Australian indie author Rebecca Lang, who writes as R R Lang, shares her disappointment at the Sydney Writers' Festival dismissive attitude towards self-publishing.
The Sydney Writers’ Festival recently transformed the Australian harbour city into a hive of all things literature and publishing with a week of talks, panels, workshops and book launches.
The annual event attracts writers and publishers from all over the globe, and promotes not only a high calibre of debate and discussion about literature, but politics and society in general as well.
Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh was one of the headline speakers, and gave a tip of the hat to self-publishing during a frank discussion about the likelihood of his hit novel Trainspotting being published today.
Welsh told his audience that risk-averse mainstream publishers probably wouldn’t have touched his edgy slang-ridden short stories about a band of heroin users. And if he were to do it all again, he’d likely self-publish his controversial 1993 book, which has sold more than 1 million copies and been made into a hit movie.
Negative Attitudes to Self-Published Authors
While Welsh’s words were heartening for the independent publishers in the crowd, and further evidence if any were needed that the publishing industry can be just as trend-driven as the next, several of his contemporaries were critical of self-publishing during their slots elsewhere during the festival.
- One told students during a workshop he was dubious about the quality of self-published books, and was adamant publishing houses should be the only ones vetting what should be published. He also questioned the dynamic between authors who paid their own editors versus publishing houses who hired editors to edit the work of authors was different, implying indies might be paying for what they wanted to hear.
- Another told attendees he disapproved of the marketing and pricing tactics used by indies to undercut trade publishers and drive their sales, even though his publisher recently employed a similar strategy to boost his novel’s sales!
- Interestingly, this year there were no self-published authors listed anywhere in the program.
What A Difference A Year Makes
Only a year earlier at the same festival, independent and hybrid authors were being showcased as spearheading the brave new digital publishing age. A dedicated panel discussed ebooks, going it alone, and innovative marketing campaigns.
Australians Elisabeth Storrs and Dionne Lister were leading the charge, both making names for themselves in the historical and fantasy genres on the global publishing stage thanks to print-on-demand and digital platforms.
What to make of the absence of self-published authors on the bill in 2014?
Perhaps Australian conference organisers feel independent publishing is merely a fad, fleeting and unworthy of further exploration. Maybe at some level independent publishing is viewed as downmarket, cheap and lacking in quality or substance. Or maybe trade publishers are flexing their muscles behind the scenes to exclude self-published writers.
One author did confide to me that he thinks self-publishers are undermining the integrity of publishing altogether. Is this an opinion informed by his publisher? Do people (and publishing companies) genuinely hold such a grim apocalyptic ‘the sky is falling’ view of the world’s publishing mavericks?
The Australian Self-Publisher's Perspective
For me, the self-publisher is the epitome of the ‘little Aussie battler’ of the publishing world. Self-publishing is, in part, all about upsetting the status quo of the publishing establishment by achieving more financial and creative control for authors. And let’s face it, Australia loves to support the underdog.
Whatever the reason or motivation, something has to change.
The ranks of independent authors are growing every year, even in Australia, and many established trade-published writers are joining them (some while maintaining traditional publishing deals). Ignoring them will not make them go away.
Nobody knows this better than Australia’s romance community – perhaps not surprising considering it was a fledgling Australian e-publisher, The Writers' Coffee Shop, which took a punt on the 2011 bestselling erotic trilogy 50 Shades of Grey, which has now sold in excess of 100 million copies.
Self-published romance authors represent a sizeable chunk of the e-publishing market, and hungry readers can’t get enough of their work. It’s a hot genre.
Better Hopes for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference
In August, the Romance Writers of Australia 2014 conference will feature a self-publishing workshop with hybrid Australian authors Kandy Shepherd and Cathleen Ross, who have both found success as indie authors and with large publishing houses.
The conference will also feature Smashwords marketing director Jim Azevedo giving a presentation entitled ‘Secrets of the Bestselling Self Published Ebook Authors’, and a special ‘Self Publishing 101’ workshop with bestselling American romance writer Marie Force.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of Australian writing and publishing conferences ‘Opening up to Indies’.
Help spread the word about ALLi's #publishingopenup campaign by tweeting this post:
“Why Australia needs to open up to indie authors by @Rebecca_Lang: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/open-up-australia/ via @IndieAuthorALLi #publishingopenup”