Monday, July 12, 2010

Self-publishing for novelists in the digital age

I have recently been reading a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of self-publishing, especially for fiction. There is heated debate about whether it is worth trying for frustrated writers, or whether they are frustrated because their writing simply isn't any good.

Although I am well aware that I am no great writer, with all due humility my job, my background and my life experience tell me that my "stuff" is better than quite a lot that is in print.

Nevertheless, apart from one e-book publisher ( plus a now-dead Australian author, a couple of shonks, and one publisher who went out of business for some reason) no-one else agrees. (Yes, I know, it could be that I'm a total idiot!)

In your opinion, are any of the DIY publishing outfits worth considering, or it is better just to keep plugging along sending them out (and waiting for the rejections)?

I'm going to answer your question by telling you the story of an Australian author called Vicki Tyley. Vicki has written a novel called THIN BLOOD. She has an American agent, who couldn't get it published largely because it was hard to get past the hurdle of the story being set in Australia. So she and her agent decided to conduct an experiment: they published the novel on Smashwords. The novel was available for free for one month, then it received a mention in Suspense magazine. That was the sum total of the publicity it received. The agent then did a deal with Amazon so that the book was released as a Kindle publication. It's also still available on Smashwords for USD2.99.

THIN BLOOD has sold 20 000 copies in Kindle; I don't know how many it's sold in Smashwords. Obviously Vicki wrote a great book, but her story also illustrates that there are now different paths to publication, and they don't all involve a publisher. In this case Amazon acted as the publisher, but as the Smashwords edition is still available, Vicki is also a self-publisher.

So if you're a novelist contemplating self-publication, I advise you to look at the digital route first. You still need to have a manuscript that's in good shape, and you obviously need to write a great story. But if you do, and you also know even an elementary amount about how to promote yourself online, who knows what's possible? I don't; publishers don't. There's a hypothetically infinite appetite for new stories out there, and digital publishing will give us access to those stories.

However, a lot of authors are still hung up on print publication - quite often it's because they want the imprimatur of a publishing company. To which I say this: publishers curate the selection of stories available according to what they think booksellers (not the reading public) will take on. Booksellers curate the selection further. Fiction is the category of book that is currently suffering the most from this tradition, which limits the variety of stories available to people (unless they shop online). I find it very hard to get very good novelists published. I'm starting to think that the only reason I would encourage them to pursue print publication through a publisher is if they desperately want that tick of approval - because, let's face it, the money ain't that amazing. Novelists are the writers who are most likely to benefit from the digital age, because the most rapacious readers are fiction readers. So think carefully about why you want to get published and what you want to achieve, then realise that you have choices as to how you bring that about.


Brendan said...

Great post. Very frank and a real eye opener to the realities of modern publishing. Be sure I will be pointing people here.

Che Gilson said...

Wow! This was fantastically informative. I think people forget that bookstores have a big say in publishing.

Thank you!