“More and more authors,” says Mirella Patzer, “are choosing the self-publishing route.” In fact, I turned first to Mirella when compiling this post because she’s a historical fiction author whose work I love – but who chose self-publishing over traditional methods. Yet, when the topic came up amongst my online critique group, opinions on both sides were strong. Why then, would historical fiction authors choose to self-publish, and what are the advantages for readers of the genre?
It’s easy to dismiss those who self publish as vanity authors, but in fact they follow in some august footsteps. Authors who began, or continued, by self-publishing include Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, James Joyce Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood and John Grisham. And you may not know that the queen of American style guides, The Elements of Style, was first self-published! Yes, people self-publish badly written books, but who among us has not at one time or another read a book published by one of the big publishers that left us wondering how on earth it got into print?
And talking of big publishers, it’s no secret among writers that most changes in publishing houses have not been to the advantage of the author. Tasks from editing to publicity can now be put on the author’s back. The decline of the copy editor in particular has been very noticeable to me. Ten years ago, it was rare to find a typo in a book; now, I see them with an alarming frequency. Independent author Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes an in-depth and somewhat alarming look at the wider subject in her blog The Business Rusch.
True, historical fiction is doing pretty well in a time when readers are choosing genres that take them away from reminders of the present economic decline. However, historical fiction authors can themselves be the victims of the present day: agents and editors, afraid to take risks, can push for more formulaic writing; publishers drop established mid list authors in favour of pursuing the next big thing; publishing companies fold overnight. Almost every author I know, including myself, has either personally suffered one of these setbacks or known others who have. Little wonder then, that many follow the heroes and heroines of their own books in taking control of the situation.
Why should we automatically turn up our noses at self-published historical fiction? The author has chosen to go into business for herself. If she were making and selling clothes, we wouldn’t dismiss her because she wasn’t working for a fashion house – we’d see if we liked her product. Perhaps we need to ask why books have this snob value.
The new force in self-publishing is, of course, the ebook. Now that e-readers aren’t just for the likes of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, authors can take advantage of the low overheads and get their work out to readers at competitive prices. However, this isn’t true when it comes to self-publishing the traditional way, where the cost of a softback is almost as much as a hardback, a difficult hurdle for an author who is trying to build up a readership.
Even established authors have been choosing to take control of their back lists, using the flexibility of ebooks to self-publish out of print titles. An example would be historical fiction author Kathy Lynn Emerson, who has partnered with other professional authors on the site A Writer’s Work to offer both previously published and original work in ebook format at extremely low prices.
To sum up the advantages of self-publishing: authors get control of their work, the opportunity to build up an audience with lower overheads, and the chance to continue to profit from their back lists. Readers get a wider choice and cheaper books. So, how do we get the two together? In the second part of this post, I’ll review some of the ways readers can sift through the chaff and find quality self-published historical fiction.