Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing

“I want a real author.”

“Pardon?” I glanced up at the message he sent me. “What the hell are you talking about, Jamie?”

“I’m searching Amazon for some books, right?” Even through instant messaging, I could almost see James tap his monitor and look at me as if I should clearly know what he meant. “There are all kinds of books written by bloggers. People we know.”

I knew James sighed. “So now every time I see a book I think might be interesting to buy, I hesitate. My first thoughts are, ‘Am I getting screwed? Is this book going to be a joke? Who is this guy? Is he a real author? Or is it some nobody blogger slapping words between two covers and calling it a book?”

I looked at the screen in disbelief. Alright, maybe not disbelief. I was amused, considering I already had my answer mapped out. Letting James rant is so much more fun.

“I feel like Amazon is some big self-publishing warehouse now,” the irritated words started slamming up onto my screen. “Where are the criteria? Where’s the cutoff between a real writer and just a hack? How do I know that I’m not wasting my money?”

James vented for a few more minutes until he finally realized I was quiet and most likely watching my screen with my best Mr. Spock expression complete with arched eyebrow and deadpan expression.

“Fascinating, Captain. Quite the paradox going on there,” I typed out smoothly. “You do realize that we consider ourselves real writers?”

“Well, yes. Of course. If Amazon refused to publish me, I’d be completely indignant.” Makes sense. He writes books for clients and they publish them.

It Is a Puzzlement

I had to take the rest of the afternoon to think on the matter. James and I have always said, “If you write, you’re a writer. If you have a blog, consider yourself published. If you create an ebook, you’re an author.”

To a certain extent, this is so. Still, James’ skepticism nags at me and I can see where his thoughts are coming from.

There’s a lot of crap content out there. Anyone can invest in a program or two, buy a few stock photos or clip art and throw something together. Print-on-demand and self-publishing companies crank out a constant stream of material like puppy mills on steroids.

These companies don’t care what’s published, as long as they get their money and the new author gets a book.

Therein lies the problem: It’s too easy to be published. Anyone can do it, and everyone is doing it.

Do You Like Cheese?

James and I invest a great deal of effort into the ebooks we create. It’s a matter of pride. The ebooks never turn into those miracle stories you hear about, though. They sell all right, but there are no rags-to-riches stories here.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to just make the damned things in Word, convert to PDF, and be done with it. Everyone else does. Cheap ebooks, rah rah. Why bother typesetting properly, laying in graphics and adding other bling to make our ebooks a pleasure from cover to cover?

Nobody else seems to do that. They go the easy route. They slap something together and end up with these success stories and an incredible amount of sales. (Or they lie about their sales, which is possible.)

Do people want to buy crap? Is that all they care for? Is the public really drawn to all the cheese and hype? It sure feels that way, sometimes.

So What’s Real?

It’s all real. Everyone has something to say and in our world, it’s very easy to say it, too.

Whether you’re sifting through Amazon or sifting through blogs on the Internet, you always have to separate the scams and bullshit before you find the gems hidden at the bottom of the compost pile.

You have to keep in mind that people don’t always know what they’re talking about. They just like to think they do. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the next book you buy will be of any value.

What are your thoughts about desktop publishing? Do you feel that self-publishing makes you a “real” writer? Do you have a way to separate the crap from the cream? Does writing a book and selling it make you a better writer – or just another hack?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. I do truly appreciate the ease with which a “real writer” can now avoid the publishing corporations and make a go at it for themselves. But I also appreciate the gatekeepers: those who act as arbiters and help us sort the onslaught of information into two categories: good and bad.

    I’ve written on the topic of gatekeepers as being highly useful and all-too-sparse online in the past, and I often get flack on it from “social web” types—Digg users, Stumblers, Redditors, and so on. The irony is: Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit are all gatekeeping devices.

    There are real writers who self-publish—no doubt about that. But as James said, how do we know which self-publishers are real writers?

    Joel Falconer’s last blog post..Top 10 Blogs to Visit When You’re Bored

  2. This reminds me of the music industrie. There used to be a few megacorporations, who decided what music was good enough to be published.

    Did they filter the crap? Sure!

    Did they maybe filter good but exotic stuff, too? Very probably.

    I think user comments and social media do a good job to help me filter the stuff.
    Way better than some years ago, when we relied on bookstore sales clerks, who definitely could not have read every single book I might be interested in.

    Still you are right, better filters are always better!

  3. “Letting James rant is so much more fun.”

    Truer words were never spoken, Harry.

    Here’s the thing: I almost never buy a book while randomly browsing Amazon. I’ve got a list of books a mile long that I haven’t read that I need to read. Some of these are classics (can you believe I’ve never read Little Women?), and some of these are books from people I know and trust (The Problogger book, for instance). Add to that books recommended by trusted sources and by favorite authors, and I’ve always got something to purchase.

    Maybe I’m on the conservative side when it comes to buying anything. Maybe I just rarely take risks. Maybe I’ve been burned so many times that caveat emptor has become a core principle for me. But really, I think I just try to be a good consumer in a market economy. I try to know something about the book before I buy it, no matter how good it’s cover is.

    What this means is that I’m rarely an early adopter. I can live with that. The risks I take tend to be in other areas of my life, rather than in the things I buy.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..Writing for Fun

  4. I’m of the live and let live school of thought. There is a ton of crap published by publishing houses too.

    I’m happy self-publishing exists, be it online, Print on Demand, or what James referred to in Amazon.

    What self-publishers don’t get is the level of promotion a publishing house can do (not that they always do).

    The again, blogs get a lot of promotions when people appreciate what’s posted… I mean I got 359 links in the last 6 months(and you guys more than 1000), this is a lot of promotion for near zero publicity budgets.

    The Chatty DM’s last blog post..Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast

  5. I think its a great point, and the main thing that puts me off. I think its always better though if the author does have a blog, so you can see what their advice and style is like, and hope that it will be the same in their book.

    liam’s last blog post..Free Theme: Outdoorsy Theme Now Available to Download

  6. @ Joel – I’ll let you know when my $350 worth of books come in. I’m half excited and half worried that I blew my money on something that is absolute crap. It’s TOO easy to be published these days.

    @ Sam – It is like the music industry, but at least there was some bar of standards. The little guys who couldn’t make it had to work harder, sure – is that a bad thing? Maybe. But when I picked up a CD, I knew the sound would be clear, the voices pure enough and that it wouldn’t be scratchy.

    Um, can’t say that with books.

    @ Bob – You know what? Reading the reviews was… interesting, because I know damned well authors hire people to go write reviews on books they’ve never read. So I can’t even get an objective opinion anymore. I was taking shots in the dark and playing Russian roulette with my cash. Not fun, that.

    @ Chatty – Self-publishers can actually do a LOT of promotion and create huge impact, so they’re not suffering from not being with a publishing house.

    I’m glad self-publishing exists as an option. I’m not glad there isn’t a filter to catch the crap.

    @ Iiam – True, good point. A blog shows right away what you’ll get if you buy. On the other hand, that means you have to go research the book. What happened to just trusting it was good because the author had it in print? All gone now.

  7. James,
    As a bookstore junkie I have to say that there has always been garbage at the bookstore. Long before Amazon existed you could go down to the old fashioned book store and throw good money down the drain on a bad book.
    I don’t know HOW many times in my life I have stood in the isle of a book store and said, “How in the good Lord’s name did this piece of crap get published???”

