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Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Congratulations to Jan Ruth, author of Wild Water, winner of the self-published competition run by Cornerstones and voted by the public. First prize was Write a Blockbuster by Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner, Hodder, and Alison Baverstock's The Naked Author, A Guide to Self-Publishing, A & C Black. See What Alison has to say in her blog piece about the benefits of self-publishing and how to avoid vanity publishing
Thank you for your invitation to contribute to this blog Helen, and I am delighted to have supported your competition on self-publishing.
As some of your readers may know, I lead the MA Publishing at Kingston University – and so am naturally very occupied by trends within the book trade. My initial interest in self-publishing was simply that. I had spotted the growing disparity between the number of books published in the US and the UK (traditionally around 2:1, it rose to around 9:1 in 2010; the difference largely fuelled by self-published titles) and the new availability of publishing services to assist in the process. An initial exploration revealed that in some cases you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between professionally published and self-published titles.
And so my investigations began. But what intrigued me, as I interviewed those involved, was a whole new set of issues. My study of the whole area is now published as The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing, and is available from Bloomsbury http://amzn.to/nakedauthor There is insufficient space here to consider all the areas explored, but to whet your appetite here are three:
1.       There is no single thing that is self publishing; it is a process not a product. And people decide to get involved for a variety of reasons. For some it’s the chance to gain objectivity on their work by producing a single reading copy of material they have so far only seen on screen, and from where they wrote it. For others it’s the opportunity to finalise a manuscript that has long been in their head – and on their conscience – and hence move on with their lives. A well produced self-published book can be despatched to potential investors such as agents and publishers, and in the process reveal the seriousness with which the author takes their work. Or it can be presented to a small circle of friends and family – with the subtext ‘I finally did it’.
2.       Stories circulate about bestselling self-published works, harshly overlooked by the traditional industry, and now selling in great quantities on Amazon. While self-publishing has the potential to make you rich (just as in theory anyone can become a millionaire) it is unlikely to do so. But it may make you happy. The fascinating thing about talking to so many self-published authors was the generally high level of contentment I encountered. Some had lived with a book shaped hole in their lives for years, and finally (to quote one) ‘scratching that itch’ was highly satisfying. Others wrote memoirs and felt it was part of putting their lives in order, so that their (seemingly entirely uninterested) family could find out more about them – once they were mature enough to want to do so.
3.       What is the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? It’s hard to draw a clear distinction – other than by examining the quality of the finished product. Both vanity publishing organisations and self-publishing firms will offer to produce your book at your cost, and may help you market it. But there are a few tricks to estimating where on the spectrum organisations sit (and there’s a whole chapter on this in the book).

When purchasing publishing services, try to estimate the quality of the organisation’s general output and their effectiveness. Ask yourself how much they seek to find out about your aims and purposes (and the standard of your manuscript) before they offer you a quotation – or do they seem in a huge rush to get you on the press? Look at the quality of other titles they have produced – and be very wary if their website is full of claims about how great they are rather than sample products. Poor editorial standards are a clear giveaway – readers will not tolerate mistakes, so nor should you.

Today self-publishing is part of publishing. Deciding to manicure content and communicate it more widely is highly current (surely that’s what users of social media are doing all the time).
And if you decide to self-publish to a high standard, you have not only taken responsibility for yourself, you have committed to finish something. Both reveal an essential – and admirable – sense of purpose, and in the process you may achieve not only a profound contemporary satisfaction, but a dignified posterity.
I wish you luck.
Alison Baverstock, www.alisonbaverstock.com

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