26th February, 2018
5 min read
The Game Changes but Values Shouldn't
Mick Rooney asks why writers are re-evaluating their place in the publishing hierarchy
About twelve years ago I was asked to give an address to a writers’ workshop in the west of Ireland about my experiences as an author and the world of self-publishing. I’d self-published five books at that stage through my own imprint and Facebook was an incidental college social experiment by the boy Zukerberg. A Twitter was someone who insisted on behaving like a fool in public. Sure, Print on Demand (POD) was beginning to build up some steam and former vanity publishers were scratching their heads and wondering how they could make a quick buck with this new phase of print technology.
In many ways, 2005 was the real start of the POD gold rush, where vanity and new reputable print and author solutions services expanded or diversified their businesses. Likewise, in 2005, I relocated and found myself with a great deal more time on my hands after a hiatus of not writing for a few years. I was thinking of diving back into the publishing submission world again, but with my eye on the development and rejuvenation of self-publishing, I was also taking stock of where authors belonged in the overall industry.
It wasn’t that I had given up on publishing or publishers, but I had given up on the process that surrounded how it was being executed. I hadn’t given up hope, rather, I believed in the prescribed methods of publication. There is no book I have ever self-published that did not benefit from the myriad rounds of submission to agents and publishers and did not benefit from their professional input and advice. In fact, if I am honest, had I never exposed my writing to potential readers and the publishing industry, I don’t think I would ever have self-published. My manuscripts would have found their way to dark and forgotten drawers had I not undertaken the submission path.
When I did my talk in the west of Ireland at that writers’ workshop – understandably – much of the conversation did focus on the traditional industry and the frustration authors felt with it. Self-publishing as an option for authors remained a ‘marginal’ option, and back then tutors taught how the industry worked and art of writing, and not how it really was and what alternatives authors had.
Things have changed a lot since then. At that time, writers expressed a great deal of frustration and the focus always seemed to be about what publishers were not doing rather than what writers were doing. Every writer – published and unpublished – had a story of how they felt the industry wasn’t working for them and how it had not met their expectations. By 2008, I stopped appearing at writers’ workshops because I felt worn out hearing the same arguments.
I returned to self-publishing and discovered a very changed world for writers. I eventually self-published in 2008 and the early incarnation of The Independent Publishing Magazine was a place to record my self-publishing experiences. I’d spent years researching the area and felt my own experiences could help other authors. The Independent Publishing Magazine over the years has become a great resource for authors – whether an author is considering self-publishing or not. I remain a strong advocate for publishers like Macmillan, Faber, Canongate and Penguin.
My last novel was published by an Irish commercial publisher last year and much of the last six to nine months of my time has been focused on marketing the book rather than attending writers’ workshops. So, it has been a while since I attended a writer meet-up, and despite the fact that as a publishing consultant, I speak with publishers and authors services every day, the one thing that struck me from meeting authors attending a meet-up of the Alliance of Independent Authors (for the Dublin launch) is the shift in focus in what authors want to do with their work once it is written. The vast majority of discussion on the launch night was not about the industry but, instead, where authors feel they rightfully belong in it and what they can do best to achieve publication for their books. In other words, authors are no longer turning up at literary events to castigate the industry. They want to take their place within it with whatever efforts they can muster to write a good book and reach their readers. It only makes me more assured that the industry needs to be about helping to evolve a healthy community of authors and readers, rather than only focusing on its primary relationship with the retailer.
Here’s the beef. Authors have the experience of soliciting the interest of publishers through agents or directly to a publisher’s editor, but now believe the publisher's only true customer and client is the book retailer. It clearly is not the case in all circumstances, but it remains the perception of authors, published or self-published, trying to engage with their readers and the industry. What was paramount in the minds of almost all the authors at the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors was how they go about marketing and branding once the big boys were not involved. This is the biggest challenge self-published authors have and, it now appears, the area where they often feel least adequate.
Lack of marketing is one big reason why most books released by author solutions companies can’t compete with books released by commercial publishers. The truth is that many author companies’ primary goal is to sell services and not books. Marketing is the area many self-published authors do the least work in – even knowing that commercial marketing and proper store distribution is what sells most books. In short, self-publishing is about harnessing an online presence and the ability to grow that presence and, ultimately, make it a brand for you and your book.
Self-publishing is about taking on the responsibility of marketing your book and brand to readers. That can only happen if the route and service provider you choose offers an adequate platform (not just online), an array of services (editing, design, etc.), ebook and distribution options, and a strong level of support and guidance. The advantages of finding an author solutions service with all of the above is not always clear to an author, and I think it is just one of a number of reasons why so many authors are migrating to Amazon’s digital publishing platform.
But while a growing number of authors choose to circumvent what publishers once provided, it should not be an excuse for a poorly self-published book, nor should it be an absolution from what needs to be done to write and publish a book of quality. Mick Rooney runs
The Independent Publishing Magazine, advising authors on all aspects of independent and self-publishing.
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