Self-publishing with the big guys
A woman in one of my Sussex Author groups (I’m going to call her Charleen) reported a satisfactory experience in 2011 with Matador, one of the bigger outfits in self-publishing, so I decided to give them a go the following year. I don’t think Charleen sold enough books to show a profit on what they charged for their services, but she didn’t buy into their advertising and marketing packages, which I did. This, I guess, has paid off handsomely for other authors; for me it did not.
There are still (I’m writing this in September 2015) outfits that produce books with crappy, floppy covers and clumsy formatting that brazenly screams “self-published”. Matador produce paperbacks that look like a ‘proper’ book, professionally formatted and with covers that don’t flop. For The Dropout I went Stateside for my cover – an outfit called DigitalDonna.com – which I was very happy with, although the car going off the cliff does look a bit like a Dinky toy. Matador wanted me to let them design a cover and perhaps I should have done, but this would have cost rather more than the US$57.00 that I paid DigitalDonna.
Because Charleen had sold almost 400 copies of her book – many of them at personal appearances in branches of Waterstones – I decided I could better her and ordered a print-run of 500. This, with the setting-up charges, cost me UK£1,900. Then there was £180 for e-book ‘conversion’ and distribution to the various sites. Plus I paid £540 for promotional material and marketing. The marketing was mainly to self-publishing magazines and websites, which may or may not have been helpful to my sales. At Matador’s suggestion I posted 15 copies to Amazon for reviews under their VINE programme, which cost £300 (on a ‘discount’ deal!) and yielded three online reviews, one grudging and two very negative.
So, my total outlay on The Dropout was a little under £3,000 (around US$4,600). To date I have sold not quite 300 copies and recouped almost exactly ten percent of my investment. This year (2015) I had to agree to let the bulk of the rest be ‘pulped’ or pay to have them sent to me here (extra loft insulation, as I said in Part One of this article). Waterstones – and most booksellers – are now less welcoming to self-published authors; only the Brighton branch and their flagship store on London’s Piccadilly took copies of The Dropout and a reading/signing event was ruled out in both Brighton and Eastbourne (the town The Dropout is set in). Independent bookshops are more welcoming, but once you leave your neighbourhood the expenses become unrealistic.
Did The Dropout fail to take off because not enough people heard about it (poor marketing) or because it wasn’t what readers were looking for (poor writing)? Matador got me written up in self-publishing trade papers, but apart from Amazon I only got one review, from the on-line LGBT magazine Polari – a very flattering review which can you read on my Critics page here. He compared me to David Lodge and Tom Sharpe, two of my favourite authors.
Aside from a few friends and family members I don’t know who most of my 278 readers have been. How did they hear about the book? The figures are better than those for Shaikh-Down but not as good as those for Florence of Arabia. The internet is full of self-published authors who claim to be selling in the hundreds of thousands, some even in the millions: should we perhaps wonder if some of those zeroes are hyped?
Regrets: I have a few – not too few to mention. Authors who go down this road need to have a big budget. A publisher who addressed my Sussex Author group recently suggested £3,000 to £6,000 for a self-publishing budget with marketing and publicity. She, by the way, stressed that she would not take on a book unless she considered it had merit, a principle that slipped away from Citron Press (see Part One). Most self-publishing firms – I’ve said this before – have little or no Quality Control and will publish anyone who pays their fees. And most bookshops won’t take their products, except to meet prepaid orders.
It is possible to use self-publishing outfits without paying through the nose. Here’s a few Rules I suggest you follow:
Rule Number One: don’t print too many copies until the orders flood in. Print-on-Demand is a better option – books are printed as orders come in (many of the self-publishing sites offer this option; it’s how I continue to sell Shaikh-Down through FeedARead.com albeit in diminishing quantities).
Rule Number Two: do your own Publicity and Marketing through social media (there are some spectacular successes from this, though I think they are mostly self-help books and ‘genre’ fiction – definitely not literary fiction, the field I have chosen to plough).
Rule Number Three: start with an e-book and add a print edition later if the demand arises. There are now several ways to do this for free, including Amazon Kindle’s own process, which comes with video tutorials to help you knock your doc.file into shape. Matador’s charge of £180.00 for this cannot be called excessive. I paid only a little less to the Paradise Press editor who translated The Bexhill Missile Crisis into this format and posted it in all the appropriate places.
If you know (not enough wannabe authors do know this) that your draft needs professional editing, many authors and self-styled publishing experts offer their services online – at a fee. For a full edit on a standard-length book (80,000) words you can expect to pay north of £1,000 (US$1,500). The Literacy Consultancy in London provides a very comprehensive range of editorial services – at a price: in 2008 I paid them £511 for a 6-page appraisal of The Dropout, which was then titled The Date-Rapist’s Tale: the appraiser hated the title and my ‘hero’, but she gave valuable pointers some of which I incorporated into later drafts.
Drafts – plural.
Rule Number Four: Do not attempt to publish (or even submit) a book until you have given it several edits. Jeffrey Archer has said he does a dozen or more drafts of his novels. I’ve always done at least five or six, sometimes involving more than one total rewrite.
I’ve called this series Save! Print! Publish! We need to put Edit! in front of all of them.
To end on an upswing, I’m due to appear at the Eastbourne Book Festival on Saturday 19 September – to peddle my wares and do a reading, which will be mostly from The Dropout because of its local setting. Nothing involving Date-Rape: the genteel folk of Eastbourne aren’t ready for that! My reading slot is 3.40 p.m. in The UnderGround Theatre beneath the library (opposite the station).
Comments (below) are always welcome. I will shortly detail my experience with THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS (Paradise Press, 2014).