In these days of print-on-demand and ebook technology, self (or independent) publishing has never been easier. No longer need we writers employ agents, or write query letters – now it is possible to write the story, edit it and put it up for the world to read.
But should we do that?
I made the decision in 2011, following my “win” in 2010’s NaNoWriMo, to independently publish my novel: Aroha’s Grand Adventure. This was, in part, because one of my prizes was a free proof copy via Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I wrote the novel over the month of November, creating the illustrations as I went, and received my first proof early in 2011. The book was available on Amazon by July 1st, 2011.
Over the next two years, I went on to release my second book, Midsummer Knight’s Quest (which had actually been written prior to Aroha’s) and the first in my Lemur Saga, Fellowship of the Ringtails. So, aside from the lure of the free book, what were the other reasons that inspired me to avoid the traditional publishing route altogether?
1. Rejection letters: OK, so I confess, I didn’t really try too hard to take the trad route. I DID submit my manuscript for Midsummer Knight’s Quest to my favourite children’s publishers, Chicken House, but with little hope and no success – although I do have a lovely rejection letter.
2. I felt my stories were a bit unconventional and unlikely to appeal to the publishing houses’ criteria. Midsummer Knight’s Quest was extremely long and broke some narrator conventions. I knew from the start that I was doing this, and was not entirely comfortable with it, but could see no way to adjust it within the plot. After several suggestions to split it into two books, I’ve currently withdrawn it from sale. As for Fellowship of the Ringtails, it seemed unlikely, even with the success of the Madagascar movies, that any of the “big 5” publishers would take a book about lemurs seriously and even if they did, they’d likely try to force it into the children’s section, meaning I would have to tone down the prose.
3. I wanted to keep control of my stories: if a publishing house purchases your story, it becomes their property. They chose the cover, the illustrators, and may make adjustments. In smaller publishing houses, you may be asked for your opinion, but generally speaking, your book is now out of your hands and your control.
Another advantage of independent publishing, especially via Print-on-Demand technology, is that your book never goes out of print – it’s available for people to purchase for as long as Amazon (or whomever you choose to print through) exist. The “shelf life” in a physical store, unless your book is particularly successful or you’re a popular author, is about 6 months. That’s it. After which it will likely be returned, and pulped, or cycled into the clearance bins. Bookstores cannot afford to keep stock on the shelf that isn’t selling. Most publishing houses will do smallish print runs for unknown/debut authors and, if they don’t sell well, they won’t print more. Of course, with ebooks this is a moot point: ebooks will never go out of print, they don’t take up shelf space or gather dust, and they don’t get shop soiled with time.
That’s not to say indie publishing is without its faults though, for there are many. There are no gatekeepers to indie publishing, so it becomes harder to know what is good and what is not, and some people may choose to self-edit instead of hiring a professional (by way of keeping costs down), which may lead a story to be prone to plot holes and typos or grammatical errors. I do not recommend self-editing. If you can afford it, hire a professional; if you cannot afford it, give proof copies to your grammar-nut friends and encourage them to read it with pencil in hand (they won’t be able to resist correcting the ones they find). But seriously, the editing of your story could make or break your success. Reviewers can, and will, point out the poor editing, and that makes it look very unprofessional to any potential readers.
Also, self-publishing is a lot of work, with very little financial reward. Not only do you have to write the book, but also edit it/have it edited, have a cover designed, format the manuscript so that it looks professional, figure out how to get it up for sale, work through your proof copies to find the typos that were missed and then, once it is finally finished and available for sale, figure out a way to actually sell it.
Because that’s the biggest problem with independent publishing, getting your book noticed. If anyone can do it, and everyone does, then there are millions of books available for sale. How do you make yours stand out among the crowd?
Well, step one is: make your book as professional and interesting and as well-written and edited as possible. Your book must stand by its own merits.
Step two is marketing, and you can learn more about that by attending our May workshop.
Ultimately: if you have a strong, well-written and highly commercial novel, there is no benefit to you rushing the process and self-publishing. If you believe your novel can sit next to James Patterson or Brandon Sanderson or another well-renowned genre-novelist, then there’s no harm in polishing your manuscript, penning a query letter and submitting to whichever of the publishing houses can best fill your needs. If you end up collecting rejection letters, then so be it, you can always fall back on self-publishing! If your novel is, however, a bit avant-garde, non-mainstream, unconventional, or you feel will only appeal to a limited market, then by all means, prepare for the complex and sometimes frustrating journey that is self-publishing.
Do I regret self-publishing? No. I don’t write for the money (which is good, because Amazon won’t pay out until you’ve earned more than $100 in any one Amazon store, and guess what – I’m only halfway there). I write for the characters and I write for my fans. And, most of all, I write for myself.
I do, however, regret rush-publishing Aroha’s Grand Adventure, because I believe, of all my novels, that it had the most commercial promise. And because I was still ironing out typos for months after the initial release. Don’t rush the process!
We will speak more about the self-publishing process in following blog posts, but you might like to check out this previous one on creating a mobi ebook.
