Self-publish and be damned

A dear friend of mine, Emma Clarke, forwarded to me a very interesting article about self-publishing, by Gerald Hornsby.

Like most writers, the goal for myself has always been to ‘become published’. Traditionally, this meant the sponsorship of a publisher, or agent and publisher. Sure, the option of self-publishing has long been there, but has been tarnished with the ‘vanity publishing’ brush – and meant investment up front.

The world is changing. Self-publishing via websites such as CreateSpace and Lulu is relatively simple. Publishing to the Kindle bypasses all of that paper nonsense and sends your work directly into the hands of the reader, without the cost of printing.

It’s never been easier to self-publish.

I want to be clear: I didn’t opt for self-publishing as an ideological choice. I’ve nothing against publishers or agents – indeed, I’d be very happy to hook up with either or both, if the partnership was beneficial. I’m very open-minded about it.

I chose to self-publish for several very practical reasons.

  • I’m an unknown. Publishers are wary of such and have limited resources to promote new authors.
  • Finding a good publisher is probably harder than writing a novel.
  • It meant I could get my work out now.
  • It gave me complete creative control.

I’m also genuinely worried about the publishing industry, which is starting to go through the same massive changes endured by the music industry in the last few years. The channels to market will shift to the Web and reduce in number; physical products will be eclipsed by digital ones; once-powerful publishers will see revenues and profits dwindle. The change is coming – as Gerald Hornsby says, Amazon is predicting sales of 12 million Kindles in 2011; Apple’s iPad might outsell the Kindle almost 6 times over.

So, while I’m open-minded about having a publisher, I want to work with one that embraces these changes – and doesn’t fumble through, trying to protect the current business model.

The scary point Hornsby makes is that Claire King’s next novel will be published by Bloomsbury in 2013. 2013? Two years?

It would be easy to mock and cite this as an example of a sluggish, Jurassic publishing behemoth that needs to get with the times. But as someone who’s worked in print, I know that there will be a set of solid reasons for these timescales – it’s not in Bloomsbury’s interests to hold off launching something from a proven and best-selling author.

But it’s something that gives me pause for thought – I would most certainly want my work to hit the streets faster. And I’d want to work with a publisher that wanted the same – not just for commercial gain and self-satisfaction, but also because I want to work with a publisher that’s agile enough to not only survive the changes to come to the publishing industry, but smart enough to exploit them.

(And I do think that publishers bring a lot to the equation beyond print and distribution. They have a wealth of writing and market experience.)

Like Hornsby, I have two goals – yes, I want to make money, but I also want people to enjoy my work. This means getting it out there.

Self-publish, or through a publisher, it makes little odds to me – I just want to publish. Right now, I’ve opted for a route which means I can at least do that. I’m open-minded about the future.

About Peter Labrow

Peter Labrow has worked as a copywriter, writing non-fiction, for around twenty years. His output includes copy for websites and brochures; for around a decade he wrote a regular column for IT Training magazine. He has published one non-fiction book about learning within the corporate environment. The Well, Peter’s first novel, is available on Kindle and in print from Amazon. View all posts by Peter Labrow

6 responses to “Self-publish and be damned

  • Anna Lewis

    Great to read such a balanced viewpoint on this. I sometimes get frustrated when the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate seems to become almost idealogical, rather than based on the actual facts. But what you show here is that for a writer, there are plus points on both sides, and it’s important to find what works for you personally. Not all traditional publishers are the same, and authors are very different in terms of their needs too. If your aim as an author is to get your work into the hands of readers sooner rather than later then self-publishing is a great option.
    Very best of luck to you!

    • Peter Labrow

      Anna – thanks for your positive comments. It’s simplistic to believe that publishers offer nothing and we can easily do without them; I think that self-publishers should try to be objective about what a publisher provides and ensure that those gaps are filled when self-publishing.

  • Tom Evans

    My approach is to do both depending on project timescales but for my fictional work, I am building up a solid foundation of related non-fictional work before unleashing my novel on the world.

    But I put a free sample short story version of my novel up for the iPhone and Android as a sprat to catch a mackerel – search for Soulwave in the iTunes and Android store – it’s free and will make a commute fly by

  • Claire King

    Hello Peter,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog, I thought I’d pay a return visit. I’m very much enjoying the discussions we’re having around this.I think what’s really important that writers don’t divide up into camps – the Indie Authors versus the Trade Published. That would be just plain silly and I like the pragmatic approach you set out above.
    Just to clear up why my particular launch is taking 2 years, it’s because of the co-incidence of two facts: First, that I’m a debut novelist and second, that Bloomsbury only have the capacity to launch a certain number of debuts per year (not only a question of the marketing budget, but also of the time investment needed from a relatively small staff) and they had already filled that quota for 2012. They do of course have the flexibility to move fast when it’s absolutely necessary, but in this case the only need to hurry is my own impatience!
    So if there are those reading this thinking that 2 years is the new 12 months in the world of trade publishing, that’s absolutely not the case!
    Best wishes,

    • Peter Labrow

      Hi Claire – thanks for the comments. Like you, I like the debate about the way publishing is changing; like you I like to keep it unemotional and without ideology. First, thanks for clearly up those points – for any publisher, I guess new writers are a risk and one can only take so many risks a year. Make no mistake – if a decent publisher offered me a 2015 release date for my next novel, I’d be up for it. I’m pursuing self-publishing initially, but I’ve very open minded about how the future unfolds. I have had people talk to me about this and they often fall into pro- or against-publishers; well, I guess they’ve not tried to market a book on their own without the support of one. It’s not easy – nor is creating the files for print, Kindle, iBooks and so on. Nor is finding a good editor and test readers – all the things needed to ‘do it right’ which you just don’t have without the sponsorship of a publisher. All of these divert you away from writing and many are fairly complex things to manage without support. The right agent and/or the right publisher would be just fine for me. – Peter

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