Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Self-Publishing the Not-Saying-Gatekeepers Way

Wooo, it's Wednesday! I've got a big day ahead: lunch in Covent Garden, afternoon tea at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, and then a book launch at the Tower of London. Please send my be-sandalled feet your most positive vibes to make it through relatively unscathed.

Since I'm about and about, I'm delighted to welcome Catherine Ryan Howard to the blog. If you're contemplating self-publishing and you haven't been over to her blog, you need to get there right now!

Just a small announcement before I go: from now until Monday, my publisher has reduced The Hating Game on Kindle to 98p ($1.59 US). Yay for summer sales! If you need something for the beach, well... you know what I'm sayin'.

Right, over to Catherine!

Five years ago this summer, I moved from Ireland to Orlando, Florida, to start an eighteen-month training program in a Walt Disney World hotel.

Four years ago I started writing a book about it, and three years ago I finished it.

Two years ago I realised that thanks to the spectacularly niche audience for a book about an Irish girl working in Disney World, Space Shuttle launches and the challenges of long, thick hair in near 100% humidity, it was never going to get published, so eighteen months ago, I decided to do it myself.

It sounds a whole lot simpler than it actually was. Because truth be told, I was a certifiable self-publishing snob who thought that publishing your own book was nothing but a pointless and shameful pastime indulged in only by deluded losers...

I had never been traditionally published, but I was a self-proclaimed expert on the publishing world. For nearly ten years or ever since I turned 18, I’d been daydreaming non-stop about a six-figure deal and a well paid job you could do in your pyjamas, faithfully buying a new edition of The Writers and Artists Yearbook every year. This took pride of place in my (frighteningly) extensive collection of How To Write Books books: despite having never actually written a book, I knew exactly how to write a good query letter, create an elevator pitch and decipher a publishing contract. And as for formatting a manuscript – well, that would be my specialist subject should I ever end up on Mastermind. I signed myself up for workshops, sidled up to - gasp! - Real Life Writers at signings and other events and practised perfecting my pseudonym signature, just in case. I drew up a wish list of five literary agents and jotted down some notes about what questions I’d ask them when they called to offer me representation. (Because that’s what the books said: Don’t forget to ask them questions too. Makes you look professional.)

Clearly it was only a matter of time before I got published. All I had to do was write a book.

My expert and utterly unnecessary knowledge of the publishing world meant that whenever I heard of people self-publishing, I rolled my eyes so much that my pupils threatened to disappear forever into my head. I’d sneer at pictures in the local newspaper of what I assumed to be dangerously bored housewives proudly clutching their debut short story collections. How pathetic! There was extra sneering for those who hadn’t even tried to get properly published, and were presumably blissfully unaware that there was, in fact, an established path to publication and they had foolishly wandered off in the opposite direction. Because at the end of the day, if your book was good enough for other people to read, it would eventually get published. Right?

Well, no – as I discovered when I started submitting Mousetrapped to publishers. I got pretty much the same answer wherever I went: we enjoyed reading it and we think it’s a good book, but there isn’t a market for it. What they meant by this was if they – and “they” are Irish and/or UK publishing houses – edited, designed, printed and distributed a couple of thousand copies of the book, paying for all costs including the salaries of the staff who’d have to do it and royalties to me, chances are they wouldn’t sell enough copies of it to recoup their investment. And publishing is a business after all.

But if I self-published it using a Print On Demand service – who allow you to upload your book for a very small fee and only print a copy of it when an order is placed – and e-book websites where no cost at all is involved, and I used these to pitch Mousetrapped to a global market and did everything I could to promote and sell it... well, maybe I would recoup my investment or even, dare I dream, make some money.

So that’s what I did. I self-published a paperback using CreateSpace, and e-books using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Platform and Smashwords.com.

