Self-publishing my novels has given me confidence back in my own writing. I’ve gone from thinking no one would want to read the type of story I write – feel-good and uplifting, but involving serious issues – to finally starting work on a new novel, after months of not writing.
When I had my first novel published, I never considered self-publishing. Ten years ago not many people did think of it, but in any case I was completely ignorant of publishing in general.
My first novel – The Silk Romance – passed through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. My reader there thought it had real potential, which was a massive relief to a completely new author. She suggested a few amendments, which I duly made, and the RNA gave me the address of an editor at Harlequin/Mills & Boon.
I sent the manuscript off and then I waited. And waited. And waited. And then I received my first rejection. At that time a rejection for this type of book was quite a blow. There were very few other publishers in the market who were interested in shorter romances, or if there were, I didn’t know of them.
I put the book on one side, and started another. M&B rejected it again. In the meantime, life got in the way in a horrendous way, and I put writing to one side for two or three years. When I finally came back to it, in that short time everything had changed, and there were dozens – maybe hundreds – of small presses accepting manuscripts for digital print.
The very first publisher I sent The Silk Romance to accepted it straightaway. I sent them my second novel, which they also loved, and which they published as The Antique Love. I met some wonderful people through this publisher, and was lucky (with the hindsight of experience, very lucky) to have a great editor. However, book sales were poor, marketing was non-existent, and there were rumours among the other authors about royalties not being forthcoming. My royalties weren’t worth worrying about, in any case, but eventually I took the rights back. To someone new to publishing, this was quite stressful.
I had a third novel which I sent to a publisher closer to home. This publisher (Publisher A) was interested, but six months later and I still hadn’t heard anything. In the meantime, I’d had an offer from a different publisher (Publisher B). I would sooner have gone with Publisher A, so I asked them had they made a decision. They asked me to wait, but they couldn’t tell me how long or that they’d definitely take the book at the end of it. I find this sort of thing stressful, too. In the end, I made the decision to go with Publisher B.
By this time I’d joined the Society of Authors, and believe me, they are a godsend. I was starting to realise that unless you are J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood, as an author you are right at the bottom of the food chain in the publishing world. The SoA looks after authors’ rights. They read my contract from Publisher B and advised me to insert a clause saying if sales fell below a certain limit in a twelve-month period, I could have my rights back. This I did.
The book had the lightest of light edits and a quick cover, and there it was, up for sale. Again, marketing was non-existent. Although I’d had that clause inserted, this didn’t mean the publisher couldn’t sell the audio rights away (which they did) or, for some reason only they thought wise, the entire North American rights, for which I received the sum of £11. (Yes, that’s eleven pounds. I haven’t missed off a zero.)
One would think writing heartwarming romances would be a feel-good experience, but again, I had a really stressful time.
My sales fell below a certain level and so, again, I asked for my rights back. They were returned, except for the audio and North American rights, obviously, because they’d been sold. I tried to get the North American rights back, and at first I was told I could have them, for the price of $500 (remember what I received for them?) and then I was told that, after all, they weren’t for sale. This was all monumentally stressful. Still, at least now I was free.
In the meantime I had another manuscript, which Publisher A loved. A meeting was arranged in London – quite a fair distance for me, and expensive to get to. I went to the meeting and was delighted to be offered a contract. A few weeks later I was told they ‘owed me an apology’, and after all, they wouldn’t publish my book. This event was stressful, time-consuming, and cost me money.
So after this, I thought, ‘I know. I’ll try getting an agent. They’ll be able to look after me.’ The road to getting an agent involved a lot of rejections and waiting. And waiting some more, and rejections again. A few showed an interest, which got my hopes up, only to have them dashed. One thought the idea for my next novel brilliant and asked for the full manuscript, only to never contact me again. One said she wanted to work with me, suggested quite a few rewrites (which I did) and then a few months later – months in which I didn’t approach any other agent – she told she was no longer representing my genre.
By this point, following rejection after rejection, and with poor sales through my publishers, I’d decided writing contemporary romances was obviously something I wasn’t good at. Still, I had four novels now, and I thought I had nothing to lose by self-publishing them apart from my time. I’d put them up on Amazon and then try my hand at a completely different genre.
I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors and found an editor and a brilliant cover designer. In the time I would otherwise have wasted sending query letters and feeling stressed about my publishers, I studied everything I could about self-publishing and marketing for authors, and determined I’d give my books the best chance I could.
The first one I released was Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and with this lovely cover:
To my absolute astonishment, my books began to sell. I sold the large print rights to Linford Romance, and my books were bought by libraries. I released a romantic suspense, In the Mouth of the Wolf, which I’d written for fun, and sales of this, while not enormous, still brought me more per month than any of my publishers had done.
If I were thirty years younger, perhaps I’d try again to have my books published the traditional route. I know it’s not always a bad experience. My non-fiction book, Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality, is traditionally published and my editors and production assistant were a delight to work with.
But I think more than anything it’s the fact that I lost confidence in my writing that is stopping me from trying the traditional route again. A couple of my self-published books gained bestseller stickers on Amazon, and my reviews have been great (mostly :) ) Self-publishing has given me the confidence to keep writing contemporary romances, and just at present, I can’t face the stress and possible demotivating experience of sending my manuscripts out again.
This week I’ve re-released a former traditionally published book, which I’ve retitled The Summer of Love and Secrets. Here is my delightful cover, designed by Mary Jayne Baker:
The book is available in print on Amazon and in eformat on Amazon and other online retailers – apart from in the US and Canada. I don’t have the rights to sell there, but you can buy it here on Amazon US and Amazon CA under its former title of A Way from Heart to Heart.
Do you, as a reader, care if a book is self-published or traditionally published?
If you’re an author, do you have experience of self-publishing? How have you found it compared to traditional publishing?
If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!