Big Opportunities Bring Big Responsibilities

The mass media pays little attention to self-publishing, on the whole. The books reviewed in newspapers and discussed on TV shows are hardly ever of the self-published variety. However, both publishing and self-publishing are evolving so quickly these days that nothing pertaining to them can be said to be static and, as if to prove this, The Guardian has started a series profiling self-published authors.

Image reproduced courtesy of Dariusz Sas, Dreamstime Stock Photos
Image reproduced courtesy of Dariusz Sas, Dreamstime Stock Photos

Yes: a major national newspaper is going to devote a regular space on its Books page to self-published authors. This is unusual, and very encouraging. You can read the first profile, of author Polly Courtney, here.

I’m of course immensely enthusiastic about this, and grateful to the Guardian for having the foresight to begin such a feature, when the rest of the major newspapers seem determined to avoid all mention of self-publishing. It shows, to my mind, a willingness to break with old (and outdated) practices, and to engage with rather than ignore change. More to the point, it may also help to draw attention to some of the great self-published authors out there. (Polly Courtney, in her interview, mentions the “white noise” produced by the vast number of self-published books, which makes it difficult for readers to find authors they might enjoy.)

The method for selecting featured authors will act a little like a “daisy chain”: each author profiled will nominate the next author. However, this chain may well be broken at various points, and so the Guardian has also asked its readers to nominate self-published authors. I’ve already made a recommendation, for what it’s worth. And no, before anyone asks, I absolutely did not recommend myself – which leads me neatly to the crux of this post.

The existence of this feature will hopefully prove to be a huge opportunity; but big opportunities also, perhaps, entail big responsibilities. Clamouring for attention has become second nature to many a self-publisher, which is understandable; but jumping up and down and shouting “Look at me!” is as likely to induce indifference, or disdain, as interest. So I’ve a modest proposal.

All the world's an advert, or so it sometimes seems... Image credit: Editor5807 | Wikimedia Commons
All the world’s an advert, or so it sometimes seems… Image credit: Editor5807 | Wikimedia Commons

Please – let’s not just rush off to nominate ourselves. We’re allowed to, and nobody’s going to stop us, but given that the Guardian staff are probably being swamped by such suggestions, they may not carry much weight anyway. By the same token, don’t let’s just nominate our friends, or those authors to whom we feel somehow indebted – this, apart from anything, raises the ghastly spectre of the quid pro quo. And don’t let’s nominate a whole batch of “quite good” books or authors we’ve read. Let’s nominate one or two that we really think are outstanding.

You can do this anonymously, by using a made-up username, so nobody has to know who you’ve nominated (unless you want them to know, of course). Given the huge number of nominations that are no doubt currently stacking up in the Guardian’s office, your nominee will possibly (probably?) never be featured anyway. But this is an excellent opportunity to shine a light on good self-published authors.

Any system relying on public nominations requires a degree of integrity and good faith, and so this is also a good opportunity to defy the common (and unflattering) image of the indie author as a ceaseless self-promoter, review-swapper and sock puppeteer. Let’s forget self-interest, however enlightened, for a little while. Let’s look at the bigger picture. Don’t let’s see this system just as another opportunity to publicise ourselves.

It’s an opportunity to publicise good indie writing – regardless of whose name is on the cover.

14 thoughts on “Big Opportunities Bring Big Responsibilities

  1. You are so right, Mari, I find the whole self promoting business distasteful anyway. I can think of several excellent self published authors (better than most conventionally published) but i’m going to nominate just one, who as you suggest, ain’t me neither…
    I love that picture of that old fashioned typewriter.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lucinda. I too find self-promotion distasteful (not to mention embarrassing), but that leaves the question of how good self-published books are going to have a chance of finding the audience they deserve. I hope that this feature will go at least some of the way toward finding a solution!

  2. That’s a very interesting development, Mari. Thanks for alerting us to it. You’re spot on about the irritation factor. Self-published = self-publicist for some. My Twitter-feed is almost unreadable as a result. It reminds me of something that the NME did, way back when, whereby they featured reviews of cassettes sent in by unsigned bands. I seem to remember several acts ending up with recording deals as a result.

