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Thursday, 31 May 2012

What Do You Love and Hate About Self-publishing?

That’s a question to which you’ll need to supply the answers, of course. To get you started, here are my own views.

So, do I get the 'hates' out of the way first, or inspire with the 'loves'?

Let's make it a 'love' sandwich.

I love the freedom self-publishing gives me as a writer, allowing me to select all aspects of my books, so that they really are my products in as many ways as possible. I have the final say over the text, the content, the layout, font, length and the cover illustration. I can choose my titles and not have some marketing accountant interfere because he thinks another would sound more enticing.

And that's the real issue, I suppose. I get to publish what I want, not the mish-mash that some bean counters would have me publish. Because, make no mistake, in traditional publishing the accountants are the ones who have the final say about what is and is not published. And this, in spite of the fact that they have frequently rejected books that have later gone on to be best sellers. Men who care more about profits than about artistic honesty and integrity are not the people I want dictating how my books should look and what they should contain. Publishing has grown to be too much like modern football: all about profit and very little to do with the activity itself.

So, what do I hate? Marketing. I don't want to spend my time as a salesman. It's not a natural role for me. And I speak as one who has sold for a living on more than one occasion. I worked as a shop manager for a few years and I worked as representative for a company selling photographic printing services to shops for a year. That year almost killed me. The whole process requires a level of dishonesty I'm incapable of sustaining, even should I wish. I was selling a product that was sub-standard and I had no faith in it. It was a role I left as soon as I found an alternative method of earning my daily bread.

Of course, selling one's own work is a different matter, in that one has faith in the product. But, that apart, the actual process of selling is something alien to my personality and philosophy. It isn't that I have some subconscious problem with making money from my work. That isn't the issue. We all tend to judge others by our own standards and habits. For me, shopping for anything is a matter of discovering which product suits my needs and then finding a place that I trust where I can obtain it for a reasonable price. I'm not an average shopper, as I find the whole process of buying things something of a necessary evil. It's definitely not a social activity for me. I don't enjoy the process. And the aspect of shopping I most dislike is having some sales assistant trying to sell me something I don't want.

As a result of these feelings, I find myself reluctant to 'force' my work onto others. I'd prefer them to discover for themselves the delights to be had between the covers. I know that this is not practical or even wise if I'm to maximise my income from my books. So, I compromise in ways that I'm able. I place my books on sites that people visit frequently, I write this blog on matters that I hope will attract attention, I use the social networks to increase my 'visibility'. And I offer my work free from time to time so that readers can sample my writing and hopefully feel inspired to write reviews. Reviews sell more indie books than almost anything else.

What I'm not prepared to do is spend my precious writing time on marketing the work. I hope people will enjoy my books and, over time, will spread the word. Unrealistic? Possibly. But it's how I am. In the good old days of traditional publishing it was actually possible for an author to remain entirely hidden and for his writing to be the only thing known about him by his readers. That situation no longer obtains and, as in so many other aspects of life, I have compromised in order to attract some attention. But there is a limit to what I'll do in this regard and, if that means I don't make the best-seller lists, so be it. I'm not about to sell my soul in order to gain more readers.

The other real advantage of self-publishing, the other aspect I love about it, is the freedom it gives the writer to choose the subject matter and style of writing; what is generally termed 'genre' in the trade. With traditional publishing, the agent and the editor tend to confine the writer to a specific area of writing. So, you become known and labelled as a 'crime writer', a 'fantasy writer', a 'romance writer' and traditional publishing does everything in its power to restrict authors and prevent them straying from the field of activity they see as suitable for the writer. In reality, the field they expect to make the most money from.

Well, I have many subjects I wish to explore and many different types of story I wish to tell. If I wish to write a romance and then follow that with a science fiction thriller and then an epic fantasy, I'm free to do that as a self-publishing writer. I have the freedom of choice.

For me, that freedom is paramount. I’m a creative artist and I don't intend to allow the false restrictions of the perceived market place and the Great God Profit to confine my creative spirit and strangle my individuality by forcing me to write in any particular vein. I accept that I will not make as much money as I might under the guidance and governance of a publisher and agent, but I will remain artistically true to my own standards and interests. That's my choice as an author. I have no responsibility to anyone but myself and my readers.

In the end, it comes down to what the individual regards as success. For the majority, that quality is measured in cash returns. For me, it’s measured in the work itself. I write the best I can and leave it to readers to decide whether they like that work enough to recommend it to others. It's a slow and uncertain process of growth in an overcrowded field full of poor and generic work hyped for the consumption of the majority. But it's my choice. Not the imposed direction of some accountant. And that's why I love self-publishing.

Does that mean I would reject any offer from an agent or a tradition publisher? Not necessarily. I’d examine what was on offer and if it suited my way of doing things, I’d consider it. But if it involved me in what I consider unreasonable and harmful restrictions, I'd turn it down, regardless of the amount of money on offer. I realise that makes me a fool in the eyes of many, if not most, but it's how I feel about the whole business.
I am, first and foremost, a creator. I'm not some sort of profit generator to be moulded and distorted by the needs of the market place.

My position is that readers either like my work and buy it or they don't. That's their choice and I'm willing to live by that ideal.

So, how do you feel? What are your loves and hates about self-publishing? The comment space below is easy to use to make a contribution, so let’s have your words, please.

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