To conclude my series on self-publishing by 'authors who have tried it' we have Debbie Edwards. Debbie has provided a fantastic, insightful and candid post about her successful venture into self-publishing.
Thank you to Debbie and all the other self-published authors who have contributed to this interesting and informative series.
DEBRA J EDWARDS,
author of the AGGIE LICHEN series.
•Type of self-publishing deal you went for and why?
Before writing stories, I wrote poems. This was also a time when I was competition crazy so when I saw a poetry competition with the prize of being included in an anthology of poems – wow! Surprise, surprise – I won and my entry was to be included in the anthology (along with 50 other ‘winners’). All I had to do was purchase as many books as possible at £12.99 … This was my first and only venture into vanity publishing! It took someone else to point out that this wasn’t quite the way things should be. Me, I just wanted to be in print!
I started writing a children’s novel in 2003 – Aggie Lichen; Pilp Collector - a story about stroppy teenage tooth fairies. As a teacher of Year 6, I had my audience right in front of me and took full advantage. They loved the characters, laughed in all the right places and, more importantly, were willing to buy it! So when it came to sending it off to agents and publishers, all found through the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, I felt fairly confident that they too would love it! How naïve! I waited and waited for replies, desperate to get home each day to see what the postman had brought. Then, at last, the replies starting coming in thick and fast;
‘Sorry, not what we are looking for …’
‘Too many fairy books around at the moment …’
Most did not leave a written reply, just a poorly photocopied slip with ‘Thank you for your submission, unfortunately an offer to represent you cannot be made at this time,’ or words to that effect. It is the worst feeling in the world and I’m not afraid to say that on more than one occasion, I cried! There were a couple of nice rejections. One from the Piccadilly Press commented that it was great fun and unique – but they still didn’t want it!
Next I decided to try a literary consultancy, Cornerstones, just to see if I really could write or if I just had a touch of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome. When they said I certainly could write, it made my day! Unfortunately I wasn’t hailed good enough to be passed onto an agent, but the advice I paid for was extremely helpful.
So what next? To recount, I had enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house and garden shed, I apparently could write very well, but not well enough for anyone to want to publish me! I suppose I could have given up there and then, but sheer determination pushed me on.
Now I have subscribed to Writer’s Magazine for a number of years and one particular time there was a series of articles about self-publishing. Not only were the articles useful, but there was also a book title given out that was ultimately to become my Bible!
‘How to Self-Publish’ by Peter Finch. This wonderful book laid everything out in detail – an idiot’s guide to self-publishing! I followed what the wise man said – I got myself some ISBNs, found a printer, sorted the cover and Bob’s your uncle -1000 books arrived on the doorstep.
I held a launch party at the local Holiday Inn in July 2005 to celebrate and promote my book – Peter Finch said it was an essential part of self-publishing!
I never really thought about POD at all. There weren’t that many around at the time anyway. I kind of saw it as a way of printing a few books whereas I wanted to sell thousands – very ambitious.
•Reasons why you chose to self-publish?
Rejection, rejection, rejection! Publishers and agents were just not interested in little old me. J K Rowling was huge and they wanted the next best seller. Like I said, I am a determined person and I was determined to unleash my writing upon the world whether it liked it or not! So the only option left to me was self-publishing. It is a decision I have never once regretted.
•Which company did you decide to use?
My printers are the very wonderful people at York Publishing Services. They have printed all of my books and are both friendly and approachable. I was even invited up to York to see the various stages a book goes through when being put together. A long way from Surrey, but nonetheless I wanted to see it all happen so travelled up to meet David Mercer the director. They even laid on lunch for me! Again – get involved, be pro-active.
YPS have a free 48 page ‘Guide to Self-Publishing’ available from their website: www.yps-publishing.co.uk.
•Did you employ any kind of editor / editing service before going to print?
