Posted on March 17, 2022
My friend has self-published a book. What does that mean?
I don’t know about you, but I grew up reading Little Women, where Jo March wrote a book that saved her from destitution and bank-rolled the family for years. We have all heard recent stories of struggling writers, penning their novels in hovels with only rats for company, until the series sells across the world, and they become millionaires. And secretly, we all know, that when we finally get round to writing the book that is bubbling in the back of our mind – that will happen to us.
If you believe in fairy tales – please stop reading now, because they all lived happily ever after.
Back in the real world, that is no longer the way it works. If your friend has self-published, she has done something phenomenal: She has taken the innermost parts of her heart and mind, and crafted those ideas into a form that can be conveyed to others. Her book can move her readers, inspire them, teach them, encourage them - that is an amazing thing. Take time to celebrate her. This was a far harder goal to achieve than many people realise. (Flowers, spontaneous cakes or gifts, celebratory meals – none of these are inappropriate!)
But why didn’t she get it published properly?
Firstly, never ask her that question! Are you holding a book? Can you buy it in e-book form? Then she published it properly!
Let me explain a little about the publishing industry at present (I’m writing in 2022 – I say that because things move very quickly in the publishing world, and although this piece of writing will always be entertaining, it may not be relevant forever!)
These are the Big (Insert Number Here – constantly changing as they keep buying each other out). The ones you see on tables when you walk into bookshops. And if you take a moment to look at the books being promoted by bookshops, you’ll notice that you are familiar with most of the authors. Either they are politicians, or sports people, or chefs, or television personalities of some kind. You may be surprised to discover that someone who is unable to string together a coherent sentence on the screen has somehow produced an inch-thick masterpiece, and it’s your scepticism, rather than your interest, that leads you to pick it up and flick through it! That’s a discussion for another day. But let me tell you some secrets:
· Those spaces on the book tables cost an awful lot of money. The books are not featured because they are the best, but because the publisher paid the bookshop to put them there.
· Shockingly, most of those books will end up in landfill – they will be returned and mulched when the next batches of books come from the publishers. (I read somewhere that nearly 50% of the expenses in the publishing world are handling returns.)
· The Big Traditional Publishers (who write the life-altering cheques) are looking for people who already have a large platform. They want to use your fan base to underwrite the cost of producing your book.
The upshot of all of that, your friend never had a chance with those guys!
There are smaller publishers, but that isn’t a game I’ve ever played, and I can’t help you with that. But I understand that the cheques are no longer Jo-Marsh-like and may even have to be repaid if the book doesn’t sell as well as expected.
These are growing in popularity and are an interesting business model. Basically, the writer pays a contribution towards the cost of publishing, in return for access to the publishers’ secret weapons. This allows publishers to ‘take a chance’ on unknown authors and gives the author access to the backroom workings of publishing, such as editors, cover designers and distribution channels.
These publishers won’t accept every book – it is not a vanity press model, where I write a little story about my bunny and pay them to publish it. They are invested in the book and will only take on something that they feel will sell in the market. Having a manuscript accepted by a hybrid publisher is no small achievement and is worthy of celebrating (see ideas above). They will promote and offer the book to bookshops, via their social media etc, and within the industry. For many people, this is a win-win.
A couple of pieces of information:
· No publishing house has ‘HYBRID’ in their strap-line. Often you are unaware that it is this kind of partnership until you are offered a contract and see how much money you’ll need to contribute. (Get a strong cup of tea and give yourself a minute!)
· For many authors, this is now the main route to market. It is valid and difficult. It requires investment from your writer friend (time and money), so please don’t ask her for free books! Support her by buying her books. (You’d take her out for a coffee, wouldn’t you? Why not buy her book instead?)
Those ‘Royalty Cheques’ she’s hanging out for every few months – whilst it’s always great when other people are buying your books – the monetary reward isn’t usually more than a bag of chips (and a can of coke – if it’s been a good year!). Don’t expect her to treat you to dinner at the Ritz when she gets one.
But my friend said she ‘self-published’, so what does that actually mean?
That means that your friend is a multi-faceted, multi-talented person, but you probably already know that.
She has written a book, edited it within an inch of its life (my first and final drafts often look like totally different books!). She may have then sent it to a professional editor (the same kind used by the publishers mentioned above) and paid them to give it the extra sparkle and shine it needs. She will have commissioned a designer for the cover, and then she will have got her head around the multiple options available to her to actually get that book into the hands of her readers.
If you are holding your friend’s self-published book, it has most likely been professionally edited, formatted and designed – but your friend has found and hired all those professionals herself and ‘project managed’ it all on her own. Cue another celebratory moment!
But why would anyone go to so much effort?
The short answer is because she wanted you – her reader – to have the best possible experience. Her story burned in her heart until she let it out, then she invested heavily in making sure it was the best it could possibly be.
Oh, I can feel myself welling up! She is so much more amazing than I ever thought!
Isn’t she?! And do you know what would make her do a happy dance? If you bought her book, read it and then left a review. That would mean more to her than the flowers and celebratory meals. Reviews help her book to be more visible on the sales platforms. They actually boost it and help others find it. Since she went to all the hard work of writing the book and project managing its publication, surely the least you could do is leave a 20-30 word review.
So, she didn’t self-publish because she’s a rubbish writer and a ‘real’ publisher didn’t want her book?
No! There are many reasons why your friend chose the publishing route she did. For me, self-publishing is a conscious choice for many reasons (which I’ll blog about another day!).
Self-publishing doesn’t mean low quality. In fact, traditional publishers now look for up and coming self-published authors (with their own fan base) to take on, and increasingly authors who have been traditionally published are choosing the self-publishing route, since they can retain the rights to their body of creative work.
That doesn’t mean all self-published works are classics. Some are not so great. Some are not properly edited. Some just aren’t up your street. That’s fine. But all of them took hard work and effort – and that is to be applauded.
Your friend may have written one of the best books on the market! But you won’t know until you buy it and read it. And please don’t forget to tell others about it.
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