Tag Archive: publishing

Self-Publishing ain’t all vanity, yo

Mcsweeney's quarterly concern

Man, I’m getting frantic. I haven’t even looked at any feeds today, I’ve been posting stuff I’ve had up in tabs since yesterday, and I’m already over my deadline to stop blogging. Plus, I smell, which is probably something i should rectify, and I have some paperwork to do which makes me wonder if I’m even going to get to do any novel writing today what so ever.

There’s been some debate in the comments of this post as to whether self-publishing has any value. Yesterday I stumbled across some things that are pertinant to the arguement.

Aside from the classic stories about famous authors 50 or more years ago who met with success after choosing the vanity press, and the good number of nonfiction books that have consistently sold well over a span of time, you don’t often hear about contemporary books or authors hitting it big with self-publishing. Are writers deluding themselves into thinking they can be successful without a Big House to guide them?

So I went online to identify successful self-published novels. Here’s a starter list of 20 from many I found in a quick search on the web. Measuring success, of course, is subjective, and I’ve not read most of these books, but reviews by way of Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, Kirkus and Amazon seem fairly consistent.

Yes, self-published novels can bring in good sales and decent incomes. They can also lead to a writing career for those authors who started out in the self-published arena. Take a look for yourself.

[ Self Publishing: There is a right way and a wrong way]

In the list itself there are two books that I have actually heard of; one being ‘legally blonde’ which was turned into a movie with reese witherspoon (and spawned a sequel) and the other i actually own! A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers. Now, I know a little of where Eggers went after this book and amongst other things founded a publishing house, mcsweenys, who do a quarterly journal (who produce some truely lovely books, like the one pictured above which i used to own, and has an eccentric online version from which i’ve posted), a monthly journal called The Believer and who does a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

So, from a self-published book he has garnered himself a pretty sweet career. So there.

Also, check out this interview with someone who self-published a book and had some sucess and critical acclaim with it. He goes into, amongst other things, why the book was self-published to begin with.

[ How to self-publish the right way: Here’s one writer’s take ]


More writerly insight gleamed from the olympics:

The bigger, more common reality, however, is not the tragic story of the near-miss, but this: just because you have published one manuscript does not guarantee that you will publish all of your manuscripts. Every time you submit your work, you enter it into conditions which you can’t completely predict or control. Just because you may have landed your work with one publisher doesn’t mean you’re going to walk into a publishing house in the future and sign the dotted line with your next manuscript without first submitting your new work to intense scrutiny. Your next manuscript, and the one after that, and so forth, will have to earn its way and survive on its own every time.

Dammit! Why didn’t I become a chartered surveyor like mummy wanted?!?!?

Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [series Part Two] « Booklife.

Where Does Your Fiction Belong?

From The Rumpus:

BookFox notes an interesting pattern:

“In the last few years, many prestigious literary journals have moved to a two-tier model for publishing: they maintain their print journal for the big-name authors, and create an online space to publish emerging authors.”

This seems to be a no-brainer for traditional journals. They can publish riskier stories while maintaining their print journal as their publication of record. They can attract a broader audience, who may then purchase print. They can tap into the social networks of new writers while staying safe from stodgy critics who might not like stories that branch out from the norm.

But, as BookFox points out, there’s a few big downsides to this, the most important of which is the fact that it allows these journals to seem like they are supporting emerging writers without putting their full weight behind them.

And, while I can’t get inside these editors brains, I have a feeling that this might be the way some of them look at it. But what the big traditional journals may or may not yet understand is that their online content just might affect the way people view their journal, at least in the long term, much more than their print publication.

Obviously, I don’t have access to their pageview stats, and I only have limited access to circulation numbers, but estimating with a few quick glances at Alexa, it’d be my guess that many, many more people read their online stories than read their print publications, including many friends of the author and people bored at work who don’t ordinarily read fiction but may be open to doing so in the future. Most importantly, these are also most likely younger people, people who will be vital to ensuring the future success of these journals. If they are really “shuffl(ing)” “younger writers” online in order to be able to distance themselves from riskier venchers, they are actually putting what they see as their most dangerous foot forward.

But you know what? In the long run, that might just save traditional journals. And authors who publish online may end up with bigger followings, too.

Where Does Your Fiction Belong? – The Rumpus.net.

Excellent discussion on the “agency model” vs. Amazon’s Kindle programme.

