As publishing becomes increasingly like the music industry, should you self-pub to kick-start your career?
I’ve had an interesting question from Stacy Green. ‘An online writing friend is going to self-publish a novel to build an audience, and then submit a second book to agents. What do you think’
The writing industry has become like the music industry. Writers are starting their careers not by genuflecting at the desk of an agent or a publisher, but by getting out on blogs and websites, gathering like-minded folks on Twitter and Facebook. Effectively we’re gigging.
With Kindle books so cheap and so instantly available, it makes sense to have a book to prove ourselves with as well.
But should you self-publish a novel while you’re building your audience?
Is it spoiling your chances of a proper deal?
Six months ago I’d have said it was. But a few trailblazers have changed the world. Crucially, they have proved to the sceptics that self-publishing isn’t for slushpile losers. Traditionally published authors who retained their e-rights are putting their backlists on Kindle, showing that ‘proper’ authors self-publish too. Some agents are thinking of doing it for them. Some authors are ditching their publishers and going it alone, or bringing out their more off-piste work themselves. And there’s that Kindle millionaire Ms Hocking. Yes, she’s in a minority but a lot of people took notice.
If you self-publish a novel, is it written off?
Agents warn that if you self-publish a book you won’t get a deal on it, ever. However, a few self-published authors have had offers for foreign rights. Again, they are in the minority, but it does happen.
For the vast majority, though, no publisher will touch the novel that’s been self-published.
That might not matter. Traditional publishing deals hardly pay very much these days so your earnings might not be much different if you keep all the rights for yourself. If you secure a deal for your second book, that will expose you to a wider spread of readers. If they like you, they will probably seek out your first book and won’t care where it came from. And so your first novel will not be sacrificed into a void.
But why shouldn’t Stacy’s friend approach traditional publishers?
Last night I was talking to a former agent and publisher who told me about the soul-destroying business of acquisitions meetings. He and his fellow editors would be passionately championing a book but just one veto from the marketing department could reject it.
The major publishers, he said, will only take potential best-sellers. Market is what speaks to publishers now, even more than merit.
Of course, new smaller publishers are stepping in to take their place, but they only publish a handful of titles a year. You might wait for ever. All the more reason to get out and gig your book.
Before you do…
Here comes the nagging. As everyone says ad nauseum (including me), make sure your book does you credit. Don’t toss a novel off so you’ve got something to get started with. Don’t put a book out because you don’t dare query with it, or you suspect an editor would tell you there were flaws. Edit and polish as slowly and carefully as you would for a formal query. Get a professional opinion and treat it like a job.
Authors who have blazed a trail this year have demonstrated that self-published writers are capable of policing themselves. Because of this we all have a better chance than ever before of building a career this way. But only if we all set our standards high.
Thank you, Hoong Wei Long for the photo.
To Stacy’s friend I say: good plan. If you have a book ready to gig, go for it.
What would you say?