    I have to say, it always gave me hope…
    but it was frustrating, and it has always been buyer beware or stand there and read inserts, covers and try to get a good feel… or go by referals. As a hairdresser I can tell you that “read a good book lately?” is still one of the top ten hairdresser conversations. People are always looking for a good pageturner.

    So…now people can get their stuff out their themselves. More crap out..and maybe some more good stuff too. The REALLY good stuff will move through word of mouth.

    I don’t think we ever get out of doing our homework on researching and hunting down the good stuff. One way or another.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Searching for the Stars

  8. I should have said Harry, and not James, although I guess it was James on the search for the book…but anyway, good morning to both of you!

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Searching for the Stars

  9. I’m with Wendi on this. “Real” publishes have been publishing what some might term “crap” forever. And while self-publishing might be adding to that particular pile, it’s also getting an equal amount of good stuff out there — books that increasingly conservative, bottom-line oriented publishers don’t want to touch.

    What’s a real writer? Someone who writes. What’s a real reader? Someone with discernment.

    – Mark David

  10. Self-publishing has been around forever. Frankly, I’m happier that is is easier for individuals and small publishing firms to make a mark today. True, you get a lot of flotsam in the bargain but I think it’s a small price to pay.

    In the end, the proliferation of books written by non-establishment writers (i.e. those without a big house behind them) creates more opportunity for critics and booksellers who are willing to work harder to establish relationships with readers and dig through the pile for the real gems.

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write’s last blog post..How I Almost Started Writing: Russian River

  11. FekketCantenel says:

    “Therein lays the problem:”

    Lies. Therein lies the problem.

    My dad runs an online book-editing company; 95% of his workload is absolute drivel. No, I’m not speaking subjectively; this stuff is actually unreadable, and he can’t fix them without completely rewriting the book (which isn’t his job; he advertises grammar/proofreading and that’s it). What do all the authors do once he’s done?

    They self-publish.

    I’m not an eco-nut or anything, but I can’t help but think of the rainforests chopped down so stuff like THIS could be published:

    Now, with all the criticism, where’s the solution? Weeeell, I’ve got a suggestion. The companies could require fifty (or more!) signatures from readers who are willing to vouch for the book being excellent. If the writer can just find fifty people who like his/her book and are willing to add their email to a list, it shows that there’s some market for it. That, and that the author can market himself/herself.

  12. The discussion reminds me a bit of the discussion about webdesign or printdesign. People now have the tools to design their papers – headings, subheadings and the like. And often they use them in a way which, um, doesn’t look too professional. (I don’t think they would call themselves print-designers, though). Same with webdesign: You can find a lot of self-made looking websites, made by people who call themselves professional webdesigners and – and that’s the worst thing of all – make other people pay for it. I think, for me, that’s the point: too many people earn a lot of money delivering c*. But they can do it – because there are people who pay them.

    Ulla Hennig’s last blog post..Yellow Rose – The Symbol of friendship

  13. I’ve written Excel books for Apress, a technical publisher. My writing is the same there as it would be if I were self-publishing. What benefits the readers of the Apress books is all the other people involved in the process. My editor helps me critique me work and rewrite the sections that need improvement. The techical editor reads it for accuracy, and also suggests improvements. The copy editor, proofreader and typesetter make it easier to read, and the indexer ensures you can find most of what you’re looking for.
    Many self-publishers try to be all those people, but don’t have the expertise to do the jobs well, so the readers suffer.

    Debra Dalgleish’s last blog post..Take Measurements With Pixel Ruler

  14. Harry,

    I read a fascinating article in this month’s Harvard Business Review that had a lot to do with this subject. The author had done a ton of research looking at “The Long Tail.” You know, selling more and more of less and less. What self-publishing (and amazon) are supposed to make into some writer’s utopia.

    It may be utopia for the writers, who tend to be a bit… vain. (Why self-pub was called “vanity” publishing in the old days. We love the look of our own words on paper.) What the research discovered was that it’s not utopia for the consumers.

    I read it several times. She found that heavy users like James, me, and tons of folks who read here, are the buyers of obscure stuff out in the long tail, where light users just don’t venture.

    The amazing part was that heavy users are less satisfied with their “long tail” purchases than with their mainstream stuff. In other words, they liked they hits they bought better (and she found, liked them more than people who never try obscure stuff); and the myth of finding a rare gem is, mainly… a myth. People who are heavy users and should be more discerning, are. Crap is crap.

    The filters we used to have firmly in place (which after all, are just comprised of humans doing some of our discerning for us, when you get right down to it) do work.


    I’m with you all the way on this one. Nice to have self-publishing, might do it myself at some point (though let’s remember, that’s always been around, too, but the expense of it was a filter of sorts once), but so difficult to decide what’s junk. That’s a shame, because just as paper publishing is at its weakest from online pressures, it’s also at an ebb in quality.


    For shame. Go read it, now.



    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Is Hard Work the Only Way to Get Ahead?

  15. @ Fekket – Sorry, going to have to disagree with your grammar suggestion:

    The important distinction is that lay requires a direct object and lie does not. So you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the book down on the table (the book is the direct object).

    There is no direct object, and the problem is not ‘laying’ on anything. So it lies there. 🙂

  16. Isn’t “therein” the d.o., even though the sentence is turned around?

    It (the problem) lies therein. I think your last statement proves the lie, dear.

    It’s been a while since I went around diagramming a sentence, but still…

    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Is Hard Work the Only Way to Get Ahead?

  17. @ Kelly – I’ll admit that the “Psychology of Consumer Behavior, Edition 2million”* was an obscure purchase. Indeed. But I bought it immediately without researching because I knew that it would have been highly edited, professionally written and authored by an expert.

    “How to Glue Readers to your Screen”* took me a half an hour deliberation, a poke at used volumes for a buck and in the end, it’s still in the Amazon warehouse.

    *names changed to protect the innocent.

    @ Debra – I agree. Self-publishing should involve neutral, objective and independent people working on the tasks they are qualified for to replace the publishing house team. So many vanity publishers skip that.

    @ Ulla – Ahhh, cheap labor, cheap work. Oh yeah. We fight this all the time. Wide accessibility to various things isn’t always a great idea.

    @ Fekket – What happens when the author goes and gets 50 buddies to sign the sheet? Same thing with Amazon reviews – many are faked. It’s sad, really.

    @ Jamie – It’d be great if people *were* willing to dig for the gems. I think that the lure of fast money, especially exacerbated on the Internet, makes people skip that digging in lieu of a fast turn of the manure fork 🙂

    @ Mark – That’s true. It’s tough to be a discerning buyer, though, when you can’t get to a bookstore to open the book, look inside, read the flaps, see the shelf placement, etc etc. I’m 2 hours away from an English bookstore. SUCKS.

    @ Wendi – Um, yeah, okay, point. I own some pretty bad novels bought on moments when I *could* get to that bookstore…

  18. FekketCantenel says:

    Yes. That’s what I said. Yet you have “Therein lays the problem.” Scroll up and look at it.

  19. Signatures could and would be forged.

    But for books on demand, are there not only trees being cut down when someone actually buys that book?

    Uh, and James, I prefer not to have a few megacorps who select for me what music I want to hear and what books I want to read.
    I’d rather like to use a few megasocialwebsites to manage that 🙂

  20. Oh, well, in that case, I’m a retard, and thank you for catching that. 🙂 Going to fix now.

  21. Cute retard, though. 🙂

    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Is Hard Work the Only Way to Get Ahead?