I’ve been seeing a lot of confusion about the “agency model” for publishing ebooks, which is what Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Apple are on record as preferring to Amazon and its Kindle program. Please understand that I am not speaking on behalf of Macmillan or any of its subsidiaries, and I don’t have any inside information on what exactly John Sargent had in mind this past week when he wrote his statements.


Under the agency model, online retailers will sell a publisher’s ebooks in return for 30% of the gross. It’s not tied to a specific price structure or publication schedule. Publishers will set their own prices for the titles they publish, and decide when their own editions will come out.

Making Light: The “agency model” as I understand it.

Is it vanity to self-publish?

Good comments on this article. be sure to check them out.


The phrase “Vanity Publishing” was coined in 1959 – a derogatory term aimed at publishers whose main source of income was derived from the writers whose work they published rather than any projected sales of their books. But the commodification of the written word goes way back and has always been a contentious subject. The Venerable Bede published his own book longhand and he didn’t need an agent. Mark Twain was originally self-published and DIY operators like William Blake, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf have also shifted the odd copy over the years.

My friend Martin Bedford has recently paid good money to have his book printed up. Martin’s posters for the Leadmill nightclub were a bright feature of grey 1980s Sheffield, and he self-published his book in response to lots of requests from people who wanted to see all those posters collected together and in print. He saw an opportunity and he took it – although he says he did have a horrible moment, a real self-doubting wobble, as he loaded the entire print run of 1,500 copies into the back of a mate’s estate car and wondered how on earth he was going to fit them all into his flat, and more to the point, if anybody would actually want to buy a copy.

Is paying to see your work in print always vanity? Was Martin just ego-tripping? I don’t think so. That’s self-publishing, albeit still based upon a degree of vanity or at least self-belief. But surely that’s a business model, a standard template for ambition? The conviction that what you’ve got is good enough to release into the wild and stands a reasonable chance of selling is at the heart of launching any new product. And in Martin’s case, it worked. The first print run of his book sold out and it’s into its second printing and still selling well. Martin cracked it. He found his market all by himself. He did all the work, and now he gets to keep all the money.

Is it vanity to self-publish? | Books | guardian.co.uk.

via booklifenow


As has been pointed out many times by people better with numbers than I am, the costs of publishing an ebook are not zero. That is, if you have any interest at all in a quality product. No one goes around suggesting that everyone should become their own autonomous cheesemakers and cheering the death of the cheese industry. Why? Because that would result in a lot of shitty cheese. The idea that we should all be hiring our own massive staff of personnel instead of letting the publishers do it is bizarre on the face of it.

First of all, it’s financially ridonkulous. Professional editors of the level I work with now make money. Grown-up money that I cannot pay them, because I am not a rich person and never will be. Let alone copyediting, typsetting, and cover art (which is vastly important, don’t be fooled). I have zero interest in paying out $7000-$15000 before the book gets published, and almost certainly seeing minimal profit (especially since that 70% Amazon deal everyone’s so sweet on has a whole lot of strings attached). I like it when someone else does that. Publishers are risk-assesors, and they assume the risk, which is not insignificant, while I create the book. The “hire your own editor” handwaving strikes me as the strangest of this whole memescape. Really? Hire my own? With what money, without an advance? I suspect there is a pernicious undercurrent here that editors and copyeditors and artists and typesetters might not really need to be paid either. We’re all in it for the love, after all, and most people aren’t clear on what those behind the sceners do, anyway.

Not to mention, a beginning writer on their own has no idea who the best heads in the business are, who to hire even if they had the money, to make their book better. What is far more likely is that they’ll get taken in by the many scams out there, spend the money anyway, and still have a terrible book. It takes experience and time to know who to work with–and experience and time are exactly what people seem to want to cut out of the process.

Rules for Anchorites – The End of the World As We Know It And I Feel Fine.

James Patterson Inc.

A look into the publishing powerhouse that is best-seller James Patterson.  I’ve never read any James Patterson and maybe I never will but this article presents an interesting look at his ‘production’ and promotion methods from which many an aspiring and established author could crib useful tips.


A number of former Little, Brown employees who attended these sorts of meetings with Patterson in the 1990s and early 2000s described him to me as low-key but intimidating, more cutthroat adman than retiring writer — a kind of real-life Don Draper. Unsatisfied with publishing’s informal approach to marketing meetings, Patterson had expected corporate-style presentations, complete with comprehensive market-share data and sales trends. “A lot of authors are just grateful to be published,” Holly Parmelee, Patterson’s publicist from 1992 to 2002, told me several weeks earlier. “Not Jim. His attitude was that we were in business together, and he wanted us both to succeed, but it was not going to be fun and games.”

