I’ve said before that the easiest part of writing a book is the writing bit. Which if you’re just starting out will probably seem daft, because the prospect of that blank page or screen is very daunting. But honestly, writing is easy compared to trying to find a publisher. Unless you have inside contacts, you’ll have to first find a literary agent. There’s a comprehensive list in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, so use that as your first reference point. Most publishers will not even look at unsolicited manuscripts from unknown writers, but insist that all submissions come through an agent. This is obviously a first vetting point, and I would imagine that many writers fall at this first hurdle, because finding an agent to take you on is hard.
When I’d finished Stonewylde I wrote to several agents and received several rejections, before I found Clare Pearson of Eddison Pearson. I’d imagined I was writing for a teenage audience, and approached literary agents who specialised in teen fiction. Clare was cautious but encouraging, and once she’d read the whole of the first three books, we signed a contract. She was completely “stonewylded” and spent the next year making me edit and rewrite until the manuscripts were polished to her high standards. We disagreed on many things (mostly when she wanted me to cut down on my waffle!) but almost invariably I realised that she was right and followed her suggestions. Then we pitched the first book to several children’s publishers. Clare was optimistic at this stage and even predicted a “bidding frenzy”. This filled me with great excitement as you can imagine.
Sadly this never materialised, and one by one the rejections arrived. Many of the people at the publishing houses enjoyed the book themselves, but thought it was “too dark” or “too adult” for their market. I’d been very careful in writing the books not to make the themes too adult or explicit, but clearly the publishers felt it wasn’t right for them. Clare and I were devastated. She then took the unusual step of suggesting that I publish at least the first book myself, because she felt Stonewylde deserved to see the light of day and she was still convinced it was a potential best-seller. This was very altruistic advice, for literary agents only get paid if they actually sell the book to a publisher. By recommending I publish myself, she wouldn’t see a penny. And she’d devoted hours and hours to helping me polish the three books word by word, and then printing first chapters and sending them to all the publishers. I shall always be grateful to Clare.
This is the point where I started to find out about self-publishing. And this is the information I wish to share with you, in case it helps if you’re considering it. My first advice would be … DON’T!!! If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. I had no concept at all of just how hard the whole thing is. Publishing is a closed world, full of networks, money and expertise. As a little author stumbling in, you’ll get doors slammed in your face and you have to be so very determined to persevere against the odds. The problem isn’t actually printing your manuscript into a book (which is all I thought about at this stage as it seemed so difficult) but getting your books into shops. More on this later.
There are three basic options for turning that manuscript into a real book, with variations. You can pay a few thousand pounds to a company to do it, and will have a few hundred books printed which will probably languish in your garage or their warehouse (at cost) despite their promises to market for you. I don’t have personal experience of this method but have read lots of tales about it. If money isn’t a problem, this is perhaps the easiest option. It’s sometimes referred to scathingly as “vanity publishing”, although some of the companies that offer this service insist they’re not vanity publishers. Your books are highly unlikely to ever sell in any quantity, because despite assurances that the company will do marketing for you, apparently it doesn’t really happen. I may stand corrected on this of course, but all I’ve heard about this method of publishing is quite negative.
The next option is to do “print on demand”, also known as “pod”. This means that rather than have hundreds or thousands of books printed at great cost, they’re printed in small quantities as and when required. You can organise your own jacket, blurb, typesetting, barcode and ISBN number, or most pod companies can do this for you (at an extra cost of course). Your book stays in their computer systems and is only printed when you order copies. There are many companies who offer this and it’s perhaps the cheapest option in that you don’t have a huge initial outlay. There are set up costs of course, more if the company are doing all the preliminary work for you. But it’s pretty foolproof and means you don’t have hundreds of books lying around needing to be stored. This is one really important consideration of course – storage of the books, which must be dry and fairly warm. Books by their nature are bulky! If you’re thinking of just selling a few books to friends and maybe local or specialist cheap adipex for sale outlets, then pod is perhaps the best option, although the cost of each book is quite high. You’ll be unlikely to make much profit if any, but if the main thing for you is to see your writing published and you’re not looking to make a living, this is a fairly safe, no-risk option.
