Do we need publishers?

Self-publishing puts the author in the driving seat – so we were told at a very upbeat recent meeting of fellow writers.

It’s true too. We writers no longer have to wait for a publisher to consider our books for publication, or meet their deadlines, or write what they think the public wants rather than what we would really like to write.

But publishers have always done a lot more than simply accept (or reject) books for publication. They’ve also traditionally done all the marketing and publicity (up to a point anyway), besides all the preparation of the manuscript, commissioning the jacket design and the turning of it into a readable book.

A self-publishing author has to do all that herself – and more. I’m aiming to get nearly all my back titles up there as ebooks. I had one new book (‘A Scent of Roses’), which was loosely linked to two earlier books, one of which was the only one of my backlist to be in a digital form – ie in a file on my laptop. The rest of my titles (more than 20 of them) only existed then as hardbacks and paperbacks on our shelves at home. Some of them had been on old-fashioned floppy discs, but years ago I had a clear-out. ‘I’ve got them all in book form – I don’t need these,’ I thought, as I broke up the floppy discs and threw them out. I know I’m not the only writer to have done that. Nor the only one to be bitterly regretting it now that ebooks have suddenly become the big thing.

Because if you haven’t got a computer file of your book the only way to get it into the right format is to scan the print book, slowly, steadily, page by page, using a system that converts each one to an editable file. I can do it myself, with a function of my printer – and I did, with ‘First Parish‘ and ‘Family Business’. As a fellow-writer observed: ‘It’s about as much fun as watching paint dry.’ She was lucky though – her husband does it for her. Now that really is devotion! Because even when you’ve scanned the whole book, you then have to go through and correct all the oddities that have popped up in your scanned copy, and convert the text to a readable format.

There are firms that will do it for you – for a fee. I thought I’d give it a try for one very long book, of which I had a tatty old copy which I didn’t mind being taken to bits, that being the most efficient way to prepare a book for scanning. The scanning was successful, and much easier than doing it myself, but it was expensive and I can’t afford to do that again until I’ve sold a few thousand Kindle books. That day hasn’t come yet…

For in spite of having read a great many ‘How to…’ books and articles about becoming a millionaire by means of ebooks, I haven’t yet worked out how to lure readers to my books in any great numbers.

I have learned a great deal in the process of getting my ebooks out there, more than I ever thought I would, which is very satisfying for someone past the age of the bus pass. But it all takes a lot of hard work and a huge amount of time.

And the real, fundamental problem is that it leaves very little time for what writers most want to do: write. All those unfinished novels of mine are sitting there in their digital files, awaiting attention. Often they niggle at my mind, offering plot and character developments; sometimes an entirely new idea for a book pops up, so I make a note of it, while I wonder if it’s the last I’ll ever see of it. And then it’s back to the slog of converting the back list.

What I really need is a pet publisher who’ll do all that boring stuff for me, so I can get on and write… Or a very devoted husband with time on his hands?

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