The Fork In The Road

Happy February!

So, January, that longest and most depressing of months, is over. All right, I know it isn’t actually the longest month – well, not on its own at any rate – but it feels like the longest, doesn’t it? Having said that, it seems to have flown by this year. I can’t actually believe a whole twelfth of the year is done already. Why do I bother to put the Christmas tree away?

Anyway, with February here again I looked at my schedule – you know, the one I told you about in my Tick, Tick, Tick post. You did read that, right? Of course you did. So I looked at it and realised that I had scheduled February as the month in which I would finish editing my novel and send it off to a writerly friend to proofread, and also to a couple of other people who read novels in the same genre and who could give me some (hopefully) useful feedback.

The novel has already been critiqued by the NWS and I have been re-writing some parts to accommodate the changes that the reader suggested. I have also been trying to cut the length down. As regular readers of this blog will know (whoever you are, thank you so much!) word count has been a bugbear of mine throughout this entire process. When I sent the typescript in to the NWS it came in at just under 120,000 words. Now, the NWS seem to think that is acceptable as 120,000 words is their cut off point. However, I know from reading submission guidelines for various publishers that a more acceptable limit is 100,000 words, so I am now trying to be ruthless and cut, cut, cut!  It is far more difficult to do than I could ever have imagined and having got the story to the point where I am actually happy with it as it is I am struggling with this aspect more than any other.

I suppose that’s what got me wondering about the lengths of other books I have read lately, and that’s when I noticed how many of those books are actually not subject to any real word count limits from publishers because they have been self-published. Really, it was quite extraordinary when I looked back over my reading list to notice that fact. I have read at least as many self-published novels as traditionally-published ones over the last couple of years, and what’s more, I have thoroughly enjoyed them. In fact, every single one of them has been given a four or five star rating. Now, I may just have been very lucky there. I do appreciate that there are a lot of self-published novels that are truly appalling for many reasons, and I know that that fact has given self-publishing a bad name in some quarters. However, the fact remains, I have read dozens of them and found the vast majority of them  to be well-written with great plots, appealing characters and few, if any, typos.

Which brings me to my point. You knew I’d get there eventually, didn’t you? Should I even think about self-publishing? The truth is, I am a bit of a control freak – okay, I’m a lot of a control freak – and I can’t deny that the idea of controlling everything about my own novel is hugely appealing. To be able to decide on my own publishing timetable, choose my own cover, not worry about the word count so much (within reason, of course), and take charge of my own writing career seems highly desirable to me. I am quite drawn to the whole idea of it.

Obviously, there are downsides. There would be no publisher behind me helping me to get my book “out there” for a start. The marketing would be entirely down to me and there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is. On the other hand, my understanding is that even traditionally-published authors have to do a heck of a lot of marketing themselves. The technical side would take some grappling with, too. I wouldn’t know where to start publishing my book to Kindle, let alone getting it in actual print. Then there’s the cover. I can see that Amazon have a selection of covers to choose from, but traditionally published books have such amazing artists and cover designers and some of the covers I see are so beautiful. To match up with that would take a lot of doing. Then there’s the financial outlay. Publishing to Kindle may be free but a decent cover wouldn’t be and if I wanted to hold an actual paperback version of my novel in my hand it would cost a small fortune.

I can quite see the appeal that being traditionally-published has, too. It’s what we dream of, isn’t it? Getting “the call”, being told that your book has made the grade and you are going to see copies of it on the shelves! It’s what validates you as a writer, isn’t it? Surely, if a publisher accepts your novel then you have made it? You really do have what it takes to be a writer, and you can never get that same satisfaction from self-publishing. Or can you?

I don’t buy the argument that people only self-publish if they can’t get a traditional deal. I think more and more writers are heading down the indie route as a matter of choice, and some are making extremely successful careers for themselves. The question is, what’s right for me? And, at the moment, I really don’t know. As the month of February ticks on, I know I have some decisions to make soon. I can’t hang onto this book for much longer.

So, dear readers, what are your thoughts on this? Have any of you gone down the self-publishing route? Did you regret it or did it work out really well for you? What were your reasons for doing so? Are you a traditionally-published author? What are your thoughts on having a publisher behind you? Would you ever be tempted to self-publish in the future or are you very happy to stay as you are? Please leave a comment by clicking on the speech bubble at the side of the title.  This wannabe could really use your advice!

