Byte the Book: The Author as Publisher: Opportunity or Vanity?

On Monday night Inspired Selection’s consultants Kristy Collingbourne and Chloe Rhys were at The Groucho Club for Byte the Book’s debate on self-publishing. This lively debate was chaired by Type & Tell’s Jon Watt, who introduced us to the two panellists; Joanna Penn, self-published author and entrepreneur and Euan Thorneycroft, Senior Agent at A.M. Heath.

Jon started by asking what the landscape was like when these two started out in publishing. Joanna mentioned that there was no such thing as a Kindle when she started out, she made the mistake of printing lots of copies of her first novel but this was where her journey began and since then she has learnt all about marketing. Euan talked about CD-ROMS being the new thing when he started out! So the publishing landscape has changed a lot.

The biggest changes we are seeing now are the increased readership of eBooks using devices like the Kindle and Kobo, so it’s never been easier to self –publish. Euan posited that, actually, eBook sales have plateaued recently. However, Joanna said this may be true in the UK market but eBooks are opening up whole new markets, for example Joanna mentioned that her books are reaching people in India, and even the Middle East. With this in mind, Joanna is positioning herself for the next ten years to exploit this. These territories are where her revenue will come from in future years.

Euan cited one example of an author he worked with who published the first two novels in a series with a traditional publisher, then decided to self-publish the third. Though they achieved good sales from self-publishing, they then decided to publish their fourth with a traditional publisher. Why? Because they wanted to spend more time writing.

Joanna conceded that some writers don’t want to be entrepreneurs and want to spend their time writing instead. Joanna tends to write from 7am for four hours and spend the rest of her time marketing her books.  She said authors must make a choice based on what success means to them. Do they want to make high royalties or win The Booker prize? If the former, they should consider self-publishing.

Jon asked what they both think about new models of publishing, like crowdfunding. Euan said that agents must always be sure that the author is going to get a good return so they tend to use tried-and-tested models. Having said that, some authors are happy to try out new models. Joanna talked about all the new ways of getting content out there, for example, merchandising. There is an ongoing explosion of creativity and this content reaches out to people all over the world. She thinks that the future will see an increase in leisure time and this will mean that more people will write books and therefore mean more self-publishing, which she finds exciting. However, Euan was more of the opinion that this would endanger the quality of content. When asked what excites him, he answered that he has seen all these predictions for the future of publishing before, and they have not materialised. He is still excited by the simple purpose at the heart of publishing; finding really great books, and getting them in the hands of as many readers as possible.

Joanna finally brought it back around to vanity and left us with the question; isn’t it less vain to self-publish than to want a prestigious publisher’s name on the spine of your book?

Thank you to Byte the Book, the panellists and Type and Tell for a stimulating debate!