Routes to publication – writers share their thoughts

In a recent post on this blog, the bestselling and critically acclaimed author, William Kowalski explained why he has chosen to self-publish his most recent novel.

I rather expected the post to attract some interest, and so it did. What I hadn’t expected was that the first six people to comment would all be published authors, most of them published the traditional way. It made me realise that nearly all writers, traditionally published or not, are now thinking about how they want to be published – and that they are very much aware of the choices that Amazon (in particular) is opening up.

So I asked those writers if they would share their own experiences and thoughts, on much the same lines that Bill did a couple of weeks back. Here is what they have to say.

Emma HaughtonEmma Haughton, author of Now You See Me

One month post-publication of my debut YA novel, I find myself at an interesting stage in my career. Getting here via the traditional route took a bit of doing: several Arvon courses and a weekend at the York Festival of Writing; all the agony and rejection of submission to agents and publishers; the high of getting an offer, and the slog of editing; and finally the thrill of publication day.

But as most authors know, that’s very far from the end of the process. Indeed, what’s struck me most about getting a novel traditionally published is just how much marketing you have to do. I’ve had to build a website, get blogging, build up relationships on Twitter and Facebook – and that’s before setting foot out the house on school or festival visits.

It seems there’s little to choose between the traditional and indie route in terms of self-promotion. Gone are the days when you could leave all the marketing stuff to your publisher – only a tiny minority of writers can get away with that now. The rest of us work two jobs – writing our novels, and encouraging people to read them. Of course, it helps if you’re in the high street bookstores – I’m lucky to be stocked in WHSmiths and Waterstones – but you still need to blog and tweet and generally interact with readers, other bloggers, booksellers and librarians to build interest in your book.

So the decision to self-publish Now You See Me in the US through the agent-assisted Amazon White Glove programme doesn’t feel such a huge leap. I want access to the US market, but I’m also keen to gain first-hand experience in hybrid authorship, which I’m convinced will become the norm for many writers. Combining traditional with independent publishing makes sense, particularly for in terms of backlists, foreign territories or for books that happen to be out of sync with what publishers think they want at this particular moment.

These are exciting times to be a writer, I believe. Yes, publishing seems to be contracting, with the big players swallowing each other up every other week. And yes, it’s a difficult time for independent bookshops. But as writers, all this uncertainty in publishing comes hand-in-hand with opportunity – an opportunity to gain more readers, extend the shelf-life of our books and even, fingers crossed, to squeeze a little more money out of them.

Emma Haughton is the author of YA thriller Now You See Me, published by Usborne. Visit her website – www.emmahaughton.com, connect with her on Facebook – www.facebook.com/emmahaughtonwriter – or join her for a chat on Twitter: @Emma_Haughton

 

Katherine Roberts, author of  Song Quest (and many more)

Publishing over two centuriesKatherine Roberts
No, I’m not 200 years old! But a bookish fairy obviously cursed me at birth with: “May you write in interesting times.” Because, wherever you stand, these are interesting times in publishing.

20th Century
At first, my publishing experience was the standard fairytale. I started out in the 1990’s writing short stories for genre magazines. After a few years of submissions to slush piles, I landed a magical publishing deal for my debut children’s novel from the editor who had discovered JK Rowling. That book, Song Quest, was published in 1999. It had a modest four-figure (three zeroes) advance, but on the strength of the editor’s name received plenty of attention from the children’s publishing world and went on to win the Branford Boase Award over here in the UK.

An agent and a seven-book deal with HarperCollins soon followed… pretty much on the same heady day in London. The next year, I was flown to San Francisco to launch my first book published in America (Spellfall) at the glittering American Libraries Association conference. My career as a children’s author had literally taken off.

21st Century
Then, around 2006, something changed. The independent publishing company my Harry Potter editor had set up to publish Spellfall was by then formally part of Scholastic US. My next book for them failed to make it into paperback in America, and my next proposal failed to get a deal over here. At the same time, my agent unexpectedly died (not of heartbreak, as it turned out… but if this were a fairytale, she might well have done). Upon approaching others, I learnt that my new book was not the only one by an experienced, award-winning author failing to find a publishing contract. It mostly came down to which titles the big bookselling chains would stock in quantity.

Meanwhile, an online bookselling dragon was stirring in the shadows. Its name was… Amazon. If bookshops were not stocking all these slower-selling books, Amazon did. If readers wanted more variety than the latest blockbuster or celebrity memoir, they could order it more easily, and often cheaper, from Amazon than in a bookstore that did not keep a single copy on their shelves. Then the first Kindle appeared, and the Amazon dragon really took flight. Now online book-selling made perfect sense. People did not need to visit shops to purchase ebooks, and ebooks did not need to travel from a warehouse to the reader’s door – they could be instantly delivered over the airwaves at the click of a mouse. What was more, since publishers had been caught napping in the early days, Amazon changed the rules and made it possible for authors to reach readers directly using the KDP.

