Better Read Than Dead

Why do we write? The answer is simple enough, isn’t it? We write in order to be read. We who write all have something to say, and we all want to make our mark in the world. We’d all like to be read by millions but, perhaps, we don’t necessarily write the things that millions want to read.

A writer’s business is to write. That’s what I do and I very much want my work to be read, enjoyed and understood. That has no chance of happening if my books exist only on my backup drive. That’s why I write and independently publish my books. I want them to be read before I’m dead, but I suspect that only posthumous recognition awaits, if it comes at all.

If you too feel excluded as a writer then, perhaps, that’s because it comes with the territory. Writing is a solitary and highly personal creative process that has little to do with the imperatives of the publishing industry. Nevertheless, many a good writer has had the same experience of rejection from a publishing industry all but drowning in a sea of submissions.

Jane Austen’s six full-length novels have rarely been out of print, although they were published anonymously and brought her moderate success and little fame during her lifetime.

All the same, there is an overwhelming sense that writers are putting forward their case for getting published somewhat cap-in-hand. The unsolicited manuscript is the bottom-feeder in the publishing ecosystem and only hype, controversy or your friend from university can help bring it to the surface.

More importantly, is it really worth all this disproportionate effort? Remember, you are the writer. Continual rejection may stop you from placing your work in the marketplace but it surely won’t stop you from writing, will it?

Independent publishing offers alternatives to the frustration of rejection-as-the-norm, but it is fast becoming yet another minefield to be negotiated by the unpublished writer. There are now numerous independent presses and publishing services that require high levels of personal (if not financial) investment on the part of the writer.

They offer the writer a degree of empowerment, but they also constitute publishing models that are little more than extensions of the mainstream industry. The cost of production is, in every case, effectively subsidised by the writer on the basis that they are the last to be paid and paid the least in terms of royalties.

Readers will want to read your book if it is well-written and engaging about a subject that is close to their hearts. If it is revised, edited, proofed and produced to a good standard then they will buy it. That has been my experience and, sometimes, that one initial validating purchase is enough to make all thoughts of discouragement disappear.

Now, a common criticism of independent publishing is that it cannot ensure the same quality guaranteed by an established publisher, even a small one. That is only true in certain cases and only up to a point. I have made a second career out of flipping through the pages of published novels, many of them best sellers, and found countless issues with them.

I first noticed that publishers had let their standards drop a few notches in my copy of E L Doctorow’s 1992 novel, ‘Homer and Langley’. A whole paragraph had made insensible by the kind of cut and paste error that has been known to bring down major corporations.

How about widow and orphan control? It is withering on the vine in the ‘churn-em-out’ paperback sector, and non-existent in books that fly off the supermarket shelves and dominate our public libraries.

The mainstream publisher that I most admire for the consistent quality of its finished product is Faber and Faber, and their editions are usually quite expensive. Yet, the fact that they are so exceptional only serves only to undermine my confidence in the rump publishing industry.

An independent author can produce the finished article to a very high standard but, having done so myself, I cannot pretend that it is not extremely hard work. It is a very much a labour of love to write, edit, review, revise, typeset, proof and polish your own work.

Those tasks make designing your own book cover to a high standard a pleasure by comparison. Nevertheless, it can be done and it is possible to do it without paying anyone up front unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary.

There are numerous publishing platforms but Amazon’s Direct Publishing is simply too big and too firmly established to ignore. There can be no doubt that Amazon has altered the retail landscape, but other factors have long affected the book industry.

The abolition of the net book agreement, aggressive discounting, and the expansion of out of town retail have all led to the present glut of book-like product at the expense of the writing community.

There is, of course, a great deal of hubris around Amazon, but it is a now a fact of modern life as much as superstores, superhighways and super-sized shopping malls.

Yet, the highly amplified antipathy towards self-publishing (or micro publishing as I prefer to describe it) with Amazon isn’t so prevalent at self-directed book events, talks, and many other non-online entities.

I’ve found that as long as the books are produced to a high standard and sufficiently differentiated from mainstream product then people will look at them with an open mind. I have distributed my books among family, friends, fellow authors, museums, academic libraries and, in one significant case, a high street retailer of quality factual books.

Selling books that you wrote yourself, produced yourself, and distributed in person is quite satisfying but the equation also changes as a result of acting for yourself. The division of cost/return with Amazon is also much fairer with authors achieving improved royalties both online and in the direct sale of price-matched author copies. As far as Amazon Direct Publishing is concerned, it will remain the best value option for writers who primarily want their books to see the light of day.

I believe that independent micro-publishing will sooner or later evolve into a homeworking, cottage industry based on equal partnerships that can take advantage of low-cost/no-cost publishing tools. They can take full advantage of lean-build of print-on-demand services and build a bespoke audience through events and personal relationships.

There are also independent retail outlets that will stock books from outwith the mainstream. Events are already important for authors who want to put books into the hands of their readers. For attendees of events, it’s often an impulse buy that is not informed by the book’s origins, its means of production, or the fact that it’s self-published.

There would be even more opportunities like these if this nascent micro-publishing sector was embraced rather than shunned. And shunned it will be as long as perceived status as a ‘published author’ remains a pre-condition for admittance into the sacred circle. In the meantime, I will write my books, publish them and get them read.

I now offer the same opportunity to anyone who wants to micro-publish but feels they cannot do it alone. I am in a position now to work with one author at a time in order to get their book published under the 1320Books imprint. I am proposing a publishing partnership for the purposes of producing the selected title on the basis that the publishing workload, costs and benefits, and marketing efforts are shared equally.

This particular partnership is contingent on use of the Amazon Direct Publishing platform where there are no upfront costs outwith the cost price of author copies, which are allocated proportionately by agreement between the publisher and the author.

If you have a book that is all but ready for publication but needs to be developed with the help and support of a publishing partnership then please email me at the address below or use the contact form. I will reply with more information about the 1320Publishing Partnership for your consideration.

I will also include guidance on the kinds of books that I feel I am best able to support. The 1320Books portfolio is quite diverse but it does provide some insights into particular strengths and common areas of interest.

Michael Stephen Clark

1320elements@mail.com