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UK Publishing Crowd Gathers in London to Discuss Self-Publishing

30 September 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Self-publishing — or independent publishing, or author publishing, call it what you will — is a partnership, says Orna Ross, Founder and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. “No writer is an island,” she told delegates at the London Book Fair’s latest Tech Tuesday session on ‘the rise and rise of self-publishing,’ chaired by LBF Director Jacks Thomas and held in fashionable Hoxton in east London. “We can’t do it by ourselves. Writers need support — editorial, production, promotion, design…Very few people can do all those things themselves. Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.”

In essence, this is like a reverse advance, being paid to various freelancers — or a single company operating a platform — the difference being that the author begins earning back straightaway and most likely at a much higher rate than through a traditional house.

. . . .

Representing traditional publishers was David Shelley, Publisher of Little Brown, who had the difficult position of having to defend the status quo, having to point out that large houses have infrastructures and systems in place that may not sound sexy, but can be beneficial to authors.

. . . .

Floating somewhere between both was ghostwriter Andrew Crofts who has written for publishers large and very small. He took things right back to basics with a neat summary of the whole history of storytelling and the book industry. “We went from storytelling around the fire where the audience were the most important people, to a situation where storytellers forgot about audiences, forgot about readers and began to concentrate on pleasing publishers…”

This is where the rot set in, he believes (although he was overstating it, one feels, giving “good panel,” as it were), and eventually created the conditions for self-publishing to emerge, once the tools were there.

What self-publishing has done is to relight the campfire. The glow of the tablet, mobile or laptop screen may have replaced the flames, but the direct engagement with the reader that the storyteller had in the cave has come back in ways that no one would have imagined, thanks to social media.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Larry for the tip.


36 Comments to “UK Publishing Crowd Gathers in London to Discuss Self-Publishing”

  1. Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.

    Is she offering her services, or has she been foolish enough to pay that much? I haven’t done much research into professional editing for my work (not that close to pubbing yet), but from what I understand, that’s at the rip-off end of the spectrum.

    • Yeah, I think any amount more than £1000K/$1600 on editing is a too much.

    • Is it just me, or does it sound as if this sentence (taken out of context) implies that each self-publishing author has 3-5k worth of free money floating around for someone to pluck?

      PER book.

      Whoever wrote that sentence, it is odd all around.

      Writers do invest: time, effort, classes, writing groups, and learning all they can about all the steps so they can choose which ones they need help with. Whatever happened to ‘money flows TO the writer?’

      I think the biggest hurdle in self-publishing is in navigating the myriad services offered – and spending what cash one spends wisely. All businesses should start small, and not outlay too much cash without returns.

    • I have no idea how pounds translate to dollars, but a friend of mine is a professional editor (emphasis on professional) who routinely makes $3000 – $4000 per book doing developmental and line editing. She usually has more than 100 hours invested per book, which doesn’t put her hourly rate out of line with lots of other editors. You can get copy editing and proof reading for a lot less. Just depends on where you are in your career and what you want to invest, but those are not “rip off” rates.

      • The person I quoted in my comment is flatly stating editing costs in the thousands without making it clear there are different kinds of editing and that not all writers need all (or even any) of the editing services offered out there. I don’t really need developmental and line editing help. Proof reading I have writer friends do, and one of them even points out minor discrepancies in my plot or reasoning if she finds any.

        The thing is, the person I blockquoted isn’t taking those factors into consideration. And not all authors are as educated as we are with regards to not only the Indie Pub world but also our own writing skills and abilities. Newbie writers–or just newbies to the Indie Pub world–are going to read that and have conniptions because they can’t afford but think they must pay that much for editing–and not all of them will be capable of assessing their own writing to determine whether it actually needs developmental and line editing.

        It’s the blanket statement without clarification I have issues with.

  2. Overall, I liked the article, but judging from this bit I wonder if Brenda van Kamp understands what “print on demand” means:

    Brenda van Camp from San Francisco-based “creative self-publishing platform,” Blurb, publishing is not either one or the other — both approaches can co-exist. “I like our authors to look at their work and ask themselves whether it has mass appeal, or is it just a run of 500?

  3. “You can’t do it alone! Give us money too!”

  4. “This is where the rot set in, he believes (although he was overstating it, one feels, giving “good panel,” as it were), and eventually created the conditions for self-publishing to emerge, once the tools were there.”

    I don’t think he’s overstating it at all. He’s right on. Writers were stuck several degrees of separation from readers. Not so much anymore unless you choose to be.

