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Self-publishing paves way for Fifty Shades of Grey

Posted Friday 5 July 2013

Self-publishing no longer preserve of vain, says new study. Image © Simoly2010 |

People who self-publish books aren't just those who can't find a traditional publisher, according to new research by Dr Alison Baverstock, researcher and course leader on Kingston University's MA Publishing course.

The study, published this month in the respected literary journal Learned Publishing, surveyed 167 authors, identifying who is self-publishing and what their motivations are for doing so. The findings show that although once considered the preserve of the vain and the talentless, self-publishing is now undertaken right across the demographic spectrum with nearly half of those authors questioned being qualified to postgraduate level.

Two-thirds of self-published authors were women, the research found, and a majority (82 per cent) were aged between 41 and 70. Their reasons for going it alone ranged from desire to have control over their work to a sheer drive to write.

"We also found that a third of respondents used self-publishing to test a new style of writing that was a departure from how they usually wrote," Dr Baverstock explained. "The well-respected bestselling author Iain Banks, who sadly passed away last month, for example, had been keen to publish a volume of poetry before his death - he'd decided he would self-publish if he had to as he assumed there would be no interest from his existing publisher."

Of the self-published authors who took part in the survey, more than two-fifths had already been traditionally published, while 31 per cent of those questioned were veterans of both traditional and self-publishing - though half of these said lack of interest from their existing publisher was a factor that had influenced their decision to strike out by themselves.

Dr Alison Baverstock, who runs Kingston's publishing MA, is behind the research"There has been a real tendency to think that self-publishing is a below-the-radar activity that has no effect on anyone," Dr Baverstock explained. "But it's increasingly having a big impact on what publishers commission and is changing the way the industry discovers what readers want."

Dr Baverstock cited the example of publishing sensation ‘Fifty Shades of Grey' by E L James, which was originally developed from Twilight fan fiction - where fans create stories from existing characters and publish them online."Soft porn aimed specifically at women and sometimes dubbed ‘mummy porn' was unknown to much of the publishing industry before the Fifty Shades phenomenon," Dr Baverstock said. "Increasingly, online material is selling to people with quite specific tastes that are not necessarily being catered for by traditional publishers and the industry is having to sit up and take notice."

Around three-quarters of the sample had self-published works of fiction, with the remainder split between poetry, biography, history, business support, reference, travel, personal memoir and self-help books. The writers had used e-book, paperback and hardback formats, either separately or in various combinations, but the majority (82 per cent) produced e-books.

Sales among self-publishers were found to vary widely, from just a handful of copies or downloads to tens of thousands, with one e-book being downloaded 65,000 times.

The average estimated time spent on self-publishing a book or e-book was seven months and the average cost was £1,500 but most said it was worth the time and cash and agreed that they would probably do it again in future. "It's not about the money for most as they generally see it as a process not a product," Dr Baverstock said. "The motivation is often about finalising a project that has long been on their ‘to do list' which delivers huge satisfaction."

Dr Baverstock believes this report to be the first academic research in the field of self-publishing in thirty years. "Overall it's clear that the lines of distinction between traditional publishing and self-publishing are now blurred," she said. "In fact, we should probably change the way we talk about it and call it ‘independent publishing' or just ‘publishing'."

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