The future state of publishing


As a self-publisher, I’m always on the lookout for ways to break the glass ceiling. Every self published author knows what this is; news outlets who won’t even think of reviewing a book published by an author, but will give acres of room to specialist works no-one but a handful could be interested in. Book distributors who need all sorts of incentives just to mention a self published work in their catalogue. The sixty forty split which makes it difficult for an author to make any money, even if they are lucky to break into the bookstores.

For a small time self publisher, the means of getting ‘out there’ into the larger marketplace are limited and time consuming. Which is what publishers do. They take the hard graft of getting noticed and into bookstores, and make it look easy because they have established and maintained media contacts and procedures which flow from manuscript to customer. They also get to say what style gets into the marketplace. Which accounts for some authors, in frustration, sending in the barely disguised first three chapters of a classic novel, only to find that it too gets rejected with barely a syllable being read. The castle drawbridge is up, portcullis down, and you peasants can just jolly well stay in your scruffy little self publishing hovels, what? Your betters have spoken.

In some ways the current situation reminds me of the old trades union ‘closed shop’ with all its negotiated restrictive practices. It’s ossified, semi-paralysed, looking for the next big thing, but hardly daring the radical move of expanding its catalogue. There’s always a sense that it’s not what you know, it’s whom.

For me, my frustrations reached boiling point some years ago when I spent weeks on a 1500 word short-short, revising and rewriting because the magazine in question had done “A very nice picture.” Afterwards; having ‘done the sums’ as they say, I worked out that I’d been working for something like five English pence an hour. Hardly a fortune. I’d also submitted several finished manuscripts and when publishers deigned to reply, all I got was one, repeat one, form letter from someone whose job it was to periodically clear the company slush pile of unread manuscripts. The rest I never heard a whisper from. So when I first heard of online self publishing, I thought “Great!” and like so many others piled in. So far the experience has been like building a boat, getting it launched, beating the tides and making it out to sea, then looking out at the big cruise liners disappearing over the horizon and thinking “Now what?” The ocean is open, deep and vast, there are continents to conquer on the other side, but not being able to keep up with the big boys leaves you feeling somewhat adrift.

At the moment, self publishing is an alphabet with letters missing. Like a language without the right words. Conceptually bereft. I suppose like the man in the small boat I’d better get paddling. Doesn’t matter where. Just pick a direction and go for it.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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