Independent Publishing – Where Now?

November 12, 2012 7:25 pm

 

A chill winter is hitting the world of publishing, as though Narnia’s White Witch came trundling past leaving doomsdayers and naysayers petrified. Willfully deluded optimists (such as myself) are citing that the freedoms of epublishing will revolutionise the industry and overthrow the giant sloths who have trapped us in their regime for so long. But like in any political fable set in a farmyard, our wary eyes must stray to who leads the charge against the old ways. In this case, the pig is called Amazon and he’s pretty sneaky.

There are two notable stories in the publishing world at the moment. The one getting all the limelight is the merger between two of the giant sloths – Random House and Penguin. Is this a sign that the big guys are getting backed into a corner, thus teaming up to make themselves more abominable? I know I’m not the only one who has grown up thinking of Penguin books as having a cuddly image and I’m still not above hoarding the original covers in a section on my book shelf because of how nice they look. But pay no heed to their traditional, local brand image, these days they’re just like the rest. Not to knock any of the biggies for lacking integrity and moral compasses. Business is business. When it comes to the big game, nice guys finish last.

That’s where the independent press (should) come in. They replace what is lost when the majors listen to bean-counters rather than readers. They look at where the foreshortening has occurred, leaving high-street booksellers with shelves full of  the ego-masturbations  of Clarkson or some Royal relation popular mainly for the shape of her derrière.

The other notable story in publishing  is the acquisition of Tindal Street Press by Profile. Fair enough Profile is still an independent, but one of the stand-out appeals of Birmingham-based Tindal Street Press was their championing of writers outside of the South West region where the majority of publishers operate. It is therefore a bitter pill to see them swallowed into London. TSP were extremely successful in terms of backing several award-winning or Man-Booker nominated writers, so this isn’t just the inevitable gobbling of small fry.

 

Back to the subject du jour of epublishing and self-publishing, it’s important to sniff out a few myths. Despite the well-publicised success of first Amanda Hocking and second E.L James, making a splash on Amazon is very, very hard. The ebook market is absolutely saturated and a large percentage of that is poorly edited, poorly written rammel, which taints the repute of those self-publishing the good stuff. As a publisher you have to swim through a sewer to reach treasure island. The majority of readers aren’t likely to stray from the top 100 in any given niche and how do you get into that chart when you’re surrounded by everyone else shouting about their book? E. L James was a publicist before she carved out a career writing terrible erotica. Amazon just wanted another big story to garner attention and feed their greedy appetite. The Gray story is unlikely to really be a rags-to-riches triumph of the individual over mean corporations, more likely it’s another tale of ‘this is how easy it is to sell utter dross to the masses‘.

 

Keeping all this in mind, I’m still optimistic that the shifting of publishing’s tectonic plates will still leave opportunity for the independents. I have vested interest as I just entered the game myself (as veritable small fry). With it becoming less and less easy for a sole individual to swim Amazonian waters, will the independents who are ready to evolve and change their game-plan be able to provide a little quality control? Can we take advantage and create new platforms which don’t just cynically chase pound signs? I certainly hope so.

Kirsty Fox is a writer and publisher at Bees Make Honey.

 

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  • A really interesting, thoughtful, article. I am myself considering publishing a few books via the Kindle, I’m realistic enough to know I won’t make a penny from my endeavours, and indeed I perhaps shouldn’t.

    It is a shame that talented writers are struggling to find an audience for their product, I find it difficult to find well written, interesting new, non mainstream, authors to read, and I find it particularly irksome that a browse of a bookshop can sometimes result in a lack of purchases, and having to resort to the Internet, but I guess that’s just a sign of the times.

    The current successes, mentioned in the article, are to be applauded, whether its material one would wish to read, I haven’t read any of the two successful authors work. Normally authors that suddenly become popular write atrociously, their books popular but trite.

    Any aspiring writer must understand that there’s no secret to success, plenty of professional writers struggle to earn a decent living.

    • Hayley Sherman

      The indie big-hitters perpetuate the illusion that self-publishing a book will lead to a pot of gold. Thus, saturation. When anyone can do something a hell of a lot of people will give it a go. And so we have a double-edged sword. Having all this freedom to go it alone is absolutely awesome until you realise that every other writer in the world has the same freedom and they’re all waving their hands too.

      We complained about the hoops we had to jump through to get traditionally published and now, if there were just a few more hoops in indie publishing, our masterpieces might be elevated above the sea of dross and we might be successful.

      I really do believe that great writing will prevail eventually and I just hope that the good writers aren’t getting too disillusioned by the system because being able to put your work out there, even if you can count your readers one at a time, is more enjoyable than sitting in a slush pile.

      The future of publishing? I would say that self-publishing is not only a valid means of getting your books out there, but it is increasingly a scouting ground for traditional publishers. Why scour the unknown pile of manuscripts on the desk when they can see a book in action? But, favouring the popular over the great, by the time a writer has caught their attention, would they really even need a trad book deal?

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