This week I entered a self-publisher’s competition which involved reading other people’s novels. As a marketing ploy I thought this wouldn’t work at all. I skim read like mad, searching for the answers to the relevant questions and paying little heed to the writing. The chance of my forking out for any of these books was infinitesimal. But then I got to Mama told me Not to Come by Sue Le Blond. This is a novel about a bunch of students settling into a new house in 1970. I read a few pages; the writing was fresh, the period references spot on without being OTT. I was drawn to it, more so than to the BBCs worthy but ponderous White Heat which I abandoned after episode two.
Ah, the 70s, surely the ugly duckling of the decades: too recent to be retro, too long ago for regular reminiscing. But yes, this decade is my decade. In 1970 I started at uni. In 1975 I had my first job, in 1976 we bought our first house, got married and from then until the early eighties we lived, I suppose, the life of young professionals (even if no one had told us that’s what it was).
It’s not a decade that one is usually proud to be part of, but judging by this week’s offering from the beeb, it’s coming back into fashion. I can now own up to the electric blue catsuit, the Laura Ashley wallpaper, the pink wedding dress. (Sorry, no photos, but try here and select no.2 for the general look.) For those of a nostalgic (or voyeuristic) disposition, there is more seventies fun to be found on my St. Andrews blog.
But what of the book, the one about student life with the nicely nostalgic opening and interesting-sounding plot? Well the thing is, it costs 7.99. Which I’m sure is a fair price. It’s what books cost, more or less. As a writer I’m fine with it. But as a reader I am an absolute skinflint. For £8 I can buy at least four self-pub e-books. Of these, I guess on past performance that one will be dire, two will be okayish, and one will be excellent, as good as most commercially published books and better than some. I could have bought just the one, but that’s not the way it works. It’s about curiosity, about taking a punt. I might pay over £5 for an e-version of a best-seller that comes with lots of recommendations, or I might splash out on the paperback. But buying a self-published book, represents, I think, a bigger risk than a commercially published novel. I’d still quite like to give this one a go, but how much faith do I have in it when I don’t know the author and there is no industry stamp of approval?
This is the problem with self-publishing. Your book may be well worth the money. But how many people outside your known circle of acquaintances will take the risk? Of course there is another way. A print edition is good to have. Some people don’t have e-readers, others prefer not to use them. But put out an e-edition too, and make the price lower than your tree-book. I think your potential readership will increase dramatically. Anyone who falls in love with it might even double-up with the print version.