Traditionally published authors, self-published authors and being yelly


Hiya – my name is Sean Cummings and I’m a traditionally published author who has, at times, said some unkind things about self-published books, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and basically that Amazon might possibly be SkyNet.

Hiya – my name is Sean Cummings and I’m a self-published author who has, at times, had really bad experiences with traditional publishing houses and who sometimes thinks that traditional publishing doesn’t have a freaking clue what the hell is going on.

There’s a lot of yelly stuff right now online when it comes to traditionally pubbed authors and those who are self-published. I think, probably, the number one self-publishing website on Planet Earth is The Passive Voice. Here’s where I got called out because of comments I’ve made on my website about self-published stuff.

And here’s where they featured a blog post of mine about my book MARSHALL CONRAD where I suggested that I had no idea why the damned book was, and still is, selling so well.

I’m thinking there’s still a lot of stigma out for self-published books. I think that a lot of people in traditional publishing look down their noses at self-pubbed stuff, and in many cases they are right do do it because metric tons of self-published stuff is crap with bad cover art and terrible editing.

And then there are some amazingly wonderful self-published books. There are authors who have hit paydirt doing it. There are established authors leaving traditional publishing behind to go it alone. There are people like me who are tinkering with self-publishing while still hoping to make it in traditional publishing.

And there’s still a lot of vitriol out there. From both sides.

I think it’s because maybe a lot of us on the traditional side of things thinks that self-published authors don’t deserve to have a book published with the click of a mouse, you know? They didn’t…

a) Earn their way to a traditional publishing deal

b) Experience years of rejection from agents and publishers

c) Experience piss-poor sales once their book got published

That and the market is flooded with self-published stuff which makes it harder and harder to get noticed.

On the other hand, self-published authors often feel that publishers are out to screw authors. That there is nothing a publishing house can do that a self-published author cannot do. That gatekeepers such as agents and editors are part of the problem and there are tons of traditionally published books that are crap with bad story lines and equally bad editing.

So there’s a lot of polarization here. I think it might be due to the fact that nobody has a clue what the hell publishing is going to look like five years from now. We are all experiencing seismic change. Christ, a well respected publisher can start up a young adult imprint and in less than three years shut it down due to poor sales!

The thing is … are we all a bunch of complete assholes? There is vitriol coming from both sides (I’ve actually participated in it, so my bad – that won’t be happening again) and at the heart of things is that whether your a Passive Voice Patriot or you’re “Self-Published Books aren’t Real Books”, you have to wonder if there is any middle ground?

I do a lot of writer’s workshops here in Saskatoon where I live. Every wannabe author I meet gets the same question from me, “why do you want to get published?”

Most of the time the response has to do with holding that book in your hands for the first time or seeing it on the shelf of a local book store. So, you know, maybe there’s some validation things going on there. Let’s face it, it’s good for your self esteem to actually be offered a publishing contract because the odds are so very heavily stacked against you ever getting published in the first place.

Self-publishing advocates see things differently in that technology has democratized the process of getting published. That authors can now be in control. That gatekeepers are no longer a factor.

Is there middle ground here? Why is everyone being so yelly? Why was I being yelly?

Well, I can tell you one reason .. I was a bit smug. There, I said it. I was smug because I had achieved something that most writers won’t. But the funny thing is, I self-pubbed my newest work in spite of the fact that I could have tried traditional. I still often have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a self-published author doing extremely well when I am not. It’s weird … because I never experience that feeling when one of my traditionally published peers is kicking ass.

Maybe I’m an asshole. Maybe we’re all assholes … who knows?

All that I know is that books matter. Stories matter. Writing is a craft and it’s perhaps there where the smugness comes from. Perhaps those who look down on self-published authors believe that the very act of putting your book through the process of finding an agent, getting a publishing deal and then editing, editing, editing … all that is craft. All that craft is missing when you self-publish.

Beats me. All the yelly stuff is white noise to me at this point. It matters nothing to the book buying public because they really don’t give a shit whether the book was self pubbed or not. Consumers buy books based on a number of factors that are identical whether you are self pubbed or traditionally pubbed: how does the cover art look? What does it say on the back cover? Is the price right? Will I like this book?

I think that traditionally published books AND self-published books can answer those questions. And I think the books that answer the right way will sell. The other ones won’t.

And the market will decide.


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Posted October 5, 2014 by Sean Cummings in category "Blog


  1. By Jeff Dick on

    Great post Sean.

    You know what I don’t see enough of anywhere in the yelly — and distracting — conversations?

    Reasoned consideration of what is appropriate for the individual writer. Isn’t the true gift of accessible self-publishing the gift of choice? Why is it even important for somebody to say one way or the other is better for everybody, or even for most?

    This is an issue that I have even with the saner of the zealots (like, say, Hugh Howey) — I don’t give a rats rear end what is best for most. I care about what is best for me and my work and I want to be the one to decide what that is. Sadly, people seem to be more interested in selling their point of view than in educating the less-experienced writer.

    Hugh recently ripped on Chuck Wendig lamenting that he could be one of the great thinkers, “if only …” Thing is, I have learned more from Chuck than I ever expect to learn from Hugh Howey, including the fact that, for me, right now, the gatekeepers of publishing (in my case, the gates are those related to short fiction) are a very good thing. They offer me feedback and a forum to sharpen my craft at a time when that is exactly what I need.

    Even topics like the discussion of rights to your work have been reduced to “keeping all of your rights is best”, when I am not convinced that it is a universal truth for all rights. It is clear to me that having your rights tied up and not earning money for you is a bad thing, but I am a little fuzzier when it comes to rights that are retained, but also not earning money. I expect some of those can be sold and that it can be more productive than trying to do it yourself. But that kind of discussion seems to take a back seat to whatever works in favour of promoting a particular viewpoint.

    I could go on and on, but I need to remind myself that what’s best for me right now is to go submit that story.

    NOTE: Reposted to the proper place

    1. By Sean Cummings (Post author) on

      Thanks for your insight. It’s such a weird time in publishing right now and there’s so much noise coming from the parties but not always a lot of listening.


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