No, but I was lucky because my daughter had worked as an editor for a while so she offered to look over my work. I also had other people read the manuscripts plus some children! The feedback you get varies enormously, but it all helps you to pull the perfect book together. I try to mention the people who have helped along the way in the dedication at the front of the books. It’s a little reward that’s greatly appreciated.
•Finished book quality – pleased or not?
Yes! The quality of the books has always been very good. The paper used is of a better quality than some books I see from mainstream publishers. I did have a couple of books which were misprinted i.e. the pages were all over the place. But I use them in my school talk and they go down a treat. I tell the children it could produce a better story told that way! The printers always replace any books with errors and will often throw in a few extras to make up for the inconvenience. The new covers look great too! I wasn’t sure whether to go for matt or gloss laminate, but went with matt and was really pleased with the result (another decision you have to make yourself!).
•What kind of marketing did you do and how much time is spent promoting your book?
Marketing is not something you can talk of in past tense. It is ongoing, constantly. The one thing about self-publishing is that you have to be pro-active and take every opportunity to plug your book.
When the first book was on the way I phoned every branch of Waterstone’s and Ottaker’s, asking them to stock my book. Quite a few branches did, probably around a third. W H Smith and Borders were an impossible nut to crack though. From phone calls about taking books, I moved on to emailing branches to see if I could hold book signings. I started with my local branch. They were and still are the most supportive book sellers ever and they never miss an opportunity to promote my books to would-be buyers. In other areas, I would go in on a Saturday (and still do) and wander around stores telling potential customers about my book, persuading them that it was the best thing since sliced bread. I have managed to get into a few W H Smith branches too – usually around Christmas time when I can sell up to 70 books in a day. This is a good way of getting your books moving through Gardners or Bertrams. Yes, they do ask for a huge discount, but you’re not in this for the money!
School talks are a brilliant way of selling books. I advertise them as ‘possibly free’ and email all the details to schools in the four surrounding boroughs. Possibly free – I charge £50 unless I sell 20 books then I drop the charge – after all, it’s all about book sales. Originally I didn’t make a charge at all, but then I’d turn up to find that my visit hadn’t been advertised and therefore not a single book would be sold. On one of my better visits I sold over 90 books. The signing queue was out the door and I felt like a self-published J K Rowling – amazing!
Craft fairs are another great way of getting your book out there, especially those that are held in schools. It is wise to pick your school fairs carefully i.e. I sell a lot of books at the local girl’s school fairs, but would struggle to sell them at the boy's school.
For marketing purposes I also got my printers to make up some posters (50 for £50) and had 10,000 bookmarks (£250) printed. Children love bookmarks plus it provides another form of advertising. Vistaprint are also a great company who make all sorts of offers if you buy business cards etc from them. I designed my own on their website and in return got free Christmas cards, a pack of postcards, some magnets and a printed T-shirt – all of which had pictures of my books on them!
One of the marketing ploys that backfired saw me buying canvas bags and printing the covers directly onto to them. I thought they’d go down a storm with younger girls, but ended up giving them away as ‘free gifts’ when no one bought them. On another occasion, after approaching U.S. bookstore giant Barnes & Noble, I immediately ordered 1000 labels with the price in dollars. Although they agreed to stock the book, I couldn’t find an American distributer to act as middle man. As you can see, I am both re-active and pro-active!
Every time you hold a signing at a school or a shop get the press in for some free publicity. Some papers can be a little snooty. I asked one paper to come to a local signing, but as soon as I mentioned I was self-published they said no. Most papers are quite happy to come in though.
Ebay – I’ve sold quite a few first editions through this site and charge a little more for signed firsts. At the time of writing, 14 of my books are on there for sale through other shops/sellers. It’s all free publicity again!
I have my own website www.purpleraypublishing.co.uk which has been set up by my husband. It’s basic, but has all the information a reader needs including a ‘Talk to the Author’ page where my readers leave messages for me. I bought the name through Easily and use Streamline.net for web hosting. It costs around £30 every two years to maintain the name.
Word of warning – someone has actually bought the domain name of ‘AggieLichen.com’. Presumably they were hoping to hold me to ransom over the name. Unfortunately for them, I had already decided to go with my publishing name for the website, but in a strange way, although sitting there unused, it provides more free publicity for my books. Thank you AggieLichen.com!
Bookcrossing.com is a where you leave books in a chosen spot for somebody to read. Yes, it does mean giving some books away, but by leaving a note inside the book it means the books can be tracked. Have a look at the website for further information.
Two other sites to join – Authonomy and Jacketflap. I saw these recently on another self-publishing blog and signed up straightaway. It’s free! On Authonomy (run by Harper-Collins) you can upload part of your book and members can comment on it. Jacketflap is more a place to network with like minded people.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI-BI) is another important site. It costs around £40 to join, but is invaluable for networking with other writers, illustrators, publishers, agents etc. It’s where I first saw Tracy’s Blog!
Facebook – I have met some fantastic people through this and am in contact with many authors and illustrators. It’s a great place to network and you may even get to chat to some famous authors like Eoin Colfer or Phillip Ardagh – just two of my FB friends.
•Costs versus sales revenue.
Hmmm – I did say previously that this is not a money making exercise, didn’t I? Be prepared to lay out vast sums of money to achieve your dream. Be prepared not to recoup that money for years – if ever. Still interested? It’s not about money, remember. It’s about getting your book out there!
My last batch of 1000 – reprints of my second book - cost around £2600 which works out about £2.60 per book.
Other things to remember are the costs of ISBNs – around £70 for 10 when I last bought them.
The British Library holds copies of every published book. They want yours too – free of charge and six of them!
•Cover design – did you design it yourself or use a professional?
Okay, we all know the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ don’t we? Well, in those early halcyon days I didn’t think that my book would be judged by its cover, but by its content – big mistake. I still cringe when I see my first attempt to break into the book industry. I designed it myself using word. At the time it seemed great and the boys in my class loved it because ‘We won’t buy books with fairies on the cover, miss!’ So no fairies, just a couple of large stars with the title and my name on. Like I said, big mistake. Books are indeed judged by their covers and therefore need to appeal to the masses not just a few who show some interest.
Lesson learnt I now have an illustrator who has redesigned the first book cover, reprinted 2008, and subsequently produced the covers for the other two books in the series. She’s an art graduate friend of my daughter so she comes cheap too!
•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?
Yes, I do have a pile of books in my dining room as we speak. They stop the ancient wall from crumbling in on itself and so serve a very good purpose! Seriously, I have around 1000 books at home which I use when I do school talks and craft fairs. I need to have them on hand too as I’m often asked by friends to sign a book for someone’s birthday etc. Over the past four years I have had around 7000 books go through my dining room so having just 1000 left doesn’t seem so bad! Do remember that by being pro-active the books will sell. Just don’t expect them to sell themselves – unless you are J K …
No regrets with regards to POD, after all, the wall would only fall down if I didn’t have all those books holding it up!
•Bookshops, libraries, Amazon, etc – how open are various companies to promoting self-published work?
Amazon etc - I have found my books on various websites all around the world so obviously no problem there. I love googling to see where they are on any given day and was most surprised to find them appear on the Oxfam site!
Bookstores - they can be a little precious, I have to say. When I made my numerous phone calls at the start of my venture into self-publishing, there were times when I could feel the distain in the voice at the other end.
Libraries – I have tried to get the books into the local one to no avail and did spend some time email individual libraries to see if they would buy it in. Apparently, it’s all done centrally – somewhere. I gave up on this as it took up too much time.
•Final book costs – how competitive are they in the real world?
My first two books sell for £5.99. The third, due out in July, will be priced slightly higher at £6.99. I do check out the current prices of children’s books while I am in stores although I can never compete with the 3 for 2 deals offered. However, when approached, many children/adults really like the idea of owning a book personally signed for them and will choose my book over offer books. (I do have a rather large super-dooper signature too which never fails to impress!)
