To publish or self-publish

The choice you make may come down to your psychology. You may feel the need to be in print the day before yesterday. Why might that be? You may be young and used to things happening quickly, or old and persuaded that there may not be so many tomorrows you can afford to pick wildflowers along the way and lie on the river bank under a tree with grass in your ear.

In either case, you might succumb to negative thoughts. You might try to get an agent and ply your wares from one to the next. After two years you will have succeeded or given up. But even if you have succeeded your agent, after another two years, may not have been able to place your work with a publisher.  And now four years have gone and you cannot get them back. So this option is not for you. You have just ruled out traditional publishing. At this point you could give up and be happy instead, you could self-publish or you could become a publisher.


Self-publication is not without its pitfalls, especially if your eye is caught by the promises of a vanity press. But once you have done it, then you must market your work, which will entail – whether you like it or not – marketing yourself. Not everyone is good at this and it requires intelligently directed effort. You will hope to be selling online to a potentially world-wide audience – though it is as well to bear in mind that several other people will be doing exactly the same.

But what if you want to see your title in bookshops. (Does your book really exist if it’s only visible online?) In fact, you can self-publish and sell your book in bookstores. It is possible, but only on a limited scale. You approach your local bookstore with a copy of Archangel of Fire (#1 in the Sword of Destiny series), tell them what you would like to do and they will either say yes or no. If they say ‘yes’ you will agree terms, provide the store with copies and hand them an invoice reflecting those terms. Should they find stocks running low they will ask you for more copies and will certainly look more favourably upon Forged in Fear (#2 in the Sword of Destiny series).

I have done this myself (minus archangels and swords).

Bookshop 2

With chains the situation is little different. In my experience, the manager of each store has the discretion to take your book or not. If you live in a city with five branches of Better Books, you cannot approach head office and do a deal covering all five, you will need to approach each store individually. So getting your book into stores is a time-consuming business, and that is just to speak of the area in which you live. Shall we now move on to the nation as a whole? I don’t think so, somehow. Are you really going to spend the next two years trudging from one town to the next with a suitcase full of books? If you want potential country-wide coverage you have to be published rather than self-published and one way to achieve that is to set yourself up as a publisher.

Becoming a publisher

To achieve this you pay for ISBN numbers (unless you live in Iceland, where they will be free) and set to work preparing your first book, publishing it to critical acclaim, and having the great joy of seeing it in bookstores.

In theory, at least. But how is it in practice? (Remember, we decided to become a publisher to achieve this end.) A member of the public walks in to Bargain  Books looking for your title. (She knew of it from your website). To her disappointment it isn’t in stock, she can’t believe it but, never fear, because it has been published by a genuine publisher it is registered with Nielsen Bookdata, carried by a wholesale distributor such as Gardner’s, and so shows up on the store’s computer where it can easily be ordered.

So, yes, becoming a publisher can be done, though it isn’t advisable without first figuring out the angles. If you haven’t been involved in publishing before there is a lot to learn. With each title you have to deal with the interior text (by no means as easy as it sounds to make this error free) and the cover. And times being as they are you will wish to convert your physical book into one or more e-book formats. You will also have to keep accounts and, if you aren’t in the system already, be obliged to submit annual tax returns.

If you succeed in all that, you have done well. But if your main interest is writing you may find that you have no time left to do it and even less energy. And whether you self-publish or turn yourself into a publisher (I was thinking of becoming the Hart Head) you will still have to handle marketing whether you like it or not.


Two scams in one day

The first was from someone who claimed to like my work because of its ‘snappy dialogue’. The message was fairly long but generic in that it could have been sent to any author of fiction – unless there are some who don’t use dialogue at all. While laudatory in tone it was entirely lacking in specifics.

A little research brought out several things, but the most notable were that an author who wrote only in French had received this message, as had a man who didn’t write fiction of any sort. Producing snappy dialogue when you don’t write is quite an achievement.

How had the sender found me? Through Goodreads where, it turned out, he had read nothing, reviewed nothing, rated nothing and had no friends. Since mentioning all this on a Goodreads group I find his account has been deleted.

Why had Emmett Moten (a real name, but not the real name of the sender) bothered to do this? What was his game? He was directing authors to a website which would publicise/market their work. Only quality writers like us need apply. At some point down the line money would change hands.

Hi Roderick Hart.

I just want to say hi and introduce myself – I’m a huge fan of your books! Your dialogue is snappy and it’s like I could physically hear every word. Thank you so much for sharing your talent.

