Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What is wrong with the Publishing Industry II: The Author Strikes Back!

A few months ago I wrote a post 'What is wrong with the publishing industry' -  in which I lamented the fact that I was unable to convince my current publishers to put my first novel back into print: even though it was won prestigious prizes, sold 12,000 copies in hardback, and 35,000 in paperback before my editor left, and I switched publishers and that novel went out of print.

Rather than going back over the facts of that particular case, I want to share how I responded to this case, and where, as an author, it has led me. 

But first of all - if you're at all like me - which means that you have stories that are publishable - but which remain unpublished, then read on.

Most important advice first... I don't know David Gaughran, he's not a friend, but if you're tempted - and you should be - then first of all you should go out and get this book:

It's an ebook, so in fact you don't even have to go out and read it.  But I don't have a kindle, I hear people calling.  Don't worry: you just need a computer and an Internet connection, and then you can download this program which allows you to read the book on your pc, or ipad or however you commune with the world wide web.

But I don't like reading books on a screen.... well - devote yourself the hour or so to read through this.  It's well written, practical and clear, and won't take long to go through.  And it tells you why and most importantly how to epublish your own material.

Now, I have to be honest.  I spent five years nagging my editor about putting The Drink and Dream Teahouse back into print because the last thing I wanted to do was to get involved with self-publishing.  Heck!  I barely had enough time to write my new stories, feed my kids, see my wife and then relax at the end of a day never mind dealing with cover designers, picking covers, prices, and places to market the book. 

But as Publishing companies become more profit orientated, and the number of places they sell books reduces in number (Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith...and - how many of us still buy books from our local in dependant bookstore?) the pressure they're under from book sellers increases.  The market is driven by new, new, new!  My editor is a great guy.  He likes the novel and wanted to buy it first time round.  But - as a Chinese saying goes -  it's a used shoe.  Who wants to wear it?!  Publishing wants an increasingly marketable books.  Square eggs, if you see what i mean, and if not all your eggs are square then you're stuck.

Publishing is great when you have a new book out.  You buy the Sunday papers to read your reviews, watch the first responses on Amazon, do the tour of bookshops, sit at a table stacked high with your book, and sign your way through them.  And then nothing happens for a year - if you're a prolific author - or if you're like me, then there's radio silence for a year or two, or more probably, with 9 month lead times - three years till the next novel comes out.

Which - in the world of instant publishing - this all seems ponderous as a way of communicating with readers, and supplying them with stories.


As a published author with a number of prizes to my name, you might be asking 'Why should I be worrying about self-publishing?' 

I want to be clear: I still see publishing novels through mainstream publishers as my primary activity, but there are ways I can support my novels in a number of ways.

The principal reason is that there are things I've written which are unpublishable in the current book world.  I'm working on a series of novels covering the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and there's a lot of fabulous material there.  Some of it fits well into the novel format.  Some of it doesn't.  So what do I do with the 5,000 word pieces.  Or the 20,000 word novellas which won't fly far in the pitch to the marketing pips, never mind to the Waterstones buyers.  Until now there's been no way to get these stories out.  No magazine published short historical fiction. 

So this is what self-publishing means for me.  Being in control and being able to write what I like and want to write about, as well as providing my readers with the things they like to read.

What does it mean for you?  Are you writing something that has no obvious audience, or an audience that might not necessarily best be reached through mainstream publishing.  Well, go read David Gaughran's book and see how easy this can be. 


I meant to get onto the whole topic of how I've gone about self-publishing today - but will come back to that soon....!  Just to say that - like me - you can be a complete newb, and in a matter of days you can take a mss and turn it into a book that you can put up on Amazon with minimal effort. 


Matthew Harffy said...

Good post.

It is increasingly tantalizing to self-publish online.

I am trying to hold out, polish my debut novel, edit it, get an agent, then a publisher, then see it in print. But I have to say that is really tempting to just say "screw the waiting" and get the story published in ebook form.

I like the idea of perhaps getting some short stories together and putting them on Amazon, and still go down the traditional route for the novel(s). It gets stories in front of readers and promotes visibility of your "brand".

Justin Hill said...

I have a friend who self published, was picked up by Penguin, and then published the mainstream way, but this is rare.

As a first time novelist I think you're on the right track. Get a mainstream publisher first, and that's you're stamp of approval/quality/whatever.

Then you can self-publish short stories, tie-ins, the lives of bit-characters, as a way of boosting sales for the main book.

Paula Lofting-Wilcox said...

As a selfpublished author myself (I am actually assisted published) About to publish for the second time with the fabulous after publishing my first with the very good but more expensive Silverwood books. I am pleased to be selfpublished because I like to be in control of what my book contains, looks like (I hate those terrible inaccurate headless women with acronisitic clothing) and make decisions about it myself.Also, the stress of waiting for all those rejection letters really puts me off mainstream. It took me 6 years to write my book, I didn't want to wait. Publishing a book can be done by the author themselves very cheaply but I have a fulltime job and its good to have someone do all the heavy work for me for a small amount of money

Justin Hill said...

Thanks Paula - I think the lead times of traditional publishing are a real frustration to authors, who could self-publish and have a book up as an ebook or on pod within a week.

Publishing is clearly changing rapidly, and I think it's up to writers to take opportunities where and when they come.