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!
Back 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 …
Last 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.
The 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 …