Vive La Revolution

On a writing site the other day, I saw a thread entitled, 'The Pubishing Industry is dead.'
Out of sheer nosiness, I clicked on and found a thinly veiled advertisement by a self publishing company. Nothing new there, but what was interesting were the responses, which broadly said, 'yeah' and 'right on brother'.
It reminded me of the SWP meetings I attended in my youth, where middles class students who had never worked a day in their lives would give their heart felt support for the workers of Nicaragua. From the safety of the pub, natch. Actually, as the daughter of a real life miner I had kudos beyond measure, which I profited from whenever possible, in the shape of pints of lager.
But back to self publishing...
I have to say my feelings on the topic are much like my feelings on vegetarianism and jogging. It's fine for other people, but personally I wouldn't do it.
It isn't the latent snobbery of the traditionally published that makes me say this. No. Frankly it's fear. Cold, hard, indesputable fear.
I have had three books out there on the shelves of WH Smiths. I have a contract for three more. Yet, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never ever been able to read any of my own work and nod in satisfaction. Without exception, I am entirely unable to assess any of my projects objectively. In truth, I always think they are shit.
Before I even type the first word, I send a synopsis to my agent. If he says he likes my idea, I go ahead, though I remain convinced I won't pull it off.
Once the book's finished, I remain utterly unconvinced and sub it to my editor expecting a polite email turning it down.
How then, could I conceive of publishing my work without both my agent and editor telling me it's good enough? I tip my hat to those that have the confidence, but this writer is too much of a yellow belly.
Speaking of editors, how could I conceive of publsihing anything without the invaluable input of the editorial team? I know it's a fashionable myth that these days they do nothing to books. But it is just that. A myth. Every writer I know has a period where their book swings back and forth, wending through structural edits, line edits, copy edits. All my books have benefited immeasurably from the proccess. Look in any acknowledgement at the back of a book and you'll find the author giving humble thanks to their editing team. It's genuine gratitude, I think. If we were only grateful for them having bought our work, we'd more likely throw a high five to Bob In Marketing and Sales.
And that's another hurdle, for me at least: sales. I could no more walk into a book shop and ask them to stock my latest, than I could drink six liters of water a day ( or whatever the water experts say is 'a good thing'). How could I compete with that nice Bob In Marketing and Sales who knows all the buyers and can offer a discount on a BOGOF? The very thought makes me shudder.
I am neither salesman, nor publicist, nor PR guru.
I am just someone who makes stuff up and writes it down.
So I think I'll stick with traditional publishing. I suspect that, like Mark Twain, rumours of its demise have been greatly exagerated, and it will blunder along for some time yet.
No doubt I'm wrong, and when the revolution arrives, I shall be left behind in a pool of real ink...


Barb said...

Great blog - thank you.
I think in addition to the need for a support team for the confidence to publish, it's a case of not wanting to do those elements yourself. Writers want to write, not come up with marketing plans.

Helen Black said...

I think that's true for a lot of writers. They just are not natural salesmen. And why should they be?
HB x

Fidelity said...

I'm going to do a self job some day. I think it's a gift for some people - the talentless. I could never compete with the real thing. Ideas? What's an idea? I was told when at high infants that I was empty headed. I've long since gotten over my shame. Those mystics spend their whole lives trying to empty the mind; I do it without thinking.

I like the architecture of Dublin and I've already started on making scratchy drawings with wobbly pillars. In recent years the net has got me writing poetry - you all know what they call it...but I'm going to get a few together and put them with the drawings and 'have a presence' in the world of art and culture.

I can't stand money - I just hate it like anything, and anything to do with 'break even' not to mention the worst word in the world 'pro**t'

***lovely blog Helen***

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Very interesting post, Helen. Writers who self-publish have to do without so much support - in technical, financial and practical terms, and in terms of feeling validated in their work.
Maybe self-validation is what we need to aim at...

Old Kitty said...


Oh I always think that for traditional publishing there's the editorial control, the in-built machinery for publicity, money!, and all the nitty gritty (legal, financial, market research etc etc) needed to sell your book already in place and done for the author (I hope so anyway!).

The self publishing side works if you already have all these in place. And good luck to you if you do!

Take care

Kirsty said...

Love this blog and I'm going to say something outrageously offensive! Self publishing is for only three categories of writer in my view -
One: the incredibly talented writer of fiction so astoundingly experimental that the world really does need time to catch up and therefore the old stuck-in-the-mud publishing industry won't touch it, though they'll be clamouring for it ten years from now -
Two: the vanity writer who just wants to see their name in print and aren't worried about career or sales in the least, and nothing wrong with that but call it what it is, vanity publishing -
Three: the poor deluded SOB who thinks they fall into category one but decidedly don't.
Research shows that the less a person knows about their chosen field, the more they think they know. Me, I'm right in there with the fear factor. How could you possibly know whether its good enough?
Sorry to anyone I've offended but feel free to contradict.
Thanks for post. Bet it will stir up a lot of strong emotions.

