Are Self-Published Books REALLY Second-Class?

I'd considered writing a warm and fuzzy "What I'm Thankful For" post for today. Instead, I couldn't resist jumping into the gravy pot and swimming around in the murky self-publishing discussion. Indulge me for a minute and jump in too. I hope this post is a different flavor than what you've already tasted.

In response to my last post, What Do Agents REALLY Offer Writers, there were a couple of comments that not only surprised me, but sent my mind into overtime. Both comments alluded to the idea that self-published books are plan b or second class.

Karen Walker said: What about the really good writers out there who try and try to find an agent and just don't have the luck. They never know if it's the query letter or whether they just got lost in the shuffle. . . How long is a writer supposed to try? I tried for almost 2 years. Self-publishing was not my first choice--it was always my plan b.

Eva Ulian said: I’ve dealt with more agents than I have seen Sunday dinners. I think assisted publishing like WestBow is an unprecedented, excellent opportunity for us, often categorized by agents as “second class,” “inferior fodder” of the writing industry.

First of all, I hope I've never given anyone the impression on this blog that self-published books are second class. I haven't read many self-published books and am not in a position to pass judgement.

The reality of the writing business is that there is no easy way to define what makes a book appealing to agents and editors. But I do think there are several factors that come into play:

Writing Skill: I'm sure there are self-published books that didn't make it through the agent/editor "gatekeepers" because the skill of writing wasn't up to par. And yet we can all point to best-selling books and find fault with the number of adverbs, clunky dialogue, or passive verbs.

When my book is released, I suspect I'll receive criticism, especially from other writers. Just because I have an agent and editor doesn't mean my book is perfect. And just because someone is self-publishing doesn't automatically mean they have poor writing skills. Whether going the traditional route or self-publishing, we're all at different places in honing our writing skills and learning the craft.

Story-Telling Ability: We've all read published stories that fell flat--books we put down and couldn't finish. Some writers have a natural ability and some have to work really hard at it.

Perhaps we've got the gift (or worked for years to develop it) and now we've written a book set in ancient Mesopotamia, and it's full of adventure, and romance. The drama and excitement are all there. But still we can't find an agent or editor to take a look. Does that mean our story-telling is second-class?

I would say, no, of course not. In fact we may have nearly perfect writing skills AND an incredibly well told story. So, we're definitely not second class. Instead I would have to say the issue lies more with the last point. . .

Saleability: Agents and editors have to constantly look at what the large majority of readers are buying. They have to keep tabs on what is selling or what they think will sell, and then plan accordingly.

Most of you already know I had two books under consideration for contract, but Bethany House only took one of them in the three book deal they offered me. That doesn't mean my other book is second-class. It just means that right now it's not as saleable, especially for a debut author like me. I need a break-in book. (Read here for more about break-ins.)

So, are self-published books REALLY second class? If I self-published my second book someday, would it be inferior to my traditionally published book? I doubt it. And no, I'm not planning to self-publish it. For now, I'll continue to work on writing saleable books and maybe someday my second book will have another chance.

My final word of humble advice: If you want traditional publication, don't give up too soon. But also know that it takes more than writing skill and story-telling. It takes a saleable book--and that's not so easy to figure out.

What do you think? Are self-published books generally considered second-class? And is it fair or unfair to stereotype them as inferior? I'd love to hear your opinions.

Happy Thanksgiving! Even though I won't be posting again until Monday, I'll still be checking in and reading ALL of your comments!

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