Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I recently took part in New Generation Publishing’s annual Self-Publishing Summit in London, now in its third year. It is always a good opportunity to stop and consider how the self-publishing sector has evolved. The is no doubt that self-publishing, often derided in its former forms, has made a huge mark in the last three years and has not only developed rapidly in that time but is here to stay. Here, in no particular order, are some of my reflections on this year’s event.
The traditional versus self-publishing argument is finished
At the first Summit in 2011 there was a lot of anger in the room, and not just from the panelists having to work on a Saturday. There was a sense of writers scorned with traditional publishing being painted as elitist, out-of-touch, arrogant, dismissive, and either redundant or on its way out of business. That sentiment was probably best summed up as, ‘I didn’t want to be traditionally published anyway.’
The traditional publishing industry had brought a lot of this on itself and for its complacency alone deserved this kicking. But aside from being cathartic for some writers, I always found this approach distracting and unproductive. Reader don’t benefit from industry mudslinging, and they are ultimately the only ones that really matter.
I noticed it last year but there was virtually no discussion of the opposition between traditional and self-publishing this year. The focus was on options–what is available through all possible routes and how to be as successful as possible through the route chosen. It would appear the post-breakup score-settling is over and the sector has moved on, which can only be a good thing.
Self-publishing is starting to self-regulate
Another aspect notable by its near absence was the prevalence of horror stories–the ‘I sold my car, house and kidney to self-publish with a company based in the Bahamas only to find out all 100,000 copies I paid for were sunk in boat transit due to a surprise dolphin attack’ sort of thing. With so much content out there now (perhaps unsurprisingly considering the nature of writers), there is a lot written on the subject and a clearer sense now of what sounds like a good self-publishing option and what sounds like one to run away from.
In an aspirational business there is still a long way to go, and there are no doubt plenty of horror offerings still out there. However, I think there is now an acknowledgement that paying a fee that would buy a small house for a film company to read your book and say they are interested and will be in touch, sometime, maybe, is not a good purchase. Again, this is good thing.
Less than great expectations
There was some cynicism from potential self-publishing authors, a fear that in actual fact it may only be their mothers that think they have a book in them. I don’t normally have any time for cynicism but in this sector it’s not a bad thing. The headlines are taken by a small pool of well-known writers who have self-published and sold millions of copies, but there is also an vast lake of writers that have self-published to sell less than a box full of titles stored in a garage.
I wouldn’t want writers to be deterred by this, though, and the success stories show what is now possible. But going into it with eyes wide open and acknowledging the huge potential challenges ahead will prepare authors well before beginning their journey. If you have an idea of the hard work and marketing and sales pushes required, for instance, you are less likely to be staring at your Amazon sales ranking believing 1,000,000 is its rank and not the number of copies sold.
Quality, quality, quality
This is something I always press home to self-publishing writers I speak with, and it was a point raised (and also rammed through) by several panelists at the event, from editors to successful traditional and self-published authors. It’s one thing to be focused on being a great seller and marketer, but the hardest and most important part is to focus on being a great writer. It is ultimately that and nothing else that will provide self-published writers with long and successful careers.
Readers aren’t interested in how the author published the book. They are interested in quality, looking only for the best book to buy. I also hate the thought of writers with great potential rushing out a self-published book, then seeing it and giving up writing when with a lot of hard work they could have become successful later on.
I hope this point was taken to heart, and I believe it is a work in progress. I for one am going to keep going on about it–and possibly will still be going on about it at Summit No. 60, should mortality allow.
Jumping out of the haystack
I also sensed a little nervous energy around marketing: what authors should be doing to get their work and platforms out there. There is now an increased understanding of the numbers involved–there are literally millions of books in the marketplace and standing out among them is a huge, huge challenge.
Again, I see this as a positive thing, in that it is best to understand the size of the challenge before starting. I think sometimes self-published writers can get too hung-up on social media (Twitter in particular), when my first focus would be getting out there (physically rather than online) and getting local bookshops and libraries to support and sell my work. It actually reminds of when I set up my first publishing company–one of the first things I did was print out a map and walk to every bookshop I could think of, clinging onto my box of books.
I believe fewer people may now self-publish, or at least the curve will start to level off, but less may well turn out to be more in terms of success and impact. On a hugely positive day, while it was clear writers better recognize the challenges and pitfalls, there was also a recognition of the range of options available and, as a result, those options were being properly considered.
It seems like self-publishing is becoming a better regulated and more professional sector of the industry. Noise can be soothing to some and good for quick headlines, but professionalism and thorough planning will be key to longevity, and that those features are coming to the fore is great news. What is clear, at any rate, is that self-publishing is undoubtedly here to stay.