My Self-Publishing Experience
By V S Rose, P-O-based author of Night of the Fête
Finding a publisher or agent as a new author is very difficult. No, I’ll rephrase that, absolutely impossible. I have seen figures about UK publishers accepting from one in one hundred to one in a thousand books that are submitted to them.
Large French publishing houses may accept about one new author a year. Most publishing houses want to discover a new author who is in their 30s, or perhaps 40s, so they can invest in a long term future with the author generating perhaps a book every year for at least ten years. They are also not prepared to hand-hold a new author and help them improve their novel; it’s just too costly and time-consuming.
Therefore, the odds of getting your manuscript accepted are not good. Possibly if you are in your 30s, incredibly talented and have a really hot topic, or you are a celebrity, then you might be lucky. I am not and wasn’t.
I am not an expert on self-publishing and this article is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of all the companies and services that are available. This is the story of my personal experience of self-publishing my first novel of 85,000 words (about two hundred and sixty pages) in 2012, starting from a position of complete ignorance. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster, but an enlightening voyage, during which I had to rapidly acquire new knowledge and skills
Educating Myself about the Publishing World
As I was completely new to the literary world, I purchased a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2012 and their Guide to Getting Published by Harry Bingham (see www.writersandartists.co.uk) to educate myself about how the publishing world works. These made quite depressing reading as it soon became clear how hard it would be for me to find a publisher. However, they were very informative and helped me consolidate my ideas and decide on a course of action to get my brilliantly inventive novel into print. I recommend purchasing both these books if you are new to the publishing world.
Protecting My Copyright
My first action, when I thought my story was complete and I was happy with it, was to register the text with an online copyright protection company called CopyrightDeposit.com, which cost me £8. I also posted the text on a CD to myself ‘recommandé sans avis de réception’ and left the envelope sealed, so I had a record of the postage date.
This is a common trick for authors and is a cheap (5 euros) and efficient way of recording the date you finished the text in case of subsequent dispute; though the lady in the Post Office was confused because the sender’s address was the same as the receiver’s address and thought I had filled the form in wrongly. That took a bit of explaining, but we got there in the end. In retrospect, I probably worried unnecessarily about protecting my copyright, but felt more relaxed about sending the text out to editors and publishers once I had proof that I was the creator.
Copy-Editing My Manuscript
I had the manuscript copy-edited by a professional company, BubbleCow (www.bubblecow.co.uk), before I sent it to any publishers. The last thing a prospective author should do is send a poorly prepared manuscript to any publisher or agent. BubbleCow made some incredibly valuable comments and gave me the confidence to continue with my literary journey and, importantly, they helped me to substantially improve my first draft. They found several inconsistencies and made sensible suggestions about how to improve my style, grammar and the story, without trying to radically change my style or alter what I had written. It took about three weeks, cost about £500, and was money exceedingly well spent. They also took a quick look at my significant new text additions and commented on these without charging further.
BubbleCow do not generally recommend a client to a publisher, though in my case they did send the revised manuscript to a publisher colleague who they thought would be interested. They rejected it, but kindly so.
So what to do now?
Making the Decision to Self-Publish
I read the entire section on publishers and agents in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, taking note of those who I thought might be interested in my genre. Defining my genre was a challenge in itself, as in my view, my tale was highly novel and did not fit comfortably in any of the commonly accepted categories. I finally plumped for fiction/fantasy/contemporary, but did not feel that summarised my novel. I would have preferred fiction/contemporary science/soft fantasy, which doesn’t exist.
I visited the websites of my selected fiction and fantasy publishers to see who, if anyone, might accept to read the first three to five chapters of my manuscript and a summary of the story-line. Most publishers firmly announced ‘No unsolicited manuscripts accepted’ on their website and in the Yearbook, but a few were willing to accept manuscripts from authors they didn’t know. I wrote to four publishers in all; all of whom turned me down after a time-lag of between one to five months. Patience is needed and I’m not very patient. At this point, my suspicions that I was probably wasting my time trying to find a publisher were confirmed.
