Here's an interesting debate to start the weekend! Should indie authors dispense with the weighty publishing industry directories that have long been a must-have for any author's bookshelf, like Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (UK) or The Writer's Handbook (US)?
In this post, Scottish indie author Ian Sutherland describes how becoming a self-published author made him rethink his addiction to the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, published for over a century by Bloomsbury.
In the interests of balance, we've then invited the guide's editor, Alysoun Owen, to reply, and to explain how she and her team are addressing the rapidly changing marketplace.
While this particular Yearbook is aimed at the British market, we know there are many similar guidebooks around the world about which indie authors are having similar thoughts. Feel free to share your experiences of any handbooks of this kind via the Comments section. And please also note that ALLi's concerns about Bloomsbury's self-publishing services database have not yet been resolved.
Ian Sutherland, Self-published Author Asks the Question
When I first decided to become a published author, I bought a copy of Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and The Writer's Handbook. The year was 1999. I still have the Handbook. I resolved to purchase updated versions a few years later when I finally finished my novel. After all, I’d need all those addresses for agents, editors and publishers to send my manuscript to.
And here I am – ahem! – 15 years later and I’ve finally finished my novel. (That’s a whole different story, so let’s not get into that!) So, as per my prior resolution, I now need to buy a copy of Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2014. Don’t I?
Actually, no. I don't!
Am I mad? Perhaps. But there is a simple reason: I’m an indie author and proud to be so.
I’m professionally self-publishing my debut novel this year. I have no need for addresses of agents, editors and publishers. I don’t need advice on how to best construct a query letter that might help my manuscript stand out within the slush pile. And I never needed all those magazine editor names and addresses anyway.
Back in 1999, self-publishing was frowned upon, was financially risky and unlikely to achieve any success. It was closely linked to vanity publishing, where the horror stories of the time had images of authors stockpiling thousands of prepaid copies of their books in their garages, flooded with water.
But roll forward 15 years and we now have a viable method of self publishing. We have eBooks and print on demand. The barriers between author and reader have been completely removed. The author has more control, if they choose to take it.
The traditional publishing world still exists, but it's in turmoil. There is still a place for Writers' and Artists' Yearbook in 2014. Not every author wants to dip their toes in the bit that comes after writing their book, the murky world of publishing and marketing. But I do. And thousands of fellow authors like me are doing so too.
I’m not choosing to self-publish because I can’t get an agent or a publisher. I haven’t even tried to find one. Honestly! And I have no intention of doing so.
I’m self-publishing because, like anyone, I can. Because I want to take control of my own destiny. As I approach my novel's launch, I’ve learned it’s not easy, but I am enjoying the journey immensely.
I’m not doing it blindly. I’m taking advice from fellow indie publishers, who are all so generous with sharing their learnings via their blogs and podcasts. I’m a proud member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, which is focused on fostering ethics and excellence in self-publishing and encouraging success.
I’m not doing all of it myself, either. Peter O’Connor from Bespoke Book Covers created my amazing book cover. Bryony Sutherland (no relation) edited my manuscript. (Indie publishing best practice mandates that cover design and editing should be outsourced to professionals).
But, as an indie, I’m choosing to do the rest. I’m formatting the interior of the print book. I’m creating the ebook. I’ll write the press releases and target the press. I’ll find advanced readers in my personal network and on Goodreads, which I’ll also use to create advanced buzz through giveaways. But even if I hadn’t wanted to (or wasn’t capable of) doing all these other steps, there are companies out there who can assist indie publishers, for a fee of course. And, helpfully, ALLi warns you away from the shark agent-assisted publishing companies that have started to circle around unwary indie authors.
If indie authors don’t need all the names and addresses listed in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2014, whose names and addresses do they need? Well, here’s my free indie author version of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook in under a page:
- Agent – you don’t need one of these initially. Maybe later, if you need someone to help you sell rights in other territories.
- Publisher – your own home address; you don't need to look that up, surely?
- Editorial Services – these folks only had a few pages in The Writer's Handbook 1999. Just go to eLance or use ALLi’s recommended list.
- Cover Designer – missing from Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. Google it.
- Marketing – yourself again. Use Facebook, Twitter, and any other form of social media you can handle. And Google for advice.
- Author website – WordPress or Blogger.
- Advanced reviews – Goodreads giveaways and your own friends or followers.
- Readers – they're not in Writers' & Artists' Yearbook either. Or in the traditional publishing world. But they can be in yours. Use social media or, even better, your own website to manage an email list to engage with your readers.
