Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Quick and Dirty Guide to Self Publishing

With news of award winning author John Edgar Wideman using Lulu to self publish his latest collection of short stories, many in the industry will be watching with interest to see how well he does. Vanity publishing, self publishing, print-on-demand publishing: call it what you will, it's here and it's not going to go away. I've looked into the process in various forms over the last few years and it has taught me a few invaluable lessons: what you should and what you shouldn't use it to publish, being the two most important. For new writers, self publishing a novel or short story anthology will probably be a waste of time and words, but there are ways to make it pay, if you take the right approach.

At the top of the self publishing game are and Amazon's; both allow the writer to publish their work with ISBN numbers, in either hardcopy or e-book formats, as well as offering distribution via Amazon. These sites offer the individual an ability to write, format, publish, print and distribute their work, giving them complete control of the whole process. Of course, the practicalities of this god-like power are much more mundane; the level of competence needed to write, format and publish a book is beyond the capabilities of most mortals (even if they believe it isn't), and even established publishers have difficulty selling books in the current climate. But perhaps this is where it may be worth stepping away from the standard view of publishing. The truly dire wannabe-publishing that these sites encourage occludes the potential that they can offer. Niche markets exist that mainstream publishers traditionally avoid; the associated sales volumes are just too small. But such niches often have dedicated followers who will happily pay higher fees for almost anything that is written about their area of interest. Sales may even be helped by the small scale of the niche because it's members frequently communicate through online forms, clubs, and newsletters, and word-of-mouth sells better than any advert. Hobbies, local history, genealogy, role-playing games, re-enactment, animal breeders, alternative life styles, fan-stories for specific sci-fi, horror and fantasy genres, or even specific computer games or worlds are fertile places to investigate. The following were pulled from the list of top selling titles on, note the prices:

The Boeing 737 Technical Guide, price: £68.82 –pretty self explanatory
The Ultimate Tattoo BIBLE, price: £56.39 –a book about tattoos and tattooing
Memories of the Future, price: £12.66 –a serious Star Trek fan book
The Havanese, price: £30.49 –A book about a breed of fluffy dog

Writing for such niches does require specialised knowledge and formatting the book may take a lot of time, but as a simple example: if only ten thousand people keep Burmese cats, and you make £10 on each copy of your book on the subject, you only need to sell to ten percent of that niche, a thousand copies, to make the proposition worthwhile. If they can be made aware of a book's existence and if it is reasonably well put together, there are ready audiences out there who will be happy to spend the money.

Trying to compete with publishers in mainstream fields and genres is still most likely doomed to failure. Whilst established authors, tired of poor publishing deals, may yet succeed in successfully selling their own work through these avenues, self publishing can be made to work for the first time writer if they are disciplined enough to do the job well and work hard to sell the book once it is published. Identifying the market is key.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Could Animation be Incompatible with Writing?

When I set out to learn the craft of writing, it was with the warm and fuzzy notion that my animation and the writing would be complementary pursuits. I could spend my morning slaving over a hot computer animating away, then while away the afternoons with a pen and pad churning out my next novel. But it is in the nature of a creative fantasist to give a rosy colour to such plans without any serious thought to the murky realities.

Having just spent over two months on a short promotional film I've now had my bubble of delusions well and truly popped. Rather than catch up on the odd bit of writing in the evenings, I found myself unable to write a word, I simply felt drained and my faculties to write withered. This longer production has shown me that my reasoning and creative energies need to be directed to the one task, leaving little room for anything else. I have begun to wonder if the same should not be true of the reverse; if I am going to write a novel, shouldn't all my energies be given over to that? I'm aware that there are plenty of people who work at another job whilst quietly writing a book in their spare time. But I wonder if those jobs use the same parts of the mind as writing. If it doesn't, it could well be an advantage, giving the person time to muse over their writing when they are not doing it, or allowing their subconscious mind to process some problem when their thoughts are directed elsewhere. But in my case, it feels like I'm using the same parts of my brain for both animation and writing, and to split my time between two tasks slows me down and leaves me feeling tired and concerned that the quality of my work is suffering. Additionally there are my little rewards. I'm a very simple person to please really; my rewards are simply to be able to finish what I'm working on, or at least achieve some milestone and finish a section of the project I'm working on. When this happens, I get a little endorphin rush and feel good, this in turn encourages me to get on with the next thing. But if I split my time between two projects I end up spending half my time on each, it takes me twice as long to finish and consequently my little work fixes are not so frequent (unless everything is carefully staggered, and sadly life just doesn't work that conveniently). So I start to lose focus, then interest, I slow down and (worse still) start to procrastinate.

When it comes down to it, two months of no weekends or evenings is the limit for any task, whether animation or writing. So for the next few months at least, I intend to focus solely on my writing. Perhaps after that I will need a break and go back to some more animation work. Indeed maybe this should be the way I work in future, oscillating slowly between one and the other, switching before it becomes dull and always keeping the edge, whether it is with the moving image or the written word.