2 February 2013

Nigeria: Publishing Wars (II) - Traditional Vs Self-Publishing


I have shared part of my experience in self-publishing before now. I was exhilarated when Ibadan-based publisher Abiprint published my debut, THE BLACK GODFATHER. I was a teacher in a secondary school and my joy was full. The book also served as a positive reinforcement for me to write. I did, but to my greatest shock there were no takers of my manuscripts. Abiprint was reconsidering its stay in the industry.

After a fruitless search to get publishers, I took a plunge into self-publishing, also called DIY, Do it Yourself. There were many suitors on the net for print-on-demand publishing so the choice was easy. I was particularly thrilled by the promises of selling my books world-wide.

Months after the novels were published, garbage-in-garbage out, they were not even honoured with a mention on the home page of the US-based publisher. With time, reality sunk in. How would anybody ever know that the books existed? There were hundreds of millions of similar books on the Internet.

Well, some hope lingered, but sales figures made regularly available to me were dampening. I gave up, refusing to worry about my investment, small though it was.

However, I didn't give up writing. Not sure I ever can. I decided to get my novels printed here in Lagos. The one thing I ensured doing for quality was to have the manuscripts edited and checked by my editors overseas.

Most of the novels were very well received. "The Governor's Wife" was a hit, and many people feel "Conspiracy of Lagos" is a beautiful story. In addition to self-publishing, I have a publisher in the London.

So, where do I stand on self-publishing? I believe it works in the right environment, and when quality and credibility are valued. But on the average, traditional publishing holds better promise for credibility and success.

The Traditionalists' Fire

That is the strength of the die-hards of traditional publishing. You want to call the traditionalists? It is not only Sue Grafton, an American author, who has critcised self-publishing. "DO NOT SELF PUBLISH," Jodi Picoult reportedly advised in an interview last year. Also Richard Russo is reported to have said the thought of self-publishing "literally chills my blood".

THE DIYs Fire Back

But as in the swift reaction to Grafton's comments shows, there is an equally strong voice at the other end. According to the Guardian of UK, Adam Croft, a British self-published thriller author who says he has sold over 250,000 copies of his books, called Grafton's belief that taking the Do it Yourself (DIY) route was lazy "outrageous". "The complete opposite is true," he said. "Self-publishing means finding your own proofreader, finding your own editor, finding your own cover designer (or designing your own), doing all your own marketing and sales work, etc. Having a publisher is lazy as all you need to do is write a half-acceptable book and allow your publisher's editor to make it sales-worthy. Self-publishers must do it all - we have no one else to pick up the slack."

Even so, Croft has no intention of taking the publisher route: self-published authors take 70 per cent of the royalties, he said, while traditionally published writers get around 15 per cent. "I've been approached by a number of publishers but have rejected contact every time. I don't even have the slightest desire to enter the negotiation stage with any publisher as there's no way any of them could offer me anything like what I'm able to do for myself," he said.

The Guardian also cited independently published novelist and playwright Catherine Czerkawska who attacked Grafton, saying her comments displayed "a profoundly amateurish and unacceptable ignorance of changes to the industry in which she claims to work".

"I've had 40 years as a novelist and award-winning playwright, I've been a Royal Literary Fund writing fellow and I'm currently serving on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland. Is that professional enough for her?" said Czerkawska. "I still found myself at the mercy of an increasingly restrictive and blockbuster-focused industry. There are many of us working away quietly, selling ebooks to readers who give every appearance of enjoying them. For us and our readers, the indie publishing movement has been nothing less than an inspirational and creative godsend."

As I hinted last week, Grafton ate her words back in what has given the DIYs an additional score. The Guardian reported Grafton as saying "I meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors" and that she was "uninitiated when it comes to this new format". "It's clear to me now that indie writers have taken more than their fair share of hard knocks and that you are actually changing the face of publishing. Who knew?! This is a whole new thrust for publication that apparently everyone has been aware of except yours truly. I still don't understand how it works, but I can see that a hole has been blasted in the wall, allowing writers to be heard in a new way and on a number of new fronts," she said.

So, Grafton said honourably, "I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant. I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals. I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face. I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write."

I like Grafton for coming out so clean. With the gate to traditional publishing shrinking into a needle's eye, self-publishing became a child of necessity which has now grown to be a mother, with many kids.

Jerry D. Simmons

Author, Publisher and Writer, Jerry D. Simmons, says it all: "In 2008 for the first time there were more self-published titles than traditionally published. That increase has grown to a level of almost ten to one, self-published over traditionally published. Certainly titles from the bigger publishers dominate the shelves of bookstores but they do not dominate the overall market. In past years to dominate sales a book had to have a presence in print at retail first, however that has changed.

"For years the self-publishing industry has profited by creating a volume approach to publishing which welcomed any and all titles regardless of strength. This model continues today however when the major publishers recognized the growth potential of quality self-publishing outside the retail bookstore things began to change. This gave quality writers frustrated with the shotgun approach the opportunity to spin off from the publishing mill of the POD companies.

"Print-on-demand without quality controls may be sufficient for most authors with a desire for a published book but is not adequate for those quality writers looking for a new approach and different perception. The new self-publishing companies has emerged that will combine production standards with editorial review to create books acceptable to major booksellers while still allowing authors ownership, rights and control over their work."

I agree with Jerry, for all the good reasons giving self-publishing the push, this widening window means much more than sitting in one corner of a room to pound out a manuscript and rushing to a printer. Quality control matters a lot in publishing if the writer wishes others to read him or her. Even experienced authors go the extra mile to engage other parties in the publishing chain to look at their work. Editing and proofreading are essential.

Also important is the print quality and even the attraction of the book cover. The first thing that potential buyers see in a book is the cover, so it pays to have it pull buyers closer. It is worth all the trouble for the writer to get the services of book cover designers.

Promotion & Marketing

As Segun Adeniyi says, no serious author writes just to make money. However, it is important that a book is made available to readers, who provide the joy of writing - people reading and admiring one's work.

In self-publishing, marketing and book promotion are delegated to the writer, and they must be done well to ensure that the target audience knows there is something on offer. These days, social networking sites provide ready outlet, but other outlets are worth trying.

According to Simmons, "growth of eBooks, digital readers in the form of tablets and Internet marketing channels has leveled the playing field. Channel distribution is no longer a barrier to market access. Any author who chooses to self-publish under the guidelines of the digital marketplace has ample opportunity to become a successful author.

"Royalty rates make it possible to sell a fraction of the total units required of print and yet earn substantially more income. Access to readers on a large scale through major retailers, granted these are online, was not possible or available five years ago, yet today that marketplace is open to all writers."

In conclusion, I think it is right to say, there is no rubbishing self-publishing now. It even parades big names like Mark Twain,

Huckleberry Finn; John Grisham, A Time to Kill ; Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box; and Jack Canfield and Mark Hensen, Chicken Soup for the Soul.

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