Are All Self-Published Books Sh*t?





The short answer is no, but a gigantic proportion are, and more alarmingly it’s harder to weed out the trash because they exist on an equal platform, with no prominence to any particular title. Many titles sell to the undiscerning simply because they are cheap and long. And now the situation is going to get trickier.

The perfect book is now going to be an 800-page romp with a cliffhanger every few pages and a couple of pictures in each chapter, because Amazon is about to change the way its pays those authors – according to the number of pages read.

Self-published writers who go through Amazon’s lending library and its unlimited service currently get paid by the book, so if you write a novella you receive the same per book read as a doorstop.

From next month the new payment system will sideline writers of short books and those who write more demanding work. Amazon says that it will decide page count by using an equation accounting for line spacing, font size and the time a page remains on-screen. Non-text elements will count towards an author’s payment, so – lots of pictures.

The result is that this will encourage the writing of books with lots of secrets and hooks to be revealed further on, as Victorian magazines once did – and indeed Dickens used. But it’s a system that rewards cliffhangers and removes subtleties.

It’s arguably a good thing for those who buy books without discernment, because basically you’re buying a pulp novel, something to read without engaging the brain. It’s certainly worked for EL James, who has appealed to many who have never read a book before. I’m not being rude – research suggests she picked up a great many first time readers.

Under the new payment method, writers get paid for each page customers read of the book, the first time they read it. This could be called the ‘LOST’ approach to book-buying, all hook and no payoff. It might also create a system that keeps self-published books away from publishing house-sanctioned books.

The real losers will be those who have written something brave, unusual, specialist, experimental, and I know a number of authors who fit this category. But they will need to seek out proper publishers, who can also publish online. When my back-catalogue finally comes out, it will be under the aegis of Transworld, which removes the stigma of self-publishing.


16 comments on “Are All Self-Published Books Sh*t?”

  1. Matt says:

    Yes it is often hard to find something good to read. I have an e-reader and find that selection is difficult. I have stared many books that never get finished as the spelling and grammar is so poor. Then you get those that are only a few pages long that finish halfway through a chapter, the next part being in another volume. So very annoying.

  2. Stefan M. says:

    Sorry, Chris, but I can’t follow your conclusions.

    The changes Amazon makes to the payouts for their subscription services are long overdue. Up to now, authors were paid the same amount after 10% of a book was read, be it a 5k short story or a 50k novel. What’s wrong with having authors adequately paid for the amount of work they put into a book? And what’s wrong with motivating authors to write books readers will want to read?

    No author is forced to become a part of those subscription services (Kindle Unlimited and Prime Lending Library), you can self-publish on Amazon and elsewhere any time without joining them.

    As for the “tsunami of crap” meme, yes, there are a lot of self-published books that are rubbish, but the same goes for books published by traditional publishers. That’s why you can download free samples (in addition to reading – not always trustworthy – reviews). And you can stop reading – which in the future in the case of Amazon’s subscription services will have the effect of the author receiving less money for a crappy book…

  3. John says:

    I always knew that the digital book world would turn into a racket. I can’t help but smile at some of this. Amazon will end up controlling the behavior of wannabe writers and writers only interested in self-publishing using their CreateSpace platform. It’s all rather ironically funny to me. I’ve avoided buying an eReader and probably never will. One quarter of my email these days is made up solely of PR material for newly published books. Four out of five of these books turn out to be self-published. While I read all my email I have no desire to read any of those books. For every ten pieces of PR email about new books I probably say Yes to one book and almost always it’s published by a recognizable publisher, whether mainstream or indie press. There are some very clever marketing techniques being used these days almost all having to do with social media and blogs. I’m more impressed how a book is being sold today than the actual books themselves.

  4. John Griffin says:

    The only good books on my tablet KindleKollection are from recognised publishers (including Mr Fowler, and the most enjoyable ‘Plastic’). Despite rigorous testing, there is a lot of poor stuff around. I downloaded an American Holmes pastiche and never got past the first page, it was sooooooo poor. And this person has several Holmes pastiches to their name.

  5. admin says:

    Hi Stefan –
    I have to challenge you on this. There’s nothing wrong with authors being adequately paid for the amount of work they put into a book, but a novel is not predicated on its length. I also agree that there is nothing wrong with motivating authors to write books readers will want to read, but by this criteria you create a completely false market.
    Pick up any of Evelyn Waugh’s greatest novels; the longest is ‘When The Going Was Good’ at 297 pages. Books are not meat, to be sold by weight.
    I totally agree that you can stop reading; but to quote the woman I met who had only ever read one book in her life, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, when I asked her if she would read more, she said, ‘I’ll just read this again.’ I think part of our job is to end that kind of thinking.

  6. snowy says:

    Hmmm… V. confusing [and throwing in a meat analogy isn’t helping!*]

    Taking a side-on view, [looking at it as a ‘system’ or ‘process’.]

    Azn are running Lending/Unlimited at a loss to push sales of Prime/Tablets respectively.

    They were already using the tell-tale info that each kindle feeds back, User, Book title, Page number in, Page number out, etc. to divvy out a few pennies to authors.

