Cory Doctorow’s self-publishing insights

Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction author who has lived his life inversely to me, in the sense that he was born in Canada and moved to Britain. In this recent interview he talks about a range of issues related to self-publishing, including DRM (Digital Rights Management, in other words, file copying restrictions), traditional bookstores, and copyright. Here’s his very interesting take on the definition of self-publishing:

To be self-published is not to prepare a file for distribution, nor to put it in an e-commerce system, it is to have and execute on a theory of how to connect the audiences with the works you are publishing. And unless you can elucidate that theory and test it and act on it and revise it, you are not publishing, you are merely formatting.

Cory_Doctorw_portrait_by_Jonathan_Worth_1

Cory Doctorow, sitting at his desk. And presumably working, although he could just be pretending to work so the picture looks good. Photo by Jonathan Worth.

This is a great definition. Writing in a journal every night and locking it in a bedside drawer isn’t self-publishing. Making an ebook and uploading it to Amazon is almost identical to locking it in a drawer, in the sense that no one will know it’s there. That’s why connecting with an audience is the key to self-publishing. There are a thousand-and-one theories out there about how to do that, and my job as a publisher (who happens to be publishing my own works) is to filter through those theories, concoct one of my own, try it out, and see whether it’s working.

Of course, self-publishing might not mean attempting to actually sell any books. For example, I’ve already connected with an audience of thousands with Silent Symmetry through my Amazon free promotional days. But this is all part of a long-term professional marketing plan. Maybe there should be a distinction between the two activities – finding readers and selling books – although “professional self-publishing” is a very unwieldy term to describe the latter. Then again, it’s not as unwieldy as selfpropub or proselfpub or ishouldjustgotothepubinsteadofthinkingaboutthis (though some would say I’m already a pro at the last one of those).

Marketing probably seems distasteful to some self-published authors. These are the types who believe that if they put their work of genius “out there”, fellow geniuses will discover it and they will be lauded and feted and get laid.

This is at best pretentious and at worst simply lazy. In Britain, self-promotion is often frowned upon. Interestingly, the British idiom for showcasing your talent is “to blow your own trumpet”, while in North America it’s “to toot your own horn”. But here’s the bottom line: if you’re a creative individual who doesn’t blow your own trumpet, all you’re doing is sucking on your own horn.

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