Recently, at the International Festival of Authors, Toronto, I was asked to participate in a round table discussion as part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference alongside A.L. Kennedy, Beatrice MacNeil, Kristel Thornell and Irvine Welsh. Late in the game, a question was posed by an audience member with regard to the rise in popularity of self-publishing, and our thoughts surrounding that phenomenon. Inevitably, along came my turn to tackle the tricky question, however, I’d like this opportunity to expand upon and clarify my response.
It is a fact: self-publishing continues to grow as an outlet for scribes demanding that their hard work be read. Moreover, the popularity of the e-book format has allowed the self-publishers to cut costs tremendously, and to launch their work solely in an electronic format without having to deal with the anxieties surrounding printing a precarious number of hard copies that could very well end up occupying an entire bookshelf in one’s own living room or (more likely) basement. Yes, the thought of one having to dust a bookcase worth of self-published overstock seems entirely depressing. Regardless, self-published books continue to be born each and every day. Each with the sincere promise from associated websites that (via this platform) an author can control their own destiny and the number of book sales rests solely in their hands, as if effort was the deciding factor, and not the quality of the material:
Identify your target audience.
Self-publish your book.
Shamelessly, market your book to that audience via any channel possible.
Away you go.
Oh, and you’re not allowed in major book retailers, and good luck getting reviewed.
For an author desperate to have their work exist out there in the world, I can see how this is option is tempting – a something vs. nothing sort of situation. All-the-while, looming over every decision to go this route must be the “one-in-a-million” dream. The tease of stories whereby an author self-published and somehow managed a best-seller out of it. Thus, the swing-for-the-fence mentality comes into play, as it does in the film industry when a screenwriter can’t sell a script and ultimately hires non-union actors, shoots the film on a Sony Handicam, edits the project on their MacBook Pro and somehow that gritty uber-indie feature film finds its home at Sundance or Toronto or Cannes or Berlin, and everyone loves it when David hits Goliath square on the forehead. Perhaps, the self-publishing industry acts as the slingshot, and the content – the stone, and holy hell, if you pull back hard enough and fire blindly, you just might hit something.
With respect to the rise in self-publishing, I get it. I understand how and why it is attractive for many authors for the myriad of the reasons associated. It’s just far too uncomfortable for me.
For me, there is a heaping tablespoon of romance lost in all of it. For me, there is an inescapable beauty in an unbiased, third-party group of individuals gathering around a table and selecting your book against hundreds of other choices because they have reached a consensus regarding the quality of the craft and the quality of the storytelling. There is something magical about a group of strangers pushing your content out into the world, screaming, “World, you have to read this … it is sensational.”
Your craft and storytelling – validated and supported by a team of industry professionals.
It just seems tremendously important.
The self-publishing world reminds of American Idol, X-factor, or Britain’s Got Talent, whereby the thousands of artists who come to audition have every assurance in the not-yet-determined fact that possess the talent and formula for stardom and riches. Just ask them, the quality of their work is exceptional. Of course they believe that – they are their own quality control board and marketing team, and the whole thing is just off-putting. Despite that, there are diamonds in them there lines who need sourcing and polishing. It is proven time and time again. The same has to be true in literature and self-publishing. Maybe that’s entirely the point. As A.L. Kennedy stated, “I have to think that all of the self-publishers are really just looking for a respected publishing house to come along and snatch them up.”
I couldn’t agree more.
At the end of the day, it’s not something I would do … but I completely understand what drives it.
View the event Liam took part in here