The Naked Author: a guest blog by Alison Baverstock

We are delighted to announce that Alison Baverstock will be talking at our April event. Alison Baverstock is a hugely experienced publisher, trainer and writer on all aspects of publishing, marketing and reading. She is the Course Leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University. Her most recent book, The Naked Author – a guide to self-publishing is published by Bloomsbury. She has kindly written the following guest blog on self publishing.

 

Two firm principles of my entire professional life in publishing have recently been undermined.

  1. Self-publishing is beneath the significance-radar.
  2. A suggestion that an author consider self-publishing is a put-down; imbuing the target with an automatic right to assume intentional diminishing of both work and self.

Lack of respect for vanity publishing (that’s the only time I will use the outdated term in this blog) was the ‘writing through the rock’ of professional publishing. Equipped with a passion for books, and an eagerness to share ideas, I entered the book world after university. Publishing is a wonderfully flexible working environment, with a strong reliance on external expertise (it’s not just authors who contribute without being on the payroll) and after a full-time career I went freelance; juggling a variety of responsible and interesting work while adding to the market for children’s titles.

While freelancing I started writing about the industry (various titles including several editions of How to market books, 1990+; Marketing your book, an author’s guide, 2001 and 2007; Is there a book in you? 2006) but never really thought to question the basic assumption that professional publishers could manage the process best. I confess when confronted with badly presented self-published books, I too winced at infelicitous typesetting and unspotted spelling mistakes.

A fork in the road towards Damascus came when during a 2007 London Book Fair seminar a publisher was asked about self-publishing, which was by then a growing trend. He airily dismissed it as something publishers did not need to worry about, given that all authors would rather have the process managed for them. And of course that remains the most reliable option, if it is available to you.

But as time went on, I began to speculate whether publishers and agents were completely reliable as gatekeepers on public taste – did they always anticipate what people wanted to read? I speculated that there might there be instances where content was needed in a permanent format for purely personal reasons, rather than wider sale – in which case self-publishing was an ideal option, and a meticulous standard of presentation might be less significant than making sure the story was captured before lost forever? Finally I watched as authors were charged with more and more of the marketing for their titles (management of social media campaign; obtaining endorsements for the cover; available for publicity and appearances at festivals) – seemingly without being accorded any privileges in return (ongoing blocking of a say in the cover being a particularly common frustration). There were rumblings from some authors as to whether they were already self-publishing.

I also became aware of the wider cultural significance of self-publishing – it promotes awareness that both writing and books are special, and an associated delight in ownership. Given the relentlessly reported decline in the number of people frequenting bookshops, the creation of bespoke titles via websites such as Lulu is surely valuable sustenance to the book as cultural icon. It used to be said that were the house burning down, and your family safe, the one thing you would try to save is the photograph album. Is the self-published book of the last family wedding going to take its place as the ultimate prized possession?

Secondly, how should an author respond when someone suggests that they self-publish? The suggestion may of course be delivered as a conscious put-down. Given that publishing a book is said to be the second most common new year’s resolution, the potential writer in each of us may feel diminished by the anticipated success of someone else.

But before taking umbrage, think in more detail about the options created through the various processes of self-publishing – to see it as only as a route to generating a less-good printed book, to be sold through traditional outlets, is to grossly underestimate its potential for developing your writing.  

Self-publishing is a process, not a product, and has many different uses. It allows the writer to progress their work; share it with others and gain feedback; make it available online through a blog or ebook and build a following; print off a single copy and see how it feels in the hand – and in the process try to gain some objectivity; work collaboratively to a collective deadline and signal group cohesion as you move on towards volume two. And all of these provide the opportunity to prove demand and hence impress potential investors: publishers; agents; readers. There is an increasingly well-trodden path from effective self-publishing to being commissioned by the traditional industry.

Don’t get me wrong. Working with a professional agent or publisher is usually the best option. Why would you commit to the associated effort and investment, if someone else is willing to manage and pay for the process for you? It’s a problem for the industry that a publisher’s involvement is only really evident when absent, and the main learning to emerge from self-publishing is a realisation of just how much effort is involved.

But don’t underestimate the flexible use of self-publishing, and the value of the wide variety of new services available to the writer, from manuscript consultancy and editing to ebook conversion and print on demand. The options available may benefit you at any stage of your creative journey – and you may be closer to this now than you think.

Have you ever printed off a sample of your work in progress, given it to trusted friend, and asked for feedback? If so, dear reader, you are already involved.

11 Replies to “The Naked Author: a guest blog by Alison Baverstock”

  1. Hi Alison,
    Interesting article — but it ignores a prominent trend in self-publishing which is writers who have already been published by a trade publisher choosing to go it alone.

    Why, you ask, would ‘would you commit to the associated effort and investment, if someone else is willing to manage and pay for the process for you? ‘ Answer: because it is more creative, more enjoyable and more rewarding for many of us. It delivers creative freedom and artistic control, two things that are very important to many writers.

    My experience with a Big 6 publisher (Penguin) took me to the top of the bestseller charts but it was very unsatisfactory for me. Bruising, in fact. My books were misrepresented, I hated one of my covers, they insisted that the blurb leaving out the very aspect of my books that was most meaningful to me. And I believe to my readers. It was a shortsighted sales strategy, aimed at retailers not readers.

