The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Publishing… Wise or Ill-Advised?

booksTap a quick search into Google (we tried ‘how to self publish’) and you’ll be bombarded with tips and advice. There is talk that it might be becoming possible to sidestep the traditional route via the established publishing houses which are so notoriously hard to break into, especially for minority writers and controversial writing. Ultimately, these traditional gatekeepers need to make a profit to survive and have vested interests just like any other business.

It is also easy to forget that authors often hand over responsibility for marketing and promotions. Claire Chambers of the English Department at the University of York discussed this in depth at the recent ‘Prizing and Publishing Muslims Workshop’ at the Treehouse, pointing out that the novel Kartography by Kamila Shamsie has previously been branded as chick lit, featuring blurbs from Elle magazine on the covers. In contrast, Leila Aboulela’s dust jackets enforce her image as a serious ‘halal’ novelist and often feature veiled women.

In an article on the Forbes magazine website, writer Deborah Jacobs sings the praises of new online platforms. The rise of social media has opened up new opportunities for marketeers, so why not would-be publishers and writers too? Jacobs discusses two options which have proved successful for her; using e-commerce tools such as Gumroad, or selling through Amazon. Not surprisingly, the increasing popularity of e-books has made it simple and relatively cheap for indie authors to publish via Kindle Direct – there are no charges for uploading, and the royalties are generous. CreateSpace allows you to create paperback copies to be printed on demand by simply uploading a PDF. Authors are free to design their own cover. Everyone’s a winner!

But is this a mere gimmick or a legitimate and potentially successful way to get important work noticed? Are writers best left leaving promotion to the professionals, or not? Smaller UK publishing houses outside the exclusive Londocentric bubble find innovative ways to reach their markets. Comma Press is a not-for-profit initiative which prides itself in taking risks and pursuing freedom from commercial pressures. For example, Comma seeks to accept more short stories and novellas, neglected art forms often perceived as ‘risky’ or inferior to the novel. Here at York Vision Books, we are a big fan of Quirk Books, a company which endorses work outside the mainstream and brand themselves as ‘seekers of all things awesome’. Although sales are usually counted by the number of copies passed through a till, many more can be sold at author-run events and signings aimed at and designed for particular groups.

Ultimately, perhaps these developments signal a freer and more diverse market for all kinds of literature – which can only be a good thing for writers and bookworms.