I recently had correspondence with Private Eye's Bookwork over the magazine's seeming odd attitude to self-publishing. Here are the two letters:
Your Literary Review correspondent takes to task writer Nikki Bradford for self-publishing her novel through Pen Press and claims to have "trawled" their local bookshop for the title without success (in issue 1166) . Yet many if not most contemporary novels from orthodox publishers will be sought in vain on high street bookshelves (just go to Amazon, everything's listed). And why is the Society of Author's advice to writers never to contribute to book production costs repeated without question like Mosaic Law? Painters, actors, directors, musicians et al routinely subsidise their creative work - what's so different about writers? The Eye's own dyspeptic reviews of mainstream-published novels might lead one to think that orthodox editors are hopeless judges of what's good or bad - a thought that evaporates conveniently at the mention of self- or "vanity" publishing.
Incidentally, your contributor's suggestion that Bradford should have gone straight to a printer to cut costs is daft. With digital print-on-demand companies like Lulu around, producing books in a fraction of the time it takes some arrogant Snipcock & Tweed to get off their arse, the era of cheap and effective self-publishing has already arrived. Try to keep up dearies.
Bookworm’s response to your letter.
The era of cheap and effective self-publishing may have arrived, but the point of the article was to suggest that Bradford could have achieved roughly the same result much cheaper by really, genuinely publishing the book herself rather than going through a third party. She's going to be doing all of the legwork anyway, so why should anyone else make a profit?
The Society of Authors' advice is repeated because it remains a basically sound rule of thumb for not getting shafted. The original article stated that Bradford's book was available at 'most good bookshops'. All books are available at 'most good bookshops', if you know they exist and order them, and everything's available on Amazon anyway, but the implication seemed to be that Pen Press had succeeded in getting this title stocked by 'most good bookshops'. As you so rightly point out, the choice in most bookshops, good or otherwise, is severely limited. The Eye's been railing against this for ages, in case you hadn't noticed. As for editors being good and bad judges, there are some brilliant editors, some who really shouldn't be employed and the rest are somewhere between the two extremes. The problem is with the marketing departments, who really do tend to judge a book by its cover.
Publishers can indeed be arrogant and inefficient and are often stupid. Well observed. Bookworm's been saying that for years and proving it with examples. Do try to keep up.