Saturday, 22 June 2013



 On the modern writer’s blog, there is a great deal of discussion about traditional publishing versus independent or self publishing - lots of rhetoric, plenty of polarised viewpoints. But it is a fascinating subject, and very relevant to modern writers, be they traditionally or self published.
Many supporters of traditional publishing deride all ‘indies’ as writing inferior rubbish. This wholesale condemnation is both unfortunate and inaccurate, but it is also understandable.  I read a great deal, and – in my opinion of course - there are some excellent self-published books. But I have ‘looked inside’ many self-published books on Amazon, and have had no desire to go further. Sad to say, too many of them are indeed badly written, full of typos and atrocious grammar; they are seriously in need of a spell check, a proof reader and an editor.
 At this point – whilst the more belligerent indies sharpen their quills – I must state that I am also a self published writer. It is partly because I am a self-published writer that the current situation dismays me. The flood of sub-standard books is doing us a great disservice; I believe the reputation of all self-published writers is suffering as a result.

When discussing traditional publishing, I think there is a danger of self-published authors becoming defensive and even vengeful. Some authors who now self publish  have been traditionally published in the past and may have had bad experiences. The majority of us have never been traditionally published. I freely admit that I tried to get an agent or publisher for my novel, without success. A couple of them made encouraging noises; one hand-wrote a few words on the standard rejection letter saying that she liked the book but they weren’t publishing much historical fiction at that time. A considerate and encouraging rejection, but nonetheless a rejection, which is never a pleasant experience.
 Personally I don’t like to see this war of rhetoric, there is something to be said for and against both sides of the argument. An agent who takes on a book won’t earn anything unless they can find a publisher, so they may end up investing a great deal of time (which means money) for no reward. I can therefore understand their need to connect strongly with a book before taking it on. Rejection doesn’t mean that a book is no good, though it is hard for the author to be objective when they see the big self addressed envelope lying forlornly on the mat beneath the letterbox.
 Publishers are in the business of selling books and thus making money. They take what sells - or what they think will sell. Hence their tendency to stay with their current best or regularly selling authors, who can be relied on to bring in the dollars or pounds. During the days of large litho print runs, taking on a new writer was a risk, a mistake could be very expensive for the publisher. Of course, turning down a new writer could also be a mistake – there are about a dozen agents or publishers having nightmares every time they read the words “Harry Potter.”
 I’m sure most agents and publishers are reasonable people. I do think some could treat potential authors better. When I was researching agents for my book, almost all said they would respond within five to six weeks, with either an acceptance or a rejection. One, however, said that she would only respond if willing to represent me, otherwise I should just wait six weeks, then assume rejection. To me, that smacked of arrogance. How long does it take to send out a polite, pre-worded rejection by email? If I do seek an agent for my next novel, that is one person I will definitely be avoiding.
 That brings me to a key question. Do I try for an agent or publisher with my next novel, or go it alone again? To some extent, the answer will depend on the sales of my current novel; if I can achieve a reasonable level of success, I will be more likely to self publish the next book too.
 There are advantages - assuming that a traditional publisher can be found - in being traditionally published. The advance on royalties, the assistance with proof reading and editing, the marketing channels and assistance in marketing the book, the kudos of being accepted for publication.  On the other hand, self published writers have full control of their book, and thus ownership of all aspects (cover, blurb etc). They maintain full rights, and are also able to keep a higher percentage of royalties.
What is the way ahead for writers and publishers? Already the well trodden track of traditional publishing has divided clearly into two paths, traditional and independent. There are increasing signs that more paths are emerging from the undergrowth, made viable by the enormous improvements made in print on demand technology. An increasing number of authors are taking the route of publishing partnerships, where publishers take on the task of publishing and marketing, but do not pay any advance to the author. Some of these verge on vanity publishing, whereas others appear to offer a viable partnership. There will undoubtedly be other avenues opening.
 It’s a fascinating time to be a writer.