Alex Mullarky on the secrets of self-publication 


Once upon a time there was a term called ‘self-publishing’ which was often mistaken for ‘vanity publishing’. The difference? Vanity publishers (almost nonexistent now) wanted you to pay them to publish your book. Self-publishers did it all off their own backs, formatting and printing and organising. Nowadays, vanity publishing has nothing but bad press, and quite rightly. Self-publishing has its share of that bad press too: when someone has produced a book entirely on their own, there is no guarantee of quality. But people who make that assumption are cutting themselves off from a vast, rapidly-growing literary world.

Of course, a lot of people simply aren’t aware of their options. The trouble with self-publishing is that authors don’t get a fully-funded, highly-trained marketing team on their side; they have only themselves, and writers are notoriously quiet people. But thanks to the web it is getting easier. Social media like blogs and Twitter are letting indie authors build themselves platforms online so that they already have an audience, small perhaps but significant, when they release their books.

The internet has done the same thing for musicians (Justin Bieber has YouTube to thank, and there is no denying his success) and filmmakers (Cosmo Jarvis, for example, who has even been featured in the Guardian). Photographers can now have online portfolios on websites like Flickr. The world of self-publishing seems far quieter in comparison; but then that is the nature of books. Print-on-demand sites like Lulu and ebook sites like Smashwords aren’t widely known, but there are over 700,000 books published on Lulu and an incredible three billion on Smashwords. There are so many more potential bookshelf-fillers than are stocked by generic shops like Waterstone’s, and so few of them are known to us.

For some self-publishing has acted as a platform into the mainstream. G.P. Taylor’s Shadowmancer was initially self-published before Faber and Faber took it on, and now he runs his own self-publishing company. The prolific Holly Lisle recently did the reverse, taking control of her entire (vast) back catalogue and publishing it herself since her various publishers could not afford to keep her works in print. Self-publishing is definitely best for one thing, and that is creative control from cover to cover. What you are seeing is often far more like what the author initially had in mind, uncensored by a commercially-focused publisher. It is just that little bit purer, although there may be a couple more spelling mistakes than you would find in a traditionally-published book.

Films like Napoleon Dynamite are known as ‘indie’ and musicians are often labeled with it too. So why shouldn’t authors share it as well? After all, ‘indie’ is only short for ‘independent’, and self-publishing is certainly that. I think it is time we updated the old-fashioned terminology. There is a whole world of indie books beyond the shelves of your local (chain) bookshop, if you are only willing to look.


 Alex Mullarky

Image credit – Shutterhacks