My husband is a pretty thoughtful guy, which I’ll admit that I do tend to take for granted after ten years, but even I was very taken aback this weekend when he insisted upon taking me out for a celebratory pie and cider lunch to mark the third anniversary of my foray into self publishing. How cool is that? Especially as I had NO IDEA what he was on about. Okay, it makes sense that I must have had a start date of some sort way back in the mists of time but I’ll be ding dang jiggered if I can remember when it is.
Still, at least SOMEONE remembers stuff like that for me, eh?
Anyhow, although almost a week has passed since the aforementioned anniversary that I didn’t remember but was totally up for celebrating anyway, I thought that I should probably mark it with some sort of blog post as well as that is what I DO. Plus, I could really do with some extra book sales right now as there’s this really fancy dress that I want to buy…
Here then, without further waffle and ado are TEN THINGS I HAVE DISCOVERED (not always willingly but still) SINCE EMBARKING ROUGHLY THREE YEARS AGO (allegedly and according to my husband) ON THE GREAT ADVENTURE THAT IS SELF PUBLISHING.
1. It sucks. No, wait, hear me out. What I actually MEAN is that, like all things that bring in a massive sense of achievement and reward at the end, it isn’t particularly joyous all the time. In fact, it’s really REALLY hard work. Don’t be fooled by the gung-ho ‘write and book and slap it up on Kindle, job done’ chatter of self publishers on Twitter into thinking that you’re in for an easy ride. It’s actually a pretty hard slog to get everything right and there will be many MANY times when you feel like jacking the whole thing in and taking up birdwatching or, I dunno, jumping out of planes without a parachute as a hobby instead. I know that I have had a couple of lengthy periods over the last couple of years where I have felt really quite desperately down about the whole thing and have even temporarily given up writing (I’m just emerging from one in fact) because it just feels too painful and hideous and soul destroying to carry on. I do it though because ultimately and at the end of the day, I LOVE IT no matter what a vicious bitch it might be.
2. You need to be willing to change. You know that lovingly crafted blurb, that cover, the price you spent ages thinking about? You have to be prepared to change it. Here’s the thing: you are ON YOUR OWN, buddy and don’t have the might of a publisher behind you which means that although you are free to make your own success (and keep the rewards all to yourself – yipee!), you are also free to rampage at will and make your own mistakes. And let’s be clear – mistakes will be made. Possibly in abundance, although you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that they lessen as you get more experienced. What you need to do is KEEP AN EYE on your books and everyone else’s. Okay, not everyone else’s – just the ones that you feel are the closest peers to your own. If sales take a sudden dip, be ready to change the price or shake that blurb up a bit. If other writers in your genre all seem to have a certain style of cover, be prepared to change your one to fit in. I suppose that what I’m actually saying here is DON’T BE PRECIOUS about your work, be flexible. Honestly, when I first started out three years ago, I didn’t have a CLUE what I was doing and I didn’t have ANY publishing experience to help me on my way either – I had to learn everything on the job and gradually, thank goodness, I got much better.
3. People will be hard on you. Oh crikey, are they hard. As I mentioned above, I am just struggling my way out of a long period of not really writing very much at all and, if you know me on Facebook, you’ll probably have seen a couple of ‘THAT’S IT, I’M NOT WRITING FOR PUBLICATION EVER AGAIN’ type posts over the last nine months or so. I’m kind of over it now but it’s been a tough time and basically all started because of a couple of people really knocking my confidence. Now, they didn’t say anything bad about my writing itself (they were, in fact, extremely complimentary about it) but my business model took a battering. You see, I had it pointed out to me that although my writing is good, my self publishing stinks because I am rubbish at promoting it. Also, and this really upset me, another writer pointed out that if I carry on self publishing my books, people will eventually assume that I do so because I am rubbish and no one else wants to work with me NOT because, as is the truth, I just happen to really enjoy it. I was crushed. And then gave up writing altogether. Okay, there was rather more to it than just that but it was pretty awful. The thing is though, and this is why I’m making myself talk about it now, this seems to happen to a lot of self published writers – they are damned with faint praise, they are undermined by the backhanded compliment, they are blind sided by possibly well meaning but not at all helpful ‘advice’. Don’t let people do this to you. In my case, I just won’t talk about my writing or my plans for it with anyone other than my husband any more (he’s not a writer so has no vested interest in making me feel anything other than pretty good about myself as that makes life easier for him plus he bought me my MacBook Pro and likes to think he’s getting a good return on this investment) because I no longer want to find myself in situations where I am made to doubt that what I am doing is RIGHT FOR ME.
4. Comparison is the thief of joy. This is a tough one but basically, all I can say is that at some point in the last twelve months I started to feel a bit like that guy, you know the one, who has been with a company, patiently slogging away, for many many years, and has over that time seen everyone else get promoted above him. I’m really struggling with this to be honest and have to continually remind myself why I do what I do (enjoyment, fun, complete control over my work, no deadlines, spending all day at home with my laptop and the cats for company). Seriously though, there are times when it literally feels like everyone else in the world has got an agent and a book deal EXCEPT ME and that can be really tough, not because I want those things but because I feel like everyone is looking at me thinking ‘So what’s wrong with YOU then, Clegg?’ At which point I have to remind myself that I probably COULD have those things but I’ve never really made any effort to get them and that it isn’t actually a ‘promotion’ at all, just a different way of doing things to the path that I have taken and THAT’S FINE.
