Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Filters for Self Published Authors

When I first set out to start writing a book I was twenty one years old.  It was a rain soaked New Year’s Eve, I was stood in the courtyard of a local pub, and I was wondering why I hadn’t stayed at home and ordered a pizza.  I huddled under a small umbrella with a bottle of Budweiser in my blue hand and announced to my friend that I had an idea for a novel and that I was going to set about writing it.  But in spite of her excitement and encouragement, I never wrote that story.  At the most the story was lame.  At worst, it was unfeasible.  But the whole thought process left me with something much more important.  The desire to actually do it.

With a head full of ideas from there on I constantly made notes.  There were endless post-its in my diary, full with names or places that had no bearing to each other, but rather they formed a collective of random ideas from the mind of a disillusioned scientist who knew that there was something else from life that she wanted.

In the end, it happened.  I wrote The Loss of Deference.  Following an effort which spanned two years, writing chapters sporadically when time permitted, I was left with something that resembled a manuscript.  I privately proclaimed as I sat looking at the ‘finished’ book that I was a writer, and celebrated that fact by sending out the manuscript to an agent.  It wasn’t long after this that I got my first rejection letter.

It’s a strange feeling to have something you have worked on so passionately rejected outright without any explanation or justification.  I sent it out again to another agent, and the same thing happened.  Had I forgotten something?  Had an office junior made a mistake?  I would have liked to think so, but it was an over complicated solution for a problem that was much more simplistic.

It wasn’t good enough.

I left the manuscript in the cupboard for a while, partially out of disappointment, but more so out of a growing uncertainty at exactly what it was that I should be doing to make it better.  After a period of separation, I decided that I had reached the time for objectivity, and started to truthfully assess the content.  As hard as it was to admit, when I reread the manuscript, I easily found issues with it.  Not just typing errors, but larger areas of text where I knew I could make it better.  With that in mind, I forced myself back into the editor’s chair and rewrote parts of the story.  It was a difficult process, admitting to myself that what I had produced with such confidence had been unacceptable.  Nobody ever wants to believe that what they produce is substandard, especially when you want very much to be successful writer.  But in order to move past the point of failure I had to do just that.   Until I accepted it, I couldn’t rework the material subjectively. 

So, why when I am given an opportunity to talk about my work am I telling you my faults and failings? 

Because it is a fact that indie publishing grew by 287% between 2006 and 2011(source, Bowker).  Indie publishing is becoming more widely accepted.  It is becoming mainstream.  Indie is no longer considered quite so alternative, and most readers could name you at least one self published author who is enjoying success.  The reason?  For many writers like me, e-Book publishing through Amazon or Smashwords has effectively removed the barrier to publishing, giving us direct access to readers and an unrestricted route into print.  Anybody has the chance to become published.  No painful search for an agent.  No slush pile.  No rejection letter.  It’s an attractive option.  But what this also does is remove the inherent filter of the traditional publishing world, thus allowing many titles that would once remain unpublished a chance to find a place in the market.  So in a rapidly growing sector that is inundated by new releases, the only way to carve a niche for yourself is to bring with you a damn good set of tools.

I have published three books through Amazon KDP.  Since I published the first two I have reworked the covers of both books, and sat down and re-edited them.  I have listened to feedback and taken the criticism.  On reflection, it is only now that I think both of these books are of the quality and standard that a reader deserves.  Fortunately for me, readers have enjoyed both releases anyway, before I re-edited them, but that is not to say that either of the first editions were perfect.  So by admitting this does it make me brave or stupid?  I think neither of those things.  It just makes me honest.

When I buy a print book from the bookstore, I am not looking for a poorly edited proof, or a substandard cover.  I am looking for a quality product that is professionally finished.  Self publishing in the beginning is a bit like growing up as the child of an A list celebrity.  Our failings are there for all to see.  Our mistakes are made in public.  But like anything in life, mistakes will and do occur, and learning from them is important.  I have just released my third book.  It is only this time, now that I have learnt from the process of the previous two releases that I believe I will get it right first time.  I now have an editor, a designer, a set of beta readers, and enough patience to wait to release the work.  It is only through the process of self publishing that those writers who chose this path learn what it takes to publish, and what kind of team you need around you.  The name of ‘self’ publishing itself is very misleading.  There is a reason that traditional publishers do not expect writers to come up with everything on their own.  There is a reason that it takes longer than any writer wants to wait before the book is published.  There is a reason that my first manuscript was sent back to me.  When there are no filters in the self publication process, isn’t it about time we start making up our own?

What is not getting filtered are my appearances, and I am making a few more appearances today.  You can check me out on Ailyn Koay's blog, on YahGottaReadThis, and on The Gothic Ballerina talking about how to get over the hurdle of chapter one.  Guess I'll be needing my own advice soon!

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