Friday, 3 June 2011

Why Now?

I'd be the first to admit that the decision to self-publish was one I never expected to make. Indeed, right at the start of this process I was firmly against it, and the more blogs I read on the subject, the more certain I became of that fact.

The Long Second was first submitted to some seriously large publishers back in September 2009. For the first few weeks I jumped every time the computer said I had a new email, convinced that the news I was hoping for would be there, waiting for me.

As the weeks went by, I became more relaxed about the whole process, and started checking email only hourly...

During this time, the writing of the sequel - Broken - was a welcome distraction, and when that book was submitted to my agent in January 2010 I thought it would kick-start the whole process. After all, here was a new writer (me!) who was able to deliver two quality (!) books in little over six months. That had to count for something, right?

Broken, like The Long Second, was well received. Optimism was high. More publishers were contacted...

And then the rejections started coming in. Some said that The Long Second was "too sci-fi" for their list (it does contain some time-travel), others said it "wasn't sci-fi enough" (there's much more to the story than just the time-travel). It was beginning to look like a story that fell between two stools.

And then we heard that it had reached the editorial meeting stage of a BIG name publisher. Collective breaths were held... but then nothing. Nada. Silence.

You then fall into the stage of "just how often can I ask my agent if there's any news?" especially when you know that if there was any good news, you'd know about it.

And then this year, 2011, things became complicated. Mixed messages were received. It was a bad time (I won't go into details). I seriously considered quitting writing altogether. Sure, it had only been two years, and I know of many writers who have toiled for far longer than that before their first deal. I actually did stop writing for a while, but found myself at a loose-end night after night, with a void I couldn't work out how to fill.

And so an ultimatum was made. The books were still with some publishers (including the BIG name mentioned above). They had never said no, but they hadn't said yes either. My agent said that, in her opinion, given the time that had passed, the silence was as good as a no. But she chased them anyway, giving them a deadline to respond.

They didn't.

As I mentioned in "Eyes Wide Open", the publishing landscape had changed. Self-publishing (especially electronically) was now so easy literally anybody could do it. Sure, that meant lots of people were writing rubbish and publishing it, but there are also plenty of people like me. People writing good, worthy, sellable books that somehow never find the right publisher.

I ran the idea past my agent: should we withdraw these books from submission and self-publish (chiefly on Kindle, but in other formats too). I expected a degree of reluctance from her. In fact, she thought it a great idea.

By the time we reached the deadline, the seed had been planted and was already sprouting. I'd become so accustomed to the idea that I almost hoped nobody would say yes (okay, that's a lie, if someone had said yes I would have jumped for joy); I'd already started preparing The Long Second for Kindle.

I downloaded (to my Kindle) Catherine Ryan Howard's "Self-Printed" (highly recommended!). I found it saying all the things I'd been feeling: sometimes a book just doesn't find a home. It might be a bad book, or there might be other, more complex reasons. But, if you're going to self-publish, make sure you do it right. Don't rush into it. Don't just grab your latest version of the Word document and upload it. Spend time with it, preparing it, reformatting it, making it the very best book you can (yes, you should have done this already, but another look is always a good thing. I found a typo on the first page. Only a " where a ' should have been, but nonetheless...)

Did I follow her guidelines to the letter? No, of course not. But I stuck pretty damn close.

The result is what I believe to be an example of how all self-published books should be. They story and story-telling has been independently quality-checked. It's been thoroughly and repeatedly edited. The cover has been designed with input from a professional designer.

I'm very aware that I'm setting myself up for abuse once the book is available. Am I over-hyping it? Am I going to be deluged with reports of typos and formatting problems? I don't think so (though, as previously stated) there are bound to be some errors, but I'll be able to correct those really quickly.

Perhaps the biggest barrier is accepting the fact, being able to hold your head up high and say "Yes, I self-published". I'm still working on that, because two years of being determined that I wouldn't do it are hard to brush off overnight.

But yes, I'm self-publishing, because I wrote a book I'm proud of and I want other people to read it.


  1. And you should be proud. Trying to get published traditionally is hellish. I'm still trying for my novels, but I've self-published an anthology of short stories and will continue to self-publish short-story and poetry collections, I think.

    The pervasive stigma against self-publishing is slowly but surely ebbing away. Of course, it makes things a little more difficult for the reader - do we really want to pay for a book that might turn out to be utter rubbish?

    Yet every so often, one finds an absolute gem. I'm eager awaiting the release of your book!

    Best of luck!

  2. Really interesting post, exactly what blogs should be about in my opinion - personal journeys, a bit of experience-based advice and a viewpoint on the world.

    Best of luck with the book, I hope it finds a readership, but even if it doesn't, I think it's an amazing achievement considering everything else going on in your life (job, kids, continental movements, etc)

  3. Personally, I don't see the ease of self-publishing as having increased - sure, it's now possible to do without cost upfront, but that has seldom been the reason anyone would choose not to go that route to start with.

    There's a vast list of people who have self-published because their work is either of only very limited interest (local history books, compilation of science papers) and therefore not commercially viable, or because a publisher has rejected it. Now I'm not saying that sometimes a publisher says no, and it really should be a no, but you need to take into consideration that if your work ends up being read from a slush pile by some graduate who is hoping to get off early because it's Friday, you're work isn't guaranteed a fair chance to stand or fall on it's own.

    Of course, publishers have been known to drop the ball completed in decent, commercially viable work even when they have read the things to start with.

    Ernest Vincent Wright, for example, self-published, in the days when self-publishing was never considered anything other than the Vanity Press.

    Throw his name into a self-publishing conversation, and the response would probably be that the only book he wrote that anyone knows isn't known because of its quality, but simply because it was written as a lipogram. Perhaps, but still, it's odd that no publisher saw the potential. didn't hurt Lewis Carroll, or Poe, or many others now considered classics much either.

    It's always possible that going down the Amazon route isn't just technically and financially easier, but because they want the world to own a Kindle, they might give you a push which you couldn't achieve any other way.

    Sure, it probably won't be your proudest moment to see yourself pop up in the "customers who bought, also bought..." list, but it's another reader, and another step towards being known as a writer, rather than a worker ant who also writes.


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