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Changes in the book trade 4


Self-publishing' - career suicide' or 'really great'? | Changes in the book trade

The current situation in the book trade is one of rapid change. It's important for writers to understand what is happening as it will impact on their own chances of getting their work published and how it will be published. This series is looking at the changes in the book trade, with a different focus each week. The first article dealt with the bookselling world, the second article looked at publishing and the third focused on print on demand.

Self-publishing' - career suicide' or 'really great'?

'When I first considered self-publishing I worried that it might be career suicide. But my experience has been really great. They have given me access to retail distribution and to excellent marketing services. They also set me up with a print-on-demand service in America.

Publishing is evolving. Technology is changing everything and I think the self-publishing industry will prove more adaptable than traditional book publishers. If you are confident in your story and in your writing then it's certainly worth considering. Just be prepared to get involved in marketing your book.'

Frances O'Brien, author of Sheer Bliss, in Writers' ForumBritish writers' magazine which is highly recommended for all writers. It features wide range of news and articles which help writers to improve their work and get published:

For the first time, it is possible to publish your own book for just a few hundred pounds. The print on demand revolution has led directly to the huge growth in self-publishing. Particularly in the US and the UK, it is now easy to get your book into print for a relatively affordable sum.

Many writers become extremely frustrated by the difficulties in finding an agent and getting a publisher to take on their work. At a time when more people than ever before are writing, publishers have cut their lists and are concentrating increasingly on picking out potential bestsellers and ignoring everything else. (See Publishing.)

Self-publishing can be a great learning-curve and there are plenty of stories of authors selling their book successfully and subsequently having their work taken on by a publisher. This may be the key to a well thought-through approach to self-publishing, which is to see it as test marketing. If it's successful then you have tried your book on a wider market and given it - and you as the author - useful exposure. If you don't manage to achieve this, then you have at least had the pleasure of seeing your book in print.

There are however increasing signs that the web can now offer the possibility of a different approach to self-publishing, which is to see it as an end in itself, an alternative way of publishing your book. After all, Amazon and other online retailers have revolutionised bookselling, and their success has shown that book-buyers can be reached on a massive scale online. The Internet, by its very existence, offers a hugely exciting marketing tool. (The next article in Changes in the Book World will deal with this.)

For self-publishers, getting your book printed is easy with print on demand, but the real problem after that is how to sell it. Authors generally have limited access to the book trade and it can be hard to get any book, particularly self-published titles, into bookshops. Often the most that can be achieved is a display in the author's local bookshop. Depending on the kind of book it is, a writer might be able to sell it directly at their lectures, as a promotional tool, or after their readings.

It does have to be acknowledged though that some kinds of book are easier to self-publish than others. Fiction is difficult, but many kinds of non-fiction can offer other ways of approaching the potential market, through the subject area. Poetry, perhaps surprisingly, lends itself rather well to self-publishing because of the opportunities to sell a book after a poetry reading.

Any self-publishing author ought to set up a website and try their hand at online marketing and selling. Some will make a splashy success of this, but there are many who sell only a handful of copies to family and friends.

The UK has the largest number of titles published in any country in the world - around 200K pa at last count. Many of these are self-published, but it is in the US that there has been the greatest growth in self-publishing, with a 60% increase in the number of poetry titles published, for instance, in a single year.

Does the world need this exploding number of books? What about quality? It sounds a lot, but who's to say that even one reader is not worth catering for, if they constitute a market and you can reach them?

The individual writer can make their own decision on this - and perhaps it is this freedom to carve your own path which is the most enticing element of self-publishing.

Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.

Changes in the Book Trade

1 Bookselling

2 Publishing

3 Print on demand and the long tail

5 Writers' routes to their audiences

6 Copyright under pressure

7 Creative Commons

From the WritersServices site:

An overview of self-publishing

Is self-publishing for you?

WritersPrintShop - WritersServices' self-publishing service

Next article: Writers' routes to their audiences