This Monday past marks the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that adjusted the shape of our city, and changed all of our lives. Deb Donnell is an editor/publisher of non-fiction who has spent the last five years looking at the way the community of Christchurch as come through in the aftermath of the Feb 22, 2011 quake.
This is her story about that day, and how it shaped her career path – and how she can help shape yours.
22 February 2016
‘Our sky had fallen, the earth had quaked, and although it seemed far into the future, I knew we would put the city back together again, some day. Christchurch was broken, but the people’s spirit would not – because we had no other choice.’
Christchurch publisher, Deb Donnell, was working with her parents in their High Street jewellery store on 22 February 2011. She counts herself as one of the lucky ones, escaping with her family, friends and neighbours to safety. Eight hours later, watching the television reports of the nightmare she’d left behind, she made three vows which honoured the victims, the injured survivors and the trained search and rescue volunteers.
Her fifth anniversary reflections look at those three vows, and how making them happen has become the driving force for pursuing her dreams of being an author, publisher and mentor to independent publishers.
Deb Donnell is the founder of the Diamond Publishing System™, Writing Diamonds Ltd and Keswin Publishing Ltd. She is the author of several best-selling non-fiction books, and mentor to several more. Deb is a GIA Diamonds Graduate (Gemological Institute of America), professional editor and publisher. Writing, editing and publishing is a lifelong passion. Her mission is to help release one million trapped books. Will yours be one of them?
Read the full reflection at:
Like any creative endeavour, we have a strong personal attachment to what we’ve written, and having someone comment on it can be a significantly pleasurable or painful experience. Here are some things that I have found helpful when dealing with criticism of my written work:
Firstly, before you read any feedback on your work take a deep breath and accept two things:
- Not everyone will like your work. Even professional best-selling authors get negative criticism.
- Feedback is as much about the person who gave it, as it is about your work (or you) i.e. it comes from where they are at. Everyone speaks from their own life bubble which is made up of their experiences, what they’ve been taught, their personality and even where they are at emotionally at that particular time.
Once you’ve prepared yourself with those two understandings then you will be more emotionally ready to consider feedback on your work and respond to it constructively. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any criticism you receive:
Take some time: Avoid responding to feedback immediately. You are likely to be quite emotional when you first read feedback and may either miss-read what was written or write an emotionally driven reply that you will later regret. Sometimes going for a walk or watching a movie and having a good cathartic cry can help you see things from a more balanced perspective.
Take Action (or not): Once you have settled with a negative feedback comment, take a considered look at it. Decide whether it has any validity to it and whether there is anything you need to respond to, or take action on. Is the feedback just opinion, or does it contain specific, substantiated points? Recognise that feedback that is opinion based is just one person’s point of view and probably best not responded to in any way by you. Also consider whether the person making the comments is connected to your target audience. Sometimes someone doesn’t ‘get’ your work because it is not for them.
Alternatively, does the criticism contain information you can use to improve your writing? Hard as it is to have someone point out your weaknesses, see it as a flag for things you need to work on if you believe the criticism is justified. Sometimes after considering a negative comment we don’t think that it is valid, and not all comments will be. It is wise to consider all feedback, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it all as true. If the person giving the feedback has been inaccurate in some way then a calm, correcting response TO THE CONTENT, not the person, may be needed. Sometimes, we just need to let negative feedback lie and do our best to let it go.
Take Away the Positive: While any positive feedback makes you feel good, think about how much weight to assign to it. For instance, a comment from your mum gushing “This is awesome honey, I’m so proud of you. You’re an amazing writer!”, while nice to receive should not be given as much weight as an experienced book reviewer noting “A solid first novel with some interesting plot twists and well-developed characters.” Take note of specific aspects of your work that are applauded such as “this writer is skilled in the art of suspense” or “she writes with a lyrical beauty that suits the fairy-tale nature of her stories”.
View feedback as a tool to help you become a better writer. Take the valid points and use them to identify your skills, and strengthen your weaknesses. Receiving feedback can be scary, but it can also be extremely helpful so put on your big boy pants and dive in!
Janine Lattimore has been an avid reader and writer since she was very young. She primarily writes poetry and children’s literature but has also written two books with a natural health focus and has had several articles published in the Tots to Teens magazine. Janine currently blogs as The Happy Homemaker.
The Christchurch Writers’ Guild are here to help, with the first in their 2016 series of workshops:
Saturday January 30, 2016, 10am – 4pm
South Library, 66 Colombo St, Cashmere
(Parking is across street by river outlet)
Half day: $20
Full day: $30 (CWG members), $40 (non-members)
As part of the workshop, one-on-one critiquing sessions with editors will be offered for manuscripts and query letters. Participation in the critiquing programme will incur an additional charge. More information can be found here. A list of the editors participating can be found here. Critiquing programme is now closed.
The full programme for the workshop can be found here. Registration is now closed.
Not a member of the Christchurch Writer’s Guild? Not a problem. There’s no time like the present. Join here.
This workshop is proudly sponsored by: