Friday, 15 May 2009

Self-Publishing: By authors who have tried it. #2


JANET FOXLEY, author of Midsummer Legend.

It is Midsummer’s Eve, and the meerlings of Minderdale are preparing for their annual celebration. Extracts from their Legend will be read, and school-leavers will be received into the adult community. Moroc has been looking forward to it for ages. There is only one snag. Before he can come of age he has to undertake a Challenge to prove that he has the courage necessary to take his place in adult society, and Moroc has no courage at all.

• Reasons wh
y you chose to self-publish?

I chose to self-publish my first decent children’s novel (three earlier ones went in the bin) because I was advised that as a first-time author I would have difficulty getting such a long book (115,000 words) accepted. I had just retired and decided to treat myself by spending the modest lump sum of my pension on the project. I would definitely not have done it if I had not had money available that I could afford to lose, as I was sure I would not break even.

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

I had a huge amount of editorial advice from a prize-winning children’s author who at the time worked for Real Writers agency. This effectively amounted to a complete course in how to write a novel. Everything about the draft I sent her was wrong and I had to rethink and rewrite from scratch. It was she who said that although she loved the revised version it would be hard to get such a long book published.

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

I chose to use one of the companies that advertise in the writing press as I felt that finding out how to do it all myself would take up too much of my time and I had no idea how much of a hassle it might be. I sent for sample books form several advertisers and chose to go with Matador.

POD was pretty new and poor at the time and one of the reasons I chose Matador was that they used good quality litho printing. I chose to go for 1000 copies, which cost £3.30 per book and meant I could charge a reasonable cover price. Matador advised £7.99 for a 360 page paperback. With hindsight I should have cut my losses by going for a smaller print run and selling out at a loss.

Matador talked about assigning the book to a copy editor etc, but there was no sign of such work being done, and I did all detailed editing and proof reading myself. Fortunately I have an eagle eye and belong to a generation that was taught spelling and grammar. I e-mailed them the text as a Word document and in type-setting it they lost a lot of my formatting, including everything that had been in italics, so there were a lot of corrections at that stage.

Finished book quality – pleased or not?

I am pleased with the book as a whole, but a little disappointed with the cover. I supplied the image, which illustrates the opening scene of the book and is effective in making a prospective buyer want to investigate further. But Matador’s ‘designer’ put the text over it. I was shown a copy, but it was only a laser print-out, and didn’t represent the colours adequately. Had I seen a more accurate proof I would have asked for a different colour for the text, as it doesn’t stand out sufficiently against the picture.

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

I paid an extra £300 for Matador’s marketing package, so they did the sending out of advance information, review copies and press releases. I contacted local press, radio and TV, but with little success. I got a review in a small circulation newspaper, an interview in the glossy county magazine and a radio interview that went out in a late evening slot when no children would have been listening. I persuaded a few independent book-shops and the local branch of Ottakar’s (now Waterstones) to stock it for the first few weeks. Amazon lists everything ever published, and copies turn up on other websites – presumably unwanted review copies being flogged off by people who go them free. I gave free copies to local libraries and schools, and was invited to do a school visit (one school but four classes in the course of one morning – I had a sore throat for the rest of the day – how do teachers manage?)

Once the initial hook of publication has passed it is virtually impossible to whip up new interest in a book so I am no longer actively promoting it. If I get a commercial deal for my next book I shall try to push it again on the lines of ‘also by Janet Foxley…’

Costs versus sales revenue.

The whole deal, including marketing, cost about £3600. A local publisher told me he could not have got it printed for less, so I felt that the production costs were good value for money. Revenue amounted to around £900. One problem is that by the time Matador had charged for distribution I was left with a loss of £1.60 per copy on Amazon’s discounted sales. Matador held the stock for the first two years but after that I had the choice of pulping the remainder or taking delivery myself. So I now have over 500 copies at home.

Would you self-publish again?

I am going all out for commercial deals in future. Self-publishing is fine for a niche market such as local history, but fiction is too difficult to market. The media want a strong local angle or an author with a human interest story. If you’re selling your book for charity you’ll get coverage, otherwise you’ve little chance. If in a few years time I’m still without a publisher I might do it again, but I’d very definitely go for POD.

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