Cornelia Funke’s announcement that she’s turning her back on traditional publishing to form her own printing press, Breathing Books, is a sign of the times. Interestingly, in the article about her new venture in Publisher’s Weekly the words ‘self-publishing’ and ‘independent publishing’ are nowhere to be seen. This may be partly to do with her careful choice of words and the brand image she wants to create, but I think it’s also about the language changing as self-publishing grows up. I publish my own books through a small, limited company called Squawk Books; I employ professional illustrators, cover designers and editors on a freelance basis; my press has published a school anthology as well as my own work, and my books are available in independent bookshops as well as on-line . Am I a self-published author or a director of a small press? For me, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.
Funke cites a wish to be free of restrictions on her artistic output as one of the motivating factors in her decision. Creative freedom is important to me too. In 2012, small presses also made up 50% of the Booker shortlist . Over the last couple of years, agents have become more receptive to taking self-published authors as clients as well. Agent Madeline Milburn says, ‘It is always advantageous for you to have someone to fight your corner, and to negotiate and help handle all aspects of the book’s publication (whether that be with a traditional publisher, or not).’ In my experience, the main weakness of the independent route has been that you have no-one to handle other rights. Hopefully this is changing. Milburn continues, ‘I handle all the translation rights and film & TV rights directly for my authors. A lot of self-published authors are unable to exploit these rights.’
The Publishers Weekly article ends with Funke saying, ‘Little, Brown and others are like ocean liners that can only go to certain places. I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places.’
Certainly, I’ve been on journeys that have taken me to new lands. For example, I’ve extended my product range to include literary quote cards . But, remember, the grass always looks greener on the other side. Traditional publishing still has a lot to offer. And whether you need an ocean liner or a sailboat will depend on the book you’ve written.
As far as I’m concerned, more choice for writers has to be good news.
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