Thinking of self-publishing? Then look no further…
A review of The Naked Author, A Guide to Self-Publishing by Alison Baverstock
Alison Baverstock is widely regarded as THE go-to guide for advice on how to market your book and having hosted Alison for two sell-out events I was very keen to read her latest book, The Naked Author; A Guide to Self Publishing.
The pros and cons
Whatever your feelings are on self-publishing, and I’m still very much sitting on the fence, gone, more-or-less, are the days of vanity-press horror stories. There’s no denying that with the increasing popularity of platforms such as Kindle, iPad and Kobo and services such as Lulu, E-book publishing at least is not only here to stay but is fast becoming a very viable option, one which is worth taking into serious consideration. After all, if established authors such as Barry Eisler are opting out of renewing their contracts in favour of publishing their own work then this has got to be more than a trend. With E-publishing deals still in their infancy the returns aren’t great, but this mode of delivery does have the potential to be reasonably profitable, depending on who you choose to publish through. J K Rowling, in another genius stroke that really shouldn’t have surprised anyone, kept the rights to the E-book formats of Harry Potter (presumably a mistake her publishers will have made certain not to repeat for her forthcoming adult fiction), granting her sole rights to sell the franchise in electronic format through her website Pottermore. Honestly, you’d think she was short of cash. At its’ best, self-publishing allows authors freedom. Freedom to release their books as and when they want, rather than waiting on the cogs of the publishing industry, freedom of delivery either via E-book or by ordering small print-runs as and when required, rather than large batches which could ultimately end up being pulped, and freedom of how that book should be marketed, a common complaint for authors.
Make no mistake
Though is this option right for everyone? Unanimously and unequivocally no, and Baverstock is quick to point this out. After all, what The Naked Author hammers home is just how much hard work is needed in order to self-publish a book, and that’s before even thinking of making it a success! The format has many years of bad press and negative preconceptions to fight against, not just because of con-artist publishers. Quality control is a major concern. Self publishing does tend to, alas, suffer from a lack of editorial guidance, and despite there being many authors who have bucked the industry’s notion that self publishing is only for those not good enough to get an agent, for the vast majority there is good reason for this. Baverstock states in her conclusion that
“Self-publishing has a bad reputation. It has tended to attract those with anger in their hearts and spleen in their vocabulary. Anger from rejection by the traditional industry, but spleen fuelling their inability to listen – both to the feedback they’re getting/not getting (even more annoying) on their work, and the implications of being repeatedly rejected by potential external investors.”
While paying to publish their own work heedless of comments made by industry experts, some authors have hindered the professional merit of getting your own work into print and set it back quite a pace. Proofreading services do exist and are a worthwhile investment, though they can be very costly. Chapter thirteen, co-written with Margaret Aherne, gives plenty of examples of common mistakes to look out for.
The competitive edge
The quality of what’s gone before shouldn’t be enough to deter, but those choosing this path will have their work cut out for them, certainly if they intend to produce and distribute physical copies of their book, rather than just E-copies. Chain bookstores are often reluctant to risk stocking self-published books due to complicated or non-existent returns procedures, and certain chains (and all major supermarkets) will only stock the top one hundred paperback fiction in any given month, though the chapter on distribution goes into this in further depth. On the plus side, certainly where E-books are concerned, readers do seem happier to chance paying small amounts on an unknown author, regardless of who published them based on word-of-mouth, and especially Amazon reviews.
Following on from his tremendous success, E-book phenomenon Kerry Wilkinson, whose novels have sold in excess of 250,000 copies, has recently signed a deal with Pan MacMillan to bring his already existing E-books and three upcoming novels into print. Whether the hardcopy versions and further three novels that have been commissioned will be left untouched by editors remains to be seen, though it is suspected that Wilkinson’s future output will have much more of a guiding hand. Wilson owes a huge deal of success to being both incredibly, enviably, productive and to having set a very competitive marketing strategy, selling the first book in his series for just 99p and then publishing a new book every quarter or so. You only need to look at his list of titles to date and the coming soon notices to note that his output is quite prodigious, and this is precisely what successful self publishing requires, grabbing the reader’s attention and keeping them coming back for more, something that just wouldn’t happen through a mainstream publishing house, where you’re typically looking at a year between publication dates, if not more.
