Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Monday 10 February 2014

Self-Publishing part ii

I’m not a fan of self-publishing and I told you all why I’m not a fan when I wrote Self-Publishing part i. 

It has its up side of course, because it keeps a certain amount of crap off agents’ slushpiles, leaving more room for them to look at what’s left, or at least I hope it does. On the other hand, I happen to know that some agents and publishers are actually using the self-published sections of Amazon and other sellers as slushpiles, so, as they say, go figure!

I am, broadly speaking, a fan of education. I’ve exhorted you all to get one, more than once. I’m particularly in favour of writers being educated, since I honestly believe that the best stories come out of the most interesting minds, and I also genuinely believe that the most interesting minds belong to the best informed, most well-read people. It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

UCLAN's banner promoting its MA in self-publishing
For our sins, the World has now made available to us all a post-graduate degree in self-publishing. Well, not so much the World as UCLAN, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. The course blurb begins:

Having produced commercial success stories, such as 50 Shades of Grey, self-publishing is now a highly successful and respected business model for both new and established authors.

OK, so anyone who invokes one of the most badly written books I’ve ever read as any sort of example of, well, anything is on a hiding to nothing from the outset. When an academic institution does it, I’m frankly appalled. UCLAN was ranked 92 of 124 (and falling) in the university league tables in 2014, and I doubt whether the introduction of this new MA in self-publishing is going to do anything to help that situation.

Clearly, the university wants the course to succeed, however. The first course requirement is an undergraduate degree or equivalent experience; so far so normal. However, the second course requirement is a writing sample. The people running this course are going to choose the best writers to take part. Surely this flies in the face of the whole point of self-publishing, which is that anyone can see his book in print. The people running this course are, in effect, fulfilling the role of the agent.

Why, then, would anyone in her right mind spend the £5000 on tuition fees that this one year full-time course costs and lose a year’s income to do it when she could simply send her book out to agents and, potentially, gain representation and have her book published professionally?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

How long would it take to make back the cost of taking the MA in terms of self-published books? The average earnings for full-time paid work in the UK are £26,500. If we add the cost of the MA that brings us up to £31,500. According to the Guardian, the average earnings of a self-published author last year were £6375 and half of all self-published authors earned less than £250.

It’s worth remembering at this point that the average is skewed massively by the success stories and that a great deal of the rest is earned by professionally published authors who self-publish their out of print novels. Leaving that on one side and assuming that our MA graduates earn the average, it would still take them 4 years and 11 months to earn back the cost of taking a year out of work and paying for the degree.

As I mentioned before, if writing samples are being taken into account, and only the best candidates are chosen, these are the very same people who stand the best chance of being published in the real world.

I’ve been critical of creative writing degrees,  most notably in my blogs Creative Writing Courses - should you or shouldn't you? and The debate on Creative Writing courses continues to rage... but if I wanted to be truly scathing about the direction further education is taking I think I’d save the best of my rage for the MA in self-publishing. I think it’s cynical and wasteful of peoples’ time and money. I do hope UCLAN doesn’t start a trend for other degrees of this type in other universities.

If you want to self-publish go ahead and do it. There are any number of self-publishing tools on the web with their own help menus. When I put self-publishing into Google I got 165 million results. I can’t help thinking you’ll probably be able to find everything you need right there, and most of it for free.

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