Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Self-published 'authors' simply do not exist...

Just because its easy to upload your written word, so that it can be downloaded to another machine does not make you an author, any more than me buying a stethoscope allows me to be called a doctor. A “singer” is someone who sings. A “professional singer” is someone who makes a living from singing. There is a stark contrast between being a writer and being a professional author. Many indie writers who publish a title or two on Amazon or Smashwords normally think otherwise. They wear the title as an author as a badge of honor.
— Michael Kozlowski

So let's assume the post from which this quote comes is clickbait and simply a vehicle for the author to get links back to his website. By quoting him in the way that I have, all I've done is achieved his primary goal. Well, if that's his purpose so be it – I have better things to do with my time than write inflammatory, unsustainable tosh to entice people to visit my site but it does raise a series of very interesting questions about self-publishing and its traditional neighbour. Is there still a stigma attached to self-publishing? Is it as lucrative as traditionally published works can be? Is the quality of writing, copy editing and cover design better in traditionally published works?

"Is there still a stigma attached to self-publishing? Is it as lucrative as traditionally published works can be? Is the quality of writing, copy editing and cover design better in traditionally published works?"

The author of this post clearly has no point that withstands any degree of considered scrutiny. Setting aside the laughably poor 'doctor' analogy, what else should a published author call themselves? What does it matter if they adopt the moniker? Is it a mark of quality? Of course not – there is to be found high and low quality in almost every sector of working life whether the route is traditional or more unorthodox. Labels are no mark of quality. The respect of your peers; measurable success in your chosen field, also – both are weighted marks of quality. Adopting the label of 'author' for someone who merely rights but never publishes is, I actually think, perfectly reasonable too. Labelling yourself is a simple, and effective way of explaining to someone what it is that you do. It need not be full-time, part-time or as a means of making a living. It is simply a handle to describe what you do – perhaps what defines you as a person.

This is a point: "I think a line needs to be drawn in the sand so that we know who is the real deal." Agreed. Draw that line. Let the reader know what he's getting himself into. Tell him someone important (whose bottom line is making money rather than anything else, remember) has decreed the guy who wrote the pages in his hand to be 'an author'. Because, as in bookshops, Amazon doesn't allow us to read books first to see if we'll like them. I remember getting chucked out of a Waterstones once for reading the blurb then chomping through the first ten pages to see what the writing was like. They chucked me out. And called the police. I spent the night in a cell. C'mon! We can all check for ourselves. The true measure of quality is whether people like your work. I hated Dan Brown's writing and so did many others but he spun a damned good yarn. So, I think he can call himself an author, can't he? And people can see for themselves what they're getting into – they can download a sample. Having someone arbitrarily determine who is an 'author' and who isn't achieves nothing. Traditionally published authors have been churning some real crap recently but, by Mr. Kozlowski's standards, they are authors. Bah! Let's move on.

His point in relation to membership of a professional organisations carries more weight and sadly the inflammatory title and opening paragraphs mask a reasonable argument. Mr Kozlowski says "Major writing organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, Canadian Writing Union and Published Authors Network all accept indie published authors as members and the Science Fiction Writers of America is currently drafting guidelines to do the same. In order to join these organizations you have to earn ‘x’ amount of money over a single calendar year, where the specified amount for indie publishers is a *multiple* of the requirement for traditionally-published authors minimum income, because it is easier to make money by going indie." Good. I welcome it. Peer/audience review is a good thing, although I cannot see how the amount of money is relevant – sales would seem a better barometer but it's not something I'll lose sleep over. This is a far better measure of quality than traditional vs self will ever be.


There is still a stigma attached to self-publishing and Mr Kozlowski has (deliberately) done nothing to lessen it. I experienced it myself – when I told friends I was publishing two books this year, under different pseudonyms, immediately their reaction was (paraphrasing) 'well done for being accepted by a publisher' as if that were (to them) a mark of quality. When I told them I was self-publishing, the reaction changed. Still congratulatory, of course, but there's a different view of self-publishing among those who don't really know what is happening within the publishing industry and haven't tried the likes of Michael Bunker, Jason Gurley, Hugh Howey and Russell Blake. Mr Kozlowski does traditional publishing no favours either. All he has achieved is to perpetuate the view that too much elitism within the traditional publishing world exists, and it is doing nothing to improve the industry's flagging popularity. Posts like this one drive a wedge between the two methods of providing readers with what they are looking for, when in fact they should be working together, and learning from each other, to promote reading generally and make more people want to read. As Hugh Howey very often points out, it's all about the reader. So many traditionally published authors, literary agents, and publishers have seemingly forgotten this.

"Posts like this one drive a wedge between the two methods of providing readers with what they are looking for, when in fact they should be working together, and learning from each other, to promote reading generally and make more people want to read."

But there is a very good point which he should have made in his article but didn't – traditionally published work generally benefits from better editing, by more people, than self-published works do. Too many self-published authors seem to believe that it is their artistic right to publish work which hasn't been copyedited, or indeed developmentally edited, and then complain when their sales are poor. It's shortsighted hypocrisy for people who crow about art to expect others to react positively to random acts of splashing words on a page without a clue what it means – both for their own work, but also for the impact it has on the self-publishing world as a whole. Until self-publishing beds down, and becomes much more of an industry in its own right, poorly edited self-published books will impact on the image of all self-published books. To read reviews of books which have found their way into the bestseller lists on Amazon, whether it be for categories which are quite small or for mainstream categories, and which complain of poor spelling, poor grammar or typographical errors is disheartening. That's not art, it's laziness. That's where Mr Kozlowski should be directing his frustration, not the handle of 'author'. My debut novel will be developmentally edited (by one editor), copyedited (by another) and then run past beta-readers to target specific areas – plot, character and (because of the genre) the 'science'. Does it all hang together? Is the pacing right? Do the characters act as they should? Is it good? I keep a number of books on my desk so they are close to hand – books which remind me what it is to write well and accurately and books which continue to teach me. Self-published authors have a duty to make their work as polished as it can be – there is pride to be taken and the weeding out of technical errors should be on a par with traditionally published work. Maybe that's what being an author is all about.

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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015