    It seems they have now come up with a refinement on the existing system that means they lose less money. This is just commerce and nothing very sinister.

    Will the change distort the market? There are so many other strange things going on in this strange little pond; paid for reviews, authors puffing their own books etc. Dropping one more little pebble in probably won’t even raise a ripple.

    [I know why it exists, but am baffled why anybody uses it. If somebody owns a e-reader/tablet, then I assume, [dangerous!] that they also have a library card. Most [UK] libraries are hooked into a service called ‘Overdrive’ which will lend out quality books** to card holders for nothing.]

    [*It brings out my literal inclinations. A lb. of chopped liver costs a lot less than a lb. of fillet steak, no?]

    [** And some right old tat as well to be honest, But if people want to read that, then let them if it makes them happy.]

  7. Wayne says:

    Hello Snowy, I have library card and do use it. The library however never seem to have the books I ask for. When they then request them more often than not they cannot get them. So where then do I turn, Amazon. Its unfortunate that second hand book shops do not exist in my town and the charity shops rarely have titles that interest me. So I look and find on Amazon, sometimes hard copies other times e-copies.

    As for the original Post I agree with Matt. I also agree with Christopher in what he says about the system.

  8. AC says:

    I’ll confess I’ve bought ebooks because they were cheap and you’re right, there are a lot of stinkers out there. There are also a lot of surprising charmers that have me looking for more works by the same author. The only thing that puzzles me is what did I buy that would make Barnes and Noble recommend a book titled “Shut the Fuck Up and Die” . Really? I don’t even want to know what that’s about much less read it!

  9. Alan Morgan says:

    It’s looking to be a complete game-changer, in a good way, for cottage role-playing games companies. Practically ideal. This is using a tool for a different purpose (rather than novels) but just as little sidebar.

  10. snowy says:

    Hello Wayne. Unfortunately libraries have taken a battering in recent years. Locally they have cut staff and opening hours hard and even closed some branches completely.

    Perhaps I am very lucky, while they have been doing a lot of ‘slash and burn’ on the physical estate, they have expanded their holdings by partnering with other counties/region to share collections, [about a dozen at the moment]. It requires a bit of extra work to track things down, the links on the website are not obvoius, most staff are not briefed on how to use it etc. But in a rather shambolic, held together with string and sealing wax-British fashion it seems to work 9 times in 10.

    The e-book provision [in libraries] is not very ‘mature’ at the moment, but without advertising, [for which there is no money] I feel it could slip into a downward spiral and die. The usual story, few customers, dis-inclination to invest in larger stocks because of low customer numbers, customers become dissatisfied and drift off into the bosom of you know who.

    I remain slighty concerned that a certain provider is trying to hoover up all sales in the market, makes me twitchy[er]. If I’m looking for a secondhand book I look on a couple of other websites first, most likely it’s the very same book from the same supplier, but it avoid fattening the coffers of AZN.

    [AC, Shut the F… etc. is another reworking of the themes of old films like ‘The Hills have Eyes’, hillbilly slasher stuff.]

  11. Stefan M. says:

    Chris, I don’t think we are that far apart – I will readily agree that there can be more interesting ideas in 20 pages of a short story than in many novels.

    My point was that you were mixing together a lot of things in this post that aren’t necessarily connected.

    As I see it, the changes in Amazon’s payouts to self-publishing authors in their subscription services are supposed to improve a system that was unfair and led to developments that readers disliked (just look at one of the other commenters complaining about novels cut up into smaller pieces – that was probably because of the old system that brought more money that way to the author).

    I don’t think your example of the woman seeing ’50 Shades’ as her modern day Bible is that useful to illustrate the point (I think) you were trying to make: This is a book published by a trad publisher and this reader is the kind of (non-)reader you would have never reached anyway.

    Personally, I don’t think the “stigma of self-publishing” that you refer to at the end of your post exists any longer (if it ever did). Readers in general don’t care about whether a book is published by a trad publisher or is self-published – they care about their reading experience.

    And from my personal one I can tell you that the biggest problems I’ve had in this connection recently were with trad published books: I found Harkaway’s ‘The Gone-Away World’ quite chewy (to use your meat analogy) and lost interest in Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange’ about two thirds through.

  12. snowy says:


    My book’s not that word, it’s a giant rollercoaster of a novel in four hundred sizzling chapters. A searing indictment of domestic servitude in the eighteenth century, with some hot gypsies thrown in.

    Yours Sincerely

    Gertrude Perkins. Miss.

  13. Wayne says:

    Thank You Snowy, I had no clue about the sharing between other counties etc. I will see if my local Library offer this facility. Give them a poke and see how they react 😉

  14. Keith says:

    Lawrence Durell would have had an enormous amount of editing and dumbing down to do on The Alexandria Quartet if he wanted to earn a buck or two on Amazon.

  15. Jo W says:

    Hey Snowy! AKA Miss Gertrude Perkins, have you been watching Mr. Blackadder again? Yours sincerely, Sossage

  16. snowy says:

    Oh Bugger!

    *Tears up lexicon and goes off in a huff*

Comments are closed.