Steve Waugh treasured the team spirit of the Australian dressing room, but the ex-cricketer is going it alone with his latest memoir — and challenging the publishing industry in the process.

Waugh will self-publish The Meaning of Luck: Stories of Learning, Leadership and Love, bowling over both publishers and booksellers. It will be sold exclusively in Big W and selected Woolworths stores, the first time the discount department store has done such a deal.

“This is my 13th book, so self-publishing seemed like a natural extension after writing and experiencing the process of constructing 12 books,” Waugh told Crikey via email. “I’ve always aimed to break new ground and test myself in any venture I’m involved, and this is no different.”

Self-publishing is usually the path of first-time authors who can’t convince a publisher to sign them or authors of niche romance and fantasy books. Waugh is the first big-name author in Australia to attempt it.

“Being involved in every part of the publishing process, from early handwritten pages to book signings in Big W stores, is a personal challenge and gives me a sense of ownership over my book that I have never felt in the past,” the former Test captain said.

Not that he’s doing it completely alone. Geoff Armstrong — an author, editor and publisher who has worked with Waugh on all of his previous books — has helped Waugh form a publishing team.

His hand-picked teammates mean Waugh won’t have to be the one editing, figuring out typesetting, negotiating with printers and organising publicity events — complex operations that wear down well-known authors like paranormal fiction scribe Amanda Hocking to abandon a life of independence.

As the publisher of former Vogue editor Kristie Clements’ biography, Mark Latham’s diaries and Chris Bowen’s new book on the Labor Party, Louise Adler, CEO and publisher of Melbourne University Press, is accustomed to big-name authors. She doesn’t expect an exodus for the self-publishing path.

“These are very particular skills and I think most authors, even if they’d want to give it a go, often decide in the end ‘you know what, it’s cheaper and more effective if I rely on the publisher to do this for me’,” said Adler.

Waugh approached Big W with the idea of partnering on the book about luck and leadership around six months ago. Why that department store? It has flogged more sports books than any other outlet in recent years, says Waugh. Plus it sold more copies of his last autobiography — Out of My Comfort Zone (released in 2005 by Penguin) — than any other store.

Penguin has not been involved in Waugh’s latest book, nor has the previous publishers of his Test diaries Pan Macmillan or Harpers Collins. “I will always be grateful for the support I received from the publishers I worked with on my previous books, but publishing a book myself is something I’ve always been keen to do,” he said.

Adler warns the strategy will impact readership; Big W has traditionally relied on deep discounting. “Most people, booksellers and authors and publishers, would say you’d be better off offering the book to the whole market,” she told Crikey.

If the book sells — and his last memoir sold a whopping 230,000 copies — Waugh should expect to make a bucketload of cash. Authors usually receive 10% of the recommended retail price of a book, but by avoiding a publisher and signing an exclusive retailer deal Waugh will receive a much higher cut. Self-published authors on Amazon often receive 70% of the sale price.

There’s currently no word on RRP for The Meaning of Luck — Waugh says customers should expect “a quality book at an affordable price”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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