Indie Jules & the SP Quest

Tuesdays are normally a fairly harmless day. Perhaps they’re a little closer to a Monday than I’d like and not quite close enough to the weekend but, generally, they’re ok. Today was an exception. 

Today started off with the usual battle to get out of the house for work with the munchkin washed, dressed, brushed, fed and watered. But we managed it. We usually do. Today didn’t start with me having to clean cat mess up in the kitchen, dining room and hall thanks to Pixie clearly having a dicky tummy. No, that was yesterday’s pleasure so today was already looking much better than Monday.

So I arrived at work this morning with a plan of activities and priorities and was looking forward to a productive day. But the best-laid plans usually come unstuck and today they unravelled before my eyes. I won’t bore you with the details but I had to spend most of the day re-working some stuff that I really shouldn’t have had to re-work at the 11th hour because it had been out there for comment 2-3 weeks ago and nobody commented then. Grr.

Hubby picked me up from work and I had a little rant then felt much better. Next stop was Currys to return an iPhone dock that declared on the front that it was “iPhone compatible” but is actually only compatible with an iPhone 5. And I don’t have one of those. Cue sarcastic young chappie on the desk who says, “That’s why it says on the front of the box that it’s got a lightning connector”. Yes, young man, it might well say that. But if you don’t have an iPhone 5 and don’t have an interest in technology, how the hell are you supposed to know that a lightning connector is something that connects into an iPhone and not some technology that just makes the sound better or the connection stronger. He ignored me when I tried to point this out. Rude. But at least I got my refund.

We made it home a little after 6.30pm and I logged onto my computer while the munchkin had her bath and the day deteriorated even more …

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my decision to go indie and then, last week, a spanner was lobbed into the works when one of the eBook publishers I’d pitched to at the Conference got in touch, apologised for the delay, and said my book would be the next she read. For a few days, I was incredibly excited because this was the eBook publisher who, out of all my submissions, I believed I fit with best. And for a brief moment, despite them having taken nearly nine months to respond to my submission despite having asked for a full in person at the RNA Conference, I forgave them and started imagining what it would be like to receive “the call”. For me, “the call” has always been about that affirmation that I can write because a publisher thinks highly enough of me to take me on.

But then the doubts set in.

You see, I really did (and still do) believe that indie is the way for me. I consider myself to be pretty good at my day job which includes planning, organising, engaging with customers, promotional activities and many other skills that I could directly transfer from a company to myself as my own business. Why wouldn’t I do that? Why would I let someone else take control over deadlines, edits, promotion etc when I believe I have the skills (and would pick up the experience) to do it myself and buy in professionals to do bits I can’t do? I met my lovely writing friend and fellow-Write Romantic Alys, for a drink and a spot of sticky toffee pudding (would be rude not to) at the start of last week and we chatted about her wonderful news that she’s secured an agent (read more about it here) and my dilemma of indie v “the call”. We discussed the pros and cons. We even got out the calculator and did some sums. And everything still pointed to indie so I posed the question to the other Write Romantics and asked them what they’d do. Everyone admitted they’d struggle to say no to “the call” and I should accept it as a platform to get cracking, perhaps becoming indie later. Yes. Very sensible. Probably the right thing to do. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that indie was still for me and the longer I waited to hear back with a decision, the more convinced I became. Let’s face it, did I really want to work with an editor who had kept me waiting for nine months, then told me I’d be next, then kept me waiting another fortnight?

Let’s return to the bad day. I logged on to my computer and there was an email from the ePublisher, a day shy of two weeks since I was told I’d be next. And it was a strange email because it didn’t say “no” but it certainly wasn’t “the call”. Instead, it was a further apology for the inexcusable wait and a thanks for my patience (believe me, I have NOT been patient!) Then there was something nice about the premise and the setting. Then there was something not so nice about it needing further development and three tips to help me improve this book and “future ones”. I’m not going to list these and declare that I disagree strongly with these tips because that will sound like I’m being all defensive. All I’ll say is that feedback is subjective and the three points raised are ones that my NWS critique and beta readers also raised … but in the opposite way i.e. they think I’ve done those things very well. Who’s right? Who knows?! I’d like to go with the NWS critique and my beta readers. There’s more of them. My little army!

As for the end of the email, it just said to ask if there were any further questions. That was it. No, “so regretfully it’s a no from us but we wish you every success in your future writing” or “please do these changes and resubmit” or any other variation on these themes. It just ended. No offer. No rejection. No next steps. No good luck message. Have I really waited nine months to hear that?