    1. Hi, Paul, and thanks for the comment. The constant stream of self-promotion on Twitter is one of the reasons why I spend so little time there; but then, I have found that the more insistent someone is that I should buy something, the less likely I am to do so! And yes, it is a particular issue amongst the self-published – though in the interests of fairness, I should say that I know of several traditionally-published authors who do much the same, largely because their publishers have assigned a very modest budget (or no budget at all) to publicising their books.

      NME’s reviews of unsigned bands sound like a good way of unearthing talent, and hopefully this Guardian feature will perform a similar function!

  3. I’ve read some articles on self publishing in the Daily Mail. (And I don’t nean the obligatory 50 Shades of Grey article) But on the whole, it does seem as though it is the Guardian that has taken the first step in recognising the importance of self publushing. This can only be a good thing.

    1. Hello, Cassandra, and thank you for commenting. Yes, aside from the odd 50 Shades article, or an occasional feature about the tiny number of self-publishers who become immensely successful, mainstream media coverage of self-publishing has been negligible. That’s why I’m so pleased that the Guardian, at least, have decided to run this feature – and I agree, it can only be a good thing.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be sure to pay a return visit to your blog!

  4. At last the mainstream press are starting to take notice of us – it’s about time. Let’s hope other newspapers and magazine also begin to take notice, and then the publishing industry will catch up with the book revolution that is currently taking place.

    1. Thanks for commenting, LK! Things are changing fast these days, and I have a feeling that much of the media – often through no fault of their own – are left playing catch-up. I have a feeling, too, that self-publishing will soon be so significant that it can no longer be ignored (admittedly, perhaps I’m letting the wish be the father of the thought here, but still…). It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months and years.

    1. Hi, and thanks for commenting. The truly outstanding is by its very nature extremely rare, isn’t it? I’ve read many self-published books over the past two years or so; I thought many of them were ‘quite good’, and there were a few that I thought were ‘really good’. There were two that, for me personally, really stood head and shoulders above the others – and neither of them, interestingly, were very strong sellers (so far as I could tell). Sometimes you have to search around for these things, but when you find them it’s certainly worth it.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ll pay a little return visit to your blog in the near future!

  5. As usual, a thoughtful and thought provoking post, Mari, for which I thank you.

    I have to admit I retweet on Twitter quite a lot. It’s a little like crack cocaine: you don’t need much to get hooked. How many books has tweeting sold for me? Probably all the ones I’ve sold. I think I would have sold two, if not for Twitter and possibly Goodreads.

    But, I’m going to be tweeting a lot less in future for the simple reason that it’s interfering with what I like to refer to as ‘my work’. That will mean I sell few books, if any, but if I spent all my time on Twitter I wouldn’t write any books, so would have no books to sell anyway. I cannot see that I will produce more than one book every eighteen months or so and given my advanced age building a career is not a realistic or even desirable proposition. So, I’m going to write what I want in the way that I want and enjoy the act rather than Amazon’s sales charts. I feel I’m going to offend a great many people (rofl for want of a better expression). 😀

    1. Hi J.D., and thanks for the comment! For what it’s worth, I think that this approach – writing what you want, rather than with sales in mind – is the best way to go. I think that very few of us will ever have a ‘career’ in the usual sense of the word, simply because very few of us will ever make more than the equivalent of spare change from our sales. However, I have found that once you accept this, it becomes liberating rather than depressing!

      I also agree that tweeting and retweeting can be addictive, and can probably lead to a handful of sales too (or so I’m told – twitter has never really been my strong point). However, I’ve found that social networking in general can be much too time-consuming, and with too few rewards. Writers, I think, are probably better off just writing and treating twitter and the like as the occasional little distraction. At least, I think that’s probably the best thing to do if you’re like me, and don’t particularly like most forms of social networking anyway – some people claim to love it, and good luck to them.

      Loved your recent blog post, by the way – very funny! 🙂

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