Representing Indie Authors at the 2015 London Book Fair

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This isn’t my first book conference, but I’m definitely an outsider here.

The London Book Fair is the first book fair I’ve been to that’s firmly for publishing professionals. As a concession to the self-publishing authors who have won themselves a piece of the publishing pie, the London Book Fair has provided a whole corner for indie authors to share their success and help other indie authors.

But not only are we by far the minority (maybe 25 of us out of 5,000 visitors), but we are also the enemy. I already had this in mind when I picked the title for my future book, Guerrilla Publishing: How to Win the Publishing War but I feel it more keenly now.

The vast majority of The London Book fair consists of publishers, agents, author representatives, publishing platforms, booksellers and a small portion of service providers (small businesses). All these people make money from the content that authors produce, and usually focus on huge margins – they get as many authors as they can and earn as much as they can from each author.

If they’re good at business, they make loads of money, which means they can scale up, advertise, attend book fairs, attract new authors and continue making money. For obvious reasons, they aren’t going around telling authors to self-publish (except in the case of KDP or Createspace, who of course are doing exactly that – hence supporting the indie author corner so bestselling indie authors can share success stories).

We’re all publishing books. We’re all in the same business.

But while everyone else here is taking author’s creative content and using it to make an income, we indie authors are supporting ourselves by not giving our rights or work away to publishers, doing everything ourselves, taking control over our own marketing platforms, and urging other authors to do the same.

And the really interesting thing is, while everyone else is trying to figure out how to market their books, how to reach readers, how to use social media and content marketing, the indie authors I’m hanging out with already know how to do all that stuff – which is mainly the reason they’ve been so successful.

I’ve been walking around listening to other talks, and while some are interesting, a few insightful, I also hear some really, really basic stuff. It’s crazy to me that most publishers, presses and book professionals don’t know how to do simple things like link Twitter and Facebook together to auto-post content, or run targeted Facebook ads… and yet most authors still prefer to get a traditional publishing deal and give their work over for someone else to manage, because they don’t want to learn any of this themselves.

I’m not saying that the publishing industry exploits authors.

Many publishers and small presses and services help authors publish books better than they could do themselves. Many of them love books, and authors, and are probably amazing people I would really get along with.

At the same time, indie authors hungry to publish their books are paying upfront fees for publishing help, and since some of the major publishers have recently begun acquiring vanity presses, it’s getting more difficult and more confusing for authors to make smart publishing choices… and that’s why self-publishing authors and bloggers like myself, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Simon Whistler, Mel Sherrat, CJ Lyons and so many others work so hard to educate authors – but in many cases we are “educating” them away from the publishing houses.

For us, why take 12% of profits when you can have 70%? Why give up control when you can empower yourself?

It’s hard work, it takes years of effort, and there is a lot to learn. Many of these things we recommend don’t work at first, or authors try them once and say “that didn’t work”; or they refuse to try our tips at all (like giving away free books) because that goes against their principles. For authors who aren’t prepared or willing to do the work, build a platform, communicate with their readers and present their books professionally, finding an agent or publisher is a smart move (well, maybe it’s just the easy move…). If you want to publish a book and aren’t concerned about making money, traditional publishing is definitely easier.

If you want to write as a career and control your income, I would argue that self-publishing is the smarter choice – at least in the beginning. For successful indie authors who are already doing well, partnering with a publisher for wider distribution can be very smart. But for the majority of first time indie authors with zero platform, it probably isn’t (though, of course, it can be.)

My main concern with traditional publishing is that it’s slow: You’ll spend a year or two waiting, and assuming your publisher is going to do everything for you, so you won’t worry about your website, or email list, or taking any control. But if they screw it up or don’t help with that stuff, two years later you have a book but no platform (or knowledge, which is even more valuable).

Self-publishing is a struggle that forces you to learn how to be a successful indie author. But once you learn those tools and build your platform, you have a constantly growing vehicle that makes publishing success easier to achieve with every book you launch.

Indie authors and publishers have conflicting motivations and goals. The more authors self-publish instead of seeking traditional publishing deals, the less money publishers will make: although actually, all that’s happened so far is that authors self-publish and publishers jump in and buy their rights as soon as they start selling, which is better business for nearly everybody.

The mistake many authors make is trying to be a ‘hybrid author’ because they tried self-publishing and failed, and now they want help. But you don’t need any help to test your book out and give it a powerful launch for very little money, even with zero platform. If you do that right and sales are still dead, you probably have a book that doesn’t appeal enough to a wide audience, which generally means you should write another book that does appeal to more people. If you do a successful launch and don’t sell, an agent or publisher isn’t going to do it any better.

If you haven’t done a successful launch yet and your book hasn’t been really tested, don’t sign away your rights before doing the easy stuff you can do to see whether it has a market.

I’m learning a lot at the London Book Fair and will post a wrap-up of publishing and marketing tips that indie authors can use in a few days, for those that couldn’t attend, so stay tuned for that.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Couldn’t agree more! Looking forward to hearing more about the fair 🙂

  • Pingback: Episode 55 – Indies-Only, U.K. Earnings, and the Audio Revolution | Sell More Books Show()

  • Thanks for sharing an inside view for those of who didn’t attend. I agree that we’re in the same business, but I sometimes wonder if we’re in the exact same industry. To fall back on the trusty old Venn diagram, it seems like our two sets might intersect at product and customer, but otherwise the models are different, and our interests diverge.

    For instance, I’ve read time and again that indies should use ISBNs so that “the industry” is able to enjoy a comprehensive picture of what’s selling where. But I think that benefits them more than us, and until we’re charged less for the privilege, I have a hard time agreeing.

    We both have an interest in making sure that people keep reading and that we’re eventually paid for what we create, whatever form of delivery (ebook, print, audio) that takes. But do indies benefit from publishers’ survival? And do publishers benefit from ours?

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