Publishing

10 01 2020

Is this the year I’ll pluck up enough courage to self-publish my writing? And why does that need courage? I figured out the process with Lulu over ten years ago, so why is it a problem now when it is so much easier to do?

Probably because I’m over-thinking it now; ten years of added wisdom (or confusion) make it a much bigger deal than it was back then. Slapping a self-edited het fantasy romance up on Lulu with a homemade cover was a big event. And holding a paperback copy of that book in my hands a few weeks later was an even bigger event. But it wasn’t exactly professional.

The world did not sit up and take notice and the thrill of achievement ebbed away. I think it has sold three copies and I never noticed any royalties slipping into my bank account.

Back then there was still a stigma about self-published work and it was considered vanity publishing for the most part (even when it didn’t cost a penny); or was a sign that the book wasn’t good enough to be published by a real publisher.

A year or so later I had a real contract for a mm sci-fi novel with a real publisher. Validation! Some stranger thought my writing was good enough for them to make money from. Yay! I was a professional author!

Cue gibbering panic and elation – a weird combination but then my reactions are rarely simple – and then frustration was added to the mix.

My lovely shiny new contract was for online serialisation – do you remember the chapter-a-month subscription services? – and when the serial completed an e-book would be produced and added to the catalogue. No print version, but why would I want that option? E-books were the way to go – despite comments from nearest and dearest that it wasn’t a real book…

Because of pressure of work my editor asked if I’d be okay with editing one chapter a month rather than doing the whole 95K in one go. I naturally said yes. The edits were all small things and didn’t take long for either of us.

So there I was a published author with nothing to promote for the next 15 months. Persuading someone to part with a fiver to read your book is difficult enough but asking them to subscribe at a tenner a month for 15 months? Too big a job for me.

At the time I thought of myself as a novelist. I wrote novels. I wrote long novels. I couldn’t write short stories as short stories were much more difficult. Every idea I came up with for a short story morphed into a potential novel or novella.

The publisher was desperate for short stories as they churned out several a week; but I couldn’t write them, I knew that I couldn’t write a decent short story. But then there was a second (desperate) call for a pirate story to go in a three-story collection about – you guessed it – Pirates. This could be slightly longer than a standard short story – I had those word counts per format memorised – and they wanted it now with publication a few weeks later.

As part of my frustrating author-name promoting I had a regular spot on the publisher’s LJ account and had written some very short ficlets about the Ninja Pirate Ballet Company. They were fun and foolish attempts to entertain people on LJ that had been well received – crack fic, for those that remember the term.

Without any expectation of success I cobbled some of the ficlets together and added some extra content before submitting the manuscript for the Pirate anthology. Much to my shock it was accepted. And the editing began; different editor with different criteria. There was a house style that I hadn’t conformed to – huh? There were conventions that I wasn’t following – double huh? It took a lot of questions for me to understand the hoops to jump through and get a reluctant pass on the manuscript – deadline approaching remember. I felt it had lost a lot of its manic bounce by then, but at least I had a product up for sale on the website and two co-authors to help promote it. I think we sold about 200 copies between us. At least I now knew I could write short stories.

I produced several short stories, a couple of novellas and a contemporary novel over the next few years for the same publisher – I wrote things on request for my editor or just on spec; and nothing was turned down. There were sales and I got royalties, but not even enough to cover my book buying after the serialisation money stopped.

The publisher changed hands and wasn’t such a nice, familiar place to be anymore. I didn’t submit any more manuscripts and waited for what was published to run out of contract. The publisher went bust before my last contract ended and I discovered that I should have been getting some sort of ‘reversion of rights’ document when the contracts finished. I do have one for the last thing, but not for any of the others.

All my eggs in one basket? Not quite but nearly. I had a couple of fairytale stories in an anthology (after another subscription serialisation) with another publisher. And a short story and a 500-word ficlet in collections for the UK Meet. I also had a short competition entry get to the third round(?) and be included in a free collection of the entries. None of these earned me any royalties and only the UK Meet stories are still available out there.

So I have a clump of professionally edited manuscripts of varying length that I should self-publish – not to mention various other complete and near-complete manuscripts that wouldn’t take much to sort out.

And I am still dithering.


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