  22. @ Sam – Understood. But if the bad musicians never made the cut, then you wouldn’t know about them and have to worry that you might have missed an opportunity to listen to crappy twangs and wails, no?

    There are various ways to print books – some print and keep stock in their basement, some only print on demand.

    On a side note, I get the ‘save the trees’ argument and I’m all for it, but let’s not turn the topic into an eco-friendly ‘we should all read off screens and not wipe our bums or blow our noses’.

    It’s a great idea. It’s not for this blog, because those types of debates may get out of hand, and I’m not feeling like moderating people’s values on the state of the earth. Sorry guys. It’s a valid, worthy topic, but not here, k?

  23. (unless everyone can remain really cool about debating saving trees and not wreck my day. If you can all do that, then okay. Have at it.)

  24. @ Kelly – Charming as hell, too.

  25. You’ll stay charming just as long as you continue to blow your nose. K?

    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Is Hard Work the Only Way to Get Ahead?

  26. @ Kelly – that mean I don’t have to wipe my bum anymore? 😉

  27. Brett Legree says:

    There are plenty of published books at bookstores that I wouldn’t use for emergency toilet paper… and then, the greatest novel ever written is probably sitting in a dusty old notebook in a shoebox, or on a hard drive somewhere.

    Crap is crap. With print books and traditional bookstores, you can flip through to see if it is crap. With Amazon, I guess you can read the reviews (and hope for the best).

    With self-published stuff, a suggestion might be to give away a couple of chapters for free.

    Or like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, give away the full text of some of your books, with the hopes that folks will like it enough to buy the real thing. It seems to work for them.

    The whole idea is something I’ve been pondering for a while. But I have to finish the book first… 🙂


    Brett Legree’s last blog post..a cog.

  28. @James, same goes for good books which never made it to publishing: you won’t miss them, because you don’t know.
    (well, actually I sometimes do miss a few good technical books on some topics. Like I miss some good new salsa music every few weeks)

    (I Agree about the eco-stuff – important topic, but not right here and now)

  29. I may be clueless, but what’s a “puppy mill?”

    Dave Navarro’s last blog post..Fighting Work-Life Balance Stress: Attack Of The 50-Ft. Goals

  30. Brett Legree says:


    Only if you don’t sit on my couch.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..a cog.

  31. A puppy mill is a breeder who pairs dogs together beyond their normal ratio for birthing with the sole intention of making money through selling puppies. They usually don’t care about mixing sibling dogs for breeding or watching out for undesirable genetic traits, such as hip displaysia. It’s dogs, dogs, dogs, as many as they can get and as fast as they can get.

    It’s also common in other farm industries, such as racehorse breeding.

  32. @Bob/NotBob Read Little Women, srsly. Especially if you have any girl type children. It’s well worth it. Heck, read it to them. Even better.

    @Brett “Or like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, give away the full text of some of your books, with the hopes that folks will like it enough to buy the real thing. It seems to work for them.” I totally think that this is the way to go (for some at least)

    Here’s the thing, with a bookstore you can flip, peruse, heck read the whole book. That’s how I read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, sitting in Barnes and Noble on a rainy day. Didn’t buy it. With Amazon you can sort of do that with some books. I think for my two bits this whole Creative Commons licensing thing combined with the eBooks thing means that we as consumers should be allowed to read all or most of something before we order the dead tree version. If you give it away they will come. Gaiman proved that. Doctrow proves it pretty consistantly. Scott Sigler got a book deal with Crown through podcasting his novels for free as have others.

    With eBooks/PoD/Vanity presses I don’t think that the percentage of dross goes up. I’ve read good and horrid self published . I’ve read good and horrid mainstream stuff. Anytime you buy a book sight unseen you take a chance, even with authors who are “proven” in your mind.

    If you write you’re a real writer, you just may not be a real good writer. Writing and selling something makes you a paid author, that’s all. I consider myself an author and self published at that, since my novel has been available for two years online (though I didn’t really publicize it) and I’ve been podcasting it for over two months now. In a few weeks I’ll be done with it and will send it to where I might make a few bucks. In the meantime I will start the agent hunt and have begun working on novel #2 the sequel.

    Scott’s last blog post..Archangel Episode 11

  33. @ James – Reviews, from untrusted sources, are crap. I agree. Especially reviews at Amazon.

    Like I said: trusted sources. When I recommend a book on my blog, it’s because I’ve read it and I give it an honest assessment. If James and Harry recommend a book, I know they’ve given it an honest look. If Tom Walters of Hoboken, NJ likes a book, I really don’t give a rat’s ass.

    @ Kelly – It’s on the list. Don’t worry.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..Writing for Fun

  34. @ Scottie – I’m familiar enough with it. My wife talks about it all the time. But yes, like I said to Wendy, it’s on the list.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..Writing for Fun

  35. That is, “like I said to Kelly.”

    Fracking coffee jitters.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..Writing for Fun

  36. Reading books is serious business and one does not choose one in random. I for one need to be reassured by a number of mentions and reviews before I will decide. I never, ever buy books on impulse. I buy a lot of books from Amazon but after the book has gone through the criteria that I have listed. Such books inevitably turn out to be written by “real” authors!

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Hair Care Products: Discounts and Deals

  37. James, please do continue to wipe your bum. According to the law of relativity, Australia may not be far enough away.

    Brett: I love both Doctorow and Stross to death. Doctorow is one of my top favorite sci-fi writers of all time. But I didn’t know Stross gave away any full-length novels. Gotta link?

    Joel Falconer’s last blog post..Top 10 Blogs to Visit When You’re Bored

  38. Brett Legree says:


    You can get Accelerando here and Stross also did a collab with Doctorow here – I haven’t looked recently in depth, but Stross may have added a surprise somewhere at his home page.

    Try here


    Brett Legree’s last blog post..a cog.

  39. Brett Legree says:

    (James will have to approve my last comment as there were too many links…)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..a cog.

  40. Thanks for all the great comments everyone, you all made my morning.

    Personally, I don’t like buying ebooks. I’m like many of you who enjoy browsing through a physical book in a store to see what’s inside. That, and I’m very skeptical. Secretly I tend to think no one else is better than I am, so it’s probably crap.

    Did I say that out loud? Damn, I’ve been hanging around James too long.

    The only books I buy on impulse are from authors I know and love (like Pratchett – doesn’t matter what he writes, I’ll buy it). Other than that, purchasing books is serious business and rarely done on a whim.

  41. Ed Erickson says:

    I’ve a passion for excellence and high quality packaging and delivery so your rant resonates with me. But desktop publishing is just that. Publishing. It’s the vehicle. The presentation. How well you can write is an altogether different issue.

    As to whether your content is valuable to others, well that’s also a different issue. And that is the starting point. That plus how well you can direct market it is really what matters. I’ve bought some ebooks that were obviously written in Word and then pdf’d… even the graphics were kinda hacked together. So, I’d give them a D for presentation. But the content was A+. Money well spent.

    I’ve also seen slick productions that were pretty shallow in content.

    I tend to buy based on referrals and reputation. That has kept me pretty safe.

    I think that if you create something that is valuable and sells well, look to make it better. It really doesn’t cost that much, especially if we’re talking ebooks and desktop publishing. You might even offer it as a free update to those who previously purchased. One can also offer the “real” book alternative as well thru a service such as

    My principle is simply to focus on excellence in all things but not to the extent that it undermines getting a product out there before it’s perfect.

