Where does self-publishing stand towards the end of 2014?

For the past few years there have been many column inches, both in print and digital, about the rise of self-publishing. Hailed as a way of democratizing an industry that had been, for too long, dominated by out of touch “gatekeepers”, it was a narrative that found rich currency in stories like E.L. James’ rise to prominence.

But now that some dust has begun to settle over the initial furor, how true is this narrative really?

Firstly. It’s important to understand that self-publishing is difficult. The market is now saturated with a huge amount of self-published novels on the various channels and platforms that exist to facilitate eager amateur-writers. Virtually none of them find success and a very large portion would appear, to the eye of a professional publisher, poorly edited. So self-publishing itself is a hugely competitive market which requires not just talent, but an ability to market one’s book effectively, even if only by word of mouth.

Secondly, it’s not all doom and gloom for traditional publishers. Some commentators believe that the drive towards self-publishing has, in fact, increased the market for books rather than cannibalized existing channels dominated by publishers. Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives spoke at the Frankfurt Book Fair recently about these themes, telling Reuters that “They are priced at a point that meet the reader’s demand…I think it’s expanded the market for books.” It’s a view that is shared by many traditional publishers who are now attempting to offer channels to market of their own for self-published authors. Alongside this, they are attempting to leverage their existing expertise in fields like marketing, as a way of enticing self-published authors into the fold. It remains to be seen if this carrot is big enough to make self-published authors an additive element to traditional publishers, however.

Thirdly, a key weathervane of where self-publishing now stands is that the stigma associated with, once one of poorly written fan-fiction or self-inserted erotica, is beginning to dissipate as the industry matures. Mark Coker’s, founder of Smashwords, a site that helps self-published authors perhaps put it best when, in a recent blog post he stated that “The stigma that once haunted self-published authors is quickly melting away.” The market seems to be concurring. Self-publishing now encompasses a huge variety of genres, some very niche and others well-trodden (self-published crime novels for example, are particularly popular).

Self-publishing and self-published authors have a long History that buttresses claims of maturation. Both Ulysses and A Christmas Carol (Joyce and Dickens respectively) were undertaken without any publication rights being negotiated or any “exclusivity deal” with a publishing house. Interest in them was generated purely through word of mouth and dissemination through sources such as magazine periodicals. It might be wise therefore, now that the market is beginning to mature, to view self-publishing (and increasingly crowd-funded publishing) as less novelty and more a kind of restoration of pre-corporate modes of publishing.

There will always be a space for the traditional publisher, but self-publishing at the end of 2014 stands in a strong position, capable of fuelling many more suburbs-to-riches stories as the years roll on and self-publishing methods become more entrenched.

Categories: Industry opinion

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