Even self-publishers still love the old school

Having a top-selling e-book isn’t as fulfilling as having a book deal, panellists admitted at a recent panel debate.

Self-published authors Mark Edwards and Joanna Penn shared the stage with Henry Volans, head of digital at Faber, to debate whether traditional publishing was being ‘dismantled’ by straight-to-market writers. But the conclusion wasn’t ‘Smash Publishing’, as the event had been titled, but ‘Keep Publishing Yourself Until A Better Option Comes Along’.

Joanna Penn used the opportunity to introduce the hybrid model of publishing to the audience, whereby authors make a rolling income based on rights that their publisher doesn’t buy. She has recently signed with a New York-based agent and complained: “UK publishers are about two years behind the US.”

She pointed out that authors used to self-publishing and self-promoting would be looking for every opportunity to promote rights that a traditional publisher failed to buy from them – for example, if a publisher bought UK rights to an audio edition of her book, she would be sure to publish it herself in emerging English language markets such as India.

But, other less entrepreneurial authors might still prefer to hang on for that deal.
Mark Edwards was frank about the downsides of self-publishing, and remarked that as an author he still found book deals ‘seductive’ despite his own success as a two-time Amazon list topper: “You can’t join the Society of Authors or the Crime Writer’s Association no matter how well your books sell without a book deal. People are treated differently in traditional publishing – and not just by the industry but by friends and family too. There is still a stigma.”

His writing partner Louise Voss was not present, but Edwards’ loyalty to traditional publishing might have had something to do with the fact she was once given a £400,000 advance. Penn also acknowledged that writers could produce ‘a different kind of writing’ once they stopped relying on monthly cheques from Amazon.

Henry Volans, head of digital at Faber, revealed that Faber was taking a new direction in October as it switched from apps to ebooks. Faber is set to publish four new ‘enhanced’ e-books of poetry in October, taking a step back from the hi-spec apps based on The Wasteland and Shakespeare’s sonnets. The collections by Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Wendy Cope will include audio readings of poets reading their own work embedded into the text. More details will be released nearer to the date of publication.

Written by Ellie Broughton