One of the ways the book trade has changed shape in the last few years is the idea of self-publishing as a way of progressing to a traditional publishing deal. But does it - and how
does it - actually work in practice?
Very interesting post, from one of the really good writing blogs: some numbers, some sums, and a reality check or two:
A lot depends, of course on what you want to do with your writing. For instance, I understand, Emma, why you’d say self-publishing might be a way of ‘progressing’ to a traditional publishing deal. But whether such a deal actually is progress or not is down to what you’re aiming for as a writer. It could be argued the other way: that if you write a book that’s unique, original, thought-provoking, etc, it’s quite possible that a traditional publisher will just water it down because they believe that will sell more copies.
The music industry is ahead of us in this. I suspect an awful lot of young talented musicians would be more likely to see a traditional music publishing deal as an artistically dubious move; and not necessarily a financially rewarding one either. Taking one, they’d have to give up their current freedom to put out exactly what they want direct to people who want it.
The blog says:
“Personally, I just think self-publishing is too difficult though! Because if you’re self publishing you’re not just being a writer, you’re being a book designer, an art director, a proofreader, an editor, a publicist, a marketing specialist, etc…”
And goes on to make the point that all these things are done for you by a traditional publisher. Well, yes, but a) you do in effect pay for these services (in low royalties, compared with self-publishing) and b) you won’t have the artistic freedom you’d have doing/paying for them yourself.
Does this matter? I’m still thinking about it! The other night, I met a neighbour who works in using new media to promote products/services, to talk about how he might be able to help me with my books. At one point he showed me the Penguin website and indicated that all the book covers there had ‘impact’. He suggested they were probably put together by designers rather than artists. I could see what he meant, and clearly if I had a contract with Penguin my book would get similar treatment. But here’s the thing: personally, I found all the covers lacking in content; hollow. I’d prefer an artist to do mine even if the result lacked commercial impact.
So, I think I’m saying that for me at least this isn’t the right question. I’m not looking for a traditional publishing deal as a first thing. Not sure what I’d do if I was offered one, to be honest.
I heard Ben Folds on the radio the other day. He’s someone who is incredibly varied in his musical projects. At one point, he was talking about all the various musicians he’s work with (like Rufus Wainwright) and said that every single one of them said they don’t know what they’re doing where music’s concerned. They just see what happens. Okay, it may be that traditional music publishers allow such artists more freedom of expression accordingly, although this clearly isn’t the case with modern commercial cowell-esque pop music. But I don’t think traditional publishers offer much freedom creatively, which means there is almost certainly a price to pay in going with one.