I don’t regret a minute of being with John. Our imaginations have been virtually married for two years now. We’ve shared a lot of words and he knows more about my literary fantasies than my husband ever did. And people talk, don’t they? Not only about how good we were together but how would this relationship end? Would there be tears or jubilations? Well, as is usually the case, a little of both.
So, poised on the brink of something new to begin in March 2015, this is an overview of my publishing journey so far, from its shaky start to its exciting, bitter-sweet finish. It’s also a final testimonial to my editor, John Hudspith.
Snakes and Ladders.
My self-publishing journey has been up and down, round the houses and back again. It’s a different experience for each and every author. Any perceived failure or success is dependent on a lot of individual criteria, how you measure it and what you learn from it. Throw into this mix, hundreds of online experts clamouring for your attention and offering advice – most of it speculative and out of date in less than a week – from how to market your book, how to design its cover, why you need a click-through Contents page, why you don’t need a click-through Contents page and why a dark blue fancy font with pink dots says hysterical, not historical.
Hello, I’m the answer to all your problems. Please send money now.
Waiting somewhere along the line is a Comma Buff; offering to proofread your material at £1.50 per 1,000 words. For a joining fee you can be a member of his gang, appear on an incredibly popular site or be included in a brand-new advertising strategy called the Pay-it-Forward-Tweet-Team. Not sure? You can bet your last dangling participle that someone, somewhere, has written a blog-post about it. You may be swayed by several writerly pieces about publishing, but I’m not sure I was ever convinced that anyone has that top-secret information about the Amazing-Amazon-Algorithms, or the reason one book sells dozens of copies on every third Friday in October on Nook, but never on Kindle although occasionally on the Spanish version of Scribd, if the wind is blowing from the east. And as soon as you’ve got to grips with those new sub-genre keywords – juggling the dice all the way to IndieBooksIndia – that hot new site – the goalposts change again, and oops… everyone’s been pirated on IndieBooksIndia. There’s no time to work on your new novel, you need to dash-off an angry email, or two, or three, or four and have a good rant in each and every one of the 42 groups you’re in on Facebook – and a tweet for good measure. Confused and utterly exhausted yet? Take a deep breath, there’s more…
For varied fees, you can enter your books to win badges: the coveted Golden Cuckoo, a Silver Songbird maybe or – oh, the shame of it – just scraping a Bronze Blackbird. Will it help sales? Will it help readers find you? Writers are always seeking validation, and awards and reviews are a major emotional player in the game. To put these awards and maybe more than that, into some perspective, consider the journey of Book One:
He was born a humble paper copy 15 years ago and adopted by a London agent. He was praised and patted on the head by Pan Macmillan and other notables throughout nursery school. He was a trier, re-inventing himself many times in order to please but eventually, he was declared non-commercial and almost destroyed.
Then King Kindle came to Slush-pile City.
Smoothed out and loaded-up, he became self-published, where he suffered an abused spell as a badly behaved electronic copy, running with the wrong crowd. He was rescued just in time and re-educated in his late teens by John Hudspith. Loved and reviewed positively after this by many readers, he even rode high in the Amazon rankings with BookBub. Despite all of this, he was rejected outright by Blah Blah Award, but he soldiered on. Finally, his fate was sealed, he was signed with Accent Press and the book lived happily ever after. True story.
So, maybe you’d be better investing in 50 reviews? You’ve heard that the magic number is 40 and then huge sales and mass visibility happens of its own accord. Maybe you should give that nice friendly author a five-star review and then maybe… Oh, hold on that’s unethical, isn’t it? Well, yes… to some authors, but not to others. And if I upset said author on a later date with my political views on Facebook, he might change it to a two-star review.
The problem – and rather conversely the joy too – is that there are no rules, but self-publishing is sometimes more difficult to navigate than a re-write of War and Peace. Ask a simple question and you will get fifty different answers.
It’s certainly a game of hissing snakes and slippery ladders.
There is money to be made in self publishing, but not always by the authors.
Who are you?
Camp One. You write full-length fiction, which can take anything up to 12 months to produce in its polished form. You write because you have something unique to say and hopefully to not only entertain but to inspire and inform. You may have been traditionally published before. You write because you are inspired, and challenged by the craft of writing, and strive to improve and develop. Your only keyword is quality. You struggle to sell, but your reviews are numerous and positive. Your audience tend to be mature and still enjoy paperbacks and bookshops. You might be seeking an editor to work with, who has the skills to teach where necessary, and nurture your positive traits. You dislike self-promotion and trying to run with the crowd. You’ve likely learnt the craft over many years but struggled to get published or agented because your work fell between traditional genres, or didn’t quite cut it. You’d love to attract a publisher.
I’m not a celebrity, get me in there… please?
Camp Two. You enjoy writing but you wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t pay for itself. You approach self-publishing as a commercial venture. You are prolific, you write popular serials, novellas and novelettes; often across several genres with a specific market in mind, keep up to date with the latest promotional sites, know how to play the system with keywords, and buy all the ‘how to’ books. You tend to make your own book covers, format everything yourself, and your books are available on every obscure platform you can find. You write ‘how to’ books. Your audience are young, read stuff on their iPhones and probably enjoy whatever is current, like American steampunk fantasy, or fetish erotica. It doesn’t bother you that the camp is set on moving sand, you are quick-thinking and adaptable. Your books sell well. You’re not seeking a publisher and you don’t need an editor.
These are wild extremes in self-publishing. Of course, it depends who you are, the adaptability of your camping equipment and how well you can handle a variety of cooking pots and pans when the chips are down, rain is pouring through the canvas roof and wait, there are enemies on the horizon… a huge semi-colon with a machete!
Who is John Hudspith?
If you are poised on the brink of self-publishing your first book, or if you already have a row of these beauties on your virtual shelf but maybe harbour a niggling doubt they could be better… please consider talking to John Hudspith first and listen to one, clear opinion. If you spend on nothing else or have limited funds available, editing and proofreading is King and Story-is-everything-else. I’ve worked with well established literary agencies and respected agents in my distant past and in my opinion, John’s advice and editing is on a par with London prices, at a fraction of the cost. I could have saved myself heaps of time, dead-ends and cash.
Who am I?
I’m Jan Ruth, I’m a self-published author and I’m in camp one. I’m glad I self-published, although I may not sound as if I enjoyed the experience. Publishing my own work was a steep learning curve but it’s now at an end for me. Visibility is increasingly difficult over in camp one and there’s only so much one can do before some sort of burn-out happens. But one man’s burn-out is another man’s fuel… it rather depends on which camp you thrive in.
I’ve had forays into camp two but without lasting, or consistent success. This is why I have made the decision to leave self-publishing and I’m very happy to announce that I have signed a 5-book deal with a small publisher. After my family, I have to give massive thanks to my editor John Hudspith, because without his support, both professionally and as a friend and mentor, I would not have arrived at this point. I’d have given up, Once Upon a Long Time Ago. So, on to new beginnings for 2015. And keep the camp fires burning.