For a long time self-publishing was my backup plan only, despite it being a completely legitimate platform to launch your career and despite the many successes of others, such as E. L. James. I still have hopes that I might get plucked from the slush pile, but I now have to begin to be realistic about what my chances are. With little feedback from agents, it’s hard to know where you’re going wrong, if you’re going wrong at all. And with time ticking by, I have often wondered whether I would enjoy success going it alone.
One of my barriers to embracing self-publishing I think is the strict rules I impose on myself. I smirk as I write this, but, for example, I have always had it in my head that I want to be published before I become a mother (which won’t be for a few years, so I have some time!). I’m sure this stems from my very complex past with my own mother, who coincidentally wrote as a young woman. But, why? Why is this a necessity? What am I even classing as ‘published’ in my own head? Similarly, I long for an agent because I believe it legitimises my success. It’s clear to me that I need to adopt a more opened minded approach, throw out these rules and go back to the drawing board. And know that starting from scratch is ok.
Another barrier is my wish to see my physical book for sale in shops- buying books as a child and teenager from Waterstones or Ottakar’s was one of my favourite past times. And even now I walk by book shops and imagine my book sitting there and the joy and pride that would bring me. But with the strength of the digital market as it is, is it a necessity to publish physical copies anymore? Even if I decide that’s true, it is possible to self-publish a physical book. This is likely to take more time, money and consideration, but it is possible. So why can’t I let go of my hesitation? Why even bother doing another round of agents, when in a flash I could be published?
This is the dilemma I face. I think I will stick to my original plan though-one more round of agents and then self-publish if I don’t receive any promising results. I am keen to do this, as whatever happens, submissions to agents and/or publishers is likely going to form a key part of my creative future. Agents have expertise, resources and networks and I believe it would be foolish to disregard them entirely.
Having done some research on self-publishing (which is still ongoing) Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service seems to be the major contender in the market offering a potential 70% royalty deal, depending on how you price the book. From the website it seems fairly straightforward, but I want to ensure I understand everything and am clear on all of my options before taking the plunge. There’s tax to consider, how you log and manage your (hopeful!) earnings, your long-term exposure plans and continued submissions to agents. Even before this, there’s the proofing (again!), the uploading, the ISBN, the book cover (check out my friend Michelle Abrahall for some really cool designs) and social media strategy to consider. Going it alone certainly sounds daunting, but I believe I am up for the challenge.
I can’t recommend enough the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I think I have bought two or three of these so far (they release a new one every year) and not only do they provide very detailed and extensive lists of agents and the type of work they are looking for, but articles on issues that are topical with writers, such as the rise of self-publishing and the repercussions this has on the traditional method. There is a lot of advice and guidance for beginners, which I obviously find immensely helpful.
I think the name of the game here is to not be afraid of the self-publishing option. It’s great to aim high and try to plan for your own success. But ultimately, I must also learn that my worth as a writer doesn’t boil down simply to the money I make or what I perceive as success (another dream of mine was to win the Orange Prize for fiction, now the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction-hey, it may still happen one day!). If writing is something I can simply enjoy for the rest of my life, even if it doesn’t take me anywhere, it is something I should be grateful for.