Monday, August 04, 2008

Self-published success

In The Times, Jasper Rees meets authors who've made a success of self-publishing.
Is self-published prose quite as stigmatised as it used to be? The old assumptions that attach themselves to books written, designed, printed and sold by one and the same person are ruthlessly one-tracked: nobody else wanted it; there must be something wrong with it; it’s that lower-caste untouchable, a vanity project. Increasingly, however, it seems that self-published novels can create elbow room for themselves in a market dominated by Tesco, Amazon, the three-for-two table and Richard & Judy.

[Chalres] Boyle’s 24 for 3 has just won the 2008 McKitterick prize, awarded to first-time novelists over the age of 40, and is being brought out in a more ostentatiously jacketed hardback by Bloomsbury. And Sade Adeniran’s Imagine This, a self-published novel about an Anglo-Nigerian girl uprooted from London to the old country, recently won the best-first-book category for the Africa region of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. “I did the usual thing that most writers do when they first start out — sent it to agents and publishers,” Adeniran says. “I didn’t get the greatest response, but the response from friends and acquaintances was really positive, so I decided to do something about it.”
We'll be covering four Guild members' experiences of self-publishing in the next issue of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, out later this month.


  1. I'm still looking for a self-published book which is good enough to sustain my interest right to the end. And which didn't turn its writer into a salesman, and which didn't end up with the writer losing money on the deal.

    I know. I've not looked in the right places, or read the right books. But I've tried, really.

  2. Never read Mark Twain or Thomas Hardy - both well known self-publishers? Also The Commitments was originally self published before going on to become a feature film, and John Grisham self published his first novel.

  3. Pete, you're somewhat misinformed if you really think that those people all self-published in the way that we self-publish today.

    Mark Twain did self-publish, but nearly bankrupted himself in the process: and times, and the publishing industry, are much different now. Business models from Twain's and Hardy's days are hardly appropriate for the 21st century, and they're poor examples to use.

    John Grisham did NOT self-publish his first novel: this myth survives on the internet despite many attempts to refute it. His first novel was published by Wynwood, I think, which is an independent publisher.

    As for The Commitments, I've seen Doyle's name used as an example of self-publishing success, and also seen it stated many times that he didn't self-publish. I've not researched it myself, so I can't be sure. However, a quick look at Amazon gives the earliest edition of the book coming from William Heinemann, in February 1988. That's not a self-published imprint, it's a major publisher. I'd be interested if this were true, though, so if you can give me details of the self-published edition I'd be grateful (meanwhile I'll contact his editor and try to find out what Doyle says about it).

    If you want to read a little more about some of these self-publishing myths, here are a couple of links to blogs which tell the real story: and there are many more out there.

  4. Sorry, I posted that before I'd finished. I am not the world's most technically-minded person, and blogging is new to me.

    What I intended to add, but didn't, was that despite all this misinformation on the internet about who has self-published, and who hasn't, the only really successful self-publishers that I've read are authors who have self-published then had their books picked up by big publishers, who have taken them onto real success. What I'd like to see is a few examples of good books which were self-published, and remain so.

    The ones that I've read so far are full of errors, poorly structured, and often just plain bad. What I'm hoping to do is to find good self-published books which aren't in need of a ruthless edit or a thorough spell-check, and which can realistically compete with commercially-published titles.

    Hope that's clear.


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