  42. Hmmm, I’m going to have to start coming here much earlier. By the time I read the post and then all the comments, I feel a bit lost as to what I’m responding to in the first place, afraid I might miss the point or start addressing something already discussed. Dammit.

    I hear James’s frustration. Basically, I solve that by doing little shopping online. What I purchase from amazon is usually checked out first elsewhere, like at the library, for example, or by reading samples of it online. Otherwise, I have to accept the risk. I’ve never returned a book.

    How does one define “real author”? It seems totally subjective. If there are good (but that’s subjective) writers self-publishing (as is often the case since pubs don’t give an author much say; there are many well-known authors self-publishing now) and crap writers getting accepted by Random House, is success (bestselling) then the only real measure? Does being successful make you a real author? Ken Follett is very successful, but I think his writing is absolute shit. I read so many fantastic reviews of his book, however, including Oprah’s, and I bought it because of those so-called trusted reviews. I have tried several times, but I simply can’t get past the first few chapters. It’s not the story: the story is what attracted me in the first place. It’s what I consider shitty writing. I also strongly disliked Ian McEwan’s Saturday. But the man is considered a genius author. And I hated Angela’s Ashes, much to the world’s disbelief. If, then, it’s the individual reader who decides what a real author is (in my opinion Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Ariel Gore are real authors, for example, all self-published and not), what good are many positive reviews? I don’t go by reviews anymore, needless to say. How can I trust that person has the same standards as I do? So I go to the bookstore and read the writing first. When I order from my amazon wishlist, it’s almost always because I’ve already read something of that author, or I’ve checked out sample writing.

    I worked at a custom book publishing house for a few years. We turned nothing away, though the books were indeed at least edited. While I saw enough crap to make me weep at night over such low standards of writing, I also believe it very difficult to get published by what some might consider “real” publishers, let alone find a good agent, contrary to what people are saying, and I think self-publishing is a fantastic way to get your name out there. Christopher Paolini, the boy wonder behind Eragon, was picked up by a real publisher because he exposed himself by self-publishing first.

    As with any other product that’s peddled by different brands and has different levels of quality, sorting the shit from the real deal is a matter of hands-on experience and individual discernment. Online buying is always a risk.

    steph’s last blog post..Powerful Beyond Measure

  43. Oops, I’m sorry for the super long comment!

    steph’s last blog post..Powerful Beyond Measure

  44. I understand the argument that there is a lot more crap out there now that self-publishing and print-on-demand are so popular, but I also see the flip side of it — there was always crap out there. I have half a storage locker of crap books from ten plus years ago to prove it. So I don’t see it as any different now… only that there is more crap writing to sift through these days.

    What I do like about the new technology is that some sites — like Amazon — let us preview the books. When that is an option, I like to skim/read a bit before I buy. Otherwise, I tend to shop at the bookstore. If it’s not available at the bookstore, I might go ahead and buy online if it’s something I really want and don’t mind throwing away a few bucks for if it turns out to be a huge disappointment.

    The ebook craze really does get to me. I’ve purchased a lot of how-to ebooks over the past few years, and most of them are horrible. (Disclaimer: I’ve never read yours.) When it’s $40 I’m throwing away, I get a bit more edgy about it. At this point I’ve been burned so many times that I usually only buy from people I know aren’t hacks, and even then I’m frequently still disappointed. I ignore the sales pages entirely. (P.S. is dead to me.) And I’ll only buy them if there is a money back guarantee.

    Amy Derby’s last blog post..Freelance Productivity and Bad Moods: Survival Tips for Mixing the Two

  45. @Amy: That’s the thing, everything is so much more visible. Not only with publishing, but with all media in general. Look how much more we “see” on the news. Communications are wide open and you get the good with the bad now that practically everything is “on demand”.

  46. I gave up on ebooks in executable formats a while back. Seems that in many cases folks are reluctant to run the programs. I personally think this is a crock, but it is definitely a prejudice that is evident in many marketing forums. (notable the Warrior Forum)

    What can I say, PDFs with clickable links seem to be the way to go for now…

    Floyd Bogart’s last blog post..The Best Ping List I Have Come Across

  47. First sentences. I use first sentences as a test. I am a voracious reader and damned picky about it, but books and I…well that ‘s a long standing love affair.

    And I have a guy. I sent my guy an email just yesterday, ” looking for a book” and told him the kind of thing I was looking for. He emailed me back…you mean like a “Movable Feast with pictures?” “Yes, but here’s what I want it for…so maybe it’s not just one book.” He’s on it.

    Independent booksellers. A national treasure. Seriously. You can find them online too. The Garden District Bookstore in New Orleans, Square Books in Oxford , Ms ( Home of Faulkner and now Ace Atkins doncha know), Garcia Books in Santa Fe, Murder on the Beach near MIami…..the list goes on. They employ people who love books, not just worker bees. And they employ readers and writers, people who LOVE books. It’s like having a wine guy.

    Desktop publishing is great. I love the options it gives us. I think it is really cool that authors are finding ways to access audience and gatekeepers at the same time. I suspect most traditional publishers now have people combing the blogs and ethernet along with the in house slush pile.

    But it all goes back to that first sentence, or paragraph and page. And beyond that does it keep me reading?

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Child’s Play, Or My Inner Muse?

  48. Janice,

    Good test. Must run now to check all my first sentences. That boils it down to the critical moment.

    Can I pass the Janice-test? Ooh.


    I’m sure your family will thank you if you… keep up the good work. 😉



    Kelly’s last blog post..Road Trip: Guest Post at Just Creative Design v 2.0

  49. I recently bought a book on Internet marketing from one of the “big names.” I had checked out the references and so thought I might get something. It turned out to be worse than most of those Internet sales giveaways. It was full of claims but very light on the how-tos. I consider that I have a mid-level knowledge of Internet marketing and this book (and author) looked like I’d get more in depth stuff.


    I got nothing that I didn’t already know.

    Very irritating.

    Long story short – even the “big names” don’t always deliver. (How the Problogger book does deliver definitely).


    Alex Fayle’s last blog post..Wading Through Chueca

  50. @ Alex – did you return it or ask for your money back? I would.

  51. Michael Martine says:

    Great conversation here, and great article, Harry! Here are some thoughts that occurred to me as I read:

    The market will tell you what’s popular, but not what’s “good”. The market doesn’t care if the book is self-published or not.

    What’s happening in book publishing is the same thing as what’s happening to the record companies. I’m all for self-publishing.

    Self-publishing is now what leads to “real” publishing, because publisher see you have a ready audience. This is backwards from a few years ago, and I’m glad of it.

    Accelerando is one of the most mind-blowing things I have ever read. It will change the way you think about the future of the human race and what it means to be human, so don’t read it if you’re not ready to think about these things.

    My next self-published book will be available as a physical book. Why the hell not? I like real books.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How to Add Video to a WordPress Blog Post the Easy Way

  52. I don’t think that self-publishing is to blame, but I can understand the frustration. Taking the music industry example, I see a bunch of out-of-tune morons flailing on stage. Unfortunately, their audience is almost completely tone-deaf, so they drop bunches of money on these “musicians”. For me, I can’t discover any decent music through the normal channels and therefore need to sift through piles of crap or get recommendations from my friends.

