Many among us have toyed with the idea of becoming a published author. Until recently however, you had to be accepted by a publishing house. But now you can self-publish on a digital platform, and many people are taking the plunge, upending the traditional model. Could self-publishing, a kind of disintermediation, cutting out the middleman in the field of literature, lead to the emergence of new authors, new styles, with more diverse subjects? Welcome to Episode 6 of ETX Studio's "After Calendar" of incoming trends for 2021.
We all have an aspiring novelist in our circle, who is often to be found scribbling a few lines in a little notebook, in the hope of turning out the next winner of the Prix Goncourt. If you think that none of your loved ones secretly harbor this ambition, you may not know them all that well. According to a study by Librinova and LIRE, more than half of French people would like to write a book, or have already done so. This suggests that more than 5 million unpublished manuscripts may be tucked away in drawers throughout the nation. A situation that might change with the advent of self-publishing.
Once fairly peripheral, self-publishing has been particularly popular in recent years, and comprises 19.8% of the legal deposits of printed titles released in France in 2019, according to a report by the Bibliothèque nationale de France -- compared to only 10% in 2010.
The phenomenon is gaining ground thanks to the recent success of writers like John Locke and Agnès Martin-Lugand, who first published their books on digital platforms before achieving popularity in bookstores. Sixty-nine-year-old American writer Locke entered the pantheon of self-published novelists by surpassing the symbolic threshold of one million e-books sold on Amazon. Martin-Lugand experienced a similar fairy-tale ending with "Happy People Read and Drink Coffee," a book published in 2012, which eventually caught the attention of publisher Michel Lafon. And they lived happily ever after and went on to sell 500,000 copies in bookstores. And of course there's Marco Koskas, whose novel "Bande de Français" earned him entry into the very select club of authors honored by a nomination for the Prix Renaudot.
Accolades like these are a dream come true for aspiring writers as well as professional publishers, who deplore eroding book sales figures and the creation of mammoth enterprises in the sector, following takeovers and mergers. In the face of these structural problems, self-publishing is constantly gaining new adherents, thanks to the direct monetization and creative freedom it offers them. It is these advantages that have convinced Christelle Lebailly to give self-publishing a chance, from December 2018 onwards. The author has published four novels herself, the last of which, "Un détour pour l'enfer," was released last May.
"I'm a bit of a control freak, and it shows in my work as a writer. In addition to writing my stories, I like to think about the cover, do the artwork, handle the distribution... I do 14,000 jobs at once. It's not easy to manage everything at once, but it's always seemed natural to me. And it has its advantages. We have great visibility on our sales and the revenues they generate. It's one of the major advantages of self-publishing," explains Lebailly.
Attracting readers in an ultra-competitive environment
It's a winning formula and one that encourages many of readers of such novels to follow in these writers' footsteps. But being a wordsmith and having a captivating story is not enough to make a self-published book a success. That's why 25-year-old Lebailly decided to launch her own "authorpreneur" (author-entrepreneur) training program to teach her peers how to sell their literary works and build a readership. "Self-publishing is very appealing. I get a lot of messages from authors who, like me, want to do everything on their own. That wasn't really the case before because self-published writers were often looked down upon. Even though this has changed, many are still worried about having to promote themselves on social networks and sales platforms. It's not always easy given the thousands of books that come out every year," she says.
While there is stiff competition for readers' attention, some platforms are offering to help aspiring authors get their foot in the door of the self-publishing world. Librinova, Edilivre, Iggybook, Kobo, Monbestseller, Youscribe, Bookelis are some platforms working with French authors. It's hard to keep track of start-ups aiming to take the place of traditional publishing houses, even though they offer services quite similar to theirs. Some have even created their own literary prizes to lend credence to a market that is still underdeveloped in France, like Amazon's Les Plumes Francophones prize, whose latest winners are Marie-Pierre Garnier ("Collision") and Guy Morant ("Le sang de nos pères").
Many independent writers are turning to the American e-commerce giant to publish their books on its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. David Naïm chose to do so for his first novel , "Allotropismes," after having been turned down several times by publishing houses. "Everyone wants to be a writer in France. The ideal choice is to turn to a professional publisher to get there, but the selection process is extremely long and risky. But in the end, the most important thing is to be read. That's why so many of us make this choice, which is not to our advantage to make our creations known in a plethoric offer. Being visible is really the keystone of self-publishing. The only place where we can get there is Amazon," he says.
Self-publishing or not, it's not easy to make a place for yourself in a literary world centered on big-name bestsellers. But all is not lost if we believe Naïm. "Self-publishing can be a virtuous circle. The interest that we spark in readers can spark the interest of publishers. These first readers do, in a way, the work of certain professional publishers, who are snowed under with thousands of manuscripts to read. This is also very useful for us authors. This immediate feedback allows us to make any necessary corrections or changes. It helps our work grow."