Ready to Write Your Own Book? The Transformation of Self-publishing

Alison Baverstock is a valued expert in the publishing industry. (Georgia Clarke)

Almost half a million.  That’s how many self-published books hit the market last year and that number is growing.

Dr. Alison Baverstock of Kingston University in London doesn’t find that surprising at all. Her research into the publishing industry led to her to write, How To Market Books, which is often referred to as the “bible of book marketing” and has been translated into 15 different languages.

As a publisher, consultant, teacher and writer, Baverstock was also curious about a particular part of publishing that did not involve publishing companies at all.

Self-publishing, the act of publishing one’s work independently, is a trend that has significantly transformed over the years, in its reputation, popularity and effect on the industry.

Baverstock realized its growth potential early on.

“I noticed it was a really interesting thing happening within the industry, which the industry was really disdainful of, but there was more and more of it happening,” said Baverstock, who came to the University of Mississippi to speak about reading and publishing as part of the annual ACT Experience.

Neil White, creative director and publisher at Nautilus Publishing Company in Oxford said that things have changed, but there was once a huge stigma associated with self-publishing.

“It was called ‘vanity publishing’— essentially paying someone to publish your book instead of being paid to publish your book.”

In 2009 White published In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir about the year he spent imprisoned for fraud in Carville, Lousiana, a prison that also housed the United State’s last leper colony. He never considered self-publishing, because he “wanted a publishing house that would provide editorial, design, marketing and publicity services.”

He also wanted the book to be available nationwide and internationally, and he believed using a publishing company was the only way to make that possible at the time.

White said self-publishing was a “huge waste of money 10-plus years ago. In order to make each book affordable, a press needed to publish 1,000-5,000 copies of the book. Most of those are still in someone’s garage.”

Now, self-publishing has transformed.

“It’s become respectable, and it’s become a part of the publishing industry,” said Baverstock.

Not only has self-publishing become more respected, it has also become easier, thanks to digital technology.

White said because of ebooks, on-demand publishing and websites like Amazon.com, “self-published books are as readily available as books published through traditional means.”

Last year more than 400,000 books were self-published in the United States.

“If you look at the “New York Best Seller” list, there are usually two or three titles in the top ten that started off as self-published books,” said Baverstock.

Self-publishing has also been an eye-opener for publishing companies in terms of audience tastes.

“The publishers have learned that perhaps they didn’t always understand completely what the market wanted to be reading,” Baverstock said. “There have been several areas of self-publishing that the industry was quite confident that nobody wanted books on, and actually they’ve been proven wrong.”

“I think what self-publishing has shown is that there is a real market for books about the sort of disasters that all of us face, like losing your job, relationship breakups, serious illness, death of a child, the sort of books that make us feel better or cope with that,” Baverstock said.

Despite the positive improvements in self-publishing, White warns there are still drawbacks.

 “Most self-published books sell fewer than 1,000 copies. Hell, most sell fewer than 100 copies. Most are riddled with typos and the design is lacking and there is no good marketing plan. Most writers have no idea how to publish or market a book. Most first-time, self-published author make dozens of mistakes. And once the book is out there, it’s very difficult to pull it back.”

For those interested in self-publishing he offers four pieces of advice: “Hire a great story editor. Hire a great copy editor. Hire a talented book designer. Hire a great book publicist.”

Even with potential difficulties Baverstock and White said they believe the act of self-publishing will grow.

“Last year there were 400,000+ books self-published in the U.S.,” said White. “I see this trend continuing.”

Story contributed by Georgia Clarke: gcclarke@go.olemiss.edu.

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