Self publishing - The good, the bad and the ugly
The continued explosion of the internet brings more opportunities to people. We've seen how dating sites allow people to find the love of their life, how Facebook reunites old school friends, and Twitter gives people a platform and a voice to campaign, protest or talk to themselves. Countless cats, dogs and toddlers have had their five minutes of fame thanks to YouTube.
In the past few years, Amazon has evolved from simply being a shopping site, to offering artists the chance to showcase their work in a way that has never been available before. I have been writing since my early teens, and have everything from short stories pencilled in the back of my school jotters, to full typed manuscripts of fairly unrealistic (i.e. 'crap') novels completed in my twenties.
Discovering (by chance) that I could put my writing "out there" in cyberspace for people to download on their Kindle was the most exciting day of my life. Suddenly there seemed little point in targeting agents and publishers in the hope that I may be the next JK Rowling, when I could just bypass the system. Soon after putting my first novel, Dark Horse, on the Kindle store, I discovered Createspace - another Amazon company - that could create a paperback version at no cost to me. The novel is "print on demand" so when a customer orders a copy, the book is printed and sent to them. No need for a garage full of unsold books, no need for a second mortgage to pay for publishing my dream.
So is it all good? What are the good, the bad and the ugly points to self publishing this way?
For me, my control over the process is the biggest benefit. If I were to become a full time writer with a publishing house or editor breathing down my neck to meet deadlines, the enjoyment would dissipate in an instant. Self publishing allows me to set a program in my head. Luckily, I'm fairly organised and self-motivated, but it's only myself I'm answering to (and a couple of readers that keep telling me to hurry up with the sequel).
The freedom of being in control of your writing, editing and publishing comes at a price. With no team behind you, you suddenly have to be responsible for everything that a publisher could offer - editing, proof reading, cover design, marketing and promotion, even accounting. I am fortunate that I have respected friends and family that can help with aspects of this, and I have found it worthwhile to hire a freelance proof reader to iron out those pesky typos and grammatical errors.
Self publishing through Amazon can be completely free, but I have found it necessary to invest back some of the profits to make sure the book is professional, and to help get noticed. I have elements of marketing and promotion in my day job, so this helps, but free social media will only get me so far. Tweeting about my book into the ether to a bunch of global strangers isn't effective at getting sales. No-one knows who I am. In my first year I paid for a twitter promotion, and this was a complete waste of money. The self published author has to make such mistakes to learn from them!
Some free promotion has been worthwhile. I persuaded the local libraries to stock copies (and was amazed to discover that people had actually taken them out) and by using contacts in the Swindon media, have had coverage in the local magazine and my local Facebook site has resulted in sales (and new friends!)
Some of the marketing tools I have had to spend money investing in are a website, business cards, bookmarks and paying for pitches at local fairs. I have also bought in copies of the paperbacks to sell through my website. Fortunately I don't have that garage full of damp copies - Createspace will ship out any quantity I need at cost price plus postage. Selling signed copies online, or at fairs, involves meeting people that take an interest in me as a writer. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being published.
I have to be disciplined to ring fence the income to invest back into promotion costs. I suspect that my writing will never make me as rich as JK Rowling or EL James, but I never set out to make my fortune from writing. First and foremost it's my enjoyable hobby, and the challenge of being more than a writer, being responsible for all that goes with the publication of each book, is part of this package.
Now that self publishing has become so easy and accessible, so the market becomes more crowded and competitive. Bypassing the traditional publishing roots encourages diversity in the world of fiction, and the increase in authors and their books should be welcomed.
Overall, I relish the challenge of being writer, publisher and marketer all in one. For me, the good outweighs the bad and ugly. Now if you'll excuse me, I really must get on with that sequel....