5. Don’t read your reviews. Oh God, seriously. Don’t read them. The good ones all start to sound the same after a while and the bad ones will make you want to off yourself like Sylvia Plath. Also, isn’t it funny how you only notice the bad reviews? Say you have twenty reviews, with nineteen being really good and one being so horrible that you feel like they might just as well have come round to your house and done something appalling on your front doorstep. What is the feeling you take away from this review reading session? That’s right – the feeling of blank misery that one person hated your work NOT pleasure that nineteen people loved it. And that’s not right and why I don’t bother with the whole miserable malarkey any more. I haven’t read my reviews for about two years now – not because, I hasten to add they were rubbish but because I thought the reactions of other writers (and me on the few occasions I caught sight of a real stinker) to reviews were kind of hilariously, embarrassingly awful. Guys, it doesn’t look good to make a big fuss about someone not entirely enjoying your book and it looks EVEN LESS GOOD to take them on in the comments of Amazon. Just let it go or, even better, don’t read them in the first place. Personally, I feel pretty good about not reading mine and assume that if someone really wants me to have some direct feedback they’ll, oh I dunno, EMAIL me or something so we can have a proper chat about it? Reviews are FOR READERS NOT WRITERS.
6. Pay someone else to do stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, one of the reasons I enjoy self publishing is because I get to do things that I really enjoy, like messing around with blurbs and making my own covers and what not. I basically see the whole thing as a really awesome hobby that I gives me an excuse not to get a proper job. However, there are times when you really need to think about delegating – editing, for example, is probably best done by someone else and if your Photoshop skills aren’t all that great, maybe paying someone to make a cover would be a good thing too. Also, and this might just be me, I pay an accountant to do my tax return for me because I find the whole thing unutterably painful and tiresome – BEST MONEY SPEND EVER.
7. Be professional. Ages ago I wrote on here about taking Hilary Mantel as my personal writing hero because, as far as I’m concerned, she never puts a foot wrong and makes a brilliant role model for aspiring novelists. The main thing though that I take from her and my inner mantra of ‘What Would Hilary Mantel Do?’ is PROFESSIONALISM. Okay, I’m doing self publishing as a very involving and rather fatiguing hobby but that really doesn’t excuse me from taking it every bit as seriously as writers who are represented by trade publishers. Some of THEM might think that I have no right to take it as seriously, but that’s THEIR problem, not mine. Also, and this never fails to amuse me, people are MUCH tougher on self published authors than they are on their trade published chums – it doesn’t really make much sense to me to be honest as they MUST know that they’re reading a cheap book that has been worked on by usually one, maybe a couple of people at a push, with no financial backing and no resources other than their own skills and YET they are WAY MORE unforgiving of typos, grammatical errors, turn of phrase, inconsistencies and tone than they would be if the same book was more expensive and had a multi million pound publishing house pushing it along. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to expect high standards, obviously it isn’t, but this attitude strikes me as more than a little bit odd.
8. Enjoy your freedom. Honestly, you should hear the things that trade published writer chums tell me about not having control over their blurbs, promotion, deadlines, covers, titles, you name it. It’s really quite dispiriting to be honest and makes me pretty relieved that I can do my own thing. Embrace it therefore, my self published amigos and enjoy the freedom that you have over your own work, even if you never get to see it stacked high in Tesco on a 3 for 2 or whatever.
9. Be nice. This is actually pretty important and goes with the whole ‘be professional’ thing above – in fact, so IMPORTANT did I think it that I decided that it really ought to have its own little bit just to underline the point that as a self publisher you are also a SELF PROMOTER and have no one other than yourself to hide behind when it all goes wrong. The other thing is that the publishing industry seems to be a really REALLY small world with everyone knowing everyone else, which means that if you are rude to Agent A then Agents B through to Z will probably get to hear about it. Mutter in private by all means but keep your public face nice and polite and friendly because even if you’re as happy as pie self publishing right now, who knows where your career might eventually take you and that meteoric rise to FAME AND FORTUNE is going to be a whole lot easier and more pleasant if you haven’t started out before you even really began with a reputation for being ‘difficult’. So BE NICE.
10. HAVE FUN. Guys, this has actually been a lot more doom and gloomy than I’d originally intended and I’m very sorry about that. It’s been a tough twelve months and things look set to be even tougher still so I guess I’m just not feeling all rosy and optimistic about the whole thing right now. I always said that I’d give up self publishing when it stopped being fun and, to be honest, it really did stop being fun last year thanks to one thing and another until I took control and steered away from the people and situation that was making me rapidly lose faith in myself. The main thing though is that I’m back to writing and you know what, it’s starting to be lots of fun again, which ultimately is all that should really matter.
So where am I now with the whole self publishing business? Well, to be honest, I just don’t know any more. I have a completed novel set during the Jack the Ripper murders all ready to roll but haven’t quite decided what I want to do with it – it’s had agent interest but I’m still not really convinced that trade publishing is for me – however, there is still that niggling feeling that I’m staying behind while everyone else is being ‘promoted’ up so I’m waiting for another month before I make any definite decisions. In the meantime, work is carrying on with my Sophie Scholl book (heroism, romance and woe in Hitler’s Germany) and a couple of other projects that are currently still at the embryonic ‘development’ stage. I’ll keep you all posted about how it goes!
Anyway, enough of all this! Here’s to the next three years! I wonder what they’ll bring…
ps. BUY MY BOOKS. I’m not joking about the dress.
Blood Sisters, my novel of posh doom and iniquity during the French Revolution is just a fiver (offer is UK only sorry!) right now! Just use the clicky box on my blog sidebar to order your copy!