Interview with Bruce McCabe

Bruce McCabe is an Australian author, speaker and entrepreneur who is “passionate about people and the future”. Bruce is widely recognised for his “pioneering research in innovation and the adoption of new technologies”, and has an impressive background in this field, including a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney. With his knowledge of new technologies, McCabe was more than equipped to write what would be called a “horribly real tale of technopoly’s perils … a tight, entertaining yarn that foreshadows the data and sensor-driven world we will live in come the 2020s” (The Australian). The novel, Skinjob, was originally self-published by McCabe, and went on to be picked up and traditionally published by Random House. We speak to McCabe below about self-publishing, or indie publishing, as he prefers, and what taking this path meant for him as a first-time author.

What made you decide to self-publish?

Bruce McCabe: Impatience. Essentially I wanted to go for, and still believe in going for the best team you can have around you. So with any business venture, and a book is a business venture (no question about it), in my experience and everything that I’ve learnt with my background in innovation – success comes from surrounding yourself with a great team of people, first and foremost. So I actually wanted to get to a good, capable publisher and began submissions. However, I grew impatient because the process involves no feedback – the rejection process involves no feedback. The other thing I’ve come to learn, love and believe is that you must connect with customers as quickly as possible to get feedback, and there I was, in my case, trying to connect with readers, and of course all you’re getting is rejections (as quite naturally enough publishers don’t have time to give you feedback). So I thought, I need to find out what readers think of this, and self-publishing was the best avenue to do that quickly.

So how many publishers did you submit to before you realised it wasn’t working for you?

Bruce McCabe: Not many. I think six or seven? Or maybe a couple more because it was publishers and agents I was submitting to. So yeah, not many – I think some people probably go to a hundred. It’s probably just part of my nature that I just wanted to keep moving forward. The idea of sitting on a manuscript for a year until you got the right publisher without connecting to readers seemed horrible to me, I just had to connect, get it out and get that feedback.

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Bruce McCabe’s debut novel ‘Skinjob’. Originally self-published, now published by Random House Australia.

Once you’d decided that was the path you wanted to take; you wanted to self-publish, where did you go from there? What was the self-publishing process like?

Bruce McCabe: Well I did lots of reading and research to understand because it’s changing so fast, and I imagine it’s changed enormously since I did it. It changes month by month, week by week really. There were sort of four or five names that came up for channels that were big, and capable. I ended up electing to do it electronically via Kindle and printed form through Createspace. I arrived at that decision really because of the reach. It was the simplest way to reach as many people as possible… I just wanted to reach as big an audience as I could as quickly as I could to start moving forward and getting feedback, building momentum and ultimately going for the bigger publisher at some stage.

So that was always your end goal?

Bruce McCabe: Always in the background, because (and this is a core belief): surround yourself with the best people. So to my mind, I was starting with a small team – the biggest team that I could afford (which happened to be a small team), but the biggest and best team is what you want… When I set out to this, I set out to do this properly. With no steps missed and nothing left on the table in terms of quality. So I hired the best editor I could afford and could find and the most compatible one and I did the same with the cover artist. And they were the right people and that was my team…. I just see self-publishing (although it’s almost never done by yourself if it’s done well) as just a smaller version of mainstream publishing. I see them on a continuum – I started with a smaller team because that’s where I ended up. To me they’re all part of the same landscape – I don’t see an us and them or a binary ‘it’s self or not self’. When you’re with a big publishing house you’re still doing a lot of work yourself it’s only a different place on the spectrum. Some of the roles are done by other people and some aren’t. I still had an editor, I still had a cover artist.

When you self-publish a book you have a number of options – you can publish under the imprint of the self-publishing platform or you can buy your own IBSNs and start your own publishing company. Which one did you opt for?

Bruce McCabe: The latter. Again, nothing left on the table. I didn’t want in any way that the reader when they picked it up from a table in a bookstore to feel like it any less of a product than what they would from Random House or Penguin, or anybody else.

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Australian author Bruce McCabe, who self-published his first novel ‘Skinjob’. It has since gone on to be acquired by Random House.

Did you find that there were any negative connotations associated with being a self-published author?

Bruce McCabe: Yes, and there still are. You see blogs about this all the time. It’s going to take some time to change. I mean, you can understand it – the issue is the noise level, there’s just so much stuff and there’s no filter. So unfortunately, if you are doing a quality product, and you’re doing the best quality book you can do and you’re taking your time – you’re still coming out the same channel as self-published works that aren’t of that quality. It’s tough.

Why do you think there are so many authors who are using platforms like Createspace to publish their work?

Bruce McCabe: The reasons vary enormously, and I only know my own road. There are a lot of people who see it as financially better, there’s more independence, there’s better control of what they’re doing. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a lot of people who don’t realise that what they’re doing is not good enough and take an option to push it out. There’s a huge spectrum of reasons. Some I’d be really supportive of and I think are really valid and some which relate to blindness if you like – they’re just not seeing. Ultimately if you write a book that’s really good if readers love it, it’s going to get published. It’s going to get out and it’s going to work and it doesn’t really matter what the channel is. I believe that, I really believe that. If you’re really going to put the work in. And it doesn’t matter if you self-publish or you go to a big publishing house.

Do you think that self-publishing has had a big impact on traditional publishing? How do you think it’s changing?

Bruce McCabe: I can’t really answer that… I mean it’s clearly having an impact cause everyone’s attention’s on it. But on the other hand, the traditional publishing industry – basically publishing is much more fragmented, there are many more channels than there ever were before.  That’s both good and bad. I’m not sure they’re changing that fast in how they do business. The market is more fragmented so they’re much smaller and they’re all doing it tougher.

What are some of the greatest advantages of self-publishing?

Bruce McCabe: No one can stop you. There is a path to market for everybody, no matter who they are. And that’s a real benefit. Take a small run of something, or something specialised, you can produce a quality product out of that and it doesn’t matter that it’s a limited distribution – and that’s pretty amazing. No one can stop you and it’s not going to cost you the earth, whereas once upon a time –it would have. And if you’re patient and you want to do more of the work yourself, you can afford to do that. That’s an incredible thing. From a personal point of view, having control is pretty amazing. To actually shape exactly what you want in your book. Have the product look, feel, weigh, have the fonts, the page count, the type of chapters and headings… You can actually choose to build this beautiful product exactly the way you want it. And that’s pretty amazing.

I actually think good publishing isn’t self-publishing. I think ‘indie publishing’ is a better word, because it’s independent publishing, but it’s not doing it by yourself. If you’re doing it well, I know nobody who can write a good novel, a novel length piece of work and do a great job by themselves. You have to have an editor, you have to do something about the formatting, typesetting and cover. A really big piece of work that’s really good is never self-published there’s always other people involved. So it’s independent publishing. It’s a cool new thing in the landscape that gave me a start, an option, a way in, and it ended up being part of my path. I think that’s fantastic.

But if you talk about indie publishing and you explain that when it’s done well, there’s no short cuts, and that might help remove some of the stigma around the really good works coming out.


Writer’s Edit would like to thank Bruce for taking the time to share his thoughts and experiences with us.

If you’d like to find out more about Bruce McCabe, you can visit his website here.

You can also find our article ‘The Call of Indie Publishing’ which features Bruce, here.

Writer's Edit

Writer’s Edit is a young online literary magazine created especially for writers and lovers of books. Founded in July 2013, the magazine is home to writing and book-related news, as well as advice and inspiration for emerging authors. Writer's Edit also publishes the anthology Kindling. To find out more, click here.

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