I want to introduce Mick Rooney, who is the founder and publisher of The Independent Publisher Magazine, an Internet-based medium that focuses on aiding writers seeking to self-publish. Here is the Q&A I structured, and I’m immensely pleased that Mick is sharing his experiences and expertise with all of us.
Mr. Rooney, first, thank you for taking the time to discuss some of the vagaries of self-publishing. I was drawn to you and the The Independent Publishing Magazine because of your interest in protecting writers from the scammers out there, and I was particularly impressed by your strong comments regarding Author Solutions, Inc., as I, too, find so many of their practices grotesquely unacceptable. However, before getting into ASI and any other of what I consider to be alligators who take advantage of unwitting writers—to provide a little backstory for my Newsletter subscribers—I believe everyone would enjoy learning a bit about your background and how “The Independent Publishing Magazine” came about.
Q: The most obvious initial question is what was it that got you involved with the world of letters to begin with?
A: I knew very early on in life that I wanted to write. I took it more seriously from about the age of twelve or thirteen and like so many budding writers I began writing poetry and reading a great deal of classic literature. My mother was a big reader of horror and sci-fi paperback novels and I guess I inherited the literary bug from her. I’m a firm believer that good writers are born of good readers—that is to become a good writer you must first become an avid reader.
By age sixteen I switched to writing prose, even trying my hand at scriptwriting for a while. Even then I was drawn to the odd and esoteric, whether it was a book or film. I knew what I wrote wouldn’t appeal to the general reader. Growing up in Ireland, outside of the staple diet of Beckett and Yeats, all my reading and writing influence was primarily European as I pushed out of my teenage years. Where my fellow writers were reading and raving about Banville, McGahern, Atwood, Rushdie and others, I was reading a lot of translated European literature like Robbe-Grillet, Perec and Gustafsson, as well as the classics of Hemingway, Hesse, Kafka and Poe.
In the late eighties I began sending out manuscripts to magazine editors and publishing houses, but already by then the industry landscape was quickly changing and many prolific independent publishing houses were being swallowed up by large media conglomerates. The competition to attract the eyes of editors was increasing, while the avenues to those same editors were quickly decreasing. By the early 1990s, you were pretty much barred from access to the big houses unless you had a literary agent or a writing friend who was a published author and could bend the ear of an editor on your behalf, or you could attract an editor from the shrinking number of smaller publishing houses with a strong submission, or you had already built up a body of accepted short submissions with magazine editors.
I collected my fair share of rejection slips, but also some encouragement that my work showed a lot of promise, but that the “climate and market” just weren’t there for work like mine. I think it is important to stress that when I decided to start self-publishing with my own publishing imprint (1990), it wasn’t because I was rejecting the mainstream publishing industry, rather, it wasn’t my time and I could achieve something else through self-publishing—not better or some form of personal fingers up to the industry. The best way I can describe my decision to self-publish is something akin to working for nothing for a company—much as an intern would do. Except, this would be my publishing imprint I was working for, and all my experience would have to be self-taught through a process of trial and error.
I studied journalism for a while, and though I didn’t pursue that at a young age, it was something I would return to in later life. Likewise, after 20 years of self-publishing my works of fiction I ended up publishing both fiction and nonfiction with traditional publishers.
Q: If your first answer didn’t already cover this, who were some of the writers who influenced you when you first considered literature seriously?
A: In no particular order, Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas, Kafka, Beckett, Poe, Perec, H. G. Wells, Orwell, Hemingway…but equally music and visual artists have also greatly influenced my work.
Q: To fast forward, what was the catalyst that motivated you to begin The Independent Publishing Magazine, and when did you go “live”?
A: I started The Independent Publishing Magazine back in late 2007 and it really was just a place to record my experiences of returning to the world of self-publishing and the publishing industry. I’d experience a long hiatus of not self-publishing after 2001 and I discovered a world that had changed a great deal. Initially TIPM was an online portal where I could record some of the research I had carried out on the publishing industry, and in particular, the explosive rise of self-publishing services on offer to authors. Timing played a great factor in the success of TIPM (or POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing as it was in 2007) and back then there were few online resources for self-published authors, and many just didn’t deal with the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and truthfully, I felt a lot of them tended to accept everything a self-publishing service provider fed them without asking the right questions or looking deeper into the whole history of vanity presses.
I knew instinctively the self-publishing service industry was a microcosm of the whole publishing industry, and the questions authors were starting to ask me via comments and emails were going to be the questions the industry would soon be asking itself. How do we negotiate different retail discounts? Can we sell our books and still survive without Amazon? Self-published authors were already grappling with e-books and the relevance of them long before large publishing houses even took digital publishing seriously as a necessary part of their future business. Where heavy retail discounting and the issue of returns was crippling the trade, self-publishers had long accepted that those models needed to be changed and were busy embracing social media, direct marketing and innovation; and all the while the publishing industry as a whole was sitting back and allowing large high-street retailers and Amazon to take control and ownership of their industry.
There is of course the seedier side of self-publishing services and the exploitation of the naivete of authors new to the publishing world. It’s why I began doing extensive reviews of self-publishing services to a depth and extent no one else was doing in print magazines, books or the Internet.
