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Am I a book publishing snob?

October 18th, 2013 by Bob Bly

I’m afraid that when I tell you what I am about to tell you, you’ll either be offended or think I’m a jerk.

But, because I always tell you the complete and unvarnished truth about the subjects we discuss, I’m going to go ahead and tell you anyway.

So here it goes: for more years than I can count, I secretly looked down upon people who self-published their books.

I was a mainstream book publishing elitist and snob.

Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me or call me a philistine, remember that I grew up in the traditional book publishing world … and so that was what I knew and loved.

If I had self-published my first book, I might well have become a self-publishing cheerleader.

But as it happened, when I wrote my first book proposal in 1981, the first agent I took it to agreed to represent it … and the first publisher he showed it to, McGraw-Hill, bought it for an $8,500 advance (and it was a short book).

For all my books since then … more than 80 to date … I have had them published by mainstream publishing houses including John Wiley & Sons, HarperCollins, Henry Holt, Prentice Hall, and New American Library.

I always preferred traditional publishing to self-publishing for these reasons:

1—It was a lot less work. I only had to write the book. The publisher took care of designing, printing, storing, shipping, and selling it.

2—It cost me nothing out of pocket. And it paid me immediate income – an advance – even before the book was published.

3—There was much more prestige in those days being published by a “real” publishing house than by having it printed at your own expense.

At least one famous self-publishing guru disputes me on this. He says: “The reader doesn’t look to see or care about who published the book; he only cares who the author is and what the book is about.”

From years of personal experience, I can tell you flat-out that this isn’t true — and people are more impressed when you are published by a traditional publisher … regardless of whether they should be.

Once, when I was giving a speaking engagement, one of the attendees volunteered to chauffer me from the airport to the convention center – because, he told me, doing so would give him some private time with me.

“So you’ve written 35 books?” he asked me. “Yep,” I replied.

“Self-published them, I suppose,” he said lightly, but I could hear the undertone of something like mockery or mild denigration in his voice.

“Nope,” I snapped backed proudly and confidently. “My publishers are McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and Wiley.”

He looked at me with newfound respect, and the only reason was that in his eyes I was now a “real” author instead of a guy that paid to have his scribbling printed and bound.


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21 responses about “Am I a book publishing snob?”

  1. Jen @ Daycare In Demand said:

    Great post, Bob–while there are definitely valid business reasons to self-publish, in certain circumstances, there is still nothing like the validation of having a bona fide publisher put out your books. As a reader, I DO care who publishes your book, especially since the quality of self-published books tends to be lower.

    A personal pet peeve of mine is when the “self” part of the publishing is swept under the rug by the author–again, nothing wrong with it, but it’s not the same as officially “being published” and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  2. Josh Lugembe said:

    Bob, 80+ books is such a great work.

    And by the way, I guess I’ve to tell you that I found about when I was reading the third edition of Get Clients Now by C. J. Hayden.

    As far as copywriting, I’m only taking the first few steps. And I’m hoping and determined to make it large just like you.

    I have bookmarked your site and blog, and that means I will be returning here for more.

    Thank you for inspiration.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Jen: I agree 100%. Paying a printer to print your book is NOT equivalent to having a major NYC publishing house pay you an advance to publish your book.

  4. Steve Beedie said:

    Hey Bob,

    Great post and i have to admit i am in the middle of a really tough battle with myself regarding the route to market for my book.

    I’ve got a traditional agent and even a ghost writer whom both could’t sell my work. Of course i know I’m not the greatest writer or author but I’m not the worst either.

    It’s been a hard slog trying to get an traditional house to publish my work. It’s in personal development. i’ve been on TV radio and helped charities to raise millions for their needs. My story has been helping thousands across the world recover from PTSD (im ex army myself) and i have some good buddies in the internet marketing world who are happy to help me promote my work.

    But still trying to get someone to look at my work is proving painful.

    I’ve really thought about going down the self published route via kindle and even had a NY self publishing house ask me for $5000 to start printing my books. It all seems a bit mad.

    Does it come down to the book, or does it have to come down to finding a great agent?

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Awesome post and will be coming back.

    Off to buy some of your books 🙂



  5. Diana Schneidman said:


    I fully support self-publishing and I’m going that route myself.

    However, I will say that it is being cheapened by people who are using it to publish crap. I’m seeing books of perhaps 35 pages. I’m seeing gurus who help people write books in a week or even a weekend. I’m seeing books that are written to serve as glorified business cards—we can no longer assume that because someone “wrote the book” on a subject that they are really experts.

    The buyer truly has to beware. It’s quite possible for a book to be priced as low as $2.99 or even 99 cents and not be worth the expenditure.


  6. James Altucher said:

    Bob, I agree that for the most part of the past 100 years, having a traditional publisher was the way to go. My first five books were with traditional publishers.

    I won’t argue for or against them. There’s pros and cons.

    Two things changed for self-publishing just in the past five years.

    A) POD. You mention that self-publishing requires you to pay someone to print your books. THis is not longer true. That form of vanity pubishing is largely gone. Publish through Amazon and its print-on-demand. They print when someone orders.

    B) Kindle. Before the kindle (and other ebook readers) you had to get distribution through a mainstream house. They have specific divisions set up for this. If you don’t sell through them, you will never get in the bookstore.

    But Kindle solved the distribution issue. Most books sold now are ebooks.

    Some minor issues:

    A) Advances are great. No argument. But so are 70% royalties (self-publish) vs 15% royalties. And 100% international rights vs 50%. Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. You need to be a “professional” self-publisher and know what you are doing. But most professional writers now should probably at least weigh the alternatives.

    My last self-published book was/is a bestseller. Just crossed the 100,000 in sales mark and has sold rights in about 10+ countries.

    One other important factor: I can make deals. So I bundle my self-published books in various ways and make A LOT more money per sale than I would with a traditional publisher who probably would not have the business savvy to do what I do.

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