If you follow the world of books and publishing you’ll almost certainly have noticed the rise of self-publishing as a legitimate route for getting your work out to a wider audience.
In the old days (pre-2008, maybe), self-publishing was seen as a euphemism for vanity publishing, i.e. paying to have your book published because no proper publisher thought it good enough. But things have come a long way since then, and for many reasons self-publishing is now a legitimate route to market for work that isn’t shit after all.
The main reasons are these:
1. Difficulties with real publishing houses. Companies like Penguin (publishers of my first novel), Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins etc. only have the time and resources to publish a certain number of books, and even then they have to fit into a particular space in the market, or adhere to the current thinking about what might sell (I don’t say that to be denigrating; these are massive companies that are very good at what they do. My novel was published because the Technothriller genre had been poorly served for years, and Penguin saw that Instinct might appeal to the male fiction market). In addition they can be very slow: more than 18 months elapsed between Penguin’s initial interest and Instinct‘s publication, partly due to a rewrite, but mainly due to a need to launch it at the right time for Tesco to stock it. In the meantime my £20k advance, minus tax and agent fees, and spread across four payments, was starting look like an annual wage of £3000 – and £20k was a very good advance back then (It’d be even better now). I also have residual difficulties with rights etc. that I have gone into in this post. Having said all that, if I had my time again I would have done the same thing. Having that little Penguin on the cover of your novel is the kind of endorsement money can’t buy, and the halo effect of being a Penguin author has had many other benefits. But for the vast majority of authors, for reasons of quality and market suitability, being published by a big house is not an option. Smaller publishers are more likely to go for less straightforward (and often higher quality) books, but the gap for these is no bigger.
2. Money. My royalty on Instinct was 63p a copy, which doesn’t sound like much (because it isn’t). But I reasoned that selling loads of books at 63p a copy would be better than selling very few for £3 a copy, which is more like the kind of royalty you can get through self publishing. Amazon offers 70% royalty (they keep the rest, obv) on self published work over £2.99, so if you want to sell your book for a tenner you’ll get £7 back. I’d have had to sell 11 books to do that on my deal.
3. Why not? It costs little or nothing to put your book up for sale electronically, so you might as well see if you can get find a market for your work. Of course, most disappear without trace, but the overall return is far greater than either not publishing at all, or publishing conventionally. This report lays out the facts very clearly.
So I’ve been umming and ahing about what to do with the sequel to Instinct for the last six months. As I mentioned in the post I linked to above, the cons of going conventional could be seen to outweigh the pros, plus I’m curious about what will happen if I self-publish Pursuit (Instinct’s sequel). It’s not as if there’s no turning back: Pursuit can exist in the world of self-publishing, then be rewritten or republished elsewhere. And I know it’s good enough to be out there because I have the endorsement of a very good agent. So I think I’ll see how it goes.
(One thing I do need, however, is a cover, so if you’re up to help me with a bit of design (I’ll pay £100), get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see if we can make beautiful music together. UPDATE: I’ve now accepted a very kind offer for this.)
Have any of you self-published, or bought books that have been self-published? All info gratefully received.