I’ve got a really fascinating guest post from Laurie Ellingham today. She is sharing her opinion on self-publishing vs traditional publishing using her experiences with her two novels. Her second, How To Throw Your Life Away, was self-published last week on 14th April. First though, here’s my review:
I thoroughly enjoyed this story about Katy and how her life took a completely different direction after she flipped and thumped her boyfriend with the tv remote! I could certainly sympathise with her, as her boyfriend Adam just seemed to be completely ignoring her. (Not that I’m suggesting violence is the way to go of course!) And as the story went on it was clear that he was hiding something. Poor Katy, things just seemed to go from bad to worse as she was arrested and made to attend anger management classes. Her job situation soon afterwards took an unexpected downward spiral too.
I really felt for Katy as I’m sure that many of us have been in that kind of situation where everything just seems to be going wrong and there’s nothing you can do to make things better. Katy seemed like a really lovely character and I loved her friend Claire too, such a supportive person to have around. Thankfully, new opportunities do open up for Katy and I was giving her a wee cheer as things start to look up. But then there were complications from various different sources and my heart went out to her again as she was so confused about what to do for the best.
I really liked the character Mary, the garden centre owner, and of course the lovely Tom, Katy’s anger management counsellor. I thought the garden centre Green Tips sounded like a lovely place to work and thought it summed up Adam perfectly that he could never actually remember the name properly!
And, Ms Ellingham, can I just say you really played with my emotions in those final few chapters!
And now for Laurie’s guest post
Is it better to self-publish or use a small independent publisher?
When I wrote my first novel I had several misconceptions, which looking back bordered on delusional. Firstly, I thought my novel was fantastic. Not just fantastic but laugh out loud funny and a literary masterpiece (see what I mean about delusional?). The second being that writing the novel was the hard part, the getting an agent, getting it published part would be doddle (after all, my novel was a masterpiece). I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I was expecting an agent to knock on my door, but I was shocked when, the day after my submissions, I didn’t receive several phone calls begging me to sign a contract.
I clung to my misconceptions through months of rejections and more submissions. I even resent a submission to an agent who’d rejected me, asking her to reconsider (after all, I’d written a Best Seller, remember?). Needless to say, she didn’t hold back her thoughts on the flaws in my novel the second time around.
Then it began to dawn on me – my novel was clichéd, poorly written, and lacking in plot. Burning it seemed too kind an end for that first novel. No wonder I wasn’t having any luck.
It took several more years, a writing course, and the completion of a novel that had potential, to finally get it – the door into mainstream publishing is shut tight and bolted, and the gatekeepers (literary agents) are fiercely protective about letting anyone near it.
Fast forward another few years and my writing has improved remarkably, the gatekeepers are actually talking to me, but still, no one is letting me in the door no matter how loudly I bang on it. So after some serious knocks to my confidence I dabbled in self publishing for a few months, when out of the blue I received a publishing offer. A small independent London-based publishing house was willing to take my debut self-published novel and publish it into the big wide world. They were also prepared to pay me a small (teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini) advance. The next best thing to a big publishing house is a small publishing house, right?
Or is it? I genuinely don’t know the answer, but here are the three big comparisons that I have drawn from my own experience in both self-publishing and using a small publisher:
- From manuscript to paperback
Proof reading/editing – All publishers, no matter how small, will have an editorial team that will pour over your novel. Although it’s unlikely they’ll suggest any major editing, it really takes the pressure off to know that professional eyes are combing through your novel. This said, typos and errors still get missed, and the final approval will still come from you.
In self-publishing, editing and proofreading come at a huge cost. An editor, who will read your manuscript and point out flaws in characterisation and plot, can set you back anywhere between £300-£1000, depending on how much detail you pay for. A proof reader, who’ll look only at the language and the grammar, will be in the region of £500 for a full manuscript. Neither editing or proof reading are compulsory for self-publishing, but at the very least, ask a good friend to take a look.
Book cover – A publisher will develop the design of your book cover, and you’ll then have the opportunity to go back with some requests and changes. It’s likely that they’ll be very open to your input before and during the process, but the final approval will be theirs to make.
With self-publishing, you can have a cover designed from scratch, or purchase a readymade cover from a design website. Or you can knock something up yourself, but if you’ve not got a background in design, then I wouldn’t recommend it. A readymade cover can cost as little as £10, and a bespoke cover can cost up to £1000.
Formatting – Changing the format of your manuscript into a print ready novel is a painstaking, eye-goggling process. The internet is full of step by step, easy to follow guides, and downloadable templates, but it’s still time consuming and boring. Using a publisher, will put this part firmly in their hands.
The Winner – Independent publisher. Whilst you can self-publish for nothing, a professional end product will cost you money and time. Having a team of people holding your hand and helping you through this process is a real bonus.
An independent publisher, like the larger publishing houses, will have a marketing budget to spend on the promotion of your novel, all be it, a much smaller one. But, no matter how big the publishing house is, the author will be heavily involved in the book promotion, so it’s really a question of how much more of an impact can an independent publisher make, compared to an individual?
However you chooses to publish your novel, you’ll probably start the promotion by looking for online reviews through book bloggers, and drum up some local interest through local media and local radio stations. Both of these avenues are equally accessible for a publisher as they are for an individual, and cost nothing. In my experience local media, especially the radio stations, are more accepting of an individual approach, than that from a publisher. I’ve also found the blogging community extremely welcoming to author approaches.
If you can pick up the phone, be polite, and get to grips with social media, then you can easily make an impact without a marketing budget behind you. You’ll need to write a press release, but considering you’ve just written an entire novel, a one page puff piece about you and your novel should be easy. A quick Google search will give you an idea of what to include.
Winner – Self-publishing. Authors will and should be involved in promotional activity. A marketing team can be a great source of support and help, but ultimately it’s the author that sits down for the interview.
The royalty rates of publishing contracts will vary. For a paperback the average is around 10%, and for an ebook it’s anywhere between 40-60%. So if my paperback costs £6.99, then for every book sold, I’ll make 69p, right? Wrong. Check the publishing contract carefully. It’s possible that you’ll get 10% of whatever the publisher sells it to the distributor for, and you’ll have no control over this. If they sell it for £1.99, you’ll get 19p. It’s the same for e-books. The publisher or distributer might decide to put it in a monthly deal, or a giveaway. Again, you’ll have no control over this. Monthly deals and giveaways can be great at raising the profile of your book, but it may amount to zero royalties for you.
With self-publishing, you retain the majority of the royalties, but more importantly you stay in control of the deals you offer and when you offer them.
Winner – Self-publishing
I feel extremely fortunate to have had my debut novel published by an independent publisher. I’ve learnt so much from the experience, and have come away from it feeling confident that I have the tools I need to self-publish, which is why I’m really excited to be self-publishing How To Throw Your Life Away. It’s just as exciting as it was the first time around, but also, I feel in total control. These comparisons are only based on one small independent publisher. Will I keep banging on the door to the bigger publishers? Yes. Will I consider using an independent publisher again in the future? Probably, because no matter how far I’ve come from those first delusional months (and I’ve come a long way), I’m nowhere near the end of my learning curve for my writing journey.