In my world, self-publishing still gets a bad rap, despite the constant refrain that it is the new marketplace of publishing. Its dodgy reputation is often deserved however, and booksellers especially, dread the approach from an author peddling a badly written and produced book who also has completely unrealistic sales expectations.
It’s not accurate however, to tar all self-publishing with this brush, as many fine books get published by their authors, and clearly it is becoming a far more significant part of New Zealand publishing, as the traditional options for getting books into the hands of readers continues to shrink.
I was reminded of this recently when I caught up with Greg Hopkinson, who self-published his memoir Boundless last year, and which we distributed through the New Zealand book trade. It was a very satisfying and enjoyable process – not only is it a hugely engaging and insightful book, and Greg a highly motivated and savvy author, but we were able to add a lot of value to the publishing process by getting a deserving book into the shops.
The sales expectations for Boundless were always realistic – it was most likely only ever going to reach a niche audience, and so it has been. But Greg is very happy with how it has gone, not just for the people who have been touched by the book, but also by the doors that have opened. As is so often the case with first-time authors, they are struck by the gravitas and weight that books have in our culture. Books are still taken seriously.
Last week I also talked with historian Jock Philips. We are currently having a great run with his book Brothers in Arms. This is the First World War story of his partner Susan Harper’s grandfather, and his brother. He wrote it for her family, expecting to produce a short run of 150 copies for the family, but was encouraged to produce a larger run, especially as there is currently an exhibition based around some of the artefacts featured in the book at Te Papa. There are going to be many people are who are glad he did.
If there is a common factor between both these books, it is that the authors have used skilled people to help them produce the books. In Greg’s case he used Mary Egan Publishing, who provide one of New Zealand’s best publishing services, while Jock used seasoned Wellington publishing consultant Geoff Norman, who has been behind a string of fine books over the years.
There has never been a correlation between high book sales and quality. Self-publishing, if done properly, offers a legitimate and important way of getting books published, books that contribute enormously to the diversity of publishing in New Zealand.
And I also choose not to forget that our publishing house effectively started by self-publishing. Craig Potton, dismayed at the treatment he was getting from a big publishing house (his photo upside down on the cover of a book he had spent the better part of two years photographing and writing) decided to do it himself. Thirty years on we’re still doing it ourselves, albeit for other people now!