The field of independent publication is a hugely experimental one.
Published authors used to depend on a small number of established publishing houses in order to achieve their status and in order to stand any chance of reaching a readership. To ‘pass muster’ meant a) attracting a sub-editor’s attention from an enormous pile of submitted work and b) making it through a hierarchical minefield of other editors and decision-makers (including accountants) until the book finally rolled off the press. It’s hard to imagine how many writers failed to make it through this gauntlet — the works of fiction and non-fiction which fell by the wayside and disappeared into obscurity must number in the tens of millions over the last couple of centuries.
This all changed with the arrival of the internet, home computers and self-publishing tools over 15 years ago. It became possible for writers to reach readers without many intermediaries: work could be placed on the world wide web, edited or not, and contacted directly by just about anyone on the planet, in theory. For many years, the hype was that anyone could become a best-selling author — and a handful of self-published writers became just that.
But for the vast majority, the reality slowly dawned that just publishing something wasn’t enough to guarantee sales. The abyss of disappointment yawned wide.
What might not be understood about this is that it was always thus: even when ‘traditionally published’, over 95% of authors failed to acquire enough sales for them to reach viability. All the great publishing houses — just like all the Hollywood studios — depended (and still depend) for their survival on the one or two ‘blockbuster successes’ which, for whatever reason, struck a chord with a large enough reading public for enough money to flow back to the source. The rest — all those books with all their hope of viability — were and are accepted as ‘collateral losses’ by the publishers.
The self-publishing boom of the last decade or so has seen the same pattern magnified in new ways: millions of books have been poured out into the marketplace — less than 5% have achieved commercial viability.
So what is the answer for the struggling, independent writer who wants to get noticed?
The short answer is that there is no ‘one’ answer — different books get noticed for different reasons by different people at different times -- or not. My own forthcoming book, Crack Your Marketing, will tackle one angle on this; Steve Carr’s recent book, The Book of Books, takes another approach.
Carr’s book — which includes a piece on my own book How Stories Really Work — is billed as ‘A catalog of 129 books and novels of almost every genre written by some of the best emerging writers on the worldwide writing scene today. All available on amazon.com.' Its premise is that getting names and titles out there in an eclectic directory of new authors is one way of making sure that new writing and new writers are ‘seeding the environment’. If you take a look inside, you can see that the books included appear at random and are colourfully and effectively presented — it is, as it states, a catalogue, to be looked through and to showcase all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. There are some real gems inside - I published many of them.
The trick will be, as the trick is with all attempts to market anything, who will do the looking. I’m hoping that each of the 129 authors involved will take the experiment further by finding new ways to place this catalogue in front of different sets of eyes. One of my contributions is this article; I’ll think of other ways of contributing, no doubt, over time.
What this book needs for success is the open-minded reader, the browser looking for something different, the active shopper who doesn’t yet quite know what he or she is looking for. As I see it, there are two great venues where readers of this kind gather looking for new and exciting things to read: one is obviously the internet, and among the sites there would be the most well-known book sites like Amazon and Goodreads; the other is public libraries. If The Book of Books can get into the right corners of both places, it stands a chance of opening doors for at least some of its included authors.
I will be watching and assisting where possible.