Back in the days when I was trying to sell Speak Its Name to any number of overworked and bewildered publishers and agents, I was a bit wary of self-publishing, because I assumed that it was going to be a huge amount of work to ensure that you were left with a decent product. (This was, in fact, true. I did the work.)

And I’d read some advice from another author that suggested that traditional publishing was the best route to ensure quality. Once you had a publisher, they would set you up with an editor, and a cover designer, and you wouldn’t have to worry about any of that peripheral stuff.

I’ve since learned that this, as the old song says, ain’t necessarily so. For example, take a look at this:


I’m not going to name the title or the author, because I suspect they have better things to do than basic quality checking on foreign editions of their books. The publisher should be paying someone to, you know, check there are spaces in between words. The publisher is Mira Books of Chatswood, Australia, and they do deserve naming and shaming. However or whoever you’re publishing, there’s no excuse for letting a book out looking like that.

Some weekend reading

Happy Saturday! I hope those who are now embarked on summer holidays are enjoying them, and that the weather cooperates with any long-planned activities. Personally, I’m just getting to the end of a week off work, and I’m very slightly less tired than I was when it began, so I’m counting that as a tentative plus.

This week I have a guest post up over at I Heart Lesfic where I talk about the difficulty of finding the book I wanted to read and my consequent decision to write it myself.

There’s also a giveaway of Speak Its Name, which still has a couple of days left to run. You might be lucky!

And I talked to fellow self-published author Helena Fairfax about my favourite places, my least favourite job, and what I’d say to Jenny Lind.


How I learned to stop worrying and self-publish

It is entirely appropriate that I bought this mug for myself

It is entirely appropriate that I bought this mug for myself

There was a minor kerfuffle recently regarding Ros Barber (of whom I had never heard before she popped up in the Guardian) and her thoughts on those who choose to Self-Publish And Be Damned. Since her arguments have been roundly refuted by people who have published more books and made more money than I have, I won’t wade in on that particular point. Also, this was a fortnight ago and nobody cares any more.

All the same, I’ve been meaning for a while to explain how I made the decision to self-publish.

Up until last year, self-publishing wasn’t on my list of options. It wasn’t because I didn’t know about it. I knew about it. I knew people who had done it. I thought they were incredibly brave. Personally, I was too scared of the following factors to contemplate it myself:

  • the gargantuan amount of work that I’d have to do (or organise) myself, rather than outsource to the publisher’s friendly in-house editors, cover designers, proof-readers, publicists, and so forth;
  • the huge amount of money I assumed it would cost;
  • the possibility of some joker taking some element of my book personally and trying to sue me;
  • people whose opinion I respected thinking the less of me, as a writer and a person.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think my book was good. I wouldn’t have been sending it round agents and publishers if I didn’t think it was worth, well, publishing.I just wanted somebody else to tell me that.

I already knew that the target audience for my book was limited. I knew that it would be difficult to sell even if it were very, very good. At the same time, I knew that there would be people with whom it would resonate, who would enjoy it, who would find it useful. I’d written it to relieve my own feelings, but I knew that those feelings were not unique to me. I didn’t want to leave the thing languishing on my hard drive for ever, but I was far too scared to self-publish. What would people think?

Last year turned out to be fairly heavy in the ‘personal epiphanies’ department. I discovered that I thought the institution of marriage human at best and idolatrous at worst. I told people to stop fucking apologising for swearing in front of me. I moved from thinking of myself as a ‘liberal’ Christian to thinking of myself as a ‘radical’ one.

I found that other people’s ideas about who I was and what I was worth were becoming less important to me. I found that I no longer needed other people’s approval. I didn’t need a fairy godmother to give me permission to go to the ball. I was my own fairy godmother. I got myself a dress and a pair of shoes, and I gate-crashed the party.

Put like that, it doesn’t seem like much. Looking back from where I am now, it doesn’t seem like much. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was an epic mental shift.

I did send the manuscript to one last publisher after I’d made the decision to self-publish. I felt a bit ambivalent about it, but a family member had gone to some trouble to get them to take a look at it and it seemed churlish not to.

You can’t imagine how relieved I was when they weren’t interested. I’d gone beyond wanting someone else to do all the hard work. I’d taken control, and now I didn’t want to relinquish it. I had learned to say: Yes. This is my work. I am not ashamed to claim it, to put my name on it, to send it out with no one’s approval but my own. And it turns out that I don’t want to go back from that.

Immortality, of a sort



This afternoon I received a request from the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries for five copies of Speak Its Name – one each for the Bodleian Library, the Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales and Trinity College Dublin. I have duly ordered these and asked for them to be sent straight to said agency.

I’ve already sent a copy to the British Library. I walk through the forecourt of the actual British Library building in London on my way to work every day, but sadly I couldn’t just drop a copy through the letterbox as I passed; I had to post it to Yorkshire.

It doesn’t feel quite as much of a milestone as getting the ISBNs did, but it does contribute to the general sense of having written a real book. The Bod et al are very welcome to their copies.

“What’s the best way for me to get it?”

Scales, geddit? ... oh, never mind

Scales, geddit? … oh, never mind

This is another question that I get asked a lot and, now that there is an option to get it on Kindle, it feels reasonable to answer it.

In terms of how much money each option brings in, I get the most from somebody buying the ebook from Lulu (£3.40), and the least from someone buying the paperback from Amazon (about 50p). Everything else hovers around the middle, with a range from £1.73 to £2.70.

However, it’s all more complicated than that. Sales on Amazon make me less money, but they move me up Amazon’s ranks. (Whether that makes any appreciable difference in the real world I don’t know, but I quite like watching the numbers.) I don’t much like buying stuff from Amazon myself, but I know that it’s very convenient.

I make more from an ebook than I do from a paperback – but the existence of the paperback means that it’s far more likely that someone will pick the book up, like the look of it and order one for themselves. If somebody found it in a charity shop I’d be delighted. I am not one of those authors who gets upset by the idea that more than one person might read the same copy of the same book.

My only answer, then, is going to be ‘whatever works best for you’. What I lose on the swings I make on the roundabouts, and anyway, writing isn’t my day job, and probably won’t ever be. I’m already making more per copy than a conventionally published author (the pay-off, of course, being that I’m selling fewer of them). Buy the book in whatever way is least hassle for you, read it in whatever fashion is easiest for you, and pass it on to whomsoever you like – unless the terms and conditions attached to your ebook reader exclude that possibility, of course.