Four submissions are outstanding. I’m sure one must be a no as this is the other ePublisher who I pitched to, who wanted a full, who didn’t respond and who hasn’t replied to chase emails despite a promise that everyone will hear either way. The other three will, I am sure, be rejections but I won’t prolong this post with the reasons why.

I actually cried when I read the email this evening. I cried lots. Those proper fast-flowing tears that drip down your cheeks and wet your blouse and feel like they’re never going to stop. And it wasn’t because I’m upset at the rejection. I’d believed I’d been rejected a long time ago and somebody just forgot to tell me. No, that wasn’t it. It was because I’d been built up only to be trampled down again. It was because I’m frustrated as a frustrated thing that’s really frustrated with this whole ludicrous dance we do to try and get noticed. And it was because, quite honestly, I’ve had a crap day and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I nearly cried at work so I was already teetering on the edge.

Have you ever been interviewed for a job that you don’t really want but you need a job because either (a) you hate your current job and are desperate to leave or (b) you’re out of work and desperate to be earning again? Do you find yourself hoping it’s a “no” so that you don’t have to make the difficult decision as to whether to accept or turn it down. I’ve been there several times with jobs and this situation reminded me so much of it because, deep down, I wanted a no so that the decision would be made for me and I wouldn’t have to push indie aside for fear of turning down a publishing deal. I got what I wanted, didn’t I? The decision has been made for me and that particularly publishing footpath leads no further.

But is it a case of be careful what you wish for? Watch this space …

 

I can’t sign off without saying thank you so much to the wonderful kindred spirits that are Jo, Alys and the other Write Romantics for their valuable guidance, support and advice and to honorary WR Sharon Booth. And to hubby who let me cry on him too. There may have been some snot in there too. Sorry about that! xxx

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What happens when you make the wrong choice?

My last post, “To SP or Not SP: That is the Question” received a quite overwhelming level of support and I thank everyone who took the time to convey their support or pass on their comments. For those in a similar situation, I hope it helped you gather your thoughts on which road to take on your journey.

Today I’m going to continue with the theme of wrong choices but in a much lighter-hearted vein. My strapline for this blog is “writing, reading, life, chocolate and bears” yet I’ve only ever wittered about writing. I’m going to rectify that today and talk chocolate. More specifically a chocolate brownie.

Today is Father’s Day so I’ll just pause to wish all the best to my dad, my father in law and my husband, Mark, on behalf of the munchkin. We had a lovely walk along Filey Brigg (long stretch of rocks round the cliffs at Filey, North Yorkshire, just down the coast from Scarborough where we live) and then went for tea at a lovely pub called The John Paul Jones in The Bay Holiday Village just outside Filey. We’ve eaten there once before and it was delicious. It’s slightly more expensive than your average chain pub but the food is worth it.

I’m a bit of a pudding fiend. I have always claimed to have two stomachs; one for mains and one for desserts because I can always seem to fit in a dessert even when I’m feeling stuffed from my main course. Maybe this is the variation between sweet and savoury. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a pig!

Anyway, we got round to discussing pudding and recalled that I’d made a bad choice last time I was there when my dessert arrived and was really small but the munchkin’s had been huge. Unfortunately, none of us could remember the choice I’d made last time. I tend to be drawn towards cheesecakes and, as there was a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake on the menu, I suspected this might have been the tiny dessert. So I avoided that. The munchkin liked the sound of it and I placed our order: cheesecake for her and a chocolate brownie for me. I returned from the bar confident that I’d ordered differently from last time. Until the desserts came out for the table of five near us. A couple of cheesecakes appeared and they were definitely a good-sized portion. Someone on the table had waffles: huge. And another of the party had a chocolate fondant thing which was enormous. And at that point, panic set in. Three desserts and all big. Surely I hadn’t picked the same one as before. Had I?

ImageA few minutes later, munchkin’s large cheesecake arrived. And so did my brownie. My tiny brownie. My three-mouthfuls-and-it’s-gone brownie. Yep, I hadn’t learned. Lightning had struck twice! To add insult to injury, the munchkin couldn’t eat all of hers! Grr. I DEFINITELY won’t make that mistake again. I hope. Can’t believe I made the wrong choice. I personally think that they should note the dimensions on the menu to manage the expectations of customers like me!

