Thursday, 3 September 2015


Self-publishing still attracts hostility and an assumption that any self-published work is sub-standard.

Alison Baverstock, writing in the Guardian recently, did some research and discovered that 65% of self-publishers are women. Nearly two-thirds were aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half were in full-time employment, 32% had a degree and 44% a higher degree. Self-publishers tend to be educated and busy.

It cannot be denied that there is much dross out there. Baverstock cites three main reasons for so much tosh – and also a "case for a cultural value that is less easy to quantify."

1. The author has not thought about what self-publishing means 
2. Making content available is not the same as making it readable 
3. Success is not defined by the number of books downloaded or sold 

Baverstock's definition of self-publishing is “the process of taking personal responsibility for the management and production of content”. I agree with that, but beg to remind her that Marketing and selling have to be self-published author's concern too. No agent or a traditional publisher to hold her hand and wave a magic wand as she says We'll do the cover and sell it for you while you write the next book.

"Material made available without sufficient thought damages not only the writer’s reputation but that of self-published work in general. Typing is not the same thing as writing. "I can't disagree with that.

"Most of the material  from traditional publishers is so well handled that it’s only when we see badly-presented content it strikes us that publishing is more difficult than it looks. For some, the penny never drops.'

The other thing she does not consider is that many readers today actually want what Baverstock would call tosh. The short story of 40k words or sometimes less, with a vague storyline and two long chapters of sexual encounters, often race up the bestseller lists on Amazon.  Somebody out there wants to read that sort of stuff. 

"Publishing is a different skill from writing, and laying out content to ensure it is easy to read takes research and practice. Effective publishing is not just pressing a button." That's true also, but it doesn't mean self-published authors don't strive to publish well.

Self-publishingauthors tend not to get in included in surveys of authors’ earnings, but Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, says: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”
 Amazon does not make its results public. If they did we would have a better idea of how things are going. There are signs now that self-publishing is being seen as part of publishing in general. "At its best it offers the traditional industry a new source of writing talent and a chance to take on material with readerships already established. In the process, it cultivates the kind of author proactivity that publishers need if they are to reach markets that are no longer predictable, due both to the proliferation of new media and the challenge to reading of so many other alternative leisure activities."

"But it also allows people to create products that bring huge personal pride, even if they include a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. As a process, the value of self-publishing to communities who want to share or preserve material is huge. But for its reputation to be assured as a medium for reading pleasure, the desire to go public straight away must be resisted. Just because you can share immediately does not mean you should. There is a world of difference between attention and approval."

• Dr Alison Baverstock is Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University and author of The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing (Bloomsbury). 


Anonymous said...

i've just bought back the rights for my first book from the priginal mainstrean publisher. There are still some PB copies which legally must be sold under the priginal publisher name and ISBN, but the Kindle version needs to be re-launched immediately. As part of that process I am compiling a list of the typos/ grammatical errors in the first book - not a huge number,especially considering the 400 pages of the book, but they were there, so even traditionally published books aren't immune from error.

I am also in the process of bringing out a sequel - I am using the same printers / cover designer and distributor as the publisher originally used, and paying for a copy-editor and a formatter - so am making an equal effort to ensure the quality of the final product. Will there be any typos / grammatical errors in this one - I hope not, but I won't be surprised if a few slip through - however much effort has been made re proof-reading etc.

Jen Black said...

Are you self-publishing it, Margaret, or is your publisher bringing it out on Kindle?