In February, Faber Academy are running a new course called 'Bring Your Book To Market'. It will cover the process of preparing your manuscript and uploading it to ebook retailers, and then building yourself a digital platform from which to sell copies. It is being taught by self-publisher Catherine Ryan Howard, and author, journalist and social media expert Ben Johncock, with a guest session from Faber Publishing Director, Hannah Griffiths.
A publisher running a self-publishing course? At first glance that sentence may look a little odd. We don't think so.
Self-publishing has always been an option. Back in the day, you could print up your pamphlet to sell at the Poetry Bookshop on Queen's Square; or you could go the whole Hogarth, do a Virginia Woolf and set up a press.
But it wasn't terribly easy. Printing was expensive, distribution channels were fairly sewn up and whatever marketing and publicity there was came off the back of the established relationships and reputations of the publishers themselves. As long ago as 1935, Sir Geoffrey Faber was lamenting the passing of 'the early days of publishing...[when] there was a wonderful opportunity for the man of small means and shrewd ability,' and a lot of those early houses published the work of their founders. But they took on risks when they did - the loss of their initial capital investment, for one, and the value of the man-hours spent on their efforts.
Now, with free direct uploads to digital shop windows and metadata and networking to bring readers straight to you, self-publishing is sometimes heralded as a risk-free business. Ten minutes of form-filling and file-fiddling and you're on sale all over the world. Just set the price at 89p and watch what happens. Selling books is easy now, right?
Well, we don't think that's quite how it works. Anyone with an ereader knows the horrors of poorly formatted files, with the dodgy line breaks and eyesore font changes that come with a free e-copy of a classic. And anyone who has ever browsed an ebook retailer's wares knows that you need a bit more than a catchy title and the right tags to generate sales.
When you self-publish, you are in complete control. You take on all the responsibility and reward for your book, but you also take on a challenge. You have to make it read right, you have to make it look right and, if you want to sell copies, you have to get people talking about it, to distinguish it from the tens of thousands of other titles on the market, with no one there at the start to vouch for it. But if you work hard at all that, then the benefits are there for the reaping.
Publishers, on the other hand, have a lot of experience in making books look right, and they know a lot about selling them. They make a bet when they pay an advance, but they have clout in the trade and they stand the best chance of getting a book into the review pages. When you pursue traditional publishing, and you are hoping to make a career of it, it is this experience that you're looking for.
Ultimately, the difference between a traditional publishing route and self-publishing is just about where the risk lies; the apparent antagonism between the two is a false one. Now more than ever, writers are able to make the choice and to assess the benefits and the pitfalls either way. If publishers are confident in their model, in the value of their knowledge and experience, then they should be encouraging people to make the choice that suits them best.
In the end, whichever decision you come to, selling books is hard work. In self-publishing as in traditional, there is risk and there is effort, but there is also great reward for persistence. 'Bring Your Book To Market' simply aims to get together the people who know best, to try and make it all a little easier.
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