    So last year I took back my rights and began self-publishing through Amazon. It has been WONDERFUL – so much more rewarding creatively and financially and offering a close contact with readers that I never enjoyed before.

    I believe this is the most important thing to happen for writers, since publishing began. So I have founded a society for self-publishing writers THE ALLIANCE OF INDEPENDENT AUTHORS so we can get together and harness our growing power in ways that are favourable to us. The Alliance will launch at London Book Fair next week, with a panel of writers (some previously published, some not) who have all chosen the indie route as their preferred way.

    Thanks for the opportunity to open this discussion.

  2. Hello Orna

    Agreed, and in the space available to me I did not explore the area you discuss.

    But in response to you now, a rather unexpected finding from the research I did for my recent book was a growing awareness that self-published authors seemed happier (less jealous, less insecure, less reliant on others for validation). In the past the traditional publishing industry has assumed that satisfaction is tied to the near-perfection of work produced, and that levels rise according to how close you get to the standard of what is produced through traditional means. But happiness to me seemed a more generalised concept. Taking responsiblity for yourself, and deciding the preservation of your work matters, is profoundly satisfying – even if what is produced is not going to be the basis of commercial relationships.

    Of course this needs further research, but an interesting outcome.

    BW, Alison

  3. Fascinating. And I read your piece on Joanna’s Blog today which expands on this (Jo is one of the advisors to the Alliance). Thanks for the interest in indie publishing Alison, exciting times!

  4. Thanks Orna. It’s interesting how the same names keep popping up. I am organising an event at the London Book Fair on whether the publishing industry should be frightened of self-publishing – with my author friend Harriet Smart. Do come 18th April, 10am.
    Best, Alison

  5. My question is: should a publisher refuse my book, he will do so because he thinks he can’t sell it. Then who am I, with much more limited marketing resources, to think I can sell it myself?
    I did 16 books on management, all of which sold well and some were a real hit with lots of reprints and translations. Never a problem finding publishers. Now I wrote a spiritual novel, lessons of life in novel-format, and I am exploring the publishers’ market which is quite different from what I am used to.
    What is your view on marketing/selling?
    Best,
    Hans Wissema

  6. What you don’t mention is the extraordinary success of self-publishers over the past two years, once Amazon KDP offered us a nearly level playing field. It’s not just the mega-sellers everyone has heard of; see this (incomplete) list of indies with sales of more than 50,000 ebooks: http://bit.ly/yzEG90.

    Had the gatekeepers done their job properly, there would be no popular books that hadn’t managed to get a traditional publishing deal. In fact, there are thousands of them, books that readers enjoy.

    I also take issue with the idea that only trad published books have a ‘meticulous standard of presentation’. Many indie ebooks are well proofread, edited and formatted; many legacy ebooks are not, particularly those where publishers have used the print file or OCR without checking the result.

  7. Dear Alison,

    I have read your article with great interest and its timing was particularly appropriate for me. I have just self-published a book ‘From Trafalgar to Tahrir’ which, should you be interested, is on my website (address above). It basically goes back and forth between Egypt’s revolution that began on 25th January 2011 until 25th January 2012 and my anecdotal memoirs. I took the self-publishing route for two reasons – 1. this is my first book and 2. I wanted it in print while the subject of the revolution was still hot.

    However, I published with Authorhouse and it has been a horrific experience! There was total lack of transparency regarding the package offered – this mainly consisted of what was not said rather than what was said in the terms and conditions. If you want more details I can let you have them. The editing of the book which cost £800 was well below standard. The marketing was non-existent,its availability is not at all what was offered, for example Amazon u.k. say ‘temporarily out of stock’. There was a promise that it would be available at Waterstones but the publishers forgot to mention that it would only be in the Gower Street branch (which it is not). Although the book became ‘live’ on 21st March, I waited until yesterday to advertise it to my many Facebook friends, I also emailed other friends and sent text messages. I now look an utter fool because I will have to start again and ask them to wait until Authorhouse get their act together.
    How I would love to have attended your talk in April, but I live in Egypt and won’t be in London until the end of June!

    Perhaps I was simply unlucky although I have two acquaintances who have had similarly bad experiences with Authorhouse. In principle, the idea of self-publishing is an excellent one – own cover design, sole rights etc. etc.

    I know that the book is of interest because I have people queuing up to buy it. The major English bookshop in Cairo will be stocking it have asked me to do a signing but it is taking ages to be shipped!

    When I am in London in summer, I shall visit all the bookshops that I physically can and take it from there. I do not know how else to market it!

  8. Rosemary, I see you have not brought out a digital edition of ‘From Trafalgar to Tahrir’. Why not do this yourself via Amazon’s KDP and enjoy full control, possible sales, at little or no cost?

    There is a wealth of information online on how to do this. It’s a steep learning curve but rewarding.

    (If you put ‘Authorhouse scam’ into Google you will see you are not alone.)

  9. Really sorry to hear about the bad experiences with Authorhouse,
    I self-published my novel ‘Blue-Grey Island’ through troubador/matador.
    They made an excellent job and were totally accesible through the whole process. I highly recommend them.
    My novel can be viewed at Amazon and on Troubador’s web-site – which is also very good.

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