A few years back, as I was getting ready to unleash my first novel on the world all dewy-eyed and full of optimism, I wrote a blog post about self-publishing. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s the revolution in publishing that meant I was about to finally realise my life-long dream of becoming a published author. Now any aspiring author can publish directly through Amazon and other online retailers, selling both ebooks and Print-on-demand paperbacks.
There was, and still is, a stigma to self-publishing – I imagine a few people rolled their eyes just then when I said I was a published author. Did you? If you did, well then ya-boo, sucks to you. But as far as huge swathes of the writing community are concerned, you ain’t published until someone else puts your book into a bookshop.
I say writing community, but it’s wider than that. Tell ordinary people you’ve got a book out, they’ll treat like you like some kind of king. It’s quite lovely, actually. You can’t get them to buy your book, usually, but they’ll be genuinely impressed for a few minutes. But tell them you published it yourself and they’ll do a cocked-head puppy look coupled with an ‘awww’ sound like you’re a toddler who’s announced they can go poop on the potty.
The aim of that blog post was to try to reframe my decision to self-publish, bring it in line with the changes in the music industry. I titled it, somewhat cheekily, Punk Publishing. Now, 3 years later, I thought it would be worth revisiting the topic, to see if it still holds up, in light of the changes in the self-publishing world. I am, after all, quite the indie publishing phenomenon now, after all, having sold, well, some books.
So, does it hold up? Of course it does! If anything, the parallels between the publishing and music industries are only getting stronger, as both head into a tailspin of mutually-assured-self-destruction. Traditionally published authors have two strata: The Beyonce-style pop icons like Stephen King and Lee Child; and the mid-list major label artists who have a decent following but don’t make much from their sales. Except, mid-list trad pub authors can’t go on tour to supplement their income.
Even when it comes to style, you can see both areas overwhelmingly dominated by one genre. Thriller novels are the equivalent of the dance based pop phenomenon you literally cannot escape anymore, which I guess means that James Patterson is… Ed Sheeran? Seriously, go to a supermarket book section and try and buy something that doesn’t have at least one woman being murdered in it. You’re as likely to find anything more exciting than Ed Sheeran’s Divide in the same shop’s vinyl section.
Let’s look at retail, while we’re at it. Sales of both have plateaued after an almighty drop, the loss of which is only partially offset by streaming services. The only real difference between Spotify and Amazon is that Amazon require exclusivity for their streaming service. I’ve written before that this is deeply unhealthy for everyone concerned, just as the low pay-per-stream Spotify pays is inevitably going to come back and bite it in the arse. But detractors of both models miss entirely the same point – that the success of these models is dependent not on the experience of the creators but of the end user.
Which brings me back to the underground. The punks, musically and spiritually. The argument that putting your own work out into the world is lesser than going through gatekeepers is an idea the Buzzcocks blew up musically in the 1970’s, but it’s taken a lot longer in the literary world. But look in weird niches and genres ill-served by the mainstream and you’ll find a now-thriving scene, with a much closer links between authors and audience that’s a lot closer in spirit to underground music. They might not be to everyone’s tastes, but then neither are Converge or Neurosis, and I think they’re both bloody amazing. If you disagree you can come here and fight my beard.
Is there dross in self-publishing? Yes. Of course. But is there dross in trad-publishing? Of course. And one man’s dross is another man’s Da Vinci Code. As indie publishing matures, so too has it followed the model that is helping to preserve the music industry. Authors are using Patreon, selling merch, and hey, is now a good time to mention my Patreon and my merch?
Anyway. The question I posed myself at the start of all this was whether I was right before, and of course I think I was, and maintain that I still am. I am the very definition of resolve and determination. I imagine you’re quite shocked that I’ve come to this conclusion.
If you agree, then you should absolutely support your indie authors. Specifically, this one.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more.
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Well, this is awkward…