Self-Publishing: not an Easy Option

Many aspiring writers and authors set out to write a novel in the expectation that a publisher out there might be interested in their manuscript. Often, their drive and enthusiasm stems from the enjoyment they receive from writing their stories.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a request from friends to listen to a new piece of music in the expectation that we’ll love it as much as they do. Often, those who gain a great deal of pleasure from any form of entertainment feel a desire to share that enjoyment with others.

Unfortunately, readers rarely share the same kind of enthusiasm for works of fiction by unknown authors and, although new writers may be engrossed in the process of writing, this doesn’t spill over to readers. Enjoying the whole process of writing a novel is no guarantee that readers would love to read the novel if only the author could get it out to them.

I say unfortunately because many writers start to write the novel they want to write and then try to attract the interest of a publisher, which leads to an endless stream of rejection slips and disappointment.

In order to succeed, new writers must be prepared to research the market thoroughly before they start to type anything into their word processors. Although I know this now, I didn’t know when the first few ideas for a story began to form in my mind, which meant I was no different to thousands of other aspiring writers and, as such, I encountered exactly the same problems as all first-time writers.

Although I failed to do any research about the business of publishing, I did locate the information for the novel that had started to take shape. The location of that information was in the newspaper archives of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland – one of the largest reference libraries in Europe. But first, I had to pass my driving test.

Ten years ago, when I began the research for The Power of Persuasion, because I did not have the Internet at my fingertips, all the information I required was stored in the Mitchell library and there was simply no alternative. I booked driving lessons and, four months later, I passed my test. The following day, I drove into Glasgow and circled the library for twenty minutes until I found a parking space. My journey to the library was over but my journey into writing had only just begun.

Two weeks later, after spending my days in the library, I was in a position to make a start. When I finally hit the keys on my computer, I wrote two thousand words every day for six weeks and completed the manuscript in less than two months. I didn’t edit, polish or change the initial draft in any way before I sent out the opening chapters to London-based publishers.

This was absolutely the wrong thing to do. I thought that publishers would read the synopsis and use the opening chapters to see if I had a feel for language and an aptitude for telling a story. To that extent, I did accomplish something. Although every submission came back with a rejection slip, it was clear from my communications with the publishers that they had enjoyed reading the samples I sent. That was the upside. The downside was that they also said they rarely, if ever, accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Without exception, the advice from the publishers was the same: I needed to find an agent. They did tell me it would be as difficult to find an agent as a publisher and they were right. It was.

After a stack of rejections, I stopped searching for agents and publishers and put the manuscript in a drawer and forgot all about it until January 2002 when my brother died of cancer at the age of forty-three and left two young children, then aged five and eight years old. Two months later I began writing again and wrote a children’s novel, Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine. The novel was published in 2005 by Publish America.

After the novel was published, I decided to dust off the first manuscript and rewrote The Power of Persuasion. Throughout the rewriting of the novel, I knew I would have to make a decision about whether or not to send the novel to Publish America. I’d plenty time to think about it; I may have written the initial story in six weeks but it took almost twelve months to rewrite. After considering all the options, I decided to contact agents first rather than sending out anything to publishers. Not unexpectedly, the outcome was the same as the first time I contacted the agents. So, I decided to self-publish.

I could have sent the manuscript to Publish America but I had received a very mixed, and sometimes hostile, reaction from readers on the Internet in general, and members of forums in particular. Many of these critics had been published by Publish America themselves but many had not. None of the critics had been published by Publish America and then gone on to self-publish, though many Publish America authors did go on to self-publish but they weren’t the critics. I now understand why.

The whole process of being published – from the first submission, through acceptance, sending of the author’s questionnaire, receiving of proofs, approval of the cover art to the final receiving of two free copies sent to Wales all the way from America – was a joyful experience. Even those published by Publish America, who went on to become their sternest critics, enjoyed the process of seeing their first book published. The stress they felt came after they were published not before.

With self-publishing, for me, it has been completely the opposite. I wanted my self-published book to be of the same standard as my published book and, in order to achieve this, I had to learn a great deal. I did all the editing, which took three months on top of the year I’d spent rewriting. Then I had to decide about layout, headings and page footers, and how to gutter the page text. I also had to learn about pdf files and creating a book cover. This was hard work and stressful.

When Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine was finally published by Publish America, I experienced an enormous thrill and surge of happiness. When The Power of Persuasion was published, I was so tired and worn down by the whole process I was simply relieved it was out of the way.

Does any of this reflect on my novel? No. The novel is well-written, humorous, entertaining and a darn good read. I would recommend it to anyone. Just anyone. Even you.

Description: Beth Durban is persuaded to write a letter to the editor’s page of a national Sunday newspaper in response to a film critic’s prejudice against adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. When she receives an unexpected visit from the newspaper’s critic, F. William D’Arcy, she’s bemused but, after several sightings of the inquisitive journalist, she’s neither pleased nor amused.

Beth is so distracted by the unwelcome interest from such an arrogant man she fails to see that a close work colleague is falling in love with her. As a scientific researcher in a Scottish University, she has led a varied and interesting life travelling the world, spending time in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, America, Singapore and Israel. With such a full and demanding life, she has had little time to form any serious, romantic attachments that might lead to a permanent relationship.

When she decides to take driving lessons, Beth opens up new opportunities for herself and realises that perhaps she isn’t too old to find love after all.

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