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The silver lining in this sorry tale is that I’d lost 3 stone last year and was a long way off my goal but very proud of my progress. For reasons I won’t go into just now, I’ve put a lot of that 3 stone back on and looking at the photos from today was a bit of a shock. With my 3 stone off, I was overweight but I didn’t hate photos of me. I hate this one. I hadn’t realised I looked so huge again. So it was probably just as well my brownie was tiny. Diet starts tomorrow! By the way, if you’re local or visiting, definitely go to The John Paul Jones. Fab pub, fab food but if you like huge puddings, pick anything but the brownie!

And just to tie this all back into writing which is, of course, the main theme of this blog, I’ve had an unexpected development. I was all fired up about indie after my post last week. A discussion with my hubby after posting it confirmed that it would be foolish to rush things and self-publish my debut for the summer market. In fact, Christmas may be ambitious and perhaps spring, summer and Christmas 2015 would be a very wise and sensible launch plan for my trilogy. But then I received a most unexpected Facebook message from one of the big eBook publishers to whom I’d pitched at the RNA conference last year apologising for the enormous wait, thanking me for my patience, and telling me my book would be next on the list to be read. I’d given up on ever hearing from them. The idea to go indie is logical and has many pros but it was driven in the first instance by the frustration at waiting for so long to hear news from any publishers and the refusal to put myself through that again with more and more rounds of subs. Suddenly the place I thought was the best fit for my books was back on the agenda. I’m now going to be on tenterhooks all week. The message came through on Wednesday evening so realistically I didn’t expect to hear anything last week although I did have a little fantasy about good news on Friday 13th and liked the contradiction that would provide. More realistically, I could hear this week. Searching for Steven could have been read over the weekend. Eek! I tell you what, I’m going to be a wreck any time my phone rings!

What happens when you make the wrong choice? It’s a very interesting question. Make the wrong choice on dessert and there’s a severe case of food envy but perhaps some saved calories. Make the wrong choice about the home for my debut novel and my whole writing career could change. I feel like everything is hanging in the balance pending this decision. If I get a yes, I’d be foolish to say no. If I went indie and things didn’t take off, I’d be forever wondering “what if I’d accepted the offer, where would I be then?” but accepting a publishing deal (if I got the call) wouldn’t stop me going indie at some point later when I’d (hopefully) be successful and established. If it’s a no, then nothing has changed and the indie plans still stand. Although I still have another 5 irons in the fire (I had a no from one of the US publishers 2 days after posting my last entry) so it’s not over until the fat lady sings.

And I’m not singing just yet, although I will be mostly eating fruit for the next few months … 

To SP or not to SP: That is the Question!

Self publishing. Indie publishing. Call it what you like but it’s the subject that has been going round and round in my mind for the last few months and I really can’t decide what to do. I’m not sitting on the fence on this one; I’ve been leaping back and forth across it from Traditional Crop to Indie Meadow and, quite frankly, I don’t know where my head’s at! So, in true writerly style, I’m going to put fingers to keyboard and try and write my way into a decision. Would you like to come on a little journey with me?

In the beginning …

When I first had the idea for Searching for Steven back in 2003 and decided to write, the dream was simple: to get a publishing deal and be able to hold a book I’d written. (If I’m being honest, the dream was really to dive into Waterstones, WH Smith or my local bookshop and be photographed grinning inanely whilst pointing to said book but let’s not go there cos it’s slightly cheesy even though I’m sure most writers long to do it!) When I say “book” I mean a physical book because this was four years before the first eReader came out and it simply wasn’t on my radar to even imagine a world where there would ever be a format for books other than paperback, hardback or audio. How things change!

ImageBack then, I had no idea that something called self publishing existed. But I hadn’t heard of vanity publishing either. In fact, I had little ideas of how publishing worked full stop. Then I met my husband and, as a freelance typesetter, he opened my eyes to the world of publishing. Sadly he mainly sets journals and text books so doesn’t have connections in the large fiction publishers so this isn’t going to be a short story with a happy ending where he introduced me to one of his clients and the deal was done. Instead, what I learned from him was the existence of self publishing. Local vicar-turned-writer, G P Taylor (Graham) had self-published his debut novel “Shadowmancer” that same year (2003) and Mark had picked up a 1st edition in Waterstones. The book took off and was picked up and re-released by Faber & Faber and became a New York Times No 1 bestseller. Graham’s books were cited at the time as being “hotter than Potter”. Imagine that! No pressure then!

