This blog is subtitled a writer’s journey, and this year – my first year of blogging – I have made it my business to find out as much as possible about self-publishing. Not content with sticking my book on Amazon and getting on with the next one (there are many who say I should do exactly that!), I like to poke my nose all around the industry, ask questions, listen to the answers, and keep my eye on the bigger picture.

OK, enough with the clichés! Here are my thoughts on the state of self-publishing in the UK at the moment – or more specifically the categories of authors involved. These categories are to be taken very lightly, with a heavy bung of salt, and are not presented so much chronologically as philosophically. As always, your comments and engagement is very much welcomed 🙂

Shade 1 – RED

The first wave of self-publishers

These are the trail blazers, the guys who were sticking their necks out long before the rest of us plucked up the courage to join in. I met one such author at the weekend, Jon Beattiey. Jon has been self-publishing since 2007, using the services of the excellent Matador but doing everything else – marketing, promotions, distribution to bookshops – himself. (I’ll be doing a feature on Jon this coming Sunday – he’s an amazing guy.) Shade 1s were out there before ebooks, before Kindle and KDP, they were doing it the hard way while everyone else sneered and called it vanity publishing. I owe a lot to these guys – they wrote the articles I learned from, they documented their mistakes and successes on brilliant blogs, and they paved the way for the second wave …

Shade 2 – PURPLE

The second wave of self-publishers

Even as a relative latecomer, I count myself in this category. 2nd wavers are the newer breed of what I call ‘pure indie’ (only published this way), and many, but not all, are more hands-on with the book production aspects of publishing, keeping initial costs down and being more focussed than ever before on profit. It’s not just a question of outlay – if I’d had enough cash to spare would I have used a self-publishing company like Matador? Probably not, because although they produce amazing books the unit costs are higher, and a new 2nd waver is still untried, unsure of the market, and not willing to risk £££thousands. Shade 2s tend to keep their costs low and their business heads firmly in place, and even those using self-publishing companies are more aware of the market from the outset. Most, if not all, current Shade 2s have tried to find an agent/publisher the traditional way before taking the plunge. This is changing however (see final thoughts at the end).

Shade 3 – BLUE

The third wave of self-publishers

Shade 3s are indie authors with a traditional publishing pedigree who are here amongst the ranks by choice. Many experienced difficulties with their existing publishers – like Linda Gillard, for example, whose Kindle bestseller House of Silence (now also in paperback) was thought to be ‘difficult to market’ by her publisher (!) – or were creatively frustrated, or simply saw a better way to earn royalties by going it alone. Remember, this is not a chronological history. Many 3rd wavers came before the 2nds. But what distinguishes them is the background of traditional publishing and a firm foundation of readers.

Shade 4 – Brown

The fourth wave of self-publishers

Stepping boldly out into the new world are the 4th wavers. These are the self-published authors (usually from the 2nd wave) who are beginning to see opportunities to reach new readers by working in partnership with traditional publishers. Coming full circle, these are successful authors, confident and in command of their careers, who are happy to ‘use’ the services of a publishing house for some of their books. But – and this is key – not all their books. 4th wavers maintain control of their backlist and take each deal on its merits. They may negotiate to keep the digital rights, or at the very least bargain hard for their reversion. They may publish some books in a particular genre with one publisher, some with another, and still self-publish alongside. 4th wavers are in a position to use publishers the way 1st, 2nd and 3rd wavers use cover designers and editors – as a company offering a service. They pay with a percentage of their royalties, but the key difference is that the author has decided and worked out the terms of this deal. This, I believe, is the way publishing will go in the future.

So, I know what you’re thinking: Who is left to be categorised as the 5th Shade? Who have I missed out?

Shade 5 – Green

The fifth wave of self-publishing

It remains a sad but inevitable fact that some (not all) traditionally published authors look down their noses at all 4 shades of self-publishing authors. Here is a little story to illustrate: In the early days of social networking I was friendly with a successful author. I attended a workshop with her and we exchanged a few emails over the years. When I published Can’t Live Without back in May, I contacted her via Twitter to let her know the good news. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me, but she did (which was lovely). She responded by asking who I was published by. Eagerly, and naively, I tweeted back that I had self-published.

Can you see the tumbleweed blowing past? There was no response. Ever. I imagined her turning up her nose and removing me from her consciousness. Maybe I’m doing her a disservice – maybe she suddenly went on holiday, or was simply too busy to respond again. Maybe.

Anyway, enough digressing. Who are the 5th wavers? They are all the authors who will, in the coming months and years, be dropped by their publishers. They will turn to self-publishing, a little late to the party, feeling slightly ashamed of the snide comments they might have made, the nearly subconscious dismissal of indie authors they met at events or online. As publishing becomes more competitive, as the ‘big six’ close ranks and focus more and more on the money names, the mid-listers will be pushed out. They have readers, they have pedigree, so the indie world will welcome them with open arms. Those who have been either ambivalent or supportive of the new waves of self-publishing can become honorary 3rd wavers. Those who haven’t … Well, it’s green all the way for you, I’m afraid.

Final thoughts

As I said, take my categories lightly. I do. But as 2012 draws to a close, it’s interesting to see where self-publishing is right now. My vision for the future, for anyone who’s interested, is that the slush pile will disappear. Remember the scene in The Matrix where Neo is trying to bend the spoon and he is told: “There is no spoon”? I’d like to say to all aspiring authors: There is no slush pile. There are instead options. Indie, self-publishing, partner publishing, ebooks, KDP, Smashwords distribution, organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors sourcing foreign rights agents for members – there are new models being carved out all the time, and there are no barriers to reaching readers. Find your own way. And if you are sitting up high right now, looking down, don’t forget to look behind you from time to time. Can you see a big green wave coming? Time to put on your water wings 🙂