Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is it worth it?

I had a long email from my friend Tracy Saunders earlier in the week, who lives in Spain. She is currently going through the process of publishing her own book, on Christian martyr Priscillian with I-Universe, (A US based print on demand provider who recently merged with Authorhouse). Like many other authors, she is going through the phase of what's it all about, and have I done the right thing, will it be worth it all. I remember it well, as it is something I and a thousand other POD (and no doubt commercially published) authors go through almost every day of their writing lives. I have said it before, that you don't have to be mad to do this, but it certainly helps. I lost my marbles a long time ago, and they are currently rolling about on the floor of the Lightning Source printing plant in Milton Keynes ...

Tracy makes the point though that how are we to ever get over the POD stigma so that we can compete on not just an even footing, but be taken seriously as authors. It is a tough one to answer, as it depends not just on the quality of your writing (which is very much a subjective thing anyway), but also on being seen in the right place at the right time by the right people. This is difficult enough for commercially published authors let alone POD ones. It also though and perhaps more crucially, depends on the opinions of others. The problem is that people still remember the bad old days of vanity publishing, where the books were badly written and poorly produced, but times have changed. A lot of people though have not moved on from those times. This is where we have to work that much harder at changing perceptions.

Where though do you begin? The book buying public do not care how the book they are reading was published, only that is it interesting and affordable. The problem then lies not with the book buying public but with the book trade itself. Hard working POD authors and some of the recent success stories have helped, but most of all what the POD author needs to be do in order to be taken seriously on any level, is to write a damned good book, and get out there and promote it in as professional a way as possible. This is not easy when you are also trying to manage a house and a business, as Tracy is, or in my case when you have no other source of income and everyone keeps demanding free copies before they will make a buying decision.

It is true that the vanity stigma is much more of an issue for American writers, and attitudes here in the UK do seem to be changing fast. Personally I have found the supply chain to be by far the biggest problem, as have the few of you that have voted in the poll on my other blog site. It is not so bad here because we have chain stores in the form of Waterstones, Borders and WH Smiths. Waterstones are easy to get into, Borders and Smiths less so. Spain though has none of these chains, and Tracy's book is not in Spanish, the native language, but written in English.

Spain she tells me, has just ten Bookworld Espana shops (she plans to break out her shortest skirt to visit the main buyer), with very few independents. Fortunes are not made on this. They are not though made on the 300 odd copies I have sold either (not when they are sold at 55 percent discount anyway).

She goes on to ask me the question as to whether it has been worth it all. This again depends on your point of view and why you are doing it. A lot of the things that I am doing now I should have been doing when my book first came out, but neither I nor the book was ready for such exposure. I thought I knew the publishing industry and how it worked, but I didn't, I was just playing at it. I did very well considering, with the limited resources that I had, as well as most other POD authors anyway, but not that many are seriously prepared (or have the time) to do anywhere near the amount of work that I am now doing.

To go back to Tracy's question though - is it worth it all? Of course it is. Writers write not because they want to, but because they have to - it a compulsion that we have inside us that can no more be ignored than the impulse to breath. It is who we are, and what makes us tick, what makes us leap out of bed in the morning, what makes us shout at our partners to scribble down the ideas that always come when we are in the shower. It is the reason we are alive. For the truly serious writer, life and writing are the same thing and you simply cannot conceive of one without the other. It is the reason we are here to share that gift.

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