By Emma Rosen
I’m sitting behind a table, my books laid out in front of me. To my right and left sit local authors I’ve known for a number of years. The day is gloriously hot and people are thronging to the festival we’re part of. A man walks past stalls, picking up a few books and turning them to read the back covers.
“Self-published?” he asks. The author whose stall he’s standing at nods. “Are all of these books self-published?” He gestures down our row of stalls.
“Most of them.”
The man shakes his head and throws down the book as if it burned him. “I don’t know why anybody would bother with that. Such a load of rubbish out there. You need a proper book deal with a proper publisher who knows what they’re doing.”
I wish I could tell you that I jumped up, armed with knowledge and experience, and explained in no uncertain terms I didn’t agree and also, that he was being incredibly rude! However, I think we were all a little blindsided, and as a group responded with awkward (and stereotypically British) mumbling.
The man strode away, seemingly pleased he’d derided our creativity, and we were left feeling somewhat deflated.
This isn’t a situation I come across very often and, since one of my books is titled Self-Publishing, it’s quite clear that I do just that. But every now and again I’m met with this attitude: that my books are something less because I publish them myself.
I spent six years writing my first book, Milk. It’s a memoir and social commentary centred around my experience breastfeeding my babies. When I finished that first draft, I threw myself into editing while I researched publishing options, not quite believing I’d actually written a book. I knew I definitely wanted a traditional book deal.
I started out by directly approaching a small publisher I was a particular fan of. They were very kind about my book but ultimately felt it wasn’t for them. Since it was a ‘no’ from my first choice, I began to send samples to agents. Again, I had lots of praise but my book didn’t seem to fit with anyone’s portfolio. I finally found a small, local agent who wanted to represent me and I was thrilled. He sent my book to numerous publishers but the overwhelming answer was, “It’s lovely, but not commercial enough.”
I reflected on this. My book hadn’t got a deal. So, should we continue to chase the elusive book deal, hopeful that someone, somewhere would believe in it? Or should I give up, save the file in a forgotten folder and work on something new? Or maybe, just maybe, I could let the person who believed in it the most publish it – me!
At that point, I’d started my YouTube channel and joined the ‘AuthorTube’ community, which is largely made up of self-published authors. I’d been networking and watching a lot of content. These people weren’t just chucking a pdf on the internet; they were producing professional, high-quality books. They had beautiful paperbacks and hardbacks, even audio. Some were really successful and I could see it was a route to be proud of.
And here’s the thing, maybe my book isn’t going to sell enough copies to pay a publishing house that has far higher overheads than I do. But can I sell enough copies? Well…I didn’t really know. But was my story important? Absolutely.
So started my foray into self-publishing. I terminated the contract with my agent, then found an editor and a book designer I liked. I decided on the platforms I wanted to use and the formats I wanted to publish in and I set out a schedule. On October 22nd 2018 I became a published author. My book was available to buy and I started to receive royalties and reviews. It was all very exciting and quite overwhelming.
Once my first book was published, I was faced with another decision. Was I a one-book kind of a girl? And if I wrote another book, would I chase a traditional book deal again? While some authors have a hybrid approach, I felt that self-publishing really suited me. Not that I wouldn’t consider a traditional book deal, I absolutely would, but I’m not going to spend time pursuing it.
Over the past five years, I’ve published five books. I’ve built a brand and a customer base. My books fit well with self-publishing because, in a sense, they’re all niche products. I write books about breastfeeding and marine ecology, which aren’t big, easy-to-sell topics. But they’re topics I know and audiences I’m familiar with, so I’m well placed to market and distribute my books, as well as being willing to take on the financial risk.
It’s taken me time to learn the intricacies of self-publishing and I’ve made mistakes, but there are so many resources out there to help. I have personally shared a lot of information on my YouTube channel (@emmarosenbooks). There are lots of options available to self published authors. I can publish my books in print, ebook and audio. I can use print-on-demand services to manage printing and distributing for me, or I can choose a higher quality print run and manage that aspect myself. As the business owner, I also have accounting, paperwork and so forth to contend with. However, I enjoy the publishing side of things as much as the writing itself, which is just as well, since publishing takes up a lot of my time!
By working with other professionals, I can also ensure my book is as high quality as a traditionally published one. Personally, I work with editors, illustrators and graphic designers, but there are so many people you could hire to assist in your project, including admin support, business coaches and marketing experts. Any skillset you don’t have, you can outsource to somebody else and you learn an awful lot through the process.
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. It depends on you and your book. But it’s a legitimate and professional decision. It gives you more creative control over the publishing process, affords you higher royalty rates and can also be a much faster process. On the other hand, it does add to your workload and you likely don’t have the same reach as a publishing house and so sales can be lower. When carefully considered and well-planned-out, self-publishing is an exciting route to take.
Connect with Emma through her website: emmarosenbooks.co.uk and on Instagram: @emmarosenbooks
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So, should we continue to chase the elusive book deal, hopeful that someone, somewhere would believe in it? Or should I give up, save the file in a forgotten folder and work on something new? Or maybe, just maybe, I could let the person who believed in it the most publish it – me!