Indie Publishing —The Entropy Is All Yours

You wince reading your own work in print, or sometimes you are happily remote to it. Either way you created it and there’s something right about having the autonomy to take control of your content if you trust yourself to be your own foil and if you don't? Then welcome to publishing.

You wince reading your own work in print, or sometimes you are happily remote to it. Either way you created it and there’s something right about having the autonomy to take control of your content if you trust yourself to be your own foil and if you don’t? Then welcome to publishing.

Happy to be announcing official kick-off of self-publishing experiment Project Gnaw. First observation: Organising a publication solo is tumbleweed territory. There’s no noise, meetings, procedures, discussions, fanfare or pondering over author imagination, like, how proactive will this author be online? What ideas do they have around repurposing? What territories have they or their agent agreed rights for? So as author, publisher, editor and producer the entropy is all mine. As is the conversation, which goes something like…

‘Jen, get the print version off the shelf there, give it a re-read for errors and repurposing.’

‘Sure Jen, what’s Jen’s deadline?’

‘Today Jen, today.’

‘Okay Jen, let Jen confer with Jen — Jen, can Jen do the work on this today?’

‘Jen, Jen is the author today, therefore not advisable that Jen does the edit, Jen?’



‘What would Jen do if Jen was not Jen?’

‘But Jen is Jen is Jen and Jen…’

And so it goes. Actually, I feel like one of my own creations from an earlier post. Circular, self-referential, internal. This is way to insular for my liking. No wonder there’s a load of bad self-published work out there. Without a foil how do you accurately curate the bats inner monologue when it comes to publishing your own work? So the first decision is not difficult. Open the door; expose the work to industry peers. Makes sense. What’s a publisher for if not to stress-test the work itself? The worst thing I could do to myself is to bypass some key processes.

The dusty shelf of repurposing, where all e-book legacy projects start. 'Gnaw' lies dormant in good company inside 'Southword Vol 5'.

The dusty shelf of repurposing, where all e-book legacy projects start. ‘Gnaw’ lies dormant but in good company inside ‘Southword Vol 5’.

As David Marcus, Pat Cotter and the Munster Literature Centre have already vetted this work I like to think the literary part is sound. But the repurposing of a legacy title is never just a facsimile. It needs updating, it needs to be made suitable for a global audience if possible, or reworked. So with the publisher hat on, and bearing in mind self-publishing is a bit of a cottage industry, I’m asking some people I respect to give me their take on this piece of work via their proven skills. Over the next few posts I’ll be showcasing some extraordinary people, not just in publishing but in the design world and other industries and giving reasons why I have chosen them to be the best foils to prevent my Indie pub house from becoming a vanity pub house. First up: Screenwriter/writer Ferdia MacAnna.

Several years ago, aware that as a literary writer with a focus on words I may have blind spots when it comes to plot, turning point, dialogue, character arcs and other important  basics of storytelling. To brush up on this I attended one of MacAnna’s screenwriting courses, advisable for anyone writing anything ‘story’ based to my mind. Exposure to a wider landscape and having the scrutiny of one who is a dealer in ‘story’ means an all-rounder mind, ideal reader for this project. I want my story to appeal to the person who reads all sorts, not just literary fiction. Plus his rate is reasonable. I asked him to flag the tropes, or the missing tropes from a plot POV, flag what sticks out as ambiguous, faulty dialogue or non-visual writing. Not to say that these things are not deliberate devices too in lit fiction. I’ll stand by that if I’m deliberately doing something there, but to take the work out of the vacuum and get it through a more commercial eye, well this is necessary stress test no 1. So my task today is to balance Ferdia’s comments with my own appraisal, update the text in Word format and get the document in better shape to pass on to the next person on the chosen team of craftsmen and women, none other than…to be continued next post!

Obstacle or Opportunity?

Three interests converge in one place. Having many interests and little time is not an obstacle but an opportunity.

Many interests and little time, an obstacle or an opportunity?

In 2003 I published my first short story Gnaw in a literary journal called Southword. The story was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin competition by the late David Marcus. It was a big deal at the time and still is. I never met David Marcus but I hope he’s drinking fine wines in heaven. Today the story sits in on my shelf, dust gathering. The story is what I’d call in work a ‘legacy title’ or what the industry calls ‘backlist.’

One of my tasks in my day job is to make ebooks out of a ‘backlist’. I adore this work. It’s the closest I get to campaign on behalf of the author, an out-of-print author sometimes, while at the same time make-good the digi-archive I’ve worked meticulously on for years (in a previous life I was an archaeologist which explains my love for preservation). It also gives me fuel to re-imagine an author’s content in a digital context. This may also mean re-purposing their content to suit how Generation X/Y, Millennials and upcoming ‘Digital Natives’ expect to engage with content.

So to recap, in my job I get to extend an author’s shelf-life, potentially make sales for them where sales would never happen, in territories previously inaccessible and in ways that a 2k-plus print run with a finite life-span could never do. All this without the horror of returns, pulping and the inevitable ‘OP’ = Out of Print.

A recent study showed how the Indie/self-published authors were holding their own against the ‘Big Five’ publishers when it came to non-fiction category in ebooks (ref to follow). We already know how powerful the self-pubs can be in fiction in this area. They campaign rigorously, they don’t have a hundred different authors on their list, and they are genuinely part of their product’s sales ‘DNA’, they ARE the business. The Indie publisher too with a smaller list and possibly being a ‘one-man-band’ has less diversity and more incentive to sharpen digital tools. In short, self-pubs and digi Indies are possibly more focused and opportunistic than med-bigger publishers when it comes to digital because they have no choice not to be.

From a production/editorial POV, my particular bread and butter, the indie/self pub crowd are enviably more innovative, self-empowered and by now have a better handle on technology. They understand serialisation of titles, agile publishing, smaller bite-sized content that can be consumed by people who read on device. In digital marketing too, they may have the edge because digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with data analysis; something traditional print publishers are new to. When you look at a svelte publishing model like Orchard Wall Publishing you realise that the hands-on for an ebook publisher is very different to that of a hybrid/print publisher who ends up unwittingly and through no fault of their own in a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ situation. The question for med-large publishers is not only how to sell books online as a discipline in its own right using intelligent metadata and data analysis, but also how to harness, or simulate, the ‘neurotic power of the individual’ (term supplied by author and metadata specialist Ian Flitcroft).

Going back to the ‘killing three wild boars with one stone’ dilemma in my last post I asked myself: How can I as a person working in a medium-sized publisher harness the neurotic power of the individual on behalf of that publisher, on behalf of the authors, on behalf of myself who walks a fine-line between author, producer and publisher? There are only so many hours in the day. Plus I need to write my own book and study at the same time to keep up with the changes in the industry.

It occurred to me that that fine-line was not an obstacle but an opportunity. What if I was to do my own digi indie/self-pub ‘start-up’ beginning with the story Gnaw I mentioned above? The content is peer read, copyright owned by myself. It’s a cheap, time-efficient way to test the waters. What if I ran it through the KDP process, or…took the other model for a different learning curve ie published outside the Amazon ecosystem? If I could do this I could be asking the questions I have as a producer, publisher, editor AND writer and getting more answers.

Can it be done? I think so. Three wild boars with one stone? Yes. Time? Well, put it this way, some colleagues spend a good part of the weekend on the golf course. I don’t do golf. I do THIS, and the bonus is I can do this at odd social hours so I still get to hangout with my family on a Saturday. And that is a bonus that can’t be valued in currency.