I can’t think of many reasons why I would want an established publisher to handle my novels. On the whole I’d prefer readers to enjoy my books now, not when I’m dead. Even if I got lucky and it didn’t take half a lifetime to find the ideal agent/publisher, I’d regret giving up control over my work. And I’m not impressed by the poor earnings mid-range published authors (like Lynn Viehl) report: if a writing career means life in a garret, I’d prefer to gather in the thin rewards myself, not pay for someone else’s pension plan.
But there’s one big advantage that the big publishers bring. Credibility. With a capital C.
If Credibility was just a matter of self-esteem – Ma, guess who’s just agreed to publish me? – then it would be no big deal. But it is a big deal, because Credibility is what’s going to get you reviews, and reviews are going to help get you readers, and readers are going to get you more readers.
Think about it. How many books have you read recently when you’ve never heard of the author and there were no recommendations? Books and authors with zero credibility. That’s where we all start as Indie writers. As I’ve put it before: we’re on the top shelf in the darkest corner of a back room in a bookstore that nobody ever visits.
Unless we do what the publishers do. Hunt in packs. Work as a team. Build a market together. If my reader numbers are still small and your reader numbers are still small, and we both enjoy one another’s work, then it makes sense to search out those readers together. Because when someone does find my book and enjoys it, and they see that I’m an admirer of yours, the chances are reasonable that they might try your book too. And vice versa. Add a third good writer into the mix, and the chances are even higher for all of us. How do we do that? We agree to share an imprint. Like, say, Rapscallion.
There are other consequences of this approach. It’s important to me now that readers like your book. It has to be as good as it possibly can be – for my sake. The same with my book – for your sake. So it makes sense for us to work together helping one another. How? Well, cross-editing for example. Or if I’ve got web experience, maybe I can advise you on putting together a good website. If you’re an artist or a photographer, maybe you can help me with my cover design. And maybe the third writer works in another life as a marketing expert or a lawyer. So let’s bring those skills on board too. Also we can all start reviewing one another – honestly, critically and professionally of course, because if a reader detects that we’re making false claims for one another, then we all quickly lose credibility.
What does this make us? A publisher? Well, not exactly. This is more a collaboration than a business: authors still retain their own copyrights and can opt in and out of the scheme at any time. So is it a literary agency? Not exactly that either. Rapscallion – because that’s what I’m calling this collaboration – will absolutely not be requesting submissions: I don’t want to be in the business of disappointment, issuing rejections. Or being submerged with manuscripts we can’t handle. A better way, as I see it, is for Rapscallion to headhunt – to go looking for talented writers and inviting them to join. In a sense, I suppose, we would do the job I’d really like the agent to do: not just find a publisher – but to manage the whole marketing campaign, helping writers reach the widest possible audience and be well-rewarded for their skills. (Think Brian Epstein and The Beatles – if you’re that old!) That’s very much the Rapscallion mission.
Call it a seed publisher, perhaps. A Credibility Conferrer.
Ah – do I hear objections at the back of the room? Elitism, you say? Not in the spirit of the Indie movement? You’re making value judgments. Well, perhaps I am. I’m saying that I admire writers published under the Rapscallion imprint. And that their work complements mine – If you loved this book, then you may also enjoy … And that their work is published to the highest standard. In that sense, elitist. But I’d never deny anyone the right to publish anything they choose to. Nor would I want to see Rapscallion taking control, denying writers their independence. The idea is that the imprint should serve writers, not vice versa.
So it’s sorted then? Indie writers work in teams and find thousands of readers? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Reputation and credibility are built one reader at a time, as Suki and I have seen with our first Rapscallion publications. Have we been delighted with the response so far? No. Is it hard work? Yes. Will it succeed?
I pause for dramatic effect.
You know what’s coming, don’t you? I’m going to ask you for your opinion.
Well, actually, I’m not. Not yet anyway. More important are your questions. How exactly will it work? Who will do the inviting and how many will be invited? How will it grow? How will we maintain editing standards? Will people need to pay for services rendered? Will they be paid for services provided? Will there be a pricing policy? Will we deal with printed books as well as ebooks? How will we cope with different genres – and therefore different readership profiles? Could people join as Rapscallion readers as well as Rapscallion writers? Do we need to be country-bound – or even language-bound?
How would you answer any of these questions? What other questions do you have? And to focus your thinking, let me point you in the direction of a group of writers who started thinking this way before I did. I came across Backword yesterday, when one of their members mentioned them in a post on the Kindle Boards. Interested, I sampled one of their novels last night – R.J. Keller’s Waiting for Spring – and now I’m a fan. I’ll be going back to read more of the Backword books, for sure. So their Indie authors’ collective worked for me. One reader at a time.