Self publishing doesn’t mean crap

So, you’ve written The Great Australian/wherever novel and you want to get it out there.

What do you need? A publisher, right? And how do you get one of those? Through a literary agent. But you’ve never been published before, not even a short story, so how the hell do you persuade a literary agent to take you on when you’ve got nowt but this one novel to show for your writing career?

Answer? You don’t. You give up, because unless you’ve written something really special that they can see fitting with a particular publisher’s market, you’re not going to get a deal. Sorry, but publishers are businesses. If they’re not 101% sure that your book is going to make them money, they’re not going to take you on. If they take on books which are going to incur losses, then they’ll be out of business in no time. Sorry, but that’s the sad truth.

But your book is brilliant – your friends and family have said so. So what do you do next? Answer? You self publish.

Now, here’s where traditional publishers and authors are getting hot under the collar. There are several options for self publishing, and when the traditionalists think of self publishing, they think of it in terms of people just publishing anything and everything, bringing down the quality, and hence the status, of the industry as a whole. But it doesn’t have to be like that – no Sir-ree.

While there are many things a publisher will do to help your book succeed, the bottom line is, there are three things you NEED just to give it a starting chance:

  1. a good story well-told – whether it’s fact or fiction
  2. a good editor – you will be surprised at the difference a professional editor can make
  3. a good cover – it doesn’t have to set the world on fire, but should be something which accurately reflects what’s inside the book.

Now, you probably think I’m being over-cautious, being in the business myself, but consider this scenario:

Let’s say you don’t get it edited. You release it just as it is because, dammit, you were good at high school English and your friends have already pointed out the typos they saw and you’ve fixed those, so how bad could it be? You put it out there, and a few people download a free copy (because that’s a good way to start getting an audience), and then someone posts a review:

Interesting synopsis and could possibly be an okay story, but I couldn’t read more than the first four chapters due to grammar errors, inconsistencies in spelling, poor dialogue etc. If edited, would be easier to read, and then maybe I could form a more helpful opinion.

Joe, Anywhereland

Ouch 🙁

That’s okay, you think. It’s only an eversion. I can fix it up and re-upload it. But that’s where your thinking is wrong: it has already had a negative review. And depending on where you’ve released it, you may not be able to erase that comment, so any ‘fresh’ version uploaded will still be tarred with the same brush.

Studies have shown that the first thought planted in someone’s head about something is much harder to change, which is why celebrities hate gossip when it’s not correct – it’s much harder to convince people of the truth if they’ve heard a lie first. So, moral of the story, GET IT EDITED FIRST.

Now you’ve had it edited, what’s the other important thing you need to do? GET A PROFESSIONAL COVER DESIGN. It’s certainly doesn’t have to cost you $1,500 (as suggested by a certain publisher in the audience at The Clarendon the other night) but it does have to look reasonably classy – as if someone with some understanding of the text and some decent computer skills has put it together.

Here are two covers courtesy of for books on Steve Jobs. Neither is intricate or fussy, yet both look to have been professionally laid out. The green cover doesn’t even have an image, yet it works.


Now compare those covers with this one, also from

There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it does give the appearance that the book inside might just be an essay with a homemade cover. If the cover looks homemade, what standard is the text likely to be like?

I have not bought any of the books above, so the truth is, any single one of them could be brilliant, or absolute crap – and I wouldn’t know unless I attempted to read them. But the other sad truth is, WE DO JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS, so it’s in your best interest (and your book’s!) to have a cover which does its best to represent your book as a professionally produced, cared-for work.

Now, these three things alone won’t make your book a red-hot hit, but they’re the base line things you need to do to just to give it a fighting chance. And if you do these things, then you can at least hold your head high and say:

‘I might be self published, but it doesn’t mean crap!’

If you’re looking for an editor, try searching for an editor’s society or association in your state, county or country.

In Australia, you can find IPEd (Institute of Professional Editors) Accredited and Distinguished Editors at

In New South Wales, you can find editors at

In the UK, visit the Society for Editors and Proofreaders at

In the USA, visit the Editorial Freelancers Association at

If you need cover design, then I suggest you search for ‘book cover designer [country name]’. Expect to pay from $50 upwards, but an established book cover designer will cost you $300 upwards, depending on what you want. Like editing, until you’ve discussed your cover with someone else, you have no idea of the things that need to be considered!

Good luck!

One Reply to “Self publishing doesn’t mean crap”

  1. This is another great post on this theme, and I really enjoyed it. I have recently been published by an Indy publisher, but began the process with every intention to self-publish. I can wholeheartedly agree with Jenny that the same standards of quality need to be applied by a self-publisher or facilitated publisher as they do for traditional publishing. If you pride yourself on your writing, you should do everything you can to prove to your audience that such pride is justified. Whether it’s a hit or not is up to the vagaries of public opinion, but at least you’ll have a product you can be proud of.

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