19/04/2014

My Self Publishing Experience (so far!)



Having just self -published my children’s book Elemental on Amazon’s Kindle Direct I thought I’d chew a few thoughts on the whole thing.  It’s too early to say how beneficial or otherwise this will prove to be till the print version is available; and would you believe it’s being held up by the back cover!!? What it has done is get the book out into the public domain after more than a decade.


It would be very easy to be critical of the industry as a whole because it is a very closed shop unless you happen to be somebody already famous in another sphere; say a singer or actor or comedian. In which case you’ll have the industry after your work regardless of the quality of the book. There is something rather annoying when I read of yet another celebrity who has decided to write a children’s book and already seems to have a deal. However I accept it is probably more necessary than ever to help promote an industry which is going through the sort of traumas that the record industry has also been suffering from. A pincer movement comprising new technology and cheaper alternatives has driven book shops and traditional printing to the brink of disaster. Recent stats suggest this may be levelling out but it is unlikely to ever return to past pinnacles. So having celeb names publishing books gets the concept of books some extra attention.
Yet I suspect that new writers have always suffered the same indignities long before anyone invented the Kindle. The `way in` to the publishing world is still heavily guarded by literary agents to whom you have to submit your work. They in turn then represent it to publishers. At least that is the theory. In practice what seems to be the general experience is that you spend a lot of time preparing your submission only to receive a standard letter back. As most agents in 2014 still insist on printed copies, the cost of printing and postage balloons quickly.
I’ll be the first to admit that the earlier versions of the book were not good enough for publication and that the continued re-working of the story- and as a result the development of several sequel ideas- has been beneficial to the finished work. However I am equally convinced that most of the agents did not properly assess the work anyway. Several years ago a newspaper sent agents manuscripts purporting to be from aspiring authors but which were in fact already published well known works and most were rejected with the same cursory letter I had so you can’t help but wonder.
It is possible there are valid reasons beyond the quality or otherwise; fantasy based books may well have been on the exclusion list in the wake of Harry Potter. Judging from what has been published teen vampire stories are very much in though this may now have run out of blood. Perhaps some agents are inundated with so many manuscripts they don’t have time to read them.
The point is that I never knew whether their disinterest was due to the quality of the work, prevailing trends or simply the fact they had too many submissions. The letters give no indication of anything much at all so on I trundled. I think I wrote the book about five times over a decade in the end. It’s a common experience I’ve discovered and a lot of people used to just give up. For those of us older than our twenties the appeal of seeing your book on the shelf in a bookshop is still strong but things have changed.
The rise of self- publishing and in particular digital options has revolutionised matters over the period I’ve been working on this book. Back when I started the only options if you really wanted to just hold a physical copy of your book were so called `vanity printing ` ones. A firm would print you a handful of copies and I suppose you could pretend it had been on sale. Now you can `print` them yourself whether as an e-book or a print version. The obvious advantage of this is that it is reasonably cheap and comparatively easy even if some of the formatting things test your ability with unfamiliar software. Even so I have found the instructions on Kindle and Centrespace to both be clear and concise at least till I got to the cover!
It can be a bit time consuming (especially the print version which I’m still working through) and things that had never occurred to me included tax related forms (because owner Amazon is a US company you have to actively exempt yourself from US tax if you don’t live there). Also you set the price of the book yourself which is eye popping as you can play with putting any price in and the page will calculate your royalties!
There are plenty of arguments against self -publishing- some of course developed by the very agents and publishers who can see their influence diminishing but I can see how easy it would be to lose perspective and quality control without an editor or agent around. Within reason you can self publish anything and while there are plenty of technical, financial and legal checks along the way the one thing that is not scrutinised is the actual artistic attributes of the work itself. For me there has to be some pride involved- and I think this is true of most authors. This blog for example is littered with inaccuracies, poor grammar and ill informed views- I should know because I write most of it! Yet as an author, I take a different approach. The blog- much as I like it- is very much a here today / gone tomorrow thing. A book-whatever the format- is something rather special by comparison.
One small delay to all this was just before I started on Kindle, I saw an advert from two publishers requesting manuscripts. Having never known the industry so eager to receive, I decided to send them the standard stash (3 chapters and a full synopsis) just to see. The unofficial rule normally is that it is even less worth approaching publishers than agents but you never know. Imagine my surprise when both replied with a request to see the whole novel, itself a step up from anything I’d heard from agents.
The ultimate response in both cases proved to be the biggest fall in expectations from the start to end of any correspondence I think I’ve ever had! The first half is taken up telling me basically how wonderful my book is and that they wish to publish it. Huzzah! Then there’s a clouding over middle bit where they start to address the economic climate (I should have known what that meant) before the killer blow. They could offer me a contributory contract. For those – as I previously was- unaware of this sort of thing there are two types of publishing contract. One as you would expect is that the publisher will print your work and that’s that. Advances only come later for established writers. The other is this contributory contact for which the author must pay a certain amount towards publication. The contracts I was offered wanted in the region of £2,500.
Some people call this a scam but what it more likely indicates is a publisher trying to establish themselves. Both firms incidentally had websites filled with books and authors but ask yourself how committed a company is to your work if they are not willing to stump up the money to print it? Needless to say I did not sign those contracts.
Anyway Elemental is released now, out of my hands and hopefully in the hands or software of lots of readers. The print version should be available soon. It has never really been possible to make a living from writing children’s books unless you happen to become a phenomenon like JK Rowling. Yet there are many writers who enjoy an extra income and the satisfaction of having their stories enjoyed. As for me, well I’m looking at a file that says Book 2!  
 

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