Have a great week xx

12 thoughts on “The Fork In The Road

  1. We’ve had that debate a lot amongst The Write Romantics! One of the group did SP her debut novel and she’s done pretty well with it but we do all hanker after that illusive publishing deal. It is the, “A professional thinks I’m good” mindset and the idea of getting “The Call” that drives us to wanting that route but, more and more, many of us are thinking of SP as the way forward. One of the big pulls is that, if you have to do so much promo for a traditionally-published book anyway (which is what most of us are concerned about), you may as well do it but keep all the profits. Jury’s still out but if I don’t get a traditional deal this year (by which I mean a publishing house taking me on for an E-book as I know there is little chance of a paper deal for a debut in my genre), my 2015 goal is likely to be SP! I look forward to hearing what you decide.
    Julie (Just realised I’m logged in as Write Romantic instead of big fat beach bear)
    xx

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  2. Hi, Julie. Thanks for dropping by. I know what you mean about “A professional thinks I’m good” mindset, but if you think about it, you have already had a very positive critique from a professional, plus I know your novel has been read by other writers who think it’s good. Isn’t that enough? What really counts is that your readers enjoy it and does how those readers find your book really matter? Do they care if it’s published by a traditional publishing house or just you pressing the button? I know many authors are shunning the publishing houses now because of the very reason you mentioned – that they have to do most of the promo anyway so why give someone else the money for it? Plus, many have cited the sheer length of time that publishing your novel takes if you don’t do it yourself. Not to mention, of course, the difficulties of getting published in the first place! They are just so swamped with manuscripts they are never going to be able to publish even the ones they really like. Getting a debut novel published when you’re an unknown is so difficult – hats off to the ones who manage it, really! I think the jury is out for the moment. I do hope someone else comes along and comments! The more points of view I get the better – it’s a very confusing subject!

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  3. Times are not just ‘changing’, they have ‘changed’. Even publishers are embracing the publishing revolution with their e-book imprints: Piatcus, Carina, ChocLit Lite et al. As you say, Sharon, most authors have to do their own self promotion anyway and its up to a writer to decide what they want most – the ‘validation’ they may consider being published traditionally brings or the ‘freedom’ to choose their own covers, themes, promotions, amazon tags and profiles etc. Not to mention writing the novel THEY want to write and which they believe readers will enjoy reading. The two novels I have indie published (and which you have kindly reviewed) have been well-received and one of the most frequent comments I get is: ‘oh, I didn’t expect that to happen.’ I can subvert the genre, abandon the formula and keep the reader turning those pages. There is also the ‘age’ factor. I could have spent the next few years searching for an agent, re-writing the book to suit them and with no guarantee it would ever grab the attention of an editor or publishing house. I’m too old to wait for that to happen !! But self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted, writing the novel is only one part of it. I love the independence and the freedom and I’ve been lucky enough to sell reasonably well. If an agent offered to represent me I’d have to think long and hard about it because I like being my own ‘boss’. I do of course have the other three New Romantics to work with an bounce ideas off which helps.

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    • Hello, Lizzie!

      So glad you dropped by as you are proof that self-publishing can really work out! You’re right about the validation versus freedom argument. I know it must be lovely to have a traditional publishing house say that they want your book, but it also comes with a lot of conditions and constraints from what I’ve read and heard.

      I do agree, though, that self-publishing is very hard work and I’m certain that the support of other indie writers is crucial. I think the fact that you are a member of a quartet who can publicize each other’s books, attend publicity events together and give each other advice, feedback and moral support is wonderful and I’m not so sure a person on their own would be able to manage so well.

      Having said that, there are plenty of indie authors out there who work alone…I think the virtual friendships we strike up on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs etc are crucial – not only for advice and publicity but for sanity, too. Who else would understand? I guess, for me, it’s a question of can I really do what self-publishing would require? Not just the marketing but the technical side (which I’m not so good at) and would I rather be in total control of my novels or hand them over to companies who have years of experience and a far bigger budget, but accept that there will be compromises and conditions attached? Not to mention the time factor. I’m not getting any younger, either!