    The way I figure it, so long as there’s a market, the crap is never going to disappear. Hell, some of it might become classic (like Mozart). People with intelligent discernment will always be in the minority.

    The best way to combat the crap is to do what we’re doing here: getting a bunch of intelligent people together to discuss standards. This community keeps their standards high, so they’ll have decent reading recommendations. That way, we can support the good works and ignore the bad.

    As far as improving self-publishing, I agree with Brett: if I self-published, I would at least include a couple chapters for free. I just don’t feel that I’m in a position right now to assume that my writing would be so epically wonderful that people should shell out money without question. Maybe that’ll change once I’m more established, though 😀

    Great post, Harry – you’ve gotten us all really thinking!

    r.l.david02 – TKD Happiness’s last blog post..Why can’t I gain belt rank? (part 2)

  53. Jamie SImmerman says:

    I am off coffee for awhile so I may be slow, but I am a little confused like Steph.

    Is the debated topic eBook authors, print authors, or both?

  54. Hi Harry – I might get flamed for saying this – but there’s a lot of crap getting published the traditional way too.

    I can see where James is coming from though. Some people write because they want to write – they have something to say – they care about doing a good job. But some people slap ebooks together because they want to make money. You can usually spot them a mile off, because they’ll say something like – “this is only 50 pages long because I haven’t padded it with fluff” – which basically means – “I’m only interested in making money and I’m too lazy to write a full length book”.

    But some great books have been self published. People self publish for many reasons – maybe their topic would be out of date if they went the traditional publishing route. Or maybe they feel that they can make more profit selling the book themselves than they could going down the traditional publishing route.

    Some people resort to self publishing when they’ve struggled to find a traditional publisher. Then once they sell a few copies, they use that success to persuade a traditional publisher to sign them up.

    It really isn’t easy to find a book publisher, because they only make a decent profit on a small percentage of books. Many don’t even sell enough copies to cover the measly advances that writers are paid.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Immigrating to Canada or Australia – Pros and Cons

  55. Hmm… so the problem really isn’t crap versus brilliant. The problem is subjective perception.

    For example, someone mentioned that Margaret Atwood is an excellent writer. But my perception is that she’s a terrible writer (yes, I have three of her books. Hate ’em. And I’m sorry, Margaret – I know you’re Canadian and all, but…)

    I love Diana Gabaldon. But many others find her boring or too chick oriented. I like David Eddings, but others believe he’s too light to matter.

    Music: I love Kid Rock. Great musician? No. John Mayer is far greater. But who is more sold/popular? Classic? It’s nice. But compared to rock? Um, yeah, rock wins. Lights, smoke, fireworks and all.

    So… yeah. The question is, rather, how to determine which books or music fall into our perception of quality, when we really can’t trust anything but ourselves?

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing

  56. Michael Martine says:

    James, that last question is a good one, and one the web helps us with, because we trust the recommendations of people who are like ourselves and because we can search and/or preview content.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How to Add Video to a WordPress Blog Post the Easy Way

  57. @ Cath – Ha, no, you’d get flamed if you hopped on and said, “Canadians SUCK and so does their BEER and I hate their MOOSE!”

    I agree that a TON of ebooks are absolute garbage. Terrible. Not worth a damned dime. Many are good – credible authors with reputations to back everything up. Goes a long way.

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing

  58. @James – I’ll have to respectfully disagree. I believe that there’s a difference between what’s actually quality and what one personally enjoys. For example, Little Women is technically good, but I did *not* enjoy that book. Same with Pride and Prejudice.

    On the other hand, a lot of people seem to enjoy “musicians” who don’t care about tuning. Poor tuning is bad and wrong (and to keep things clear, I don’t mean the differences between European and American tuning – I mean being out of tune within the band). If a person enjoys that sort of thing, that’s fine with me – they’re entitled to listen to whatever they want. That still doesn’t make the band particularly good – that just makes the band popular.

    r.l.david02 – TKD Happiness’s last blog post..Why can’t I gain belt rank? (part 2)

  59. “The question is, rather, how to determine which books or music fall into our perception of quality, when we really can’t trust anything but ourselves?”

    What’s wrong with trusting only yourself on matters of taste? Preview the book and trust yourself and your perception of quality. Let that guide you. When you open a book and start reading, you know pretty quickly if it’s your version of good or not.

    If you’re online and they don’t offer the preview, make a gut decision and go with it. You can always return the book, no?

    PS. That was me. Love Atwood. 🙂

    steph’s last blog post..Powerful Beyond Measure

  60. @ RLD – Hm, that’s an interesting point, yes. So you’re saying that Stephen King may be enjoyable, but he’s not a quality writer? And I’d agree. I *loved* Lisey’s Story, but the writing was terrible.

    @ Steph – I have no idea if I can return books to Chapters or Amazon. I’ve never done that because I’m a little weird about books I own… 🙂

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing

  61. If the piece that was self published is compelling, then whoever wrote it is indeed a real writer, why not? And technically speaking, anyone who publishes a book is a real writer. Doesn’t mean he’s a good writer. But then again, how does one assess who is a good writer and who is not? Book sales?

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..Bloomin? Onion and Mountain Dew: The Documentary

  62. Michael Martine says:

    As several people have noted, book sales are no indication of good writing. Look at The DaVinci Code, for goodness sakes. Or, rather, don’t. It was so bad I laughed out loud many times at how awful it was.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How to Add Video to a WordPress Blog Post the Easy Way

  63. @Michael – I felt as though I was being lectured to by the world’s most horrible professor. I tried to get through Angels and Demons (I don’t know how to do italics, sorry!), and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was just too horrible.

    r.l.david02 – TKD Happiness’s last blog post..Why can’t I gain belt rank? (part 2)

  64. Oh man, you guys! I *LOVE* Dan Brown!

  65. If the author of the book you’re thinking of buying keeps a blog, I think that visiting that blog would help you make an even more informed decision as to whether or not you’re going to the enjoy the book. You get to experience the author’s writing style and get a sense of whether they have anything of interest to say, for free. So I think that the fact that an author keeps a blog is a positive and not a negative.

    Marelisa’s last blog post..Finding Balance through the Four Elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air

  66. Ahahaha! Okay, now this discussion is getting funny! Poor James. But you see? Reading is so very personal you can trust only yourself when it comes to buying. I recently highly recommended a book to a client and she bought it and hated it. It’s just the way of things. Assuming people write what they’d like to read, there’s something for everyone’s tastes out there. One man’s shit is another man’s treasure.

    James, you can return, but it’s a pain in the ass.

    And I think what’s happening is that the comments are becoming so numerous, people aren’t bothering to read them all, so a lot of stuff is being repeated.

    steph’s last blog post..Powerful Beyond Measure

  67. “So… yeah. The question is, rather, how to determine which books or music fall into our perception of quality, when we really can’t trust anything but ourselves?”

    So, James, let’s just pick a real easy topic today, huh? Not. She says chuckling…scotch and cigars baby…it’s like scotch and cigars…ya gotta drink it or smoke them to a fair thee well until you understand what works and what doesn’t. What has endured and why and what is one of those rarities that comes along only once in a blue moon.

    My form of preference is a book I can hold in my hands, keep on a shelf, savor many times over if I want. But I have bought a few ebooks from people I respect. Those are non fiction, utilitarian. Functional. Do I want good design and readability. Yes. Do I want excellent content. Yes. A problem solved. Yes. Do I want to curl up with one. NO.

