Don’t Judge Self-Publishing By Smashwords

Okay, I want to say straight off that this is not a criticism of Smashwords or Mark Coker. They provide a wonderful service to those of us who choose to self publish, allowing us to get into vendors we otherwise would not have a shot at, and not charging us anything out the door and a very reasonable cut of each sale.  My beef is not at all with Smashwords as a service.

But here’s the thing.  I consistently hear people who are considering self-publishing or just trying to see if it’s really changed from what it used to be, using Smashwords as their rubric. And what they’re finding is a whole lot of the unpolished, unedited crap that self-publishing has always had.  Because, yes, absolutely, all of the speshul snowflakes who couldn’t hack it in traditional publishing, who refuse to edit their opus, who think editors and agents are blind for not recognizing their bloated manuscript of awesome, have all published through Smashwords.  I daresay, there is probably more of THAT on Smashwords than really truly good work.  And there’s no particularly good way of sorting through it.  Buying books just on browsing through Smashwords is really a crapshoot in a lot of ways. You can check out ratings, but there are no rankings.

So to the detractors of self-publishing, I ask you not to judge Self-Publishing as a whole by what you find on Smashwords because you’re already looking for proof that self-publishing is still crap, so of course you’re going to see it.

What you SHOULD be looking at is those same books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble where they are competing directly against traditionally published works.  This is the true marketplace, people.  Are those same crappy works you saw over at Smashwords on Amazon?  Probably.  But they’re at the bottom of the barrel and you’ll never find them without looking for them specifically.  But here you have the opportunity to do something you CAN’T do at Smashwords. Check the reviews and the rankings and see exactly how many of the top 100 in each category are self published works with 4+ star ratings.

Sure, plenty of people say “oh they’ve gotten all their friends and family to come rate it high”, but that only lasts so long.  Rankings are an hour by hour indication of SALES.  I promise you that everybody runs out of family and friends a lot quicker than that.  And if these books were total dreck that someone was only fooled into buying because of the low price, then there would be an increase in the number of crappy ratings to overpower the family and friend contingent.  For a lot of self-published works hanging out in the upper echelons, you’re not seeing that–because the books are quality.

So to everyone worried about the fact that there’s no gate-keeper or quality control in self-publishing, I say to you that there is both.  And that person is the reader.  The crap will not rise to the top and the good stuff will.  Shop at places that cater to BOTH self published and traditionally published works.  Places with a ranking system.   Check out ratings and reviews, read some of the sample, and make an educated decision about a book by deciding for yourself instead of waiting for someone to make that call for you as a consumer.

24 thoughts on “Don’t Judge Self-Publishing By Smashwords

  1. Great points, Kait. As for the family and friends thing… I have to say, I have begged friends and family to go review “Silver Thaw,” and almost all of them said “no.” Uh, okay. They liked it, had good things to say, but maybe they don’t want to look like they’re just bragging about a relative/friend? I don’t know. In any case, I’ve had a terrible time getting people to even rate it. Kind of irritating, really, because they claim to like it, but it makes me wonder if it really is any good….

    Wow, that was nice of me to drop my piece of angst in your post, eh? Sorry. 🙂

    My point is–friends and family don’t always come through, so those ratings and rankings could be entirely written by strangers.

    I agree that some of the stuff on Smashwords is junk. I’m not a prude, but I did finally put the prude filter on. It was… a bit much, shall we say. Nothing against erotica or romance or sex… It was just a little overwhelming to be smacked with it every time I went to Smashwords.


      1. LOL. Maybe I am a lightweight. I just didn’t want to have to keep wading through it all…

        Really, I’m not a prude, swear. If you’ve read George R. R. Martin’s sex scenes and not blushed, you’re not a prude. 🙂 But that’s not the type of stuff I look for when I’m looking for a read. I mostly look for fantasy reads, not romance/erotica, so I just don’t want to keep getting slapped in the face with pictures of skinny chicks in red panties….

        A “boy and his dog book” filter would be good… As would a “raving manifesto” filter… And a “tinfoil hat” filter… 😉

  2. I think one of the key things you mentioned was checking out a sample. You usually can tell pretty quickly if the book is either crap or just not for you. Ratings and reviews can be important, but I’ve seen some nasty 1 star reviews on books that I thought were great. The rankings can be a good indicator of the quality of the book. Because it’s selling, and part of the reason, I think, is because people are saying to their friends “You’ve got to read this book!” I also think that a good writer will write a decent description. I’ve passed up books because the description sounded like it was written by a third grader.

    I agree that Mark Coker is doing a great thing for self-publishers. But that definitely keeps the door open for everyone, the good and the bad.

  3. This is so true. You cannot possibly judge all self publishing by looking at one site only. That would be like going car shopping for the first time and buying the first lemon you see.
    (that was an experience)

  4. Great post and right on the money. There’s more junk to be found with this new technology and new modes of publishing, but where the competition thrives, the crappola will sink the the bottom for the most part. The cream always rises to the top, to be cliche.

    I hope I’m with the cream at the end of the day, but who knows…

  5. I had wondered about the Amazon ratings. Some books which seemed less than polished might have 5-10 ***** ratings. The kindle rank might not be high, but their score is perfect. So I wonder how much family and friend ratings skew the results. It’s nice to know the updates are recalculated hourly. I’m not one to begrudge success, but at the same time, credit should be given where credit is do.

  6. Good points, K. It is interesting that most of the loudest detractors who go on about how lazy self-pubbed authors are, are themselves too lazy to genuinely investigate the merits of self-publishing.

