Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Step over to the Other Side

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Step over to the Other Side

Article excerpt

Don't let the sneering over self-publishing scare you; the medium is the best fit for some projects, argues Richard Sugg

Publish on Amazon and be damned" is something that the Duke of Wellington might well have said, had he been born two centuries later. To some, this new, relatively unfiltered and uncontrolled form of dissemination may seem little more prestigious than running your own blog. As someone who has published five books with academic presses since 2007, I am now about to publish my sixth, A Century of Supernatural Stories, on Kindle, and via CreateSpace, as a print-on-demand paperback.

Why? The first and simplest answer is: because I want a lot of people to read it. The book is a collection of supernatural tales from 19th-century newspapers, with explanation and commentary derived from my research on magic, witchcraft, vampires, ghosts and poltergeists. Published in their original prose, the tales seem to me to have a nicely textured voice of the period, but they are often also pretty compelling in their own right. I can vouch for this as I've got into the habit of paraphrasing them for all sorts of patient listeners over the past few months, most of whom were neither students nor academics.

I am probably not alone in buying a book "on spec" after a quick glance in a bookshop. But while I would readily do this with a paperback priced under £10, I would hesitate with something costing three times that. Century is due to retail at around £8, whereas the paperback edition of one of my existing books is going to cost slightly more than £30. This is, admittedly, a long book; but the only interest I had from an academic publisher for Century was as part of a series for schools, which would have seen a longer version of it retailing at £100.

Those inside the trade publishing world will tell you that, nowadays, it is very hard to sell non-fiction unless you have television tie-in or a "difficult lives" story. Self-publishing is a way to test this claim. It also allows you to disseminate research quickly. In the present case this is very important. Century is devoted to ghost and poltergeist experiences that are very difficult to swallow on first contact. They defy the laws of physics, and they violate the accepted worldviews of many rationalists. But there is very good reason to take them seriously. They have been reported by a strikingly wide range of witnesses, including lawyers, police officers, journalists, scientists and academics. Moreover, it is only once you get into the habit of talking about this subject that people you have known for years will suddenly say: "Yes - that's happened to me. …

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