GatsbyCoverBetter_thumb.jpgOne of my favorite reads this year isn’t from S&S or Penguin Random House.

It’s from an obscure  self-published writer named Michael Spindler—author of Gatsby: My Story, which I reviewed here on TeleRead and elsewhere.

Examples like this come to mind when I run across rants against self-publishing.

Point is, the big guys have gone more and more for the mass market. Despite prominent exception, that leaves scads and scads of good long-tail titles out there to discover.

Granted, many and perhaps most self-published titles are dreck, but large houses offer their own share of boring, uninspired books.

Besides, there are ways to zero in on the better indie titles—for example,, run by Amy Edelman, a recent interviewee on the Kindle Chronicles. I myself discovered Gatsby: My Story just by poking around Feedbooks. If nothing else, in most cases, sample first chapters can reveal plenty.

But what about the financial angle? Will most self-published books fatten their authors’ bank accounts in a major way? Definitely not. But as I’ve noted before, the advances from even major houses aren’t what they use to be.

Furthermore, consider the reasons for publication. Is it only to make money? In fact, this bottom-line fixation could be one reason why book sales of big houses here in the U.S. are not growing as quickly as they could. All too often the so-called “commercial” beats out the fresh and the quirky. Could the prominence of conglomerate-owned houses in U.S. book publishing be one reason why so few American novelists have won Nobel Prizes in recent years?

Consider, too, that many a books may be a loser at the national level but a hits in the writer’s hometown—or within his or her family. As long as authors approach self-publishing with realistic expectations, what’s the issue?

True, there is a whole culture of sleazy self-publishers who literally buy reviews. But perhaps the large houses are doing the same, indirectly, in a far more genteel way, through purchase of advertising in book sections—as well as the use of PR people well wired into the media. Outright corruption? Of course not. But you get my drift.

No, I’m not anti-big publishing—I appreciate the resources and sizzle that the giants can bring to good, important books. I want Penguin Random House and cousins to thrive. I’ve published through such houses as Ballantine Books (part of Random) and St. Martin’s Press, not just smaller companies. I have never self-published a book, but I may do so in the future. It’s just plain moronic to say one approach is for all books and all writers.

In the end, what really counts is not the size of the house, but rather the quality of the editing and writing.

Ironically, by firing so many good editors to focus on best-sellers, the big boys have shed more than a few people whom the better indie writers can hire as freelancers to help them produce first-rate books worthy of your time.


  1. In the early days of the Kindle craze, I read some self-published books. The best were meh, most were bad, and more than a few were so bloody awful the authors had no hope of ever becoming merely bad. For example, I read Hugh Howey’s famous novel, but I finished it with a lukewarm impression. It wasn’t the worst science fiction novel I’d ever read, but the likelihood of reading another book by the author is slim. It was just a plain, ordinary, mundane novel – but it’s supposed to be among the best of best self-published books. I couldn’t care less about it. I will not go into the truly awful books that get stunning five star reviews from other self-published author on sites like Goodreads.

    Yes, maybe there is a magnificent self-published book out there waiting to be read, if only I had the nerve to seek it out. But I’ll take a pass. I don’t have the time or patience for self-published books. Out of all the books previously published and all the books currently being published – and the impossibility of ever reading them all – I have more than enough to read. There is little or nothing to gain from self-published authors.

    I feel no shame or loss at ignoring self-published books.

  2. I don’t know if Smashwords books count as self-published, but if it does, the best book I have read all year was self-published. “Following the Dragon” by Doug Sanderson is an absolute gem of a sailing book. It moves along nicely as Doug refits his boat, sails it to the islands and then up the coast to Nova Scotia, but every few pages I ran across a line or two that made me stop, put the e-reader down and think for a few minutes. Doug has hinted that he may write another one, this time about motorcycling around the country, and I hope he does. He’s a very talented writer.

    If your tastes run outside of the mainstream, there is a lot of good reading to find among self-published authors.

  3. And what about small presses then? Copper Canyon and Graywolf and Dos Madres, for instance, for poetry? University Presses? Local city presses – one example here in Savannah is Bonaventture Books for local narratives.

    That is the third alternative. My most treasured books have come from small presses like these. They’re great finds at book fairs.

    Disclaimer – I have a fledgling small press (NOT self-publishing although I began with books by my friend and me) of science, science fiction, and poetry.

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