As an author I still believe that most satisfaction comes from having a novel accepted by a publisher who then takes it to a finished work on the bookshelves. For me, there’s a vindication in it that someone else is prepared to commit time and energy into something I’ve written. Also, the experience of working with a publisher to hone the writing is incredibly beneficial. When A Shadowed Livery was published by Grey Cells Press in 2015 it was nothing like the draft I’d sent to them a year earlier, I thought it was improved immeasurably.
However, finding a publisher or agent is very difficult, the competition is enormous, so, in this digital age, self-publishing has become an option. It isn’t easy, nor is it a guaranteed route to fame and fortune, but neither is the traditional route. Having co-ordinated the self-publication of two pieces of work – a memoir and a collection of short-stories – using both Amazon’s CreateSpace and IngramSpark, I have a some insights which might be helpful to anyone considering this path. There are more extensive comparisons available but these are just some basic thoughts from my own experience.
When considering self-publishing, one of the first questions is whether you want a printed version or are you happy with putting it out as an e-book. This decision will affect the budget you require and also the marketing plan you’ll devise. I don’t think either is best, though there’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a book, your book, in your hands for the first time.
My recent (Nov 2016) project on Ingram’s cost a little over €900 euros for printing and shipping (from UK to Ireland) of 200 copies of an 8″ x 5″ paperback plus setup costs of €49 and cover design costs of €135. On CreateSpace there are no setup costs, the cost per copy is a little less but they ship from the US so this can be considerably more if you’re in another country. The shipping costs of the books when I used CreateSpace was around 44% of the cost of printing. This compares with around 5% using IngramSpark. This can, of course, make a huge difference in the financial viability of the book.
There can, however, be a saving on cover design. CreateSpace has free cover templates to modify and the process is fairly simple. IngramSpark does not, and you need to design and produce your own cover. They do provide a size template in a couple of formats but the actual design needs to be provided by you.
There’s also a difference in the complexity of the process. CreateSpace allows uploading of Microsoft Word files, which is handy. IngramSpark only allows uploading of PDF files, which requires conversion software or add-ins, and can be a bit tedious when errors in the draft are spotted (as they inevitably will be). With both providers, the process for e-books seems to be a lot simpler. The most complex part with IngramSpark, I found, was the cover. This needs to be produced using the size template provided, with no variation, probably using something like Adobe InDesign, then converted to PDF format for uploading.
IngramSpark provides distribution to a wide range of on-line and physical outlets, CreateSpace, I believe, only goes through Amazon and affiliates, which is still substantial.
On the memoir I helped publish, I found CreateSpace easier to use, but the shipping costs were so high outside the US it meant we changed to IngramSpark for the second print run. I’ve also found IngramSpark’s support desk really knowledgeable, understanding and helpful each time I’ve used it – a massive advantage if you’re not an expert.
This is just a quick run-through of some differences. If you’ve any questions please feel free to get in touch.
Today was not good. It started well enough with a sunny morning and the opportunity to get on with some gardening, but the main task of the day was to drop off some copies of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, at a bookshop who’d initially offered to take some. The reason I’m delivering them myself is that it appears to be impossible to get onto the bookshelves through a distributor unless you are a big name or are part of the stable of a major publisher. I’m neither and although I’m immensely grateful to my publisher, we’re both aware that marketing budgets are limited.
The bookshop in this case reluctantly took a small number, saying ‘we don’t normally take fiction unless it’s a known author’. Chicken and egg, I’d say – how does an author become known unless their books are on the shelves?
I left, muttering, I bet Stephen King hasn’t been in begging you to stock his latest novel!
I then went for a well earned sandwich and cuppa, only to be asked by the young woman behind the cafe counter if I was alright to take the tray myself or should she carry it to the table for me. Do I really look that old?
At least when I arrived home my wife was able to tell me she’d received a notice from Amazon promoting my book.
This week I visited The Four Masters bookshop in Donegal Town to ask if they’d take some of books. To my surprise, and unbounded joy, they already had them on the shelf. I was so impressed I’ve put a photo as my new header image.
I’m plodding through my redraft of my current novel, though it is something to be undertaken in small bites. This morning, due to associated research to check what was in the news in March 1939, it took me around two hours to get to 300 words. I feel that accuracy is important but sometimes it takes so long to find material which will only provide half a line in the manuscript. Still, it is easier than trawling through a physical library. Actually, it was an interesting time historically, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, finally bringing Europe to the brink of war and the siege of Madrid was almost at an end, cementing Franco as head of Spain and bringing the Spanish Civil War to a close.