In 2006 I attended a creative writing course run by Graham and, although I never thought seriously about becoming self published at the time, Graham’s success was always at the back of my mind. You can read more about G P Taylor on his official website

For several years I continued writing and learning my craft, always working towards the goal of being published in physical book format.

Then the eReader hit the market and the face of publishing changed forever.

I fought against owning a Kindle for some time. Books. That was what people should be reading. None of this new-fangled technology rubbish for me putting writers out of business. Except the reality has been quite the opposite. It’s actually opened up a world of publishing to many who would never have been in the right place at the right time with the right idea to secure a traditional publishing deal.

I succumbed and got a Kindle for Christmas 2012 and I confess I absolutely love it. It will never fully replace physical books for me. I’ll always love the smell and feel of an actual book but my Kindle is so practical. It’s with me all the time for those unexpected moments of waiting. I’m someone who can’t bear not being on the go and who hates wasted time so being unexpectedly stuck waiting for a lift, bus, child etc can suddenly be time well-spent by whipping out my Kindle and reading a few pages.

But this posting isn’t about the virtues of Kindles (other e-Readers are available!) It’s about the decision to self publish or not so let’s get back to that …

ImageLast summer I attended the RNA’s annual conference where one of my biggest learnings was that it is almost impossible for a debut writer to secure a UK publishing deal in my genre (note I said “almost”; some do, of course, achieve it but they are definitely the exception rather than the rule). For the rest of us debut writers, it became clear that a publishing deal would more likely be with an ePublisher. Many of the large publishers have set up dedicated ePublishing arms. I was lucky enough to secure a pitch with editors representing two ePublishers at the conference and, to my delight, they loved the premise of my story and my writing style and both wanted to see my full MS. The excitement I felt at this news made me realise that, even thought I will always like the idea of holding a book of mine in my hand, I would be very happy to secure an ePublishing deal. I think several factors contributed to this change of heart; my new love of my Kindle, the reality check that this was the way forward for a debut romance writer, the speed at which the book could be available to readers when compared to the traditional print market and also fellow Write Romantic, Helen Phifer, having secured a deal with Carina for her debut novel. You can read more about Helen here

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Helen’s journey with her and have observed what it means to be ePublished via a large publisher. In the meantime, I’ve been submitting my MS. I’ve submitted to both the ePublishers I met (would be rude not to when so politely invited), I tried a few agents (just in case; got to keep that traditional publishing deal dream alive) and a handful of other ePublishers, more recently a few in the USA.

As expected, I’ve had some rejections. I had a very encouraging “near miss” from an agent which was exciting but, for every positive response, I’ve been disappointed by the “if you don’t hear from us within 6 weeks/2 months/6 months, assume it’s a no” approach to decisions. My day job has seen me in many recruitment roles over the years and I have always, always, always had the courtesy of getting in touch with candidates to let them know their application has been unsuccessful. It takes a bit of time to do and it’s bad news for the candidate … but at least it’s news! They can move on. They can apply elsewhere. They don’t have to keep checking their email wondering if today will be the day they hear. In this day and age where most submissions are online or via email, there simply isn’t any excuse for not getting in touch to tell an aspiring writer they’ve been unsuccessful. In my mind, it’s downright rude and it’s also poor customer service because, don’t forget, those who are good at their craft should also be voracious readers and therefore customers you’d hope not to alienate. Phew! Relax. Deep breath. Rant over!

Back to the journey …

So, I waited and I waited. And I waited some more. And I’m still waiting. And, to be honest, it’s frustrating as hell. Where else in business would such a long wait be acceptable? Nowhere. It feels so out of control. And that’s where the appeal of indie publishing comes in. It’s in your control. There’s a line in one of my favourite films, Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’s character, Vivian, confronts Richard Gere after his lawyer, Stuckey, assaults her when she refuses his advances. She yells at Gere, “I say who, I say when, I say who …” Well, with self publishing, I’d say what, I’d say when, I’d say how much. I hadn’t really thought about the control thing until I had my recent lovely writerly afternoon with fellow Write Romantic Alex and our fellow NWS-friend Sharon. Sharon is quite keen on the idea of SP and one of the main drivers is the control. I’m someone who likes to be in control. I’m very organised, I’m usually a manager/leader at work, I’m a Brown Owl outside of work and generally I like to get things done … but within my timescales. I would only have that as an indie which makes indie very appealing.

