There is no stigma to success; self publish if you wish


Self-published author, you’re the devil incarnate, and we want nothing to do with you! … Wait, you sold 100,000 books? We’d love it if you’d sign with our publishing house.

I was in a Facebook writing group the other day, and a writer there posted that he didn’t “condone” self publishing. I asked him to explain, and one thing he said was that there is a stigma to it. I’d heard that before, but it seems like it’s been ages since anyone has said anything like that to me. So, I thought I’d write a quick blog post saying what I told him:


Do I need to repeat that? There is no stigma to success. That is the goal of publishing: self-publishing or traditional publishing (now the two may define success differently, but they have some measure of “success” they hope to achieve).  If you self publish and have financial success, there is no stigma in the traditional publishing world. In fact, I’m told that self-publishing phenoms get contacted by agents and publishers all the time. Traditional publishers hope to cash in on the author’s fan base and sell traditionally published books to them. (Examples of this include Amanda Hocking, who sold millions of books; Hugh Howey, who hit it big with Wool then got a rare print-only publishing deal; and Anna Todd, who has not sold a single book, but garnered a six-figure deal based on having 800 million views of her Wattpad stories.)

There is no stigma to success.

I’m sorry if I’m being repetitive. I just feel like it needs to be said if there are people out there who write well, who get their work published in literary journals, who know how to tell a story, but don’t publish their stories because they are worried about being stigmatized.

There is no stigma to success.

In traditional publishing, THERE IS A STIGMA TO SLOW RESULTS. Yes, I said slow results. When I was initially talking to my friend, I stupidly referred to it as a “stigma to failure.” But, that isn’t true. That was me using the lingo of traditional publishing.  It is one of the things that is destructive to writers in the traditional publishing model. If your book doesn’t succeed during the publisher’s time frame (usually the first year — or less), you are labeled a failure. It’s possible you’ll get one more chance, but the truth is, you’re tarnished goods in that model. If you are lucky enough to get a second deal, but it doesn’t perform in the publisher’s alloted time, then you have failed by their standards. You are a failure to them, and you’re worse off than if you had self published. Because, when you self publish, you have all the time you need for your book to find its footing. There is no arbitrary deadline set up for your success. I say arbitrary because traditional publishing deadlines aren’t based on anything that has to do with you or your writing. The deadlines are based on when the publisher is releasing other books and publicity schedules and shelf space at bookstores. The deadlines for being considered a success have nothing to do with your particular book. They have everything to do with the amount of time your ADD publisher is willing to spend with your book before moving on to the next thing the company is publishing.

In the world of  self publishing, you have time on your side. You can have a book that doesn’t sell well, and then you can write another book. If that doesn’t sell perfectly, guess what? You can write another book.  I am by no means suggesting you write crap, upload it to online retailers and ask people to pay you money for it. However, I am saying that a book not selling might be about visibility rather than writing talent.  Sometimes, it takes time to for a book to be seen and gain traction. And truth be told, it also requires luck. The more books you publish, the more likely you are to increase your chances of gaining traction and getting lucky.

There’s an online group called Kboards where self-published writers sometimes go to commune. One board includes a list of self-published authors with high sellers listed first. If you look at the list, you’ll notice one thing: most of these high-selling authors have more than five books published. Some a lot more. To me, this says these authors mostly didn’t get instant success. They found success as they published more and more books.

This seems to hold true for the self-published authors who discuss their numbers. Joe Konrath, who was traditionally published before striking out on his own, shares his numbers (scroll toward bottom to see his chart). Admittedly, he started off selling well, but continually increased his numbers the more books he published. Oh, you say, but Joe had a fan base; he was traditionally published before. That’s true, but his numbers still increased the more books he had. Still, point taken. Let’s look at someone else.