•Self-publishing forever or still keen on pursuing the traditional route?
Self-publishing until I get that lucrative deal! As much as I love having total control over what I produce, it takes me away from what I love best – writing. Hopefully, my agent will secure a fabulous deal for me soon so that I can swan off on my yacht, tapping out a few hundred words per day while sipping champagne and watching the sunset. Until then, I will pound the streets selling my wares to whoever will buy them.
•If you’ve approached agents, publishers, with your self-published book, have they shown any interest, what is their reaction?
Like I said previously, agents and publishers were just not interested in me or my writing. ISBN and reported sales made no difference.
Then one day I had a brainwave – I would get someone really famous to endorse my book. Trouble was I didn’t know anyone remotely famous – unless you counted the man at the end of the road who held the world dustbin juggling record! So I looked through my huge collection of books to see who might be a good candidate, then it came to me. I had been reading a fantastic series called Faerie Wars which was written by the amazing Herbie Brennan, a multi-million international best selling author. His books were about faeries so were mine! He had portals, I had portals! With so much in common it was very likely that he’d like my book immediately and would desperately want to endorse it - but first I had to get past his agent! This was surprisingly easy. I just emailed to say that I wanted to get in touch with Herbie about a possible endorsement. She passed my details to him and the very next day I had an email from the great man himself. He said that if he liked it he would endorse it and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t – simple as that! So the book was send off to him and just a few days later I had another email from him saying how much he’d enjoyed it and that he couldn’t understand how I hadn’t been snapped up by a mainstream publisher.
Well, to make a long story even longer, Herbie knew that Quercus Books were looking for books to fill their children’s list. So on his suggestion, I sent off the book to Suzy Jenvey, the children’s book editor. Some weeks later I had an email to say thanks, but no thanks. I was stunned! Didn’t Quercus Books know who Herbie was? The great mage of fantasy had spoken and I’d been rejected – again.
It was a bolt out of the blue when, six months later, I received a second email from Suzy, now an agent with PFD Literary Agency in London. She’d remembered my book from working at Quercus and wanted to meet me with a view to signing me to the agency. AAARRRGGGHHH!! I’d waited five long years. Finally, being determined and pro-active had at last paid off.
I met up with her in December 2007 and just a week later signed a contract with the agency. I had representation at last! Yippee! We meet up every now and then for lunch, and keep in touch through email. She’s a fabulous lady!
•Why did you choose to set up your own publishing company. Are there any benefits? What does it involve that makes it different to simply self-publishing?
For starters, you get to choose your own name! Mine is PurpleRay Publishing; Purple is my favourite colour and Ray is my long suffering husband. I didn’t say it was great – I just said you get to choose your own.
You can then set up a business account with your bank through which you can keep an eye on what comes in and what goes out. You’ll get a cheque book with the name of your company so that you can pay any bills etc directly from your account. This is also useful for places like W H Smiths who pay via the BACS system.
•Pitfalls and perils – what have you learned along the way. What would you do differently?
Do back everything up! Do double check everything! I thought I’d saved all the changes I’d made to the second book and forwarded the manuscript to the printers for printing. I was so sure that it was perfect that I hardly looked at the draft book the printer sent me. ‘Print away’ I shouted and they did. It was only a few days later when I was showing the draft book to a friend that I realised that all the errors I had changed were still there. ‘Stop the press!’ Unfortunately that error cost me the tidy sum of £800 as all the pages that were wrong had to taken out by hand and the new page reinserted by hand.
•Would you recommend following the self-publishing route based on your experiences?
Absolutely! It’s amazing how much you learn doing it this way. I think every author should have to take an exam in self-publishing so that they are aware of what goes into to making a book come to life. How else would you know about ISBNs, prelims or the bastard page! Essential knowledge for all budding authors, don’t you think?