I left my afternoon with Alex and Sharon with a spring in my step about self publishing. But then a couple of The Write Romantics received some really positive news that took them one step closer to their publishing dream and I had another reality check. I revelled in their news vicariously and was absolutely ecstatic for them. But feeling their excitement for them was a reminder of how excited I’d feel myself to get “the call”. Suddenly indie lost its shine and I was back to square one.

My current day job is a Learning & Development Advisor and, a couple of months ago, I was asked to be a facilitator, supporting a colleague running a coaching workshop. To give the delegates an opportunity to practice their coaching skills, they were broken into small groups and the facilitator of each group needed to present an issue they were dealing with outside of work and get the group to coach them. I choose “to SP or not SP”. I have to say the results out of this coaching session were quite fascinating. The only thing stopping me from going indie was me (often the case in any coaching situation) and the only reason I was stopping me was this slight doubt I have at the back of my mind (which I’m sure all debut writers have … and probably some successful writer too) is that I’m not good enough and having “the call” would be having someone in the know saying, “Don’t worry, Julie, we loved your work; you really are good enough.” But one of the coaches-in-training asked me the most enlightening question of the session: “Is there any other way you can get feedback that you’re good at writing.” OMG. Lightbulb moment. Sales. Reviews. Feedback. Of course!!!! (This lightbulb moment is worthy of several question marks even though I know that’s really a writing sin!)

Which brings my journey to present day …

I’m still waiting to hear back from 7 publishers. This is not me being either modest or down on myself but I absolutely do not expect to hear back from the three UK ones. I don’t think I have a chance with one of them as they did a submissions call and were inundated and I think they’ll be spoilt for choice. The other two have had my book way, way, way too long. Yes, it’s possible it’s going through a process and the length of time I’ve waited is a good sign but it’s equally possible it still hasn’t been read and, given that both editors specifically asked me for it, I feel that if it was really calling to them, I’d have heard by now so I have to conclude that the pull that was there in the summer isn’t there any more and I don’t know why. As for the US publishers, it’s an unknown for me. I want my book to be available to UK audiences as I want my friends and family to read it. Surely they deserve to after hearing me wittering on about being a writer for 11 years! I wonder if they’d publish in the US and I’d retain UK rights which would mean, what? SP is the only route in the UK again? I don’t know. As I said, it’s an unknown entity and a bridge I’ll cross if I ever get to it.

ImageThe final update on the journey is that, although at the start of this rather long post, I said Mark doesn’t have connections, that’s not strictly true. He has a local contact called Piers who has been in the publishing industry since the early 1970s. Piers writes fact and fiction, is traditionally published and self published and has published for others so he’s a wealth of knowledge and experience. I had a very useful phone conversation with him on Tuesday and he presented the indie route as a no-brainer, particularly financially. There’s no guarantee you’ll sell shed-loads but, hey, there’s no guarantee you’ll do any better if you have a publishing deal. Either way, you still have a lot of the marketing to do yourself and, with SP, you reap greater financial rewards for the same volume of sales. There’s formatting to do (cue expertise of typesetting husband). And a cover to design (cue expertise of amateur (but exceedingly good) photographer husband or his best friend (best man at our wedding) who happens to be a graphic designer). And there’s reliable experts to proof-read and edit the work (hello Write Romantics) and then voila! He also presented an idea I really hadn’t considered but which is pretty obvious if you think about it. The books he SPs, he does in both e-format and print format. He’s going to give me the details of a very good printing firm he uses and gave me an indication of costs. I love the idea of the credibility and increased market that potentially having eBooks and print books available on Amazon could bring. And if I didn’t want to invest in a large box of books, there’s CreateSpace who do POD (print on demand) so there are many options available to become indie AND still hold a physical book in my hand AND get that feedback from reviews and sales that my work really is good enough.

To SP or not to SP? I think I’ve answered the question haven’t I? I think the question really should be, “Do I have time to go indie for the summer market or do I wait and aim for Christmas?” Impatient by nature, there’s a part of me saying summer but professional by nature too, I believe Christmas may be more sensible. More time to plan. More time to network and build a customer base. More time to get the cover that’s really right for me. Plus, I’d like to do one more edit of Searching for Steven (just in case). After all, I haven’t read it for about nine months and a fresh look may inject new energy and life into it. And I suppose I would like to give that last few months to (hopefully) have the final decisions in from the 7 publishers who have Steven.

Although it would make a really great beach read …