As an aspiring author myself, I thought I’d send you a quick message to share a recently discovered website specifically designed for authors to increase the sales of our books. I’ve personally tried what’s offered on that website for the last month and honestly, I was blown away with the results I got! I love your work and admire you as an author, I want more people to experience your books! Everyone deserves to hear your stories so I’m excited to share this website as friendly act of kindness.

You can find it here: This website features only the absolute best products for independent authors and publishers.

I want quality work to receive the audience it deserves – nowadays it’s so hard to increase sales. P.S. I assure you – I’m not affiliated with this website in any way. Good luck, Roderick Hart!

Reply to this message


The second scam came in a phone call. The caller said his name was William. While there may be some gentlemen in the Indian sub-continent called William, I’m fairly sure he wasn’t one of them. According to him, I had been mis-sold insurance with my credit card or, failing that, a loan I had taken out. He could reclaim this on my behalf.

Firstly, I hadn’t been mis-sold insurance and secondly, even if I had been I could have reclaimed the money myself without paying him to do it for me.

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The author as franchise

Self-publishing authors are often advised to turn themselves into a brand, and much advice is to be had on the internet on how to go about it. But the subject of this post concerns established writers, where ‘the brand’ may morph into a franchise.

This is a subject I knew nothing about till I bought a book in a garden centre. It was one of those offers, buy two for £5, and so had a sticker on the front to tell the buyer that the title in question was included in the offer. The title was ‘The Paris Option’ by Robert Ludlum, which I bought because I had not read any of his books. This proved to be a mistake because it had actually been written by one Gayle Lynds, whose name was on the front cover but artfully, or accidentally, concealed by the sticker.

As far as I can tell, Ludlum wrote to a formula and so met the criteria authors are advised to meet if they hope for commercial success. For a start, most of his titles follow the same pattern – The Something Something. For example: The Bourne Identity, The Icarus Agenda, The Aquitaine Progression, The Scorpio Illusion, The Parsifal Mosaic. It can be quite entertaining making up more for ourselves: The Ecclefechan Toadstool, The Snodgrass Carbuncle, The Spook Erection. (I did not invent the last, which was used by people who put up  outdoor markets overnight. Witty, right?) And after the title, the books follow a formula too, which I am not motivated to describe but several authors seem to have copied.

Again, as far as I can tell, Ludlum came up with the book concept and story-line. If he didn’t write it himself, he would farm it out – in this case to Ms Lynds, who did the writing for him. So the book could be described as Robert Ludlum’s, since it was his idea, but the writer is also credited. All this is above board, so the foregoing is a description, not a complaint. However, it does raise another question

If we have, say, a humburger franchise, the customer will expect that regardless of which outlet he goes to, his Big Greasy will look and taste the same. Likewise, if a customer buys a book with Robert Ludlum’s name on the cover, he would expect the experience of reading it to be much the same, whether it is written by Ludlum himself, Gayle Lynds, or Jamie Freveletti. (Ms Freveletti was chosen by the Ludlum estate to continue his Covert One series.) In fact, we have now had six writers working for this franchise at various times. The following link is to an article about Jamie Freveletti.

In the article cited, Freveletti says ‘she’ll have to stay true to the characters that are already part of an eight-book series tackled by five other authors.’ The subject which never seems to come up is whether these six authors also have to ‘stay true’ to Robert Ludlum’s prose style. There are two ways to look at this. The first is that Ludlum did not have an identifiable style. A reader might guess he was reading a Ludlum book from the content but not from the way it is written. Alternatively, if Ludlum did have a prose style, then all the franchise writers copied  it so effectively you can’t tell them apart.  So whatever the reader can expect, it isn’t the frisson of pleasure from savouring  distinctive prose. They all taste the same.

In recent years here in the YUK, Katie Price, an ex glamour model, has taken to writing novels. Except she doesn’t write them, someone else does. I believe she has said that writing is the easy part (citation required). But I know for a fact she takes an interest in her book covers, where she likes two colours to predominate and  – wait for it, authors out there –  dons clothes of the same colours as part of her marketing strategy. As far as I know, this technique has yet to find its way into guides for authors.

Katie Price illustrates a route into authorship which also isn’t in the manuals: become a celebrity, get someone to write books for you, then watch as the marketing department uses you and your celebrity status to move the books.

Of course, to do this you have to become a celebrity in the first place. Too high a price for most of us to pay.