There are some intriguing things happening in the self-publishing world at the moment. I note this as an interested party, having recently produced a paperback novel myself after having twelve non-fiction books traditionally published. Why DIY? Because I could not face trailing the manuscript around disinterested publishers for perhaps years and still maybe never see it on a bookshelf.
I set about finding how to do it myself. After a foray into Lulu, which produced a moderately expensive, bound book and a hugely expensive postage bill to New Zealand, I sat down and took stock. It dawned on me that the only thing Lulu offered that I could not do myself was the marketing connection with Amazon. As the book is a short adult fairy tale that is not easily classifiable I decided that no-one would ever find it on Amazon anyway. So I eschewed the ISBN and all that expensive commercial marketing and set out to simply make a book that I could sell myself.
The result was that I wrote the text in a simple word processor, then exported it as a PDF. I then drew the complete wrap-around cover in a simple vector drawing program and converted that to a PDF. Having found a suitable printing company ten minutes drive down the road I then emailed them the two files and a couple of days later I had a proof copy at half the cost of Lulu’s and no postage.
That sounds simple, and in truth it was. The layout of the text had to be done carefully to fit the book size, and the size of the cover had to be accurate, but there was nothing I could not do with a little web research. Total cost for setting it all up was about US$40, followed by about $4 a copy for the printing.
This provides a stark contrast to the figures I saw a while ago at The Self-Publishing Review in a post about a major US publisher offering self-publishing packages ranging from $1000 to $20,000. Cynics may see this as little different from vanity publishing and anyone interested in the details should google “Thomas Nelson Author Solutions”. To me, however, there are wider and much more interesting aspects to this, the main one being that mainstream publishers are now viewing self-publishing as rather more than just a bunch of mickey-mouse amateurs. Books are being produced outside the main stream that are worthy of their serious consideration. Smashwords, Authorwords and their ilk, together with book review blogs, are being seen as a source of publishable books – they are, effectively, becoming a global slushpile.
This global slushpile, for all the unfortunate connotations of the name, actually has much to offer both publishers and authors. It provides a simple market place where authors can display their wares and publishers can browse them. How much better than authors sending individual manuscripts to dozens of individual publishers, and publishers ploughing through only the books that are specifically sent to them. An author can now expose his book, at negligible cost and effort, to hundreds of publishers that he has never even heard of, and publishers can view thousands of books that would never normally come their way, filtering out whatever they wish.
Another aspect to this, which came out in an earlier discussion at The Self-Publishing Review, is that agents can also work with this global slushpile. It became apparent to me during this discussion that agents could in fact have a lot to offer a self-published author, and vice versa. Now that actually producing the physical book is cheaply and easily done by the author, it is clear that what an author now needs most is help with selling the thing. Publishers can do this of course, but so can agents, and the advantage of the latter from the author’s viewpoint is that it does not tie him to any particular house. Perhaps what the self-publisher needs is a ‘manager’; someone who can organise him and sell his wares, be they paper books, ebooks, signings, lectures or whatever. I guess artists work like this. Agents seem to be well placed to take on this role, and self-publishing authors equally well placed to offer them something.
Publishing will change dramatically over the next few years, there can be no doubt about that. And it seems to me that self-publishing authors building balanced relationships with agent/managers through the global slushpile could be a healthy outcome. Obscurity, they say, is our greatest enemy, so why not put our work on a global ‘market stall’ where it can be seen not only by publishers and agents all over the world, but also by readers, reviewers and even buyers.
Authors should take heart from what my first editor said to me: “Yes, we read everything in the slushpile; you just never know what might be in there.”
Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is “no longer a dirty word.” – from article in NY Times.