Thursday, June 21, 2007

Many issues, one post about self-publishing

I am planning to self-publish a book, and the idea of marketing myself, my work, and asking for favours of any sort makes me break out in a sweat. I will, one day, need people to do things for me. Like put my book in a prominent stand in a bookstore. Interview me. Make me sound like I'm someone worth reading. So when you ask us for questions, it's hard to know where to start.So here's my first few:
1. How do I decide which bookstores should sell my wares? Do I decide that??
2. How do I convince a magazine/newspaper to run a story about me? Or do I simply write one, submit it, and hope for the best?
3. Another friend insists that self-publishing - "vanity publishing!" - is for lightweights. Yet the slush pile is pretty demoralising when you've just bled four years of your life into your first novel. While raising kids and running a business. Which way should an author turn?

I'll start to address the broader issue of self-publishing by saying that writers' centres give a lot more information about this than I can fit in one post, and there are links to them on the right-hand side of this page.

Now: the brutal truth is that self-publishing is usually a great deal harder and more demoralising than being in the slush pile. For when you're self-publishing, you're not just the writer - you're the publisher. That means you take on all the responsibility that a publishing company would take on: editorial, design, typesetting, publicity, marketing, sales AND - the big one - distribution. There is no MySpace of books, so your manuscript can't be distributed easily like a song can (distribution used to be the thing that kept the large record companies in gravy, but the Internets are changing everything). That means yes, you do get to choose which bookshops your book goes to, but you have to convince every single one of those shops to take it. You also won't get the prominent stand at the front - that is reserved for the larger publishing companies or the bolt-from-the-blue successful book from a small publisher. You also probably won't get interviews in major media, unless you hire a freelance publicist to run a campaign for you, so it will be the local paper and a website (which you should probably set up if you haven't already).

There's a reason why it's difficult to get published: not everyone's a good writer, but lots of people write manuscripts anyway and send them in. Agents and publishers have to filter out the good stuff, and that takes time. Publishers are not a cabal working in concert to keep authors from being published. They accept a huge degree of financial risk when they take on new authors - sometimes even established authors - so they have to be cautious. I don't take on that sort of financial risk but I do have to make a decision about where my time goes, because I need to honour my existing clients while ensuring I have enough time to dedicate to getting a first-time novelist published (which is the most difficult of placements). But the slush pile is only demoralising if you believe that you're not good enough for people to want to agent and publish. The great writers do find agents and publishers. They may have to wait a while - sometimes years - but you only get one shot to be a first-time writer and it has to be done properly, or your career is over prematurely. Certainly, self-publish if you don't want to wait or you're despairing of getting noticed. But do be aware that it will take a lot of time, money and effort on your part, and if you can't distribute your book - no matter how much publicity you get - you'll end up with hundreds of copies in your garage.

1 comment:

Brascoe said...

A lot of this is true. You can enlist a house that does 'assisted' self-publishing; but it's VERY expensive. The benefit is that they do all the hard work for you (or in collaboration with you), and often have greater networks to help you sell your wares.