5 October 2014

My Journey into Indie Publishing

Karen Wrighton

It was quite a decision, whether to tout my beloved ‘new born’ debut novel, Ascension of the Whyte, around a myriad of publishers and agents in the hope that one of them would recognise it’s (to me) obvious brilliance, or to self publish and let the public decide whether it really was as beautiful as I believed it to be. The gestation time is long with a book, it grows inside you much longer than the nine months you would carry a child, and you become very attached and protective of it.

Choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing methods is not an easy matter as there are many and varied options available to authors today, with different pros and cons associated with travelling either route. 

Stories of popular and even great novels being rejected tens or even hundreds of times, before finally being published, deterred me from proffering my beloved first ‘child’ for judgement. Through much research I unearthed these thought provoking examples amongst many others: Lord of the Flies by William Golding - rejected twenty times, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - rejected thirty eight times, Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen – rejected one hundred and forty times. Carrie by Steven King – rejected thirty times and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling - rejected twelve times and she was told not to give up her day job!

Can you imagine if J. K. Rowling had decided after ten rejections that she would just give up trying and stick to her ‘day job’?  There would be no best-selling book series, no blockbuster films, no Warner Brothers World of Harry Potter and possibly no fame as an actor for a young man called Daniel Radcliffe. Also of course, J. K. Rowling would not now be one of the richest and most well known women on the face of the planet.

When most of the above authors were attempting to become published there was little option but to go through the traditional corporate publishing houses. Self publishing then was expensive and much disparaged, being mockingly referred to as ‘the vanity press.’

Today, authors who want to become published can self publish without it costing them a penny and it is no longer a complicated process, so long as you are at least marginally computer and internet literate.

In traditional publishing, if the publishing house decides to publish the book, they buy the rights from the writer and pay them an advance on future royalties. The publisher will then provide the funds and expertise to design and package the book, print, market and distribute the finished book to the public.

When I decided to self publish, in effect I became a publisher and all of those responsibilities became mine. Being a real control freak though, that really appealed to me. I chose the cover design (a combination between my daughter’s amazing photographic work and my skill on Photoshop). My husband (a teacher and examiner) proofread it for me, and I took on the responsibility of marketing and distributing the book, with a little help from a friendly book blogger/publicist and Amazon of course.

In the old ‘Vanity Press’ days I would have had to decide on the number of copies to print, which may have resulted in stacks of unsold books gathering dust in the shed! Fortunately, the Print on Demand (POD) technology now used by Createspace and other self-publishing companies means that authors only print as many as they need and generally with little or no upfront fee.

Another reason I decided to go the self publishing route was the time factor. With traditional publishing, a manuscript can take years to become a book. Whereas with self-publishing, depending on the company, as soon as your book is complete you can have it published as an e-book within minutes and in print within a few days, again, with little or no upfront cost.

A downside to self publishing though is that there is no lucrative advance payment from a publishing house, which means that, (a) you are unlikely to be able to live on the proceeds of your talent for quite a while, if ever, and (b) because of this you will have to fit your writing in around your ‘day job’, which is far from ideal, especially if like me, your ‘day job’ is quite demanding and you have been seriously bitten by the writing bug.

Perhaps my biggest pull to take the self-publishing route however, was the level of control it affords the author.  I have already mentioned that I’m a control freak. I had previously read some horror stories where an author's joy at selling a manuscript had quickly turned into despair when an over-zealous editor at a publishing house ripped his manuscript to shreds until the original storyline was almost unrecognisable. Also the publishers can withdraw your book from print whenever they feel the need, and that is then the end of your journey and the end of your royalties (which are miniscule anyway, around 7 – 10% on most books and 25% on e-books).

With self-publishing, the author gets to control the manuscript contents, the design, and appearance, as well as where the book is marketed and distributed, even how much it retails for! Most importantly to me though, was the guarantee that my book will never go out of print, they will always be available, earning money and gaining more readers year on year and the royalties are higher too, up to 70% on kindle e-book sales.

Do I secretly wish I could be published by a traditional publisher?  For one reason only, and that is recognition. Though some self published books are gaining recognition and indeed there are some very successful indie authors out there now, there is still a kind of stigma associated with self publishing and some people don’t accept you as being a ‘real’ author until you have been published by one of the big publishing houses. This may be the fault of some ‘authors’ who publish work that, not to put a too finer point on it, looks like they knocked it up in a weekend or in some cases an evening after a curry and seven pints of lager.

My book took me two years to write and went through seven drafts before I was happy enough with it to let my husband proof read it, and it still is not perfect! (Authors always find fault with their own work – even J. K. Rowling wished she had done some things differently – like marry Harry to Hermione for example!)

If there were fewer ‘curry night’ books then maybe indie publishing would have a better name. So if you are thinking of writing a book for self publishing, please be professional about it, not only will your book be more successful, but it will elevate peoples’ perception of self publishing and enable other indie authors be taken more seriously.

So what may the future hold for me? Well there is a long list of well known authors who became successful through first self publishing their ‘offspring’, so maybe I will join the ranks of the following (I wonder how many of these you realised were originally indie authors?).

John Grisham, wrote his first novel, A Time to Kill in 1989. After 28 rejections, he published 5,000 copies through a small private publisher, the rest is history.

Beatrix Potter's The Tales of Peter Rabbit, was rejected several times so she self-published in 1901.

Amanda Hocking self published 17 novels as e-books, selling more than a million copies. In 2011, St. Martin's Press bought the rights the Trylle trilogy, and for a new four-book series, Watersong, for a reported two million dollars.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer was self published in 1931 and yet still sells 100,000 copies each year.

Recently self published books such as Fifty Shades of Grey have even climbed to the top of best seller lists, so I am going to persevere and maybe one day my name will be added to the list above.... it really is a beautiful baby, honestly.


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