Self-publishing MA aims to bring authors’ ideas to book

Uclan offers ‘world’s first’ degree focused on core skills needed to enter growing DIY market

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Sign of the times: E. L. James’ success has spurred aspiring writers to try DIY route

The University of Central Lancashire has launched what it claims is the world’s first master’s degree in self-publishing.

Four years ago, Debbie Williams, head of publishing at Uclan, left a career in the industry to set up the first MA in publishing in the North of England. This degree programme now takes in about 25 students a year, who develop hands-on skills by producing books for the university’s own press, Uclan Publishing.

“There has to be a gap in the market” for such books to be successful, Ms Williams explained, “so it requires market research. Students have to pitch their ideas and come up with hard data.”

Most of the projects have an educational and humanitarian dimension and involve engaging with far-flung communities. To give just one example, Ms Williams is leading a team of six to Greenland, where she and her students will be transported by dogsled to a remote area, sleep on the sea ice and live among the Inuit for two weeks, working on a book, e-book and documentary film about the impact of climate change.

The success of Uclan’s MA in publishing led Ms Williams to suspect that there was also a market for a course in self-publishing.

She is often contacted by budding authors and gives public lectures on getting published, which made her realise that “people don’t have a clue how to get published and self-published. When I asked if they might want to do an MA, [many] were enthusiastic.”

Ms Williams added: “While you can always pay publishing services companies a good deal of money for them to typeset and market your book, why not learn how to do it yourself? Then you’ve got the skills for life.”

There is also external evidence of a growing appetite for self-publishing. Research by the book data company Bowker suggests that close to 400,000 titles were self-published in the US in 2013, representing an increase of 59 per cent on 2011. Moreover, the vast global success of E. L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as a self-published project, indicates that it can be lucrative.

Although applications are still coming in for about 15 places on the new MA, which launches in September, Ms Williams has already heard from individuals keen to publish everything from a children’s picturebook to a technical manual.

Some wish to publish largely for family and friends, or on themes such as local history whose small niche market is unlikely to interest a mainstream commercial publisher.

Ms Williams says that most have consciously decided that they want to pursue the self-publishing option; only one has unsuccessfully submitted a manuscript to a series of traditional publishers and opted for self-publishing as a last resort.

Those embarking on the course will acquire core publishing skills such as editing, production, layout, sales and marketing, although from the perspective of an author rather than an employee, while also learning the basics of running their own business.

The final semester will give students an opportunity to put all this into practice, taking their text up to PDF stage, so that it is ready for publication as either an e-book or a traditional hard copy book.

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