I feel a little defensive – or that I at least need to explain. And some of me is cross about that, and that I have spent longer in awards entry covering letters and in interviews on why I’m self published than what the story is about.
But I wanted to tell you all, because it’s not only a choice, it’s a statement, the nearest that a pacifist gets to a battle cry.
Because I want to change things.
I want to bring Fair Trade to the book industry and subvert the current model.
Firstly – I self published because
I WANT TO TAKE PUBLISHING BACK INTO AUTHOR’S HANDS
And secondly, to show
WE DON’T NEED ANYONE’S PERMISSION TO PUBLISH
anymore than other businesses need permission to set up shop and start fulfilling their dreams.
Then there was those stats – two I put together:
8% of submissions to agents and publishers don’t get rejected and if you get through that tiny hole you keep 8% of the profits
So that means that not even JK Rowling is rolling in royalties as much as her gargantuan book success would suggest. (JK Rowling is someone I admire – for her journey and spirit as much as her writing).
And other famous names are needing other supporting work, or struggling.
And the less famous names aren’t doing so well at all. They probably have a day jobs or claim welfare.
And I felt: why is this accepted – that writers are poor?! And that someone else takes over 90% of the earnings for the work that they have by far put the most into?
I will write about shops in another post, but there are issues with the size of their slice – one that may mean I skip trying to sell that way.
But shops and libraries and wholesalers are stuffy about self pubbers.
We’re rejects. We’re not real, serious authors, they say. And even if you’re local, there’s no reason for us to take your book.
I heard an independent shop owner say that publically. Then he told his own story.
Analysis: he gave up on his own writing dream, and wants to squash other people’s.
He wants to pour out the tough love of failure and relinquishment that someone tipped over him. I really hope to see him in print one day. But I hope in the meantime, he stops crushing others who are already.
As I’ll share more later, sending away loyal customers who are also writers and small publishers is not how to continue their custom, and perhaps not their friends’ either. Most of us are in touch with others like us, and we share experiences.
So I’ve not yet allowed any shop or library the pleasure of turning me down. I am wondering if I shall. I’ll speak more about this and whether it’s worth getting an ISBN later.
So if you’re wondering – did I not get my fill of rejections when trying to get published?
Well, I got a few, but I never sent out my work that often. What I learned was that they can take ages, lose your work (Canongate – that was the first place I tried), and not feed back. So you don’t learn, and I also felt it was just a case of taste.
I’ve also had many affirming comments about my work, and I knew I could write, without exterior validation – that’s one of the themes and messages of the novel. So it’s often not a quality issue with agents and publishers, but a “dare I take a risk”. I’m learning that those risks are taken less, that feedback is minimal, and that agents and publishers no longer dig out diamonds. They want cut and sparking and ready to wear jewels – but you still have to fit their ring. After the honing and publishing I’d done, I didn’t want to do any more cutting for anyone’s else’s ring thank you.
Then there is the trust issue with agents and editors. I’d love to think that they all are sagacious and have my best interests at heart. But they don’t always know what’s best and they are often thinking of the market and what they can make money from.
So it means that the perceived market shapes what we can express and read.
And that is capitalism at its worst. And like much of capitalism, it’s based on fear, and conversely, seeing what caused the recessions – it’s risk adverse. It’s taking out all the adventure and putting money first.
It’s not just the publishers and agents – I think it’s ultimately the shops, who have shrunk their range with their bookseller’s duties and increasingly centralised.
So it isn’t just the self published who are having difficulty in being taken by shops (and libraries). It’s small and anything deemed specialist publishers, or even new titles from something established.
It’s also space based – shops and libraries don’t have infinite shelves, but the universe of virtual and home publishing does. Again, brings in capitalism’s old friend, competition, jostling for space and attention…something which self publishing can subvert into sharing space, not squeezing out those around you.
So might I, days on from my book becoming publically available, be enjoying greater sales and a sense of validity if I had found an agent?
For a dark moment, sitting in a conventional bookshop full of conventionally published titles, it was easy to feel “They’ve all got agents” – do I know that? And they’ve all got less than 10% of the cover price, and perhaps not a very big advance.
Perhaps they had to organise a launch themselves too. Marketing departments in publishing houses seem to be proportionally active to how well they predict you’ll do. When I learned that I as a new author was likely to get the marketing equivalent of the theatrical release of a foreign art house film, I felt all the more that I would stop sending out my work to agents. So it would be self fulfilling as to how well I did, and I’d be constricted by someone else’s judgment, and quickly given up on after a few tweets and half hearted leafleting shots at buyers, and then they’d move on.
If I was conventionally published, they’d have all the rights. They could decide when to take the book out of print and when to reduce to clear. They could decide the cover and put pressure on to change aspects which mattered to me, such as title, names, or cut important points. They could sell rights to a film company and I could easily lose my twin dream of writing the script – for my work was conceived for the screen, and is also adapted for the stage. And new authors are unlikely to stipulate that they must be involved in the lucrative movie. I’d be expected to sign away and stand back.
It may be like handing over your kids for someone else to bring up and then seeing them when they’d come of age, with hardly any visiting rights.
But as publisher, I can withhold rights and find someone that I want to work with, not for.
As it is, I feel I can say like a film director who also wrote, produced and perhaps starred:
A novel by Elspeth Rushbrook.
I designed the cover, using my own images. I typeset it all. I edited it. And it’s how I want it.
I find it liberating, not blamemaking that any faults are mine too, for I can change them; they are in my power, not someone else’s who imposed on me.
I don’t even know if I’d want an agent and publisher now. I enjoyed doing all this myself. I know I’ll want to do it for my other work.
It’s like being happy being single. If someone extra special appeared in your life, you may get married, but you’d have to be sure it was an enhancing partnership, and not a pairing for social expectation, or a dependency.
Really, I’m just moving with the wheel that’s already turning – the one that began with self publishing, then went to what we’d now call vanity – the author paid the publisher a fee – and now autonomous publishing is back. And I’m on top of the wheel, hoping that it is a revolution that works for all, wherever on the wheel you choose to ride.