Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Self-publishing symposium: Mick Rooney

How does self-publishing differ from traditional publishing?

Beyond the fact both paths of publishing will result in a printed book, I think they are worlds apart. Traditional publishing at its best is a shared and collective effort on the part of author and publisher to successfully manage the streams of creativity and marketability and deliver a book and brand to the reader using tried and trusted formulas of business. Traditional publishing at its worst is a collision of poor but desirable content and brute sales presented to the general consumer as a product of essential living.

Self-publishing is the individual or assisted business of the author to develop and connect with a readership by presenting their book as a comparative and quality product by using innovation to exploit a mix of old and new platforms. Self-publishing at its best has the potential to derive a sustained income for an author or create a brand and marketability that mainstream and independent publishers will find hard to ignore. Self-publishing at its worst simply turns bad writers into bad authors and bad manuscripts into bad books, and this unfairly makes an example of self-publishing in general at the expense of the author. The upshot of self-publishing at its worst is profit for the vanity presses and author solutions service and it prolongs the time span before self-publishing becomes an accepted part of the publishing industry.

Do self-published book review blogs help to raise the reader awareness of self-published books?

I don’t think reviews in general are as effective as the general perception of them. The biggest seller and influence on the sales of a book is word of mouth—effectively, readers sell the books they have read. Self-published book review blogs can help the sales of a book, but only because they usually address and appeal to defined and captured niche markets, often comprising of readers who themselves are authors.

How do you respond to the following statement?--Self-publishing is not a serious way to get one's work into print now and never will be.

Anyone can get their book into print—printing a book is simply a process. I suspect you really mean self-publishing is just printing a book rather than actually publishing it and that self-publishing may never be taken seriously. I don’t agree. There is nothing more serious than an educated author spending their own money and taking on what is a small business operation to publish their own work. Self-publishing is not serious only if the author decides not to take their hours of craft seriously when they decide to self-publish.

My own experience of talking to many self-published authors is that they are becoming savvier about the business of self-publishing and demonstrate a flexible and dynamic approach. What we are talking about here is perception, and significantly an industry perception, because I don’t believe the vast majority of readers could care less about who publishes what book. For them, it’s about content and quality of read and that’s something which will never change.

If people think self-publishing a book does not have a place within the publishing industry; they might like to visit Thomas Nelson and Harlequin who think very differently, and even taking the worst view are happy to exploit their slush piles.

Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?

I don’t think there are things like ‘golden ages’ in any form of publishing. If anything, traditional publishing has moved very little away from the business model they employed for years. Self-publishing has had a significant explosion due to new digital technology and social media networks rather than bring about it. This again is the misconception that self-publishing is something that existed outside of the publishing industry. Publishing is publishing—there is only change, and so far, self published authors have adapted to that change far better.

What about the challenges posed to the self-published writer by having to promote and edit his or her own book?

These are not so much challenges, but rather the realities of the last ten years that editing and promotion are tasks vanity publishers of the 1970’s and onwards charged you for but never carried out, and subsequent author services overcharge or don’t do proficiently. I think from what I have experienced, authors have adapted very well to new technology and media in promotion their work and finding and exploiting social media streams for their books. I believe this is going to go from strength to strength and the traditional model of publishing is adopting localised social models of marketing but on a global scale.

I have always believed that authors were better placed to understand their material and readership, but the traditional path of publishing somehow tried to circumvent the authors input into the core marketing strategy of a book. Self-published authors have a greater understanding of the need for professional editing of their book, and along with cover design are the few areas they must concede valuable input on.

Why is it that a self-published author has yet to emerge into national recognition as a self-published author? (As opposed to being given a mainstream publishing contract after a self-published book attracts attention.)

That question suggests we have not had successes at a national level. Strange how quickly we forget books like Necromancer, originally self-published. The truth is that publishers may not easily admit that they watch leading self-published titles and move quickly to acquire them in the first few months of success. This results in the enduring perception that most self-published successes always originated from large publishing houses. Few can blame authors for taking an opportunity if it leads to them writing full-time as a career. We have always presided over an industry happy to finger point at the poverties of self-publishing but quick to adopt and re-invent many self-publishing successes.

Has the experience of self-publishing changed the way you write? (If you have self-published.)

No. There may be a case for non-fiction, certainly not for fiction.

Mick Rooney has been self-publishing his books since 1990. He has written numerous articles on the publishing industry and self-publishing which have appeared in many magazines. He is editor, researcher and publishing consultant for his website and author resource, POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing, providing news, service reviews and advice.

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