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.

Books! A giveaway! My youth!

I am giving away one of these books. Scroll to the bottom of the post for details!

I am giving away one of these books. Scroll to the bottom of the post for details of how to enter.

A novel about being queer and Christian at university – about faith, love, doubt and integrity. Read more here, or scroll to the bottom of the post for the giveaway.

Self-publishing in the nineties was grim. I know because both my parents did it. ‘Nobody’ wants to read about queer Christians now, and ‘nobody’ wanted to read about the physiological aspect of childbirth, or look at pictures of buses with passers-by getting in the way of the fleet number then. Doing It Yourself runs in the family. The kitchen table was perpetually shrouded in pencilled layouts for the next coffee table bus book, or hand-drawn diagrams of the hormone process in childbirth.

There was a corridor you couldn’t get through because of the huge bale of bubble wrap. There was a stack of corrugated cardboard that was taller than I was.

And there were books. There were books in the shed; there were books under the stairs. I’m pretty sure there were books in my brother’s bedroom.

There are still books. My parents have moved house four times between them since the last self-published book came out, and I have tripped over cardboard boxes of The Girl In The Street or shrink-wrapped bales of Childbirth Unmasked in every one of those houses.

The lovely thing about Lulu is not having to bother with all that. So far as I’m concerned, everything involved in the publishing process has happened within a square metre footprint. There’s me, and there’s my computer. If someone wants a book, they order it from Lulu (or, as of this lunchtime, Amazon) and someone who isn’t me gets it printed and posts it. It doesn’t go anywhere near me, and I have no boxes to deal with.

(The writing is a different matter, happening as it quite often does at seventy miles an hour, or in a park, or, for one blissful week, in a huge dormitory that I had all to myself. But the exercise books and the archaic Asus Eee on which I actually do the writing take up a lot less space.)

Having said all that, I discovered today that possessing a modest stack of books with my name on is a very good feeling. A lot of the books in the picture have been posted to the people named on the acknowledgements page, and the British Library, and other worthies. But not all of them. For a start, one of them is destined for one of you blog readers.

Leave a comment on this post to enter the giveaway. On 19 February I will use a random number generator to select one of the comments, and I will send a paperback copy of Speak Its Name to the person who left it. No matter where they are in the world.

And the winner is… madhat2014! Congratulations!

A slow journey along the Amazon

This is not the Amazon. This is the Cam.

This is not the Amazon. This is the Cam.

Speak Its Name is now on Amazon. At least, the paperback version is. The Kindle edition has yet to materialise.

Note how I didn’t say ‘is now available on Amazon’; that’s because it’s listed as ‘currently unavailable’. When that changes I shall let you know.

Possibly more excitingly, it is actually available on the iBookstore (categorised as plain ‘Gay’, but I don’t have the energy to get into a fight with Apple over erasure…)

It wasn’t on Kobo when I looked a couple of hours ago, and it’s not in the Nook store. Again, I’ll let you know when it does show. In the mean time, if you’ve read the book, and if you liked it, and if you feel like reviewing it on Amazon, do go ahead. Or anywhere else, for that matter.