James Patterson Inc. – NYTimes.com.


The biographical details printed on the back flap of his sprawling, ambitious new novel, Chronic City, merely hint at the scope and genre-bending nature of Jonathan Lethem‘s fiction. Since publishing Gun, With Occasional Music – a fusion of Philip K Dick, Raymond Chandler and Alice in Wonderland – in 1994, Lethem has flirted with science fiction, noir, fantasy, literary fiction, memoir, and Shakespearean pastiche to formulate a body of work that – on the face of it – is so eclectic in style and approach that each novel seemingly could be the work of a different writer.

The publication of his breakout novel – 1999’s Motherless Brooklyn – perfectly encapsulates his diverse and scattergun approach to fiction. An inventive, evocative crime drama centring on a language=obsessed Tourette’s sufferer, it managed to win the Macallan Gold Dagger but also a National Book Critics’ Circle award – an impressive and unusual achievement, especially considering the novel that preceded it: Girl in Landscape, an odd reworking of The Searchers (with apparently inadvertent nods to A Passage to India) set in space.

When asked at last week’s reading at the London Review Bookshop about the wildly different nature of his work, and whether this was a help or a hindrance to his work, Lethem was wholly positive about his polyglot sensibilities. There was no peril, he said, in moving from one genre, geographic location or style of writing; in fact there could be no other way to write his books. Alluding to his 2007 essay “The Ecstasy of Influence“, Lethem suggested that his novels were as much born out of his reading as of his experiences – something backed up by 1997’s As She Climbed Across the Table, which is in many ways a literary billet-doux to Don DeLillo. It wasn’t so much that Lethem wanted to be the man who never wrote the same book twice; it was just that he was incapable of doing so.

Creatively speaking, his argument was both logical and sure-footed: after all, no one would deny writers the absolute right to choose the subject and style of their work. But such diversity is not perhaps the best way to endear yourself to a readership, or to receive a consistent critical reception. A writer’s novel may be their own, but once published it becomes the preserve of the reader – and readers tend to want to trust that their authors will deliver the kind of book expected of them.

Toby Lichtig took John Irving to task earlier this week for his endless recycling of themes and preoccupations, but for many readers this is not necessarily such a bad thing. Yes it sometimes seems hackneyed, but the appeal of the familiar cannot be overlooked. If an author’s work is all over the place in terms of style, it’s often easy not to bother keeping up with them. With so many demands on readers’ time, and such a wealth of choice, an author who deviates wildly from their established milieu is simply adding layers of doubt for readers – which is what makes publishers nervous.

In an industry obsessed with creating brands – whether in genre or literary fiction – constantly confounding your publishers and readers can leave authors struggling to attract either. It’s debatable whether Lethem would have had the same kind of five-book support for his genre-bending fictions – even with all his awards – in the current climate, but I’m sure that there would be some grumbling from the sales department eager to sell in another fantasy-crime novel featuring a returning character.

The problem is, as Lethem highlighted, that one can only write the books you feel compelled to write. And while for the vast majority these are thematically, geographically, stylistically or generically linked to each other, for the few – the brilliant, yet perpetually overlooked Chris Paling and the incredible but under-championed Nicholson Baker for example – such similarities are much harder to tease out. Finding a readership is a long struggle, keeping one an even more titanic battle – even without adding your own obstacles along the way.

Jonathan Lethem may contend that there are no perils in an eclectic approach to fiction, but the mixed critical and commercial response to You Don’t Love Me Yet, the follow up to Fortress of Solitude, shows that readers don’t always thank you for pulling their comfort blanket away from them. Artists are duty bound to create the work that they imagine; unfortunately, however, readers are not compelled to read them.

What writers risk in not repeating themselves | Books | guardian.co.uk.

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is waterstones the anti-christ?

I really don’t know anymore. I used to quite like Waterstones, always a good place to haunt between second-hand bookshops, till i moved someplace where the local ‘stones was an abyssal shit-pit with a terrible selection of books.

There’s an article over at the guardian which reviews Waterstones place in bookselling over the years, examines the state of bookselling at the moment, and calls for a return of bookshops to places of almost secular worship of the printed word.

Then there’s this nifty analysis of the piece over here, which is where I found the link to the guardian article in the first place.

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