I admit to trepidation. All these covid stats are off-putting. But I needed a change of scene, a break, and a shot in the arm writing-wise. So I set off on Friday afternoon heading for Cambridge and Saturday’s Independent Christian Writers Conference at Ridley Hall. I’d taken advice and booked myself into next-door Newnham College for two nights and was delighted when my sat nav delivered me to the porters’ lodge! (Admittedly it had chosen to bring me right across Cambridge which required quite a bit of prayer and some white-knuckled steering-wheel gripping first!)
I love Cambridge. I love the beautiful colleges and manicured lawns, the meandering river, the whole lovely atmosphere of the place. And I was not disappointed with Newnham. I was staying in the new Dorothy Garrod wing
with wonderful views across the college grounds, and access to the old buildings for meals.
And Ridley Hall was literally a few minutes’ walk away. Another stately collection of old redbrick buildings and inside, books and more books on the shelves of the rooms where the conference was held, and on the book stall. (And of course I came home with some new books!)
What I’d hoped for was an overview of publishing opportunities for Christian writers these days. The world of publishing has changed so much over the past ten years or so with the rise of self-publishing and indie/hybrid publishing (where the author invests financially in their book – either as an up-front fee for the editorial work etc to produce the book or to buy an agreed number of finished copies at an agreed price).
And so it appears that nowadays it is vanishingly rare to be published by a traditional publisher paying an advance and royalties and taking all the financial risk. Hybrid publishing seems to be the way for most authors who don’t want the hassle – or haven’t the time or expertise required for self-publishing. But there is a surprising number of brave and competent folk out there undertaking the whole process themselves – and they appear to be able to learn on the job, as it were. I am impressed – and awed. It seems like such a lot of work – with so much that can go wrong, producing an expensive and embarrassing end-product.
Or is that simply the jaundiced eye of an ex-trad publisher who was blessed with teams of highly qualified and experienced production and editorial staff, cover designers, proof-readers, and of course sales teams backed by roomfuls of sales and marketing experts! Those were the days…
I can see pros and cons in the new ways. Without the bottlenecks of the time-consuming and heart-depressing submission process, new work can appear much more quickly and writers can be much freer and more prolific. They don’t have to churn out what their publisher – or their sales team – says will sell. But they have to take most if not all of the risk themselves – though one of the blessings of print-on-demand is that you don’t need to climb over boxes and boxes of unsold books to get to bed at night. The other downside is lack of quality control. As a result of early self-publishing having been – shall we say kindly – a bit amateur, self-publishing is still fighting its way out of the woods of prejudice. But here the self-publisher can contribute to raising both standards and the reputation of the self-published book for everyone else. But it does take effort, and the expenditure of a bit more money.
Shiny white paper, narrow margins, a line of space between paragraphs – and all the errors that reveal no copy-editor worth their salt had a chance to go over the book are instant give-aways. I bought a self-published book recently and found twenty glaring errors in the first eight pages. After thirty pages, I was losing the will to live! Every book needs a good copy-editor who knows the difference between its and it’s, your and you’re, and where to put a comma. (And if they’ve never heard of Judith Butcher, it’s time to run for the hills.) Cover design is another area that benefits from professional input. We may love our granddaughter’s drawings and if the book is for family distribution only, may be perfect for the purpose. But if we want to compete with the professionals, we’ll need to up our game.
And that I think is the crux of the matter. How seriously are we taking our work? Do we want our books to sit comfortably beside trad-published books in the bookshops? Because if we do, they have to look as smart – both inside and out – as their competitors. And even it’s only a bit of a hobby, or a small contribution for charitable fundraising, there is true satisfaction in producing something we can be proud of.