    How to judge the quality? Become a connoisseur.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..Child’s Play, Or My Inner Muse?

  68. Steph,

    Returning to amazon I have found to be very simple. Prying a book out of my own hands once I’ve purchased it, near impossible. Even if it’s crap.

    @ All,

    I know we all want to be individuals and self-determining and such, but there is a wisdom in the crowds. If a lot of people pan something you probably will, too. If a lot of folks say whoo-ee it’s super, you probably will. Most here are of a more intellectual bent than the unwashed masses, so we hate to say that mass opinions are accurate, but in the main they are. Knowing that “everyone on the planet” likes Little Women can’t stop RLD from being bored to tears, and Stephen King isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but as a lovely, blog-burning blanket statement, obscure stuff that stays that way, probably should.

    Kelly’s last blog post..Road Trip: Guest Post at Just Creative Design v 2.0

  69. Oh, and I agree that book sales don’t necessarily demonstrate the worth of a book. When I asked that question, it was rhetorical in nature.

    Hey, I look at some of the music out there that sells really well. And some of it I think is total crapola. So, this same concept can be applied to books!

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..Bloomin? Onion and Mountain Dew: The Documentary

  70. I’m way late to the party so most of what I have to say has already been said, but I’ll reiterate because I think it’s important.

    You can’t possibly tell me that you’ve never bought something from a “real” author and then found it to be utter crap. It’s happened several times to me.

    I personally trust bloggers more than “real” authors on a certain level. When a food blogger I know and love publishes a cookbook, that goes way up on my list of things to buy. I already know their writing style, and obviously if I read their blog then I enjoy it, so it makes sense that I’d love their cookbook as well. But then again, I won’t buy a book written by just any blogger… it has to be one I know that I love.

    Along those same lines, if and when you Pen Men, or Naomi, or Brett, or Scott publish a physical book, I’ll be first in line to buy it because I already know I love your writing styles.

    Oh, and I hate eBooks. I would much rather have a physical book in my hands than a pdf file on my computer. But again, I’ll buy them if I trust and love the author(s), which I have – both your eBooks and Naomi’s were purchases that I believe to be worthwhile.

    Regarding something being technically good vs. enjoyable, this is very true in the dance world. There are dancers who are technically amazing but boring as can be to watch, and then there are dancers who have never had a day of formal training and are a joy to watch. Then there are the lucky few who are incredible to watch.

    Allison’s last blog post..Beach Grill Maki

  71. @Micheal – *groan* Yep, agreed.

    It may be blasphemy, but I couldn’t finish the Harry Potter series either. And I could barely get started on Narnia or LotR. *ducks and runs for cover*

    Allison’s last blog post..Beach Grill Maki

  72. Michael Martine says:

    Well, as usual, we go way off track (but in a good way). Rowling has adverb-itis. Tolkien almost seems like a caricature of fantasy writing because he’s the damn original who set the standard. For most people, judging Tolkien now is like trying to judge the Barber of Seville or Flight of Valkyries after having only ever seen the old Loony Tunes cartoons.

    Let me say something else about Dan Brown since we’re off topic anyways: the stories are great and the plots are genius, and the subject matter is brilliant.

    And then he puts sentences together like an undergraduate in a writing program. I wish I had a copy laying around so pull out some choice wording to show what I mean.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How to Add Video to a WordPress Blog Post the Easy Way

  73. @ Michael – Ahh, that. See, that’s the thing. Get me in a good story, and I can ignore all the faults (see Stephen King above). When I read for pleasure, pleasure is all that matters and grammar and sentence structure go out the window.

    I liked Harry Potter but considered it low-level writing. Tolkien rocked but was too complex (literature and all, y’know), and Narnia… well, that series is in my heart forever. He could’ve written that series backwards and I would’ve loved it.

    @ Allison – Agreed. Paper in hand please.

  74. As for Harry Potter, I started reading the series before it was popular, and loved it. (I even dressed up as Harry Potter for Halloween one year… the Nimbus 2000 is still sitting in my parents’ garage. 😉 ) But then it just got old, and I couldn’t get through the books any more.

    For the Da Vinci Code, I felt like the book was a case of talking up a storm (or writing) without really having much to say. When I finished the book, my thought was, I took the time to read the whole book, and that was all? Plus, I love puzzles, so I was a little frustrated that the puzzle/mystery aspect of it wasn’t explored as much as it could have been. I think the idea was good, but it could have been explored deeper.

    Allison’s last blog post..Beach Grill Maki

  75. @James – Same for me concerning grammar and sentence structure, but if the author doesn’t develop the characters or the story enough, then I have a much harder time enjoying the book. For example, Terry Goodkind wrote a prequil to his Sword of Truth series, and although I loved the series, I hated the prequil because there was almost no character development. To bring this back to the point of the post… “real” author, and I would have bought the book primarily on the basis of the author, but to me at least, the book turned out to be utter crap. (Good thing I sat in Borders and read the entire book instead of buying it.)

    Allison’s last blog post..Beach Grill Maki

  76. I think one of the worst books I ever tried to read was The River God by Wilbur Smith.

    Calisse, talk about wordy. I swear the guy never used the same word twice for anything.

    My dad loved the book, though, and I’m sure the story was great, but it was so tedious to read.

    I never liked the LotR book series either (except for The Hobbit). The movies I liked once they came out on DVD and I could watch them at home. I like those because the special effects rocked and the Return of the King was the hot topic at SIGGRAPH that year so I got to sit in on seminars that showed how all that fantastic CGI was done.

    Dune Is another series I can’t read/watch. Like Tolkien, far too many names and places to remember.

  77. Allison: If you want to see why people think Tolkien’s so good, I actually recommend The Father Christmas Letters. Far more accessible than LotR, but it still shows off the worldbuilding skill.

    There’s a reason I don’t trust the crowds, only my own skimming–particularly when it comes to “my” young adult fantasy, since my parents introduced me to the good stuff early and as a result my standards are rather high. It’s a sort of writer complacency something direct-from-blog publishers suffer from as well. There’s an excerpt from Ursula K. LeGuin’s essay “A Citizen of Mondath” that just about covers it:

    “There is so little real criticism, that despite the very delightful and heartening feedback from and connection with the fans, the writer is his only critic. If he produces second-rate stuff, it will be bought just as fast, maybe faster sometimes, by the publishers, and the fans will buy it because it is science fiction. Only his own conscience remains to insist that he try not to be second-rate. Nobody else seems much to care. Of course, this is basically true of the practice of all writing, and all art, but it is exaggerated in science fiction.”

    Nowadays, it’s more Young Adult Fantasy that suffers from this. (Paolini, I’m looking at *you*.)

    And then you get the occasional writer chewing out a reader for giving her a three-star review…. what is this world coming to?

    Ravyn’s last blog post..Character Building: From Three Foundations

  78. Katherine Neville. Read her books.The Eight. The Magic Circle, etc. Puzzles and good writing, layers. She came out well before Brown’s Davinci Code ( which I refuse to read )

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Child’s Play, Or My Inner Muse?

  79. @Floyd: Executables are bad, bad stuff for books. That’s something designed for an application, say a book reader. A book is data, and hence should take the form of a document (such as PDF) that can be read by various executables on different operating systems.

    @James, perhaps we should pay for Dan Brown to go take a writing class. The prologue of The Da Vinci Code had me laughing so hard with its stiff, corny dialogue that when I got to the first chapter and realized it wasn’t meant to be a comedy, I put it down.