  7. Also, with the exception of ONE person I knew before, every single review I’ve ever gotten, either on a review blog or on a sales page has been someone I have met through my writing. They may have later become an “online friend”, but they started out a fan of something I’d written.

    Online there can be a fairly thin line between friend and fan so when someone says all your friends reviewed you, what does that even mean anymore. Don’t plenty of fans… i.e. “people who like you”, review work? And is a review only “real” if someone who hates you reviews you? That’s just silly. lol

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Zoe. My friends and family wouldn’t lie. If they hated my work, they’d say so. And Cathryn Grant, another indie, has become a good cheering partner here on the Interwebs, and she read “Silver Thaw” and gave it a very lovely review today. So does that not count? I’d say it counts more since her standards are pretty high. But not everyone who reads that review would know that her standards are high, so I dunno….

      So, because I do have brutally honest friends and family, it makes me wonder–does my writing suck and they’re afraid to post something? Not the people who have given me a verbal review–I mean the folks who have said they bought it and then don’t post anything at all, just fade into silence….

      Lordy, I’m just dripping with angst today… I should go back to staring at my pretty, pretty book cover…. 🙂

        1. Heh. You two are funny. But I’m totally going to make it my desktop background now…. I just have a dragon attacking a castle at the moment. The cover will be much better. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

  8. Perfect post about self-publishing. There is great stuff there, but you’re going to have to wade through a lot of crap to find it. Ever notice that some of the worst writers are prolific? Seriously, I was in a writing group years ago with this guy who had a book out every other month. None of them were edited of course, so all the women had big “tots” and the men had large, throbbing, “pens.” You can’t make this stuff up.

    1. You raise a good point. I have to be somewhat leery of freakishly prolific writers. I’m slow because I have a lot going on, but a book out a month…that just definitely screams “no editing”.

      1. But on the other hand…. Being prolific isn’t necessarily a sign of bad writing. Where was I reading that just the other day–maybe on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog?

        Okay, I’ve angsted over “Silver Thaw,” but the truth is that I wrote it pretty quickly in terms of total time put into it. I edited it about three times with the help of my hubby and a critique partner. I think the CP looked at it twice. It was just one of those stories where the words flowed and it worked well from the beginning.

        But, then, it’s not the downloads are flying off the shelves…. 😉

        1. @Amy I agree, it’s about consistency. If you write 1k words a day (which isn’t THAT much for a lot of people), that’s 365,000 words in a year. That’s 4 or more books right there. Yes, there is editing time to factor in, etc. But most writers seem to be either… lazy or busy. Like K, I don’t expect K to crank out 365k words in a year… because that would be insane. I don’t know how she cranks out ANYTHING with her schedule.

          But I think a lot of times one’s writing speed and one’s speed getting work out is not the same thing.

          Like if I put out 1 book a year or 4 books a year, my actual writing speed is the same. It takes me about an hour, sometimes less to write 1k words. There is no excuse for a working writer not to work on creating new work 1 hour a day. (IMO) IF that’s all they do for money.

          The issue isn’t how fast one composes fiction, but how consistently they work at it. And for some reason consistency gets punished with the assumption that it must be rushed work. Um, not really. It’s just work. LOL. And also the inverse is true… the more you write, the better you get, so the stronger your rough drafts get, so less editing is needed. So a good working writer SHOULD be producing faster in most cases.

          Though, I do understand that some people can’t naturally write 1k words in an hour. But even if they can only do 250 words in an hour… with consistency… that’s still a full novel in a year. If they only work 1 hour a day. But I think as you go on writing more, you’re going to at least get up to 500 words in an hour. IMO.

          1. Yes, I agree. And I’m set up to do this for a living, so I’ll naturally produce a lot more than Kait or someone who has to work a traditional day job. I realize how fortunate I am in this. That said–when summer rolls around and all four beasties are here all the time we’ll see what happens to my lofty goals. At least they aren’t preschoolers anymore. I never got anything done when I had preschoolers.

            And I agree–my drafts are a LOT better now, even when I’m cranking words out and having a 3K+ day. I’m more aware of my writing tics, for one thing, and I just have a better sense of how to get stuff done in a scene. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get.

  9. I hope people who publish on Smashwords don’t use it as a barometer of how much they can sell either. I can only speak from my experience, but it has been similar to selling on Lulu.

    And although people don’t make as much on Amazon or even B&N it is still another venue for us to hawk our goods.

  10. Good points, Kait. I have tried to use Smashwords to browse for e-books and have found that to be true. Also through Smashwords I seem to have to download to my computer, then transfer via cable to my Kindle. Not impossible, but most of the day I am not at the computer because of the children, so it’s just something that’s not as convenient for me. I’ve found much more luck with good quality writing on the Kindle rankings.

    I hate being so discriminatory because I love the idea of allowing the authors to get a larger cut of it and finding new authors, but I just don’t have the time to live up to my ideals. :/

    1. Christine, I wanted to pop in to say Don’t feel guilty! I think authors in the $2.99-$9.99 range are getting more from Amazon sales because of the royalty rate difference. Many of those under $2.99 price that way because they’re trying to build a following, which mostly happens by getting a lot of people to try them on Amazon, thus increasing their rank, thus making them easier to find. Every time you buy on Amazon, you help an author maintain and improve their visibility in what’s still the largest marketplace. Trying to shop for a high quality product is only natural, so let the authors worry about snagging your attention and stop feeling bad about your shopping habits!

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