But my years of sneering at self-publishers had – thankfully – left a mark. I knew that what I was doing was not making a book that looked like the ones I bought and read, that my book wouldn’t be available in stores and that this story was not going to end with me wallpapering my office in real gold leaf. (Or even in Laura Ashley.) I didn’t have a literary agent-shaped voodoo doll, didn’t whine about editors not even “giving my book a chance!” and I refused to use the word gatekeepers. Nor did I moan about low e-book prices “devaluing my artistry”, insist that everyone call me an “indie author” [very loud groan] or claim that by the end of next year, no one will even remember what – and it pains me to use this term, even like this – “dead tree books” looked like.

I was realistic. I was modest. And I did everything I could to make my book look right.

And I did okay. I released Mousetrapped in March 2010 and sometime this month I’ll sell my 6,000th copy. I’m self-publishing another travel memoir, Backpacked, in September, and even self-publishing a novel the month after that.

But I’m not on the self-publishing cheer-leading squad, or giving up my dreams of traditional publication. All I’m saying is this: you too can self-publish without sounding like a bureau chief at the Self-Publishing Ministry of Truth, and sell enough copies to afford a few ink cartridges or even – if you’re lucky – to write full-time.

All you need is are realistic expectations and some common sense. Oh – and to ban words like “gatekeepers” from your vocabulary. Forever.

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing is available now in paperback and e-book. Find out more on www.catherineryanhoward.com.

The lovely Catherine is offering one paperback copy of Self-Printed, sent anywhere in the world and three Self-Printed e-book from Smashwords.com (multiple formats available)! To be in with a chance, just leave a comment below.

56 comments:

  1. This was a really interesting insight.

    I've read a few self pubbed books now and a few times I have been quite amazed at the quality of the writing and story.

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  2. I read "Self-Printed" just after it came out. It was, without a doubt, the best self-publishing manual I have ever read (and I have read a few).

    Oh, and "Moustrapped" was hysterical.

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  3. Thank you Catherine, that was not only informative but funny too. I'm ashamed to say I recognised an earlier version of myself at the beginning of that!

    Oh, and Talli? Your first paragraph sounds exactly the way non-writers think writers live - and writers are always trying to persuade them it's not true :)

    Have fun tonight.

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  4. What I like about this article is that it shows that not only is there more than one way to get published, there's more than one way to self-publish.

    When I decided to self-publish my second book, it was more about having control over my own work. But, my results have been very good, better than I expected, and I honestly think the stigma is slowly disappearing. The sneering seems to mostly come from the 'aspiring' set.

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  5. @Catherine: It's nice to read a balanced opinion on self-publishing. Thanks for this.

    @Talli: Have a great time!

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  6. I self published my poetry book three years ago, found it easy to do, and the service and advice invaluable.

    Thanks for a most interesting post , great to read.

    Yvonne.

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  7. An interesting and refreshing take on self-pubbing, thanks.

    And enjoy your day Talli - it sounds fab!

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  8. Enjoy your day out, Talli!

    I'd like to learn more about self-publishing! Thanks for this and the link to Catherine Ryan's blog! :)

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  9. Catherine, thanks for sharing your honest view. Thrilled you are doing well.

    I still have that agent dream, but having self published poetry books I have a feeling I will go down this road for my novels. I will give it more time but will seriously consider if no one is interested in taking me on.

    Talli, have fun and thanks for a great post. x

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  10. Well done Catherine.
    I must say I really enjoyed reading this piece. I also went straight to Amazon and picked up "Mousetrapped".
    Have a glass on me :) (Actually, with the Kindle price, it'll have to be H2O).
    I will most likely go the Kindle route now with my effort, whenever I get around to completing it.
    Good luck with everything.

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  11. Hi Talli .. hope your besandalled feet soled up for the day - enjoy the lunch, tea and evening .. sounds one busy time.

    Catherine .. what a great post .. and it sure does sound as though you're so down to earth ...

    Happy days ahead .. such a fun read .. cheers Hilary

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  12. A fun and balanced opinion of self publishing. As an avid Florida theme park lover I'm gonna' look for Mousetrapped right now - and I'd really love to win a copy of "Self-Printed"!

