What’s this? Why, it’s my new book. And it will be available as an ebook from December 16th – the perfect Christmas present for anyone whose New Year’s resolution is to self-publish in 2014. Or even to start writing something they want to self-publish in 2015. It will cost $2.99 or whatever the equivalent is in pounds. I hope it will be worth every penny.
Many of you may have noticed I’ve been more active in my blogging of late. I hope you will have found at least some of what I’ve had to say helpful. One of the reasons I’ve stepped up my writing was the realisation that I was finally in the position to write the book people had been asking, many expecting, me to write for about four years. All that time, I shook my head because the pile of fabulous guides to self-publishing was growing and growing and the idea that I might have something to add on the matter seemed ridiculous. Then, some time this summer, I realised that maybe I can offer a different but valuable persoective. I think the realisation came during one of many conversations with fellow self-publishers where I felt like the deliberately awkward one, making obstreperous comments from the corner of the room.
What I realised was that all my awkward remarks boiled down to the same thing I’d said at the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors back at the 2012 London Book Fair when I was asked to give a single piece of advice – know why you’re writing and then stick to that through thick and thin. And it was soon clear I had five or more years of turbulent experience to draw on for that single theme. This book is the result.
Self-Publish With Integrity is a distillation of everything I’ve learned, both from getting it right and getting it wrong, about staying true to your goals as a writer when you put your text above the parapet. With sections on knowing what you want from your writing, defining success in your own terms, building a loyal community, using the internet in the way that’s best for you, fostering an economy of altruism, turning off your inner self-censor, performing your work, and avoiding the pitfalls of getting caught up in too much well-meaning advice, this addition to your how-to shelf is designed to keep you passionate about and proud of your writing for years to come.
To give you a flavour, here is the introduction. If you’d like me to remind you when the book is published, do leave a comment here, and I’ll put you onto a one-off mailing list for that purpose.
Self-publish With Integrity
Like a lot of people I know, I started self-publishing in 2009. For those of us who write literary fiction (for want of a better term – that’s a whole other book!), this was a nadir in the publishing world. Large publishers were dropping mid list and literary writers like a tree shedding leaves for winter, and we were yet to see the blossoming of the vibrant small press scene that in the past couple of years has breathed fresh life into adventurous fiction.
I had spent 2008 writing my first full length work of literary fiction (after stumbling into the world of the novel the previous year with a thriller, which I carefully put back under the mattress). By the late autumn, I was on version number 26, and had started to submit to the very short list of agents who specialised in literary fiction with an international flavour. At the same time, I was part of the Harper Collins-run website for aspiring writers, Authonomy. Through that site, and the sites Youwriteon and The Book Shed, I’d got to know a small group of fellow literary fictioneers all at a similar stage of their fledgeling careers. Having written and edited together, we were all beginning to submit our synopses, expectant-eyed and full of optimism.
And then, one by one we all started to receive the same kind of news. Like most people, I had a “fantasy agent.” And, two days after I posted my submission to her, I received the response, “I kind of have that little thrill of excitement I get when I think I’ve read something good. Can I read more? Can you send all of it?” And I wasn’t the only one. We were all getting excited nibbles.
And as the weeks went by, the excitement turned to disappointment as we each received similar kinds of follow-up. My own lovely let-down was typical: “I love the writing: it’s fresh and original and true. And there is a wonderful atmosphere here that almost convinced me to give this a shot. But I’m afraid there’s just not enough energy and narrative driving it forward to convince me that I’d be able to get you a deal for it in this climate.” I was encouraged to keep going, and told to submit my next project, but told that it should be something that would “make a big splash.”
On various forums we consoled each other, talked about what we could do to make that big splash, swapped ideas for projects and wondered if any of them had any potential to do what it seemed the market wanted to do.
But one by one we realised that we just weren’t that kind of writer. We didn’t want to “make a big splash.” We had a certain kind of tale to tell, and we were telling it in our quiet, atmospheric, not very commercial ways, and we really weren’t inclined to change the way we wrote on the promise of a potentially illusory carrot that might turn out – as carrots are wont to do – to be a poisoned chalice.
