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The sweet rewards of self-publishing

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Captain Honey: Roz Hopkins and Natalie Winter. Photo contributed
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Innovative self-publishing company Captain Honey are partnering with Byron Writer’s Festival to provide a venue at this year’s event exclusively for self-published authors.

The marquee will be an opportunity for self-published authors to showcase and sell their books, share their experiences and insights into the process with the public, and meet other self-published authors. Ahead of their Information night at the Byron Writer’s centre on Wednesday, Roz Hopkins of Captain Honey answered a few questions about the project and how authors can get involved.

Why did you set up Captain Honey?

Our original vision was to bring the standards of traditional publishing – which we knew from our experience – to the self-publishing world. We saw a great opportunity to lift the bar in terms of quality and commercial success, and we wanted to help independent authors achieve that.

Has the growth in online downloads made self-publishing more viable and accessible?

It’s made digital publishing (ebooks mainly, but also apps and PDFs) more viable and accessible, but digital is just one option for self-publishers.

Do you see a future in paper publication, especially for people who self-publish?

Definitely, the trend over the past year or two points to a resurgence in sales of print books, and a slight decline in ebooks. We absolutely believe in it as an ongoing medium for book publishing. Many of our authors have done much better in print than with an ebook. The format in which a book is published – ebook, print, print-on-demand – should be dictated by the audience and the marketing plan. Often our authors will publish in all three formats at once for different reasons and with different objectives in mind.

Can you self-publish and still be successful? 

Depends on how you define success, of course. If you mean make money, then I think that’s hard. Not impossible, but generally not the best goal to have starting out. I want authors to cover costs and then everything else is upside. But first I want to know what peoples’ motivations are to self-publish. Nobody ever says to me that it’s money. Perhaps they don’t want to admit it. Or maybe it’s just well-enough-known that most authors lurk around the poverty line. I find that our authors have varied motivations for publishing: to tell their story, to build their business, to cement their brand or identity, to make a contribution to society, to scratch a creative itch, to launch a new career, because they can, etc.

Are self-published authors making their way into literary mainstream? Does self-publishing have literary credibility?

I don’t think there is a lot of evidence of self-published authors making their way into the literary mainstream. I think fiction (commercial and literary) is really hard to do as a self-publisher. Genre fiction (such as romance, science fiction or crime, which have a readership dedicated as much to the type of book as the individual author) is a different thing entirely and self-publishers nail it, much more than the traditional publishers do. The big publishers still have the best success in launching a commercial or literary fiction author into the world for many reasons, not least because of the dependence on traditional bookshops to support them. Also because the infrastructure of awards, mentorships and other support to authors is tightly linked with the traditional publishers.

What services do you offer people who self-publish?

I see self-publishing as a continuum. At the beginning, planning: what format is best for your book, who is your audience, how are you going to reach them, how much will it cost? Then there is the fun, creative part: making the book. That’s editorial, design, production and printing or uploading onto online platforms. Last but not least there is sales, marketing, promotion and distribution. We offer advice and support at every point along that continuum. We can create a book from manuscript to finished copy, or just do a cover, a manuscript assessment or build a marketing plan.

How do people who self-publish tackle the massive job of marketing and distribution?

You’re right, it is a massive job. I tell people that making the book is the easy part. I think it’s a mix of traditional marketing – who is the audience, how are you going to reach them and in what ways – and using the online marketing tools that are now available. Many self-publishers are really switched on about this, because they run a business, or other enterprise, relating to their book, and they employ these tools day-to-day. Others don’t have a clue or just aren’t interested in that part of the process. If that’s the case, there are plenty of freelance marketers and publicists who can help. Thinking in innovative ways about funding is a good idea too. Crowdfunding is an amazing way to force yourself into marketing up front and minimise your risk. My best advice is to find out what is going to work best for your book and do that. Every book is different and you just can’t do everything, so do a few things well. A good example is choosing to sell direct to a handful or specialist bookstores rather than employing a national distributor who will take over 65 per cent of your retail price, for example.

What are five things you’d tell a budding author who is keen to self-publish?

  1. Educate yourself – there are many options for how to approach self-publishing. You’ll save time, money and general angst if you pick the right one early on.
  2. Focus on what you are good at – if marketing or publicity isn’t your thing, get someone else to do it.
  3. Make a fantastic book – work with an editor and a cover designer who are book publishing experts.
  4. Create a sales and marketing plan from the outset – and implement it.
  5. Be resilient – nobody cares about your book as much as you do, but you need to really, really, really care.

Tell me about your involvement with the Byron Writers Festival? What is the info session about?

We are sponsoring the Self-Publishing Marquee, which is a really exciting initiative for us. We are thrilled that the BWF is the first mainstream literary festival in Australia to give space to this important and growing part of the publishing industry. We all share the goal of encouraging excellence in self-publishing, and this gives us the opportunity to showcase that excellence, sell their books directly to their reader and through the festival book shop, Mary Ryan’s, and give them an opportunity to connect with their readers.

At the info session, we will discuss how authors can apply to appear in the Self-Publishing Marquee, and outline the many options available to potential authors to self-publish. We’ll overview the publishing process and hopefully provide support and encouragement to any would-be author out there who needs a bit of help to get started on their publishing journey.

For those interested in finding our more about the Self-Published Marquee and how to apply, Byron Writers Festival is hosting an information night on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 at 5.30-7pm. Roz Hopkins of Captain Honey will be there to provide guidance on what’s required to create a high quality book as well as advise on printing processes, e-publishing, and the art of selling, promoting and marketing your book.

If you are thinking about self-publishing, already have a self-published book, or would like to produce a print or e-book, don’t miss this evening.

R.S.V.P. [email protected]

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