Back in 2011, I had been contemplating going over to the dark side, aka self publishing, for some time. I had a decent backlist of published and unpublished material, including a number of already edited and widely praised novels which, I was told with monotonous regularity, had only just escaped traditional publication because the editors in question ‘couldn’t carry marketing with them’. I had plays and stories. I had a significant online presence, and enough experience of business and writing to make the whole project seem feasible. And I was weary of the assumption that – as a seasoned professional with a good track record – I should still consider myself to be a humble supplicant rather than an expert in my field. It seemed essential to give myself some deadlines and I did.
So 2012 was the year when I really started to think of myself as an independent ‘writer as publisher’. The challenge has been to manage my time. But this is a familiar dilemma to all writers. We juggle the itch to write with the need to publicise, even when traditionally published, and – all too often – the day job, which helps to buy the time to write. How did we ever arrive at a situation where the writers whose work underpins the whole industry are so often bottom of the heap when it comes to payment? We have always had to do other things. Now, as writer-publishers, we have to come to terms with treating ourselves as small businesses. People either love this or hate it. I love it. And strangely enough, I’m being paid pretty regularly for what I do, courtesy of Amazon.
Several things mark my eBook year 2012. I now have a significant and growing body of work available on Amazon’s Kindle store, including four novels, two trios of short stories and several plays. The most recent novel, Ice Dancing, (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ice-Dancing-ebook/dp/B009SPH204) is an amalgam of passionate, adult love story (a coup de foudre, as one reviewer accurately describes it) Scottish village life in all its engaging but stifling reality, an intriguing elite sports background, and a heroine who, at forty, is ten years older than the hero, with all the challenges that kind of relationship brings. It also has a very dark back-story which is now far more relevant to events currently in the media than it seemed to be when I first started to write this, some ten years ago. Back then, it felt as though I were going out on a limb and although my agent at the time was comparing it to The Bridges of Madison County, ‘marketing’ thought otherwise. Sales of all my eBooks have been reasonably steady, with some low points, but with one or two inexplicable but very welcome spikes. The only certainty is that the more I get out there, the more I sell, but there seems to be little correlation between sales and anything else I do, although the occasional excellent review or recommendation will push things in the right direction.
I also spent some of 2012 taking stock of the work I had on file. That was another revelation. Not only did I find a couple of reverted backlist titles and ideas in plenty, some of them already well researched and planned, but I dug out an old box full of flimsy typescript and wondered what it was. It turned out to be a trilogy of historical novels which I had written to go with a successful trilogy of radio plays, but by the time I had finished it, my agent at the time decided that ‘nobody wants historical fiction’ so I filed it away, got on with something else, and forgot all about it. I found another old manuscript which – with a good deal of work – will be publishable. That one is magic realism set in Finland. (‘Nobody is interested in Scandinavia.’) I could go on, but that’s probably next year’s story, along with getting everything onto Kobo and the novels onto CreateSpace too, for devotees of paper.
Meanwhile, here are a few conclusions I’ve drawn.
There are some truly excellent indie novels and plays out there. This year, I’ve reviewed good books by Chris Longmuir, Bill Kirton and many others. Valerie Laws’ hilarious and perceptive Lydia Bennet’s Blog was a highlight, I loved Cally Phillips’ stories and plays, and found US author M Louisa Locke’s Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits very entertaining. All of them are books I would never have been able to read without eBook publishing. There are more – lots of them – waiting on my Kindle.
All that glitters is not gold. There are all kinds of people – and I don’t mean writers – who are anxious to jump on the eBook bandwagon, offering smooth, shiny pokes that turn out to contain the same old discourteous pigs. I have had at least one instance of that this year. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Never again.
Writers are always tempted to talk to other writers. And why not? We understand each other. Often, we like each other a lot. But readers are the people we need to connect with. How we do that, how we market successfully in a time of such change, is the real challenge. Again, that’s perhaps a thought for 2013 and an important one.
Has it all been worth it? Of course. I can honestly say that I’m happier now at my work than I have been for many years. A lot of this is thanks to Amazon and – as both reader and writer – I’m unbelievably grateful for the ease with which they have disrupted the publishing status quo. Now, I’m deep into revisions of a new novel called The Physic Garden, a literary historical novel which my ex-agency described, rather scathingly, as ‘just an old man, telling his story.’ Which is exactly what it is. The thing is, it’s rather a good story.