    @Allison, I always hated JK Rowling too. I don’t seem to “get” the appeal like everyone else. But Narnia and LotR I was brought up on, so we’ll diverge in our opinions there 😉

    Joel Falconer’s last blog post..Top 10 Blogs to Visit When You’re Bored

  80. Ravyn-That is a great excerpt. I have to check out the rec you gave Allison.

    I have a friend whose earlier books are actually my favorite ones. ( Not sci-fi) but his dream is yes, to be a NYT Bestselling author. For a few years he hovered beyond the top ten, close but not there yet. I did not know this, but an author cannot even make the top ten unless x number of copies are published. His publisher asked him to write more “thriller” genre than he had been doing in his series and they would bump the number of copies up to that level.

    He is his own worst critic, really demanding of himself, has pretty high standards..Hemingway…Steinbeck…the guy stuff that I love too. Did he do it?

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Child’s Play, Or My Inner Muse?

  81. @Rayvn and Janice – I’ve now put those books on my list of books to read. 🙂

    @Joel – When I tried reading them the first time, I just couldn’t get past the first chapters. They didn’t grab me and make me want to keep reading. That was several years ago though, so perhaps now is a good time for me to try them again and see if my tastes have changed.

    Allison’s last blog post..Beach Grill Maki

  82. Much of what’s published through traditional publishing houses is crap. And much of what is self-published is crap, too. I would just be willing to bet that more crap is self-published.

    Mind you, I’m speaking generally about fiction writing here. But the same is probably true for non-fiction.

    Essentially, it comes down to this:

    1. Submitting to agents and publishers requires your work to go through a vetting process that weeds out the mediocre from the really good stuff; and

    2. Anyone who thinks they can write can self-publish (and, unfortunately, just because you think you can write, doesn’t always mean you can).

    That doesn’t mean self-published writers all suck–it just means there’s no gatekeeper to make sure self-published authors are producing top quality work.

    This situation has not gone unnoticed by the Mystery Writers of America, for instance. Self-published authors cannot qualify for the Edgar, and the MWA only recognizes books released by publishers it’s chosen when determining whether an author qualifies for “active membership” (a status that allows the author full membership rights).

    Self-published mystery authors are also being excluded from conference panels, due to the poor quality of much of their work.

    I believe there are self-published authors who are probably great. I also suspect that too many of them are not so great. But when you self-publish, who’s there to save you from yourself?

    Debbi’s last blog post..Keeping an Eye on the Numbers

  83. Harry: As an ebook writer who “make the damned things in Word, convert to PDF, and be done with it,” in your words (ouch!), I think to separate the cream from the crop the buyer should dig into the seller’s background.

    First, is the seller writing from firsthand experience — or are they selling an affiliate product they know nothing about. How long have they been in their niche? What experiences have they had? What clients have the worked with? What is their educational/professional training, etc.

    I write all of my ebooks from firsthand experience, and when I buy ebooks, that’s what I want. I don’t care if the book is presented in a pretty package — all I care about is if the author knows what he/she is talking about — and can back that up with some of the things mentioned above.

    My ebooks are not fancily packaged (atlhough I am having covers designed, after successfully selling them since 2004 with a very bland black and white company logo as the cover.

    Just my 2 cents, and I do understand your frustration. But, the cream will always rise to the top — no matter the profession.


    The Freelance Writer’s Blog’s last blog post..How to Stretch Free Articles into Dollars

  84. Yeouch. Is it just me did you guys come back from your vacation with an ax to grind? Between this and “When Blogging is a Complete Waste of Words” and “Manners on the Internet: People Still Don’t Get It” you guys seem a bit dark lately. I like it.

    John Hewitt’s last blog post..A Career in Technical Writing: Life as a newbie

  85. It’s like saying mainstream movie directors are the real directors and indie directors are just playing.

    I think being a self-published author isn’t bad. I believe it just means that dealing with publishers have not been fruitful or have not been advantageous. Besides, self-publishing is good. It gives the writers who have weak negotiating skills to be able to share the world their expertise and thoughts to the world without having to fight tooth-and-nail just to get noticed and put on a pile of must-be-published manuscripts.

    Jaq’s last blog post..Halloween Costumes

  86. Hi James – I hope Canadian beer doesn’t suck, as I might be moving there. Now I forget you had moose there. Do people eat them? Are they any good?

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..No More Bold Advice

  87. @ Cath – Canadian beer is quite good 🙂 We’re rather famous for our microbrewery beer like La Maudite, and the stuff wins awards.

    Moose, deer and caribou do figure on many a man’s plate. Deer the most, caribou second and moose coming in third (limitations because of the dwindling moose populations).

    Is it common? Hm. It’s not rare, but it’s not on everyone’s supper menu. It also may not be a cross-Canada thing – there are plenty of deer in Quebec. I’m not so sure out in Wheatfield Saskatchewan. (Someone enlighten me?)

    Deer’s great. Unless it’s an old, wizened buck, the meat is nearly indistinguishable from beef. Caribou and moose taste stronger, like liver. And more gamey.

    There are no skunks in Newfoundland, btw. East coast is cool.

  88. @ John – It’s easier for me to write ranty stuff. People like it better than the how-to stuff as well. Like Harry told me the other day, “Damn, James, you’re on a roll!”

    And I’m riding this Muse to China and back, thank you!

  89. Michael Martine says:

    We have moose here in Vermont, too. The wife and I have seriously considered moving to Canada, but because we love Vermont so much and other factors, we’ve decided to stay put for now.

    Even the rants here are instructive, and I know we can trust the men when to switch gears.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How to Add Video to a WordPress Blog Post the Easy Way

  90. Vermont and Quebec are nearly identical in all respects. I’ve been down there a couple of times (just inside the state border) and it looks just like home. Weird as hell not to hear French or notice funny looking state troopers. Or cops. Or police. Or whatever you people call them lol

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Ethics, Paid Reviews and Affiliate Programs

  91. @Yuwanda: The article wasn’t a slight against you by any means (my apologies if you took it that way). It’s just in my mind as a designer form goes hand in hand with function. A person could have the best content on the face of the earth, but if it’s not presented properly, then a lot of times all that effort goes right down the drain.

    The same goes for design. Anyone can have a slick looking site or book, but if the content is lacking, the buyer is going to feel cheated (I know I’ve had this happen to me on a number of occasions because I am such a sucker for packaging).

    When you pour your heart into a project, no matter which approach you’re starting from (writing or design) you have to make sure it’s all the best it can possibly be – even if that means outsourcing to someone who can pick up the ball for the skills you might not be that comfortable doing.

    Take for example our old blog site, the design was okay, the content was kick ass, but the moment we cleaned up our act and did a redesign we took off like a shot. I can’t help but think how much more successful we’d be now if we had done it “right” the first time.

  92. There’s nothing wrong with being a self-published author. It depends on what you’re trying to publish and (unfortunately) the perceptions of those in the genre in which you’re trying to establish career credentials.

    I think self-publishing and the Web have provided great opportunities for good writers who might not otherwise get their chance to shine. “Chicken Soup for the Soul” is one such success story. Regardless of what you think of the book (I’ve never read it), I can think of great authors who have started off self-published.

    The main problem is that when they’re bad, they tend to be really bad.

