Self-publishing: Have I changed my mind?

I have been reading a great deal about self publishing and self published authors recently. I don’t know why but I am taking it as a conspiracy of fates and posting some of my thoughts.

I’m not a self pubbed author. The closest I have come is chapter one of a piece of fun fan fiction on my blog serial ūüôā And while obviously that is brilliant and must be read by anyone who loves a good time – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself¬†for charging. And that at the end of the day is what self pubbing is, isn’t it? Its not fan fiction, its not a¬†saturday club, its a job. And even if you do elect to give away your books for free periodically, even if it is only 99p full price, you are asking the general public to respect your offering as a professional.

I’ve said before that I have reservations regarding self pubbing. I wrote a piece on it back when I first started my blog, raising those concerns and asking for honest (non trolling) feedback. At the time it seemed like there was a war brewing – self-pubbers on one side and the gatekeepers on the other. In fairness I saw no indication traditionally published authors were interested in getting into the mix. No, it was merely those storming the gates and those defending the gates. Of late, while self pubbers are still vocal in defending their approach I have heard less from the gatekeepers. Perhaps they aren’t feeling quite so threatened as they were initially?

A new term is emerging Рthe hybrid author. So even as the efforts to legitimise self publishing against all doubters continue, some of its biggest success stories are openly admitting to its limitations. Traditional publishers (and their gatekeeping pals, the Agents) still maintain a stranglehold on certain areas, namely print books, translations and film rights. They have in some ways become, much like the old Hollywood studios, less the gatekeepers of quality and more like distributors. Putting your book into bookstores, much like putting your film into theatres, is all but impossible without cutting them in.

But (you knew the but was coming..) seeing the two sides starting to reach a mutually agreeable solution isn’t filling me with the¬†same enthusiasm as everyone else.¬†I never had an¬†issue with gatekeepers, even if those gatekeepers rejected me (and they did,¬†daft bastards!) as long as they were led by a genuine love of books. Even if that love was underlined by a need to turn a profit, turning a profit was surely a measure of satisfaction in and of itself.

If gatekeepers aren’t threatened anymore, is it because they are in fact liking their new roles and the possibilities? Not to mention the reduced work load. I keep hearing reports from agents that suggest this shift to distributor is being whole heartedly embraced.

When I last attended an agent convention the question of whether a subbing author should hire an editor was raised. It was met with a shrug and ‘well it can’t hurt’ attitude. Now apparently its being advised as a must-do. Self publishing used to be seen as a sure fire way to scrub your book off any agents list, to the extent that writers were reluctant to post online in case it qualified as a form of self publishing. Now I can name a well respected imprint which has only previously self published titles on its list.

The main concern of course is still the bottom line, so a book already out there and read by only your mammy and aunty isn’t going to impress. You need mass downloads. In recent years we have seen the rise of the celebrity novel, the idea being that there is a ready made fan base. Is the self-pubbed success¬† story just another celebrity? A sure-fire hit rather than a must-read love?

I don’t know if you are noticing the common thread running through all of the above..¬†

price points to maximise downloads

..gatekeepers basing decisions on current sales

…¬†new¬†business models¬†to access¬†all¬†markets

When do we talk about the books?

I was rejected by the big six and while it stung I am – actually truly – glad I was. Because my book was not ready. I have no doubt there are great writers out there but if no one tells them the hard truths how many rush to publish long before they or their work is ready? What if like me they have no marketing skills? Rejection comes in that ultimate form – lack of sales. The writer ends up believing they have nothing to offer, while the author who knows how to get those free downloads moving and friends reviewing, prospers.

It used to be that to become a success the only option you had was to rewrite. Keep working on your book or your next book, now it seems more to do with working on your marketing. And the irony is, if you choose not to then it might well be a good bet that marketing is the problem. Good books get ignored, that’s a sad fact. Do we need to revisit the whole Van Gogh died penniless story to prove it? And there are more books out there than ever before, with absolutely nothing standing in the path of the slush.

In fairness I have never doubted that self published authors – those who make it a viable career certainly¬†¬†– worked hard at it. Going¬†into business for yourself is not a lazy man’s option. An entire support structure is growing around it, book covers, edits, marketing and much of it is incestuous. Many self pubbers are supplementing and supporting their work with work as editors, many others find they can trade with other self publishers to avoid editing costs. New collectives are being set up; from promotional twitter groups, to tit for tat reviews to platform websites, networking is a key part – perhaps the most crucial¬†part –¬†of the new process.

But working hard is not the same as working smart. A book without typos is not the same as a book without flaws. And some flaws no matter how good your grammar can carry a weight I’m not sure we can shrug off, a weight that might be putting the industry off kilter.

This isn’t an attack on those who choose to self publish, nor is it even necessarily an attack on those who rise to the top. No,¬†I am putting a big fat question mark over the new paradigm itself; the widely touted revolution that is changing the whole industry and asking is it¬†putting the emphasis where it shouldn’t be?

Every writer wants to be read, and now we are told every writer can be. But ereaders never fill up. How many free downloads gather dust in want-to-read lists? How many of us need to cross back over and be a reader again instead of a business owner?

As always I would love to hear others thoughts. Especially if you have experience of either side.




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