Sunday, 8 May 2016

Self publishing: a creative choice, not a last resort ~ thank you, Anton Newcombe...

.... for reminding me of something I've been thinking about lately...

For anyone who is not familiar with the nameAnton Newcombe is a brilliant musician and founder of 90s band The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  Last night I watched the 'rockumentary' Dig! (I use the term 'rockumentary' with a raised eyebrow and sardonic smile, btw), which is about seven years of friendship and feuding between BJM and their more commercially successful peers, The Dandy Warhols.  Newcombe had many chances to be signed by recording companies, but blew most of them, perhaps on purpose.


This morning I read an Interview with Newcombe in The Guardian by Rhik Samadder which, amongst other points, reiterated his anti signing-with-an-established-record-label policy.  I was so glad I read it.

Most writers, whilst penning their first novel, have fantasies about submitting it to a major literary agent and being taken on by a major publishing house.  This fantasy becomes reality for one in a million, if not less.  Alas, many soon realise that their first novel leaves much room for improvement, and is not the stuff of which bestsellers are made I started writing long before Kindle; back in the days when I occasionally submitted novels to agents I gained some interest, but it amounted to 'yes, like the way you write, but can you change the content according to what is currently in vogue, so I can sell it to a publisher?'


I've written about this before so won't go on and on about it again ~ the point I wanted to make, in a roundabout way, is that writers should not see self-publishing as a last resort after they've been rejected by mainstream publishers, or an indication that they are 'not good enough'.  Yes, self-published stuff on Amazon ranges from the brilliant to the 'shouldn't there be some sort of quality control on this site?', but many writers go DIY as a choice, and should be proud to do so, instead of thinking that the only way to gain kudos is to be able to say 'my publisher'.  This desire to 'be a published author' leads many to sign with small, or independent publishers, or, worse, with the horrendous rip-off vanity presses ~ in case you don't know, this is where you pay them to publish you, not the other way round.  They will accept anything, as long as you pay their exorbitant fees.  As far as independent publishers are concerned, according to a few blog posts I've read lately, some writers find that they end up with all the restrictions of the traditionally published (losing control of content, timing of publication, price, etc), with none of the advantages (no promotion, no financial advances, no books in high street shops, no sales, or certainly not very many, and, on occasion, proofreading and editing that leaves much to be desired).  (nb, I know there are good independent publishers, too.  Please note the words 'some' and 'on occasion'!)

Self-publishing means you can make your own decisions about every single aspect of your books.  You're not bound by what some editor (who may or may not have a good understanding of the market) considers saleable.  By the way, when a writer says they self-publish 'by choice',  it means they don't submit their books to publishers in the first place.  It doesn't mean they've been rejected by lots of publishers but have come to terms with it.   It's their chosen way to go, from the off.

I remember one writer saying that he'd felt so excited by the 'indie' movement in publishing, when Kindle was first introduced, but became disillusioned by the reality: people bunging up any old rubbish on Amazon and thinking they were going to be the next EL James, and hordes of vanity publishers and sundry scammers stepping forth to take advantage of the naïve.  This has added to the bad name self-publishing has had since the days when vanity publishing was the only option available.  The writers' hierarchy lives on: some writers who sign with indie publishers consider themselves superior to the self-published, and indeed make scathing remarks about them, not realising that DIY is an active choice (or that the standard for acceptance by indie pub companies is more, shall we say, 'relaxed' than for literary agents/trad pub.  Some writers do not even realise the difference between a traditional publisher and an indie publishing company, the latter of which can be set up by anyone, and believe themselves to be among the 'chosen few', and thus vastly superior to the self-pub).

But acceptance by a publishing house or a recording company should not be seen as the only affirmation that creative output is worth something; such large companies exist to make money, first and foremost, not to nurture the artist, who is not encouraged to be 'edgy' or explore new ground; money invested has to be a safe betAs Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols said in Dig!, all the record companies give you the spiel about caring about your career, not just your hit records, but if you don't have a hit record you soon find out how much they care about your career.   Similarly, with major publishing houses and literary agents: if you don't produce the hot selling goods, you're history. 


But what about validation of your talent?  Doesn't acceptance by a literary agent/publisher give you that?  Not necessarily.  I've heard, straight from one horse's mouth, that acceptance by an agent doesn't necessarily mean that you're a terrific writer, just that you've produced a product they can mould into something that will earn them big bucksIf you want validation, wait to see if readers buy more than one of your books.  Rejoice in your genuine reviews from book bloggers and the reading public.

