I was shivering behind a market stall just before Christmas, trying to cajole my numb fingers into string some festive fairy-lights over my display of novels. A tall woman strode over to me, with that patronizing smile I’ve seen on so many faces at events like these over the three years I’ve thought of myself a writer.
“Ahh, how lovely,” the woman exclaimed, picking up a copy of Underrated, and turning it over while not really looking at it. “I’ve always wanted to write a book. Did you do this yourself?”
“These,” I corrected her, forcing a smile. “There are four novels in the series.”
“But they’re self-published.” It wasn’t a question, or a compliment.
“No, I’m with a publisher, actually.”
The woman literally took a step back. “Oh!”
I didn’t try to guess the reason for her surprise. Maybe it was simply the fact that a published author was selling their work on a market stall.
“Oh,” she said again. “Which one’s the first one?”
“You can read them in any order. That …” She wasn’t listening. I think she’d clocked the darkstroke logo in the top righthand corner. “I wrote this one first,” I said, pointing to The (D)Evolution of Us.
“Oh. Okay. I’ll have that one, please. Oh, I haven’t got any cash on me …”
“That’s okay, I take cards,” I said, reaching for my Zettle.
She looked surprised again. While tapping her card, she said, “Would you mind signing it for me?”
And, that, folks, is, in essence, why I went straight for a publisher with my debut novel, when I knew I could ‘just’ self-publish.
If I’m honest, it went deeper than that, though. I needed the validation. I knew I could write – in fact it’s the only thing I’m even halfway good at – and I knew that if I self-published I’d do it ‘properly’, getting my work edited, getting a professional cover, researching my genre, the market, etc, etc. A good friend of mine has been self-publishing for years, and talked me through the potential financial benefits, the freedoms, and the sheer fun of doing it all yourself (although, with hindsight, some of the process most definitely wasn’t fun). But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed someone who ‘knew what they were talking about’ to tell me I was good enough. Even though I’m aware that Art (with a capital ‘A’) is subjective.
Signing the contract felt good. My bucket-list has one ever had one item on it – to get a novel published. I still feel honoured to have been taken on by darkstroke, and the community of writers they’ve brought into being has been invaluable to me in so many ways. However, after four novels, I was curious to find myself wanting to give self-publishing a go.
Maybe it was simply the fact that I had a bit of experience under my belt. Maybe it was the fact that I have a five-year-old son. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman in my mid-forties. Maybe it’s because of watching Politics Live with my dad. Or maybe it’s because of someone I’m following on Instagram, Amie (inspiredtowrite), who made a post that showed the Milky Way, with a little arrow pointing to the place where Earth is, with the slogan, You are here, not chasing your creative calling because you think it’s silly and frivolous. It doesn’t matter. There was a shift in my mindset, and I decided to self-publish a short collection of poetry. Section 17.
For many reasons – including the fact that it’s the best way of making your novels bookshop-friendly (playing the game with gatekeepers again!) – I chose to do it through IngramSpark. Yes, there’s a support team who get back to you quickly; yes, there are videos and guides and advice on how to do it; yes, there are loads of YouTube videos on how to embed fonts in a pdf, and how to change paper size and the like; yes, there are plenty of people on Fiverr who can help, etc, etc. The fact remains, I clam up when confronted with ‘tech’, and I found the technical aspects of self-publishing challengingto say the least! And as my aim is to sell, then, as with the technicalities of producing the product, literally all the marketing falls on me. But then, I do pretty much all my own marketing anyway. You have to get a bloody good deal to get the champagne life-style people expect you to have when you say you are a published author.
My IT skills took a sharp learning-curve, but, with the help of my ever-patient husband, I did it. When Section 17 arrived in the post, I got a buzz like I did when The (D)Evolution of Us arrived from my publisher. Except that this time I’ve done all of it myself, and if it sells, I will see all the profit. Section 17 is totally my Art, and I decided to share it with the world in the best way I could. I guess which side of the trad-pub/self-pub debate you fall down on ultimately depends on your definition of success. It’s all in your mind.
For my fifth (and unrelated) novel, I intend to find an agent, because that’s another avenue into the industry that I haven’t yet tried. It didn’t stop me taking part in a Twitter ‘pitch party’ the other day, though. Maybe success has more to do with luck than choices and strategies, at the time you decide to put your work out there. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m happiest when I’m writing, and it’s my way of giving something back. Here’s my life; this is what I make of it. I think of that woman who bought one of my novels purely because it had been traditionally (independently) published. I hope she writes her book. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what matters, isn’t it?