Mind the gap

The Thinking Read

Over on Twitter the other day, @RealHeatherOB asked an interesting question “What can self-published and Indie authors do to close the quality gap between trad and self-publishing?” And I dashed off a quick answer – but the topic deserves more than 280 characters.

Some very interesting answers were put forward. There was, of course, the “NOT my book” crowd who argued ardently that there was no quality gap.

I beg to differ. In my own experience I have read some stellar novels that were self-published or from an independent press. And some that were not.

I have slogged my way through several painful reads. My husband has summed those books up well, “they tell a good story but are badly written.” In those cases, it is the story that kept me turning pages. That and I am reluctant to ‘quit’ a book.

Some respondents argued that the traditional publishing industry had so gone to pot that, again, there was no gap. I can’t contradict the assertion that I have seen far too many <ahem> less-than-stellar products come out of traditional publishing recently. It’s so disheartening when I have to read a traditionally published novel with a blue pencil in my hand. And that has happened.

So is there a quality gap at all? In my opinion, yes, there is. In both self-publishing and indie pubs there are spectacular books. And there are not. In traditional publishing there are spectacular products, and there are not.

Both sides of the industry represent both ends of the spectrum. Yes, there is a quality gap, but no pocket of the industry is immune. Is there more in self-pub and indie pub? In my opinion, yes.

So why would there exist a higher ratio of ouch to meh to stellar efforts in self and indie publishing-that quality gap? I can think of several reasons-


Yes, the ‘big houses’ have more resources. But as large sections of the self and indie pub community (SAIPComm) rightly point out – that doesn’t guarantee a stellar product. They also point out that there are resources available to individual authors.

Professional editing, proofing, cover design, and much more are all avilable for a price. Stellar products can and have risen out of the SAIPComm. So, perhaps resources is not a great argument for the quality gap.

And, as a reader* pointed out, “The cost of those resources will always leave a gap.” It is an important observation. In some ways, the moneyed, privileged section of society still has easier access to most of the resources required to be published in a professional and polished package.


The advent of the internet and on-demand publishing, Kindle Unlimited and Vella, and the rise of indie publishers has enabled the dream of being ‘an author’ to become reachable for many people who previously might never have attempted the journey.

They have a story burning in them. They write it and, without an appreciation of the polishing that a raw manuscript often needs, they hit ‘publish.’ Their story might be a Pulitzer, a Nobel, or a Newbury(?) in the rough, but it never passes beyond rough.


There will always be a section of modern society that only wants money. And, if they can churn out three crappy stories, publish them and sit back and let the quarters roll in – they will. Hubs has spent .99 cents on a story with Kindle and found it unreadable. The author still got their slice.


A ‘cachet’ or romanticism is still associated with the line “I am an author.” And, yes, people can dash off a story and push ‘publish’ – maybe not solely to be able to add author to their CV, but it does influence.

Reader Apathy

I could sit here and rant all day about the ‘star system’ of rating. I have very strong opinions on the topic. But, without honest reviews, there will be little sifting of the good from the dross done by the readers. Which in turn, perpetuates the quality gap.

So, with a constant influx of mediocre to outright bad writing into the SAIPComm, what can an author do to rise above the background? 

Win awards? Win contests? Create buzz? Social Media? #BookTwitter #InstaBook #BookTok? Reviews?

I’m going to stop here because this is already pretty long, and the answers are another thread. What to do is a puzzlement to which I don’t have the answer. I wish I did.

But until we do have a way to sift and grade quality, please, mind the gap.

(I’ll happily link to you if you like. But I try not to assume for reasons of privacy)*

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