Books have always been magical for me. From my earliest memories longingly gazing at my parents’ bookshelves, and being mystified by the tales locked within the covers, and my teenage years where I spent more time reading than studying for my exams… To my adult years where I have more ebooks loaded on my iPad than I can read in a year, not to forget the hours I spend crafting my own stories or those of the authors who come to me for editing. Stories are everything to me, and I’m sure some of you reading this post right now feel exactly the same way.
Publishing has changed
It used to be that publishing a book was an arcane process, watched over by mysterious industry guardians in the forms of agents, editors and publishers. However, all that has changed during the past two decades with the rise of digital media and print-on-demand services. It’s now possible for you to write, format, design and publish your own book, without a publisher telling you what you can or can’t write. Hells, you can even produce your own audio book in a royalty share programme thanks to Amazon’s subsidiary ACX. Which is pretty darn awesome if you know your stuff, and perhaps not so good if you don’t have a clue about what you’re doing.
Publishing seems divided now, with the stalwarts clinging to traditional routes via a slowly shrinking pool of publishers that only focus on what they know will sell versus the many authors who’re tired of waiting for the wheels to turn (and they turn slowly) and have taken their careers into their own hands – some with huge success. It’s quite possible you’ve heard both sides standing at the edges of the divide, yelling and shaking their fists at each other. On both sides you’ll have vocal proponents arguing that it’s their way or the highway. Truth be told, there are pros and cons to both traditional and independent publishing. There are a handful of authors out there who’re happy to tread that middle ground by pursuing a hybrid career that takes advantage of opportunities offered by traditional and independent avenues.
The point is: there is no ‘one true way’ for an author to build a career path. For some it’s their sole form of income in which they pursue the minimum viable product that will pass muster with a general readership. For others it’s a passion project, often involving years of work. And you’ll find many who fall somewhere between the two extremes.
You, as an author, must find the path that is right for you.
In other words, don’t look at Nora Roberts, JK Rowling or James Patterson, and despair.
If the idea of pooping out a novel every two to three months leaves you in a cold sweat, don’t let that make you feel like a failure. For you it’s a case of quality, not quantity. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those authors who have the dedication and voema to put out 60k to 100k words a month. But that’s not me, and in my opinion, unless you strike a balance between living and working, you’ll end up burning out. Especially if you still have a day job and a family to look after. Take it from me: You don’t need to kill yourself to have a rewarding career as an author. Just don’t quit your day job just yet. 😉
Then there’s also the stress of playing publisher. If you’re going to self-publish, be prepared to take on all the tasks a publisher would usually handle on your behalf. That includes paying an editor for (hopefully) more than one editing pass, layout, proofreading, cover illustration and design, interior layout and digital formatting – all quite daunting if this is your first time. Some publishers even have a good marketing plan and distribution all plotted out, which many first-time authors often don’t consider. As a self-published author, you may not always have the resources to deal with all these behind-the-scenes aspects.
And this is possibly one of the reasons why self-publishing has such a bad rap. Not every author out there who self-publishes pays as much attention to these hidden aspects as a reputable publisher would. And when you self-publish, you are the publisher too. You can’t expect to skimp on these processes and still be considered a professional. So, while self-publishing might seem like the easy way out, in all honestly, it’s not. It’s even more difficult. Plus, you’re doing it on your own, which sucks if you’re fairly new in this industry.
This is where Skolion comes in.
We started this author co-operative back in 2016 precisely because we wanted to marry up the best aspects of traditional publishing while still allowing our authors the freedom to publish when and how they want to. By pooling our collective skills sets and industry knowledge, we’ve created a collective that offers its members everything from beta reading and developmental editing all the way through to cover design and marketing. We are not a publisher, but we make damned sure our fellow collaborators can put out novels that have been polished to within an inch of their lives and that have kick-ass covers with some sort of marketing plan to back that up. Even better is that we don’t feel as if we’re alone. We support each other. We grow together. We encourage and lift each other.
At present Skolion’s active members include me (Nerine Dorman), Amy Lee Burgess, Cat Hellisen, Cristy Zinn, Icy Sedgwick, Laurie Jane, Masha du Toit, Suzanne van Rooyen, Tallulah Lucy, Toby Bennett and Yolandie Horak. We write and produce science fiction, fantasy and horror (speculative fiction) across a wide range of subgenres, and what we all have in common is a passion for publishing the kinds of stories we enjoy reading.
Our core belief is slow, steady growth by keeping our overheads low but with focus on quality. I’ve seen too many initiatives fail over the years thanks to too rapid growth and erosion of investment capital. By sharing our skills, we lay solid foundations with the view to playing the long game. We remain flexible, able to adjust to the ever-changing industry when so many large companies are set in their ways and unable to adapt. We keep learning, keep applying new skills in an environment that is prone to subtle shifts.
Mostly, we believe that story telling is the vital heart of our essential humanity. Stories are not commodities to be exploited for mere financial gain, but powerful, living and breathing entities that have the potential to shape the hearts and minds of future generations. We believe our fellow Skolion authors all have important stories that need to be heard, and we will do our utmost to amplify their voices and offer them the kind of individual support they might not necessarily gain from a large publisher or if they battle out on their own. When you pick up a Skolion author’s book, you share in this dream.
Nerine Dorman is a South African author and editor of SFF currently residing in Cape Town. Her short fiction has been published widely, her YA fantasy novel 'Dragon Forged' was a finalist in the 2017 Sanlam Youth Literature Prize, her short story 'On the other Side of the Sea' was shortlisted for a Nommo in 2018, and she is the curator of the South African Horrorfest Bloody Parchment event and short story competition. In addition, she is the founder of the SFF authors' co-operative Skolion.