I spent most of yesterday afternoon with two new friends, Irene and Caroline – who are planning a literary festival in Chichester, because as Irene said ‘there are so many writers in our area.’
They’d come to see me to ask if I would take part in the festival which of course I will. And Irene showed me a list of local writers so that I could see who they were. One was Rosaline Laker who was a very old friend of mine and a very good writer, now sadly dead. Others ranged from published writers to self-published and that set me thinking.
For so much has changed since 1980 when my first book appeared in the shops, that I now feel I’m living in a completely different world. In those days, self-publishing was rarely heard of. It didn’t come in, in a big way until 2009 when Amazon Publishing was launched. There had been vanity publishers of course, which published books at a price and couldn’t get them in the shops and established writers like Virginia Woolf who were able to set up their own publishing houses. But the majority of writers had to jump through the established publishing hoops.
But then, for the thousands and thousands of people who want to write and be published, Amazon was suddenly the obvious outlet and it was free. Now all a wannabe writer has to do is write the book, count the words, write the end and put it up. As Wikipedia puts it ‘the publishing industry as a whole is in a great deal of flux, in a sort of “Wild Wild West” state’.
So is there any difference between being published by a reputable publishing house and self-publishing your book? Yes, I’m afraid there are a lot of differences and some of them are formidable.
The ‘big’ publishers pay a great deal of money (and we’re talking thousands or even millions) to get their books on the shelves of the big bookshops. They also spend thousands of pounds on very visible and public advertising like posters in railway stations and magazines and ad-shell sites, so that the public will know that the books are there. Spending like this is totally beyond pretty well every self-published writer there is. They can’t compete and have to get used to the fact that book shops will not stock their books, which means that the income from their writing is very small, even though they go to as many book fairs as they can and pay a fee for a stall where they can display their stories and shout their praises very loudly ‘read my book, it’s great, etc’. You need considerable stamina to cope with it.
But there is another and more subtle difference between self-published and being published the old fashioned way and that is the fact that in addition to a publicity team, the publishers provide editors to support their writers. And editors are very useful people, for they will point out, kindly and subtly, all the most obvious faults they find in your manuscript and expect you to correct them. It is a salutary experience because you are up against somebody else’s knowledgeable opinion, which will certainly not be as glowing as your own, unless you are a modest writer. It is good for the soul and very necessary. It’s a great handicap not to have a reputable opinion of your work to back it up.
I’m quite sure that all writers need to be self-critical and to aim at the best possible writing that they can and it’s sad to say that that is not always the case with those who are self-published. I admire the time and energy they put into self-publicising their books but I often wish they could have had attention of a full paid editor in a publishing house. They’re the guys who hold the mirror up to your work and make you see it as it really is.
In our wild, wild west state, I don’t know what the answer to it is.