- Printing – Createspace and Ingram Spark.
- ebook – Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Smashwords (in that order).
- Inspirational articles on securing an agent or publisher – hmmm? l think you get the message!
Before posting this, I thought I’d double-check to see if Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2014 has acknowledged the indie publishing world. And, to my surprise, there is actually an article in there called “What to look for in a self-publishing provider” by Jeremy Thomspon of Matador, one of the many agent assisted self-publishing companies offering services to indie authors. For the record, it’s owned by Troubador, a traditional publisher. Make of that what you will.
My favourite takeaway though, is that 2014 marks the 107th version of Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. But its the first time it's been published as an ebook. The world is indeed a-changing.
Ian Sutherland is a crime thriller author. Leveraging his career in the IT industry, Ian's stories underscore the threats we face from cybercrime as it becomes all too prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Invasion of Privacy is his first novel and will be self published on 7th August 2014. Learn more about Ian at his website, www.ianhsutherland.com.
Alysoun Owen, Editor, Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, Replies
One of the things I hear when speaking at conference and events around the country, which I do several times a year, is the presumption that all authors are equal, but that some remain more equal than others. The assumption being, that self-published or indie authors are somehow inferior: unable to make it in the real world of book publishing. This is not true. The best authors – however they reach their readers – are those who write books that are well-written and thus become well read.
The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a guide for all writers and always has been. Perhaps I can persuade Ian that buying a copy of the 2015 edition will be a worthwhile investment after all…
We did introduce a digital and self-publishing section in the 2014 edition: that was a way of bringing together some content we already included for many years prior to that with new content – articles and listings – specifically aimed at new ways of publishing. Pieces on ‘Marketing, publicizing and selling self-published books’ by Ben Cameron, ‘Notes from a self-published author’ by Nick Spalding, ‘Self-publishing for beginners’ by Peter Finch and ‘What do self-publishing providers offer?’ by Jeremy Thompson happily sit alongside advice from conventionally published authors such as Claire Tomalin, Neil Gaiman, Katie Fforde, Martina Cole, Nathan Filer and William Boyd.
It’s particularly fitting that the Yearbook’s Foreword this year is by Susan Hill – author, self-published author and publisher to boot! The ultimate hybrid author. She continues to see the Yearbook as ‘the writers’ Bible.’ What does the Yearbook give authors? In Hill’s words, it is a window into the world of publishing, providing an ‘insight into what other people do to your book.’ Other people being the experts such as literary agents, editors, designers, production managers, publicists or cover designers Ian refers to. Some authors want to take on all or some of these responsibilities themselves. And good luck to them, but as Hill continues ‘If you know how hard it is to make a profit from publishing and why, if you understand what a literary agent does for the money they take from you, you will have acquired valuable knowledge and some ammunition if you need it.’
Rather reassuringly or depressingly, depending on the mood you are in when you read it, the Preface from my 1933 edition of the Yearbook (the 26th edition), makes a similar assertion: ‘The ever-increasing sales of the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book show that the present times of depression are leading more and more people to seek a livelihood with their pens. But the majority of these are sheep without a shepherd, and it is the purpose of this book to act as shepherd to the thousands of MSS, which are turned out every year and of which only a small minority ever appear in print.’ These tens of thousands of manuscripts may these days be in print or increasingly in digital form and self-published, but the majority don’t get read in any numbers or get feted by reviewers, prize-awarding bodies or readers.
Having a copy of the Yearbook to hand, is thus to be well-armed and forewarned.
The Yearbook, and its younger sister the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook have long reflected changes in the publishing and broader media industries. We try to tell readers what is new each year – and we do produce a new edition annually because of shifts and changes in companies, contact details and new specialisms in the book world. We must have failed a little with Ian Sutherland. He is surprised that ‘there is actually an article in there called “What to look for in a self-publishing provider”’. A strong reminder to all authors that the most important thing for writers – apart from writing itself – is to be aware and to read, read, read.
At Writers’ & Artists’ we believe we exist to advise, inspire and help all writers (and artists) and wish well to them all, whatever publishing route they take.
What's your experience of Writers' & Artists' Yearbooks, or indeed any other comparable publishing trade directory that serves your local market? Please leave a comment.
Don't forget, ALLi also publishes useful handbooks specifically aimed at the needs of the indie author. Currently available to purchase (free to ALLi members) are these two guides: Choosing & Using a Self-publishing Service and Opening Up To Indie Authors. More books are due for release shortly.