

So let's just all get along :)


I am a self-published author and I believe an editor is necessary (for me at least). Having a pair of professional eyes looking at my book and reviewing the content is crucial. There are freelance editors out there, and in the end the finished product will be better.

There isn't a right answer. Self-publishing over traditional. It is all a personal choice. And sometimes great authors must take the self-publishing path because they spent years submitting to agents with only a stack of rejections to show for it.

For me, it's all about holding my 'baby' in my hands in book form. That's really all I care about. If one day I finally get represented by an agent and traditionally published, then I will shout glorious praises from my knees. HALLELUJAH.

Let's all simmer down a bit and let Shannon express herself. It's all opinion! So undo that knot in your panties and take a BIG breath.

Rick Walton

For me, self-publishing is a lot like the Got Talent and Idol shows. There are a large number of people who are seriously deluded, think they have more natural talent than they actually do, and see the show as a way to get rich and famous easily. Then there are a number of people who do have potential, who are working hard, who aren't quite there but could get there, and while they aren't quite ready to move on to the next level, they are worth encouraging and guiding. And then there are some who are definitely ready for the next level. And sometimes, they are brilliant. But for some reason--situation in life, lack of a break, or some other reason, they haven't been able to make the jump. These are a delight.

And then there are those who are breaking new ground, and don't fit into the established system and therefore create their own system. The guy on AGT who built the world's largest stringed instrument. Not going to be the million dollar winner, not going to be on the standard performing circuit--but so cool! He is creating a new thing, which sometimes needs new rules, and more power to him.

I think the big thing that bugs traditionally published authors is the lack of seriousness with which the writer takes his craft. That's one reason we aren't fond of celebrities dabbling as authors. They ride in on their celebrity, complain that there is nothing good being produced for kids, and create--nothing good. However, there is the occasional celebrity who does respect the craft, and they are welcome into the profession. I think what a lot of professional authors are reacting to is not the serious, as yet unpublished or self-published writer, who respects the craft, and is doing their best to create their best work. I don't look down on that writer. But there are plenty of cynical writers who think that if you just throw any crap onto the kindle, you'll make a killing. And there are other writers who see a grand conspiracy in publishing that works against them and their superior wisdom and talent to keep them out of the "guild". Most unpublished authors I know, however, self-published or not, do fall into the serious category who respect the craft. And I wish them luck.

I suspect, too, that there is a higher percentage of authors who do not respect the profession who self-publish than there is of serious, respectful authors who self-publish, because the latter, most of the time before they self-publish, will make every effort to follow the traditional route, and will only attempt self-publication after careful thought. This probably also skews the negative perception of self-publication.

That all said, the reality is that a lot of people in the book industry are skeptical of self-publishing because so many self-published books, far more than traditionally published books, fall far short of their potential. (If you doubt that, ask any bookseller, reviewer, award judge, or librarian who has both types of book sent to them for consideration.) That's unfortunate for the good self-published author, but it's a reality. We are all profiled in a number of ways because of the faults of others. It just means that the profiled have to work harder to prove they do not fit the stereotype. And it means that everyone else needs to try, when they can, to look past the stereotype to the individual. However, all writers need to prove themselves before they can expect to be taken seriously. Traditionally, that verification comes through acceptance by a reputable publisher. Self-published authors cannot expect to be taken seriously on their word alone any more than the unsolicited submitter can. Both need to do the work necessary to merit the validation of their work. For the self-published, that may come through word of mouth, impressive sales, reputable awards and reviews, etc. Until then it is reasonable for others to respond to the work of the unvalidated author with at least mild skepticism.

PS--Shannon is a saint, a superhero, and, little known to others, Albert Einstein.:-)


Shannon, you are a good person. Over the last four and a half years, I've watched you and the things you say and do. You give generously: of your time, your wisdom, your wit, and your words. You reach out to people who suffer. You laugh and bring bits of brightness. You take care of your family and in so doing, reflect a transcendent beauty of what it means to be a mom. You labor for your books, and as a reader, I reap so much of that benefit. You have organized events to help people in poor health. You have helped other authors in establishing their own careers and encouraged when it is sorely needed. And all of these I've watched you do from a distance. I've never met you in person. But I don't need to be face to face with you to see your impact in the world. I've felt it in my own.

The internet is an easy place for mudslinging and misinterpretation and "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." I can't begin to imagine how difficult this has been for you. So little heartache is seen from the opposite side of the screen.

But I see you. Beyond the scope of the last two posts. Beyond the scope of the last two years. I see you and what you have done and what differences you make and I can promise you your ripples span great seas. You've done well. And I know you'll continue to.

God bless.


Having never written a book or gotten into publishing, I can't really argue about self- publishing. But I think that Shannon has a right to say what she wishes, as we all do. Some of the comments above we're really quite rude. Shannon stated in the post that she was sorry if she offended anyone, but then people come in and say she has no idea how much she is offending people. Everyone has a right to say what they believe, but if you are going to be really rude, it might be better to keep your thoughts to yourself.

The comments to this entry are closed.