John Barlow's blog

John Barlow's blog

Accused of Theakstons puffery

Self publishingPosted by John Barlow Sun, January 29, 2012 20:59:40

Promotion of HOPE ROAD continues afoot. Quite a lot of reviews, guest posts, interviews are either up or planned. It’s a bit of a slog, but it throw up the occasional curveball.

I had a post up recently on the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival website. It was called ‘From Traditional Publishing to Self-Publishing: Ten Reasons Why You Should Jump Now’. Here’s the link. I posted a link on Kindleboards, the place where indie writers go to share tips and gossip. Among a whole lot of positive comments came one very angry one, essentially accusing me of puffing up indie publishing and saying nothing of worth. The numbered points below are mine, and each one is followed by the response of this person over at Kindleboards. See what you think...

1. I’m mid-list writer. I won a well-known prize and I’ve been with prestigious publishers. But without a big seller, you’re always vulnerable. The mid-list has been under threat for years, and even before the ebook boom began, it was getting close to impossible to make a living as a mid-lister (I also work as a ghost-writer and food journalist, for example). With the current seismic shift in publishing, it’s doubtful whether the mid-list will survive much longer, certainly not in any form able to sustain the careers of writers whose books don’t break out and fly.

#1–Paranoid guess, not a logical, business-focused reason. Sort of like saying “Gee, my boss continues to give me raises each year and like my work, but he might eventually fire me so I should quit now and start my own business.”

2. If you’re not the author of best selling books or a celebrity, advances are now so low that there’s less financial motivation than ever for taking a traditional publishing deal. Money isn’t the only consideration, of course. But for me it definitely comes into the equation. I like money. And there’s hardly any to be had right now.

#2–And advances for self-published books are non-existent. If advances are a concern for you at all, a $5,000 up front advance is better than a zero advance from Amazon.

3. There’s less pie. Dawn French ate it all. Celebrity novelists, cookbook diaries, boo-hoo memoirs, X-Factor autobios… If you’re looking for an old fashioned novel deal, it’s getting harder and harder to find a publisher. When you ask industry insiders, they tend to say, yeah, editors are still buying stuff, but… Then there’s that resigned shrug, as if the very fabric of our book culture is crumbling beneath our feet. And in a sense it is.

#3–It amazes me how many “mid-list” authors don’t seem to read pass the NYT

4. The future of publishing is unpredictable. Nobody has the first clue what things will look like in five years’ time. Not industry leaders, not expert industry watchers, not agents. Nobody. So now is a great time to break out and experiment with something new. In fact, there could hardly be a better time.

#4–The publishing business has never been predictable. In fact, all business is unpredictable. Amazon could drop its royalty rate to authors tomorrow. It could add restrictions to KDP that limit your distribution options.

5. The stigma has gone. Traditional publishers are now signing successful ebook authors. Bringing out your own ebook is no longer a kiss of death if your long-term plan is to move (back) to a traditional publisher. Lawrence Block just brought one out himself. Loads of established authors are experimenting. Don’t be left behind.

#5–The stigma has faded, but this doesn’t mean self-publishing is an automatic good choice for someone.

6. Be your own boss, commissioning editor, publicist, packager, sales manager… Perhaps you’re not naturally drawn to any of these roles. Perhaps you just want to write. That’s exactly how I felt. Now I’m loving it. I’ve been forced to do new things, to approach my work from new angles (the publicist’s role is particularly revealing for an author). Self-publishing will enliven you and make you a bit scared about what you’re doing. It’ll kick you out of that rut and get you excited about new things.

#6–A valid point for those that are interested in running a business, but also a reason NOT to self publish if you do not have the will, knowledge, or business savvy to do these things.

7. There are new opportunities opening up all the time. Wattpad, fiction streaming, enhanced books, a million forms of interactivity… Not for you? Newsflash: you can still go up to the spare room in the evenings and write your book using your favourite pen. There’s just more you can do (or get someone else to do) after you’ve finished.

#7. I don’t understand the point. Whether or not a technology exists is not the basis of launching a business.

8. I loved being with HarperCollins and FSG. Publishing houses are magical places, full of really bright people who know a huge amount about books. I worked with three brilliant editors, and I learned an incredible amount about writing from listening to their comments and advice. As an indie you’ll need to develop a comparable support network. My novel HOPE ROAD was edited by an editor from a big house, the cover was done by an artist who works for several big houses, and it was professionally proof-read. Don’t skimp on these things. Know what you can’t do alone.

#8–This isn’t a “reason to self-publish.” It is a warning. Self-publishing can get expensive and time consuming. All of the expenses the publisher use to pay for you now have to pay yourself. Those editors and proofreaders and cover artists and book designers and marketing people that the publisher paid to put together and promote your book? You have to write those checks now.

9. If you still harbour a deep desire to be taken under the wing of an established publisher, think about it this way: over the course of the next few years the publishing industry is going to change immeasurably. There are two possible outcomes for you: 1) the new, emerging reality will suit you better than the present situation; 2) it won’t. Either way, you have zero control over this. So, in the meantime (wo)man up and get kindling.

#9–I’m not even sure what the point of this reason is.

10. Finally, you might just earn an awful lot of money.*

*(Sorry for being so vulgar.)

#10–I could also hit the lottery. You can make money in a host of different ways. The question is whether or not you have the business savvy to do so.

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