On Thursday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper began a series on self published authors with this article on Polly Courtney. In her interview she describes the negative experience she had when her third book (following two self-published novels) was marketed by HarperCollins in the UK:
Polly Courtney. Photograph: Hanna Palmer.
When I signed with HarperCollins, I thought “Great! This is the golden ticket I’ve been waiting for!” I thought it would be a great collaboration between me and the publisher, given my success self-publishing my first two novels. The reality was a big disappointment. The publisher seemed intent on pushing my books into pre-existing moulds (“misery lit”, “chick lit”) that didn’t reflect
“Brand Polly Courtney” was increasingly muddled, leading to confusion for readers. It turned out that my editor hadn’t actually read my first two books. There was no marketing budget, which meant that it was up to me to promote each book. This wasn’t a problem per se, but my job was made hard by the frivolous book covers and titles assigned to them. I actually felt ashamed of the product. Now I’m back to self-publishing, I’ve regained control.
The Guardian appears to be making a genuine effort to provide its readers with coverage of self-published books such as Polly’s novel Feral Youth, which will be released next week. I’ve already touched on the issue of gatekeepers and quality control mechanisms in the traditional publishing industry as well as the ones that are springing up for self-published authors, such as the Awesome Indies website, independent reviewers, and the True Review Pledge. But one of the principal gatekeepers that has always existed in the world of traditional publishing is professional reviewing of new books in newspapers and magazines.
Reviews that appear in quality newspapers like The Guardian are trusted by the readership and have a huge influence on consumer behaviour. Many self-published authors are not writing with any expectation of profit, but for those that do, influencing consumers is the way to bridge the gap between amateur and professional status.
I’m already a professional writer (copywriting, book sales and translation work account for 100% of my income) so that gap doesn’t exist in quite the same way for me as it does for other self-published authors. But whether professional or not, pretty much every author, myself included, would like their work to be read by as many people as possible. Mind you, “read” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “consumed”. I’ve managed to give away over 5,500 copies of the Silent Symmetry ebook, and presumably the vast majority of those copies will be read at some point in the near future. Some will also be shared with family members and maybe some even pirated, which leads to even more readers but no actual consumption in a financial sense. For me, as an unknown author, this is all part of a professional long-term marketing plan. But it if that plan doesn’t ultimately translate into income through sales, it has failed.
So what makes people lay down their hard-earned pounds, dollars and yen (yes, Silent Symmetry has readers in Japan!) and buy a book? Trust. That’s why The Guardian’s series is an enormous step in the right direction for self-publishing. Of course, any single book may turn out to be rubbish, whether traditionally or self-published, but at least positive coverage for the indies in the mainstream media increases the overall credibility factor for self-publishing, and may encourage more readers to consume books that authors such as Polly Courtney have laboured so diligently to write and market.
On another note, if any self-published authors out there have the slightest idea why the Silent Symmetry ebook was downloaded over 2,500 times last week in the US but only 9 times in Canada and 58 in the UK, I’d love to hear their theories! Since Facebook, Twitter and blogs are essentially international, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these figures are so disproportionately skewed in favour of the US. More copies were downloaded in India than in Canada where I live and wrote the book! As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “What’s up with that?”