Self-publishing has, it’s fair to say, a bit of a chip on its shoulder. It’s understandable, really, given the scorn with which the world of traditional publishing ladles onto it. If you've decided to go down the road of publishing your works yourself, through the various avenues open to you, chances are you are doing it because you've either tried the traditional route and failed, or because you looked at the whole trad world and thought to yourself ‘well that doesn’t make any sense.’
If it’s the former, you’re bringing you own sense of failure to the enterprise, which will colour your own judgement. I see this attitude all the time with writer friends of mine. ‘I’m going to shop it until I get X rejections, and then I’ll think about self-publishing,’ is something I’ve heard a great number of variants of.
If it’s the latter, you’ll get the same vibe from some of those other writer friends, but also from almost everyone else. A friend may ask you about your writing and you’ll tell them you have a book coming out next month. They’ll get all excited, and ask about who is publishing it, and when you tell them they’ll cock their head to one side and say, ‘oh, well, good for you' in the most patronising way they can muster. Then they’ll try and find someone else to talk to.
You see, 'Self Publishing' has a fair few negative connotations. It's historically tied in with so-called 'vanity' publishing, the kind of thing you used to get by paying thousands of pounds of your own money to print out your books, in the hope you will be able to recoup your money by flogging them to your friends, family, and poor unsuspecting local bookstores. This practice was largely sneered at by the literary world, which explains why the Kindle explosion of Self-publishing is seen in the same way.
The whole world of publishing has been set up in one way – a way that requires the book that gets to market to be somehow ‘validated’ by the system. You hear stories about classics that were turned down dozens of times, and marvel at what it must take, how good a book must be, to make its way to readers. The assertion is that unless you've been published, your book can't, just can't, be any good.
This means that the self-publishing movement of recent years has struggled, constantly, for its place. Self-published authors are ineligible for most awards, and the best seller lists have tried again and again to find ways to not let authors onto their lists without publishers. And woe betide the author trying to get themselves stocked in actual physical bookstores. Even those published by Amazon imprints (i.e actual publishers) can't get their books into the shops with any regularity.
The whole movement needs a new image. So, what do you do when you need to change your image? That’s right, you change your name, and hope a good, old fashioned rebranding will sort you out.
'Indie publishing' has been the go-to label of choice of a lot of Self-published authors, for understandable reasons. It conveys the spirit of independence that so many people love about going Self-Pub, but there's a big problem with it. It's taken. Small publishing houses, outside of the behemoths, are already known as indie publishers. So if someone asks you how you published and you answer 'oh, I'm an indie,' well, that could be one of two things. Which just seems silly.
Now, we're writers, so you'd think that if we could do anything with our talent, it would be using words. Plenty have tried to come up with a better label; in fact I've heard whole episodes of shows like The Sell More Books Show arguing the toss over this. The phrase 'authorpreneur' has been bandied about a fair bit, but that makes me want to set fire to things, so I'm not using that. I've even heard people refer to themselves as Artisan Authors (ew, no). But no phrase has stuck, so it's still some hybrid of Self-Pub or indie authors.
So, *dons cape* let me throw my hat in the proverbial ring…
I have decided, once I publish my first novel in the next month, that I'm not going to be an Indie. Or Self-Pub. I am going to be a Punk Publisher.
No, this isn't just part of my ongoing battle to make music somehow relevant to every part of my life. Well, maybe a bit. But there's logic there too. Lookit the shiny logic!
The music world has a lot to teach us so-called indies about our nascent scene. Back in the 1960's there was no way to get your music out there, unless you got picked up by one of the labels. Then punk rock came about, and the rules changed. The Buzzcocks were one of the first bands to press their own records, and get them into the new independent record stores that were popping up, and so was born a revolution in the way we consume music.
Suddenly, you didn't need to be approved of my a major label. Do we argue that the music that came out of the indie scenes of the 70's and 80's is worthless, because it wasn't picked up by the same people who were too busy peddling Abba to us? Do we argue now that the bands putting their music directly onto Bandcamp and Spotify and finding their own audiences, on their own terms, are intrinsically less artistically valid than Ed Sheeran, with his weird Fraggle face and insistence that your mouth 'remembers the taste of his love'? No.
It's ludicrous to think that music that comes down that route is somehow worth less. In fact, we freely acknowledge that most innovation in music over the last forty years has come from the underground, from the people pushing boundaries, unconcerned by mainstream success. Sound familiar?
Personally, when I first heard about this new literary movement, this breaking down of the traditional gatekeepers, I thought about Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Minor Threat and more besides, who I consider to have the truest 'punk' ethos of anyone on the planet. Here is a man who had plentiful offers to join the mainstream, but saw something in the ethos of doing it yourself, of keeping your art pure. Now, with the avenues of distribution freely available to all and sundry, we writers have the ability to follow in those same footsteps. We can hire our own editors, our own cover designers, and promote our own works to the world, and we don't even have to stand in the rain on a cold Thursday night handing out flyers to make our mark.
It seems to me that there's something about this whole explosion of Self-publishing that is very punk rock, from the DIY ethos, to the threat it poses to the traditional publishers, to the fact that NOBODY CAN TELL YOU WHAT TO WRITE. We can find our own audiences, and it doesn't matter if we don't sell millions of copies of our books, or win awards. You want to write christian historical epics? Go wild. Dinosaur porn? Well, I guess that's probably okay? Apocalyptic horror that focuses on stoners from the North East? Okay that one I'm hoping will do well enough to keep me in the custom to which I've become accustomed. But you get my point.
It's time to take the chip off our shoulders. We are Punk Publishing.