Taste The Bright Lights of Self-Publishing

Belfast writer Laura Canning discusses the pros and cons of self-publication

Getting ahead in the publishing stakes is probably the biggest challenge faced by emerging writers. They can, of course, send off their manuscripts to as many literary agents or publishing houses as they choose, cross their fingers and hope for the best. 

And yet, as editors’ desks creak under the strain of ever increasing slush piles, the chances of success for an unsolicited submission, always slim at best, are fast receding. 

Faced with a tidy bundle of kindly worded rejection letters, unknown authors are often forced to look for alternative routes to press, and many are choosing to publish their work on their own.

Taste the Bright LightsOne writer who has gone down the road of self-publishing is the Belfast-based author Laura Canning. 

Despite positive responses from many agents and publishers to her debut novel Taste the Bright Lights, prospective publishers were also put off by its controversial narrative - the coming of age story tackles issues such as underage sex, drugs, binge drinking and peer violence. 

Unable to find a publisher willing to take on the work, Canning bravely decided to assume the responsibility of publishing the book herself.

According to Canning, the first step for anyone looking to self-publish is to ‘know the book is quite good and publishable’. This is always going to be a difficult, deeply subjective judgment, but feedback from peers, writing groups, publishers and agents can all be vital in ascertaining if your work is of a sufficient quality to merit publication.

Having decided that her work was worthy, and put off by the high fees of local printers, Canning found an online, print on demand company, Lulu.com, which specialises in self-publishing and allows writers to order as many copies of their work as they want.

‘I got about a hundred copies printed and put them in local bookshops. It’s about the only way to go unless you’ve got a couple of grand to spare or unless you’ve got that elusive publishing contract.'

With a few copies in hand and in local bookstores the author may feel like the job is done, but in fact their travails have only just begun. Now comes the really difficult part – promoting your newly self-published book. 

While a traditional agent and/or publisher will do vital promotion work for you, with self-publishing the onus for getting word out to the public rests entirely with the author. 

Canning counsels that lack of financial backing can be a major problem for self-publishing authors. Publishing For Success: A Practical GuideSince publishing Taste the Bright Lights she has been busy ‘sending copies to local media, newspapers, radio, just about anywhere I can to publicise it’.

Reflecting on the process of self-publication, Canning concludes breezily that ‘it was easy enough’. But it is clear from speaking to this bright, determined young writer that self-publishing is a long, hard road that requires both ambition and self-belief in spades. 

In fact, Canning concedes that she would like, eventually, to be taken up by a literary agent and have her work published by an established house, even if it is ‘just because people kind of look down on self-publishing’.

Self-publishing may be easier now than ever before, but it still demands bravery, confidence and lots of time and energy. The likes of JK Rowling would never have made millions if they had published their own work. 

Yet self-publication does offer potential rewards for emerging writers, not least the possibility of attracting attention from a sympathetic agent or publishing house and eventually finding a way to by-pass the slush pile and safely land at the top of the editor’s in-tray next time around. 

Peter Geoghegan

Taste the Bright Lights is available via via Laura Canning's website.

Learn more about self-publishing in Northern Ireland with Publishing for Success: A Practical Guide by Anne Tannahill.

Read excerpts from Laura Canning's Taste the Bright Lights on the self-publishing website lulu.com.