During this long wait I researched some self-publishing houses. I identified four that looked especially interesting for my publishing project and spent some time understanding their services; making comprehensive lists to compare various services and costs. In the end, I selected Matador which is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd (www.troubador.co.uk)
They were friendly and helpful when I phoned them
They didn’t keep phoning me back trying to sell their services
They were UK- rather than US-based. (I am English, but live in France)
They had the backing of a big publishing house, which might be useful should things go well for me (fingers crossed)
Their website was clear and very informative, so I could decide what services I wanted
They could provide all the services I wanted, even though they out-sourced some, so I only had one company to deal with
They were flexible about what services I could access
They would help with the marketing and distribution of my ebook and paperback to bookshops and online retailers
My Self-Publishing Project
I signed a contract with Matador on 6th August 2012 and sent them my manuscript by email. They expected the process to take eight to twelve weeks, but built in a delay factor and suggested a publication date of 1st February 2013, six months away. I knew I was too late for Christmas sales, so accepted their date, even though it seemed a long way off at the time.
I had a plethora of forms to fill in about my book, my audience, me, the services I wanted etc. I asked them to print five hundred paperback copies of my book, make it available overseas as print-on-demand, design the front and back cover, generate an e-book and distribute it to online e-book sellers worldwide, print five hundred bookmarks for me to use as marketing tools, create a website for me and manage it for two years, and assist with sales, marketing and book distribution.
I was assigned a principal contact person who would oversee my project. I also had a contact for the sales and marketing activities, another for the website design and maintenance, and another for the e-book creation.
In general, correspondence was by email and occasional phone calls were needed. They sent me receipts by post and I sent them corrections to the text proofs by post.
All along I was reminded to be sure I had checked the spelling, grammar and story-line carefully before I submitted my file and I thought I had, until the first set of proofs arrived. At this stage, I realised that the project was real and I’d better get it perfect. I found out the grammar lessons that I thought I remembered from school were now out-of-date or just wrong.
There are loads of grammar sites online, often giving conflicting advice and, of course, American grammar rules are not identical to English ones…and, hyphens, where to include a hyphen or a space on run two words together was a nightmare. My hardback dictionary was hideously old, so I resorted to using the Oxford dictionary on my Kindle.
I found the error checking very difficult and in retrospect, I should probably have had a formal proof read, but I just wasn’t expecting to find so many errors. There were about two or three per page approx. It was embarrassing. The second set of proofs I received contained approximately fifty errors, mostly mistakes I had missed the first time round, but a few errors introduced by the type-setting. I found three mistakes in the third set of proofs and one in the fourth, then finally we got a version I was happy with. I know I will find more errors once the book goes live, but too bad. Next time I will do the proof reading properly before submitting the manuscript.
In practice, I designed the front and back cover, having found a photo on the web that I liked for the front and I purchased the right to use it from the photographer (£50). The back photo was taken by my sister in law. I also wrote the text for the bookmarks and back cover.
The Press Release and Advance Information sheets were designed and written by Matador, using the information and text from the forms I had completed early on in the process. It was well worth my while taking the questions on the forms seriously and spending time on my responses. They distribute these sheets to book sellers, newspapers and organisations that they know and also ones suggested by the client. My book was based in Sevenoaks, so I sent them addresses for local bookshops and newspapers who might be interested in stocking or reviewing my book. The Advance Information sheets were sent out early in the process, while the Press Release sheets are sent out once the book has been printed and is about to go live.
The website took longer to be designed than I would have liked (2 months elapsed time), but I was very happy with the result and it was up and running a month before the book was released, which was fine.
I am pleased I decided to have some bookmarks printed as they make nice gifts and are easy to give away to promote your book. Having five hundred printed was only slightly more expensive than three hundred, so I went for the larger number and will probably still have a draw-full in ten years time. Other marketing aids are available, including posters and business cards.
Matador uses Ocra Book Services for distribution of the book to retailers and Star Book Sales for trade sales representation (providing you agree to print five hundred copies). Matador provides an online Author Centre where you can monitor your book sales and they send you a three-monthly statement and royalty payment. They may charge an annual storage fee for unsold books depending on the number.
Even though I had professionals to help, you still need to take responsibility for marketing your book. I generated a list of over five hundred email contacts, who were informed about my website and new book. I plan to do book signings in France and the UK. Other ideas, appropriate to the specific content and location of my book, are also in-hand to generate sales. The Matador Author Centre has lots of useful information and ideas to help you market your book.