Hugh Howey recently talked to Tech Crunch about his rise to success. He noted that during the first three years he was self published, his “first six novels had sold around five thousand copies between them.” That’s roughly 1667 per year. And presumably, that number was backloaded, with Howey selling a higher number of copies in later years. His numbers probably looked something akin to 600 in year one, 1,400 in year two and 3,000 in year three (a steady progression of sales; the more books he put out, the more he sold). Again, that’s just conjecture on my part.

However, the point is that self publishing is not a stigma in the traditional publishing world when you have financial success. And it doesn’t even matter when that success comes. No publisher would have been beating down Howey’s door for 5,000 copies over three years, but when he launched Wool, he sold 1,000 copies the first month, then 3,000 copies the next month and the numbers just kept growing (according to the Tech Crunch article). After Howey started selling thousands of books a month, those early numbers that the traditional publishers would’ve called failure didn’t matter. (As an aside, Howey was perfectly content with those early numbers, and kept writing books.)

Given the current ebook royalties, lack of promotion, and lack of control in traditional publishing, I’m not sure I’d want such a contract. But if your goal is to be published in the old school way one day, don’t let the idea of self-publishing “stigma” bother you. Because that stigma is a myth. The only stigma in traditional publishing is lack of sales, and you can end up with that stigma whether you are self published or have a traditional contract. If your writing is ready to go out to the world, put it there. And remember:




P.S.  Over the weekend, Konrath wrote a really great post on the benefits of self publishing. Howey has a site on self-published author earnings, if you’re interested in other numbers.

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at
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22 Responses to There is no stigma to success; self publish if you wish

  1. Pingback: Sometime Waiting is the Hardest Part | RJ Crayton

  2. Jeri says:

    Great points all around. Writing in any shape or form requires a degree of patience and sticking to a plan. I am going to query my first novel, but mainly because I want the satisfaction of knowing I’ve gone through that process at least once so I can more fully understand it.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Good luck with the querying process. It’s certainly useful to do, just if you’re interested to see what kind of feedback you get from traditional publishing. Sometimes agents will provide valuable feedback, if they like your work. If a person is offered a contract, they can certainly evaluate it at the time. But, I wrote the post because it’s important to recognize that going one route doesn’t preclude the other, if that’s what an author wants.

    • Mary Acton says:

      After my fourth novel was rejected by a traditional publisher, I turned to self-publishing with very satisfying results. I find no “stigma” attached to the success I am still having.

      • RJ Crayton says:

        Congrats on your success Mary. It’s always heartening to hear from people who are happy with their self publishing results. Success depends on your goals and it’s nice when people meet or exceed their goals.

  3. Pingback: Rusty Blackwood | Author | Romance Novels | Posts |

  4. BigAl says:

    Why aren’t people concerned with the stigma of being taken advantage of by a traditional publisher? If I had a book to sell, I would be. 🙂

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Al, I think that’s an even better question. People who still worry about the stigma aren’t taking note of the current landscape of things, especially this Hachette/Amazon thing. Hachette’s statement on the whole mess said, the company doesn’t believe Amazon values Publishers. And I think they’re right. I think Amazon is pushing this in hopes of (a) a better deal, but also (b) in hopes that traditionally pubbed authors start to value publishers less and go direct to Amazon. Though, if the news reporting on the subject is correct, traditionally pubbed authors seem to be siding with big publishing, not thinking that they should be getting a bigger cut and how best to accomplish that.

    • With all the information out there about stranglehold contracts from Big Pub, I think it would be embarrassing to go the traditional route – and get stuck in one.

      The only defense would be that you were wildly successful at traditional publishing – in which case you would STILL be getting paltry royalty rates.

      It doesn’t add up. Traditional publishing has been revealed as too much like winning the lottery : wonderful but unlikely. And I think the ‘wonderful’ is fraught with a very long list of things that can go wrong.

      I like my odds better the other way. I plan to join the self-pub ranks as soon as I finish the darn thing.

      P.S. I don’t buy lottery tickets, either. Someone has to win, but the odds aren’t good.

