The instant backlist

By Simon Groth

A couple of years ago, I figured it was time to clear out the decks. I had a novel; it had done okay, published in excerpted form in a few places, shortlisted for an award. It was as successful as a novel gets without actually being … you know … published, at least as a complete work on its own. Like many a worthy story before it, the novel had fallen at the final hurdle and landed with a thud in the proverbial bottom drawer. A few years passed before it came to this, but I eventually decided it deserved publication, even if in a small way.

Plus I wanted to figure out how out print-on-demand services worked.

My approach to book publishing echoed my first attempts fifteen years earlier to create a website. I took whatever tools I could find and worked it out through trial-and-error and sheer bloody-mindedness. I did typesetting in a word processor, playing with gutters, margins, running headers, and section breaks. I went through various iterations of the cover design and created the cover image itself in a dodgy Photoshop knockoff, playing with textures and layering. While I had plenty of help and consulted others through the process, for most part I was on my own. And at the end of about six months of sporadic development, Here Today was ready to unleash on the world.

It was nice. It moved from the bottom drawer to a shelf and I’m glad it’s there.

When it was released, people congratulated me. My immediate response was, ‘What for?’ The whole idea of congratulations seemed a little jarring. Despite the book’s demonstrated success as a manuscript, it was only now a book because I said it was a book.

I was under no illusions. The book would not set the world aflame. It would not lead to billboards, media spots, calls from Hollywood. I didn’t really want it to, either. For the first twelve months of its release, the digital editions were free.

I’ve never really considered what I do as self-publishing. Proper self-published authors have their act together. They publicise their work and track sales and liaise with booksellers and other retail platforms. Self-published author work much harder than me.

Here Today is instead a uniquely post-digital literary artefact: an instant backlist.

It’s been a handy reference, especially in formal settings. I’m always pleased introduced as ‘…manager of if:book Australia and author of Here Today …’ I’ve also had a few wonderful discussions with people who have read it. Some of them even enjoyed it. That, to me at least, is a successful book.

Success has always looked different for every author. What digital media has changed is that now publication looks different for every author. Sometimes it doesn’t look like publication at all.

Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. And some opportunities you even make for yourself. You may be acknowledged, even celebrated for something you feel deserves nothing of the sort. Everyone’s pathway to publication is different. For authors today, the best approach is to keep an open mind and don’t get too hung up on any preconceived notions of success.