Category: Publishing

The Trials and Excitements of Self-Publishing

So, I’ve discovered one of the trials of self publishing (although that term has derogatory overtones in the industry; surely ‘unsigned’ would be more appropriate?). I am spending more time on marketing and promoting my work than I am on writing the next piece.

It’s a situation that makes a mockery of the argument that publishing houses are outdated. That argument suggests that publishers are just printers with fancy offices, but of course they are so much more. I’m lucky enough to have a great editor (one of the many things publishers can organize), but there’s still the overwhelming ‘Everything Else’ to deal with.

Publishers are primarily marketers and distributors. To deal with the latter first, the current self-publishing model means you can easily get your work onto the websites of Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble and such, but this is a far cry from walking into one of their stores and seeing you book for sale on the shelf. Plus there’s the army of independent book stores across the country. No one person can establish a personal relationship with each store and convince them to stock their books. Publishing houses have the resources and connections that allow them to achieve this on your behalf.

And then there’s the marketing. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking and such are all things I would be doing if I were signed to a publisher. Without one I’m also talking to people to get them to write reviews, I’m building a readership one person at a time, I’m arranging cover art, I’m calculating book jacket and bleed sizes, I’m talking to independent book stores about having them stock my books.

Self-publishing is running your own business, albeit one with even greater opportunity for self-importance and delusions of grandeur than normal. Because of this I’m also having to carefully consider what are the most cost effective ways of selling my books. For example, a complex, media-rich website that draws people in and generates press would be incredible, but I don’t have the time or resources to build it.

It would be fantastic if I could engage a marketing agency to generate interest in my books and drive sales, but that would be a huge overhead. This is the kind of things that a publisher can do to you; they have the time and resources to do all of this and more if they feel they can sell your work in sufficient numbers.

And as much as every author wants to be read and enjoyed, that’s what it always comes down to; selling units.

Technology is just now giving writers the freedom that it gave to musicians five or ten years ago. Established acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have left the record labels, and artists such as Amanda Palmer have built a fan base and reputation through connecting online directly with listeners.

And whilst all of the above are things I do that aren’t writing, I’m finding that I’m enjoying them enormously. Yes, writing is my favorite part of the process, but being able to get hands-on in everything else is fantastic.

If any of the above sounded like complaint, it really wasn’t intended to be. The whole process is fascinating and as tempting as it is to think that all of this is getting in the way of writing, it is actually facilitating it. Would it be easier to do all this if I had a publisher? Undoubtedly. But I could quite possibly put as much time and effort into promoting myself to publishers as I do into promoting myself to potential readers. And talking to readers seems to be much more fun.
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What the Victorians can teach us about Digital Publishing

In the nineteenth century the publication of popular novels (and by this I mean both good novels that were popular and mass-market pulp fiction) was a process probably more similar to the way comic books are published now.
Not initially released as whole novels (the story from beginning to end, bound in one book, as we’re used to seeing them), they were serialised monthly, several chapters bound together, and sold at news stands. They even contained advertisements to cover the cost of distribution and generate more revenue for the writer.
Some of these would run for ten, twelve or twenty months, however long was necessary for the story to be told. The authors would be writing their stories during this publication process, not writing the complete novel and then releasing it piece by piece. When the book runs had finished, they would be re-published as a whole novel.
Some of these stories, the soap operas of their day, were endless titles that ran and ran until public interest waned and they were no longer profitable to produce.
Because this was a cheaper means of publication, and therefore available to a wider audience, it suffered somewhat from the stigma of being a means of hack writers shifting poor quality work to an indiscriminate audience. Charles Dickens released much of his work in this format, and in his early career (before his reputation was established) he suffered the snobbery of those who assumed that the distribution method reflected on the quality of the writing.
With digital publishing having firmly established itself in the past 12 months and, given the sale of eReaders over the Christmas period, seeming set to take a growing portion of the market, I think we have an opportunity for this Victorian model of publishing to thrive.
Of course, releasing a novel whilst you’re still writing it isn’t for everyone; writers of Dickens’ talent are few and far between and the majority of us couldn’t get away with it without writing ourselves into a dead end or creating glaring inconsistencies between the beginning and end of the novel. But that doesn’t mean that serial publication can’t be an option once a novel has been finished and edited.