I've read fantastic books by self-pub authors that are easily as good as those by well known writers (see the 32 books to which I've given 5 Gold Stars on my book review blog HERE; about half are self-pub) and some published by mainstream houses that are pretty mediocre, but sell because of that, and the money behind them, of course; 'vanilla' is always popular and, indeed, is pushed by the media.

Saleability to the masses (and investment from large corporations) does not necessarily indicate creative brilliance; it's fair to say that creativity and making money do not go hand in hand.

(btw, if you would like to know more about the way the music industry operates and exactly how much money artistes who sign with a major record label DON'T make, I recommend the documentary Artifact, about rock band Thirty Seconds To Mars getting screwed over by EMI.  It's most interesting, and I kept seeing similarities between the music and the publishing industry!)

 

It took me a while to realise that I actually WANT to be self-published.  I don't like the idea of anyone else having control over what I produce.  If you self-publish because you want to have control over your own output, too, and you understand the importance of good editing and proofreading to produce something worth selling, you should be proud of it.  Once you stop worrying about writing synopses and what-the-hell-agents-are-looking-for, or getting yet another rejection letter, your writing life gets a lot easier.  And you can spend your time producing novels, instead of query letters.





48 comments:

  1. If its okay with you, Tezza, I'll share this with the CW group. It's excellent stuff and I completely agree with it. Basically, the only reason I would ever submit to an agent now is because I would like my books in chain shops. Simple as. One day, they will take Indie books and then the publishers won't be necessary at all. Solid post...Mark x

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  2. Feel free, of course, Mark! Yeah, who wouldn't like their books in chain shops? I certainly would. But we're mostly not prepared to jump through the hoops it would take to stand a chance in a million of getting them there - even if an agent takes you on, they can't necessarily place you with a Big 5, in which case you're back to square one. And your book is still unpublished - that's what gets to me most of all. Our way, our books can be out there, being read :)

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  3. I agree completely - and would like the add the importance of investing in support from a good editor, etc - I love doing almost all of it myself, but know my writing needs other eyes to spot the bits where I've seriously lost the plot!

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    1. Aha, I did mention that in the last paragraph, Jo! I don't use an editor, but I do have eagle-eyed test readers, and a very good proofreader (to fill in my 300 missing words per novel....!)

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  4. Couldn't agree more. Very well said indeed, TT!

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    1. And, indeed, there are three comments on here that are from self pub writers who I read regularly because they are so good (you being one of them, natch!) (ps, you would love the BJM's music, very retro 60s in many ways)

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  5. Really enjoyed this post, Terry. I came at self-publishing the other way: having watched a writer-friend get thoroughly screwed over by A Big Publisher (small advance, long period before the advance is paid out and he begins to see trailing royalties, endless delays in editing/pub date, no control over the cover/blurb, little promotion - all of which have led him to hate his books - he's considering taking a "hiatus" from writing - I could weep), and having come across Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog about the pitfalls of going through an agent, I decided to publish on my own. You need to have a thick(ish) skin as an author anyway, so the whole "self-publishing is the failed author's choice" argument has always slid off my back anyway.

    Having now watched my writer-friend get screwed over on the back end (his publisher still doesn't give him itemized royalty statements, so he doesn't know how many copies of his books have sold - WTF?) and several small presses fold and authors struggle to get their rights back, I'm very happy I "went indie." Yes, it would stroke my ego to see my books in Waterstones, but not enough to go through what my writer-friend has. And there are ways to get your books on shelves even as an independent publisher. I just haven't tried jumping through those hoops yet - I'd rather be writing my next novel. :)

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  6. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment - oh dear, your poor friend. I last made an attempt at getting an agent about 2 years ago (having not done for 3 years, but I thought I'd written something really unusual!), and the agent loved the sample, wanted to see the rest - then said I would need to rewrite it in such and such a way...so that it was no longer unusual, I suppose! An author who got taken on by the same agency waited eighteen months to be found a publisher, and even then it was an large independent to whom he could have submitted himself...

    Yes, I think sometimes getting a publisher is down to writers wanting stroked egos; as I said, being able to say 'my publisher' and generally behaving like what Mark Barry (above) and I called 'a writ-or' (as opposed to an act-or). Trad pub I can understand, because it would be lovely to earn more from what we do, and have people able to buy your books from high street shops, but I can never understand why some go with independent publishers. I know one writer who finished the 3rd part of a trilogy and had to wait A YEAR for it to be published, by which time half the readers of the first two parts could well have forgotten all about them. I, too, know another who's been f**ked over good and proper by an independent who promised her the world. The legal action that's followed has put her off the whole writing thing.

