When I gave this site its super shiny new look, I also managed to kill all my old blog posts. But fear not, for I have managed to salvage them and have decided to re-post some of the better bits.
To kick off, here’s the first part of my “Defence of Self Publishing” from May 2010. Basically, a whining rant from me about nasty agents, publishers etc etc. But in amongst all the bile, there are a few interesting points.
I keep reading articles and blogs, often linked to from Twitter, knocking self publishing. This isn’t entirely surprising because it’s always had a bit of a bad press (if you’ll pardon the pun). But recently they seem to imply that it’s something that people should stop doing; that authors who self publish are misguided fools who need redirecting onto the proper path. There’s also an increasingly strong whiff of sour grapes; as if some in the book publishing industry view the growing number of self publishers as an affront.
This last point in particular has prompted me to write this.
Oh, by the way, if you’re reading this because I posted it on Twitter or Facebook and have never looked at my blog before I have to apologise and confess. Yes it is the worst blog in the world written (very, very occasionally) by the laziest blogger in existence. Me.
So who am I? I’m a 40 year old who runs his own audio business, working mainly in the video games industry. That’s been going on for ten years. Before that I was a BBC journalist. I only say this because it shows I do understand the principles of good writing and crisp editing and have an understanding of the commercial world. My day job involves dealing with the likes of Sony, Disney, Ubisoft and Sega. I know something has to be sellable to sell.
I also know two key things about a lot of self published books:
1. They are about buses. Or trains.
2. They are crap.
Mine is neither. It’s an urban fantasy that sits on the shelves of Waterstones (and Borders before they went down) and has had some very good reviews. I’ve had readers, complete strangers who’ve parted with their own cash to buy my book, email to say how much they enjoyed it.
But hang on. If it’s so good, why hasn’t it been “properly published”?
Well let me tell you why I self published. It certainly wasn’t on a whim. After spending two years writing and redrafting my novel (called Chosen by the way) I then spent another 18 months sending submissions out to agents.
Three chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter. All stuffed into lovely white envelopes.
The responses I got ranged from a couple of properly written letters, through pro formas and postcards to eight generation faded photocopies. But they all had one thing in common: they were all rejections. Fair enough, that’s an agent’s job. But often the sample chapters came back in such a pristine state that it was obvious they’d not been read. In the end I stopped including an SAE and let them shred the material. One agent even asked if I’d like to buy her book on how to submit. No thanks.
Bitter? Moi? Well yes. But it was as simple as that, then Chosen would still be nothing but a manuscript in a desk drawer. As it is, a suggestion from my wife that I get at least one copy printed, to show my kids, led to me finding York Publishing Services. One thing led to another and I signed them up to print Chosen as a paperback.
This is where I think I did better than some self publishers. Firstly, I handed YPS a couple of “proper” paperbacks and asked them to mirror the typeface and layout style. A shocking number of self published books are laid out by the writer. Big mistake. It’s a hard job to get right and who wants to be faced with a blizzard of text on the page?
Secondly, I took the cover seriously. I didn’t ask a ‘friend who’s a really good artist’ to put something together. I asked a friend who happens to be a professional graphic artist and illustrator. And I paid him for his time and skill. Believe me, it was worth it. That cover art is what has drawn people to reach for a book written by an unknown writer, sitting amongst hundreds of other titles on the bookstore shelf.
When the book came out, I asked my local branch of Borders (RIP) if they’d sell it. They said yes, as long as I did a signing. This led to more Borders signings and ultimately to head office ordering copies for every branch. This is turn helped persuade those fine people at Waterstones to take it.
That’s when I hit a snag. Some chains and a fair few webstores will only sell books they can order direct from the big wholesalers. The really big ones. The ones I won’t mention. But They (no names) won’t stock Chosen without proven sales.
Chicken – egg.
Even when I persuaded staff at two of the biggest online retailers to ring Them and explain that they would be taking Chosen, as long as it was stocked. But that fell on deaf ears, so two big retailers were lost to me. The wholesalers I won’t name admitted this was ironic (no stock equals no sales) but just shrugged their shoulders.
So where am I going with my little tale? Well the point is, I certainly didn’t enter into self publishing as a first choice. I would still love to see Chosen taken up with a publishing house. But it really annoys me to read blogs and article that imply that what I am doing is “wrong” or stupid.
Which brings me to the next step: ebooks. As digital publishing grows in popularity, you can see the conventional publishing industry tying itself in knots.
If I don’t have to get hundreds of copies printed and don’t have to rely on a wholesaler to help me reach my customers, it’s going to be brilliant. Chosen is going to be turned into an ebook (thanks again to YPS) and then I’m going to use every weapon at my disposal to get it out there. The industry I work in by day, video game development, is undergoing the same revolution. I recently attended a conference about game self publishing and could see the similarities. If my book is good enough and if I can spread the word (which I’ve been doing for the last 18 months) then it’s a golden opportunity. The stacks of disinterested rejection letters can fade into memory.
There are already ways for a self published ebook author to reach the people who really matter – the readers – and these are going to grow in number over the next few months and years. So instead of wasting time attacking writers who’ve poured their heart and soul into something, why not come up with some ideas that move the whole industry forward?
Crikey, you’re still here after all that lot? You deserve a medal.