Writers on Writing is our regular conversation with a writer or industry professional about the writing craft, industry insights, and their own practice. This week, we spoke to Michael Winkler about the self-publishing experience, ahead of his workshop Introduction to Self-Publishing.
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Miles Frankin Award with Grimmish! Do you think attitudes are changing towards self-publishing as a path to writerly success?
That’s an interesting question. I think it all pivots on what success means to you as a writer. Is it sales? Critical acclaim? Seeing a project through to completion? The validation of publication by a commercial publishing house? Connecting with readers? Having an object that you can pass around to family and friends? Invitations to writers festivals?
There are stories about authors making huge amounts of money from self-publishing. This happens, but you might have better odds buying lottery tickets. However, if success for you means having the opportunity to participate in the exchange of ideas or information, or to explore creativity or areas of special interest, there is a lot that can be gained from self-publication.
What’s the greatest advantage of self-publishing to an emerging author?
You know that saying that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength? I think the biggest advantage is that you do not need to compromise. You can have exactly the words you want, exactly the length you want, exactly the cover you want. The flip side of this is that some of the compromises that a commercial publisher requires might improve your book. Therefore you need clarity around what you want your book to be and why.
How important are marketing skills for a writer who wants to self-publish a book?
If sales are important to you, then marketing skills are very important. As writers we fool ourselves into thinking that the world wants to read our words – and even that readers owe us their attention. ISBNDB estimates that there are 158,464,880 books in the world. How will readers find yours? And why should they buy or read yours ahead of all the others? That’s where marketing skills come in.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry, having now been both self-published and traditionally published?
Humility and gratitude. There are so many great writers and great books in the world, when people decide to spend time reading your work it is an honour.
What are some of your favourite self-published books?
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is an obvious choice. But I get a thrill from niche books that writers produce that may not sell many copies but are exactly what the author wanted to produce. That sounds like success to me.
Michael Winkler is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. His novel Grimmish was shortlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the first self-published novel to make the long or shortlist. It has since been picked up by international publishers and released in the United Kingdom and North America. He has self-published three titles, as well as written books for commercial publishers including Penguin, Hardie Grant and Melbourne University Press. His journalism, short fiction, reviews and essays have been widely published and anthologised. He won the 2016 Calibre Prize for his essay The Great Red Whale. He was a judge for the 2023 Age Book of the Year Award and the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize.
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