In 2011, frustrated by my growing pile of unsold proposals, I reverted my out-of-print backlist and joined the indie ball. American authors had already been dancing with the dragon-prince for a year or more, and Amazon was just opening the door to overseas authors. I had little money to spend but, without a publishing contract and its resulting deadlines, what I did have was time. Making use of information available on forums and blogs, some trial and quite a lot of error, I learnt how to convert my Word manuscripts into Kindle files, create acceptable ebook covers, and the ins and outs of the US tax system as it applies to “non-resident aliens”… all three equally complex to the uninitiated, I might add.

Present Day
Today, my complete backlist (with the exception of Song Quest in the UK territories) is available for Kindle from Amazon and, via Draft2Digital, from Nook, Kobo, and Apple i-tunes. It sells slowly, but steadily, and I earn up to 70% of each sale – a far bigger share than I’d earn from a copy sold by my publishers. At the moment my extremely modest ebook sales cover about a quarter of my basic living expenses, which helps buy time to write new books. Perhaps the most important thing is that, for the first time in my career, I feel in control. My backlist is now working for me, rather than sitting out-of-print at its publisher awaiting some fantasy far-off-future reprint, meanwhile selling second-hand for vastly inflated prices from which the author (and the publisher) earns nothing at all.

The future?
Most of my books so far are for middle grade/teen readers, and it’s clear that the younger you go in reader age, the more important print becomes. So any new children’s projects I write will go the traditional agent/publisher route. But, since that route has already proved rather rocky for me, and rocky roads can take a long time to negotiate, I plan to self-publish the books I write for YA or older readers as ebook originals, possibly under a pseudonym so there’s no conflict with my younger work. This is not because I am shunning the traditional publishing route – I’m still happy to work with any publisher who can make it worth my while – but I do need to earn a living and, without and agent, taking the indie route seems to offer more hope.

This all feels a bit like riding the Amazon dragon, or –more truthfully in my case – clinging onto its extremely long (and getting longer every day) tail. It’s quite possible I’ll get shaken off at some point, or be dashed against the high rocks on the way. But for the moment, at least, it’s a wild and exciting ride!

You can find out more about my books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk

 

Eduardo writerEduardo Suastegui, author of Dead Beef & other novels

Why did I self-publish? Because I have a story to tell and I want people to read it. That doesn’t sound like a proper answer to you? Then you haven’t spent months writing a story and twice as many playing the query-agent-publisher lottery to earn the privilege of waiting for another 12-18 months before a real reader actually sees your story. In short, I got tired of waiting.

I also saw that the ground has shifted and the traditional publishing route has become nearly impossible to achieve for first time authors. Unless you’re an established author, you’ll be expected to bring a “platform” along with you, which in practice means you’ll be doing your own promotion, for the most part, on your own dime. This you’ll do for smaller shares in the profits than if you went at it on your own. The advantage of going with a publisher is what, again?

Enough of that. I started off with Amazon, choosing to go for the rather straightforward process to post eBooks on the Kindle store. I’d like to report that I’ve become an instant success, so much so that one of the “big 5” is wearing out my cellphone and email inbox with offers to do a deal with them. No, not so much. I’ve been at this for a couple of months, with a couple of novels and two short story collections now available for people to download, and the good folks out there are doing just that. Some of them are even leaving reviews. And they read so much better than a cold form rejection letter.

Now for a gut-check question: Am I doing this out of “vanity”? You remember that term, applied to self-publishing. “Vanity Press.” Clever dissuading phrase, wasn’t it? Clever enough that it’s still grinding at me. Did I just go off and self-publish because it makes me feel good, somehow complete?

To shake this off, I go back to my original motto: I have a story to tell, and I want people to read it.

With one novella and a couple of novels in the pipeline, I’ll tend to my stories, promote them the best way I can, and continue to engage with fellow writers and readers. While I work to get my work into the hands of a larger audience, I’ll measure my success by the incremental progress I make, by the relationships I start to forge with readers, and above all, by the diversity of stories I’m able to tell.

Even as I say this, I can hear some scoffing. In their minds, success comes with sales rankings and best seller list placement. Because, you know, that has nothing to do with vanity. For my part, I’ll keep working on the premise that if I share from my heart through my story-telling, the rest will work itself out. If I write it, they will read.

Find out more about Eduardo at his website: http://eduardosuastegui.com

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  • Thank you for having me, Harry – good to meet you here, Emma and Eduardo!

    I forgot to mention in my piece that (ironically) a few months after I’d started indie-publishing my backlist at Amazon, I did in fact sign a four-book deal with a UK children’s publisher Templar Books for one of my unsold proposals, all four titles of which have since been published. So I now feel like a true hybrid, but that can bring its own problems such as having to be careful of contract terms… perhaps something that might be interesting to explore in future?

  • Stephen Mark

    This is indeed food for thought – to coin a worn-out phrase. For those (many) of us who ponder the grovel or the novel, it will help to bring us closer to a decision. Many thanks!