Friday, 7 July 2017

Confessions of a self-published author

I didn't start out a self-published author. I had a dream. Write a novel, get it published, sell millions, retire from reality. It was a good dream. Not that there is anything wrong with self-publishing, but I hadn't a clue how to do it. And when I started out writing, it was either traditionally publish, or vanity publish.

For those who don't know what a vanity publisher is, they take your book with all its structural flaws and typos, they create a cover, they produce this book, and charge you $7,000 for it. But they'll send you 100 or more copies which you've then to distribute yourself. They do not edit the book at all.

This is no lie or exaggeration. Way, way, way back in 1996 when I wrote my first horror novel, Poison in the Pond, I saw an ad in a writers magazine for a publisher, so I sent them my novel and they sent me back a lovely letter telling me that they'd gladly publish it, for $7,000. Back then!! What would the cost be now?

Of course I said no. I didn't have $7,000. So I continued writing and submitting to publishers. I continued learning more about the process of pitching to publishers. I took courses, joined writers groups, attended conventions and seminars. I still didn't want to self-publish. Was it because of a stigma attached to the label? Possibly. Was it because I didn't want to do this because I had no idea what this was? More likely. One does not hop into a helicopter and expect the fly the thing solo. Not if one wants to live and tell the tale.

I wanted a publisher because they had the expertise that I did not. Imagine my delight when I finally landed a small-press publisher for my first book, The Bird with the Broken Wing. I learned a lot during this process.

original book cover, amazing!! courtesy Eithne Ni Anulain
The publisher created an awesome book cover. I was assigned a good editor. The end product is the best I could do at the time. It could do with a little more smoothing out, but overall, it has structure, plot, characters, twists...all the good ingredients of a novel. This publisher accepted my second book, Feedback, and again they created a great cover and I got to work with an awesome editor.

I learned so much with these two books, that when it came to book three, Little Red Gem, and when I couldn't sell it elsewhere, I was confident to self-publish. What I did was create my own book cover, and I edited it myself using structural editing comments provided by an editor. Then the book went to beta readers, and I was happy with the end result.

So I continued writing and pitching, and then one day I received an email that my publisher was dropping all their Young Adult titles. I was without a publisher. I had two choices: shop the books around to another publisher, or publish them myself.

Self-pubbed authors typically belong to social media groups and often ask for advice. There are those in one group who would suggest a reboot in this situation, but at the time, I didn't want to reboot and relaunch, I was already writing another series of books.

I chose to self-publish. (One thing I've learned along the way is that agents and publishers don't like a book that's already been shopped around so this turned out to be the right approach and saved me lots of time I might otherwise have wasted.) At first, I created simple book covers and I got these loaded up to Amazon and Smashwords so I didn't lose all the reviews I'd slaved so hard to get.  Then I sort of left them there because I was writing other books. I didn't really know if I wanted to continue writing young adult fiction. It was incredibly hard to pitch and to sell. So I started writing a dystopian series.

My perceptions of self-publishing had changed through circumstances out of my control. And this was only the beginning. If you're considering self-publishing, maybe this short post has given you some insight. I'll write some more "confessions of a self-published author" posts. Stay tuned.

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