The launch of The Alliance of Independent Authors took place two weeks ago at the London Book Fair; a bastion of traditional publishing. Alliance founder, Orna Ross, said:
‘That a self-publisher’s organisation is launching there, at the heart of the industry, is another sign that we are in the middle of a literary revolution. Self-publishing is now the preferred choice for increasing numbers of writers who find they can make a living from their writing without the need of an agent or publisher.’
The Alliance is the only non-profit association for the self-publishing writer and it aims to support, guide, advise, connect, promote and advocate for self-publishing authors. Read more about it on the Alliance website.
Orna Ross was formerly published by Penguin but found the experience not all that she had hoped it would be. Her first book went to the top of the bestseller chart but she felt her writing had been misrepresented:
‘I hated one of my covers. They insisted on the back-of-the-book blurb leaving out the very aspect of my books that was most meaningful to me. And, I believe, those who would appreciate my books. All in all, I felt the tone and treatment they gave the books was driven by a shortsighted sales strategy, focused on retailers, not readers.’
In 2011 she took her rights back, began to publish her own books and found the process to be more creative, more enjoyable and more rewarding than trade-publishing.
The launch began with a panel of service providers including representatives from Amazon, Blurb UK and Kobo and this discussion was chaired by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Amazon has been cast as the villain in the battle to keep independent bookshops and publishers alive, but when it comes to independent authors Amazon is something of a hero. I can imagine it was probably one of the few events at the London Book Fair in which the Amazon representative was welcomed with open arms. Author Joni Rodgers’ enthusiasm was expressed in an amusing if not entirely flattering metaphor—that Amazon is like a giant sandworm, consuming everything in its path, and that writers should jump on its back and ride it, rather than risk being swallowed up or left behind.
The second panel, of self-published authors, was chaired by Sam Missingham of the Bookseller. There were common experiences some of the authors shared including ‘rave-rejections’—books that were acknowledged to be well-written but turned down by publishers as ‘unmarketable’ as they did not fit comfortably into a specific genre or did not have plots that could be easily summarised. Those who had been previously published spoke of having ‘been to the puppet show and seen the strings’; the commercial underside of publishing that has nothing to do with the propagation of great literature.
The issue of pricing is divisive—many believe that independent authors are under-pricing their digital books. Why would someone be willing to pay £2.50 for a greeting card but not for a whole eBook? Linda Gillard’s explanation was revealing—when she trade-published she received 50p for each book sold at £7.99 in Waterstones, as opposed to the £1 she currently receives for each eBook sold for £1.99 on Amazon. Jodi Rodgers, however, was adamant that she would rather give her books away for free than undervalue them so much as to sell them for 99c.
There was a consensus that the age of the reclusive author is over, that trade publishers are currently encouraging their authors to blog, tweet and promote themselves, so even if an author manages to secure a publishing deal they would still be required to do a certain amount of their own marketing anyway.
Self-publishing seems to have many advantages including: greater creative freedom, easier access to global markets, direct access to readers and better royalties for writers. Everyone seems to have been so concerned with the fate of the publishing industry and the fate of the bookstores that the fate of the author has been somewhat overlooked—statistics indicate that the typical earnings of professional authors in the UK are currently around £5000 pa. Amazon is not the only one who stands to benefit from a shake-up of the publishing industry.
The overall mood seemed to be one of excitement and optimism; self-publishing writers have been empowered and liberated from the stigma of association with ‘vanity-publishing’ and they are now the pioneers on the cutting edge of the eBook revolution. The publishing industry is going to have to adapt and change but this might just be a good thing for authors.
Orna Ross will be joining us during Birkbeck Arts Week for a panel discussion entitled ‘Self-Publishing: Vanity Fair or Brave New World’. Join us to hear more about this topical issue on Thursday 17 May, 6-8pm, Room 101 at 30 Russell Square.