Helen Black said...

Another thing that worries me, is the plethora of self publishing companies who, I think, capitalise on a writer's understandable wish to see thei work in print.

Of course we're all adults and have free will, but I hate it when these companies propogate the idea that making a go of self publishing is easy, or that traditional publishers don't edit anyway etc.
HB x

joseph said...

Intresting blog,
i recently self published myself and found the experience lacking in advertising, were as i was given the freedom to write and the flow went accordingly with out interference from an editor.
if i had it to do again i would try a traditional publishers who have all the mechanism's in place to sell it.

Caroline Green said...

Nah, I agree with you and Mark Twain. I think, as Susie has touched upon here, the main reason I wouldn't self publish is that I would want the feeling of validation that comes from the traditional route..I presume it does, anyway!

Debs Riccio said...

"...I am just someone who makes stuff up and writes it down..."
Hear, hear, Helen. The idea of picking up a phone or even *shudder* face-to-face selling anything to anyone scares the pants off me. I'm too sensitive for all that. I need all the validation and support I can get. Great post.

Emma Darwin said...

Helen I agree - I'm a writer, not a business person. Some are both, but very few.

I would add a category of book which can be very successfully self-published, which is non-fiction, with a defined and reachable market. If you've written the definitive book on clipping guinea-pigs toenails, and have the email addresses of all three guinea-pig-fancying clubs in Britain, plus a day or so to spend hitch up with the two main book distributors and associations of pet-shop managers, then you'll do very well without killing yourself. You may not turn a profit, but it's a perfectly good - even admirable - enterprise.

Same goes with books of local interest, because you really can, with a bit of time and effort, get them into every shop which might sell them, and Amazon.

But for fiction or general non-fiction, forget it: we need everything the professionals - publishers, publicists, booksellers - can do, to persuade people to buy our work.


Helen Black said...

Emma - I completely agree to those notable exceptions.
And indeed, I would never tell anyone not to self publish. It's really not my business. But I do think it's good for writers to enter into it with all the salient info, rather than a few myths...
HB x

RosyB said...

I tend to agree with Susie about self-validation. I think you need to not be too dependent on external validation just to be able to put something creative out there at all - whatever route you choose. You have to relate to what you are doing first and foremost.

I see nothing wrong with self-publishing at all and I totally admire people who do. I also think it can be something of a luxury to be able to say "i'm a writer I don't do x y and z" as most people have to do many things in their jobs they don't like and writing - in my view - is a job really and there are going to be aspects that are grim or tedious. I do understand that need to try and ring-fence the writing though and not just feel one has to enter into a major hoopla of twittering and blogging and all the rest of it. But I think a lot of mainstream published writers try their best to do their best by the book in terms of publicity or doing readings or festivals or suchlike. There are many writers who might not like doing readings - but it's becoming pretty standard that it's part of the deal these days.

I also think not everything that is great is going to have a huge market and I don't mean guinea-pig nail clippings. Poetry and short stories can be hard to get published and have tiny readerships. Quirky things with interesting angles or fact this is the sort of stuff I would love to find more amongst the self-published. I suppose the difficulty with it (from a reviewing pov say) is how to sift through such a vast sector - especially when so little gets covered by reviewers or media or even blogs or other sifting processes.

But I imagine there must be ways that it will be covered better in the coming years.

RosyB said...

Just to add, I totally agree with Helen that people should go into it with their eyes open though, as with anything really. :)

Rosy T said...

Hear hear to all you have said here, Helen!

Kirsty said...

Emma, yes, agree with your addition entirely. I was only thinking of the fiction novel really. Narrow-minded? Me? Never!

Kirsty said...

And with wording like 'the fiction novel' (as opposed to?) you can see why I'd never dare self-publish.

Helen Black said...

RosyB makes a very good pint that writers who are publshed in the traditional way do still need to help market their books.
No question.

And as I've blogged before, I'm the queen of the radio interview and I'm always happy to do readings/signings/festivals etc.

I think all writers need to do this, or at least the bits they feel comfortable with. Afterall, they have the biggest vested interest in their book reaching readers.

But this, I feel, is a different proposition to actively going out and selling to book buyers. That is a skill in itself.
HB x

Lydia said...

I agree that to achieve publication via the traditional route brings a certain amount of validation, but you read so often these days of mainstream publishers picking up self-published books that have become a success through the marketing efforts of their authors. It makes me wonder whether publishers are hoovering up these books because the risk element has to a certain extent been taken away: the writer has already proved they have a market. I suppose in these uncertain times no-one can blame the publishers for doing that. but hats off to any writer who has the guts and drive to go out there and prove their worth, I say!