Alphabet Challenge Day 9
The letter is I
and the topic in INDIE (publishers)
Indie publishers is another term for self-publishers, those people brave, mad or misguided enough to publish their own books. And there are plenty in each of those categories!
More and more writers are following this path, especially since technology made it possible and affordable for ‘ordinary’ people, and since the guards at the entrance to the inner sanctum of mainstream publishing became ever more dismissive of those hammering at the doors.
Until a few years ago, self-publishing had a bad name being equated with vanity publishing, where companies take a lot of money to print only a few copies of a book, with no intention of marketing or promoting it. Such books rarely see the light of day.
Jonathan Clifford, who is credited with coining the phrase in 1959, and has written vociferously on the subject says ‘A dishonest vanity publisher makes money not by selling copies of a book, but by charging clients as much as possible to print an unspecified number of copies of that book. Some vanity publishers will print as few copies as they feel they can get away with.’
Previously, self-publishing had a long and noble history. Writers whose names we are all familiar with are known to have self-published at some time in their career. People such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, DH Lawrence. And books that were originally self-published include Ulysses by James Joyce, Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Walter, one of the best-selling books of the 20th century, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield who sold 100,000 copies from the boot of his car before a publisher agreed to publish it, and Time to Kill by John Grisham.
It took me a long time to come to self-publishing. I had always believed that if you were good enough, you would eventually be published. So, I kept writing novels, sending them off to agents and publishers (in those days publishers would accept unsolicited manuscripts) and often received an encouraging response. One agent almost took my fourth novel on, and Virago wrote ‘We are sorry to be saying no to this.’
So, I hung on and believed one day I would get there. Increasingly though, I began to realise that although more and more people writing – as computers made it easier, and writing courses and groups sprung up all over the place – very few books seem to be getting published. With the abolition of the net-book agreement in 1997, an agreement between the publishers and booksellers, which fixed the price at which a book could be sold, supermarkets and discount stores were able to sell copies of best-sellers at hugely-discounted prices. By 2009, 500 independent bookshops had closed. The advent of amazon added fuel to the fire.
Publishers increasingly only wanted books that would be sure-fire successes. They would continue to publish their ‘big’ names and celebrities. Not only was it almost impossible for new writers to get published, but numbers of relatively successful writers (who were not bestsellers) were dropped by publishers. Writers such as Ian Rankin and Philip Pulman did not sell in huge numbers at first. It seems doubtful that publishers would continue to support them nowadays.
Of course, first-time novelists still get published – some of have just been announced on the Booker shortlist – but the numbers are miniscule, and there are a lot of very good writers whose work readers would enjoy who are not being given the chance.
As a result of all this, I decided – after a lot of heart-searching – to self-publish my novel ‘Unravelling’. I believed in it – I had written the first draft while I was doing my MA in creative writing at Bath Spa where Tessa Hadley was my manuscript tutor; I was no longer a novice – ‘Unravelling’ is my sixth novel; I paid to have an in-depth critique done on it; and I’d rewritten several times, constantly improving and strengthening it.
I’m so pleased that I did so. I’ve sold a respectable number of copies, a lot of people have told me how much they’ve enjoyed it (including strangers who had no need to pander to my ego, but who emailed with lovely comments); it’s won three awards – winner of the Chapter One Promotions Book Award and the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award and second in the 2011 Rubery International Book Award for books self-published and published by small presses. And I’ve had enormous fun and satisfaction.
I do believe there’s an issue with people rushing work into publication which is either not ready, or simply isn’t well-written enough to be published. This seems to be especially so with the ease with which people can now publish ebooks. Doubts about the quality of some of them don’t help the case for quality indie publishers.
But, overall, they can’t detract from the relevance, the importance and the power of self-publishing today. Mainstream publishing seems determined at the moment to keep its gates firmly shut, but soon the weight pushing against them will become overwhelming. They might then long for self-publishers to join them. But by then indie publishers such as Fiona Joseph who set up her own publishing company to publish ‘Beatrice‘, a biography of Beatrice Cadbury of chocolate fame, and Joanne Phillips who published and marketed her novel ‘Can’t Live Without’ with incredible success, might say: ‘Who cares? We don’t need you.’
I’m looking forward to 2013 when Cinnamon Press will publish my next novel ‘The Piano Player’s Son’, but after that, who knows? I certainly would embrace self-publishing again!