    • I couldn’t disagree more.

      The rot set in when publishers took on new authors in ever larger numbers, hoping one would catch on without needing any promotion. Those that didn’t make it with the first book were booted out. A few who were writing series novels got to stay a tad longer, but they,too, were out soon. Let’s face it, book stores wouldn’t keep their titles for more than a few weeks and so readers didn’t find them.

      These authors went into self-publishing because they had no other choice. They discovered that they could make more money doing it themselves and realized how much of their money the publishers had collected while paying them 15 % per sale.

      The business of writing to the reader (translate: to the largest audience segment for the biggest sales) is another thing. It also exists, but for both traditionally published authors and self-published ones. It isn’t my way.

  5. 1) There’s a weird definition of “self-publishing” in that article.

    “We have some well-known authors who work with big publishers, but who publish smaller projects through us.”

    If you’re an author, publishing through a 3rd party company, that company is a publisher. That’s not really self-publishing. It’s basically a small press publisher, using “self-publishing” as a buzz word.

    I looked up Blurb. It’s company motto is — “A complete publishing platform.”

    That would be — a publisher.

    It’s weird to see the same sort of distortion that has occurred with film. “Indie films” no longer means an independently made film (which Indie refers to), rather it is more similar to a genre, a brand, a type.

    I bring this up, because it’s definitions like the above that make “self-publishing” a dirty word. The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t have to be.

    2) There’s also a lot of ambiguous double talk.

    ““We can’t do it by ourselves. Writers need support — editorial, production, promotion, design…Very few people can do all those things themselves.”

    From we can’t do it by ourselves… to … Well, very few people can. These are not the same thing.

    I find it odd to make a bold statement like — no writer can do it by themselves and end that thought with… yeah, well… some can.

    Also this one I find baffling — “Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.””

    I find it odd that the article singles out spending money on editorial as one of the most vital things a self-publishing author needs.

    Bear with me for a minute —

    You are a writer.

    And you are better at creating a COVER for your book than editing sentences?

    Umm, maybe writing isn’t for you.

    I’d put large sums of money on — your average author is a better editor than illustrator. Money spent on a COVER FOR YOUR BOOK would likely go a lot further than money spent on editing it.

    I’m not saying editorial isn’t valuable — but it’s like being a plumber and paying your dentist to fix your leaky faucet and believing that’s the best way to spend your money.

    • I think your first point is interesting. They’re defining the terms “publisher” and “self published” in such a way as to maintain the prestige of traditional publishing.

      In this view, you’re only a publisher if you reject people. It’s the curating thing. If just anyone can walk up to you and get a book, you’re not a publisher, you’re, I don’t know, a press?

      By the same token, if you were not nurtured by an expert intermediary, you’re self published, no matter who did the actual publishing.

      I’m not bothered by this, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Although I don’t know why I’d be surprised that the established system is controlling the vocabulary.

      EDIT: Should have followed the link first. The article acknowledges the need for new definitions and notes that at the core it’s “all publishing.”

      One wonders if a new consensus isn’t now emerging, one in which all old definitions and divisions are blurring, with power shifting back to the creators. “The writer is the publisher now and all the many ways of reaching readers are services,” said Ross.

  6. £3,000 to £5,000? I hope for the Brits’ sake she’s joking. I’ve never paid more than low three figures in dollars for an edit, and I’ve had two stellar editors whose work is worth far more than they quote me to pay.

  7. How do we get the media to recognize that vanity publishing is not self-publishing?

    • As long as traditionally publishers (I’m looking at you Randy Penguin) own media and vanity publishing, I don’t believe that’s possible, even though I do have faith in David Gaughran.

    • Added to Elka’s point, these stories all read as if they’re written by reporters “parachuting in” to the issue. Indie publishing is not a beat, so the reporters take the easy way out and interview easily identifiable talking heads. Until they start immersing themselves into the issue, they will assume that Randy Penguin’s vanity press is genuine. That’s because all they know about vanity presses is that they’re run by fly-by-night operations, not venerable and respectable houses such as Randy Penguin.

      Maybe we’ll get lucky and have a bored, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed intern innocently gather the facts and report the truth. It could happen …

  8. “Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.”

    LOL, that’s a joke, right? Please tell me that’s a joke.

    You can get amazing editing done for less than $600.

