The publication of Bruce McCabe’s debut novel Skinjob reflects the changes and impact indie publishing has had on publishing as a whole. Indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the earnings going to e-book authors around the world. What does it mean for the rest of the publishing industry?
In recent years, traditional publishing houses have become even more selective when it comes to the acquisition of a new title. They’re willing to take fewer risks with new authors due to the forever changing economy and the small window available to them to achieve success. They’re also merging, down-sizing and in some cases, completely closing up shop. But it’s not all bad news. More and more tools and platforms are being created that enable authors to take their careers into their own hands. Createspace, Lulu, Lightning Source and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) are some of the easily accessible and affordable options. Writer’s Edit spoke to Australian author of Skinjob, Bruce McCabe, to get his take on the call of indie (independent) publishing.
With the July Author Earnings Report of 2013 stating that self-published books now make up 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store and the seemingly shrinking window of traditional publishing, it’s no wonder that the call of indie publishing is incredibly appealing to some authors.
After initially submitting to a handful of traditional publishers and receiving no feedback, McCabe took an approach that turned the issue back to the most important party in publishing: the readers.
You must connect with customers as quickly as possible to get feedback… I thought; I need to find out what readers think of this, and self-publishing was the best way to do that quickly”.
Admittedly, self-publishing, or indie publishing as McCabe prefers, is awash with stigmas and connotations. “The issue is the noise level,” says McCabe, “there’s just so much stuff, and there’s no filter… You’re still coming out the same channel as self-published works that aren’t of that quality. It’s tough.”
Tough is certainly an adequate descriptor. Authors must navigate the dozens of vanity publishers and multiple scam ‘editorial services’ that prey on hopeful (and naive) novelists. This only adds to the negative reputation that self-publishing has. According to Bowker’s 2013 report, 391,000 self-published books hit the shelves in 2012. This figure is the level of noise McCabe refers to. Overwhelming volumes of titles are pumped out each week by authors who don’t strive for the same professional quality as others. It’s these titles of poor quality, along with the many assumptions about self-published authors that feed the stigmas attached to indie publishing.
The Huffington Post Books article ‘Combating the Stigmas of Self-Publishing’ recaps one of these assumptions. One man told indie author Bryan Young that he was going to read Young’s work, before he found out it was self-published. The man strongly expressed that he never reads anything self-published, as these authors publish inferior material. This is just one of the many negative connotations indie authors battle when they publish their own work. Because of these stigmas, most reputable book review platforms refuse to review self-published works. This means that for titles like McCabe’s Skinjob (when first published through Createspace), it’s harder to reach a wider audience.
There’s no doubt that the publishing landscape is changing. Options, advice and books are endless, while more established, traditional publishers struggle to keep up with the digital age. A new indie publishing platform seems to be released on a daily basis and authors and publishing enthusiasts are constantly blogging about the ongoing changes and what’s best for everyone. Book Seller Publisher (one of Australia’s leading publishing magazines) is just one of many platforms that shoots a daily email (and weekly round-up) to inboxes worldwide highlighting what editor has gone where, and why. Similar to the ‘noise’ of books being produced is this white noise of information the digital space offers those interested both in indie and traditional publishing.
McCabe however, remains unfazed, insisting that if a book is good enough, and readers love it – it will be successful no matter what, and in that case “it doesn’t really matter what the channel is”.
You only need to look at the huge success stories of indie publishing to realise the weight behind McCabe’s words: Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and E.L. James are all indie authors who after establishing a loyal readership, have gone on to become worldwide bestsellers; some of them with film rights being sold to massive production companies. McCabe, like these authors, self-published his novel Skinjob, and went on to be picked up by the Christopher Little Literary Agency (known for acquiring the Harry Potter books), with the rights consequently being sold to Random House.
Though it is only now we are seeing a big spotlight being shone on the world of indie publishing, it is not a new concept. In fact, some of the world’s most celebrated literary figures were once self-published. Think Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Blake, Mark Twain and even Beatrix Potter. Every one of these classic authors once stepped into the shoes of the publisher in order to get their work out there and in front of readers. The same sentiment it seems, now extends to 21st century indie publishing.
According to Ellen Lupton (Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book, 2008):
The [current] publishing world is being transformed by new social attitudes about making and sharing content.”
Despite now being a traditionally published author (or a hybrid author; both traditionally and self-published), McCabe still identifies with the benefits of indie publishing.
No one can stop you,” he says, “and it’s not going to cost you the earth, whereas once upon a time – it would have”.
He also says that maintaining creative control throughout the entire process is similarly rewarding “You can actually choose to build this beautiful product exactly the way you want it.” Recent research from Digital Book World shows that the number one benefit authors love about indie publishing is the element of creative control. Cover design, price, interior formatting and more are all left at the discretion of the author, whereas traditional publishing offers no such flexibility and control.
What does all this mean? Will traditional publishers like the big five be forced off the scene? Will the next few decades be the era of the indie author? McCabe’s approach is refreshing and down to earth: “I see self-publishing (although it’s almost never done by yourself if it’s done well) as just a smaller version of mainstream publishing… To me they’re all part of the same landscape – I don’t see an us and them, or a binary.”
McCabe may be onto something here. The news and current events of publishers have consistently (and narrowly) focused on this supposed binary between self-publishers and traditional publishers, which is very much portrayed in a negative light. Sadly, no one is celebrating what the digital age and the call of indie publishing has actually meant for us: more books, more easily accessible books, more people reading these books, and reading in general, as well as special niche titles being brought out into the world when in another lifetime, they may never have seen the light of day. These options provide authors who have lucked out with time and place, another avenue for publication and discovery.
The digital world will continue to expand, and as they always have, economies will continue to fluctuate and fall under strain. With these changes comes the growth and adaptation of the publishing industry, in both the traditional and independent arenas. Both will continue to publish brilliant, and not-so-brilliant books, as has always been the case. In a sense, all we can control is how we portray these developments, and the opportunities we give to the books created (and their authors).
Writer's Edit would like to thank Bruce McCabe for taking the time to speak with us.
If you'd like to know more about his debut novel Skinjob, click here.
The full interview transcript is available here.