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06 Nov

Reflections on Self-publishing versus Independent Presses with Alan Williams

On the 8th October we hosted All Things Indie Day with Teika Bellamy. The aim of the day was to discuss and explore the options and issues arising in deciding between self-publishing and independent presses. We asked our workshoppers if anyone would like to write a reflective blog about the day and Alan Williams was kind enough to take us up on the offer.

After failing to get anywhere with traditional publishing routes, I took the plunge and self-published my first novel in 2015. Whilst the decision yielded a handsome looking book and some great feedback and reviews, the resulting learning curve was sharp and barb-edged. The two main problems I encountered were spiralling costs, with little prospect of recouping them anytime soon and hitting a book-selling ‘brick wall’ where the high street and the media are simply not interested in the one-man-band self-publisher. As my excitement has dipped towards despondency, I have been wrestling with the question of what to do with my next novel, which is close to completion. Like all writers I want my work to be read (that is my presumption at least). So how do I make this happen a way that maximises quality, minimises expense and gives my work its best shot at making an impression? That’s not much to ask is it?

With this question still pulsing in my head, therefore, Teika Bellamy’s ‘All Things Indie’ workshop came at precisely the right time for me. Chastened by the realities of the publishing world I had encountered, I was not expecting a magic bullet, or even most of the answers; but the chance to get a new perspective, from someone who knows the industry as well as Teika, was too good an opportunity to miss.

Huddled in the cool of the NWS event space, most of the attendees were at different stages of their writing and publishing journey, although some had more of an academic interest in the mechanics of indie publishing. The day was split into two sessions: ‘A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the World of Indie Publishing’ and ‘Book Cover Design on a Budget’. In the morning Teika warmed us up by sketching a history of the publishing industry to date, before painting us a portrait of the current publishing landscape. This provided useful background to the present attitudes – driven as you would expect by economics – of the ‘Big Five’ and other large players in the industry, and that of booksellers too. She then gave us a tour of the ways publishing is done, majoring on the ‘indie’ as per the title of the workshop and the pros and cons of each. The economics of publishing was particularly fascinating and surprising in terms of where the book-buyer’s pennies go.

With the landscape painted, we then had the opportunity to consider the role of the author in all of this – which was of major interest to me. A session focussing on our own, personal, goals forced me to break down what my own ‘next steps’ should be. I knew what I wanted to happen – so that helped focus my mind considerably and I found myself very attracted to the idea of exploring what indie presses might do for me (my Mslexia Guide has already been procured, as recommended)! The remainder of the morning session covered the mechanics of the various publishing options, generously sprinkled with great advice from Teika.

The afternoon session considered the notion that books are judged by their cover! We debated what might constitute a ‘great’ cover – looking at some real life examples (including some nice comments about my own cover), before having a go at designing one ourselves using Scribus software. Not only was this brilliant fun, but it did tax the decision making muscles in order that we got it precisely right. This session proved – despite my initial scepticism – is that it was possible to design a professional looking cover on a budget. There were some great efforts on show.

Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable and energising day, most of this generated by Teika herself – who not only clearly has bags of experience to call upon, but who also is an inspirational example of what someone can pack into their publishing life (no more moans about lack of time from me)! I will be exploring what indie presses can do for me next time around and, if that doesn’t bear fruit, I will be less afraid now of truly ‘doing it myself’!

Alan Williams is the author of The Daylight Thief and a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio. Dr Teika Bellamy is a writer alongside founding Mother’s Milk Books.

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