Self-Published Authors Aren’t Real Authors: 3 Reasons Behind the Belief


Last Wednesday, I tackled a controversial – though very silly – question: Are self-published authors real authors?

It was based on a Maryland Writers’ Association Facebook page post, which garnered a lot of interesting responses. And when I posted my own reaction via Innovative Editing to the Pennwriters Facebook page… I got more of the same.

It’s amazing how much passion this question can inspire. On both sides of the debate.

It’s also amazing how little logic it can inspire. On both sides of the debate.

For instance, just because a concept sounds or even is elitist doesn’t make it wrong. It might be snooty, but snooty and inaccurate aren’t antonyms.

On the flipside, as I explained last week, the dictionary definition of “author” is irrefutable. If you wrote a story, you’re an author. And if you published the story you wrote, you’re a published author.

So why do so many traditionally published authors, publishers, literary agents, book critics and the like say otherwise? There are three main reasons.

Two of them aren’t flattering to the “snooty” side of the debate. One of them isn’t flattering to the “inclusive” end.

For kicks and giggles, let’s start by attacking inclusivity.

Here’s the thing about inclusivity: It’s got its good points and its bad points.

On the one hand, nobody’s left out!

On the other, standards go by the wayside.

In the publishing world, the “snooty” traditional publishers, literary agents, book critics and the like are well-educated in their fields. For the most part, they have very strong grasps on words and how to arrange them for maximum engagement and profit.

Therefore, they come from a professional position on which book manuscripts to accept. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Because of them, most traditionally published books contain coherent messages and polished presentations.

When it comes to self-publishing, there are no such guardians of the gate. Anyone who wants to walk down that road can… even if they’re utterly untrained in doing so. They don’t even have to put any real effort into their manuscripts to be real authors.

As we also mentioned last Wednesday, there are a lot of self-published examples to prove that point correct. They’re part of the reason why so many traditionally published authors, publishers, literary agents, book critics and even many readers won’t give credit where credit’s due.

Here’s a less flattering – but still understandable – reason why some people say that self-published authors aren’t real authors.

It’s because being a gate guardian pays money.

Before you sneer at them for that, this is their livelihoods we’re talking about. Moreover, these livelihoods come from a business model that somewhat struggles to survive.

Outsiders don’t always understand this, but the publishing world makes its money off a very limited set of authors. Most of the books they put out fall flat or barely break even.

Therefore, every manuscript they sign represents a significant risk they’re taking. And every manuscript they don’t sign that makes a lot of money is a significant opportunity they missed.

Contrary to popular belief, there are some self-published authors out there who do very, very, very well for themselves. We’re talking about six-figure salaries.

They’re not the norm, I know, but they’re not unicorns either. They do exist.

Other self-published authors make sizable five-figure salaries. And still more make four or three figures: tidy little sums that give them extra spending power… and detract from traditional publishers’ potential pool.

As such, there’s a natural competition that’s developed between the two worlds, if not flat-out animosity.

Last and least impressive is the fact that being a gate guardian comes with prestige and power. And those are exceptionally addictive elements to foster.

What king has ever stepped down from his throne for the good of his people? Or what politician has ever resigned without significant pressure? There are a few, but not many.

We can find the same appeal to prestige and power with CEOs, school administrators, Wall Street businessmen and women, and every other position possible. Pecking orders aren’t just for chickens. They’re deeply ingrained in every group or society throughout history, with everyone looking for ways to one-up everyone else.

And, let’s face it, having someone else determine your “authorship” sounds a whole lot more prestigious than declaring it yourself. Just like being able to determine who is and isn’t a "real author" is a big deal worth bragging about.

If that doesn’t sound flattering to the traditionally published authors, publishers, literary agents, and book critics out there, it's not. Sometimes, acting human just isn’t.

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