Self-publishing was the obvious answer. It was a way to get our work out to its natural audience despite the fact that we knew that audience was small. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time self-publishing was still a fairly big deal. Admitting that’s what you were doing ran you a gauntlet of stigma and cat calls from your fellow writers – to this day, there are some writers who are now self-publishing evangelists whose blogs make me chuckle as I remember them taunting us as ne’erdowells back then.
A group of us – 22 from 8 countries – decided to form a collective, Year Zero Writers, dedicated to bringing great literary fiction, however obscure and niche, to its audience. We started a website (it’s still there, as is much of the original material, and it’s still well worth a look), we self-published, we chewed the cud about all things literary, we put new fiction up online every day, those of us who lived in the UK started to do shows together. It was exciting.
It also caught people’s eye. Jane Friedman, who in those days was still behind the wheel at Writers’ Digest, singled us out for praise as an exemplar of the power of the collective. Our shows graced the likes of legendary indie music venue Rough Trade, and the likes of Warren Ellis, darling of the graphic novel world, came to our shows at the Poetry Café. We even reached readers- we had books in the Smashwords top 10 bestsellers (this was in the days before Kindle hit the UK) list. And we got a nod from the hipster style bible Nylon.
But what seems like an unmitigated success was also the biggest Achilles heel in the project, and that was a cycle that was to repeat itself again and again during my time self-publishing. Success is fabulous. But it’s dangerous. Because, actually, “success” isn’t always “success.” The things you get praised for aren’t always the things you set out to do. Selling books, getting great reviews, increasing your coverage, getting invited to blog in prestigious places about marketing – these are all flattering, and they’re intoxicating, because they represent the kind of validation that very few of us can resist.
The problem comes when we start to set our compass by them, when our direction finder becomes externalised, is no longer the burning desire to communicate those quirky stories whose audience we longed to find. But we struggle to see it – we are so surrounded by an audience telling us things we love to hear that we lose sight of the much smaller audience creeping disconsolately out of the door – the audience for whom we originally wrote.
It’s only one day months, maybe years, down the line that we notice writing has become a chore. We look at the list of guest blogs we’ve been asked to write, the events piling up in our calendar, and we wonder why we’re not as thrilled as we should be by them, as we would have been by them when we set out. Now of course, no one is going to embark on a long journey and find every step as springy as the first. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the moment of realisation that we’re no longer even on the same journey.
If we’re lucky, we can reset our compass. It’s something I’ve had to do several times. But disentangling yourself from those wrong turns is a monumental task that both takes both time, and saps even more of the few resources you have left. And you leave a trail of damaged creative relationships and disappointments behind you as you go. It would be far better to steer true from the start. And that is exactly what I want this book to help you do. It won’t be an easy book to write – much of the time I’ll be extracting lessons from experiences that have left deep scars in my creative psyche. But I hope it will be a helpful one. And if it keeps the joy of creativity alive for just one person, then I will truly have succeeded.
There are many superb books that will guide you through the technical aspects of writing and self-publishing, and then marketing your work. But those things were never, for me, the biggest challenge I faced when I self-published. The toughest thing by far has always been knowing how to filter the deluge of information and great advice that comes my way, remembering always exactly why it was that I started writing, and remembering that the one thing that really matters in the whole process is seeing everything through that lens, from deciding what point of view and person narration are appropriate before you start all the way to looking for people to review your finished book, so that I didn’t get sidetracked by seemingly great opportunities that turned out to be time sucks. And worse still, threatened to suck out the love of writing itself, because they were drawing me away from the things I loved about writing.
I want this book to be just that vade mecum I needed, your constant companion through the process, nudging you back on track when you begin to veer, helping you to make key decisions – especially those you don’t even realise are decisions because they’re presented as “just what you do” by everyone around you – but most of all, inspiring you to keep going and helping you to enjoy your writing as much in ten years’ time as you do today.