Self-publishing allows writers to tell stories on their own terms

This article is more than 12 months old

Writers can have full control over how their books are designed, marketed and distributed

With trends such as collaborative consumption and digitalisation now a mainstay of everyday life, it has become easier for people to unlock and access opportunities with unprecedented ease.

While bigger industries have already started leveraging these trends, we are increasingly seeing smaller, more niche sectors also looking to harness the opportunities that technology brings - one such industry being self-publishing.

The most recent data reveals that in 2014, there were 9,054 books published in Singapore; a drastic 28 per cent decrease from the 12,608 books published in 2009.

For years, aspiring writers have had to contend with the arduous task of approaching publishing houses in addition to the daunting task of completing a manuscript.

Traditional publishing houses have typically been seen as elite, with only a handful of manuscripts making it to the table of a publisher. This high rejection rate stems from the substantial investment that a publishing house has to put into each book, making the selection process extremely unforgiving.

Because of the set-up of traditional publishing houses, authors often have little creative control over the final form of their book.

This becomes an even bigger point of contention because many Singaporean authors pursue narratives highlighting the quintessential Singaporean experience, which may ultimately get lost in translation if forced to fit a generic mould.

In recent times, viable alternatives such as self-publishing have been on the rise because of their ability to offer authors greater access and control over the publishing process.

Self-publishing advocates profess that such platforms avoid the pitfalls plaguing the traditional publishing industry by offering aspiring writers the chance to bypass the lengthy waiting times, and high rates of rejection to get their works published almost instantaneously.

Additionally, writers have full control over how their books are designed, marketed and distributed - from pen to paper.

But there are valid concerns surrounding self-publishing. For one thing, many authors are often apprehensive about writing a novel without the guidance and fail-safes offered by traditional publishing houses.


After all, traditional publishing houses have the advantage of established professionals that include editors, designers and marketing consultants - essentially a team dedicated to working towards a book's success.

Writers under major publishing houses are also conferred credible representation and advocacy which is hard-won by self-published authors.

This advocacy is even more crucial, given that most authors do not have the vast network of distribution channels that traditional publishers have access to. Without a credible and well-connected agent, authors have to resort to innovative efforts to get their name out - be it door-to-door book deliveries or the like.

However for many more, it is the initial costs that ultimately deter writers from pursuing self-publishing.

Where traditional publishing houses do not require an upfront financial input from writers, self-publishing can require substantial investment.

There is also the added risk of authors not being able to recoup their initial costs if their books do not gain much traction among readers.

Nevertheless, self-publishing platforms are increasingly finding ways to innovate and offer the full suite of services available at traditional publishing houses, and more.

For instance, Notion Press is a one-stop shop, offering aspiring authors the ease, convenience and affordability of self-publishing, alongside consulting services and the use of marketing tools.

Moreover, many industry heavyweights such as Barnes & Noble and are recognising the benefits of working with self-publishing platforms, breaking the misconception that publishing and self-publishing are at two opposite ends of the spectrum.

As such, self-publishing can be seen as being complementary to traditional publishing houses. The high input costs mean that traditional publishing houses cannot afford to publish everything, and that is where we see self-publishing platforms come into play.

Authors can also test their work and get validated by real readers through self-publishing platforms which offer real-time market feedback. In fact, many authors choose to self-publish and then approach traditional publishing houses to increase the chances of gaining greater mainstream visibility.

In this sense, self-publishing and traditional publishing can be seen as essentially two sides of the same page, both working in synchrony to grow the literary scene in Singapore and the wider region.

The writer is CEO of self-publishing platform, Notion Press.