Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Self Publishing: Get Your Facts Straight

Daniel Poynter is a self-styled expert on the self-publishing world. He has written and self-published many books which he claims have sold than a million copies worldwide. He offers a self-publishing consultancy service, and has a web site packed full of information for the aspiring self-publisher. And he's not alone: a quick Google reveals thousands of websites which suggest that self-publishing is a good route to success.

Daniel Poynter offers for sale a list of his own self-published books, and he also sells "My Book Project In A Binder" (you'll need to scroll nearly all the way down to find it), which is priced at $297 and seems to consist of a zippered three-ring binder with a CD, some paper and coloured dividers. He is nothing if not resourceful.

However, in his zeal to promote self publishing as a viable route into print (and, by doing so, to sell a few more copies of his self-published books about self-publishing) Mr Poynter has allowed a few errors to creep onto his site. In this PDF (which will download if you click the link), Poynter lists several authors who he claims are self-publishing successes. But in many cases the writers he names didn’t actually self publish: either publishing was a whole different business when the writers were alive (like William Blake), or they didn't self-publish anything (like John Grisham). And while it's true that Mark Twain did self-publish he almost bankrupted himself in the process, and then had to undertake a lecture tour to pay off the resulting debts which nearly killed him. So when you read sites like Dan Poynter's, be very sceptical about some of the claims you find: and remember The Big Question About Self-Publishing Successes.


Barb said...

Wow. William Blake and Mark Twain are a bit of a stretch. If it was all so profitable, then there would so many success stories. Surely there would be heaps of modern day authors to select from.

Mark Twain isn't going to impress me. Mavis from the road, making a mint on her sweet novel about her dancing parrot - now that would be self publishing working at the level that it needs to.

I may have a narrow view here, but if I am not being published by one of the traditional houses, then something isn't ready yet. Whether that's me, my writing or some other factor. The world doesn't need any more half-baked novels.

Loren Eaton said...

Also beware of pricing akin to that of self-annointed real-estate gurus.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

What a great post! I often get annoyed at the claims made by some about self publishing. This is a good example. Thank you!

Jane Smith said...

I'm often accused of being against self-publishing (especially on my little self-publishing review blog), but that's not the case: I think it's an excellent way for certain writers, with particular types of books, to get into print.

What I really, REALLY don't like is the way that so much misinformation is presented as fact (you don't even want to get me started on the whole "John Grisham self-published" myth!). It misleads people into self-publishing when they really don't have a hope of doing well.

Thanks, all, for the kind words. It's much appreciated.

Maggie Dana said...

Well said, Barb. I know several disappointed authors who got sucked into self-publishing schemes, the most insidious being PublishAmerica.

Then there are two other authors I know who've set up their own publishing imprints. Sadly, their novels are just as dire as the ones produced by PA and other vanity presses.

This wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago because the technology wasn't up to it, but now ... anyone can get a bunch of ISBN numbers, fire up Microsoft Word, and launch mediocre books onto unsuspecting readers.

I could go on and on about self-publishing, but I'll shut up now before I inadvertently offend anyone.

Maggie Dana said...

Jane, I totally agree with you about the need for self-publishing in certain cases, such as non-fiction with a narrow but focused readership, or someone who wants to write a memoir for his/her family.

For novels, it's a disaster. They're clogging up the system, killing innocent trees, and diluting the success of authors who're published by mainstream houses.

I'm afraid the word 'publish' has been irretrievably wrecked.

Jane Smith said...

Mags, don't worry: you couldn't possibly offend people as much as I do!

I can vouch for the fact that there are many truly horrible self-published books out there: I have a little blog called The Self-Publishing Review (there's another much bigger website out there with the same name which is very pro-self-publishing, which started a few months after mine) where I review all the self-published books which are submitted.

Unlike other review sites I don't filter the submissions: I take on just about anything that's offered; and unlike other self-publishing review sites, I consider those books from the viewpoint of an editor at a mainstream publishing house (because that's what I used to be).

I count the errors and instances of bad writing, and stop when I reach fifteen.

So far, I've only read one book to the end.

Most of the mistakes I find are very basic: spelling errors, inconsistent or incorrect punctuation, exposition, and (worst of all) dull writing. All but the last one could so easily be avoided and yet the books are published, and will remain on the internet for years.

Anonymous said...

Jane, THANK YOU for bringing this to light. Poynter is fabulous at one thing; marketing Poynter. I've met him a few times and found him to be woefully undereducated to the industry - enough that it makes me wince when he opens his mouth to speak. My observations are far from unique to others in the industry.

Self pubbing is achingly hard and expensive work, and he should not be an author's sole reference for this endeavor.

pinkgecko said...

I hate people who try to sell their 'advice' for ridiculous prices. Self publishing sounds attractive but surely nothing can beat the satisfaction of someone else having faith in your work to the extent that they will invest in it.

catdownunder said...

$297? Don't you mean $2.97?

none said...

Nope. It's $297.00 (I just went and looked).

Jane Smith said...

Lynn, I have nothing against Mr Poynter personally: I just wish he'd check his facts a little more carefully, because by not doing so he's misleading a lot of people.

I think that the biggest thing that writers can learn from him is probably how to market themselves, not how to self-publish.

And yes: the cost of that project folder IS $297.00, not $2.97. Staggering, isn't it? I have to admire his chutzpah on that one and only wish I could think up something with such potential for profit!

Kristen said...


They're clogging up the system, killing innocent trees...Well, actually, self-published books are far more environmentally sound. In the case of POD books, anyway. They're not printed until they're ordered.

Unlike mainstream published books, which are ordered for bookstores, stored on shelves, and which may or may not sell. Which means they are, often, printed for nothing and then disposed of.

Killing innocent trees, if you will.


Kristen said...


Jane - you're right about the filtering of self-published books at the Self-Publishing Review you point to (the one that isn't yours).

However, in a new-ish development, the very first page of self-published novels submitted by writers are now reviewed in the Page One Review section of that website. With no filtering to make sure they're worth reading, first.

It used to be just me doing it, but now, I think, Steven Reynolds (a fairly prolific reviewer) will be joining in.

Victoria Strauss said...

John Kremer's Self-Publishing Hall of Fame contains many of the same errors and urban legends.

Jane Smith said...

Kristen, I was told that The Other Self-Publishing Review had discussed charging for reviews in future: I don't know how true this is; can you confirm if this the case?

Victoria, thank you for that link: I know what I'll be reading this evening. Sometimes my editorial voyeurism overwhelms me.

Maggie Dana said...

I just took a peek at Poynter's web site. His grammar is appalling, especially in the final paragraph.

Kristen said...


The site thinking about charging for reviews was the PODler - not the Self-Publishing review.

I think (but I'm not certain) the PODler has decided against charging.

There's a discussion posted at the (other) Self-Publishing Review here ( if you're interested.

Jane Smith said...

Kristen, thanks for clarifying that for me: I'm glad that the other site has probably decided against it because it seems like a supremely bad move to me. I shall watch out for such developments, though. I doubt that anyone would pay for my reviews...!