When I started out my self-publishing journey, it was for one reason, and one reason only: I’d been unable to find a mainstream publisher to take on my work, and the rest of my career was so busy that I felt I simply didn’t have time to spend constantly sending a manuscript to agents. Fast forward a couple of years, and I feel very differently. I’m starting to think that being an indie writer is actually a positive thing in itself, not as a stepping stone to something else.
Sure, I’d like the cash, clout and credibility being with a publisher gives you, but there’s something heady about the freedom of indie publishing, especially in the digital sphere. You’re not beholden to anyone else’s schedules, you have the freedom to publish what and when you like – which I’m realising from conversations with other writer friends that sometimes isn’t at all true if you’re with a traditional publisher, as I have seen them frustrated by delays, or disappointed when they are told that, instead of the sequel they planned, they need to deliver something else. (Also, most aspiring writers massively over estimate how much published writers earn – unless you’re one of the industry’s big hitters, you won’t be giving up the day job soon). Perhaps it’s because I had already made the decision to be my own boss in every other area of my life that indie publishing felt like a great fit for me, but it’s turned out to be one of the most satisfying decisions I’ve ever made.
Some of this is because of the flexibility: my career is very cyclical, and when it’s busy, it’s REALLY busy – it’s not uncommon for me to be working 13 hour days, 7 days a week over my peak periods, and I simply don’t have time for anything else. So not having someone else’s deadline hanging over me is liberating. Conversely, it also means that when I want to publish, I can do so almost without delay. I put a couple of short stories out between Dark Dates and Wolf Night virtually on a whim; and when I realised, last summer, that My Traumatic Year had meant there was absolutely no way I would be able to hit my planned deadline of putting the next novel out in spring, I was able to at least fill the gap with a long short story/novella, Vampire In Edinburgh, which turned out to be enormous fun to write and was very well-received at a time when, reeling from my mother’s and a close friend’s death, and still mired down in my own homelessness, I was starting to have major doubts about my writing ability at all. Being able to put something out there straight away at a time when my confidence was at an all-time low, and having people respond to it warmly did, I am sure, stop my temporary crisis from spiralling into something far more permanent and debilitating.
I’m not saying self-publishing is easy – even with a trusted team of helpers around me (from my unpaid beta readers to those who supply my paid-for services, such as formatting and design), I still have to do most of the work myself, and that can feel like a slog, especially when I am under pressure to focus on more lucrative things – ie, the things that pay my rent. I’ve realised that I am fairly awful at publicity, so still struggle to get wider exposure for my books, and that’s after trying to overcome a widespread antipathy to self-published writers in the blogging community (many bloggers won’t review or feature self-published titles, wary of poor quality and indie authors’ reputation for being less able to handle negative reviews). Also, without the seal of approval of an editor and publisher, there’s always the fear that my books are really, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit crap. But while life would be easier with a personal assistant and a publicist (though really, whose life wouldn’t be?), overall I’m happy with my path.
But although digital publishing has the thrill of immediacy and access (and, if you publish through Amazon, a fairly generous royalties percentage), I missed having an actual physical book in my hands: something I could put on my shelves, something I could sell at signings or events, something that readers could pass on to friends. My first two books were hard copy only, and some of my happiest experiences were at signings, readings and events – something I haven’t done at all for my latest series.
So this year I decided to expand into print. A friend recommended Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and I decided to give it a go. Although technically free to use, it did end up costing me money, since I paid to have my cover and text reformatted, and it also took a lot of work. I re-edited Dark Dates for print (and, being vaguely horrified at the amount of typos I had let slip – which made me pleased I got a proofer on board for the next books – I then had it reformatted for digital to re-upload to Amazon) and then there’s a lot of proofing involved to make sure the print edition is how you want it. But eventually it was done and this week, my first copy arrived – and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The excitement of holding your own book in your hands is something no writer ever gets over, and I must admit that a physical copy makes it feel more real. My plan is to get the rest of the titles in print by autumn (compiling the short stories into one volume), paving the way for the next book in the series. Admittedly at this stage it’s an experiment that might cost me more than it makes me – the royalties for print copies are far lower, even though the price is naturally much higher – but I don’t care. It feels like the next step on my publishing journey, and for all the pitfalls and perils of self-publishing, it’s an adventure that is all the more exciting because I get to choose my own path.