The Children’s Book Circle panel event, Self Publishing: the Good, the Bad, the Future? focused on whether the increasing popularity of self publishing presents a problem for traditional publishing or whether it was mainly composed of the second rate numbering few real successes, and examined how publishers, agents and writers engage with the self-publishing market. The self published sector was a big presence at the London Book Fair this year and now accounts for 10% of titles on Amazon. The Discussion Panel were Children’s Digital Editor Emil Fortune from Random House, Gareth Howard CEO and founder of Authoright, Amazon self-published author Karen Inglis and Managing Director of LAW Literary Agency, Philippa Milnes-Smith.
Philippa said it was an exciting time for publishing, though disruptive and potentially traumatic for many publishers, authors and agents. She pointed out that not everyone embraced current developments. The children’s market would remain somewhat behind in digital publishing until cheaper, usable devices for children were commonplace. Philippa said a ‘mixed economy’ of traditional publishing and self publishing, in paper and digital forms, was now on the increase. Self publishing offers the possibility of increased speed, flexible response to the market, and business opportunities beyond the publication itself, with regard to translations, tv, film, foreign rights, etc. With the changes comes the need for new technical and business skills. Authors will increasingly need specialised advice. Generally the self publishing phenomenon had favourable inputs in these spheres. With regard to traditional publishing the worst aspect could be a tendency towards staleness and a slow pace of responsiveness to the market. On the other hand it could still contribute at times, providing excellent editing and helping to sustain real creativity. Needless to say there were many new challenges in all aspects of publishing and for the foreseeable future, the ‘mixed economy’ was here to stay.
Karen spoke about the new opportunities she had enjoyed when deciding to self-publish her children’s book, The Secret Lake, which had received many rejections even when it had been newly edited. She felt empowered by being able to publish by her own efforts. This book, and her two others, were doing well particularly in parts of the US. Karen appreciated the amount of control a self publishing author has over their book but points out that hard work is required to get things right. Although the new developments have given rise to a number of sharks that the self-publisher needed to beware of there are now a number of excellent professional services on offer though to assist anyone going down the self publishing route and also a wider social networking scope for serious self publishers who are aiming to produce a quality product and engage in best practice . Karen had found the Alliance of Independent Authors a particularly supportive group. Print on Demand technology also means there is not a huge financial outlay. So with low upfront costs and distribution via Amazon the main area of time and hard work is in the marketing. A very good aspect to self publishing nowadays is the growing acceptability and in the future this will increase still further Karen felt, as quality continues to improve, enabled by a growing number of freelancers within the editorial and marketing fields.
Gareth Howard the 3rd speaker, had his work rejected by a number of traditional publishers but still thought his work marketable and decided to self publish. This market has come a long way in a short space of time. He pointed out that in 2004 ebooks didn’t exist, for example. After successfully self publishing, Gareth set up various follow up businesses aimed at enabling the self-publishing market. He is the founder of Authoright which curated AuthorLounge for authors at the LBF. Gareth says that new businesses, such as the ones he has set up, are now working to help with marketing and PR in the changing publishing environment. Now self publishing authors are mobilising, the line between traditional and self publishing is breaking down, and there is increasing democratisation of the publishing process. One of the positive influences of self publishing has been to make everything quicker and easier. With traditional publishers offering a less comprehensive service, new service providers are coming forward to fill the gap. At present the self published author probably has the edge, in being aware how necessary it is to fully utilise social media for promotion and have clear business strategies. Gareth feels self publishing will become an even bigger sector in the future as more authors, frustrated with rejections or strictures in traditional publishing, take the decision to publish their own material.
Emil Fortune felt that self publishing offered more variety, and enabled more niché markets. Another good aspect was a range of efficient goods and services and inexpensive editing. The risk factor in publishing has tended to bring self publishers together, especially those who want a stamp of quality attached to their material. Ebooks in particular have encouraged the rise of new areas, for example erotica, and increased the opportunity for genre publishing. Emil noted a tendency in self publishing authors to be more aware of marketing which led to greater flexibility and a faster turn around. But he stressed that it worked both ways: Traditional publishers were interested in recruiting top people from self publishing origins, and on the other hand it was also true to say, some top traditionally published authors might at times decide to go it alone, spurred on by increasing successes in the self publishing field. He had a note of warning to start up self publishers, to look carefully at the services now on offer and to research thoroughly into what they would get for their money as the fast pattern of change in the world of publishing had given rise to some sharks as well as excellent service providers. Emil envisaged the future as being a workable co-existence of both traditional and self publishing, with positive interactions and overlap between the two spheres.
Questions to the panel ranged from concerns about effective marketing strategies, quality editing of self published material, and design of covers and websites, etc. with discussion centring around what should be outsourced and what undertaken by the author. There was also great interest in the matter of author expectations, whether in the realm of traditional or self publishing, especially given the current culture of finite readers. There was a general consensus of opinion as to the importance of social media for publicising works, and this applied to ebooks as well as the print sector, and was necessary for self published as well as traditionally published material. The future would see a further narrowing of the print market and consequently a reduction in traditional bookshops. As regards the children’s publications, certain picture books may continue to be thought of as desirable in print form, and audio books, where there was a powerful storyteller, may also be an area to attract books for the children’s market.
Jay Merill was born in Warwickshire and now lives in London. She attended the University of London and works as a freelance editor. H in a wide number of literary magazines in the UK and USA.
Jay is published by Salt Publishing and her short stories have been published in a wide number of literary magazines in the UK and USA, eg. Stand Magazine, the London Magazine, Mslexia, Night Train, Prophecy, Snow Monkey etc. Her essay on creative writing: ‘Supercharged Words’ is published in ‘Short Circuit. A Guide to the Art of the Short Story’, ed. Vanessa Gebbie, Salt Publishing, 2010. She also hosts live reading events JayLive and was co-host for poetry and prose event Ride the Word. She is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing UK.
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