Dispelling Self-Publishing Myths
Recently, I was invited to sit on a panel at Scribble Festival, ‘Tips for Publishing: Traditional vs. Self-publishing’ alongside Michael Schmidt, managing director of Carcanet Press and Len Grant, professional photographer and writer. As part of their continued aim to encourage creativity and inclusivity, Cartwheel Arts co-ordinate Scribble Festival, an event designed to celebrate community writing and storytelling held at the independent bookshop, Chapter One Books. Chaired by a member of the Cartwheel Arts team, we discussed finding new voices in the community, focusing on how writers can get their work out there and how self-publishing platforms, digital media and traditional publishing methods continue to overlap in an ever-changing industry.
Attending in my capacity as a self-publishing marketing expert, I was asked the age-old question: ‘What’s the difference between publishing and self-publishing?’ It’s a question that we receive on a daily basis at Matador but upon mentioning that the primary difference was that the author has to foot the cost themselves, some writers were initially put off. They wouldn’t have the acclaim of being ‘picked up’ by a publisher if they had to pay for it themselves, surely?
This led to the perfect opportunity to debunk the myths of self-publishing. Firstly, self-publishing doesn’t mean vanity publishing. Many authors are using self-publishing as their route to market while retaining creative control of their product and ensuring their publishing journey focuses on their aims. One of the key benefits of the self-publishing industry is the level of control authors can expect from the process. While self-publishing is a massive undertaking, many authors thrive on the creativity surrounding the production of their work and others love the chance to conduct their own marketing – from visiting bookshops and festivals to contacting the media and creating a fan base on social media. Many writers, several of whom came up to me once the panel was finished, were astounded by how they could design a project suited to their needs while retaining all the rights to the book – evidently a big fear for those present, particularly upon learning that a traditional publisher could buy the rights, allowing them to negotiate future TV and film rights with minimal input from the author.
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While many writers loved the idea of having control over their project, Michael at Carcanet Press questioned whether this is a good thing or not. Without the validation of the industry and the advice of seasoned experts, he reasoned, can an author be sure that they’re hitting their primary market? Authors published via traditional methods can rely on the expertise of publishing professionals to guarantee a certain level of success – after all, a publisher isn’t going to invest in a book they don’t think will sell. However, this allows for a very selective collection of books to be published each year, following trends that don’t always allow for cross-genre and niche titles. Author control doesn’t equal poor quality; more and more authors are outsourcing aspects that they don’t feel they can do themselves (for example cover design) to create books of a similar, if not the same, quality to that of mainstream publications. Additionally, it allows authors the opportunity to do their own research on sites like The Self-Publishing Magazine, investigating what works well for their genre, what doesn’t and what they want to get out of the project – as well as a whole raft of things in between. Publishing traditionally isn’t the only way to publish in an informed way.
Many of the writers at Scribble Festival are involved in community outreach projects working with marginalised members of society, from immigrants to victims of domestic abuse, and therefore it’s unlikely the types of stories they want to publish will be featuring on the radars of mainstream publishers. For these writers, publishing would not be their route to landing a Pulitzer Prize, but rather a means of sharing their stories and personal journeys, something that has become much more accessible following the rise of self-publishing.
Everyone at Scribble Festival had a different story to tell, with different aims, and wished to do it in a different way. For me, it was fascinating to discuss all aspects of publishing with those that are passionate about their projects; it allowed each of us the opportunity to share our experience and knowledge with like-minded individuals who had perhaps never considered self-publishing as an option.