Thursday, 21 January 2010
Mixed Feelings About Self-Publishing
I'm starting to feel like a teenager again, who has been feuding with a boy for a long time. So long that I want to end the twenty-seventh rage-fuelled argument by shoving them up against the wall and kissing them violently.
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.
My position on self-publishing has always been that it's a bad thing. It was my gut-reaction, and my logical reaction, too. But increasingly my thoughts have been slipping to the dark side... Maybe this annoying rebel isn't so bad... In the right light, it might even be pretty sexy...
Let's start at the beginning of this thought process.
Why Self-Publishing a Novel is a Bad Idea
IF IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE PUBLISHERS, HOW IS IT GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE PUBLIC?
I always thought that one of the main reason's someone would self-publish is because their manuscript simply isn't good enough for a publisher to want to invest in. Publishers know the business. If they think it ain't good, and that it won't sell, they're probably right.
THERE'S NO QUALITY CONTROL.
There's no editor, there's no standard that has to be met, there's no proofreader...
THEY LOOK CRAP.
Most people have no idea how to put an attractive cover together. Self-published books look bad aesthetically.
THERE'S NO ESTABLISHED 'BRAND' FOR READERS TO PUT THEIR FAITH INTO.
Without the 'brand' of a publisher, potential readers have no reason to assume that the book is worth reading. If a publisher has had enough faith in the manuscript to take it under their wing, then it means it isn't a pile of utter wank.
SMALL NAME, SMALL SALES.
As fellow blogger Aaron Polson mentioned, if you're a famous writer and you decide to self-publish, you're probably going to still sell a shit-load of books. This, again, is an issue of branding. One step above having a publisher's brand on your book, is having your name as the brand instead. Do you know what publishing house Irvine Welsh is with? No, nor do I. But I know his name, and I know he's a good writer. That's enough for me. Would I buy a complete novel from Billy No-Name? No - I have no idea who this guy is, or if he's capable of writing a decent novel.
Even as I write this, I am beginning to see more and more holes in my previous way of thinking.
There are things that you need to ask yourself about the goals of your own writing, your writing career.
What do you want to achieve with your writing?
Do you want to be published with a big name publisher? Why? To make money? To get the thrill of seeing your book on the shelves of Waterstones? It sounds nice. Essentially, that's fame and a bit of an ego-stroke. Maybe a bit of cash. Though unless you're an uber-best-seller like Stephen King, J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown, you'd probably not be able to give up your day job.
Do you want to create? Do you want control over the publication process of your work? Do you want to reach readers, but without quantity as the ultimate goal? Make a bit of cash? Be a bit rogue? Use modern technology to its full potential?
There are a few more issues to consider. These days, we're increasingly told that since social networking is so easily available to us all now, authors and potential authors should be building their own 'platforms'. Don't think that if you get a book deal with a big publisher, that you're not going to have to do any promotion yourself.
Also, there's the issue of royalties. At the publishing house I work at, author royalties are on average about 10%. I'm not saying that isn't fair (there are an awful lot of expenses that go into making a book at a publishing house), but getting more than that would be nice. Then again, you have to balance it out. You would most likely get fewer sales if you self-publish, so even if the pay is a higher percentage, it will probably be a lot less money overall.
Why Self-Publishing is a Good Idea
YOU AREN'T RESTRICTED BY TRENDS.
Publishers aren't there to publish the best writing. That may be one of their aims, sure, but essentially a publishing house is a business. They want to make money. If your book is awesome but the publishers don't think they will make enough money out of it, you're going to get rejected.
YOU HAVE MORE CONTROL.
It's your work. You can make the decisions. Sure, publishers 'know what they're doing' in the traditional sense. But maybe YOU could do something different. Something creative. Something that breaks the mould. Isn't that exciting?
YOU CAN MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF.
It can be done. Even if it's small scale. The Internet is a powerful tool. Social media is booming. Word of mouth is a far stronger sales tool than any advert can ever be. If you're savvy, you can do it.
How to Make the Most of Self-Publication
I'm no expert, but it doesn't take a genius to realise what mistakes are often made by self-publishing authors. Firstly, you need to PUT YOUR ALL INTO IT. Don't think that you can just do what you want because you're not going to get rejected by a publisher. If you product poor, you'll get rejected by readers. And you're back at square one - might as well have not wasted your energy trying to get published in the first place.
WRITE YOUR BEST.
Don't just write any old crap and chuck it on Lulu.com and expect people to buy it. People like that are the ones who have been giving self-publishing a bad name.
EDIT, EDIT, EDIT.
Same point as above, really. Writing takes time. It needs time to ferment. Leave your writing to rest for a while, then go back to it with a fresh mind and edit it. Don't rush into publication, as tempting as it is. You'll only embarrass yourself with a typo-ridden, poorly-structured painfully obviously rushed piece of writing.
WORKSHOP/ HIRE AN EDITOR.
Get some opinions on your piece. As the writer, you'll never be able to read your own novel from a reader's point of view. And since you're so close to your work, you might miss some major problems with it. A few pairs of fresh eyes (or better still, professional eyes) are invaluable.
MAKE IT LOOK GOOD.
If you're crap at using Photoshop, ask a friend or hire someone to create an awesome cover for your book. Make the interior look professional. People do judge books by their covers. They really, really do.
SET THE RIGHT PRICE.
No one is going to buy a book from a no-name author if you're selling it at £25 excluding postage and packaging. It's better to make a 50p profit per book and sell 100 books than make a £15 profit per book and sell 1 book (to your Mum, probably).
Not all press is good press. Don't spam. Don't demand that people read your book. Build a platform. There are plenty of articles out there on how to do this well. Social networking is not for advert spamming. It's about communication with people. SHOW people that you're a competent, intelligent, interesting writer, and maybe they'll trust your product. If you tell people you're awesome, with no evidence to back that up, I'm pretty sure they won't believe you.
Why Self-Publishing Has a Bad Name
Someone you know online self-publishes several books. They bash them out at a dizzying rate. You've seen their writing before. Perhaps they've posted a sample on Facebook or their blog. It's always riddled with typos, stereotypical characters, and the plot closely resembles the number 1 selling book at Tesco. Their book is over-priced, and the cover makes you want to put pins in your eyes. Every two weeks you get a request to 'Become a Fan of Mr No-Name'. Does this scenario sound familiar?
That's largely been my experience of self-published writers.
But I reckon the right writer, with the right idea and the right book could probably use this whole self-publishing malarkey for something good.
Would I self-publish? Until recently, my answer would have been a resounding 'No!', followed by a snort of offended disgust. But after reading articles like The Death of the Slush Pile in which we're told 'each unsolicited submission [has] a .008% chance of rising to the top of the [slush] pile', I'm starting to think that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to stick my nose in the air. Maybe I should open myself up to the changing publishing world, and keep a bit more of an open mind.
I'm not saying by any means that self-publishing is 'good' or that it is 'bad'. I'm saying that the publishing world is in flux. Writers have more tools available to them than ever before. If they use those tools well, maybe something brilliantly non-traditional can come of it.
I'm sure you all have opinions on this subject. I'd love to hear them.