Self-publishing was nothing new back then, but now it’s easier to reach a niche audience.

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It’s been 10 years since EL James decided to self-publish his first novel, Fifty shades of Grey. The plot of the story centers on a student who comes into relationship with a wealthy businessman involving BDSM practices – bondage, domination / submission, sadism / masochism – and becomes his submissive.

Some critics praise author EL James, pictured here, for inspiring more authors to experiment with self-publishing.
(Shutterstock)

The story was first developed as a fan-fiction project in 2009 based on the dusk series, originally titled Master of the universe. However, after being reprimanded for mature content by the administrators of a fan fiction website, James decided to self-publish the book in 2011 with the help of an online editor, The Writers’ Coffee Shop.

the book of Jacques and its suites – Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty shades lighter – has become a worldwide sensation. The trilogy has sold over 65 million copies after James signed a contract with a traditional publisher, Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House.

Substantial cultural commentaries and numerous studies have explained how the “infamous” novel influenced both readers and the publishing industry.

Some people have criticized the book for make a connection between sex and violence without deepening the level of communication required to make BSDM safe and truly consented. Others discussed how it has hurt the already fragile role of women in a patriarchal world, or praised him for starting a dialogue around BDSM – and attracting more authors to experiment with niche topics and self-publishing.



Read more: Violence disguised as eroticism: Fifty Shades of Gray and abuse


The role of gatekeepers has changed

It is an interesting time for publishing and other areas of the cultural industries, as the roles of custodians change. Today, it is much easier to win over a niche audience than it was 10 years ago. Self-publishing is here to stay.

Some people congratulate self-publishing as a great way to ensure audiences can access a diversity of genres and voices traditionally marginalized by mainstream publishers. Others condemn him because of the lack of guards to evaluate the content produced. Some consider it a get-rich-quick program.

However, these assumptions are based on a limited knowledge of contemporary self-publishing practices.

Self-publishing is nothing new

The phenomenon of self-publishing is often linked to online book production methods, which allow authors to produce an ebook with a few keystrokes, making their work accessible to a global audience. However, there is a much richer history of self-publishing that dates back further than its digital counterpart.

A number of prominent authors began by privately printing their work. For example, Jane Austen posted privately Sense and sensitivity in 1811, and Mark Twain self-published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885. While self-publishing may appear to be the new buzzword, it is not a new phenomenon in the publishing industry.

Although self-publishing was a practice adopted by some authors in the 18th and 19th centuries, the distribution methods and the number of copies were often limited.

A stack of Jane Austen books
Yes, Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” actually has something in common with “Fifty Shades of Gray”: self-publishing.
(Shutterstock)

Amazon and self-publishing

Over the past 10 years, the phenomenon of self-publishing has grown massively with the help of Amazon, Wattpad and other online publishing tools.

Amazon made a real game-changer in self-publishing when it introduced Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007. It has become possible for authors to share their work around the world through a convenient global distributor.

Amazon can be linked to popularization of electronic books (ebooks) through its promotion of the Kindle – also introduced in 2007 – which prices literary works as low as 99 cents.

In 2012, one year after its publication, Fifty shades of Grey was the best-selling and best-selling series on Kindle.

Self-publishing on the rise

It is difficult to trace the actual number of self-published books because platforms like Amazon assign their own classification, making the ISBN unnecessary. However, Bowker, a company that evaluates and reports bibliographic information (such as ISBN data), provides reports showing that self-publishing is on the rise.

In 2011, the company registered 148,424 self-published books printed with 87,201 additional ebooks. Just six years later, in 2017, the recorded number of self-published books exceeded one million. The numbers continued to increase the following year, with more than 1.5 million self-published books recorded in Bowker’s system.

Over the past 10+ years, self-publishing has continued to grow as an industry potentially due to the adoption of eBooks and online publishing companies, indicating that it has certainly the possibility of having a permanent place in the publishing ecosystem.

Wattpad: virtual library of the future?

In 2006, Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine, proposed the idea of ​​”liquid books” all housed in a universal library, to which everyone could freely access. A year after Kelly’s proposal, a platform emerged that made the idea of ​​a universal library a viable possibility.

Wattpad was originally a start-up founded in Canada by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in 2007. Originally a website, the company launched a mobile app in 2008, which is now easily accessible from any portable device.

At first, the founders of the site uploaded books to the public domain. to attract users. Once enough people learned about Wattpad, writers began uploading their own stories to share with audiences online. Now, Wattpad has a range of book and story categories for all types of readers, from traditional romance and mystery to spiritual and paranormal genres. A virtual library of user-generated content, both mainstream and niche, has emerged that has supported the boom in self-publishing.

Wattpad is proud of the fact that it provides opportunities for its authors to gain global recognition by working with global media companies. For example, the self-published novel The kissing booth became a Netflix original movie after meeting success and a loyal Wattpad audience. Therefore, Wattpad has become a place where traditional industries can search for new content.

Arguably, this indicates that self-publishing gets nowhere and that traditional media companies are quickly profiting from this new production model.

After more than 10 years in the industry, Wattpad has developed links with traditional media which can only grow stronger.

And after?

Self-publishing could be a solution to a number of issues writers face – from trying to reach a niche market to producing controversial content, as was the case with the work of EL James. .

Another thing to keep in mind when evaluating the usefulness of self-publishing is the ability to produce and purchase books and e-books from home during a pandemic.

Could the pandemic contribute to a change that potentially makes self-publishing accepted as a viable and legitimate form of book production? Maybe we will have an answer in 10 years.


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