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  13. I really enjoy Catherine's blog and her writing. I admire how she's working very hard to achieve her dreams and get her work out there without giving up on traditonal publishing either. It's really refreshing and inspiring, and the stigma is definitely disappearing, thanks to pioneers like her!

    I think we really can make our dreams come true, but maybe the trick is stop expecting it to look like what you thought it was going to look like, to quote the editor Enid in SATC ;)

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  14. I love the paragraph of about self-publishing sneering leaving its mark. I get tired of the rants too.

    I think there's a time and place for self-publishing. I've seen a few self-published books that shouldn't have been published. Then again, I can say that for traditionally published too.

    Horrible hair days from humidity?! I can relate!

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  15. I'd love to read 'Self-Printed' so I'm crossing my fingers. Thanks to you both for an excellent post.

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  16. It's really that true that some great books are too niche for traditionally publishing. I'm so glad that self publishing is losing it's stigma. About time. :)

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  17. Talli, I hope you have a great day!

    Catherine, thank you for telling your story. It's nice to know you're having success even though you had so many against you.

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  18. That's some excellent insight and, if I may say, a great attitude to have. It bothers me whenever anyone derides self-publishing or traditional publishing as being foolish or outdated.

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  19. Great post! I always admire anyone who self-publishes their books, because it takes a lot of work and courage to do so. I think that self-publishing is a viable option, especially because so many people are doing it now and have succeeded at it. Congrats on selling your 6000th copy! That's impressive.

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  20. Talli!! You do mean well-heeled sandalled feet don't you?!?!?!?!
    :-) ENJOY!!

    Yay for lovely Catherine and her persistence and determination and confidence!! She did her research and is now reaping the rewards!! Yay for her!!!

    Take care
    x

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  21. Thanks everyone for all your lovely comments. I really appreciate it. And thanks Talli for inviting me to do a guest post! Your day does indeed make being a writer sound like a very glamourous life!

    :-)

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  22. This was very informative. I have read alot of self publishing books, but seems none quite like this. It seems like more and more writers are going on this path of self publishing.
    Thank you for sharing this, Talli.
    Enjoy your day!

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  23. Thanks so much for hosting Catherine, Talli. It's a positive step for me to know self-publishing is not impossible.

    Thanks Catherine for sharing your story. I find I'm in a niche market myself and I believe I'll be joining the e-pub ranks at the end of the summer.

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  24. Have been nervous about self-publishing because I'm thinking that I wouldn't do a very good job of it. I mean, I am a writer. But knowing how to format a book, design a cover, etc., takes a different set of skills.

    But, have been reading your advice and saw your video on how to use CreateSpace easily. Perhaps I can do it.

    Yes. Miami humidity really is unkind to hair. I live in Washington, DC, and its weather is just as unfriendly some times :)

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  25. A post worth saving and a book worth reading! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  26. I guess if editors told me my book was good but there wasn't a market for it, I'd go down the self publishing route, too. Great post. Makes me think :O)

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  27. A realistic and balanced portrayal. Always interesting to learn about self-publishing from those who have been there. Thanks, Catherine!

    P.S. to Talli: Lunch in Convent Garden?! Please take me with you.

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  28. Very interesting. Thanks for having her, Talli. And thanks, Catherine, for sharing your journey. I'm where you were, with those same thoughts, and thinking seriously now about self-publishing a previously written novel. Still thinking about it.

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  29. Blessings on your feet as you are out and about! Sounds like an absolutely lovely day.

    I don't have an e-reader but I have found a very reasonably-priced new paperback copy of 'The Hating Game' on Amazon and have nipped it up! Looking forward to zipping you off an email to let you know what I think and then posting a review to Amazon!

    (I'll take some of that promised coffee, btw.)

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  30. Mousetrapped sounds like a great book.
    Very interesting post.

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  31. I was exactly the same way, a traditional-believing snob as I like to call my old attitude. Then I started reading self-published novels and I saw that many were better than a lot of traditional novels I'd been reading. And then I did the number crunching and saw how much more the author could make by self-publishing. I'm a self-publishing believer now. *high-five* I'll definitely be checking out your books!

