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Has Self-publishing Made the Industry a Bit… Sterile?

Six year-old me dreamed of seeing my name shining on hardbacks in the window of Waterstone’s as the latest bestselling debut author. Twenty-seven year old me has altered the dream slightly to a single webpage with the all-important average customer rating hovering between 4 and 5. It’s less enchanting, but more practical.

I came across the phrase ‘authorpreneurial’ recently, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of authors taking full control of the process, sourcing their own editor and cover artists and beta readers. It makes the process so much more than just writing then handing it to some publisher who may or may not massacre it in the name of profit margins (if it gets there in the first place).

On the other hand, it has bred a new strain of writers and authors who are successful, but… there’s something missing: the person.

The writers and authors that make me feel uneasy about the whole thing are the aggressive marketers. Sometimes they sneak into my Twitter feed and, on discovery, are swiftly unfollowed. Their whole persona is geared around sales and advertising, spamming links to their ebook constantly with no original or funny or thought-provoking content.

I understand the need to promote your book. But if that’s all you do, you come across as one or more of several things: 1) selfish, 2) money-obsessed, 3) almost robotic, or, the worst, 4) insincere. It puts me off buying your book because I don’t believe you enjoyed writing it or that want to integrate with the online writing community. It makes me believe that you write to sell.

Obviously, I self-promote. I schedule a few tweets a week (never more than two a day, and usually only one) to keep old posts coming up on my Twitter timeline so they don’t get lost. Until I publish, posts are all I have, and of course after I publish I’ll be promoting my book a little. But I try to keep my social media a varied mix of self-promotion and my own inane ramblings that, even if they’re boring or not to everyone’s taste, are, at least, genuine.

As well, there are blog posts that give me the same crawling feeling as self-help books do. They’re usually the ones that have ‘you’ in the post title. Why your blog is putting readers off, and how you can change it. Or, X things/quotes/whatever that will change your writing for the better. Or, the worst ones, XX things you are doing wrong as a writer.

They all follow the same principles as negging: they put you down, then promise to build you up again, if only you’re willing to put the effort in. Which means, read my blog post and it will benefit you more than it benefits me.

Like hell it will.

Self-publishing, like most things, is a double-edged sword. It gives everyone an equal footing and gives the world a wider variety of literature - which can only be a good thing. The downside is that it turns some people into a one-man publishing house, sucking all their personality in favour of blog stats, royalty figures, and clickbait headlines.

There are plenty of authors whose personality comes through on social media - J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Louise O’Neill, and Matt Haig are some of my favourites because they are unrestrainedly themselves. They’re also all hugely successful and don’t necessarily need to self-promote - but consider that I don’t particularly like Harry Potter and have only read the first four books, yet J. K.’s social media is one I always enjoy reading.

The author is a significant part of the product that people are buying, which I think can get lost in the desire to be out there and noticed. There’s a lot to be said for being human.

Follow Phoebe Quinn on Twitter: @_phoebe_quinn

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