Published vs Self-published: a Guide for the Troubled & Bewildered

13th June 2012
A lot is written and talked about these days concerning the distinctions between self-published and professionally published books. In the non-fiction category as well as fiction. Having experienced both sides of the business, I tend to keep my head well beneath the parapit on this one. In the interests of impartiality, therefore, each of the following set of guidelines comes in three distinct parts, consisting of:

A)  The currently perceived wisdom regarding 'proper' published work and those who write it.
B)  The currently perceived wisdom regarding self-published work and those who write it.
C)  The truth.

I hope it makes you smile.


A)  Proper-published books are always priced competitively and you can always pick up a bargain.
B)  Self-published books are usually overpriced due to production costs, or else virtually given away to boost the author's sales figures.
C)  Both are always far too cheap


A)  Published books are for serious readers who like their writers to be famous.
B)  Self-published books are for serious writers who are never famous.
C)  Being famous doesn't mean the writing is necessarily good, nor does being obscure mean it's bad. Both are worthy of our attention.


A)  Most proper published books can be found in paperback and hardback. Oh, and e-books, too, naturally.
B)  Self-published books are usually always e-books, because they're cheap and suitable for youngsters.
C)  Literature is dependent on neither ink nor batteries, and has no preference for either.


A)  Proper-published books get lots of glowing reviews from legions of enthusiastic independent readers. Many of these are 5-star reviews, reflecting the general good taste and intelligence of the public.
B)  Self-published books get lots of glowing reviews from the author's family and friends. Many of these are also 5-star reviews, reflecting the general good taste and intelligence of the author's family and friends.
C)  It's always nice and cosy. Take all reviews with a very large pinch of salt.


A)  Getting publicity in the world of proper publishing is built on the principle of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.'
B)  Getting publicity in the world of self-publishing is built on the principle of 'I'll scratch your back even though I know you're probably far too famous to scratch mine.'
C)  There's no such thing as bad publicity, unless you are really bad, that is, in which case it might land you in prison. The moral of this story: try to be good.


A)  Proper-published books might just contain the occasional unfortunate typographical error that happened to slip through the highly professional, hand-picked team of editors in charge of production.
B)  Self-published books a full of lots of silly mistakes because of some amateur who thinks s/he can write.
C)  Errors on the page are irritating, no matter who's supposed to be in charge of spotting them, and they always occur.


A)  Proper published authors have hundreds of fans on Facebook and Twitter, including other famous authors.
B)  Self-published authors think they have hundreds of fans on Facebook and Twitter, including famous authors.
C)  Fans are not commodities - do not confuse these two genres.


A)  Proper-published authors are social climbers who succeed by having lots of posh friends - whom they always drop quickly the moment they find even posher friends.
B)  Self-published authors do not have friends at all because it takes up too much time and stops them from writing.
C)  Real friends are few and constant. Their purpose is not to further the careers of writers of any persuasion. Treasure them.


A)  Proper-published novels have the benefit of expert, professionally designed artwork for their covers, often with pictures of ladies in long flowing gowns who do not have heads, or men with fabulous six-packs brandishing powerful weapons. They are very expensive to produce.
B)  Self-published books have covers that accurately reflect the intentions and aspirations of their authors, who are closely involved in the choice of images and title. They don't cost very much and often contain pictures of flowers.
C)  Never judge a book by its cover remains good advice.


A)  Proper-published writers tend to go to the same school or uni as their agents and editors, and often show up at the same dinner parties.
B)  Self-published books are written by people who didn't go to school very often - and who's gonna invite them to dinner anyway! Yuk!
C)  Most authors are educated and clever, even if a little short on table manners at times.


A)  Proper published authors of historical fiction are often historians who do 'oodles' of research in museums and public record offices and often hurl witty asides at those who get their facts wrong.
B)  Self-published authors can't read very well, especially Latin. And they can't be bothered with all those white gloves, anyway.
C)  There are no symbiotic relationships between facts and literature (believing otherwise can lead to unfortunate outbursts of finger-wagging and smugness).

On being Great

A)  Published books are Great.
B)  Self published books are Great.
C)  Only God is Great. Please keep a sense of proportion. And don't forget to smile.
book cover, with gold and red lettering against a black background
'The End'
Or, if you're a proper sort of writer, 'Fini'.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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