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Why Do Some Readers Avoid Self-Published Books?

I read and post short reviews about a lot of books, so it’s not surprising I receive quite a few requests to review works by self-published authors. In the past, I’ve tried to accommodate those requests because I know how hard it is to get attention when there’s so much competition.

Sadly, that practice has put me in a tight spot from time to time when the already published book is so full of errors that it’s hard to focus on the story. Even after all the great advice provided by editors and by experienced writers who indie-publish, there are still people who think their works are perfect as-is, no editing or proofreading or professional advice needed. Their books don’t sell, and the quality drags on the sales of well-researched, well-edited, well-formatted indie published books.

Here are the five biggest reasons why readers avoid self-published books:

1. Writers who do not hire a content editor to meticulously read a manuscript for errors in timeline, character consistency, plot, and story structure. Trust me, no matter how sure you are that your writing, plotting, and editing skills are perfect, you’re wrong.

2. Writers who do not hire a copy editor to meticulously read a manuscript for grammar and punctuation errors and/or inconsistencies. We can see the errors made by other writers, but our eye/brain connection is very skilled at substituting what should be on our page for what is actually there in print.


3. Writers who do not use a proofreader for that fine-tuned read for typos and other errors introduced during the previous editorial corrections. It’s that eye/brain connection again, making corrections to fool us into believing our work is typo-free.

4. Writers who don’t use professional guidance in formatting books and ebooks for publication. Learning this process on the fly, just to get a book out there, is risky business. If I open an ebook and see messy margins, oddly placed spaces, and undefined paragraphs, I put away the book and find another.

5. Writers who don’t consult professionals in designing the cover art. I admit it. I often pick a book by its cover and start reading before I know more than the genre. Great covers sell books (at least to me).

There are so many beautifully written, edited, and formatted indie books available from authors who’ve done a great job. But their sales are impacted by authors who dismiss quality and publish anyway. Some readers check to see if a book is self-published, and if it is, perhaps put the book back on the shelf and continue browsing.

What can the professional indie author do to combat reader reluctance? Produce the best work possible and make sure reviewers get a quality copy of the book. Put the editor's name in the acknowledgements. Make sure marketing tools such as synopses, blog posts, newsletters, and articles are beautifully written and error-free. Write about the process of producing the best quality indie book possible that will serve both as advice to writers and reassurance to readers.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is now available in a large print edition, ebook and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appeared in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy, and brown tabby Katie Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.


  1. Exactly! Several years ago, I read a self-published book by a writer I met online. No less than four editors were listed in the acknowledgements, so it seemed like a potentially good read. Wrong! Errors in all the categories you cited abounded to the extent that I couldn't follow the storyline, make sense of improperly punctuated sentences——or sentences totally lacking essential punctuation, or get to know the poorly developed characters sufficiently well to cheer or hate any of them or even care what happened to them. One or more competent beta readers would likely have made a difference, if the writer had acted on suggested changes. Even one qualified editor could have made a significant improvement——again, if the reader had listened to and acted on the advice. This is a great post, Pat, and a powerful reminder that it takes a (writing) community to create a great book.

    1. I've had too many similar experiences, Linda. I want to give new authors a break, but sometimes it's painful.

  2. What a great post, Patricia. Those new writers who think they can skip any of the important steps in putting out a good book are fooling themselves and hurting us all in the long run. The things you mention like the various levels of editing, the formatting, and the cover were all done in the past by the publisher and they paid professionals to do those things. If we want to be taken seriously, we have to pay professionals for those services. No question about that.

  3. Everything you said is true, Pat. And even do all the things you're supposed to as a self-published writer, the stigma is still there, still discoloring your work and efforts. It is disheartening, because I know many wonderful self-published writers who write funny, exciting, suspenseful, literate, amazing novels that readers will never read.

  4. Some of my favorite new writers are self-published. I agree that if you are gong to do the job yourself, do it well. There are many resources for cover designers and plenty of service providers for editing. Formatting is pretty easy to learn, but there are service providers there too. Draft2Digital, Fiverr, and Reedsy have lists of professionals they work with that you can go to (without using D2D or Reedsy for a package).


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