Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 18 March 2013

Self-Publishing part: the Something

I wrote about my failures last week. Although, to be fair, I’d much rather think of them as near misses than failures.

I prefer to think of being runner-up to the Mslexia prize... I prefer to think fondly of the publisher who said I’d get great reviews and win prizes for anything I wrote even if I only ever sold a few hundred copies of whatever it was. I prefer to think of the magic of creativity. I prefer to think of the truth with a proper capital ‘T’. I prefer to think of my integrity being intact.

And, let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, that we’re only talking about, I don’t know, maybe a quarter of my output, because I do write, anonymously, commercially, ghostly, collaboratively and otherwise, and I earn a living doing it. When we talk about the near misses, we’re talking about the stuff I write for myself. We’re talking about the stuff that, creatively, I don’t really want to compromise too far... we’re talking about the projects that come out of left field, that no one would commission, that fit no one’s IP, that have no home except in the darker recesses of my consciousness.

Anyway. There were two things I really wasn’t looking for when I wrote the four blogs I wrote last week about the four books that I’ve written in the past three years that I haven’t sold. Those two things are called Pity and Advice, and, frankly, I got more than I could cope with of both.

I refuse to feel sorry for myself. I live the life of Reilly... literally! Walk a day in my shoes and, other than the things you can’t change (like being Me, for instance), I defy you not to want to do a swap... at the very least temporarily. You might want, eventually, to take a holiday, and you might get a little tired of weekends being devoted to anything but... oh, I don’t know... BlueWater or Oxford Street, or Pizza Express or Pinot Grigio, or the Odeon or the pub or nightclub, or whatever your leisure activity of choice might be, but, on the whole, I live the life of Reilly, and I bloody well know it.

I also consider myself very lucky to be able to spend three months of the working year doing my own thing, taking time out of paid employment to chase down my dreams and to write speculative projects that just might not (or in my case almost definitely won’t) ever sell. You don’t get much luckier than that. Lots and lots of selling authors shift plenty of books, but still hold down jobs that require they work for The Man for between 20 and 35 hours a week. Not me... Never me.

So... First: Pity. 

Pity me not. End of.

Second: Advice.

This was odd, because most of the advice I received was about self-publishing.

I have made my feelings on self-publishing clear... abundantly clear. I do not like it, and I will not do it. I think it requires a great number of people with a wide variety of skills to produce a properly good book. I can’t, and don’t want to, do it alone. That’s been my contention from the beginning and that will remain my contention. Add to that the argument that, first, agents and, then, publishers are best placed to know what readers will buy, what they want, and why, and whether any book is actually any good in the first instance, and my point is made. A writer, who is, for the most part, an arrogant, self-important, egotistical bastard doesn’t best know the value (or lack there-of) of his own output. 

Don’t think I don’t know that I just used three words about writers that all mean the same thing; I know that I did, but I also know that you cannot under-estimate the high esteem in which most writers hold their work; they cannot help it. If a writer did not hold his work in high esteem he’d never be able to make it at all. He is not to be blamed; he is to be pitied... not for other things, obviously, but for this.

Right... Where was I?

Ah yes: Advice.

I was advised by a vast number of people who read my blogs about failing to get my last four independent books published that I should consider self-publishing those books. I was advised to self-publish by people who already know my views on self-publishing, and know them well.

This made me think that I hadn’t really got my point across, that however firmly I believed in my arguments against self-publishing, I wasn’t actually convincing anyone else. 

Let’s face it, if you can’t convince anyone else of your arguments you might just as well give up arguing your position... and far be it from me... In short, I decided I’d have to find another argument. Honestly, it wasn’t difficult.

I quickly realised that I could come at the self-publishing thing from another angle, and this is it:

If you self-publish you are treating yourself like an amateur and giving your work the sort of amateur status that it wouldn’t deserve if you properly believed in it.

Given what I’ve already said about the high esteem we writers hold our work in, I can’t imagine a single one of us wanting to short-change that work. That’s what we’re doing if we self-publish. If we’re not prepared to throw our hats into the ring and take our chances with the big boys then we don’t honestly believe our work is any good, and if we don’t believe it’s any good we might as well pack it in and get on with pencil-pushing, or selling paperclips, or doing whatever it is we do thirty-five hours a week to meet our mortgage payments and other financial and domestic obligations.

I see it everywhere.

