I have several clients who self publish their books, some of them extremely successfully. I won’t pretend that hasn’t at times felt a little odd, but by and large we’ve coped with new situations pretty well and in principle I am genuinely delighted they are earning good money from their writing.
I also attend many writers’ events and am in daily contact with many writers. It’s the job. I am asked about self publishing all the time. No one likes to be rejected and self publishing offers a release from the treadmill of disappointments that can be the unpublished writer’s lot.
It is an enticing prospect. It is also a profound shift in the dynamics of the publishing industry. Unsurprisingly, there is a vocal and highly active cadre of writers, commentators and service providers out there proclaiming self publishing as pretty much the only way forward.
Articles such as this one by Edward Nawotka, editor of Publishing Perspectives which declares self publishing a “revolution” with publishers and their “allies” agents cast in the role of the forces of repression, the ancien regime.
Batistas to their Ché Guevaras…
There is no doubt the change is a big one – and I do think that publishers (and agents) have not reacted to it with the urgency they might. But before we all don our combat fatigues and head off to join the rebels in the jungle it might just be worth pausing to reflect just how revolutionary and progressive this call to arms is.
Quite apart from the fact that the biggest beneficiary of this ‘revolution’ is that well known socialist organisation, Amazon, the big issue I have with self publishing is the cost of it.
At a self publishing writers conference I attended in the summer (organised by the Literary Consultancy) there was a general discussion about how much self publishing cost. The consensus from the fifty odd self published authors at the session was that to do it properly, i.e. with a really well designed jacket, a good editor, proof readers and copy editors and some decent marketing, cost getting on for £5000. Probably more if you factored in the time the author spent working on publication.
The consensus also was that what that £5000 bought you was, probably, a total of 350 sales. 200 of which you would probably have had anyway just from family, friends and the wider network.
That is not just a lousy cost of sale, it is a considerable sum of money. Authors, in my experience, tend not to have a habit of being rich. Of course you can self publish more cheaply than that – but these are not my figures.
The noise in the debate around self publishing is heavily focused on how wonderful it is and what an opportunity it is. There really doesn’t seem to be anyone asking loudly enough whether it is responsible to encourage authors to spend money they really can not afford in the full knowledge that for the vast majority of them that money will be wasted.
There are plenty of people who think agents are parasitical – and fair enough, the whiff of sulphur goes with the territory. But, I don’t take a penny off anybody that I haven’t already earned for them and I never go around encouraging them to spend money they do not have. The same is also true of publishers.
Self publishing can work – it really can, but it is not and it will never be a universal panacea and for the majority of writers it is and will remain a bad idea.
It is great for certain genres, or for clear and very specific niches, or if you have some sort of profile or platform. Above all if you are extremely professional and businesslike about your writing and highly adept at promoting yourself and your work.
This does not describe most of the writers I know, but at the moment the mood music in favour of self publishing is so strong that many writers feel they are letting the side down if they don’t self publish.
It is my job to try to find ways of making money for my authors. I am inherently sceptical of those people trying to make the money flow the other way. Above all, it isn’t a revolution if you have to pay to join.
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