There are few authors who don’t know about the frustration of getting their work out there. Also, even fewer make their living “just” via their books (as regular surveys by the Society of Authors make depressingly clear).
George Orwell made a significant amount of his living via book reviewing. The benefits of his creations passing into the English language as shorthand, sadly, were not realised by him directly. I’ll be returning to my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 (which is loosely based on his creation of Room 101 in 1984) in a few weeks’ time. You don’t want all my moans at once!
Another reason for a gap in my mini-series is the title of this post is a huge clue to something else I would put into Room 101. However, it occurred to me this topic was strong enough for an article in its own right.
Writers, including Orwell, then have faced and continue to face the Catch 22 situation where traditional publishers want an author to have an agent first but an agent ideally wants a writer with a track record. How do you get that track record? By being published, of course!
Part of the reason for this is, from the publishers’ viewpoint, the agent has effectively carried out some vetting given no agent will take on a client if there isn’t the prospect of money being made somewhere. As for agents, it can be much harder to find one prepared to take you on as a writer than it is for you to find a publisher. (I can confirm that is true!).
Many writers give up on this no-win situation and either self-publish or seek publication via the smaller independent presses. With self-publishing:-
– You control all your rights
– You sell your books as you see fit
– Print on demand has made a huge difference to making self publishing reasonably viable
– You can buy in services as you choose or do everything yourself
– The quality of well thought out self published books is so high now, most people would find it hard to tell a self-published book from a traditionally published one. (And that is how it should be too).
Self-publishing when well done and being published via the small independent publishers are both valid ways of achieving publication though always check out who you work with, whichever route you choose to go.
Stay away from vanity presses who will charge you a fortune and take your rights in your work. You may as well use the money they charge to purchase the self publishing services you feel you will need.
Everything I’ve read on this topic recommends investing in a good book cover designer and an editor. For anyone interested, I would recommend visiting ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors website. And comments would be very welcome from those of you who have self published. I also think it great that there is a body like ALLI supporting the self-published. One thing all writers need is support and encouragement from others who know and appreciate the urge to write at all and the difficulties and joys of getting your work out there.
One thing self-published writers and those published by the small independent presses share is the need to do our own publicity and marketing (though this is true also for those published by the big publishing houses. Only the big names get the budget). This includes getting our books on to Amazon, spreading the word about what we do (and without being annoying about it!), and accepting all of this will take considerable time and effort. There are no shortcuts. (Getting together in writers’ groups for things like Book Fairs can be immensely helpful to all involved though).
Everyone from Amazon to the bookshops expect huge discounts for stocking and selling your book. The simple truth is they want to make sure they will make some money, especially if you are an unknown. So what does an author do? My own view is to think very long term and see what you do in terms of publicity and marketing as an investment, but you invest what you can afford to “lose”, whether this is in terms of time, money or, usually, both.
I’ve seen a little of the “other side” of publishing where the issues of costs of postage, printing etc are huge factors in setting the price for a book but publishers, of whatever type, do need to meet their costs and make some profit.
Is it galling when some celebrity author who you know has not written “their book” gets X thousands of pounds and tonnes of publicity when really good writers in non-fiction as well as fiction struggle to get some recognition? Of course but, alas, this is not going to change anytime soon and my own view is the “smaller fish” do need to stick together. You are looking for a build up of sales over time and working with other writers can be a way to achieve that. After all in the Book Fair we had last year here, there was a wide range of books catering for most tastes. That was great. No one person likes every type of book after all.
My route to publication was the independent press route via Bridge House Publishing, Cafelit, and now Chapeltown Books. They are more prepared to take on new people as it can help the presses develop a unique brand and that is how they “compete” in the market place. They’re never going to match the big publishers but that isn’t the idea. The aim of the independent press is to develop their own niche and make it work for them.
As with all valid publishers, a good independent press will never ask you for money. Check out the websites of people you may be thinking of approaching. If they have author details (which they should do), look up those authors on the web. Most will have websites and there should be contact details on there (usually a Contact Us button which will take you to a form to fill in or the author’s email address). Most writers are very glad to talk about their publishers if they are good ones so do ask!
Chapeltown Books, my publisher, are a good example for carving out a unique niche for themselves and their writers. The image of my book with the frame around the central image will be used for all of the books they’re bringing out. The differences will be in the colour of the frames and the central images used.
Hopefully, this kind of branding will help make Chapeltown memorable. (Mine with the ripples is meant to indicate my stories have impact beyond the initial “splash”). They now have a wide range of books out and I hope all will spread the word about the joys of flash fiction. The small independent press like Chapeltown are a lifeline for authors of quirky fiction by giving us a voice that the bigger publishers would not and, in developing their own branding, can show the world at large “hello, this is what we do”.
Next week, I’ll be talking to fellow Chapeltown and flash fiction writer, Gail Aldwin about her route to publication. Gail is a creative writing tutor and prize winning author and also talks about her round the world trip on a bus. Now there IS a source of inspiration for stories!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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