Feature: Self-publishing | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Feature: Self-publishing

Like it or not, self-publishing cannot be ignored. It is fast-growing, completely accessible, and responsible for some of the most infamous books produced in the last twelve months (50 Shades of Grey, anyone?) . With a variety of technological advances including the e-book, this really is the era of the rise and rise of self-publishing.

So what is self-publishing? It basically does what it says on the tin: the author is solely responsible for writing, editing, designing the cover and interior, formatting, pricing, distribution and marketing.

With all that work, one might begin to wonder why they should put in all that effort. Joseph Sale, an English with Creative Writing student at the university, who has self-published three novels and a poetry collection, says that it gives him the opportunity to make money doing what he loves – without having to wait for the ‘big break’. Moreover, with self-publishing opportunities being so readily available, publishers are now considering self-publishing a rite of passage, much like getting an agent; if you sell self-published works successfully and receive good reviews, your future work is less of a gamble to invest in.

Okay, so I’m selling it to you a little. What else is good about it? Well, there’s people out there who want to help you. Joe uses www.lulu.com, a website that provides a ‘print on demand’ service; they make the books as they sell, taking a small amount of the book’s price as their profit. This system is perfect for new writers: there is no lump sum payment, which means writers won’t be fulfilling the stereotype of half-starved, deranged artists. The website will also provide you with a variety of choices (pamphlets, paperback, hardback, illustrated, etc.) and even allows you to create your own covers in the ‘Cover Creator’. Joe recommends purchasing your own un-copyrighted pictures, art, or images from a site called Fotolia, and then using it for your cover. Lulu’s service is perfect for self-starters, the fiscally-challenged or control-freaks that don’t want anything to happen to their ‘baby’.

However, as with most things, there must be some drawbacks. What are self-publishing’s? Firstly, you are your own marketer. Once the novelty of writing and designing has worn off, the writer has to reach the realisation that they actually have to sell their work. Joe advises that poetry is slightly easier to sell, due to the vast number of open mic nights available in major cities. It’s simple: if you go to a poetry event, read out your work and people enjoy it, you’ve done the best kind of marketing possible.

The novel, however, is slightly more difficult to self-market, as it really can’t be presented in the same way (unless you have an extremely captive audience), and is more expensive to purchase. Currently, Joe is releasing his novel The Door in the Mountain in episodic segments. He releases an episode to his website for free every Wednesday morning, and also gives his readers the opportunity to purchase the paperback book in full. Releasing your novel in episodes also provides scope for the business-savvy. Once you’ve got a readership or fanbase, you can start charging for episodes of your next novel, and offer online-exclusive deals.

Furthermore, with social media you can pretty much reach anyone in the world. Twitter and LinkedIn are great platforms for self-promotion. Joe’s debut poetry collection Unconstructed Constellations has been picked up in America and by a couple of editors who he met on LinkedIn through discussion-forums about poetry. Just make sure that you aren’t just pestering people: give them lots of free stuff to enjoy – i.e. blogs, videos, comments - and also support their work and events. You don’t get something for nothing.

Another – and what Joe considers the main – drawback of self-publishing is that you are your own editor. You can edit as meticulously as you like, but an editor (or editing team) will be able to be far more thorough. Additionally, without anyone to give you professional advice, formatting mistakes can be made. Joe admits that self-publishing has been a learning process, having published his first novel Dark Age Heroes with ‘ridiculously tiny text’. However, learning from these mistakes ensures that they will not be made again, and ultimately ensures that the writer improves throughout their career.

So, what’s next for Joe? He’s considering converting his work into e-books. It’s a market that definitely needs to be tapped: people love their tree-friendly e-readers due to their practicality and the reduced expense of books. If you don’t want to pay to physically publish your book, publishing an e-book is infinitely cheaper, and can be sold to anyone with internet access, an e-reader or e-reader app.

With such accessible software and open opportunities, it is easy to see why so many writers have started to self-publish. Whilst some are embracing the revolution, others are sceptical, and blame it for ruining the literary world. Yes, while we’re now bound to get an influx of vampire ‘mummy porn’, we’ll also get some hilarious parodies, and we might even meet the next Kerouac. Who knows?

Thanks to Joseph Sale for contributing to this article.
You can find out more about Joe's work by visiting his website: www.joseph-sale-poetry.webs.com

Jenna Clake is the former Online Arts Editor of Redbrick and studies English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. (@jennaclake)


22nd February 2013 at 8:00 am

Last Updated

22nd February 2013 at 8:01 am