Friday, 22 August 2014

Why I don't want to self-publish again

(Kate Wilson of the wonderful Nosy Crow asked me to write a guest post for her on my experiences of self-publishing as a published author. For your info, she didn't know what those experiences were, so there was no direction or expectation. I have re-posted it here, with permission. Note that this is personal experience, not advice.)

Many writers, previously published or not, talk excitedly about why they enjoy self-publishing. Let me tell you why I don’t.

I’ve self-published (only as ebooks) three of my previously published YA novels and three adult non-fiction titles which hadn’t been published before. From these books I make a welcome income of around £250 a month – a figure that is remarkably constant. So, why have I not enjoyed it and why won’t I do it again?

It’s damned hard to sell fiction! (Over 90% of that £250 is from the non-fiction titles.) Publishers know this. They also know that high sales are not always about “quality”, which is precisely why very good novels can be rejected over and over. Non-fiction is easier because it’s easy to find your readers and for them to find your book. Take my book about writing a synopsis, for example; anyone looking for a book on writing a synopsis will Google “books on writing a synopsis” and, hey presto, Write a Great Synopsis appears. But if someone wants a novel, the chances of finding mine out of the available eleventy million are slim. This despite the fact that they had fab reviews and a few awards from their former lives.

But some novels do sell well. So why don’t mine? Because I do absolutely nothing to sell them. Why not? Well, this is the point. Several points.

First, time. I am too busy with other writing and public-speaking but, even if I weren’t, the necessary marketing takes far too long (for me) and goes on for too long after publication: the very time when I want to be writing another one. This is precisely why publishers tend only to work on publicity for a short while after publication: they have other books to work on. We may moan but it has to be like that – unless a book does phenomenally well at first, you have to keep working at selling it.

Second, I dislike the stuff I’d have to do to sell more books. Now, this is where you start leaping up and down saying, “But published authors have to do that, too!” Yes, and I do, but it’s different. When a publisher has invested money because they believe in your book, you obviously want to help them sell it. But when the only person who has actually committed any money is you, the selling part feels different. It’s a case of “I love my book so much that I published it – now you need to believe in me enough to buy it.” I can’t do it. Maybe I don’t believe in myself enough. Fine. I think books need more than the author believing in them. The author might be right and the book be fabulous, but I tend to be distrustful of strangers telling me they are wonderful so why should I expect others to believe me if I say I am? And I don’t want to spend time on forums just to sell more books.

Third, I love being part of a team. Yes, I’ve had my share of frustrating experiences in the course of 100 or so published books, but I enjoy the teamwork – even though I’m an introvert who loves working alone in a shed; I love the fact that other people put money and time and passion into selling my book. It gives me confidence and support. They won’t make money if they don’t sell my book and I still like and trust that model.

And I especially love that once I’ve written it and done my bit for the publicity machine and done the best I can for my book, I can let it go and write another.

See, I’m a writer, not a publisher. I may love control – the usual reason given for self-publishing – but I mostly want control over my words, not the rest. (That control, by the way, is never lost to a good editor, and I’ve been lucky with genius editors.) So, yes, I am pleased with the money I’ve earned from self-publishing and I love what I’ve learnt about the whole process, but now I’m going back to where I am happy to do battle for real control: my keyboard.

It’s all I want to do.

Nicola Morgan has written about 100 books, with half a dozen "traditional" publishers of various sizes from tiny to huge. She is a former chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland and advises hard-working writers on becoming and staying published, and on the marketing/publicity/events/behaviour that goes along with that.

She has also just created BRAIN STICKS, an original and huuuuuuge set of teaching resources about the brain and mental health.


Heather Dyer said...

Interesting - thanks for sharing your experience. I think I'd feel the same. Fiction must be difficult to promote, but encouraging that you have had more success with the non-fiction.

Penny Dolan said...

Given the surge in e-publishing, it's good to have your perspective and experience here, Nicola.

Selling is complicated & hard work when it's you/your words that are being out up there as the product, especially in the "cheap to everyone is good" climate.

catdownunder said...

I have always been amazed that people can self-publish with so much confidence - or at least that they appear to do that. I have some idea how much work you put into your self-published books from reading your blog (and then the books)but some people seem to go ahead and self-publish and e-publish with great confidence that they are doing the right thing. Perhaps they are. Even if I thought I had something which was good enough - and at very least I would want it to be professionally edited - I don't know enough about all the other aspects of production and I couldn't begin to publicise something that didn't have professional endorsement.
I know I will probably end up not published and some people may say that is a good thing too!

Nick Green said...

I am completely with you on the self-promotion thing. It is so much more psychologically agreeable to be part of a team, promoting that effort, than to be a solo act and (effectively) boasting in the hope of cash. It makes me cringe, which is why I do so little myself, despite being only self-published these days, or as good as.

It's not just the vast reserves of time and energy it uses up. It's also strangely futile-seeming. Who in their right mind would be swayed by anyone's self-promotion? All you can hope is that some avid fan will become obsessed and go and spread the word for you. (If you're reading this, you know who you are...)

Nicola Morgan said...

Nick, my feelings absolutely.

Another point I should have made, or more clearly, is that if you just have one book or at least one sort of book/genre, it's a whole load easier. But I write lots of different things and there just isn't time in the day to keep marketing them all.

Nick Green said...

p.s. Catdownunder, why not give kindle publishing a go? For me, it's something I've learned as I've gone along. Self-doubt and self-criticism are assets, not obstacles - far worse are the books by those who lack any self-doubt whatsoever.

I know I seem to be critical of the whole process, but it's a lot better than nothing.

Stroppy Author said...

Totally, 100% agree, Nicola. And it's the knowledge that I wouldn't do any promotion that has led me not to self-publish even things that were traditionally published and have gone out of print. If I wanted to do promotion, I'd work in marketing (or whichever department does the promotion). i don't, I want to write - so the marketing people can do the marketing and be good at it and I'll do what I'm good at and let them get on with it.

catdownunder said...

Nice thought Nick but anything I wrote would still need professional editing and the rest would be a very steep learning curve. Nicola already knew a lot about the business and it was an enormous amount of work for her. I know nothing.
I just write because I feel compelled to do so. It doesn't mean it is good enough to publish in any form without professional input.