I embarked on a Fine Art degree some years ago, and I loved it, and I still paint and draw, and stretch my wings, but I am not an artist. I wonder if all the people I went to art school with, who compete to sell their stuff on Saatchi-online are really artists either? I wonder if Flickr accounts and personal websites count for much? I wonder how much real business they do? I wonder how many of them are playing at being artists instead of lugging their portfolios around the respected galleries, the real-life spaces, those white-walled rooms where real art is hung to be looked at, examined, scrutinised, and, heaven-help-us... Bought! Yes, making art can be an expensive business and framing it costs something, and curating a show properly is an art in itself, and, of course, the gallery has to take a cut, of, what? 40% That’s what being an artist is about, though? Isn’t it? That’s what being recognised is about, isn’t it? That’s what being talked about and reviewed is about, isn’t it? That’s what playing with the big boys feels like! If you don’t take the opportunity to taste that...

I feel sorry for you, is all I’m saying.

I see it a lot in comics, too. I see people with talent, who simply find it easier to make their own comics. They have the resources. They can, literally, make the comics themselves, and produce them digitally, and build a website with a buddy, and maybe buy a lettering font, and sell the thing on-line, globally.

Small business in the twenty-first century is not what it used to be. A hundred years ago, a small business, maybe a baker, sold his product, an ordinary loaf, to his locals, because they needed it. A specialist small business sold his wares to the same number of people spread over a wider area because not enough local people had the money to buy something special, but the people who had enough money would travel a distance to spend their money on something out of the ordinary. In this new, global market, something mediocre, amateurish, ordinary can attract enough buyers, globally, simply because it is niche. It doesn’t have to be good, it only has to be specific.

The comic book artist and writer with the courage and the talent and the... excuse me... balls, will still approach Marvel and DC, because he still wants to play in the World’s biggest and best sandboxes. He still wants to write the real SuperMan or Iron Man. He doesn’t want to fudge some shadowy version. Where’s the fun in that? That’s the guy whose work I want to read, whose art I want to drool over. Everyone else is an amateur, or doesn’t have what it takes to succeed, and, as harsh as it sounds, it’s pretty hard to care for long about THAT guy.

So, when it comes to the novel, I’m THAT woman. I don’t care that other people have earned publishing contracts by selling shed-loads of books by self-publishing them. If I’m good enough... and of course I’m God-damned good enough... If I’m good enough, my novels will find publishers, and they’ll find editors and proofreaders and jacket designers, and marketers and salesmen, and all the in-between people who keep the wheels of that behemoth that is the traditional publishing machine turning.

I’m one of the big hitters, and, if I’m not, right now, I plan to be one day. Call it ego, call it arrogance, call it conceit; if you like, point out that I used three words that all mean the same thing, but don’t think that I’m going to self-publish, because unless things change, and pretty dramatically, it’s not an option I’m going to pursue any time soon.

Thanks for thinking of me, though. Pity’s fine for those who like to wallow in a bit of pathos, but advice... Advice is always worth, at the very least, taking under advisement.


  1. Both good arguments. I especially agree with the burden of doing all the parts that are not writing; I have always had issues with self-promotion so might well struggle to get a book into the sight of customers even if I did have a big budget and plenty of time.

    As a counterpoint, self-publishing gives those writers whose inner critic is very loud a chance to build a mental bastion. While publishers and agents do pick based on what they think will sell, they do not pick everything that will sell; there is a chance that a book will be rejected not because it does not meet the criteria but because it was received after the agent picked their new authors for the year. While you could keep pitching for many months, self-publishing a book and seeing that it gets good reviews could be the difference between keeping going for a traditional contract on the next book and stopping.

  2. Great blog, Nik.

    This isn't meant to be a slight on those who do self-publish but I won't read self-published works. It's pretty easy for anyone to publish anything these days so I trust publishers to sort through the noise. I'm sure there is value for people who do it, but in many cases the audience they're going to reach will be limited.

    I'm not saying the publishers are always right of course. Occasionally there will be a gem that slips through the net, but many more won't. There's always a chance that a good self-published book may get noticed and picked up by a publisher but I'm guessing the frequency of that is infinitesimally small.

    For me the publishers provide my quality gate and I'm more than comfortable with this.

    1. Amen to that, Pete, and I can't help thinking that lots of readers feel the same way.

      Thank you.