At the start of this year I knew absolutely nothing about e-books. And like most conventionally published writers (as Clare Pollard I have four poetry collections published by Bloodaxe, and a play by Faber), I was suspicious of the self-publishing industry, and suspected that those who encouraged it were usually preying on authors hopes and dreams to make money. I would never have guessed that within a couple of months I’d have self-published myself.
The thing is, though, I’m curious. I like to try new things and know what’s going on. In the New Year there were suddenly thousands of articles in the papers about self-publishing, full of dazzling figures: previously rejected authors were becoming millionaires, royalties went as high as 70%, average self-published authors made £6000… And as a creative writing tutor, I found a lot of my students asking me about self-publishing. Was it easy? Could you make any money? Was it respectable? I happened to have a children’s book in the drawer I had written in a month and never done anything with – The Discoveries of Delilah Dark, about a sarcastic young psychic – so I decided, as an experiment, to put it online under a pseudonym: Evie Glass.
As ever in life (I am a woman of enthusiasms) I threw myself into this new world. Uploading the book onto Amazon was surprisingly easy and satisfying: just a couple of hours and there I was, published in one of the biggest bookstores in the world. I pored over the forums and followed their advice: joined in the conversation, got in contact with book bloggers, did online interviews, set up a twitter account and facebook page, responded to feedback with some tweaks and edits to the book, went on Authonomy, joined KDP and gave away freebies, blogged on YA heroines on For Book’s Sake, began regularly reviewing children’s ebooks, wrote a second book…
And, well? What are my conclusions? I don’t know if it’s my genre, but I have to say that (ignoring the freebies) I’ve sold disappointingly few downloads – way less than the so-called ‘average’ self-published author, and I do wonder whether those figures have now altered dramatically in the deluge of self-published books that have arrived on Amazon this year. Or whether a lot of self-published writers just lie, inflating their figures in forums. I’ve also come to the conclusion that self-promotion is a waste of time: the only result of all those hours I put in was to make me feel a bit grubby. My sales never went up in the slightest after a single blog-post, review or interview.
However, I’ve still enjoyed my adventures in indie publishing. I like DIY. I’m interested that people are challenging the dominant agency model. I enjoyed having control over everything from the cover to the price. I feel I’ve learnt a huge amount about everything from formatting to Author Central. Although readers of my Delilah Dark books might be a select bunch, I’ve also had some brilliantly enthusiastic letters from both children and adults who’ve loved my cynical psychic. It’s because of this I’m currently completing the trilogy, and hope to have the last book out by the end of the year: I feel owe it to Delilah and her small bunch of fans to finish the story.
I’ve also been blown away by the quality of some of the indie children’s books I’ve read as a reviewer for this website. The truth is there are lots of writers out there who deserve to be published, who’ve worked hard on their craft and are simply sick of constant rejection. Getting conventionally published is harder than ever, and every writer wants an audience. If we left it to the big publishers, 95% of the indie books online would end up unread in drawers, and I happen to think that’s very sad and wasteful. Who can blame people who are constantly told their work is good but ‘not quite marketable’ for trying to find their own market?
There is a history of great writers publishing their own work – Shelley, Blake, Whitman, Woolf. They were often brave books, which is what we need right now. So I can see self-publishing becoming respectable again – although the world is, of course, also full of sharks. Even The Guardian now is offering expensive courses on self-publishing, whilst I see e-book packages offered in magazines for over £1000. Don’t do it: one of the exciting things about this revolution is that it’s currently free to participate, and you’re unlikely to see that money back.
Still: if you go into self-publishing with realistic expectations there is fun to be had, and there are also radical possibilities – I’ve been particularly impressed with genre-breaking releases, where people publish single essays, brief plays or individual short stories (like our own Cally Phillips’ No Labels project). After the final Delilah Dark I plan to hang up my indie alter-ego for a while, but if I do self-publish again it’s the idea of such a project that would tempt me back.
In the meantime, Bloodaxe has finally published one of my poetry collections, Changeling, as an ebook. Seems like 2012 was the year I went digital.
Evie Glass aka Clare Pollard