Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of self-publishing a debut novel, is brought to you by Annie Ireson.
Self-Publishing – The Cuckoo in the Publisher’s Nest
First of all I should like to thank Morgen for inviting me to be a guest on her blog today to talk about my experiences of self-publishing my novel The White Cuckoo.
I had never intended to self-publish and it happened by accident. My grand plan, formulated in 2008, was to seek a traditional publishing deal for my novels until such time as I retired from the day job. I can retire in 2016, so I had plenty of time. I knew publication wouldn’t be easy and would take a long time if I was lucky and had enough talent, or wouldn’t happen at all if not.
At the beginning of 2012, I had written a short story for a charity anthology. The publishers of the anthology contacted me to ask if I had any full-length novels. With my first three novels (a trilogy) clamped protectively to my chest, I tentatively sent off the first three chapters of my fourth novel. A short time later, it was accepted and I was offered a contract for publication.
I was cautious about the publishers. They admitted I would be their debut novelist, but assured me they would shortly be signing contracts with other authors, too. It was their plan, they said, to publish six books in the first year of operation. I asked for a copy of their business plan, to which their reply was that it was being prepared and they would send me a copy when it was complete. I never did see a business plan.
Authors – beware!
At this point I should have considered my position with more care. I didn’t exactly sign on the dotted line straight away and go out and drink champagne, but I was euphoric, and although I am quite a careful person by nature, I did let the words ‘publishing deal’ go to my head. I didn’t think things through.
If you are offered a deal by a small, independent publisher, take some time to consider all the ramifications before you sign the contract. At the very least you should:-
- Seek professional advice to check your contract. Alternatively, join The Society of Authors, which allows membership to authors who have been offered a publishing contract. One of the Society’s legal team will check over the legalities for you and make sure you are not signing away rights you should reserve. Membership costs £90 for a year, but the advice I received on the contract was well worth it. Without it I would have signed away all my foreign rights.
- Actually meet the publisher – don’t rely on a website, phone calls and e-mails.
- Check out the publisher’s credentials. Do they have a background in the industry or an associated profession? Have they successfully published other work? Can anyone else give a testimony?
- Ask to see a marketing plan. My contract stated that a marketing plan for my novel would be agreed prior to publication, but it was never forthcoming, despite me asking many times to see it.
I signed the contract on 31st March with a planned publication date for the e-book of 31st October. The contract did not require any expenditure up-front – had it done so, I wouldn’t have signed.
In the past year I have learned there are increasing numbers of companies seeking new writers, having identified a market in authors nervous about self-publishing. If someone had told me I would end up self-publishing, I wouldn’t have believed them, because I was so sniffy about it – not to mention convinced I wouldn’t know where to start!
The summer passed by in blur, and as the weather got worse by the day I worked hard on edits, some of which I wasn’t entirely happy about, not to mention the mind-numbing tedium (at the publisher’s request) of changing all my single speech marks to double (see postscript).
Saturday, 22nd September was a strange day. With just five weeks to go before publication day, I was sitting in a barber’s shop, having taken my grandson for a haircut. My mobile phone beeped with an email. The publishing company had ceased to trade.
I wanted to cry, but whether it was with acute disappointment or with relief, I still don’t know. I took my grandson back home and broke down in tears in my daughter’s living room. That afternoon, my family came to my rescue. ‘The White Cuckoo’ was going to be published, come hell or high water, they said, and I was just going to have to swallow my pride about self-publishing and do the very thing I said I would never do.
The following week all rights were returned to me and, with my agreement, the contract was rescinded. I was grateful for the time and effort invested by the publishers, but didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t want to let people down who were looking forward to reading my novel, but on the other hand I didn’t want to discredit myself as an author in any way by self-publishing.
I had some important decisions to make:
- Did I self-publish or abandon publication altogether?
- If I went ahead, there was the book cover design to produce. How? Who? Cost?
- Which e-book platform would I use? Kindle Direct Publishing or other formats, too?
- A Marketing Plan – I had pestered the publishers for one, now I needed to draw up my own.
- Paperback copies – would I be able to recoup costs? How many was I likely to sell? Should I see how the e-book sold first before making a decision? But then again, would this reduce potential sales on publication of a more lucrative paperback edition?
- Final editing – who?
- Could I meet the original deadline of 31st October for the e-book?
- How soon could I produce paperbacks, if I went for this option?
- Where should I hold a book launch, if I produced paperbacks?
The first thing that surprised me was that it costs NOTHING to self-publish a book on Amazon. You can even design your own book cover using free software available on the internet.
The second thing to amaze me was the disparity between POD (print-on-demand) unit costs. Lulu and Smashwords are undoubtedly the easiest route for an author to produce paperback copies, but would people really be bothered to order a print book at a high cost, pay postage and – if they wanted it to be signed – seek me out to sign it?
I realised I must set a budget somewhere between zero and a figure I could afford to lose if my venture into self-publication failed. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with anything that was in any way sub-standard, and vowed that I wouldn’t cut corners or compromise on quality.
It was then I experienced a curious stroke of luck.