Reflections on publishing my first book

Subtitle – why would I want to do that again?

It’s been over three months since I published ‘The Things You Think You Cannot Do’. How has it been? Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the extraordinary times in which we are living, the word that springs to mind is ‘uneventful’. I’ve joined many authors groups and followed their experiences so at least I know it’s a very common experience.

It’s difficult to say if the process has been what I expected because I really didn’t know what expect. Having put my time and emotional energy into my writing, it was satisfying to see my book, hold a copy, make it available for others to read. You’ll all know the quote ‘everyone has a book in them’ – apparently there’s a lesser known caveat which affirms ‘and that’s where it should stay.’ I’m sure I’m not alone in having moments where I wonder if that applies to me.

I chose to self publish, purchasing a package where my manuscript was proof-read (not edited), formatted, given a cover (I had three to choose from) and uploaded to Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing, in both ebook and paperback form. I was given an ISBN, an account on KDP, and some written advice on marketing. It’s this last area that needs most scrutiny.

No matter how good your book is, no one will buy it if they don’t know it exists. There are millions of books on Amazon so, somehow, you need to make yours stand out. If you’re looking for the answer here then sorry to disappoint you, I haven’t found it. The advice I paid for as part of my publishing package was pretty generic and no more than I’d gleaned from many authors in similar positions who I follow on social media. There are, of course, several prominent ‘authority figures’ who promise to help you sell a million copies, make tens of thousands of dollars a year. If you pay for their courses. If you have a marketing budget you can advertise on social media or pay for reviews of your book. But can you afford to; will it be an investment which pays off?

The package I used to publish was not cheap. I have sold sixty copies thus far. To the best of my knowledge, but it’s impossible to find out, these have been to friends and family. The amounts of royalties paid is tiny. I have ‘earned’ less than ten percent of what it cost me to publish. I never expected to make huge sales or a large profit, but it’s rather sobering and disheartening. Those of you who are authors will be nodding along I suspect: I read somewhere that over ninety percent of self published authors sell fewer than one hundred copies. Would an advertising campaign have generated more sales? Who knows? But it would have cost hundreds of pounds; my belief is that it would have been money I would never have recouped.

One aspect of this about which I feel sad is the very limited feedback I have had. Let’s be honest, every author wants people to say ‘I loved your book’. I’m no different. And several people did – thank you! Nine people gave a five star review on Amazon, four of whom left very complimentary comments. Four people did likewise on Goodreads. Two people have given me much more detailed feedback in person, including some quite direct criticism on areas I could improve. Actually, it is these reviews that I welcome most. The fact that I have no idea how the majority of people who were kind enough to spend money on the book feel about it is slightly frustrating – did they read it, did they enjoy it, have they any suggestions on how my writing could be developed?

Following authors as I do on social media it’s clear people write for different reasons. ‘The Things You Think You Cannot Do’ was born out of years of reflecting on my personal and professional life and catapulted into being by the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that I’ve ‘got it off my chest’, would there be any need for me to write again? Asked and answered; yes and I did. It took many weeks for the process leading up to publication, during which time I wrote a completely different type of novel, based around interests in my life which bring me joy and reflect the kind of fiction I enjoy reading. It’s a mixture of crime novel and historical fiction set in Florence. I’ll set out in much more details what it involves in a future post. For now, let me say I took a different approach and sent it out to nine independent publishers, asking if they would be kind enough to read it. The majority were kind enough to do so and reply; the theme was ‘it’s not for us’ and the tone very supportive and warm, which I really appreciated.

Two publishers took a different approach. I’m not naming any companies here as my points are generic. Whilst studying in Florence in 2018, I met a woman on the course who was researching a novel. I kept my eyes open and noticed it was published in January 2019. I contacted her to ask about her experiences but received no reply. I sent a copy of my manuscript to her publisher who very quickly agreed to read it and, having done so, advised me that he felt he could publish it but that my share of the costs for publication and marketing would approximate to £7000. He was very blunt – without this, a novel such as mine had ‘no chance of success.’ My reaction was, and remains, that there was virtually no chance that my novel would generate even a fraction of that outlay in royalties.

I had a very similar response but in much more detail, from a second publishing house. Very complimentary feedback, belief that the public would buy into the book, but that as an unknown author I constituted a ‘risk’ if they backed me. I was offered a ‘contributory contract’ – basically once again I contribute to the costs of publishing and marketing. They sent a detailed contract, several pages long. The actual costs depended on the type of book opted for (ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook) and ranged from £1900 to £4400. They even offered interest free payment schedules! I’ll be honest, I toyed with the idea, dreaming of my book in bookshops, articles in the media and so on.

I decided to research (Google) the company and the concept and, as I’m sure the majority of you are shouting out at me, realised it was to be avoided. I’m not going to bad mouth anyone, it was a choice presented to me which I considered, looked into and decided against. It’s a subject which generates a considerable amount of vitriol online among self published authors. So I said a polite ‘no thank you’. And then decided not to publish at all. I had also begun writing a sequel to ‘The Things You Think You Cannot Do’ which takes Jess’s story forward from where it ended. I stopped that too – why bother if no one will get to see it, right?

It’s often the least expected things that change your mind (well, mine anyway!) We were having a zoom call for a family birthday the other day when the gentleman involved (who I’ve thanked personally) was generous enough to say he’d read and enjoyed my book. It meant a great deal at the time and I’ve thought about it ever since. So, I’ve decided to publish my novel myself on Amazon, since I learned how to do it when I was paying someone else! I’m grateful to you Tom and I just hope you don’t catch too much flack from the poor souls who’ll feel they maybe should buy and read it😉

%d bloggers like this: