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Ethics & Excellence: FAQs

ALLi’s mission is “ethics and excellence in self-publishing”.

Here are some of the questions authors most frequently ask about self-publishing standards and quality.

Why are so many self-published books such poor quality?

As self-publishing goes mainstream, more and more authors are producing books that are indistinguishable in quality from those produced by trade publishing houses. In many cases, we are hiring the same freelance editors and designers. And some indies are going way beyond the standard book, experimenting technologically and artistically.

When authors set out to publish, most of them don’t have the necessary skills to do so. They may not know or care about publishing standards or they may publish too soon.

Writing a good book is highly challenging, as is publishing well. Self-publishing has not made either of those two feats easy.

Allowing an outpouring of writing as creative expression is easy, as is putting a book up on a digital platform. Acquiring good craft skills in writing or publishing is not. It requires a long apprenticeship. This is one of ALLi’s core functions, to help authors learn good craft skills from each other.

But there are two dimensions to this complaint about poor standards, depending on whether it comes from the perspective of old publishing or new.

Traditionally, publishing has worked from a scarcity model, grounded in commercial principles. It selected a few books to be published and protected their value with copyright. Now we are working from an abundance model, grounded in creative principles. In an abundance model, excess and redundancy are no cause for concern.

This is how nature, the fundamental model for all creativity works. An oak tree throws a lot of acorns to get one baby oak. A lot of sperm miss out on the egg.

Yes, self-publishing is enabling more poor-quality books to be published than ever before but what’s important in an abundance model is not how many bad books are enabled — with the sophisticated algorithms, search engines, keywords and sampling that readers enjoy today, they quickly fade into invisibility — but that many more good books are being enabled.

Creativity is never a zero sum game. More bad books doesn’t mean fewer good books. The opposite. More masterpieces emerge at the top, the expanded tip of an enlarged mountain.

Despite the growing mountain of sub-standard books, it’s not at all difficult to find great writing, and great self-published writing, these days.

The complaints about bad books drowning out the good often come from those who have vested interest. Online algorithms and book search are actually very effective — and getting better.

And from a writing, rather than the publishing, perspective, a bad book is only a precursor to a better one, if the writer keeps writing and learning.

It is one of ALLi’s key objectives to encourage indie author excellence. We encourage our members to aim high and commit to continuous creative development in writing, production and promotion.

Does Digital Publishing Endanger Print Books, Bookstores and Libraries?

We don’t believe so and the evidence so far is that digital publishing is growing writing and reading in all formats, audio (abooks) and print (pbooks) as well as electronic (ebooks).

It is true that most indie authors make most of their income from ebooks but most also choose to produce print editions, generally through POD (print-on-demand). Others work with publishing houses for their print editions.

More and more indie authors now produce audiobooks too.

ALLi encourages our members to publish as widely as possible (to Apple iBooks, Kobo, and IngramSpark as well as Amazon) and in as many formats as affordable.

Do I have to hire an editor? I can’t afford it.

On the contrary, you can’t afford to not hire an editor. Editing is an essential for all writers, at every stage of development. All prizewinning and popular authors like Hilary Mantel and Stephen King need, and appreciate, their editors. You need one too.

Writing falls into the realm of art and self-expression. So too does self-publishing, if you are doing it just for yourself, or family and friends. Even then, you might choose to get some professional help.

But for the indie author and author-publisher, who hopes to reach readers, it must be factored in. Publishing is a business and every business needs a budget. If you want to sell and sell well, you need to budget for editorial, proofreading, cover design and, if you intend to publish a book with complex design features, probably a formatter/typesetter too. You will also need a good website and social media set-up to market yourself and your book.

These are the expenses of being in the publishing business.

As a member of ALLi, you will be connected with our team, advisors other experienced authors who will help, support and guide you in making savvy commercial choices. We also provide a database of reputable and reasonably-priced service providers who are vetted ALLi Partner Members.

And we offer many discounts and deals that reduce your expenses. If you use just a few of these, you’ll earn back your membership fees immediately.

If I self-publish, can I still attract a trade publisher?

Despite those who like to create a phony war between author- versus trade-publishing, many of our members move happily between these options. Writers can now choose different pathways for different projects, and in different phases of their writing lives. This is a good thing.

The stigma that once surrounded self-publishing is dissolving, as more indies experience commercial and creative success. Agents and publishers now trawl author-publishing sites (including this one) looking for writers with proven talent and fan-bases.

It’s all part of a growing movement towards author empowerment, which ALLi is proud to foster and encourage.

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