Self-Publish 1: Introduction
Whoever reads this article should be clear that I’m not a serious university student of literature, nor a lecturer. I don’t even class myself as an author. I say I’m a raconteur who can write logically. But during my study for a first degree, I took a unit called English 10, which I passed. So I enrolled in English 20 for the following year. The focus was on Shakespeare and it took me about three weeks to decide it wasn’t for me. My study continued and I achieved a Ph.D, but in an area far removed from literature. So my formal literature background is limited. In reading this, therefore, please view me as someone who’s gone from writing formal research reports to creating fictional novels via a process of orally transmitted and collected stories. This foray into explaining some intricacies of self-publishing is about why I did it, how, what happened and to share the information with anyone who’s interested. I’m not setting out to be an expert, to try to present a treatise, to outline a new way of writing fiction, to challenge established writing processes or to create a new vernacular to describe writing fiction. I’m just telling my story in language as simple I can muster.
Let me start with a quick yarn about why I chose to self-publish.
When I completed my first novel, Hiding Place, I did the only thing I knew: sent some of the script to a publishing company. Now this was 2012, a few years after the GFC, at a time of belt-tightening, less money, less people buying things and therefore publishers being affected. While none of the larger publishers has gone broke to my knowledge, a lot of book stores have, which indicates less capacity to sell published works in traditional ways, especially for new novels and novelists.
But initially, I sent Hiding Place off to two publishers in Western Australia to start the process. A colleague from the Eastern States recommended my work to the CEO of one firm who I think had a look (I can’t be certain) and I received a reply about three months later stating that while it a good story, it was not the type they were looking for, and best wishes with other publishers. The second reply, again a lengthy period later, contained information that caused me to think start thinking differently. It was along the lines of: “thanks for sending us a copy of your novel. We must point out that we receive about 800 manuscripts each year, publish about 30 and of those, perhaps one is from a new author.”
I felt rejected which wasn’t pleasant, despite the encouragement that both publishers gave to try someone else. Both stated that different publishers had different ideas about literary merit and different views on what would attract an audience. The main message was “don’t give up”.
As I pondered, Christmas came around and the then-partner of my eldest son gave me the gift of a magazine entitled “Self-Publishing”. Given that I’d be thinking that the waiting time for publishers to review scripts and respond that there would be a fair chance I’d die before having a novel accepted, I was very interested. The other idea that self-publishing put forward was the concept of developing and presenting e-books as an alternative to hard copies. All of that was enough for me: I chose the self-publishing route.
Having no background in self-publishing, I went via the net to a company seemed very professional in its packages, their manner of contact with me, and their offers of various extras. And I learned a great deal by starting that way, particularly about the production areas, which I basically had to manage. There were two major drawbacks:
- The company was based in the United States so contact and communication were far more problematic than I thought they would
- Costs to publish were high and profits very limited, but it was also a great learning experience, which I really appreciate.
Let me explain costs and profit in more detail. The first draft I received of Hiding Place in printed form from the Company ran to 650 pages and would sell for about $65.00 (US). My naivete had a lot to answer for. I’d told the company that my choice for the novel size was six inches by nine inches. But I had no idea of other elements and protocols in terms of publishing. So the company printed, in 12-point type, with large bold headings for each chapter each filling half a page, starting each chapter on a new right hand page creating many blank pages, having margins of considerable width, and so on. I had the wisdom to say “no” and make them reduce size of print to 11-point and the size of margins, chapter headings, where chapters started and so on. We reduced the novel to 359 pages. Even then, I didn’t realise that at the size I’d decided on, the cost per novel was $16.00 and if sold on consignment through a bookseller at $30.00, the recommended price, my profit was $3.00. If I sold privately and had to post, because the weight of a novel was 550 grams, in Australia the postage for a single novel was around $14.50, leaving me a profit of negative $0.50. I learned to make subsequent novels smaller, meaning that production was much less costly, postage was down to $8.20 and I added it to the on-line cost of those novels, and I have basically stopped selling through bookstores on consignment. Instead, I have learned how to produce e-books and added them to on-line sales. So I have learned easier ways to bring to reach break-even point and then go into profit.
But enough of that story. I will try to outline more details of my learning as I take people through the headings below. Each of these will be a blog with the heading of Self-Publishing 2, Self-Publishing 3 and so on.
So the first blog is this one. The order then will be:
- Self-Publishing 2: Concept
- Self-Publishing 3: Form
- Self-Publishing 4: Writing
- Self-Publishing 5: Characterization
- Self-Publishing 6: Consolidating
- Self-Publishing 7: Publishing
- Self-Publishing 8: Marketing
- Self-Publishing 9: Selling
But let me be clear about those headings and my process. The titles and order above reflect my thoughts on how to explain what I did in an understandable fashion. The process, how it evolved and how I managed it was nowhere near as linear and orderly. I moved backwards and forwards between stages all the time, and even at the point of publishing, I was still operating elements of earlier and later stage. As an example, while publishing, the son of my former colleague developed a business plan (marketing and selling) which had an impact the earlier stages.
Even so, I trust these headings and the information I offer may be of assistance to people going down the self-publishing road. There are three things I know for sure from this experience:
- I’ve had the satisfaction of having three novels read by members of the general public with generally positive approval
- Each novel is tracking towards, or has reached, break-even point in terms of sales
- Presenting to various groups across the State has been rewarding and educational.