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  7. A great post, Terry, with lots of food for thought. I really enjoyed reading it :D

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    1. Thank you! I've been thinking about if for a while, but Mr Newcombe helped put my thoughts in place :)

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  8. The traditional route doesn't seem to be any guarantee of making anything approaching a living from writing anymore. Advances are way down, authors I'd consider to be solid mid-listers complain they can't give up their day jobs, and horror stories of authors having to sue their agents and publishers for basic royalty information abound. The entire industry seems to be in such terrible flux that authors of all stripes have to treat their writing as a business, and I think that's easiest to do when you retain control of everything.

    I hate hearing about authors who feel so screwed over by a publisher or the publishing process that they give up writing. We all write because we love telling stories. The business of getting those stories out to our readers shouldn't destroy the fundamental joy of telling those stories. Particularly not now when there are so many options available.

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    1. You said it all, sistaaaah! I have nothing to add, apart from how lucky we are not to need be concerned about all this ;)

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  9. Jolly good post, Terry. There are some great small publishers out there, but a few months ago I discovered that some don't proofread their output. I'll spare you the rant I went on when I found out. Most books - however they are published - have one or two typos, but how could anyone purposely miss out on an essential stage of the publishing process? Agh! Time for me to take some calming breaths... :)

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    1. Wendy, reviewing for Rosie as I do means that I SEE these books. One I looked at recently had NO commas around names in dialogue ("Come on Wendy we've got to go", etc). When I advised the author before posting the review, he thought he must have sent an earlier copy. He hadn't! I just COULDN'T let my manuscript go out into the world without it being checked - by ME! I've read others that really need editing; they seem to be at the stage I'm at around draft 3, with sentences that aren't succinct enough, etc. Having 'a publisher' means zero these days. Yes.... I have to take those calming breaths too!

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  10. Very well said and there will be plenty of sad tales that many people know of writers who have been let down by "My Publisher". When authors come to me asking for a review and mention a publisher in their request, I know they haven't got the support they dream of, if they are seeking out book bloggers themselves.

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    1. Oh yes - you said it all!!!! I hope some people who are about to sign with a small publisher without researching properly will read your comment...

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  11. The WORST editing I ever had came from two 'mainstream' and one'small' publisher. The worst deals I ever had came from two BIG mainstream publishers. The worst depression I ever had came from being with a London Agent who ignored me. The BEST fun I ever had is publishing my own books, with 2 great editors, a friend who does my covers and my MATES ON HERE!!!

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  12. This post says everything that I feel about self-publishing, and that I want to tell people, but in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage. I shall therefore share widely on my Georgia Rose stuff as well as Three Shires :-) Brilliant T

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  13. Excellent post - you know I agree with every word :) Also two big fans of The Brian Jonestown Massacre in this house! It's nice to see someone point out the similarities between indie music and indie writing - though for some reason indie music seems to be much more appreciated and respected than indie writing; let's hope that changes in the future.

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    1. Oh, nice one, re BJM! Was so pleased to be reminded of how good they are, so listened to lots of their stuff yesterday. Yes, re indie music.... maybe because it is harder to actually produce a record, you do have to have some skill, whereas anyone can bung down a few words and stick them up on Kindle, so there is MUCH rubbish around. However, things change; one day, one day..!

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    2. ps, read the interview with AN if you haven't, it's great :)

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  14. Fabulous post, Terry, and great comments too. Self-publishing my books has been the best journey I've had and I thoroughly enjoy the entire process. I was chatting to a traditionally published author recently who actually looked wistful when I told her I self-published.

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    1. Ha ha! Glad you read the comments, which do reiterate it.:)

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  15. Great post Terry! Totally agree. 😊

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  16. A great post, Terry, and very encouraging for any writer who has been rejected by 'mainstream' publishers. A literary agent said to me, before my first novel was published, "I love it. I want it. I'm going to fast track it." A couple of months later I telephoned her. She had forgotten me. I cried for two days, and then thought, if it was good enough for her, it is good enough for me. So, after having the novel proofread, I self published. The processes I put my novels through before I publish is the same as an editor or a publisher would. I think it's very important that self published books are as well written, and as well formatted, as books published the 'traditional' way. I have self-published three novels since, the fourth will be on Amazon on June 1st. Self publishing is not a last resort, it is a writers choice.

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  17. What can I say, Madalyn?! Having done this for so long now, I can't imagine having to adapt what I write to suit some editor who has probably never written a novel... or wait for an agent to spare me the time! I have test readers that I trust to tell me if a novel 'works' or not - the rest I leave up to my readers, who have given me confirmation that I know how to make the right choices about what I publish. I wonder if it's going to the way forward for everyone, eventually.

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    1. I agree. I would hate to have to adapt what I write for an editor or agent. Yes, I think eventually self publishing will be the way forward. I love self publishing. I find it exciting and empowering.

