Democratisation of the publishing industry

What do William Blake, Lord Byron, e e cummings, TS Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, DH Lawrence, Anaïs Nin, Edgar Allen Poe, George Bernard Shaw, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf, have in common? They all, among many other literary greats, self-published at some point in their careers.

So then, why the lingering stigma attached to self-publishing? Unfortunately because 'indie authors' are automatically lumped into the same category as 'vanity authors', even though self-publishing and vanity publishing are as distinct from one another as traditional publishing and self-publishing. While indie filmmakers and garage bands are lauded for their grit and tenacity in producing self-funded movies and music, the stigma of self-funded publishing continues to be a millstone around many an indie author's neck.

But it's high time for the stigmatisation and marginalisation to end. Just like 21-year-old Australian-born model Stefania Ferrario (below) - currently the face of Dita Von Teese's lingerie label - is campaigning for the fashion industry to #droptheplus size label for curvier models, so too, is a new wave of indie authors arguing for equal respect and recognition alongside their mainstream counterparts. Books and their authors, just like models, should come in all shapes and sizes - some catering to the highly commercialised mass market, others to smaller, or more discerning niche markets. Neither should be perceived as superior or inferior to the other, but rather variations on the same core product. A model is a model is a model, whether 'straight-size' or 'plus-size'. A book is a book is a book, whether a paperback, hardcover, or ebook. And an author is an author is an author, whether traditionally published or self-published.

That said, any self-respecting indie author who expects to be taken seriously needs to make sure that everything about their book is on a par quality-wise with the books produced by traditional publishers. From the writing and the editing, to the layout, formatting, and cover design - it is inexcusable to cut any corners. Not only do you risk undermining your brand and weakening your value as an author in the eyes of your readers, but also in the eyes of your fellow authors, and mainstream publishers, all of which simply perpetuates the stigma of an inferior product. (It would be wise to remember that traditional publishers could turn out to be prospective investors down the line, as in the case of Amanda "poster child for self-publishing success" Hocking. In the first year of her foray into self-publishing, the then-20-something Hocking made $2 million in ebook sales, capturing the attention of and earning her a $2 million conventional publishing contract with St Martin's Press - part of Macmillan Publishers.)

So then, how do local indie authors go about producing high quality, commercially viable books that can sit comfortably alongside their traditionally published counterparts, on both virtual and real-life bookshelves? By outsourcing the professional services of credible industry players and pioneers, like Porcupine Press and My eBook, both based in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Tapping into the ever-increasing demand for cutting edge self-publishing services - in paperback, hardcover, or ebook format - these guys offer a one-stop-shop for indie authors who are serious about the quality of the work they put out for public consumption and scrutiny. Individual services can be cherry-picked by the author according to their needs and budget, to best prepare, polish, publish, and promote their books - in national bricks-and-mortar bookstores, as well as across the plethora of international online stores. For those of you who, like me, have always wondered how South African authors go about collecting ebook royalties from the likes of US-based Amazon and Smashwords, I found an up-to-date and extremely encouraging article on the subject here.

March 2015 has been a boon to the local independent publishing industry, with not one, but two major events taking place over consecutive weekends. Last Saturday I attended South Africa's first Indie Book Fair at the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Parktown, organised by Porcupine Press and their brand new indie imprint, African Narratives, primarily to listen to Sarah Taylor deliver her keynote speech on Broadening Horizons: The expanding opportunities and freedom of self-publishing. (Taylor is the marketing manager of UK-based Matador, the self-publishing imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd, and editor of The Self Publishing Magazine.)

And this coming Saturday (28th March 2015) I will be attending the first SAIR book festival at Modjadji House in Floracliffe. [Update: The debut event was called 'South African Indies Rock'; in 2016 they changed the name to 'South African Indie Revolution'.] The programme from 9am - 2pm is as follows:

9am Welcome by Carlyle Labuschagne (author and founder of SAIR)

9:15am Janet Wallace (based in Nashville, Tennessee, founder of utopYA and Social Deviants) on Thoroughbred marketing and branding in a hybrid world

9:45am Panel discussion on Writing for an international audience - from an editor’s point of view

10:15am Gareth Crocker (author and indie filmmaker) on How much does luck account for it?

10:45am Panel discussion on Marketing and branding - how to successfully put yourself out there 

11:15am David Henderson (founder of MyeBook) on Understanding digital publishing

11:30am 'Pitch your book' contest

12:30pm David Robbins (co-owner of Porcupine Press / African Narratives) on Independent publishing and why it is here to stay

12:45pm Panel discussion on Publishing - what path is right for you? 

1:15pm Giveaways

2pm Open to the public

I've always loved the prehistoric beauty of cycads and, judging by these photos I found online, the gardens of Modjadji House are really something quite special. I'm so looking forward to checking out the venue for myself.


  1. Thanks for the great post on the myths of the self-publishing industry, looking forward to meeting you at the up and coming SAIR bookfair!

  2. I hope you meant DEBUNKING the myths of the self-publishing industry? ;-) But yeah, I'm really looking forward to meeting you & all the others on Saturday, too. (PS. I see you're an ex-Durbanite, just like me!)

  3. Thank you for the fabulous post! Looking forward to seeing you SAT!

  4. Can't wait!! I have 3 memoirs, a true-crime story, & a crime fiction series up my sleeve, many of which I think are perfectly suited to self-publishing. Keen to learn as much as I possibly can about the pros & cons of the industry before committing to anything.

  5. I wish I could have attended the Indie Book Fair last weekend, but I'm SO looking forward to meeting everyone at SAIR this weekend!

  6. Yey!! Looking forward to meeting you, too :)

  7. Great article on self publishing and thank you for the resources. Going to check out now! :)

    1. My pleasure! So glad you found it useful :)


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