      • RJ Crayton says:

        The traditional route, based on reports, does not look promising. But, if someone wants to try it, that’s their prerogative. You don’t have to sign a contract just because you’re offered one. Plenty of people refuse contracts. But, I agree that the time, effort and energy put going the traditional route on the chance you’ll receive a contract you’re probably going to reject is not worth it for a lot of people.

        As for winning the lottery, it’s all a bit of a lottery. Even with self-publishing, there are uber successful people and those who can barely buy a cup of coffee with their earnings. So, you really do have to get lucky. I think I like my chances of getting lucky as a self-published author better. I don’t have to keep shelling over a cut of my earnings (forever) to a publisher if I get lucky with the self publishing route. It’s just whatever I end up paying my distributor (Amazon, Barnes& Noble, Apple, etc.). I also have all the time I need to succeed in self publishing. I think that’s the biggest bonus. It’s a no pressure environment (other than self-imposed pressures to put out a quality product).

  5. Dale says:

    That is a great post, RJ. Things are changing fast and soon no one will ever say that kind of thing. I read an interesting post on ALLi about the BEA 2014 where a group of teens wanted to meet Indies because they hoped to be one one day. Yep, it’s changing. 🙂

    Here’s the link, but I’m sure you’ve seen it already. 🙂

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Actually, I hadn’t seen that Dale. So thanks for sharing that with me. That’s majorly cool that kids are indie author groupies (well, excited fans; groupies probably has a negative connotation). I think things have already changed a lot, so I was surprised to hear people still feared being stigmatized. But, if that’s the case, we should disabuse them of that notion.

      • Dale says:

        Yeah, I think it’s cool. Nearly everyone I know reads Indie authors. So someone who says something negetive about self-publishing just sounds ancient now. Maybe we all have to get a T-shirt like TPV has for sale. Wait. Was that person Trad published or still hanging out for a trad contract?

        • RJ Crayton says:

          Still hanging out for a traditional contract, which is his prerogative. I’m certainly not going to tell someone they’re making bad choices for how they want to publish. I can only present the info I know and let them make up their own minds.

          • Dale says:

            I agree and nor should those who have chosen to wait for that day disrespect others who didn’t wait. I do hope he gets one though and becomes a best seller.

          • RJ Crayton says:

            Here here. Disrespect has always been where the problem between traditionally published and self published authors has lain. To each his own, but no need to put someone else down for their choices.

  6. Great Post! Loved it.

    Yes, there is def. a stigma to self publishing.

    It can be compared it to Film & Television.

    Some big movie stars assume they are too fabulous for Television. They are not!

    Some writers feel the same way…that the traditional way is better, more respectable.

    It is not.

    There’s a hierarchy & Snobs out there in the “Writing World.”

    Anyhow, I always use Lisa Genova as an example. She wrote STILL ALICE and sold copies from the back seat of her car. She now has a Hollywood movie about it with the main character played by Alex Bawdwin and Julianne Moore. So cool.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      My Inner Chick, the film/television analogy is a good one. I think there’s always some group trying to snub the other and act as if it’s better. But, the truth of the matter is, there are plenty of good aspects about both. Even on a smaller scale, I used to love daytime soaps in high school/college (and had the time to watch/follow them), but those actors were “stigmatized” for doing daytime, despite the fact that it was a steady job that paid pretty well. What was weird, was there was no reason for it, because plenty of people knew and loved daytime stars. Genie Francis (Laura, one half of General Hospital’s most popular couples ever) and Susan Lucci (Erica Kane on All My Children) are probably more well known than a lot of people who have acted in supporting roles, but not headlined films. So, a lot of it is just a bragging rights contest. And while I’m sure some people enjoy playing the bragging game, I find it more useful to find a way to be happy and earn a living. I think television stars find that to be true, as do self-published authors. It’s not about some pretend “prestige” or how others view you. It’s about your own earnings and how you view your accomplishments.

  7. Melinda Clayton says:

    Excellent post, RJ!

  8. DV Berkom says:

    Excellent article, RJ! Happy Monday 🙂

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