I’ve been here before

DSC_0523

Still no proofs. Well, no, that’s not fair – they’ve almost certainly arrived by now, but I haven’t had the opportunity to go and pick them up. I’ve been away for the last week, so I haven’t been fretting too much, but I am very aware of how much I just want to be done already.

That’s normal for this stage in proceedings.

Other things which seem to be normal for this stage in proceedings:

  • wanting people to read it. The more people who read it and tell me that actually my portrayal of [whatever I’m worrying about this week] is OK, the better I feel about it.
  • not wanting people to read it. People tell me about how much they’re looking forward to reading it and I mutter and shuffle. What if it’s a horrible disappointment? I’m putting my soul on a plate here. At least, that’s what it feels like. To everyone else, of course, it’s just a book. I have to remind myself that, even if they are disappointed, they’re not disappointed in my soul, but only in a book.
  • relatedly, the conviction that I’ll have managed to offend all my dearest friends.
  • being able to see, albeit from some distance, the point where what other people think doesn’t seem relevant any more, the point where I say: It’s done. I did the best I could. It’s just going to have to do.

Waiting

dsc_0736-e1521145850585.jpg

I have this idea that I’m a very patient person.

One of the things that I’ve discovered over the last four years or so is that writing involves an awful lot of waiting. Waiting for agents and publishers to get back to me. Waiting for editors to finish reading the latest draft and tell me what they make of it. Waiting for myself, to get the perspective that I need in order to make any meaningful decision about what to do next.

Self-publishing cuts out some, but not all, of that waiting. I’ve talked before about the fact that I have to do absolutely everything myself. At least that means that I have something to be getting on with while I’m waiting.

Waiting for emails. Waiting – as I have been all this week – for the proof copy to be printed. Waiting – as I will be tomorrow – for the thing to arrive.

The thing about waiting for the proofs is that I can’t do anything else to the book. There’s no point reading through, because I might have to change something. And there’s no point in changing anything before the proofs come back, because then I’ll only have to order another set. And I can’t approve the book for distribution because something might need changing.

And actually it turns out that I am terrible at waiting. I’ve spent all week refreshing my orders page, waiting it to flip from ‘Fulfilling’ to ‘Shipped’. That happened today, and now I don’t have anything to refresh.

Maybe the book will turn up tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, well, there’s not much I can do. Except wait.

Late to the #IndieAthon party

indieathon-9

On Monday my mother texted me to say ‘Looks like ASITW is very timely’. I texted back to say, ‘Haha, it always is’, and felt slightly smug about being with it for once.

Yesterday I looked at Twitter and discovered that I’d missed a good thirty per cent of an initiative that’s very relevant to my interests, as they say, and now I feel less smug.

#IndieAthon is a month-long celebration of self-published authors and small presses. The organisers have this to say:

Throughout the month you can read however many books you want, not all of them have to be for the readathon of course, but the goal is to read as many indie-published or self-published books as you want! The only limitation to what you can read is that it has to be either self-published or published by a small or independent publisher to count for the readathon. The books can be old, new, popular, unpopular, fiction, non-fiction, anything!

We also would really like you to post reviews of the books you read on Goodreads, Amazon and wherever else you want to post it! Reviews are so important for authors, and especially for smaller authors it can make a huge difference!

There’s a bingo card and everything!

So, hello, #IndieAthon, here I am, sneaking in through the back door, hanging my coat over a chair, grabbing a drink from a tray, and pretending I’ve been here all along.

Um. Er. Yes. Hello. I’m Kathleen Jowitt, and my book Speak Its Name* was the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. I’m in the middle of preparing my second novel, A Spoke in the Wheel, for publication, and that’s my excuse for not having looked at Twitter properly all month.

I’m self-published and very glad of it. Why? One word. Freedom. Self-publishing gives me the freedom to do my own thing, and to do my own thing at my own pace. I’m only answerable to myself. I don’t have to worry about whether anybody actually wants to read a book about a Christian lesbian university student finding her way out of the closet, or, if they liked that, whether they’ll then be interested in a disgraced professional cyclist.

I don’t have to please other people to get my book into print. I just have to put the work in myself. I’m free to experiment, to tell the stories that nobody else tells.

And I’m free to do my own thing at my own pace. I’m the only person who gets to set me deadlines. If I decide that something needs an extra six months’ work to get it really good, I’m free to put those six months in. Conversely, if I have a spare couple of hours and I want to get going on the back cover copy or the front cover design, then I can do that. I don’t have to wait on decisions from anybody else.

Sometimes it’s a scary thing, this freedom. It means taking responsibility for every little thing. Every word that makes it into the finished book is there because I put it there, and it stays there because I didn’t take it out. I can – and I do – ask other people to read for inaccuracy and insensitivity, but the decision whether or not to respond with changes remains with me. The cover, typesetting and formatting, are exactly as good as I can get them.

Any errors or infelicities remaining, as it says on my acknowledgements page, are my own. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Quality”

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:

DSCF2374

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.

Enjoy!

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

YRARBIL HSITIRB
YRARBIL HSITIRB

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.