    Debbi’s last blog post..Keeping an Eye on the Numbers

  93. Brett Legree says:

    Vermont (from les verts monts = Green Mountains) – yes, very similar to Quebec because of history…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the greatest thing since sliced vikings.

  94. Harry: I didn’t take your comment as a slight at all. I just wanted to give the other side because I’ve been in that boat a long time — that’s all.

    I agree with what you said for the most part. You’re especially right when you say doing it right the first time is infinitely better. I think a lot of people don’t have time time, money or skills to do that though, so they start with what they have and build up to it. That was the case for me.

    Finally, I can totally see where a new design might make a site”[take] off like a shot” as you say, which is why I’m so excited about the site redesign you all are handling for me. You’re truly a genius at what you do.

    Wonderful discussion you started here. I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments.


    The Freelance Writer’s Blog’s last blog post..How to Stretch Free Articles into Dollars

  95. Brett,

    Now I’m depressed. Within miles of the fine state for a great portion of my life, know all the history backward and forward, and I never caught that. Some language person I am. 🙁

    Kelly’s last blog post..How You Can Be Remarkable: Write Your Own Story

  96. Brett Legree says:


    Don’t worry 🙂 I cheated a while back when researching it as a possible place to live – the Wikipedia entry (as usual) supplies all kinds of trivia. I know when I learned the origins of the name, it was a forehead slapper for me too…


    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the greatest thing since sliced vikings.

  97. I agree that there are poorly written books from both traditional publishers and self-publishers, but probably a higher percentage from self-publishers. Some writers self-publish because they want complete control, and that means no editing, among other things.

    I work with self-publishing authors, and my self-publishing clients know they have to work a lot harder to produce a successful book than an author who publishes with a traditional publisher. In addition to my editing, I encourage writers to get input from several other people, especially people who know about the subject. I arrange for cover and interior design as well as printing. Though some choose POD, most do short press runs.

    The authors I work with don’t expect to sell many books through bookstores and traditional distribution channels, although they make their books avaialble on Amazon and sometimes through distributors to bookstores. They include their books in Amazon and Google’s search inside the book programs and offer the first three chapters free on their Web sites so potential buyers can read enough to determine if they like the book or not.

    Usually these authors have well-defined target audiences and marketing plans. One author of prehistoric Indian novels works the pow-wow circuit because people who attend pow-wows love her books. Another who writes Christian nonfiction speaks at churches, and an author of historical fiction markets through speaking on history and genealogy.

    I wrote a series of posts on self-publishing, which I then compiled into one of those tacky Word-converted-to-PDF e-books to have all the posts available in one place for writers considering self-publishing. The Self-Publishing Primer is available free on my blog.

    Lillie Ammann’s last blog post..Guest Post Follow-Up

  98. @ Lillie

    What you say is all true–it’s hard work to self-publish.

    The Self-Publishing Primer sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

    Debbi’s last blog post..Keeping an Eye on the Numbers

  99. @ James

    Bad attitude = Good Response

    Got it.

    John Hewitt’s last blog post..A Career in Technical Writing: Life as a newbie

  100. Hello.

    First off – I want to say how nice and engaging I find your site – good show.

    I found you guys through a site that posted the “Top 60 Blogs for Freelance Writers” and scrolling down, reading your name, I immediately thought, “wow… you sell Pen -is-Mightiers? – awesome!” And I actually did Laugh Out Loud when I found one of your posts referencing Sean Connery…

    Anyway, I am new to all this “Bloggery” – started March 2, 2008 – but now find myself saying things like, “my readers” and “just Google me” out in the open, to actual people (my parents still don’t quite understand).

    And my site has absolutely nothing to do with “writing” – but you are more then welcome to drop in and bounce out – although I do not think I will be paying anyone soon to rip me up on a nice Sunday Morning.

    Thanks for the great site.

    I shall use/borrow/steal the ideas I find useful – LOL! (no really, I will)


    Greg Walters’s last blog post..Sometimes…You Wear Stretchy Pants in Your Room…is for fun..

  101. @ Greg – Aye, the Penis Mightier indeed! (Though I’ll admit, someone had to send me the YouTube video of our Canadian Icon before I understood what was so funny about that 😉

    Cheers to being a new blogger, and I wish you many fruitful posts to come.

  102. Big issue–reading books has taken a big dive. Then there is the publishing model that is broken in many ways. Many independents can’t buy books for the price that big box stores or chains sell them for. AND they allow booksellers to send them back six months later with no questions asked.

    Recently I read about Cell Phone Books–ewww.

    In Japan, five of the top selling books were cell phone books and one was made into a hard cover that sold 400,000 copies.

    When I ran a group for writers I always hosted guest authors and publishers. Then I had to start screening author submissions because many were so poorly written–and most not edited. They tended to be self-published, vanity publishing houses, or print on demand (POD).

    I think in some cases, such as specialty books or backlisted titles out of print, POD and other models might be a great thing.

    However, people dream of having their books published and don’t want to got through the work of earning the reward. Hence an abundance of poor material.

    Case in point, one of the local writers hooked up with a new “publisher” (someone who decided to use POD to make money off writers wanting to be published).

    The local bookstore asked me about it and I shared my concerns. Sure enough, bad reports are circulating through town. I knew both the “publisher” and the striving writer–neither of which I considered to be at a level to be putting material out on the market.

    Personally, I look at main publishing houses for the books I purchase because they screen, edit, and then edit some more. The book might not be your cup of tea–but it is at least gone through a filtering process.

    It is hard enough to be published–and today it is harder for those who are published by legitimate houses to make contact with local booksellers because of the crap circulating.

    Online things are getting really out of hand. People claim expertise just because they put out an ebook–some are great but more seem to be a waste of time and money.

    The solution? You tell me!

    Diana L Guerrero’s last blog post..Branding: A Business Slideshow

  103. The next time someone questions whether a blogger or self-published writer is a real author, and argue that publishing companies and editors vet the authors and so on, bring up the topic of celebrity books. Because, how many of those “celebrity written” books would actually have been published if the “writer” wasn’t a celebrity?

    dcr’s last blog post..The Great Vanishing of the Experts

  104. What makes someone a real author? Having the courage to put words down on paper, create content, and put it out into the marketplace. Millions aspire to doing it, few do.

    Now just because you are an author doesn’t make you great or even good. Everyone needs time to hone their craft and put in their 10,000 hours of training and learning.

    However in a commercial society we let the marketplace be the judge of the value of your efforts. A hack may become a billionaire while a great writer dies in poverty. No one says the world is just.

    I love self publishing and think it’s great that I don’t have to wait for someone to validate what I have to say.

    I also wish there were more great books (I am an avid reader) but in the meanwhile, I will wait for the cream to rise to the top.

    Thanks for letting me comment!

    Bernie Malonson


  1. […] any hack with a self-publishing program can pump out a book and have it sold on Amazon. Such is the paradox of desktop publishing. What’s “real” […]

  2. The Great Equalizer — Writer Dad says:

    […] discussed the varying values of an Ebook. Second, a few weeks ago, Men With Pens were discussing Real Authors.  Harry said, “If you write, you’re a writer. If you have a blog, consider yourself published. […]

  3. […] could anyone become a real author without knowing what real authors […]

  4. […] article Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing inspired a spirited discussion on […]

  5. Buying an Ebook? 4 Things to Look for Before You Purchase : Inkwell Editorial says:

    […] article Real Authors and the Paradox of Desktop Publishing inspired a spirited discussion on […]

Leave a Comment