Also, as an avoidance technique, I’m checking my Amazon ratings from time to time. Aren’t they strange? I had a very nice review on the Crime Fiction Lover website a few days ago and it must have resulted in some sales, I imagine only 2 or 3 , but I shot several hundred thousand places up the ratings on Amazon.
So that’s it then. After months and months of waiting I clicked onto Amazon this morning and there it is. Finally published. I finished my first draft in November 2012, had interest from a publisher in August 2013 and received a contract in February 2014. It’s taken the last year and some months to redraft and edit then put it out into the market place.
And I can’t even remember when I started writing it! I certainly have fairly complete drafts from as far back as mid-2010. I never imagined when I wrote ‘The end’ with a flourish in my first draft that the remainder of the journey would take so long.
Along the way, however, I’ve met some fine people who have helped me to improve my writing and how to think about things differently. People with lots of dedication to the art and craft of books, without whom I wouldn’t have reached the end. To them, a million thanks.
Only two weeks to go to the publication of A Shadowed Livery and I’m excited to think it will soon be out there.
It’s an odd feeling when something you’ve worked on for so long eventually grows wings and flies the nest. There’s nothing else can be done with it, the darling either flies or it doesn’t. I keep thinking of parts I could have phrased better, twists in the plot which might have improved the story, traits of my main characters I could have emphasised, but none of these are now possible because it’s in print and ready to go.
Do other authors have this problem?
This isn’t a ‘how to’ guide, I wish I had the trick, it’s just a quick run-down on how I went about the task and was lucky enough to be successful without too many false trails. There are 114 million results to ‘finding a publisher’ on Google, so there’s no shortage of advice. Try putting the same term into Amazon and there are over 100 books dedicated to the topic. In among all of this material I came across a list of UK-based publishers of crime fiction so I copied them all into a spreadsheet.
Next, I visited the website of every one of the 63 on the list – or at least those who had a website. I discarded all of those who weren’t accepting submissions or who only accepted them through an agent. I hadn’t got an agent and one of the other bits I found on the ‘net was that it’s as hard to get an agent as a publisher. This left me around sixteen possibles.
I then visited the websites again, delving in a little more, and discarded all those which appeared like vanity publishers (I didn’t want to go down that route) or where they had a specific sub-genre or target audience which wasn’t relevant to my novel. In the end I had eight publishers who I thought it worth submitting to.
I transferred all of their contact details on to my spreadsheet and visited their websites again. This time I checked the submission guidelines for their required submission format and, surprise, surprise, they were nearly all different. Some wanted one sample chapter, some none (just a synopsis), some three chapters. Some wanted a ‘short’ synopsis, some a long one, and so on. All went on the spreadsheet. Most accepted electronic submissions but, annoyingly, some wanted hard copy.
Individual letters were sent, strictly adhering to the stated, or gleaned, requirements and I waited. A small number asked for the full manuscript. One expressed further interest and if I’d actually interviewed the 63 I started with I don’t think I’d have found a more insightful and supportive one than Grey Cells Press, who is publishing A Shadowed Livery in April.
All I’m suggesting, in order to save heartache and postage, is simply do a little research before sending your baby out into the big wide world to do battle.
With the publication of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, due in April I’m advised I need to put the word out. In fact, I was talking to a bookshop owner yesterday who, when I told him I had the book coming out, he said ‘well good luck if it’s fiction, we rarely order any fiction by unknown authors’!
So today I set my mind to the task, but where to go? I have a Facebook page but that doesn’t seem appropriate, similarly LinkedIn. So, as the novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, I thought I’d set up an author page on their Author Central service. Easy enough but then realised people will only see my author page if they’re looking for it or looking for the book, so not the best starting point for a freshly published writer.
I bought a domain name awhile ago www.charliegarratt.com but didn’t have a web page to go with it. After a couple of hours fiddling about trying to design a landing page I thought ‘why not point my domain at the WordPress page I’ve set up?’. It looks clean, it’s (fairly) easy to use and I can both blog and keep other content in the same place. Eureka! I’m sure if I read articles I’ll find the advice is to have as much presence as possible but I’m not sure I have the energy to keep track of lots of places and to keep them all up to date. I guess the real challenge is not where to write but how to get people reading it.
Any thoughts most welcome.