      So much to consider. I think we’re very lucky to have so many options, even if it does make my head spin trying to make a decision! x

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  4. As Lizzie has said, there are many publishers now who have ebook only imprints, so there are more opportunities than ever to be published. However, you won’t be able to control the price or the cover (price does matter to readers and I’ve seen some horrible covers) so you may not see much in the way of either success or royalties (and if you’re not successful you get swiftly dropped!). Self publishing means you do have control and you can publish what you like at your own pace. However, you may not see much in the way of success or royalties this way either! There is an awful lot of competition and lately more people are buying tablets rather than ereaders so you will also be competing with apps, games and movies! Have you got more than one novel? Perhaps you could test the water with a couple of novellas first while your novel does the rounds? My own personal view, you see, is that unless you already have a fan base (by that I mean readers, not fellow authors) it is very easy to get lost amongst all the hundreds of thousands of ebooks already out there. The quickest way to get a fan base is to write several books and publish them in quick succession – which is why I’m suggesting novellas! And don’t write off agents. Many of them can help you self-publish by putting you in touch with editors and cover designers and some of them work with Amazon too.

    Good luck!

    Louise x

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    • Hello, Louise!

      You have made a very good point about having more than one book to go. I have been thinking much the same thing and as I have already started work on book two (and three, actually!) I am considering whether or not to hold off until they are all almost ready so that they can be released in quick succession if I do decide to go down the self-publishing route.

      I don’t think I’m expecting much in the way of royalties, to be honest, which sounds incredibly negative and defeatist but from my contact with other writers I find that most of them have to keep the day job and earn very little from their books, even those with publishing deals!

      I think the most important thing to me is that I write the books I want to write and that someone – somewhere – reads them and actually enjoys them! That would mean the world to me.

      I also agree about the price mattering. This sounds very unfair but I definitely begrudge paying a lot of money for an ebook. I am perfectly well aware that the writer has worked very hard and I know it’s rotten, but if I’m going to spend over three pounds fifty I would rather buy a paperback version. Some Kindle books I have seen have been near enough ten pounds. I could get the hardback version at the supermarkets for that! I know it’s not a popular view among authors and I fully understand why, but I am far more likely to buy an ebook that is priced under two pounds than I am to buy one that’s near enough a fiver. Since publishers set the prices for those I know authors have no control over that issue, nor, as you point out, do they have total control over the covers. Maybe it all comes down to what exactly you want from your writing career and what’s the most important thing to you?

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment and for sharing your views with us x

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  5. Hello, Sharon.
    It seems to me that you’ve got nothing to lose now, by self-publishing. A few people have gone down that route, and still then been picked up by a publishing house. Kerry Fisher on the Romaniacs Blog this week self-pubbed, and then was approached by a commissioning editor, agent and publisher. By doing one, you’re not necessarily denying yourself a chance of the other! (If you see what I mean!)
    Have a go, do it now. As Mandy Grange said to us 18 months ago – things are changing all the time, don’t wait, you might miss the boat!
    Good luck!

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    • Aw, June, I didn’t see you there! Your comment was hidden away and I’ve only just spotted it. Sorry. It’s so nice to see you on here!

      Things have certainly worked out well for you, that’s for sure! Would you have been so confident going it alone, do you think? I mean, if you hadn’t the other three members of The New Romantics 4 would you have still self-published? Did having that additional support make the difference?

      I have heard stories of self-pubbed authors being signed on the strength of their indie novels and that self-publishing is the new slush pile…I suspect it happens rarely but I can think of a few. It’s another thing to think about, isn’t it?

      Thank you so much for dropping by. The 20s Girl, The Ghost and All That Jazz is definitely on my tbr pile. I am currently reading Adrienne’s first novel but I am working my way through the novels of all four of you!

      Sharon x

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  6. It’s a definite dilemma, Sharon, and as Julie said one that a number of the Write Romantics are having at the moment. I think there will be a few of us going down the SP route by the end of 2014, if other things don’t happen first. My first book is doing the rounds at the moment and having had a revise and resubmit from a publisher, I am waiting for the verdict on that. If it’s a ‘no’, I will do one final round of submissions and then think more seriously about SP’ing.

    For you, I wonder if there is any harm in testing the water with book 1 by submitting to publishers, whilst you continue to work on book 2? As Louise said above, having more than one book in your back catalogue might set you apart from others who have SP’ed. So perhaps there is no harm in waiting a bit to make a decision and you might well pick up a publishing deal in the mean time. If you get an offer that doesn’t seem worthwhile compared to SP, you can always say no!

    I don’t think your word count will be deal breaker if a publisher or agent loves the book, as it’s not as though you are talking 200k 🙂 Good luck whatever you decide and I’ll be checking back for an update. Jo x

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  7. Hi, Jo. Nice to see you here!

    I’d love to believe what you say about word count but my understanding was that if a publisher says 100,000 word limit that’s what they mean and 120,000 words would mean it was dismissed before they even looked at it? If you know differently I will be thrilled to bits!