  9. I believe that writers might need beta-readers and critique partners, certainly need copy-editing and proofing, but just *might* be able to manage to write an excellent book pretty much by themselves. /s

    Once upon a time, I was a debut author, writing a book with my fabulous co-author (also my husband). We worked hard on that book, we got some great feedback from outside readers (contest judges, friends, family) and made that book the best it could be. It sold to a NY tradpub house!

    … and then got ZERO substantive edits and light copy edits. The editor was basically “yeah, nice job,” and pushed it into production.

    Did that book suck? Well, it managed to pick up a RITA nomination for Best First Book and got Anthea Lawson named as one of the rising stars of historical romance by Booklist.

    But it was an eye-opener (and myth-buster) about how much (or little) “editing by a REAL editor” adds to a book.

    Trust yourself, trust your first readers, read widely, study craft, hire an excellent proofreader. 🙂

  10. This. I wrote and submitted a lot of books before one was finally published. Not by a Big-6, but one who’d been around for many years and had a solid reputation. And, guess what? Not one word of what I’d written was changed. Then, when they asked their readers to vote for their favorite, mine was the number two choice. I may be wrong, but I concluded that (1) I was a pretty good editor of my own stuff, and (2) readers liked my stories. And it’s still pretty much true. Editors at other houses have done minimal editing of my work, I have both Beta readers and critique groups and friends proofread for me. Pay $3000 – $5000 for editing? No way.

  11. “Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.”

    Seems there is an odd notion independents have to follow the publishers’ production system. We have lots of evidence, measured in dollars, that they don’t.

    • Yup.

      It reminds me of what the U.S. Post Office thought email was going to be like, back in the 1980s. You would transmit your email to a central USPS mainframe; they would send it to a local server in the recipient’s part of the country; and then they would print it out, stuff it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and deliver it to the recipient’s physical mailbox. According to their lights, if it didn’t (at some point in the process) exactly follow the slow and inefficient process for delivering posted letters, it wasn’t really mail.

    • You mean like Stevie Z.’s $6000 cover? O_o

  12. I do everything myself. I write a book. Spellcheck it. Proofread it. Fix any typos. Create a cover for it. Publish it. Tweet and facebook it with relevant trending hashtags and wait for the sales to roll in, which are picking up every time I publish something new.

  13. This seems like a good place to point out again Alberto Manguel’s take in his essay ‘The Secret Sharer’. Manguel, who has worked for publishers all over the world, reminds us that the job of development editor was unknown outside the English-speaking countries till recently, and that most of the classics of world literature were produced without editorial help or interference. In his conclusion he says:

    The story has often been told of how Coleridge dreamt his “Kubla Khan” in an intoxication of opium, and of how, upon waking, he sat down to write it and was interrupted by “a person from Porlock,” thereby losing forever the conclusion to that extraordinary poem. Persons from Porlock are professionally employed by the publishing companies of the Anglo-Saxon world. A few are wise and ask questions that speed on the writing; a few distract; a few quibble away at the author’s vaporous confidence; a few destroy the work in mid-creation. All interfere, and it is this compulsive tinkering with someone else’s text that I have to question.

    Without editors we are likely to have rambling, incoherent, repetitive, even offensive texts, full of characters whose eyes are green one day and black the next (like Madame Bovary); full of historical errors, like stout Cortez discovering the Pacific (as in Keats’s sonnet); full of badly strung-together episodes (as in Don Quixote); with a cobbled-together ending (as in Hamlet) or beginning (as in The Old Curiosity Shop). But with editors – with the constant and now unavoidable presence of editors without whose nihil obstat hardly a book can get published – we may perhaps be missing something fabulously new, something as incandescent as a phoenix and as unique, something impossible to describe because it has not yet been born but which, if it were, would admit no secret sharers in its creation.

    The nihil obstat has been removed. The principal function of editors was never to edit books, but to reject them, and they rejected a lot of very good books because of their personal tastes, or their unsound judgement of what was and was not commercial, or simply because too many good books were submitted to them and they could not publish them all. Half the point of being independent authors is that when we write a good book, we can take it straight to the public without giving an intermediary the power to reject it. To replicate the editorial function of traditional publishing would not only be foolish, it would destroy our reason for doing business.

  14. Anyone paying £3,000 to £5,000 ($5-8K) for editing is a fool. For that price, the editor had better write the damn book for me.

    As the industry of services around self-publishing continues to grow, it’s inevitable that there will be those who try to take advantage of inexperienced authors.

    Anyone charging upwards of $12 a page to edit a 400 page manuscript may as well don a mask and carry a gun.

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