Scottish indie author Fiona Cameron takes exception to a reading group's assumption that self-publishing her books under her own imprint diminished their worth.
I was very pleased to find that my fourth novel, By Heart, had been chosen by a reading group as their September text, after a group member had reviewed it. I’ve newly had feedback, and predictably, not everyone liked it. If I expected everyone who reads my books to love ‘em, it, I’d have been carted off in a white van long since.
However, this is the comment – listed on the ‘anti’ side – that floored me:
“It was put forward and then looked up to see if you have your own press to print your books? Self-publishing?”
If I’m being pedantic, no, I don’t have my own press to print my books, but yes (I know this is what the person who made the comment was getting at), I set up my own imprint to publish them. I’ve never concealed this fact – but why is it filed under complaints? And why did reading that comment make me feel I should be behaving furtively, as if I’ve done something wrong?
Why I Set Up My Own Imprint
I put a lot of thought into setting up my own imprint, and my main reason for doing so was that purchasing ISBNs and entering the wonderful world of Nielsen Bookdata etc seems easier if there’s a name other than the author’s own.
I had previously dipped my toe in the water with one of the print-on-demand companies, but I was put off by what seemed to me a poor-quality product, plus the fact that their charge for author copies is eye-watering.
I also know many other authors who have been published by small “traditional” presses, and whose books are (rather obviously) not well-edited, and appear with uninspiring covers and so-so product quality.
As has often been discussed within ALLi, such authors also have to do all their own marketing and PR, and may even be responsible for distributing their own books.
How Having My Own Imprint Ensures Quality
Armed with horror stories from their experiences, I made a very conscious decision to set up Flying Swan Press. I thus have full control of not only how thoroughly my books are edited, but also of the design and quality elements.
- The books published to date have all been professionally edited (three of the four by Wildland Literary Editors, one by the Janette Currie Consultancy), professionally formatted for both digital and print editions, and have appeared with professionally-designed covers.
- l did a lot of research to find a short-run printer I was happy to work with, whose quality of output I find satisfactory, and whose unit costs are low enough to allow me a degree of profit on sales even through bookshops taking 40%.
I am confident that the resulting books stand up to scrutiny alongside those from the smaller traditional presses – and, indeed, from many of the larger mainstream ones – and pass with flying colours.
So why does that single “self-publishing?” comment have the capacity to make me feel I should crawl into the nearest hole and expire? (It’s the question mark that drives like a nail into my skull.)
The way I read it, the most damning implication is that the mere fact a book is independently published is a standalone reason for finding it wanting. The pages of the ALLi FB page demonstrate that many book retailers (and indeed, many organisers of literary festivals and the like) take the same sort of view.Up until now, I haven’t really felt I had an axe to grind in terms of indie vs traditional publication. I’ve had short stories traditionally published, so it’s many years since I achieved that happy state of being eligible to be a member of the Society of Authors (you have no idea how many new authors regard this as the Holy Grail!) I’ve never (till now) felt the slightest need to seek the supposed legitimacy that traditional publication, even by one-man-and-a-dog presses, seems to bring.
When she worked on my fourth book, my editor suggested that I should head along the path of seeking traditional publication for the next book. “Don’t waste your time going after the small companies,” she said. “Go straight for the big boys.” I’m ambivalent about this advice, but have taken the step of starting to seek an agent. I love the creative control we get from being indie authors – but heavens above, it can be tough to find oneself constantly regarded as a second-class citizen.
Strength in Numbers
I belong to a local writers’ collective, and thrive on the mutual support that brings. (Many of us are independently published.) ALLi brings the same sense of solidarity on a wider stage. But writing is, almost by definition, a solitary profession. It’s all too easy to find oneself losing sleep and losing focus because of snide remarks from the nay-sayers. It seems we need to keep fighting the good fight to ensure that not only the larger book retailers but also readers realise that independent publishing is not vanity publishing, and that the vast majority of independent publishers take enough pride in their work to ensure that quality of content, quality of editing and quality of presentation stand comparison with the best mainstream traditionally published books.
The #publishingopenup campaign, exemplified in our guidebook Opening Up To Indie Authors, aims to break down the kind of prejudice that Fiona reports here. Reading it will help you break down barriers and build understanding of what it means to be an indie author today. ALLi members may download a free ebook, and it's also possible to buy in print and digital form via the usual outlets.
OVER TO YOU If you have your own imprint, has your experience been similar to Fiona's? Do readers care how your book is published? Would you ever decamp to traditional publishing to escape stigma, or do you feel the gap is closing between trad and indie? Join the conversation via the comments box!A rallying cry for proper understanding of #indie #authors by Fiona Cameron #publishingopenup Click To Tweet