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I’ve had a fantastic day at the Self-Publishing Conference, organised by Troubador Publishing, and have come home with my head spinning from all the information I’ve tried to cram into it – not too shabby for a snowy Sunday, when the temptation to instead stay warm under the duvet was rather strong! The conference was very professional and well-organised with some fabulous speakers, and there was a really exciting vibe about self-publishing from everyone present. It was a great opportunity to hear industry experts and to get a fuller picture of this rather bewildering brave new world, and despite the snow, there was a good mix of people who ventured forth to find out more.

Mick Rooney, editor of the The Independent Publishing Magazine, kicked off by explaining the different types of self-publishing service that are out there and how to choose one, providing an essential picture of the self-publishing landscape and current trends in the business. It’s easy for the unwary to spend a lot of money on a service that simply won’t meet their needs, and Rooney stressed the importance of asking questions of any service you’re thinking of using (don’t just Google it!), and matching this to complement your own skills. The idea of buying a book from a service provider so you can assess its quality is simple but I can imagine that many people might miss this trick. He also raised the issue of traditional big publishers like Penguin and Simon & Schuster launching self-publishing imprints, which is a controversial development in the industry that I wasn’t aware of, and the dangers of using POD (print-on-demand) and vanity services. Self-publishing does involve financial risk and he advises that if you can’t afford to self-publish, then wait.

Helen Corner, founder of Cornerstones Literary Agency, gave a fascinating talk on self-editing. Creative writing unleashes your creative power but self-editing is the essential process of reining it in, and is a crucial step in producing a successful book – turning it from merely “good” to “dazzling”. Talking us through scenarios and providing anecdotes of real writers’ experiences, she stressed that the key to self-editing was to accept feedback – if you’re truly confident about your writing, then you can accept people challenging it. It’s also important to connect with your own “inner editor”, as instinctively you know what works and what doesn’t, and feedback will resonate on an emotional level. If you’re not ready for feedback, then your book is not finished! It was good for me to hear her echo my mantras  – put things to one side for a while and you’ll view them with more objectivity, and reading your work aloud helps you identify what doesn’t work.

Harry Bingham, from The Writers’ Workshop, gave us an insight into the traditional publishing world and the role of agents. As many of us have suspected, publishers are taking on fewer writers than ever before, and the opportunities for debut writers are diminishing. But he stresses that if you’re realistic about your work and its potential market, then you do have a shot. For anyone considering approaching the big name publishers without an agent – don’t. They won’t consider you without one. And to get an agent, Bingham says, is simple – all you have to do is write a “dazzling” book (that word again!) and not be an idiot! Agents receive circa 2000 manuscripts a year, and on average, will only pick up two of those to promote to publishers. So the competition is intense. Write that dazzling book, get proper editorial feedback on it before you send it to an agent (as an editor and an agent are not the same being), and write a good covering letter which is professional and doesn’t contains gimmicks.

Ben Cameron from Smith Publicity gave us tips on how to create an effective marketing strategy, which very kindly pointed out the importance of bloggers!  Like all the speakers, he highlighted the importance of getting a book professionally designed and using editorial services to make your book as good as it can be. He also stressed that it’s vital to identify your readers and what media they consume, and provided good tips on how to use press releases, reviews and social media. The latter is not a replacement for traditional publicity – “followers” or “friends” do not equal sales – and should be used appropriately and not exclusively. He emphasised that publicity is the pitch not the product, and helped to demystify the element of self-publishing that is perhaps most daunting to writers.

I didn’t get to attend every session, but in those I did get to and the plenary with the speakers’ panel, it was a pleasure to hear all the experts share a little of their expertise and experience and to network with writers who are all on their own unique journeys into this realm. Self-publishing has perhaps been unfairly lumped in with vanity publishing, and the idea that “self-published” equals “rubbish” was roundly booted up the backside by all involved. It’s increasingly being seen as a positive choice, an opportunity to open up the landscape of creativity by diverging from narrow mainstream trends and reductive market forces. It’s clearly not an easy option – you get back what you put in, but with professional support and advice it’s a very viable option for many good books that otherwise would never be shared with the wider world. It’s definitely here to stay.

With thanks to Troubador Publishing (www.troubador.co.uk) for organising this excellent event, and a plug for the next conference on 30th March  2014 – don’t miss it, and bookmark the website at www.selfpublishingconference.org.uk!

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