Monday, 8 April 2013

Why readers need self-published authors

We're back! (And, yes we did, thank you - lovely! Want to see the pictures? Ok then, maybe later...)

In my absence I was fortunate to have two splendid guest-blogs by a couple of first-rate bloggers and authors who have one thing (apart from first-class writing) in common - they've both self-published their work, and very successfully too.

Despite being introduced at last year's Brit Mums conference as an 'expert' (ex-pert, that's for certain!) on self publishing I haven't actually had that much experience. I've only self-published one of my own books, and that was because I was keen to utilise the get-out clause in a contract with a 'traditional' publisher who - as far as I could tell - was doing nothing much yet still taking 90% of the net proceeds of my sales.

But there's more to self-publishing than simply doing the job (better) yourself. I'm passionate about the whole process, proud to have helped others do it (via my own Dotterel Press imprint) and persuaded by the amazing success-stories of many indie authors (as well as the fact that many established authors are trying it) that self-publishing is here to stay and might even become the new model for the industry.

And that might be a good thing for readers, too.

Because creative industries everywhere - from publishing to television and film-making - are crippled by the influence of the dreaded 'feedback loop'.

The idea that big publishing is built on sales isn't new. But the money-driven principle that because we've liked something in the past we'll enjoy it in the future is stifling creativity. Big publishers are the supermarkets of the book world, telling us (as readers) what we like and what we don't and what we can and can't consume. Driven by sales, the big beasts want to re-create the past. But things are changing, and not just in the world of book-producing.

All over the country farmers markets, niche outlets and specialist online retailers are putting the consumer back in touch with the producer. The success of London's Borough Market was built on the principle that the big supermarkets don't always know what the customer wants - and haven't the time or the inclination to broaden our horizons.

But shoppers - and readers - soon become bored; the familiar becomes stale and sales stall. Publishing houses fold, or merge. But - like the banks before them - lessons are not always learnt. Authors are mere 'brands' (or cash cows) and must slavishly stick the the formula for success as laid down by publisher. Heaven forfend if they suggest writing something new, original, exciting. Editors must have been weeping into their Lattes when J.K. Rowling announced there would be no more Harry Potter. And yet how hard it had been for her to break through with the new idea in the first place. Now, Harry Potter would probably have become an internet sensation. (Canny Ms Rowling has retained the rights to eBooks and, guess what, is publishing them herself!) Back then the first Harry Potter was a dog-eared pile of paper being hawked with increasing desperation round traditional publishers unwilling to touch it (if they could be bothered even to read it) because it wasn't what was making money at the time. Ergo it wasn't what they - the publishers, the editors - thought readers wanted.

How wrong they were...

So, thanks again to Ben and Mark for guest-posting and congratulations on their respective publishing success. In a very real sense they are the pioneers of a new and exciting template for writing and publishing - one that puts readers directly in touch with authors and raises the bar on creativity and innovation.

Long may it continue.

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