THE AGGIE LICHEN SERIES
AGGIE LICHEN; PILP COLLECTOR
Aggie Lichen faces the same dilemmas as any other thirteen year old; what to wear, how to keep out of trouble at school. But while other thirteen year olds are doing their homework or settling down to watch T.V., Aggie flits from house to house in search of prize pilps. That’s where Aggie is a little different. You see, Aggie Lichen is a pilp collector – a tooth fairy!
One nightsgritch – a tooth collecting evening – Aggie is attacked by a bright, mysterious light. Is it just a low flying glow worm or a bad tempered giant bluebottle? Or, as Aggie and her gang suspect, is it something more sinister?
Unknown to them, Aggie and her gang have just thirty days to solve the mystery and save their kind but time is not on their side … neither are the Sprites or the Grublins …
AGGIE LICHEN; PILP COLLECTOR
Heroes and heroines appear in many disguises. Some wear capes, others have masks, but rarely do they have their own wings!
Six months after saving Pilpsville from the evil Arty Granger, Aggie Lichen hopes for nothing more than a good night’s sleep and a shiny gold medal. But after her younger sister disappears, the medal still seems a long way off as Aggie and the gang are forced to face their old enemies, the sprites and the Grublins.
And word has it that Gertie Cruet’s not too pleased either ...
Aggie Lichen is no different from many other fourteen year olds. She fights with her siblings, rarely gets her homework done on time and can sometimes be just a little stroppy. But while other teenagers settle down to sleep, Aggie is clambering around under pillows, looking for pilps.
You see Aggie Lichen is no ordinary girl. She’s a pilp collector – a tooth fairy!
AGGIE LICHEN; PILP COLLECTOR
With sprites and Grublins roaming the streets
causing chaos, someone needs to restore calm
and return Pilpsville to its former glory. But with
most of the town’s inhabitants turned into
Grublin-fairies by the evil Arty Granger’s potion,
the task seems virtually impossible. A hero is
required, but where can one be found?
In a glass jar, captured by humans, lies a
Grublin-fairy. Stripped of its memories, it knows
nothing of its former life, friends or family. Yet
this pathetic little creature has a vital role to
play – and remembering its own name
could be the perfect starting point!
Agents comments: SUZY JENVEY of Peters Fraser and Dunlop Literary Agency
Why I chose to represent DEBBIE:
I decided to represent Debbie for the same reason that I pick all the authors on my list; I liked her work. Debbie’s books are playful, full of plot, and very child friendly (very much like Debbie herself). I was probably biased towards her more because a good friend of mine, the children’s author Herbie Brennan, recommended her work. With the overwhelming number of new authors approaching us every week, a personal recommendation is a signpost towards something that might be to your particular taste.
Before I became an agent I was a commissioning editor and editorial director in children’s publishing for over 20 years. During that time I commissioned several books that started life being self-published, most notably G.P. Taylor’s SHADOWMANCER, which became an international bestseller in Faber’s edition.
Committed and energetic self-published authors can do a brilliant job selling their books, but I think it is easy for those outside the publishing industry to underestimate the amount of professional work that a publisher puts into publishing new books. When you are commissioned onto a publisher’s list your book will receive the attentions of around 20 different people, ranging from designers, copyeditors and desk editors to production controllers, marketing, sales, promotion officers, rights executives, and legal and contracts managers . Each has a specialized role and knows how to protect and sell your book in their area. Even a book that has had a healthy and successful self-published life can have an entirely different profile and sales history if it has the support of this kind of team, which means that a new collection of children get to find out about it and read it. A publisher can sell your book in a much wider geographical sweep than you are likely to be able to manage on your own, both nationally and internationally, and they will also add the weight behind their imprint to giving you press attention. They can re-design and reprint the book when it needs a fresh face, and – depending on who controls your rights – they have an interest in selling your TV, radio, film, serial, electronic, dramatic, anthology and quotation rights.
I think self publishing is an excellent way to get your work noticed, and it could also be the first step in securing that elusive publishing contract. For an international profile and income from subsidiary rights, however, I would say that every author needs an established publisher to support their work.