From time to time, Monographer has blogged on the business of self-publishing — for example, in ‘On whether to self-publish: a professional publisher’s view‘ (21 August 2012). Here I’m very pleased to publish a thoughtful response by Elspeth Rushbrook, written from a different perspective — namely that of a self-published novelist.
As a self published author, I have a different angle to offer.
The article rightly asks whether authors compare like with like.
But I don’t think this article does.
I wish to be very clear that I don’t see self publishing as the inferior cousin of the conventional publishing house. But I don’t think there’s always real choice: an agent expects to get you a contract deal, and self published authors don’t have agents.
I suggest that it’s a different mindset who self publish: they are independent minded, those who don’t fit mark schemes (the author of the article I’m responding to said so to me – and I am proud). It is those with an overall vision and who wear various hats who choose to self publish, and who don’t wait for exterior validation.
They may not be picked up by publishing houses, who have limited resources and think of what they can market and live from. I realised that my combination of voice and ideas and audiences was something which baffled the risk averse mainstream publisher. And also that I was going to lose control and even the rights to my work, as well as forfeit 92% of the profit.
I do agree that those attracted to self publishing should ask: which of this process should I contract to others? Do I have (or can I develop) sufficient talent in all aspects of publishing to do this alone? Do I enjoy these other aspects, or would I prefer to focus on the writing more?
There are issues though with delegation. One is that often people who tout their book production skills want you to buy a package. They won’t advise or do final checks for you on whether a design is print ready. There are many platforms to self publish on, but they are very do- it-yourself, and actually quite rude when you ask why a file is rejected or a proof comes out with a recurring fault (sometimes, down to their own error margin). The designers want to design the entire cover, not give a little paid advice. They’d also quite like to copy edit – actually more like, just edit – as well. And make you part of their brand.
Some writers might be happy with that. But I decided early on that I was going to make myself a brand, across my writing in four media, musical composition, and art.
What was the point of being self published to pay to be under someone else’s umbrella?
I trained in book design and realised I have an aptitude for it. Otherwise, I might not have taken this step to do my own. I also have book-selling experience, I had written for many years, and can self reflect and self motivate.
I advise – even as a trained proofreader – that this is a job you need a second pair of eyes for.
The other aspect I would consider outsourcing is marketing. Writers may not have this gift.
The major downside is that a professional marketer won’t be working on just you; and like those conventionally published, they will make proportional effort in regards to the likely success of the author. They will give up and move on when your work seems to flag.
But us authors will not give up and our passion for our own books won’t be matched.
I liked the article’s ending with “two cheers for democracy” and that a publishing house supports indie publishing: there’s no reason why we can’t coexist, even mutually support. It’s a shame that the penultimate sentence was about self published dross. What ‘dross’ is seldom objective. It’s harsh that poorer quality work can be taken as a synecdoche for all independent publishing. I took particular care over my book so that it at least matched conventional publishing output. Sadly I felt that this was necessary to get it taken seriously, but I did it also for my own pride. That is usually the highest incentive and benchmark.
Self publishing has moved on even since that article. It’s becoming more accepted, and the wheel which began with self publishing is once again turning in that direction, thus giving authors control and ownership of their work.