Recently, I did something I thought I would never do as a writer. I self published a book. Today, that doesn’t seem like a huge deal, right? Vanity publishing has been around for a long time. Edgar Allan Poe paid a printer to publish fifty copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems. L. Frank Baum published three of his own books, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Lisa Genova, Andy Weir, John Grisham and even Margret Atwood did it too, so why the neurosis? The simple answer is every author who believes they are worthy of print should find a publisher/agent. If they don’t, then how good can they truly be? Well, I guess looking back on the aforementioned list should prove that’s a lot of bunkum.
That I fell into the category of author who pooh-poohed self publishing, I’m surprised I ended up doing it. So what pushed me? Well, it’s two fold. The first push came after a long hiatus away from the publishing world. I had, in the early part of 2010, become fairly prolific. Stories were being regularly published online, as well as in anthologies and magazines. Then came my first collection of shorts titled, Quintessence of Dust. On its heels were two novels, To Die Upon a Kiss, and The Sound of Loneliness. Things were going well. Reviews were mainly positive, and I was getting a small, but staunch fan base. So what went wrong? I went away to write a book, that’s what. I didn’t publish anything really of note during that period, so to all intents and purposes I had fallen off the face of the planet. But that didn’t matter because I had a shiny new book to offer the world, and, based on recent attention, it was sure to get picked up by an agent. Next stop, The New York Times Bestseller List! You know where this is going without me telling you, right? Yes, things did not go according to plan. Every agent rejected it. Even beta readers never finished it, and I’m pretty sure very few even started it. It was a disaster and crushed my confidence. As a distraction, I went away and wrote another book. The same thing happened again. No takers. So I went away and wrote another book. I don’t really need to go on, reliving this is stressful enough without adding the detail. But by this time five, maybe six years had passed. I was gone from the minds of many a reader and had gained a series of wounds that have yet to heal. So what did I do? Yep, I wrote another goddamn book.
Last year that book was picked up by an indie publisher. I’ll omit their name for legal reasons. It’s not my style to publicly denounce or bad-mouth anyone. Not that they were a bad company. In truth, the editor was so kind and professional they helped to assuage some of those scars met out by agents the world over. Things were looking up, you could say. But as it goes, I was advised to think seriously about withdrawing the manuscript by said editor, the reasons for which I won’t go into publically, but it had nothing to do with the quality of the story. I respected the editor and took their advice. Having been through the publishing process before, and realising nearly ten years later I had made little to no money on any of my books, I decided to re-evaluate the situation. Do I go with another indie publisher, or do I go it alone?
The decision came after attending Lit-Fest, a small well run literary festival (if the title wasn’t a giveaway) in Derbyshire. I had attended the festival for the sole reason to meet Paul Tremblay. I’ve known Paul way before he became the bestselling author of such titles as Head Full of Ghosts and Cabin at the End of the World. But it wasn’t him that convinced me to go down the self publishing route. No, that person was Adrian J. Walker. For those unaware of Walker, his novel, The End of the World Running Club, became a bestseller. It was endorsed by Stephen King and was featured on Radio 2’s The Book Club. Walker was at the festival whoring out his new novel, The Last Dog on Earth. I went to his Q&A and was surprised to understand that he had not gone down the self pub route for, The End of the World Running Club. Okay, history has shown that sometimes this works. Lest we forget E.L. James (I’m sure we would love nothing more to). Walker had done something most self publishers only dream of doing; he marketed the book perfectly. How? Due to Amazon’s algorithms, Walker selected a sub-category of sport (you get to choose genres and key words to place the book in the most relevant category). This, combined with the dystopian genre, got the book on a very niche list. That’s the key, you see. Placing a book in Crime or Thriller is a hard list to crack. There are thousands in that list. But get it into something with fewer book, and hey, you may make a dint. Walker did just that. Once on the top of that list, things took off. Soon, the book was selling in large numbers. This got the attention of an agent who then went on to represent the book, and landed it with Del Ray, which then sold enough copies to acquire the much coveted bestseller title. So, was this the reason I wanted to self publish? No. What surprised me was this. At the Q&A Walker said he was thinking of self publishing his new book. What?!! I raised my hand. He pointed at me. I asked with a perplexed expression, Why? I mean, here he was, a bestseller under his belt, an agent too, and he’s going to self publish, it just didn’t seem right. That was when he hit me with the news I had wanted to hear. Though he had all that success, he found the publishing process protracted and financially unstable. Self publishing would mean a steady income he could get to quite quickly. He had no qualms about doing it. There was no ego here. It was about doing something he loved and making money out of it. It was that simple. Sure, he had a huge fan base by now, most of which would jump at the chance of reading something new by him, so already it looked quite lucrative, but on leaving that room, following a quick thank you and shake of his hand (I subsequently met him outside and chatted for a spell about books), I realised all the hang-ups I had about getting into bed with Amazon may have been over-embellished and perhaps misguided. Here was an option to do the thing I love and still make more money than I had in ten years under indie publishers.
I need to add something; Amazon is the Devil. It’s crushing the smaller indie publishers each year. It’s also oversaturated with terrible novels. Very few books go through an editor. Very few books are beta read or proof read. Anyone with a laptop and an Amazon account can now write any old horse-crap and think of themselves as the next James Paterson. But for all its faults, there are good books out there too. They have been put through the mill, and some of those writers have pedigree. And, like in the instance of Adrian J. Walker, some of those books are worthy of your hard earned cash. On January 17th, I self published Bad People, the novel that nearly came out last year with an indie publisher. I can’t say it’s free of typos, or that the artwork lacks a little finesse, but it’s been read by an editor and beta readers, and if nothing else, it was worthy of publishing. Whether it’ll sell in the hundreds, or thousands, remains to be seen (I’ve tried to make it as cheap as possible to lessen the pain). But I’m glad I did it, and I hope that one day you are kind enough to read it too.
I plan on writing more about the process of self publishing. But for now, forgive me all you seasoned writers for getting into bed with the Devil. But it was cold out there, and I just wanted to get warm again.