Adventures in Self-publishing
Christmas Day 2022 will be a special anniversary for me, marking ten years since I took back control of my writing career and became an indie author.
Why did it take me so long?
But bear with me. My first novel was published in 2009 when self-publishing was still in its infancy. Correction – digital self-publishing was in its infancy. Self-publishing has been with us a very long time. Jane Austen is cited as the best-loved author of all time, but if she hadn’t self-published, we may never have heard her name.
Although Sony launched its first eReader in 2006, and Amazon were hot on their heels, launching the first Kindle in 2007, publishing didn’t change overnight. Paperbacks remained king and traditional publishing houses were slow to see the potential of eBooks. Half-Truths and White Lies was published in 2009, and only came as a paperback and an audiobook – a handy set of eight cassettes! There was no eBook edition until 2015.
My publishing career had begun with fireworks. After Half-truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award, I was feted as the new Joanne Harris (an author I greatly admire, and who kindly provided a quote for my cover). My name appeared in print in national newspapers and I was featured as ‘One to Watch’ in the industry’s top magazine, the Bookseller.
My big reality check
I crashed back down to earth six short months later. Transworld turned down my follow-up novel – what later became A Funeral for an Owl.) It was beautifully written, they said, but they had released Half-Truths and White Lies under their women’s fiction imprint, and Owl wasn’t women’s fiction. Without realising, I’d been pigeon-holed – and my writing didn’t fit. What’s more, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make it fit! I didn’t set out to write exclusively for women.
But my writing journey didn’t stop there. Over the next three years, I produced two further novels. Had I been under contract, I would have been up against deadlines. Instead, I had the luxury of time to add layers to the plot, depth to my characters and a sense of time and place. I Stopped Time was a tribute to my grandmother who lived to the age of ninety-nine and an homage to the pioneers of photography. These Fragile Things was an important book for my writing journey, dealing with two of life’s biggest issues – sex and religion.
The Wilderness Years
For those same three years, I paid good money for the advice that no self-respecting author would consider self-publishing. By the time 2012 arrived, I was touting three novels around the market. Believe me, this isn’t a position any writer wants to find themselves in. Rejection letters flattered. They read, ‘It’s not for us, but with your credentials you’ll be snapped up.’ I wasn’t. The really frustrating thing was that I was told that there was nothing wrong with my writing. The advice was not to change a single word! I began to sympathise with the lady character in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys who attended the same writing conference year after year with a slightly different version of her novel, and each year it was rejected for a slightly different reason.
The Turning Point
In November, I decided that I owed it to myself to investigate the alternative (What I had been told was the dark side!) I attended the Writers’ & Artists’ Self Publishing in a Digital Age conference. It was a revelation! There I discovered that, far from being amateurish, I learned that self-published authors are a diverse group: authors who’d walked away from six-figure deals, established authors who’d been dropped by their publishers after their latest book didn’t sell quite so well, innovative authors whose work didn’t fit the market, and best-selling indies who’d never tried the traditional route, but were at the right place, at the right time.
It was a publishing revolution
So, was I in or was I out? I decided I was in.
On Christmas Day 2012, less than a month later, I kicked off my career as an indie author with a double release (I Stopped Time and These Fragile Things.) Although A Funeral for an Owl was also ready to go, I delayed its launch to give me time to write my next novel.
I learned the ropes as I went along, quickly discovering my tribe, which in turn led me to discover The Alliance of Independent Authors.
Since then, I’ve released six more novels, two of which have won awards both for writing and publishing standards, and have been shortlisted in a number of other competitions. I’ve visited book clubs; spoken at libraries; compered at literary festivals; collaborated with other authors to release multi-author boxed sets; taught creative writing courses to high school pupils; and coached other authors. I’m also delighted to say that A Funeral for an Owl – the book that lost me my publishing deal – has become my best-selling title!
It’s been quite a journey
On 25 December 2012, I released I Stopped Time and These Fragile Things.
In November 2013, I released A Funeral for an Owl.
In 2014, I released An Unchoreographed Life, which also appeared in the multi-author box set, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women. I was already working on An Unknown Woman my novel about a woman who loses everything she owns to a devastating fire, when, in the winter of 2013 – 2014, my sister and her husband lost their house and everything they owned to flooding. The original darker ending I had written for the book had to go. I might not have released it had I known that three years later they would still be living in rented accommodation!
In the same year I was invited by Waterstones in Guildford to debate the merits of traditional v indie publishing with traditionally published author Isabel Wolf. Little did I know she had a card up her sleeve. At the end of the evening, she announced that she had decided to self-publish!
In 2015, Clays, one of the UK’s largest printers opened up their services to indie authors. I produced ‘bookshop editions’ of my paperbacks. I also released An Unknown Woman.
2016 was a bumper year. An Unknown Woman was Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year, an award which recognised not only the quality of the writing, but publishing values. It was shortlisted by Book Viral and Indie Author Network, and its cover design by Andrew Candy of Tentacle Design, won two competitions.
In the autumn, I compered the Historical Fiction panel at Triskele’s Indie Author Fair (you can watch the video here) and released My Counterfeit Self, my novel about the life of one woman who wasn’t willing to sit back without protest.
Next came Smash all the Windows, which I launched at London Book Fair in April 2018 and which won the inaugural Selfies Award at London Book Fair 2019. You can see my acceptance speech here. I tried to thank everybody, but managed to miss out my wonderful typesetter, Jane Dixon-Smith. Sorry Jane!
In 2020 I released my novel, At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock which was a Historical Novel Society Editor’s choice, was featured by the Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950’s and was shortlisted for The Selfies Awards. As a result of the shortlisting, I was offered a three-audiobook deal with leading digital publishers, Saga Egmont.
2021 saw the release of my boxed-set, The London Collection and three audio-books.
In April 2022, I released my historical novel, Small Eden and signed a second three-audiobook deal with Saga Egmont.
An enormous thank you!
To everyone who’s joined me for the ride! For every time you chose one of my books when there are so many to chose from, for every review, every comment, every like, every recommendation, every encouraging email, every kind word, I am incredibly grateful.
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