My first experience with self-publishing was in the early 1970s. Think Jethro Tull and corduroy flares. I had written 30-odd poems and an uncle who taught young people with learning difficulties had run them off at work on a stencilling machine. His charges had created a rather lurid psychedelic pattern of bright red and teal blobs for the cover design. It had no discernible link to the contents of the slim volume, except that, like my poetry, it was a bit all over the place. It was all very high tech and professional, at the time. Distribution proved another challenge. The first five copies were easy of course (thanks Mum). As none of the local bookstores were interested, I ended up peddling my poetry at the end of pop concerts. That sort of worked, as people were generally in a good mood. I would target couples, handing a sample copy to the girl. If I was lucky she would say something profound like ‘oh, poetry’ and look up at her beau. The guy would then buy a copy, mainly to get rid of me I think. At least in those days you didn’t have to compete with long-stemmed roses. I think I sold some 60 copies and gave away another 25 (out of a print run of 100 copies).
Fast forward a couple of decades and I am once again contemplating self-publishing. This time, the whole publishing industry is in turmoil, with book store chains collapsing faster than you can say incunabulum. The likelihood of an unknown author landing a commercial contract for a novel is way outside the probability curve; just about as plausible as someone completing a PhD thesis on the Afghan Navy.
Yet, in a sweetly ironic way, the factors that led to this state of affairs, such as globalisation and the digital age, also contain solutions for aspiring authors.
I decided to ramp up my writing this year, as I have spent too much time on other people’s priorities and life is short. I also started thinking about publishing again and felt bewildered. Sure, I had downloaded and read e-books, but had never thought about them from an author’s perspective. Do you just upload a Word file? What about copyright, plagiarism and piracy? How could authors possibly survive with novels priced from $0.99 on Amazon?
I started googling and felt incredibly lucky that one of the first resources I came across was David Gaughran’s blog: Let’s get digital. How to self-publish, and why you should. The blog contains a wealth of information, including a link to David’s 180-page Let’s get digital guide published in July 2011.
The first part of the guide starts with an overview of the publishing industry in this era of digital revolution. David believes that ‘print is doomed’, bedevilled by rising costs, fewer outlets, short sale timeframes and reducing market share. The e-book, by contrast, will profit from an upward spiral driven by growing acceptance, low production costs and the capacity to maintain backlists almost indefinitely. David debunks a number of myths about self-publishing and shows, for example, that a self-publishing author can recoup production costs and earn royalties comparable to the advance offered by trade publishers.
The second part of the guide provides an overview of the self-publishing process. David explains how you can prepare your e-book for submission to different publishers (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords) and emphasises the need to engage professionals for final editing and the book cover. He canvasses a number of pricing strategies and explains how you can use blogging and social networking to develop a marketing strategy that can continue to drive sales.
The third section consists of testimonials of more than thirty writers who have gone down the self-publishing path; and a final section provides advice on a range of issues including international markets, short story publishing and a list of writing resources.
This comprehensive guide testifies, not only to David’s professionalism as a writer, but also to his generosity of spirit in sharing this valuable resource – the product of hours of hard work – as a free download with anyone interested. As a fellow writer I seriously ask anyone downloading the guide to make a donation to David (there is a link to his PayPal account). The price of a long-stemmed rose maybe…