My personal goal was to give my book the best possible change of succeeding and so I opted for quite a comprehensive package of services and printed a run of five hundred paperbacks, which allowed me to access the sales and marketing services of Matador. My final outlay was about £3,500 including the copy-editing, which I don’t expect to fully recuperate through sales unless things go exceedingly well for me. Writing is my hobby, not my business. At the other end of the spectrum, anyone with an electronic text file can convert it to an e-book format and upload it to online e-book sellers, for negligible financial outlay. See http://proactivewriter.com/blog/ebook-formats-a-quick-guide-for-self-publishers/ for more information. Paperback books can be generated as Print-on-Demand, so you only pay for the upfront services of preparing your book for printing (about £500-£1000) and then pay per copy printed. Print costs per book are higher and, arguably, the quality may be slightly inferior to doing a long print run, but there is no big upfront payment for printing or storage costs.
Self-publishing No Longer Means You Have Failed
I believe self-publishing is becoming widely accepted in the UK and USA as the way forward for new authors, because it is recognised that most traditional publishers are risk-adverse and don’t have the time to nurture new talent. Indeed many traditional publishers have now started their own self-publishing imprint (as in the case of Troubador) or they have bought an existing self-publishing house (Penguin recently bought Authorhouse). They obviously view self-publishing as a growing business model and want early access to quality self-published novels. Self-published authors even have their own nickname in the USA, where they are called indies.
As a self-published author with a reputable publishing house or imprint, you should expect to retain full ownership of your international copyright, ISBN number and all electronic files generated. Therefore, self-publishing does not preclude you from being picked-up by a traditional publishing house at a later date if your book is successful, or negotiating film rights with Hollywood; nor does not tie you into restrictive long-term contracts. I am currently writing the sequel to my first book and will definitely self-publish again.
A Happy Ending
The ebook of Night of the Fête went live on 29th January 2013, just before the paperback version which followed on 1st February. When the box of paperbacks finally arrived at my home in France on 7th February 2013, six months after initiating the self-publishing process, we opened the champagne and waited expectantly for the phone to ring and the accolade to commence…
A Small Sample of Self-Publishing Houses:
Matador: www.troubador.co.uk (Troubador’s self-publishing imprint is Matador)
York Publishing: www.yps-publishing.co.uk
Authorhouse: www.authorhouse.com (Owned by Penguin)
Appendix 1 – Diagram Showing Major Steps in the 6-month Timeline
06/08/2012 – Contract with Matador signed
Advance Information and Press Release finalised
Style proofs finalised
Front cover finalised – Book advertised on Troubador’s website
Text proofs arrive
Bookmarks design finalised
Receive printed bookmarks
My website goes live
Text proofs finalised
Book cover (front, back and spine) finalised
01/02/2013– Book and ebook go live
Appendix 2 – Actual Timelines
Pre-self-publishing with Matador:
25-11-2011 Send manuscript to BubbleCow for copy-editing
06-01-2012 Receive BubbleCow’s report on my manuscript
04-02-2012 Finish amendments to my manuscript
27-02-2012 Receive BubbleCow’s comments on my amendments
27-02-2012 Send chapters and summary out to 4 publishers
31-07-2012 Receive final rejection letter
Self publishing with Matador:
06-08-2012 Sign self-publishing contract and send Matador my electronic manuscript
13-09-2012 Receive draft Advance Information and Press Release sheets
24-09-2012 Agree text for Advance Information and Press Release sheets
28-09-2012 Receive style proofs from Matador
02-10-2012 Agree style proofs
17-10-2012 Receive front cover proof
22-10-2012 Receive full text proofs for book
24-10-2012 Agree front cover design, which is up-loaded to Troubador’s website
25-10-2012 Start design of bookmarks
29-10-2012 Website creation starts
30-10-2012 Agree bookmark design
05-11-2012 Return corrections to text proofs by post
12-11-2012 Receive bookmarks
17-12-2012 Receive second lot of text proofs for checking
22-12-2012 Return corrections to text proofs by post
04-01-2013 Website goes live
05-01-2013 Agree text proofs
07-01-2012 Receive front and back cover design proofs
10-01-2012 Agree front and back cover design proofs
21-01-2013 Receive MOBI file for ebook to check
22-01-2013 Agree ebook content
29-01-2013 Ebook goes live
29-01-2013 Paperbacks from printers received at Matador
01-02-2013 Paperback goes live