Baverstock opens by asking why are you considering the route of self publishing. Is it because you are only initially intending on writing one book, where mainstream publishing houses want to see a planned career? Is this niche work that would be difficult to publish elsewhere? Are you already established but want to write something that differs from your usual output? Are you fed up of the long waits for rejection letters, and, most importantly, do you want to sell your work yourself? All these are perfectly legitimate reasons for considering self publishing, but, as Baverstock warns, don’t think it’s going to be easy. You’ll need much more than just a technological grasp in order to do this well, and that’s not just the marketing. Each E-publishing outlet, of which there are now several, have their own formatting requirements, and what looks good on one probably won’t work for another, because life just isn’t that easy. Thankfully a good deal of the issues you’re likely to face are covered by Baverstock, and there’s plenty of help available online.
As is a common feature of Baverstock’s books, The Naked Author is chock full of case studies, and several chapters have been co-authored with a range of industry professionals including proofreading expert Margaret Aherne, children’s publishing veteran Gale Winskill (on how to obtain objective feedback), and Darin Brockman of E-book conversion company Firsty Work, all of whom add an extra air of authority to their respective chapters. Indeed as in Marketing Your Book; an Author’s Guide, it is these guest contributors and case studies that help set Baverstock’s how-to books apart from many of the others that are already out there.
Even when publishing mainstream, marketing budgets can be minimal, often as low as £50 per author per book, and if you’re going it alone then it’s all coming out of your own pocket. Sadly as for getting a self-published book reviewed in the press, you might as well forget about it, though, of course, there are always exceptions. The Naked Author includes a very concise marketing checklist as well as an informative chapter on copywriting in order to help you best manage your own publicity material. The advice is also worth taking note of even if you aren’t considering self-publishing, as case study Brian Landers, author of Empires Apart winner of the People’s Book Prize, states in chapter seven.
The Naked Author seeks to offer an objective analysis of the self publishing system, and that is exactly what it does. Baverstock never really states whether this is the best way to go. She can’t, because no one knows that. Where there are many pluses, freedom of content, marketing, being your own boss, there are many minuses. What self-publishing does is level the playing field for struggling writers, and while it can seem daunting The Naked Author does a very good job of keeping this all seem manageable and in perspective.
It’s interesting to note that in the first case study of the book, Siobhan Curham, author of Dear Dylan, opens by saying that she turned down a two-book deal to self publish her story on Amazon, AuthorHouse and direct from her own website after being messed about by her publisher. After its release, Curham entered Dear Dylan into the 2012 YoungMinds Book Award competition which she won. Following this success she was inundated by publishers and agents eager to take her on and, eventually signing up with Erzsi Deak, Dear Dylan was taken to auction where it was sold in a two-book deal to Egmont and Disney have optioned the film rights. The whole route of going through self-publishing opened many doors for Curham that she might never have previously had, but this does beg the question, would someone be happy for their work to solely be self-published, or is this just another route of getting your book seen by mainstream houses?
At the end of the day Baverstock doesn’t tell you to abandon the traditional route of publishing, but what she does do is weigh the pros and cons of self-publishing in order to present the reader with the best advice to make an informed decision with and to act on. What self publishing does offer is a clear route for niche subjects or for writers who might not be considering a career in publishing but whose dream it is to get that one book they’ve written out there. The book ends on a rather touching note where Baverstock’s brother-in-law gives his parent’s a one off self-published book of photos and memories of their lives at their 80th birthday party. Something like this could obviously never be published the traditional route, but self-published for the right reasons it means all the world to its intended audience. As Seth Godin says, “A few people insanely focused on what you do is far far better than thousands of people who might be mildly interested, right?” And maybe this is enough.
The Naked Author is one of the most accessible, authoritative and honest guides to self-publishing that I’ve read, and to anyone considering tackling this path I’d say it is an essential read.
Pete is a former Bookseller, joint Hub Coordinator for the New Writers South Portsmouth Hub, an actor, writer, and has worked with Cibas since 2007. He does not own a Kindle, iPad or Kobo but is open to endorsements.
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