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  32. Talli,
    Your book is a great deal!

    Catherine,
    CONGRATULATIONS--what an inspirational story! :)

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  33. Such a great post - I learned loads and laughed a lot too :-)

    And Talli, it sounds like you've had a brilliant day!

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  34. What a great post! I have a friend who's planning on self-publishing, and she's putting lots and lots of work into it. Sometimes, when we're talking about it, it feels like my choice of going the traditional route sounds much easier than hers! :)

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  35. That was an interesting view I've haven't seen before. Usually I see people all for, totally gung-ho, theres-no-other-way-but-this-way about self publishing, or hating self publishing complete with eye rolls, and scoffing. Thanks for adding your perspective to it!

    And Talli- have fun with all your jam-packed day!

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  36. Not that I'd want to try it on my own, but glad it worked for Catherine. And that's a great price for your book, Talli!

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  37. Thanks, Catherine, that sounds very interesting, not the least that I am a Disneyphile, myself! I'm reading your blog on the day that I've decided to self-publish my novel, and coincidentally found this link through Talli's blog. If I don't win your self-publishing book, I'll certainly buy one!

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  38. There's no question that I'm in a very small niche and self-published after a publisher told me that I needed to show sales(!) before they could commit. So, I self-published and have managed to sell just under 6,000 books in less than two years, by both online and sales to vendors in the industry. Book II is almost done and I will go the same route.

    But, you really can't expect that you'll be another JK Rowland. What will happen is that you'll get to make a modest living doing what you enjoy.

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  39. Good story told with frankness. This is the kind of information that is helpful to hear.

    Talli, sounds like you have quite the exciting day ahead (and now behind as I post this comment). Good for you!


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  40. This has some great information- I plan to self pub my poetry chapbook.

    I tried the site you gave Talli- but it says "not found" FYI

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  41. My brother is in the process of self-publishing a Drumming Teaching book, so I'll have to tell him about this.

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  42. It used to be that self-publishing was closely associated with 'vanity' publishing, but the shape of the market has changed all that beyond recognition from the models we knew even five years ago. A very insightful post. Congratulations on finishing your writing projects, publishing and selling!

    @tali -> Hope you've had a great day.

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  43. Self-publishing may have been difficult at first for Catherine, but she has obviously learned how to do it. Even better, she has a knack for telling others how. Her video on her blog gives the step-by-step instructions for publishing on CreateSpace, and it is great!

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  44. Thank you, Talli and Catherine. I've done both conventional and self-publishing, but I much prefer self-publishing.

    I'm a control freak.

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  45. I always enjoy Catherine's blog and she is an excellent resource when it comes to getting your writing published. Great to see her on your blog Talli. Thank you.

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  46. I've changed my tune about self-publishing as well. I'm also poised to dive into that same world I used to turn up my nose at. Thanks to both of you for this article.

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  47. Great advice! I can tell just from this post that Catherine's books must be well-written, smart, and funny.

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  48. Great to hear a postitive and helpful post on self publishing. Look forward to reading the book!

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  49. Loved this! We do kindof get those stereotypes, don't we? But my view of self-publishing has definitely changed the last few years.

    Kudos to Catherine for taking a leap with a level head. :)

    And Talli, best of luck at the book launch!

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  50. Congratulations Catherine on your sales! Being a self published author, I understood everything you said. Wishing your greater success with everything!

    Talli have a fab day, it all sounds exciting! x

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  51. Talli,
    That was great reading about her ventures into the world of self-pusblishing. I think as our world becomes more sophisticated, we'll see more and more of this and why not? Why leave the dream and desire of being a published writer lay in the hands of a stranger?

    ...now I'll have to find 'Mousetrapped'

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  52. Very interesting glimpse into the self- publishing biz! It's definitely something to seriously consider. Julie

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  54. Thanks for sharing your experience with self-publishing. Mousetrapped sounds hilarious. I will definitely check it out!

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Coffee and wine for all!