The third option, which is what I did, is to set up your own publishing company and do a proper large print run of the books. This is quite fraught with minefields of course and you will need to do a lot of research first. You need to find an artist or designer to do your book jacket. You need to buy a set of ten ISBN numbers (they don’t sell them individually) and register with Nielsen BookData. You’ll need to typeset your manuscript to turn it into book format, although often the printers can arrange this for you (at a cost of course!). You then decide on the print run. The books aren’t printed digitally as in pod, but on a proper litho machine. See the picture above – this is me at the printers with Bernie of Cox & Wyman, who looked after us from start to finish, when the Stonewylde books were being printed.
The more books you have printed, the less each one costs. Basic stuff but very hard to decide on. Because the more you have printed, the greater storage facilities you’ll need, and that’s not cheap. Our first print run on Magus of Stonewylde was 800 copies. We’ve had other reprints since of increasing quantities. The latest print run was 5000 copies (this is the point where it starts to make economic sense) and each book worked out at about one third of the price of the original print run! But until you know your book will sell, you’d be mad to have 5000 copies printed.
Now your books are printed, and you’d think you’re home and dry. Wrong! Writing is the easiest bit, printing is the next easiest bit – the hard part is getting your books into shops. You now need to find a distributor/wholesaler, because apart from a couple of little local independent bookshops (if you’re lucky enough to still have such a thing) who may buy direct from you, nearly all independents and definitely all the chains will not buy direct from a small, unknown publisher. It’s too much paperwork and hassle for them, and they’ll only buy from Gardners or Bertrams, or maybe smaller distributors if you’re fortunate.
You now have to persuade one of the distributors to take on your books, and this is not easy. You have to persist. It’s a Catch 22, as I’ve said before on my tipping point post, because they want to see evidence of sales, but you can’t have sales without a distributor! They’ll also take a huge whack of discount from you so even though your book may be retailing at £7.99, by the time they’ve taken their cut and you’ve taken into account the cost of designing, printing and warehousing, you’re left with very little of this. If anything! You can also sell online of course, and anyone can set up an Amazon account. Again, they take a huge amount of discount from you. The temptation is to bump up the price of your book, but then you’ll find nobody will buy it because it’s too expensive.
Even when you do finally manage to persuade a distributor to take the books, you still need to convince book shops that they’re worth stocking. Unless you’re already famous, why would they want your book? Who will buy it? How much are you spending on advertising and what is your marketing plan? Waterstones are a veritable Fort Knox and of course you’re always up against this antipathy towards anyone who’s self-published. The general feeling is (perhaps understandably) that if your book were any good, a publisher would have taken it on. The fact you’ve had to do it yourself means it must be rubbish.
I will continue this saga at a later date about marketing, because even when you’ve found distributors and persuaded bookshops to take your books, you still have to somehow convince people to go out and actually buy them! I hope that all I’ve written may help anyone thinking of going into writing. It’s really not easy at all. There are thousands and thousands of books published every year, so why would anyone want yours? What is so unique and special about it? And if it is unique, why would anyone want to take a risk with something so different? See what I mean? Unless you’re utterly convinced you’ve created something that really will make it one day (or have lots of money to burn) – DON’T DO IT!!!
Having said that, I’m so glad I did! Yesterday was exactly five years to the day that I started writing Stonewylde. I now have three books out there on the shelves with a fourth to be published next summer. I have a lovely website that lots of people visit, a newsletter that goes out to hundreds of readers and a wonderful forum where many of my Stonewylde fans meet daily. I’ve had some brilliant help along the way to create all this – first from Clare Pearson and then from my husband. And of course Stonewylde fans have achieved huge steps forward in helping me to promote the books. I’ve been very lucky so far, but if I’d just gone it alone without the support I had, I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. So please, anyone reading this who’s thinking of starting a book – just be aware of how very difficult it is to get beyond the manuscript stage.
You can read the piece I wrote about writing for the website “More to Life than Shoes” by clicking here.