Dr Alison Baverstock is author The Naked Author: a complete guide to self-publishing (Bloomsbury). A former publisher, she jointly founded MA Publishing at Kingston University. A long-time commentator on the publishing industry, her academic research into self-publishing over the past five years has both challenged much traditional thinking, and given heart to many writers. She is currently celebrating the addition of a self-publishing module in The Kingston MA publishing course.
You have organised many events on how to get published and how to maintain motivation and creativity in your writing. What would be the one key tip you would share with any potential authors?
My one tip would be to concentrate on the writing, and to make it as good as you can be before deciding to share more widely. Writers can feel such an urge to get feedback; to find out what others think of their ideas – but it’s vital to remember that you can only make a first impression once and if you share too soon you risk both damaging your writing reputation and your self-esteem. Writing is best thought of a process of rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting) and no one gets it right first time. So delay pressing ‘publish’ until you are ready to be judged by what you write.
Thinking wider, I do rather worry about some of the advice being offered writers at the moment. There’s no point in learning how to write the perfect pitch letter if your work is not yet ready to be shared. Write, rewrite, put your work in a drawer/file and return to it – and then think about how best to make it available.
What do you think are the most common mistakes indie writers make when going down the non-traditional route? Do you think a company like whitefox can help them avoid those mistakes?
Well frankly I think the ‘non-traditional route’ is fast becoming ‘traditional’. I see self- or independent-publishing as part of publishing now. The processes by which traditional publishers find work in which they want to invest, and authors make choices about how they want to be published, are changing all the time – with both former ‘sides’ now routinely cross-pollinating. Independent authors are using their experience to make informed decisions about how they want to meet their market; publishers valuing the metrics gained through self-publishing to guide their decision making. And organisations such as whitefox, that can help both parties achieve their goals, are often helping the process.
What is the most effective way a self-published author can market their book?
It’s the same way as any traditional publisher tries to work: make a pitch to a relevant market and communicate, quickly, the value of what is on offer – but without doing this so effectively that the consumer is left with no reason to buy.
You might also find a copy of How to Market Books useful – just out in a fifth edition! My publishers have agreed to make this available to Whitefox clients at a discount of 20%. You can order from the Routledge website and gain the discount by inserting the code SRK92 at checkout. You also get free postage and packing within the UK.
How important would you say are the roles of freelancers for authors who are self-publishing nowadays?
I think the publishing services market is increasingly important, for publishers and self-publishers, investors and authors – and it’s expanding significantly at the moment. The information management and presentational skills of the publisher are needed in any sector where it’s important to present content effectively – and the breadth of fields in which our MA Publishing students now work is fascinating. Publishing is a very transferrable skillset!
If you were to identify some new skills and specialisms that writers and publishers were likely to value in the future, what would they be?
This is an interesting question, and one that is going to become increasingly relevant as more people make work available. The market is getting ever more crowded – and writers and publishers need to think about how to make their content stand out.
In some senses nothing has changed. Writers who want to share their work need to provide material that other people want to read. It’s hard to lay down rules about what excites us – because often we don’t know what interests us until we see it. Many of publishing’s surprising bestsellers have been surprises to everyone – for example, who would have imagined that a book about punctuation (Eats, Shoots and Leaves) would so catch the public imagination?
But writers who decide to take responsibility for managing and producing their own material (which is my definition for self-publishing) need resilience, determination and an awareness of what they can and cannot do themselves. At our most recent Kingston conference (‘Is everyone now a publisher?’ March 2015), I had an interesting conversation reported to me. Someone had expressed the view that you were only self-publishing if you managed every stage of the process yourself. I think self-publishing is rather taking responsibility for the stages, and the increasing availability of firms offering to support the journey, whether to manage all stages for you or put you in touch with freelancers who can help, is a great benefit to writers.