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  18. Love this! I think a lot of people see self-publishing as a last resort (much like online dating), so it's nice to see some support for the freedom it allows us! My husband and I met online, and I'm hoping that self-publishing allows me the same ability to control my journey as a writer!

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    1. Aha - love this comparison, Cori :)

      Good luck - just do your research before choosing a proofreader, as there are many useless ones out there (I can recommend, btw!), and be very wary of promotion companies who promise you the earth - best to do your own, often... ;)

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  19. Yes, there is definitely a `me too' mentality amongst bigger publishers, which is why I'm currently working on a Stronger In the EU colouring book for Random House..only joking, although it's probably a well paid gig. Having worked for a biggish publisher in the past, they made it clear they weren't remotely interested in my Dakar memoir I published it two years ago on Amazon. Sure, it's only sold 200 copies, but it is a great feeling to write something from the heart, no punches pulled, no stone left unturned. To me, that's writing, end of.

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    1. Yes - of course one doesn't want to be self-indulgent, but sometimes the creative restrictions insisted upon by publishers (trad and small/indie) are made so that the book will sell to the masses, though it might not be the book you wanted to write. Creative freedom is all, yes! It depends why you want to write, really. Thanks for reading/commenting!

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  20. Great post, Terry, as always. As a very very old git, I still harbour a nostalgic dream of being accepted by a top publishing house and becoming a very famous author but the reality is that traditional publishing is in the worst state in its entire history and the chances of an unknown writer being accepted are almost nil, however good their book. One advantage of this is that it has forced good writers to take matters into their own hands and the stigma of vanity publishing has thus been largely removed. Having been an artist I’m much more at home with the Indie idea anyway as that’s the norm in the art world. Some galleries do have their ‘stables’ of artists but the control is much less rigorous.

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    1. Ditto the music industry, Peter; I read somewhere the other day that today's chart hits are not even real music, but a collection of sounds put together by computer after research to see what combinations are most likely to appeal to those that listen to them. After one of these things has been produced, an 'artist' is selected to perform it on the video. As for the state of trad pub, I hear via an agent that just because a writer HAS been accepted by a publisher, it no longer means that he/she is a good writer, just that they've produced something they know they can package and sell. Doesn't even matter if it's badly written, as all that can be sorted out before the marketing starts. I think indie is the way forward generally, for decent music, art and literature. I wonder if, in ten years time, it will be the only credible way... ;)

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  21. You're so right, Terry. It's all about money - mainly due to the colossal overheads and the competition from telly, the internet etc. I sincerely hope what you say about 10 years hence is true. After all, there's nothing time-honoured or set in stone about "traditional" publishing. Shakespeare was an Indie author after all, having to get his own company together and tout his wares around the place until he managed to obtain royal patronage. It was all DIY - they even had to build their own theatres! Taking he longer view, I think what's happening in Indie publishing now is just part of an evolutionary process, and a very healthy one at that!

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    1. So do I , Pedro; yes, exactly, people should see the bigger picture, stop whining and just do what they do!!

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  22. Thanks for this. I always assumed I'd find an agent who would then pitch to publishing houses. When the indie movement came onto the horizon I looked, but didn't see a need to change my plans. Then the numbers hit me. The amount of royalties (although I also say "70 percent of nothing is still nothing"), the control I'd have, the willingness to get onto social media and do the marketing work--which traditionally-published authors need to do anyway...anyway, my plans changed. However, I come from a publishing background as an editor (not fiction) so I'm willing to treat my indie status for what it is: professional work. Throwing up any old thing in Word is not going to cut it. I wear many hats to be indie, some I love, some I hate, but if something goes wrong, at least I'm gentle with the hat wearer. :)

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    1. Good for you! Yes, I began writing long before this option was available, and always thought trad was the only way forward to - but if you look at the comments between Peter and me, just above, you might agree...!

      And yes, if you write, present and market with a professional head on, it can be 70% of a hell of a lot more than nothing :)

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  23. Excellent blog post! Love your analogy with this and music. Where would we be without the independent culture? This applies to bookstores, artists, musicians, and yes, writers. All forms of artistic expression have the independents because we want to change the standards. We don’t want to be told what to do, and we want to do things our way. #IndependentsRock

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  24. Another reason to go Indie is not being tied into a particular genre or style as your writing evolves.

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    1. Absolutely, AB. Since writing this 9 months ago, I've moved on from my previous family saga/contemporary fiction, and in October I published a psych thriller. I'm now writing the post apocalyptic series I've been wanting to write for several years. Can't think of anything worse than being tied to chick lit because you wrote a hot seller five years ago!!! However much I was earning from it.

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