    I think you’re right about waiting a bit. The trouble is, I’ve been working on this novel for two and a half years and I’m starting to feel a bit embarrassed about taking so long! Although, if I’m being really honest, it’s not exactly the same novel. It’s gone through so many rewrites and changes that I think only the characters’ names and ages have stayed the same! 🙂

    I have taken so long because I wanted to get it right, but having made the changes suggested by the NWS reader and arranged for two or three people to read and proofread for me I don’t think I can sit on it forever because I absolutely know that fear will kick in and courage will head out of the door and I’ll just look at it thinking it’s rubbish and won’t send it anywhere! The danger for me is staying a wannabe instead of actually gritting my teeth and doing it.

    Maybe the answer is to send it out to see what professionals think of it while I get on with the next one and if I’m still in the same position at the end of the year have a rethink. By then book two should have been critiqued and edited so I’ll have something else in the pipeline to follow up the first one quite quickly if I decide to self-publish.

    Guess we’ll wait and see how things pan out!

    Good luck to us – it’s a tough world out there. I’m glad I’ve got so many lovely people in the same position who are willing to chat and share their experiences with me.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Sharon x

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  8. Hi Sharon! Sorry I couldn’t reply sooner – illness etc.

    You’ve had lots of interesting comments and plenty of food for thought. Everyone is approaching the industry from a slightly different perspective, and of course, each book should be unique, so what works for one might not work for another. I’ve been writing professionally for nearly twenty years, with a break when my children were very little. I have an agent, who is still in charge of my romcoms, which were traditionally published but are now out of print. She didn’t like the new ‘fairy tale’ direction I wanted to take, so encouraged me to try the self-publishing route, as I could fit it in around my family. Since leaving graphic design, my ‘day job’ has always been my writing, because I’m also basically a housewife and stay at home mum. I know some trad published writers where writing is also their only ‘day job’ but they’re some of the most stressed individuals I know, because the pressure on them to perform is immense, and the self-promo that goes hand in hand with it all is demanding, but it’s what the publishers expect.. At the moment, I’m quite happy to be building up a fresh readership, and I’ve had some lovely feedback to my new works. I’m currently rewriting an Edwardian murder mystery which had great comments years ago from the RNA NWS, but was rejected because ‘the market wasn’t right’. I plan to self-pub this story later this year, even though it’s very different to anything I’ve published recently; it has a special place in my heart. You see, I’m a control freak, too, and I love the freedom being my own boss gives me. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to be a hybrid author, and see my books on bookshelves in the future again, but not quite yet. Not while my kids still need so much of my attention, and for stress and health reasons, too. I need to set my own deadlines. I know exactly how much I can demand from myself.

    You need to be realistic. Very few writers earn enough to give up the day job, if their partner alone can’t support the household. So, with that in mind, a major publisher will be making demands of you that will probably find you struggling to juggle it all! If I were you, I would probably a) edit the first novel again, with regard to any new feedback you receive from your readers. Be ruthless and cut out any repetition, it’s amazing how many words that can amount to. b) complete your other novel(s) while you’re waiting to hear back from your readers. When your first novel is ready, why not approach some smaller presses and publishers? Not the big ones. Some are better than others, so do your research if you can, but I think you may find they put less pressure on you. I may be wrong, but they might be more willing to nurture you and work with you to build a readership over time, rather than demand you hit the bestseller lists higher and higher with each book. Sometimes, I think the big name publishers demand impossible things of their authors. I would be nervous about approaching them.

    If by, say, the end of the year, you haven’t got anywhere with a smaller imprint, but you find you have two or three completed books under your belt, then I would go ahead and self publish. You have a lot of friends on FB and Twitter etc, who would be more than happy to help you with promotion. At the end of the day, there’s nothing like the feeling you get when someone says they loved your book, that it resonated with them, left them feeling happy and immensely glad they had read it. It’s all about making a connection with your readers. And you can do that by any medium, be it self-published or traditionally.

    Hope I have been of some help, and not confused you even further!

    Best of luck,
    love Val x

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    • No, Val, you haven’t. What you said makes perfect sense. I simply can’t afford to give up the day job and part of the reason I was looking at self publishing is because of the pressure publishers put on their authors. I love the idea of working to self imposed deadlines. I have enough stress in my life. I will perhaps send it out to some of the smaller ones but, like you, I am nervous of the bigger ones. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope everything is ok with you…oh, and I love the sound of your new book! 🙂

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