Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The How and Why of Self Publishing 1

Publishing is going through all kinds of changes, and as a practicing writer, I'm looking at the opportunities as much as the problems. Actually, I'm convinced the challenges are more for the publishers and the legacy bookshops. There are more benefits for writers. Benefit no 1: backlists.

It's an odd feature of the way the publishing industry has developed that it's not cost effective to keep backlist books in print. This extends to rather crazy examples. My first novel, a multi prize winning portrait of modern China, won international acclaim and was picked by the Washington Post as a Best Book of 2001 - but when my editor left Weidenfelt and Nicolson, I did too, and ended up at Little, Brown.

This book, The Drink and Dream Teahouse sold 11,000 hardbacks in the first year in the UK and Commonwealth markets - and whenever I go to readings people always ask me where can they buy it?

On the back of this interest I nagged my editor to get this novel back into print, but was distinctly unwilling. Ebook? meh. Paperback. Ugh.

Bugger the lost of them, I thought, I'll publish the thing myself.

I've been interested in the business model of new publishing houses who are going with a combination of print on demand and ebooks. But it's sobering looking at the finances.

Tips from self-published authors included 'get yourself a professional looking cover.'

So to start off I approached a top UK cover designer who told me that publishing houses pay £800+ for book covers. No wonder, then that it doesn't make sense for mainstream publishers to publish back lists. And this gets me thinking about the insanity of the publishing process, where average author's advances have been in steady decline over the last decade. Andrew Lownie reported in 2006 that of the 27 books he sold, with an average advance of £52,592. By 2006 the average had dropped to £31,070. Advances have been falling ever since, with most advances under £5,000.

And of course, skim off all these figures, the 10-15% that goes to author agents.

Obviously there is money in publishing, because there are profitable publishers and booksellers and agents throughout the industry. But precious little of it filters down to the authors. This will change. In fact, its probably changing already.

It's a fairly simple equation. Cut out the middle men. Middle men here equals agents, publishers, and bookshops. Never before has it been so easy and practical to get books to the audience. That's the principal I'm following this year as I set off on the self publishing journey.

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