Sunday, 22 November 2009

Self-publishing: the future?

Today I want you to consider the following facts:

  • Agents and publishers are getting more and more risk-averse; reluctant to take on new authors unless they are 100% certain of an early financial return.
  • Print-on-demand books these days are relatively cheap, and of a quality indiscernible from a traditionally-published book.
  • E-readers are set to become popular. Though Amazon is coy about revealing figures, estimates suggest they sold half a million in a year; compare that to the 378,000 iPods sold in its first year.
  • Publishers charge an absurdly high rate for e-book downloads.

I'm scenting a change in the wind. Good writers I know, fed up with rave rejections, are beginning to talk about self-publishing and e-publishing as a possibility they might consider, in spite of the fearsome task of marketing this would involve.

Yesterday Ray Rhamey, well-known for his blog Flogging the Quill, announced that he is to self-publish his novel The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, because he fears the current vampire craze will have expired before he finds a publisher.

And not for the first time, I'm thinking that it will only take one novel, that happens to be self-published, to be mega-successful, and the face of publishing will change forever.

(A final thought - publishers love celebrity novels, which come with buyers ready-made. Who will be the first canny celebrity, I wonder, to twig that he doesn't need an agent or a publisher, but can hire an editor, self-publish and keep all the profits for himself?)


  1. I honestly don't think it's true that publishers/agents don't want to take on unknowns. I've seen a lot of debut authors getting deals in the last year, some in the past couple of weeks!

    The problem with self publishing fiction is getting people to know the book is out there. That's going to be tricky unless you throw wads of time and money at it.

    Publishing is changing, no doubt about that. But I think the pace of change will be (like everything else in this biz) sloooow. Until then, I'm going to keep trying the traditional way, I think. I honestly couldn’t be doing with the hassle POD/self publishing involves. I just want to write!

  2. Yes, agents and publishers are indeed happy to take on unknown authors, if they are 100% certain of an early financial return.

    If an agent thinks your novel is on a hot topic, or it's a bit like one that's just been very successful, or if she happens to know a publisher who is looking for a book like yours, then you're in luck.

    If not...

  3. Well of course they're not going to take on something they don't think will sell!
    But I think most publishers and agents will admit that no-one can be 100% sure of anything!

    I was speaking to an editor who works for Puffin recently and she talked about the complete unpredictability of the whole business.

  4. I don't have a problem with an agent not taking on a book she doesn't think she can sell - this is totally reasonable; she has to earn a living.

    What concerns me are the rejections where a novel is turned down, with regret, even though the agent/publisher thinks it's a good book. Going by my small circle of writing friends, this seems quite a common occurrence. And what is the writer to do? He's written a good book; there's nothing wrong with it except it's not deemed 'hot'. There's nothing he can put right in order to sell it. All he can do is go and write another one, try not to get discouraged, and hope to be lucky next time.

    Call me naive, but I think the public wants enjoyable, enthralling fiction, and if offered the opportunity will buy it. The publishing industry sometimes seems not to know this.

  5. Yep, I've had those rejections from agents and publishers.

    Your last paragraph - I sometimes think what the public want is a book much like those they've read before! Perhaps that's why the likes of James Patterson are so huge. It's a brand the consumer trust.

  6. I honestly think that publishers underestimate the public's taste. Hundreds of years on, Shakespeare's still popular; so are Dickens and Jane Austen.

    Why don't they trust their judgment? Why do I get the feeling that agents are talking themselves out of their own enthusiastic response? One emailed, 'I have to admit I like the way you write.' I felt I was giving her a problem by not being immediately dismissable.

  7. I'm liking self e-publishing more and more, although I have a lot to learn and the marketing can be frustrating as can be sometimes. But in a few short months Boomerang has gotten more readers than the paperback versions found in over five years. It's a direct to reader proposition that has some very significant pluses, along with, of course, some real challenges.

  8. Alan, you are one of the vanguard showing others the way. I hope you reap the rewards of being in there right at the start.

  9. 'Eragon' was self-published before a publisher picked it up and it sold even more copies.

  10. Eragon was picked up by chance in 2002, when Paolini's family was finding the marketing of it hard going. I believe it was their faith in the novel, not its POD success, that sold it.

    Someone said on the Authonomy forum that if you sold 5,000 copies on your own, you'd be bound to be picked up by a publisher. Nick Poole said, if you could sell 5,000 copies POD, why would you want a publisher who'd take a big slice of the profits?

  11. Eragon and the rest of that series is one of those godawful examples of some wretchedly written derivative nonsense somehow achieving much more success than it deserves. The subject gives me the hot and cold running fantods.

    And Nick has a point. But like anything to do with the publishing world, it ain't that simple.

  12. I haven't read Eragon myself - as you know, I'm not a fantasy fan - but my daughter has bought and enjoyed every one of them, and says you can see Paolini's writing improve as the series progresses.

    I must take a look one day.

  13. The big argument against self publishing is that you won't get into the bookstores, but in terms of what is prominently displayed in the big chain bookstore, there's nothing but books by celebrities, bestsellers, and Jane Austen with vampyres, seasmonsters and zombies. Borders is rumored to be closing and I can't figure out how any independents are staying open. It would be lovely to have a publisher arranging publicity, and selling for the book. It would also be nice to have a billionaire husband or at least a maid. But I'd rather have a few hundred readers self-published than none waiting for the big deal that doesn't come.

  14. Yes; I've set myself a deadline. After all, contemporary fiction dates, and one can't wait and hope forever.

    And if you can sell to a few hundred, you can sell to a few hundred more, and so on...

  15. As a literary agent I don't take on much fiction but I certainly in terms of non-fiction I am happy to look at the long haul if I think the book deserves publication and I believe I can place it. Daniel Tammet's bestselling Born on a Blue Day took years to sell.
    I've self-published some of my own books and I agree that for certain books, subjects authors that it is a good option especially as increasingly consumer(reader) and producer(writer) are able to communicate directly.

  16. Hi Anon - how nice that you're not attempting to flog Viagra today as you so often do on my comments section :o)

    Yes, books with a clearly defined audience may be better served with POD. The problem comes when one has written a novel with, one hopes, mass appeal.

    The heart chills at the thought of a book taking years to sell...