“Pretty Good for Being Self-Published”—Insult?


There are many comments out there about self-publishing, both good and bad.

Let’s look at a particular back-handed compliment: “Your book is pretty good for a self-published author.”

Halfway through this remark you feel flattered. As you prepare to express a simple thank you, your cheeks turn red, your blood boils, and you think to yourself, “Hey, what are you trying to imply?”

It’s like a husband telling his wife that she did pretty good for a girl (a great line if you want an excuse to sleep on the sofa).

On the one hand, a self-published author is challenged with many tasks: writing, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. It’s no easy task for one person to master all of this, or even to perfect a complete book after paying for some services. An indie book that’s well-written and has a good storyline, but has a few extra typos and good-though-not-perfect formatting is a pretty good book. If one of the big publishers had picked this book up, it might have only a couple of typos and perfect formatting. So wouldn’t it be fair to say that it’s pretty good for being self-published?

Now we switch hands. If you read a book, it’s either pretty good or it isn’t. A customer shouldn’t expect to make allowances and settle for something less. If the customer sees an issue and deems it to be minor, it’s still a pretty good book; if the customer sees an issue and views it as a problem, it’s not a pretty good book. Ultimately, it’s each customer’s opinion that matters. After investing money on a product plus the time to use it, you have expectations for what to receive in exchange for your investment. The value of the product depends on the quality of the product in relation to the investment. (Making allowances for where the product came from is purely psychological on the part of the customer. If you try two colas blindfolded, you might be surprised at which one you prefer.)

Of course, it would have been less hostile to say, “I really enjoyed your book. Would you mind if I offered a minor suggestion?”

You can see the cup as half full: “It’s a pretty good book.”

Or you can see the cup as half empty: “For being self-published.”

Really, the choice is yours.

By the nature of the statement, the person is obviously biased toward traditional publishing. If you get someone who favors traditional publishing to call your self-published book “pretty good,” maybe you should smile about this instead of getting frustrated about it.

Another thing you can do is use it as motivation. If you already have a pretty good book, some extra motivation might lead to a really nice future. 🙂

The last thing you want to do is look unprofessional. Don’t let a remark like this lure you into looking amateurish. Building a reputation takes time and patience, but it can be lost as quickly as losing your temper.

There is plenty of negativity out there. Find the good in it. Find some motivation in it. Learn to cope with it. Learn to stay away from it as much as you can.

There is plenty of positivity out there, too. Seek this. It’s easy to find, especially if you look for it.

* * *

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Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

19 comments on ““Pretty Good for Being Self-Published”—Insult?

  1. This reminds me of a friend in one of the “professional” professions who, early on in his career was told “This work is good for your level.”

    Um… Thanks?

    I think I’d be insulted, but try not to show it. Just say thank you, and maybe ask what they feel should be improved.

  2. The term self-published is actually not necessarily true – it implies that you have done the whole process yourself which is not always the case. In fact it can take a team of people who are as talented and professional but simply do not work for a mainstream publishing house. So I choose not to be insulted.

  3. There seems to be, even among some indies, a misconception that everyone who writes dreams of being traditionally published, which is NOT always the case. “Your book is pretty good for being self-published,” would probably bring the response from me, “Certainly it is better.” Which I dare say would open up a discussion on the virtues of self publishing. That’s just my personality. I would see the flattery in it, but I doubt if I would drop it. Just sayin.

    • You have a great point there about the benefits of indie publishing. Perhaps that is a fitting reply, as anyone who would try to provoke an indie author with such a remark is obviously hoping for a lively debate. Personally, though, I would get out my twelve-foot pole and measure a conservative response (or lack thereof). 🙂

  4. I would take it as a compliment but the “for being self-published” would sting and probably stay with me. Maybe says more about my idea of trad V self-publishing than anything else…

  5. Yikes… that’s what we call “a teachable moment.” Though if I’m honest… I’d be happy to hear that, in general, since I have neither self or traditionally published anything yet 😉 Glass half full for ya.

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