If you have back-list books from being traditionally published, you're going to want to read this post!
Lorna Fergusson explains the lessons she's learned in self-publishing The Chase.
Here’s a moment: I’m in Soho, London, on a summer’s day.
I’ve been treated to an excellent lunch and a signing-tour of London bookshops by my publisher, Bloomsbury. It’s been, as you can imagine, one of those rare days, those days when every effort, every knockback, every long dark night of the soul seems worth it. It’s publication day. My editor is wonderful. My book-cover is gorgeous. My publishers are respected. Everything is perfect.
Except for one thing: like a fool, I’ve forgotten my camera. So I ring up, a couple of days later, to ask if somebody can take a photo of the lavish display of The Chase – my novel! – in Bloomsbury’s window.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ comes the answer, ‘it’s somebody else’s book in there now.’
Lesson learned from traditional publishing: how brief one’s moment in the window is.
Pre-publication, there’s a long build-up where marketing and publicity plans and promises are made – some are followed through. The book appears, but it’s being pushed from behind by the next one … and the next. Like Bede’s sparrow flying through a brightly-lit hall, it passes from darkness to darkness.
So, in the fullness of time The Chase progresses from hardback to paperback … to out of print. My editor leaves Bloomsbury. My agent retires. The publishing industry goes through huge changes. Digital publishing arrives.
More than ten years on from that day in Soho, I decide to take charge of my own fortunes.
I retrieve my rights – a protracted process – and set about republishing my story under my own imprint, Fictionfire Press. The Chase is mine again. Scary. Exciting. Utterly fulfilling.
After several months of frenetic activity, The Chase is out in the world once more, as an ebook and a paperback. I’m now getting ready to bring out a collection of short stories … then there’s the thriller that’s been languishing, two-thirds complete …
The bit is well and truly between my teeth.
So, what have I learned from the self-publishing experience? So many things – among them these key lessons:
No book need die
Of course, The Chase was never really dead; people had it on their bookshelves. You could still dredge it up on Amazon and Abebooks, secondhand. But it had had its moment in the sun. I felt distant from it, as if I were no longer the person who’d written it. Now, with the ‘long tail’ of e-commerce, the ease of downloading books, the convenience of print on demand, my novel can enjoy a second life. This is the kind of flexibility of access and supply none of us could even have dreamed of a few short years ago.
If you’re going to self-publish, you need to do it right
That means being professional and taking responsibility for your work. This is your baby – don’t send it out in rags and with a snotty nose. I discovered the enormous satisfaction to be had from commissioning a beautiful cover (thanks, Jane Dixon-Smith of www.jdsmith-design.co.uk!) and having the text properly formatted for both the ebook and paperback versions (thanks again Jane!).
You need to be prepared to pay for certain services if you’re not able to cope on your own or if you’re not prepared to take the time to learn. I was happy to edit my own work (it’s part of my profession, after all) but formatting is beyond me. So I paid for that. I wanted a cover that readers would want to reach out and touch: I paid for that too. As an independent publisher you need to be answerable to your work and to your readership: treat both with respect.
Words are not set in stone anymore
Digital publication means that your text is more like a palimpsest: even after publication you can unpublish, erase and adapt as you wish before republishing. As I was bringing The Chase out on Kindle in the first instance I edited the original opening, making it briefer and pacier, knowing that readers often download that free sample section and make a buying decision based on it.
You need help
Truly. If you’re going to go into the self-publishing game, you will need support – and the extraordinary and joyous thing is that there’s such a lot of support around, from individual writers who’ll share their experience and recommendations, through to organisations such as the Alliance of Independent Authors. I joined ALLi when it launched in spring 2012 and have found membership invaluable. I can ask questions on the ALLi Facebook page and a stream of helpful advice will flow. I’ve met many wonderful people, including novelist Linda Gillard who was the first to tell me I should republish The Chase and set me on this indie-publishing path.
I’ve consulted Ali Luke’s clear and user-friendly Publishing E-books in the For Dummies series, ALLi’s Choosing a Self-Publishing Service, David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible, plus Joanna Penn’s excellent new How to Market a Book. I’ve followed so many blogs – from The Creative Penn to Catherine Ryan Howard’s Catherine, Caffeinated (don’t even think of applying for your EIN or ITIN number from the American IRS service without the crucial post about it on her blog!)
The learning never stops and the To-Do List never shortens!
I’m still trying to get to grips with the Byzantine complexities of Goodreads … I don’t have a Pinterest board yet … I need to get my paperback into bookshops. You just have to keep checking those items off the list, even when two more spring up for every one you deal with …
Sometimes you need to step back
The constant sense that you should be selling can weigh heavy, so it’s important know when to back off from social media, when to be silent, when to let the well fill – because after all, you do have other books to write, don’t you!
Have you got a backlist you could re-publish? Do you have any questions about this or anything to do with self-publishing when you've been traditionally published before? Please do leave a comment below.
Lorna Fergusson is the author of The Chase, available in print and ebook editions.
Lorna has taught creative writing for many years, including for Oxford University’s various writing programmes. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize and was a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story prize 2012. Currently her unpublished children’s novel Hinterland is on the shortlist of four for Pan Macmillan’s Write Now Prize, so she hopes her future will be that of a hybrid author, part traditionally published, part indie!
Lorna’s literary consultancy is at www.fictionfire.co.uk and her blog about the business of books and the writing life is at http://literascribe.blogspot.com. You can sign up to be updated about her publications at www.fictionfirepress.com.
Follow her on Twitter at @LornaFergusson and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LornaFergussonAuthor
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