Finally, after about four years in the gestation, my book on self-publishing, which takes a very different approach from the usual guides, is here. To get the grubby stuff out of the way first, you can buy it for your Kindle for £1.88 in the UK here, and for $2.99 in the US here, and it is also available everywhere else.
I wanted the book to fill the gap I've noticed in the self-publishing library - how to retain your creative integrity and direction through the whole process from the first capital letter on page one to your 20th book and beyond. Because that's the key to retaining your passion as a writer, the key to succeeding in the way that matters: on your own terms.
The chapters I've included reflect that concern:
1. The Pressure to “Succeed”
2. Why Do You Write?
3. Is Self-publishing Right for You?
4. Never be afraid to be you
5. Dealing With Self-Doubt
6. Dealing With Self-Belief
7. Handling Praise
8. Producing Your Book: Picking the Right Partners
9. Building a community
10. The Whites of Their Eyes: Giving Great Readings
11. The Long Haul
As well as those, there is an introduction, which I've included in full here, so you can decide if this sounds the sort of thing for you.
Like a lot of people I know, I started self-publishing in 2009. For those of us who write literary fiction (for want of a better term – that’s a whole other book!), this felt like a nadir in the publishing world. Large publishers were dropping mid list and literary writers like a tree shedding leaves for winter, and we were yet to see the blossoming of the vibrant small press scene that in the past couple of years has breathed fresh life into adventurous fiction.
I had spent 2008 writing my first full length work of literary fiction (after stumbling into the world of the novel the previous year with a thriller, which I carefully put back under the mattress). By the late autumn, I was on version number 26, and had started to submit to the very short list of agents who specialised in literary fiction with an international flavour. At the same time, I was part of the Harper Collins-run website for aspiring writers, Authonomy. Through that site, and the sites Youwriteon and The Book Shed, I’d got to know a small group of fellow literary fictioneers all at a similar stage of their fledgling careers. Having written and edited together, we were all beginning to submit our synopses, expectant-eyed and full of optimism.
And then one by one we all started to receive the same kind of news. Like most people, I had a “fantasy agent.” And, two days after I posted my submission to her, I received the response, “I kind of have that little thrill of excitement I get when I think I've read something good. Can I read more? Can you send all of it?” And I wasn’t the only one. We were all getting excited nibbles.
And as the weeks went by, the excitement turned to disappointment as we each received similar kinds of follow-up. My own lovely let-down was typical: “I love the writing: it's fresh and original and true. And there is a wonderful atmosphere here that almost convinced me to give this a shot. But I'm afraid there's just not enough energy and narrative driving it forward to convince me that I'd be able to get you a deal for it in this climate.” I was encouraged to keep going, and told to submit my next project, but told that it should be something that would “make a big splash.”
On various forums we consoled each other, talked about what we could do to make that big splash, swapped ideas for projects and wondered if any of them had any potential to do what it seemed the market wanted us to do.
But one by one we realised that we just weren’t that kind of writer. We didn’t want to “make a big splash.” We had a certain kind of tale to tell, and we were telling it in our quiet, atmospheric, not very commercial ways, and we really weren’t inclined to change the way we wrote on the promise of a potentially illusory carrot that might turn out – as carrots are wont to do – to be a poisoned chalice.
Self-publishing was the obvious answer. It was a way to get our work out to its natural audience despite the fact we knew that audience was small. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time self-publishing was still a fairly big deal. Admitting that’s what you were doing ran you a gauntlet of stigma and cat calls from your fellow writers – to this day, there are some writers who are now self-publishing evangelists whose blogs make me chuckle as I remember them taunting us as ne’erdowells back then.
A group of us – 22 from 8 countries – decided to form a collective, Year Zero Writers, dedicated to bringing great literary fiction, however obscure and niche, to its audience. We started a website (it’s still there, as is much of the original material, and it’s still well worth a look), we self-published, we chewed the cud about all things literary, we put new fiction up online every day, those of us who lived in the UK started to do shows together. It was exciting.
It also caught people’s eye. Jane Friedman, who in those days was still behind the wheel at Writers’ Digest, singled us out for praise as an exemplar of the power of the collective. Our shows graced the likes of legendary indie music venue Rough Trade, and the likes of Warren Ellis, darling of the graphic novel world, came to our shows at the Poetry Café. We even reached readers – we had books in the Smashwords top 10 bestsellers (this was in the days before Kindle hit the UK) list. And we got a nod from the hipster style bible Nylon.
But what seems like an unmitigated success was also the biggest Achilles heel in the project, and that was a cycle that was to repeat itself again and again during my time self-publishing. Success is fabulous. But it’s dangerous. Because, actually, “success” isn’t always “success.” The things you get praised for aren’t always the things you set out to do. Selling books, getting great reviews, increasing your coverage, getting invited to blog in prestigious places about marketing – these are all flattering, and they’re intoxicating, because they represent the kind of validation that very few of us can resist.
The problem comes when we start to set our compass by them, when our direction finder becomes externalised, is no longer the burning desire to communicate those quirky stories whose audience we longed to find. But we struggle to see it – we are so surrounded by an audience telling us things we love to hear that we lose sight of the much smaller audience creeping disconsolately out of the door – the audience for whom we originally wrote.
It’s only one day months, maybe years, down the line that we notice writing has become a chore. We look at the list of guest blogs we’ve been asked to write, the events piling up in our calendar, and we wonder why we’re not as thrilled as we should be by them, as we would have been by them when we set out. Now of course, no one is going to embark on a long journey and find every step as springy as the first. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the moment of realisation that we’re no longer even on the same journey.
If we’re lucky, we can reset our compass. It’s something I’ve had to do several times. But disentangling yourself from those wrong turns is a monumental task that both takes time, and saps even more of the few resources you have left. And you leave a trail of damaged creative relationships and disappointments behind you as you go. It would be far better to steer true from the start. And that is exactly what I want this book to help you do. It won’t be an easy book to write – much of the time I’ll be extracting lessons from experiences that have left deep scars in my creative psyche. But I hope it will be a helpful one. And if it keeps the joy of creativity alive for just one person, then I will truly have succeeded.
There are many superb books that will guide you through the technical aspects of writing and self-publishing, and then marketing your work. But those things were never, for me, the biggest challenge I faced when I self-published. The toughest thing by far has always been knowing how to filter the deluge of information and great advice that comes my way, remembering always exactly why it was that I started writing, and remembering the one thing that really matters in the whole process is seeing everything through that lens, from deciding what point of view and person narration are appropriate before you start all the way to looking for people to review your finished book, so that I didn’t get sidetracked by seemingly great opportunities that turned out to be time sucks. And worse still, threatened to suck out the love of writing itself, because they were drawing me away from the things I loved about writing.
I want this book to be just that vade mecum I needed, your constant companion through the process, nudging you back on track when you begin to veer, helping you to make key decisions – especially those you don’t even realise are decisions because they’re presented as “just what you do” by everyone around you – but most of all, inspiring you to keep going and helping you to enjoy your writing as much in ten years’ time as you do today.
Enjoy your self-publishing journey. And here are those links again - you can buy it for your Kindle for £1.88 in the UK here, and for $2.99 in the US here, and it is also available everywhere else.