The advantages of self-publishing
1) To circumvent the process of finding an agent or publisher.
The urge to self-publish is one I, and millions of wannabe writers, have known only too well. Believing we have a great idea and a talent for storytelling, we put our ideas onto the page, start emailing publishers or agents a synopsis plus the first three chapters then, after they’ve spotted our genius, have them descend on us with a whopping great book deal with film offers to match. We can dream at least. Of course this almost never happens and, like many others rejected by the traditional publishing world, my thoughts turned to self-publishing in 2006. Note the date. It’s significant.
I had written a full length serial killer thriller called simply REAPER featuring the hyper- intelligent Detective Inspector Brook, a man transferred out of London to Derby to assist his recovery from a mental breakdown after failing to catch the serial killer of the title. I had spent a number of years on the manuscript and was pleased with what I’d produced. I thought it strikingly original and if I’m honest, I still do. Then, like others, I thumbed my way through the Writers and Artists Yearbook looking for publishers and agents who might take an interest and emailed them religiously. Like others have found, getting your stuff noticed by mainstream (i.e. London) publishers with no contacts to introduce you is incredibly difficult, especially without an agent, and I subsequently received a metaphorical pile of digital rejections which varied from polite to disinterested to occasionally scornful. This is where the author’s mettle is tested. Do you believe you have an original idea and the talent to bring it to fruition? Can your work stack up against other published work available in traditional retail outlets? If the answer to both those questions is yes, then the moment you run out of agents and publishers to contact, your thoughts turn to self-publishing.
2) It’s cheap, quick and easy requiring minimal tech savvy.
In 2016, self-publishing invariably means getting a cover designed and then uploading the novel as an ebook onto Amazon, usually at an attractive price such as 99p or less. It’s cheap and easy to do and thousands, possibly millions have taken that very same route with varying degrees of success. In 2006 – only ten years ago – I was unlucky that the only route to self-publishing was to have physical copies produced and those at some expense. But believing in my work, I made the commitment and paid £5000 to have 2000 copies published my Matador, a reputable publishing company in nearby Leicester.
3) Your work is instantly available to readers worldwide.
These days uploading your work onto Amazon at a modest price opens your work up to a legion of readers who hoover up vast quantities of cheap books onto their ereader of choice and it’s perfectly possible to have your work downloaded by the thousand. With a sustained social media push, anything under £1 is even likely to ride high in the bestseller charts even if just for a short time and, almost overnight, you have arrived. The readers (or stockpilers) of your work may be undemanding and possibly economically challenged, seeing 99p a fair reward for up to a year of an author’s work, but hey, you’re making sales AND money that would NOT have been made if you had to wait for traditional publishers to discover you. And even better…
4) The largest share of the profit is all yours
In return for all your efforts, you will reap the lion’s share of income generated from your sales, money you wouldn’t otherwise have made. In 2006-7, I was lucky enough to get my self-published version of Reaper into local Waterstone’s shops in the East Midlands where I made my name. I distributed leaflets outside the Derby store and arranged as many signings as I could in outlets in Burton, Nottingham and Chesterfield as well as Derby. When these were a success, I ventured as far as the Trafford Centre, Manchester. With these successes I even managed to get stock into independents as far afield as London and even San Francisco. My reward for this hard work was a 66% share of the cover price – eye-watering compared to the percentage I now earn as a traditionally published author.
5) It’s energising to work for yourself and be in complete control of editing and marketing.
I really do remember my self-publishing days with fondness. I was responsible for every aspect of my novel and it felt good. The writing, the cover design, the subsequent marketing and the book’s eventual success – these all filled me with a pride that only going it alone can provide. And for successful self-publishers, decent livings can be made and even with your ebook at 99p. The self-published REAPER cost considerably more but even so it broke even and more importantly publishing it myself got me noticed and lead to bigger things – a successful thriller series with Harper Collins and then Headline, a host of wonderful fans and an international audience. So if you’re thwarted by traditional publishing don’t hesitate. Go for it!
But here’s the thing. Would I swap my contract with an international publisher for the old days of going it alone. In spite of all the advantages above the answer has to be no. I miss the freedom of those days and my ability to control every aspect of my work but there are huge compensations in being traditionally published.
1) The ease of self-publishing CAN and does work against the impatient author
In 2006, the physical copies of REAPER that I published cost me thousands yet the money I committed meant I was ultra careful about ensuring my manuscript was as good as I could get it before committing to publication. I didn’t skimp on anything but the proofreading – I was an English teacher after all – but even then I discovered a handful of spelling and grammatical mistakes AFTER publication. Luckily they were few and far between and not too glaring but that is not always the case with too many self-published authors that I read. There are undoubtedly some self-published gems out there but it pains me that many manuscripts are extremely sloppily put together, either with technical problems like spelling and grammar – off-putting enough for many readers – but sometimes worse; terrible howlers in the plot which demonstrate a manuscript that has barely been checked let alone proof read by a professional. Had I been taking REAPER to market in 2016, I suspect the same thing might have applied to me. I could have saved myself the time and expense I incurred in 2006 by uploading the ebook straight onto Amazon, having first shown it to a few friends (who would probably have been uncritical) followed by another cursory proofread. The reading public would then have had access to a very early draft of REAPER which although filled with great scenes was unpolished in comparison to later versions.
2) Access to the input of professionals
Friends and relatives are wonderfully enthusiastic and encouraging when you give them your manuscript to read and invariably they will say it is brilliant. It may be potentially brilliant but loved ones are not the right people to flag up problems in your work, having neither the skills nor the inclination. The most important decision I made in 2006 was paying a professional editor £250 for a five-page report on my manuscript. That input was invaluable. I was told what was right and what was wrong with my manuscript. Even if I didn’t want to hear it, I reflected long and hard and then made changes. Two years later, after selling the majority of my 2000 self-published books, Harper Collins picked up the rights and my novel was republished as THE REAPER to great critical acclaim, the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors disappearing overnight with a professional edit. With traditional publisher, Headline, I have a support network of experienced professionals who, when necessary, are helpfully cold-eyed about what needs to be fixed, added or removed from my work and that is irreplaceable.
I have a year to produce a new DI Brook thriller and have found the pressure of a looming date makes me work harder and more effectively even though I don’t always appreciate the pressure at the time. It also means that seven years after my first novel was published I have another five to stand next to it. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d been setting my own deadlines. It took me several years to write REAPER in a pressure-free environment and though I sometimes rail against the looming of a delivery date, it concentrates the mind wonderfully and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4) Getting an agent.
I didn’t have an agent when I sold the rights to REAPER (and its sequel, THE DISCIPLE) in 2009. But I do now. Being picked up by a traditional publisher made that easy. I could have told myself that having secured my own publishing deal that I didn’t need one and there are authors out there who somehow manage without. But an agent is always working for you when you are not – at book fairs where rights are sold and when contracts arrive from publishers, sometimes foreign. Film rights and foreign rights are devilishly tricky for the unrepresented and when A KILLING MOON is published in Germany later in the year, like my other novels before them, that is purely down to the work of my agent.
5) Self-publishers don’t get a mass market paperback.
When release day arrives and reviews are to be written, the only person promoting a self- published book is you. And even if you do a great job only a mass market paperback will be considered for review in the magazines, local newspapers and the nationals. Social media is a wonderful thing for selling yourself but millions more will be reading weekend reviews in newspapers and this is the crucible in which bestsellers are made. With a traditional publisher your book may not be at the front but at least it’s in the queue.