The Reasons Why - by EJ Barnes

I have spent the last few weeks rushing about promoting my new print book for children, and while that has been a lot of fun, it also means that progress on my planned e-book, The City, has almost ground to a halt. I’m feeling guilty hanging out on a blog for e-book authors when I have yet to launch my own e-book.

So maybe this is a moment to reflect a little, and to explain why I decided to go down the e-book route. I’ve heard it suggested lately that publishers feel “threatened” by authors publishing their own e-books, as if authors have turned their back on publishers. But in my case, as with many, many authors who have chosen this option, it is not a case of rejecting traditional publishing. It is a matter of trying to find the best solution for this particular book.

I began writing The City a long time ago, for no better reason than I wanted to write it – more here. It was ambitious, on an epic scale, and I had no idea then if a) I could ever finish it and b) if it would be published if I did. At the same time, I was working on shorter, humorous, contemporary stories for children, and eventually one of these, Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher, was published. It did well, and I published two more titles for the same age-group with the same publisher.

But still The City nagged at me. I kept at it, and was given a confidence boost when, having submitted some chapters almost on a whim, I won an Arts Council England Writer’s Award of £7,000, judged by Matthew Kneale and Jackie Kay and presented at a reception at the National Portrait Gallery. Listening to Jackie Kay reading out extracts of my book to the gathering, I felt more than ever it was something I must complete – and also that it was something others would want to read.

So I kept at it, and three years ago I found I had, not one book, but four. However, along with my huge satisfaction at having completed it, I also found myself in a new, more awkward world. The era where publishers were prepared to splash out on trilogies or quartets of epic fantasy novels by relatively unknown authors was plainly over: what was wanted now was a standard length “stand-alone” novel with the potential for a sequel, should sales justify it. I went as far afield as writers’ conferences in Santa Barbara and San Jose to test the waters, but the message was the same. I did call a couple of agents, but received dusty answers. I was not sure what to do next.

As a children’s author I have an agent: but there is no point in her representing a novel which is not within her field. The prospect of wooing another agent...and then a publisher...filled me with dismay. In the meantime I tried to revise The City, turning it into the shorter, stand-alone novel publishers supposedly wanted. I wasted a great deal of valuable writing time on that task.

Finally I reached the moment of truth: you cannot change a four volume epic into a single stand-alone novel of a quarter of the length. At least I could not, without spoiling what I had created. And I could not face the task of sending it out to agents and publishers, when the constant message was that this was not what they were looking for. And then I became aware of the e-book revolution...

It is exciting to have control of the e-book process: but it is also hard work and intimidating, for I am well aware that I lack many of the skills that publishers possess. Were somebody to make me an offer, I would certainly consider it! With a reading public immersed in George Martin’s “Games of Thrones” or Neal Stephenson’s hefty “Baroque Cycle” it’s fairly clear that the appetite for extended journeys into other worlds still exists – indeed, is sharper than ever.

So am I doing the right thing? Should I continue on the e-route, or have I given up on traditional publishers too quickly? What would you do? What would you recommend? And would you like to make me an offer...

Just in case, here is something to whet your appetite.

They had been travelling in the thickest fog, but now, suddenly, it lifted. The moon was the palest disc in a sombre sky, casting its bars of light upon the sea. But it could not calm the waves, where they beat against the shore, their white spray swallowed by the shadow of the rocks. Nor could it light the looming walls and towers that rose, darker than night, out of the rock and into the winter sky.

Emma Barnes's website


Nicola Morgan said…
Hi Emma and lovely to see you here. "But still The City nagged at me" - they do, don't they, these bloody books that we find ourselves needing to write? Good luck with all the hard work and with your already-published books.

I also wish publishers didn't have to be threatened by authors deciding to self-publish something. But I'm afraid sometimes they simply have not done a very good job for us and we can't be blamed if we choose a way that works for us and our books. Sometimes they do a good job but increasingly they don't unless you're a massive commercial seller. If only!

Oddly, I love the state of fluz we're in. Lots of choices, changing all the time.
Emma Barnes said…
Hi Nicola: I can't complain about publishers when I haven't even shown any of them this book! It is more that I can face the process of hawking it around - essentially being back on the slush pile - when I'm given to understand that it is so much NOT what they are looking for at the moment. Or possibly being asked to radically restructure it to make it more "flavour of the month". But that might be my mistake.

I'm actually really enjoying working with Strident, the publisher of my younger children's stuff, so I'm not against publishers at all. But I think as authors it may be we need to embrace lots of different ways of reaching our readers - if we are to reach them. I want to do e-books and print, both!
I recognise so much of what you are saying, Emma since it coincides with my own past experience in various ways. Except that I'm older, possibly wiser, definitely more disillusioned. And I think Nicola has it exactly right too. The books gnaw away at us, the books that we devoted years of our lives to, the books that we have been told are 'wonderful' - but still we or our agents can't find a traditional home for, because - well, the reasons why are so many and so depressing. I find this state of change and choice exciting too. But nobody would blame you for waiting a little longer, holding out for a traditional deal. From this end, my only advice would be - just don't wait too long. I'd buy your novels as eBooks and I'm sure a lot more people would too!
Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Emma

I too write fantasy (with a good dose of science fiction thrown in) but after trying unsuccessfully to get an agent for my first novel, realised I was actually a writer of 'futuristic and fantasy romance'.

I submitted to a US small press (The Wild Rose Press) and was lucky enough to fit in with them, and they published the sequel as well - and if I ever get round to finishing the third in what has now become a series, I'll submit that to them as well. They also publish full length novels in print but are mainly an E-publisher and introduced me to the concept of E-publishing.

I had a novella with them as well, and have now reclaimed my rights to it and re-published it on Kindle and Smashwords. If my third book isn't accepted I might reclaim the preceding two and publish the three as a trilogy on Kindle.

Sorry to ramble on, but one thing I've learnt is the importance of a good editor which is something you'll get from a good publisher, however small. Reviewers seem to pounce on the smallest grammer or spelling mistake, or plot inconsistency etc.

I'm sure you've already taken this into account, but I would suggest to anyone considering self publishing for the first time, that they obtain the services of a good editor (and cover artist) It's got to be worth the expense to do justice to the book that you've poured so much work into.

Good luck with your book - as you say, there are so many opportunities open to authors these days, and self publishing is becoming far more 'respectable'than it used to be, with more and more published authors putting their toes in the water!
Joan Lennon said…
Ebook AND paper book - that's what I want too!
Keep on with The City!
Emma Barnes said…
Thank you everybody! I know - editing is a huge issue and must be done well. And covers - that's the one that has me tearing my hair out! I know what I don't want, but seem unable to explain what it is I do want...
Nicola Morgan said…
I've also heard v good things about Strident and I know they work their socks off to sell copies. And I too still want to keep having deals with trade publishers, but I've heard so many unhappy stories of authors feeling let down recently, so I'm cautious about some publishers just now.

And by the way, I assume you realised that by "fluz" I meant "flux"...

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