Outliers rather than outsiders
You would had to have been on a long vacation from planet publishing not to be aware of the high profile success stories in and around indie publishing from the last few years. Hugh Howey, Joanna Penn, Amanda Hocking -no matter which routes to market they have ended up taking, these are the often-quoted big beasts, the patron saints of DIY. But you can perhaps be forgiven for never having heard of a writer called Dan Gennoe. Dan has been a London based freelance writer and journalist for 16 years and recently self-published his first novel All Neon Like Love under his own Joe Bones imprint.
What makes this particularly interesting from where we sit at whitefox, managing a range of publishing services, is that Dan represents a new generation of writers, often well-connected, sometimes already published, always intensely curious, who look upon self-publishing as a proactive choice, not a practical necessity when traditional channels have failed to materialise. An option that represents freedom and control.
Perhaps the on-going debate about the best way of defining authors within this space stems from the fact that, for many of the most successful ones, self-publishing seems a misnomer. Seldom do they seem to be working alone. As another indie writer flying under the radar, this time based in the US, Joel Ohman (author of Meritropolis) says, there is a common misconception about DIY.
“When you think of a typical small business owner, or a typical indie publisher, you think of someone that wears many hats, and does every little thing in their business: they sweep the floors, they do the cover design, they do it all. But you have to ask yourself a crucial question. Are you maximising your strengths by doing the things you are really good at? How can you transform a writer from someone who merely works in their business — even if that business is the business of writing — to someone who can truly build their business by working on it.”
We may even be getting to a point beyond the trench warfare which has characterised some of the ‘you’re either with us or against us’ rhetoric of the past few years. Now, some writers increasingly see their own efforts as a means of supporting their agent and existing publishers, the positive hybrid approach. Take Marti Leimbach, bestselling author of Dying Young and Daniel Isn’t Talking. She has formulated her own e-book publishing and marketing plans for her reverted backlist titles even though her latest novel, Age of Consent, will be published next year by 4thEstate in the UK and Penguin Random House in the US.
“Indy publishing doesn’t have to be in competition with traditional publishing. I see my efforts as the most direct route to support my publishers. I’m not confined to this season’s titles, nor do I have to think about a number of different authors.”
In the evolution of publishing, what defines the most recent changes are less what the respective branches of the family tree are called and more by an approach and attitude. Many of the writers we are working with genuinely relish taking greater control of the business of how they are published. If they are spending money, they want to understand how their creative priorities represent a tangible return on investment. They like the higher royalty rates, but almost as much they like the option of being in the middle of a process, the hub of the wheel, rather than part of a relay team where seemingly inevitably, someone will at some point drop the baton. They like determining their own timeline (by which I mean obviously that they like the speed — fewer meetings, fewer people to convince at every decisive stage) and the demystification of what taking your book to market really involves. And finally, they like the collaboration. It turns out self-publishing doesn’t mean doing everything all by yourself at all.
Perhaps these maverick self-starter authors have learned from the tech industry, launching their single products, understanding the iterative process of development, sometimes ending up with being bought by one of the big players. They are the outliers rather than outsiders. What seems undeniable is that there are more choices, more options, more advice and support available than ever before. As Dan Gennoe puts it “ I’ve been in and around publishing for years, and was up for the challenge of being an independent author rather than being daunted by it. I wanted to embrace the business side of publishing. And it’s been both an education and really good fun. Plus it feels like the future, and it’s always better to embrace the future than hang on to the past.”
- John Bond
View this article in the Publishers Weekly zine: