When I write, I often do it while listening to my favourite radio station, the digital channel Six Music (Radcliffe and Maconie is probably my favourite show to work to – although it’s also the most distracting because it’s so good!). This is a channel which primarily plays indie music, or a least it concentrates things other than mainstream pop, rock and R&B (it’s most certainly a Beaunce and Bieber free zone).
It was while listening to an interview with a band (I can’t quite remember which one) that I realised something interesting. In indie music, having your own record label to put your music out on is seen as a really good thing to do. It gives the artist greater control over both their music and their careers, and with modern technology, almost any band can record their own music and get it out there for the public to buy. They can promote it directly to their fans and that way they get a much greater share of the returns. In fact, it sometimes seems that in the music industry, if you’re good enough, and willing to work hard at building up your fans, then there’s no need to let a traditional record label get their grubby little hooks into your work. Instead, it’s only the bland, interchangeable pop stars that really need a record label to promote them.
Contrast this with the publishing industry as it currently stands: Indie publishing, or self-publishing, is generally frowned upon, at least by reviewers, critics and industry bigwigs, and it’s seen as the route for those without the talent or the dedication to get a real book deal. The only route to success (in terms of money, sales and reputation), they’d claim, is with a traditional publishing deal, preferably with one of the ‘big six’ mainstream publishers. Yet, is this actually the case? Can it not be that self-publishing is actually a way for authors to get their work out there to their fans while retaining control of it? Doesn’t this make it just like an indie band setting up their own record label to produce and distribute their music? Yes, good self-publishing can be difficult since you have to take all the responsibilities of employing an editor, doing the formatting, getting a cover designed at all that, but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Exactly the same things apply to indie bands putting their own music out, and that is not seen as a second-rate product. So, if it works for indie bands, why shouldn’t it work for authors?
Well, the answer is that it can and, indeed, it does. For those interested in self-publishing, a recent report from authorearnings.com makes for very interesting reading, especially those working in what is considered genre fiction (which zombies most definitely fall into). Around a quarter of the best-selling ebooks on Amazon are self-published, and in genre fiction, it can be even higher. Self-published books, however, tend to sell for less, so you might imagine that the self-published authors earn less than those sign up by the big six. Yet, this isn’t true because the self-published author gets a higher proportion of the sale price. Similarly, there’s no evidence that self-published books are judged poorer by the people you actually read them (at least based on the five-star rating system which Amazon uses).
So in the modern publishing world, are there any actual advantages of being signed to a publishing house rather than self-publishing? Well, not really. You still have to spend a lot of your time promoting your work regardless of which route you go down, and you still have to put in the work to write something good in the first place. There’s even an argument that unless you are signed by one of the big six, and are heavily promoted by them (something that isn’t guaranteed just because they’ve signed you), you’ll earn much less by being published by a traditional publishing house (especially a smaller one) than by going down the self-published route. This seems odd at first, but when you really think about it, it’s not, and if it works for indie bands, why shouldn’t the same business model work for writers?
Does this mean every author should be self-publishing their work? While I think more and more will do so over the next few years, leading to a dramatic change in the publishing industry as a whole, it doesn’t mean that self-publishing is for everyone. Some authors will want the prestige of being signed to a publisher – especially if it’s a big one, while others won’t feel comfortable with being in charge of things like finding a free-lance editor to work with, formatting the finished book, commissioning a cover design and sorting out the publicity. Yet, if you’re starting out as an author now, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to do these things, effectively setting up your own imprint for publishing your work, just like many indie bands do with their own record labels for their music. It’s a steep learning curve, but given the results of the report by Authorearnings.com, if you’ve produced a good book, you’re just as likely to do well if you self-publish as if you spend years trying to find an agent or a publisher. And in all that time, you can be writing more books, gaining more fans and earning more money – as long as your work is good enough in the first place!
Self-publishing will no doubt always be looked down upon by some, but from an author’s point of view, there’s no longer any reason to view it as being the second-best option or that it’s a last resort for poor quality writing, or that going down the self-publishing indicates some sort of failure. Instead, it should be viewed as an alternative, but equally valid route, and one which may well pay off just as well as the traditional route. It may even be that in a few years time, the publishing industry will have followed in the footprints of the music industry (just as it has in terms of electronic downloads replacing physical formats), with work which is good enough being self-published and being sought out by would-be fans, while only the bland, mass-market, airport novels will still need the re-assurance and support of a traditional publisher to get any level of success.
All in all, there are some interesting years ahead and authors, both established and would-be, should watch this space very carefully…
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.