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 …

 

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19 thoughts on “To SP or not to SP: That is the Question!

  1. Hi Julie, I read this post with interest. I’m on the RNA NWS this year and I’m waiting for my manuscript to come back at this very moment. I’m also going to the Conference but have decided not to go to any one to one meetings this time because my book won’t be ready but it will give me a chance to suss out how it all works. I have been pondering the same questions as you though because I hope that my book will be ready to publish in the near future. I think you’re absolutely right that what we crave is some validation and that’s what publishers provide to a large extent and when you see other people succeeding with them, like Helen, for example, it makes you want that too. I’m sure that self-publishing can be quite lonely too but there’s no denying that it’s more profitable and to have total control would be a good thing. I wish you lots of luck with it and I shall follow your progress with interest. If you’re going to the Conference this year, I hope we get the chance to meet up. Looking forward to reading your book very soon.

    • Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting woodbeez48. Good luck with what sounds like your first submission to the NWS. Exciting times ahead! I’m year 3. I didn’t attend the conference in my 1st year; too scared! I submitted my debut 2 years in a row because I’d significantly chopped and changed it between both submissions and I wanted to make sure some of the feedback for improvement from year 1 had worked. It had and I was given the feedback that I would surely be published very soon so it felt right to secure a pitch (or 2 in my case). If you don’t feel your book is ready, it’s definitely wise to wait.

      You raise a very interesting point about self publishing being a lonely business and I absolutely agree it could be. I read and hear so much from writers about how wonderful the support of their publisher-buddies can be. I’m very lucky that I have The Write Romantics. We’re all NWS (or former NWS) and have been blogging together for about 15 months now having met virtually through Romna. If you do go down the SP route in the future, I would encourage you to set up or find a group of fellow-writers with whom you can discuss the highs and lows of your writing journey as that support network is invaluable.

      I look forward to meeting you at the conference and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      Julie x

      • Thanks, Julie for your reply. I would love to talk to you more about your journey at the conference. We must make sure we meet 🙂

        Best wishes,
        Julie (@wood_beez48)

  2. Wow! Well it seems like you have your decision 🙂 I am so delighted for you, as I really think you could make a phenomenal success of it. Steven would be a great beach read, but equally a lovely read to cosy up by the fire with – either on Kindle or in paperback form, you know I’ll be buying a copy of the latter and it will have pride of place on my shelf. I’m hoping the editor that has expressed an interest in my first novel will like the changes enough to take it, but if not I will be going indie too… and perhaps purchasing some of Mark’s expertise as part of that process, if he’s be up for that? Even if the US publisher take novel one, I want to indie a Christmas novella, if I can get it finished it time, so I will be right with you for the process. I think, at the moment, my heart is still with turning the 3/4 call I’ve now had twice into a full call, but I’m also completely fed-up with waiting! I’m not as great at marketing as you, but I fully expect you to blaze a trail for indie publishing, whilst I hold on to your coat tails! xx

    • Thanks for all your support as always, Jo. Mark would definitely be willing to support you for your novellas and anywhere else your journey takes you. He always said it was something he’d look into and I’ve just pushed it forward on his agenda with the anthology and my plans. I reckon you’ll have a publishing deal in the palm of your hands really soon though xxx

  3. I tried to comment last night, Julie, but I was on my phone and for some reason when I pressed post the whole thing deleted and I didn’t have the energy to type it all out again! Basically, I just wanted to say…woohoo!! I think this is incredibly exciting news and I am so looking forward to finally reading Steven. I think things are really happening for us all at last. It feels as if we’ve really moved on in leaps and bounds over the last few months and I’m sure you’ll make a great success of indie publishing. I had the same dilemma a while ago, as you’ll know from reading my blog post, The Fork in the Road. I got some really interesting answers and points of view there. I wonder what the coming year will bring for us all? I wish you the very best of luck and I’ll be with you every step of the way xx

    • Thank you Sharon. And particular thanks for coming back on to comment after losing your first post. I can’t bear it when that happens!!! I do feel like things are moving forward for us all and it’s exciting times ahead. Look forward to another meet-up very soon where we can chat all things indie. I’m think I’ll revisit your blog post so thanks for flagging it up. I had another rejection this morning from one of the US publishers (who sends out a rejection on a Sunday?!) and I just knew I’d made the right decision xx

  4. Hi Julie! It sounds like you’ve done a lot of thinking! Having been both traditionally published and self-published, I’d say there are definite merits to both. But whatever route you choose, you need to work hard to market your book. Having a publisher can help, but you’ll still need to do a lot of promotion. And having a traditional publisher isn’t a magic bullet, either . . . especially with a newer e-publisher. Chick lit is a genre that does sell well on Kindle and if you have a great cover that looks professional, employ an editor, and price it competitively, there is every chance you could do as well self-publishing as you could traditionally. And there are huge communities of self-publishers who are very supportive and encouraging, so it’s not as lonely as you’d think.

    On the other hand, you likely won’t get into WH Smiths etc and it can be quite stressful if the book doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped. I’d be happy to speak with you about my experiences in more detail at conference!

    • Great advice, Talli, and thank you so much for taking the time to share it. We met very briefly at last year’s conference and it would be great to chat in more detail this year. I’ve decided I’m definitely not going to rush to get it out for the summer. I may even make it next year as I want to be sure I do it right which included pulling a marketing plan together. I know it doesn’t work for everyone but then I know those who’ve had traditional deals who haven’t been too successful either. I guess we just have to try our best as it’s better to try than never take that brave step.

      Look forward to seeing you at the conference. Thanks again! x

  5. A most interesting post, Julie. Your mental debate will have struck chords with probably most of those who read your blog. Good luck with whatever path to choose. Although, having said that, someone so determined and clear-thinking as you will not need to rely on luck in order to achieve success.

    I look forward to meeting you in the conference.

    Liz X

    • Thank you very much for visiting Liz and for your kind words. Writing the post genuinely helped me reach the decision. I wasn’t 100% sure where I’d go when I started writing and I’ve been delighted to find so many positive responses. I will definitely be at the conference and look forward to meeting you in person.

      Thanks for your support. Julie x

  6. Hi Julie,

    Thank you for sharing your journey so openly.

    Like you, I also experience a see-saw of emotions as a writer. One minute I think of course I’ll make it, I’ll get published…the next I want to throw in the towel. But just like you, I am starting to learn how to manage these ups and downs…I owe a lot of that to the other Write Romantics and authors who give advice so generously on our blog, via Romna and via emails.

    Self-publishing is no longer second best for many writers, in fact many say that unless a traditional publisher made them an incredible offer, they would stick with the self publishing route. Then of course there are the hybrid authors who have some books self published and others via a publishing deal. I think that nowadays there is no one-size-fits-all and for me, self publishing one book would get that first foot on the ladder towards the writing career.

    If you decide to do it then we are all behind you. I may self publish towards the end of the year – once two UK trips are out the way and moving house (to where, who knows?!?) You’ve set up a good social media platform, you write all the time (I can’t keep up with your posts and willingness to share information!) and you clearly have the drive.

    I’ll see you in a few weeks at the RNA Conference and look forward to a really good chat.

    Helen R x

    • You’re very welcome, Helen. Yes, definitely a sea-saw of emotions. I often describe it to my family as a roller-coaster which is exactly the same principal of highs and lows. I reckon we’ll have quite a bit of indie publishing done between us before 2015 is out and I reckon a few of us will become hybrid. So much potential ahead. I look forward to discussing it in detail – and to finally meeting you and the 4 other WRs I haven’t met – at the Conference.
      Julie xx

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