London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – October

You would have to be living on Mars not to have noticed the self-publishing phenomenon that dominates so much of the industry now – and, rather appropriately, the new Matt Damon film The Martian, is a good example.  As with so many films, this began life as a novel, but how many people know that it was originally a self-published novel?

The author, Andy Weir, first began posting his story in serial form, free, on his website in 2009.  The response was so positive that he was persuaded to produce an Amazon Kindle version which he sold at 99 cents.  This quickly rose to the top of the Amazon chart, which led to a US publishing deal, further international publishing deals and, eventually, to the release of this month’s movie version.  If any writer quietly sitting at home, writing and hoping, ever needed encouragement, then such stories provide just that – and fire warning shots across the boughs of traditional publishers everywhere.

Self-published author Kerry Wilkinson, creator of the Jessica Daniel/Andrew Hunter crime novels among others, had some stern words for traditional publishers himself recently – even though he is now published by Pan Macmillan.  He said that traditional publishers did not communicate with authors enough and that it was Amazon that was “the main innovator in the book space”.  He talked about the control that you have when you are self-published, and how much you have to relinquish when you sign a deal with a conventional publisher.  “People do have a go at Amazon, but I love Amazon because of the way it innovates.  If it’s not hardware, in terms of an actual Kindle, it’s the back end of things like the KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing] system, like the ACX audio system and so on.  And there will be something new next year because there is always something new next year.”

But he conceded that he could not fault Pan Macmillan “for getting physical editions into the hands of new readers”, adding: “That would never have happened if I had continued self-publishing”.  Essentially, the industry seems to have arrived at a point where each channel has its uses: you can self-publish to gain an audience which might lead to a conventional deal; or, even if you are conventionally published, you can choose to self-publish particular titles, or ‘shorts’, that don’t fit the requirements of a traditional publisher.

All such matters will be discussed at the Bookseller magazine’s inaugural Author Day on 30 November where speakers will include agents Sheila Crowley, Andrew Lownie and Piers Blofeld, the Society of Authors’ Nicola Solomon and writers Kamila Shamsie and Harry Bingham.  The Bookseller’s Chief Executive and Publisher Nigel Roby said: “We aim to dissolve the gap between traditional and self-publishing and focus instead on how the respective strengths of both ‘sides’ can be identified and shared.”

There has been much discussion – again – on the balance between print and digital.  The general consensus is that ebook sales have levelled out. Figures from research body Nielsen Bookscan show sales of print books for the first 36 weeks of 2015 up by 4.6% (worth £739.5m) compared to the same period in 2014, the first time the print market has seen year-on-year growth at this stage of the calendar year since 2007.  Ron Johns, a bookseller who owns four shops in the West Country, said: “The e-book threat is evaporating before us.  The print book seems virtually indispensable at this present time and booksellers have a fantastic opportunity to seize the moment.”

Waterstones’ MD James Daunt praised publishers for “upping their game” in production values and believes “e-reading is finding its natural place”.  Whether the chain will formally pull out of its deal with Amazon to sell Kindles remains to be seen – certainly, much of the space taken by the devices when the deal was first signed back in 2012 is now given over to books (or, in the run-up to Christmas, non-book gift items).

Let’s finish where we began, with another science fiction self-published success story.  In 2012, Becky Chambers set out to raise £2,500 on Kickstarter to self-publish her debut novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  The novel was shortlisted for the Kitschies Prize for Speculative Fiction and was spotted by Hodder which is now set to publish it as a paperback original in December.

Of course, there are plenty of self-published novels that do not lead to traditional publishing deals, but such experiences demonstrate the possibilities of this route and give hope to writers everywhere – whatever planet they might be living on.

Latest entries:

London Wall Publishing’s Project Manager, Fiona Marsh, with US actor, Trey Gerrald, at the 18th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards held during BookExpo America in New York receiving the Gold Award for Romance Fiction for The Echoes of Love by Hannah Fielding. 

Launched in 1996 and conducted each year to honor the year's best independently published books, the "IPPY" Awards recognize merit in a broad range of subjects and reward authors and publishers who "take chances and break new ground." Independent publishers, along with independent booksellers, have long held an important role in the world of books, offering an alternative to "the big five" conglomerated media publishers.