The Oxymoron of Self-Publishing

Electronic book reader next to traditional books

When I first heard the phrase ‘self-publishing,’ I envisioned myself at a printing press: paperbacks flying across the garage while my ink-stained fingers desperately tried to stuff the little rascals into boxes. Images of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice teased my brain, but with books instead of water. The reality of being an independent author/publisher proved to be far less intimidating. What I discovered is that the phrase ‘self-publishing,’ seems somewhat of an oxymoron.

Historical fiction and fantasy author, Prue Batten, is a pioneer in the field of self-publishing in Australia. I asked Prue for her thoughts on the self-publishing industry:

“In respect of self-publishing, it is that visionary, exciting, forward-thinking move that has enabled good independent writers to prove beyond measure that they haven’t needed the tick of approval from the mainstream system to make their mark. Quite simply, they have something credible, entertaining and marketable and which has resulted in legions of readers who wait impatiently for the next book from those writers. Being independent enables the writer to explore the far-flung corners of subject matter, niche stories that step far outside the square, but that are cloaked in exactly the professionalism and more, that one has grown to expect from the traditional publishing world.”

Siobhan Daiko, an English author living in Italy, writes romantic historical novels and erotic romance, and also chose to go the self-publishing route:

“Becoming an indie author was the best choice for me. I love being in control of my publishing business, for that’s what it is. I’ve always been highly independent, for example, as a teacher I loved being in control in the classroom. I’m naturally bossy ?. With the business of self-publishing, there’s a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the ride. My favorite part (of publishing), is working with my brilliant and inspiring editor, John Hudspith. He makes my team complete.”

Good stories make for good books, and to make a book look good takes a team. Here’s what my ‘big six self-publishing’ team looks like:

• Editor
• Copy Editor
• Beta-readers
• Cover Designer
• Formatter (Damonza)
• Distributor (IngramSpark)

I shared my thoughts on self-publishing with successful indie author, Simon James Atkinson Turney (Marius’ Mules series), and asked for his opinion:

“I guess to some extent I agree with your view. I have 2 copy editors, an agent and a cover designer who all help bring my books to completion. I guess the big thing is that with self-publishing there is a vast array of choice. Some authors go it completely alone, doing all their own editing and cover work, producing their own book with the minimum of outside help. Most, if I’m honest, of those turn out to be horribly unprofessional, and yet here and there I find a gem, which only goes to show you cannot set a hard and fast rule. Similarly, some indie writers employ a full team, right down to a blog tour coordinator, which often produces great stuff, but sometimes even then there is a dud. No matter how much you polish a turd, etc… And then there are the vast bulk of us who fall somewhere in between who want to produce an experience for the reader that they consider worth the money they paid, but which does not suck away so much of the profits that the writer spends all the time they’re not at the keyboard with a little pot and a cardboard sign and a dog called Jeff, sitting outside a café asking for help. I like the control self-publishing gives me, but then, having never experienced the other route, who can say? When my agent places my next work with one of the big six I’ll give you a comparison…”

And that brings me to my next point. Unless you’re a top-selling author, signed to one of the ‘big six,’ you’d better get used to strutting your own stuff. Books don’t sell themselves: readers and reviews sell books—marketing sells books—word of mouth sells books.

Ann Swinfen, author of The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez, shared her publishing journey with me:

“My first three novels were traditionally published by Random House, but after my original literary agent retired and my new agent lost interest in historical fiction (“no one reads historical fiction” according to her), I turned my back on the traditional route and became an independent author-publisher. I have set up my own imprint name, Shakenoak Press, and reissued my backlist early in 2014. In addition, in the last 20 months or so I have published nine more books (several already written), all historical fiction. Their success has proved just how wrong my ex-agent was.

These facts alone bear witness to one reason I am so pleased to be independent. I can publish whatever I choose, whenever I choose, in both physical and eBook form. Had I remained in conventional publishing I would have been restricted to (probably) no more than two books a year. Now I manage everything. I make all the decisions, from cover design to layout to pricing to publication date. If I want to run a special offer, I can do so. I even receive my royalties promptly and monthly. If you are traditionally published you wait months to be paid far in arrears. Unlike some independents, I do not use an external editor, having worked as an editor myself. I do, however, use a professional and very talented designer.

Is there anything I don’t like about being independent? Yes—marketing! A feeling I share with most writers. But nowadays even commercially published writers are expected to do much of their own marketing. I find being an independent author-publisher a real joy. I would never, ever, go back to being traditionally published. And that’s a promise!”

A ceramics teacher once shared this thought with me: the bowl isn’t finished until you, as the artist, eats from the vessel you’ve created. It’s like that with writing books. The story isn’t complete until a reader makes the journey to that final period. We all need stories—we always have, they keep us from insanity, help mend our broken hearts, take us on journeys, across oceans, starry nights, and into other eras and magical worlds. The future of the world of publishing is how I see the world in general: embrace the changes, or best start decorating that sign for Jeff the dog!


Follow Mandy Jackson-Beverly on Twitter @MJacksonBeverly

First published on The Huffington Post, October 27, 2015

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About Mandy Jackson-Beverly

Mandy Jackson-Beverly studied flute in Sydney, worked couture fashion in London, and has been a successful costume designer in LA, working with artists such as Madonna and David Bowie. She’s danced the tango with Robert Duvall, sewn buttons on coats with John Galliano, and discussed the art of sobriety with Alice Cooper and Russell Brand.

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