Last year, a blog post of mine about the sales statistics of vanity-published books sparked a lot of attention (I’ll have to quote Victoria Strauss more often). First, Publishers’ Marketplace linked to the piece and a few hundred extra visitors found their way here as a result; then literary agent extraordinaire Janet Reid linked to it too, and sent me a few hundred more visitors.
Both my post and Janet’s attracted the attention of a blogger who was clearly aggrieved by our comments. He felt that by focusing on sales numbers we were ignoring the potential quality of the books concerned. He wrote an article for the Self Publishing Review (that’s not my blog of the same name, by the way, which predates the other site of the same name) titled Self-Published Sales Figures Don’t Matter in which he, too, linked to me. His stance was that with self-published books it’s the quality of the book that matters, not the quantity of copies that they sell; and that the point of self-publishing is to reach out to new readers who wouldn’t get to read a book that never left your hard-drive.
I have to agree with him that quality is what matters with books: this is why most submissions are rejected by mainstream publishers—they just aren’t good enough. And while “good enough” can be a little difficult to define, “not good enough” is very easy to spot: almost every single one of the self-published books I’ve been sent for my self publishing review blog has slotted into this category, some far more easily than others (and bear in mind that I’ve got a backlog of book reviews waiting to be scheduled for publication, and most of them didn’t make the grade). In my direct experience, there is a desperate lack of quality in most self-published books.
The issue of sales has to be looked at, too. The suggestion that it’s more important for the self-published writer to reach out to readers than to sell lots of copies is illogical: because no matter whether books are self-published or published through more mainstream channels, those books are going to have to reach their potential readers in order to be read: but if the books don’t sell, how will the readers be able to read them?