I recently read a piece by Richard Lea in The Guardian Books Blog about how self-publishing may well be a revolution for writers, but that the same might not be true for readers. It wasn’t so much the article itself, as the comments that inspired me to make the following points:-
Readers, please don’t make the erroneous assumption that just because a book has been traditionally published, it is somehow ‘better’ than a self-published book.
Phew, glad that’s out there. Now I have to be honest and admit that I’ve also been under the same illusion – if it’s published, it’s a safer bet. But how true is that? The whole self-published -vs- traditionally published argument has been flogged to death at this point, but it doesn’t always consider the readers point of view. As a reader myself, I’ve read many ‘lemons’ in my time and wondered how the hell they ever got published. But to know that, you would have to understand the inner processes of a publishing house, which I don’t pretend to know, but suffice it to say, it all comes down to sales. ‘Will they sell?’ is the question at the heart of every publication decision and that’s only natural. At least, that’s the only reason I can see why The Random House Group have published no less than five novels by Katie Price. Five. NOVELS.
There are lots of reasons why really good authors get rejected by traditional publishers, everything ranging from (a) the length of the novel (b) they might already have a similar book on their lists (c) they might already have a similar author on their lists (d) they don’t have money to invest in new writing. Of course we all know the story of how JK Rowling was rejected by no less than 12 publishing houses, despite having the representation of a good agent. Imagine if she had just given up? Or decided to self-publish Harry Potter? Would people still be looking down their noses? The gatekeepers, as they are known, therefore control what the public reads. They decide whether or not this year’s craze will be vampires or wizards. But readers have had the most recent laugh, because with the revolution of self-publishing, readers can pick and choose what they want to read, not what the publishers have decided they should. A recent example of self-publishing success is Mel Sherratt, who had her novels rejected for reasons varying from not fitting into a genre to being too generic! No such rejection from Kindle readers however, who sent her debut novel onto the bestsellers list.
Sometimes authors actually choose to self-publish.
Imagine that! Readers might not be aware, but a lot of authors actually choose to self-publish rather than sign a contract with a publisher. Polly Courtney is the perfect example – she ditched her publishers HarperCollins because they insisted on creating ‘chick lit’ style covers for her novels, despite the fact that her novels did not fit that genre. And frankly, I don’t think the move has done her any harm either. There are lots of examples of authors feeling pressured by publishers to ‘fit in’ and compromise on their creative output. Equally, there’s the time it takes to get your book out there that can make self-publishing more appealing. For a newbie such as myself, if I sent a submission to a publisher, it could take the best part of six months before receiving a response. Only then do you send the entire manuscript, give that another few months. Then there is the whole acquisitions process, give or take another few months. Only then will the actual production begin, editing, layout, cover design etc. It would take at least a year or more to see your book on the shelves. Then there are the royalties. I think the standard rate for new authors is 10% of net. Yikes!
Where’s the risk?
People have commented that they don’t want to take the risk on an Indie Author that they don’t know, but I ask you, where’s the risk? On both Amazon and Smashwords, you can read a free sample of the book before you buy. If you’re still not sure, most of us Indies have websites and blogs, so you can get a good sense of our writing style. And if you’re still unsure, check out the reviews on Goodreads and other sites. That’s about as much information (if not more) as you will get in a bookstore about a traditionally published book, only eBooks are cheaper so you’ve risked even less! Not to mention all the promotions and giveaways that self-published authors run on a continual basis, you’re bound to get a bargain.
Are there a lot of crap self-published books out there? Of course there are, just as there are a lot of crap traditionally published books. Writers who are serious about producing good quality books will do their best to create a great book. Those of us who are in this for the long haul want to build a readership that can trust our ‘brand’, so we are not going to release anything that would fall below our own self-imposed standards. Self-published authors now have easy access to book designers and editors, creating a new and exciting space for other freelance experts to create outside of the traditional constraints.
Being self-published is challenging and don’t get me wrong, I would welcome the support and backing of a publishing house to help get my books out there. It’s hard being a one-woman show and I know that when I launch my second novel next month, I will be doing the equivalent of standing on the Cliffs Of Moher and trying to shout across to America! It would be fantastic to have the marketing and promotional services that a publisher can offer. So I don’t want this to be a publisher-bashing exercise. In my opinion, I think the industry is adapting to what readers are demanding and we now have ‘digital imprints’ and ‘digital first’ arms to many of the traditional houses, which is great to see . My point is that self-publishing can be (and is) a revolution for readers too and I think we are reaching a stage where the reader doesn’t care who published the book – as long as it’s good.