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Lack of respect for vanity publishing (that’s the only time I will use the outdated term in this blog) was the ‘writing through the rock’ of professional publishing.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.