I’ve got a bone to pick with self-publishing authors.
No, not all of you. You over there, you’re fine. And you in the corner, you’re okay, as too are you lot at the back. In fact, most of you are downright bloody amazing: you know what it takes to be successfully self-published and you learn everything you can about how to go about it. You absorb knowledge like a sponge and then you go out and apply it again and again, because you know one day the hard work will pay off, both in plaudits and in earnings.
But every now and then a little voice pops up with a slightly different view, and – to be frank (even though it’s not the weekend yet) – it winds me up a real treat.
To make it clear what I’m wittering on about, here are a few comments I came across recently on a well-known, feathered social media site:
1. ‘Most people will never give my writing a chance because I’m self-published.’
2. ‘I’m not a marketer.’
3. ‘Why should I try again if my first attempt doesn’t succeed?’
And here is my calm and constructive response (which was not my initial one):
All of these comments are negative. They suggest writers who are defeated before they have barely begun. All perfectly legit opinions of course, but ones that deflate and drastically diminish their owners' writing goals and opportunities in this still-developing market.
Since the Amazon Kindle launched in the US in 2007, it has paved the way for writers to finally take control of bringing their own work to market, and as such the number of published authors has risen exponentially. But having said that, the industry is still in its relatively early years. Ten years is nothing compared to the six hundred that have passed since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, thereafter revolutionising mass production of printed materials. So you could say with all confidence that the self-publishing industry is still very much in its infancy.
Would you suppose then that this young industry owes writers something more than it already delivers? If so... why does it?
Isn’t it up to self-publishing authors themselves to take advantage of this golden opportunity, to prove the worth of their material and to influence perceptions of their newly adopted industry too?
Naturally, when the ease with which writers could publish online and earn money initially caught on, writers of all genres and abilities jumped on the bandwagon, knocking out books at a rate of knots, and often to hell with paying anyone to dress it up nice for the reader first. Result: a plethora of bad books and an unworthy reputation for this wonderful new venture just trying to find its sea legs. Before it had been given a chance, self-publishing was already being frowned upon.
But then some resilient people decided they wouldn’t give up on this chance they’d been given: they would instead work harder to change that blotch on their industry and find a way to make it work. These resilient saviours were – and still are – the successful self-published authors (my definition of ‘successful’ being those who earn enough from their self-published work to earn a living (sometimes more)). They are not a mirage or a marketing tactic, they are real, ordinary, everyday, hardworking people: see, for instance, Joanna Penn. And where there are large groups of skilled people, there are organisations to support them: see, for instance, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
What has made these authors successful and the organisations necessary is a complete and utter understanding of – and respect for – the publishing industry, including the opportunities self-publishing presents and where it is likely to go from here on its ever-evolving journey.
These authors know too that a successful career is built on a positive mindset, not a defeatist one. Success won’t happen overnight, they realise. It probably won’t come on the first book even. Maybe not on the second or third either. But perhaps by the fourth, fifth or sixth, when they have a slowly growing tribe of fans, a backlist to cross-promote, good reviews and increasing sales, their hard work will finally lead to the plaudits and earnings they then rightly deserve.
If writers want readers to pay for their self-published material, then they have to become business owners and either take on or outsource all the tasks needed to bring their books to a professional, publishable standard. There is simply no other way around this unless they hire someone else to run the business for them. But for authors who have grappled with contracts, agents and publishers for years, the beauty of self-publishing is that it lets them take control. They know by now what needs doing, they know the process of publishing a book inside and out - they just put themselves at the helm instead of the middle man.
For those authors new to the industry, they need to learn these publishing stages for themselves, and there’s plenty of free advice on the internet so self-educating is not the issue here. It will be hard work, bloody hard work, and that’s why self-publishing is a wonderful option but certainly not an easy one. If self-published writers want their book to be given a chance, they need to make it look as good as a traditionally published one; more specifically, they need to be prepared to pass it through the seven stages of publishing: editorial, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion, licensing rights.
So I’ll say again, it’s up to self-publishing authors themselves to earn the reputation they crave.
To work in publishing – traditional or self-publishing – requires a certain type of person: one who is passionate enough about what they do, who perseveres, commits and dedicates themselves to words and books even when the outcome is uncertain or the odds against them. Small independent publishers in particular will take on a book based only on the premise that they ‘believe’ in the story and the author. And when the writing is done, the self-publisher must also believe in their own story enough to want to complete the task: to spend the time - and yes, unavoidably, the money - to make their book worthy of their readers’ time and good reviews. There is no easy route and many writers may balk at the idea of taking this on; that’s fine, for those writers traditional publishing still exists and likely will do for quite some time to come.
But for the ones who want to learn and who want to take control of their writing and publishing lives, self-publishing is a life-changing opportunity to attain new skills, meet new people in new communities, build a business, and pursue a career. It just takes a bit of elbow grease and a lot of determination.
So let's be clear: self-publishing doesn’t owe writers anything; it already gives more than enough. But writers owe themselves and their work the chance to try and do it right.