During my conversation with Russel Bradfield, one of the things we talked about was the struggle new and independent authors face trying to secure a publishing deal today.
Obviously this didn’t make it into the final article but it continued to stick with me afterwards.
If you look on the front-most page of Bradfield’s book, you’ll see “Printed and bound by Copy-World” where the name of a publishing house would be in a typical novel.
This is because Bradfield was unable to secure a deal with an established publisher and turned instead to self-publishing his novel.
The fact is, publishers are first-and-foremost businesses dedicated to making a profit which means their decisions on which stories to accept is based almost entirely on what they believe can make them money.
Sure, there are famous cases of publishers taking risks that turned out to be hugely successful but those are the exception rather than the rule.
This is the same reason we suddenly see a flood of copycats whenever a particular book strikes it big, from the slew of Harry Potter clones to the dreary young adult dystopias that tried to ride on the coattails of The Hunger Games.
In such an environment, it can be incredibly difficult for new authors to break into the industry, especially if their work is radically different or in a genre that is not considered “trendy”.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways for budding writers to get their work out there thanks in no small part to the internet.
Firstly, there are plenty of small independent publishers out there who specialise in publishing niche or genre-specific work. If you have no luck with the more traditional houses, there’s sure to be an indie house out there that would be interested in your work.
Suppose that this also proves fruitless. Don’t worry, there’s still a way. If you’d like to hold your work in your hand, you can take the route Bradfield took and get your book printed at your local printing shop.
Most large printers offer the choice to print and bind books in bulk, so as long as you have the story and the necessary designs for the front/back covers, (more on that in a bit), you’re set.
Of course, this can be pretty costly and might be out of reach for some. In that case, there’s always the e-book route.
The best example of this is probably Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing which allows authors to sell their books on the Kindle store. The initial costs are significantly lower, but you will have to share a portion of any sales with Amazon.
Also, the amount you charge for an e-book will have to be lower than what you would charge for a physical copy in order to attract readers, but this can be potentially offset by the possibility of wider reach and thus higher sales.
Now the job of a publisher is more complex than simply printing a book. A publisher also edits your book, designs cover art and then helps market it once it’s complete.
Again, though, there are plenty of options for independent writers.
Editing is pretty straightforward. There are a number of applications out there that can provide basic edits, as well as freelance editors offering their services for a fee. You can also just ask friends and family to read over your work and give their input.
Once your book is properly edited, the next step is to ensure people pick it up. The saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” may be good life advice but when it comes to marketing, the opposite is true.
A catchy cover can be all the difference between someone giving your book a try or just passing it over. Very few writers are also talented visual artists or graphic designers, so this part may be understandably intimidating.
Luckily for us, visual art has seen an explosion thanks to the internet. Discussing why this is would take an entire article on its own (although the causes are somewhat similar) so for now, let’s just talk about where to find the right artist for you.
Speaking from experience, a good-quality commission will set you back at least R1,000, so just keep that in mind.
Also don’t forget to credit the artist when you publish.
So you’ve finally written up your story, put it through a rigorous editing process, commissioned a stunning cover and had it published in the medium of your choice. Now you just need to market it.
The easiest way to do this would be through social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.
You can write up adverts for your book and ask your friends and family to spread the word. You can also send copies to local journalists and ask them to review it for their publications.
If you published online, your book might get a spot on the online store’s homepage which will make sure more potential readers see it. The options are near limitless.
It could be argued that we are living in a golden age for self-published writers.
While it is true that traditional publishers are declining somewhat, it is also true that there are now a plethora of tools out there that allow writers to completely by-pass them if desired.
One doesn’t even need to sacrifice success while doing so.
One of my favourite books ever is Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, which was initially published episodically on the author’s website. It became so popular that not only did it become a best-seller, but it also inspired a series of video games which have gone on to receive critical and commercial acclaim.
Self-publishing is still viable today, probably more so than ever before, and the scene is ripe for upcoming writers to make their mark.