Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Self-Publishing: By authors who have tried it. #4


, author of Jason Willow.


Jason Willow is the story of a teenager discovering he is the key to the hidden struggle between demon summoning Brethren and the Redeemer families who have hunted them down for centuries.
Jason and his family have been on the run ever since he can remember. No one would tell him why but when he begins to develop supernatural abilities the truth is revealed - Jason's father has a secret past, a previous life of wielding arcane power to destroy demons and those who summon them. As this terrifying new world opens up all around him Jason is tempted into the treacherous, deadly life his father swore to leave behind.
In an isolated abbey town Jason begins his training with a powerful Redeemer who used to work with his father. But nothing in this sanctuary is what it seems and slowly, the ripples of Jason's unlocked abilities begin to draw in the darkness that has stalked him since birth.

Through a storm of new-found power, first love and betrayal it is time for Jason to learn what it really means to "Face Your Demons"

• Reasons why you chose to self-publish?

About 5 years ago I sent an early draft of the first couple of chapters to four publishers. I’d researched the publishers well and thought my book fitted their lists. The results weren’t good:
• Collins Children’s Books – “…our publishing programme is full for the next 18 months and we are therefore not accepting any unsolicited mss…”
• Bloomsbury Children’s Books – “… sadly it isn’t quite what we are looking for…”
• The Chicken House – “… not suitable for our current publishing list…”
• Anderson Press Limited – “… don’t feel that this novel would fit our list.”

Of course, after positive and v. constructive commissioned reports from Melissa Weatherill (via and Cornerstones Literary Consultancy ( as well as lots of feedback from fellow writers on various sites, I can see the faults of those early drafts.

Anyway, as I’m a business/ICT teacher I thought I’d improve my craft, self-publish to get some sales and decent reviews (?) and build up a fevered following. Then hopefully I would become more attractive to a “real” publisher.

• Type of self-publishing deal you went for and why?

I decided to set up my own tiny publisher – The Red Button Press. This involved me buying a set of 10 ISBNs, copyrighting the name and sourcing my own printers (ie getting quotes from printers). A sixth former at my school (I teach part-time) was just starting a web design service so he designed my site.

I got quotes from about 3-4 printers and finally settled on Biddles ( They were very friendly and helpful and it was fairly easy to upload my mss and cover although I did need a program to convert to pdf. They are now even more author friendly but they have been taken over and their costs have gone up quite a lot.

I am now getting quotes for the shorter, much tighter, 2nd edition for printing in the summer as I’ve nearly sold out of the 500 1st editions.

• Did you employ any kind of editor / editing service before going to print?

My lovely and supportive wife scrutinised it with her solicitor’s eye for detail as did my equally supportive mother-in-law who is a copywriter. Despite all that, a fair few mistakes still made it through into the printed copy.

Given the money I would love to have the full mss edited in two waves – for pace, view point, description, storyline etc in the first sweep and then line edited for all those typos and (occasional!) grammar slips.

• Finished book quality – pleased or not?

Very pleased – Biddles did a great job on paper quality, print clarity, cover colours etc. Pity their prices have gone up or I’d definitely be using them again.

• What kind of marketing do you do and how much time is spent promoting your book?

Website – Only about 100 individual hits a month although about 50% of those put it in their favourites. It comes up number 1 in Google if you type in Jason Willow but as it has a lot of flash in it, searches for e.g. teenage, supernatural, fiction, demons etc don’t bring it up.

Press Releases – the launch in Nov 07 got into 3 local papers, the parish mag. and later, a local paper in North Wales where I was brought up.

Review Copies – Difficult to get it reviewed due to so many submissions. I did get a really good review in the School Librarian Magazine (summer 08) however which is a real help with credibility etc.

Direct/Face to Face – chatted to a couple of librarians and my local Waterstones manageress (Bishops Stortford). It’s on the shelves in that one branch of Waterstones and in maybe half a dozen libraries in Herts/Essex

Facebook/Bebo – I’ve set up a page/group on each of these – bit limited so far.

School Visits – only done one or two so far – hard work but very enjoyable and good sales at one.

• Costs versus sales revenue.

Rough Costs £

Printing 500 copies £1800
ISBN (10) £100
Copyright bus. Name £100
Website inc. revision £800
Website hosting £120 p.a.
Publicity Material £ 80

Revenue (so far) £1800

So I’ve made a loss of over £1000 so far but still have about 50 books in stock and hopefully built up a bit of a following for book 2 (early 2010). I try to put it in terms of missing out on eg a ski holiday for a week… good job I don’t ski really!

• Cover design – did you design yourself or use a professional?

Luckily I have a good friend who is an artist so he did the cover artwork. Then I played around in Photoshop to incorporate this into the cover.

• Have you ended up taking a self-publishing deal that has left you with a house full of unsold books and wished you went POD?

Nope – not this time. POD in the UK would have been way too expensive for my first edition… at 600 pages it would have cost about £6.70 just to print. Even the second edition runs to about 400 pages so by the time I take into account distributor/book shop discounts I’d be losing money on each book.

• Bookshops, libraries, Amazon, etc – how open are various companies to promoting self-published work?

Amazon list it as long as it’s got an ISBN but they don’t hold stock unless you use one of their schemes… more money out!
The big problem is getting stocked in Gardners or Bertrams – bookshops big and small like to order through them which originally meant they would pass the order to me, I’d pay Royal Mail rates to post it to them, then they’d post it to the shop. All that meant I had to add a postage surcharge which wasn’t good for sales.

• Final book costs – how competitive are they in the real world?

£6.99 selling price which is common for Y/A novels. I make maybe 30p or 40p on each book depending on distribution channel – Brynteg Books (my distributor), Amazon or website (PayPal).

• Self-publishing forever or still keen on pursuing the traditional route?

Still seeing self-publishing as a means to getting real publisher interest – as I said, hone my craft through various means, get a following, sell out!

• If you’ve approached agents, publishers, with your self-published book, have they shown any interest, what is their reaction?

I’ve only approached one agency since 2004 (when I sent off my early draft to those four publishers) and unfortunately it didn’t “grab her by the throat”. I’ve only sent it out once because the 2nd draft is not quite finished yet and I think it’s much better so I’m waiting until I can send samples of that out.

• Pitfalls and perils – what have you learned along the way. What would you do differently?

At least get it line edited (copy edited? I’m sure I should know the correct term by now!) if you can afford it. Some early input from the likes of Cornerstones would be advisable as well.

• Would you recommend following the self-publishing route based on your experiences?

I’ve really enjoyed it – even though I’m juggling a big, fabulous family, part time teaching, running a tiny business and trying to be a world famous author. I feel I’m chasing the dream from two directions – slowly building a following from a book I’m really proud of yet improving my writing all the time.
It’s not cheap but if your family are OK with holidaying in Wales with Grandma instead of somewhere a little more exotic for a year or two then perhaps it becomes more affordable.

If you’d like to find out more, have a look at
Where’s the Next Jason Willow Facebook group.

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