There is a lot more now on The Independent Publishing Magazine. We relaunched it with a totally new magazine website last October and celebrated seven years. I have widened the scope of content to include a lot more on digital publishing, industry news, innovation and publishing successes. I don’t see the magazine any longer as the sole home and resource for just self-published authors, but rather as a portal directly to the changes happening in the industry today. That’s relevant to all authors no matter what the means and path to publication is. I’ve also linked the magazine heavily to my social media accounts, and really they all interact perfectly together through debate and comment.
Q: As I led this piece, what immediately impressed me about you was your obvious commitment to alerting writers to the pitfalls of what I refer to as the alligators that seem to lurk around every corner and are more than eager to take advantage of writers who are trying to do their honest best to give their materials exposure. Who or what brought your attention to what I consider the underbelly of the publishing industry?
A: There are scams and bad deals in any industry whether you are buying a house or contracting the services of a publishing provider. But, yes, dubious operators as well as outright scammers are prevalent in the publishing industry. Even during my teen years I was aware of vanity presses in the USA and UK. As a naïve fifteen-year-old I remember seeing an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper and writing to one of the oldest subsidy publishing companies in the USA, Vantage Press, asking for information on publishing a book with them. I got back the brochure, then the letter of acceptance, and then the letter outlining the costs of publication. Even at that age I figured this wasn’t much of a deal for any writer. Little did I know 30 years later, as a publishing consultant and editor of TIPM, I would document the sorry demise of Vantage Press and try to assist some of its authors left in a whirl of confusion and anger, and not least out of pocket for thousands and thousands of dollars.
Since the advent of POD (print on demand) and e-book publishing platforms, it can be increasing difficult to tell the sharks from the dolphins. Competition from large service providers like CreateSpace, IngramSpark and Blurb, and the new breed of e-distribution platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords and Kobo, has put a lot of the print-centric publishing service providers to the sword.
So much of this is also about perception. There is a misconception that every scam publishing company has horns and breathes fire. The truth is that many are not inherently all operated by snake oil salesmen; more often by people who have no clue about the business of publishing or customer service. And at its very worst, by people who have no interest in selling books and are profiting at the expense of authors.
Q: Pertaining to the scammers, is there any specific message you’d like for readers of my Newsletter to take away from what we’re discussing?
A: Writers must make sure they are informed and have researched well before they make any publishing decisions. The rush to publish is often at the heart of a badly published book and a bad deal all round for the writer. Scammers play upon telling you what you want to hear with the promise of the sun, moon and stars. And they often do that without having read a single line of your manuscript.
Proper self-publishing by its very nature means taking a lot of the control. Entrusting all of that control to someone else (without sound understanding of how publishing works) leaves you wide open to scammers and charlatans.
Q: Mr. Rooney, what’s the best advice you can give any writer who has just finished a manuscript and is considering what to do next?
A: A finished manuscript is not finished until it’s professionally edited, whether you self- or traditionally publish. I recommend you enlist the help of beta-readers or a local book club/group before deciding the manuscript is ready for submission/publication.
If you decide to go the traditional route to publishing, you need to stick with it and be persistent. Impatience is not the best footing to start on in self-publishing. If you are submitting directly to publishers, ensure those publishers are established and recognized publishers with authors’ guilds and industry associations. Should a traditional publisher suggest a financial contribution from you or try referring you to a paid-publishing imprint–walk away. The publisher probably has some affiliation or vested financial interest in persuading you to part with your money.
Q: I don’t believe it’s at all out of line to ask you to describe your services for my Newsletter subscribers, since many have self-published—and I’m happy to report in a number of instances have achieved what by most accounts would be deemed quality sales, as the figures are in the thousands. So, specifically, what do you offer writers, and how much can they expect this to cost them?
• Explain what self-publishing is and how it can best work for authors.
• Assess authors’ skill and tool sets and advise them on which parts of their publishing project they can take on and the services they may need to contract out.
• Advise and help authors choose a self-publishing service that is right for them without falling into the perils of vanity presses and scam companies (there are many out there!).
• Advise and help authors set themselves up as author-publishers with their own ISBNs and publishing imprint.
• Help authors plan a marketing and promotional strategy for their book.
• Conduct a full author and social media audit (including their blog and author website) and report back as to what they are doing well and what they need to change/improve to take their career and books to the next level.
Consultation Details & Process
Consultations are typically conducted via Skype or Google Chat, and can be purchased in 30 minute or one hour segments. Phone consultations can—on occasion—be accommodated (call charges not included in consult rate). Consultations cost $75 for 30 minutes and $150 for 1 hour. (Payment must be made prior to the agreed consultation date and time.)
Clients are required to complete a consultation form prior to their consultations. You can inquire about a consultation with me here.
Q: In closing, I want to once again offer my sincerest appreciation for your spending time with me to lend another voice to what I believe cannot be shouted loud enough related to ferreting out those who take advantage of writers—and in my opinion often flagrantly. Mick, is there anything you’d like to add as we finish up this Q&A?
A: I’d like us to finish on a positive note. There’s lots of advice and help out there for writers. That’s been one of the primary strengths of the self-publishing author community. Honestly, if you are going to self-publish well, then you need some degree of help from professionals, be it a consultant, editor, cover designer or marketing assistant.
Above all, the research I’ve carried out at The Independent Publishing Magazine over seven years proves that there are good, reputable publishing services providers out there.
Mr. Rooney, I want to once again thank you for adding to the dialogue regarding the current state of self-publishing, which influences the publishing decisions of so many of my Newsletter subscribers, myself included.