Monday, June 18, 2007
My Story - S. F. Jones
1) Why did you choose to self-publish and what were your expectations?
A couple of years ago I was close to securing a contract with a major publisher via an agent; however, the discussions broke down and then a few months later my agent left the publishing business. Left on my own, I found the long task of approaching new agents difficult and depressing. It was also eating up my writing time and hindering me in finishing the rest of the series (I had only written the first book of four). There was no way I was going to give up, so to keep moving forward I decided to self-publish "The Tempest" more-or-less as a marketing exercise: to get it out there, to test the water, to get some reviews, and use the web to find writing exposure. In the meantime I hoped to continue writing the rest of the books, and see where things went from there.
2) Why did you select your specific publisher?
I picked Lulu primarily because I had no money, and they required no financial outlay in advance. I was considering other PoD publishers such as Trafford, but was put off by having to shell out a minimum of £500 in advance for a "package" of very basic technical services that as a techie I was more than capable of overseeing myself for zero cost. Lulu don't hassle me with marketing emails, courtesy calls or sales calls, or allocate me a rep or middle-man to do everything for me, which would just slow down the process. They just give me the tools and advice to do the job and then let me get on with it. They offer me complete control of the entire publication, which is challenging but very rewarding.
3) How is it going so far? Are you achieving your goals?
I'm using self-publishing as an exposure tool, and I have no naive hopes of it making me a millionaire overnight. However it's already proving extremely productive, as I've been able to get some good reviews - including the one here on Pod People - and establish a web presence. Having a public face via Lulu and the web has kept me motivated and focussed on continuing to write. My goal is to be well-known for writing great historical novels; I believe that if I am any good at what I do, then I'll achieve that goal and be successful in the long term whether or not I have a mainstream publisher. I think that half of any author's success (unless they have the luck of the gods) is the willingness to persevere through all circumstances and to strike out in every possible creative direction to promote their work. Sitting meekly at home and waiting weeks for a single agent response just wasn't an option for me.
4) What advice would you give a person who has completed their manuscript and is considering self-publishing?
Think carefully about why you want to do it, and recognise that it's not a yellow brick road to fame and fortune, it's just another avenue for you to promote yourself and your work. It may bring you riches; but most probably it won't, in isolation. It's hard work. Be prepared for criticism, and be prepared to take it gracefully and act on any good advice which comes your way. The beauty about digital publishing, compared to mainstream publishing, is that you can always revise your ideas and your MS.
Recognise also that putting a book together is also extremely hard work technically, and it can take several weeks or even months. You will need patience, diligence, razor-sharp proofing skills, and an eye for layout. You will need to be tech-savy about publishing packages such as Quark and/or Adobe; if you're a technical dunce, or don't want to spend hours checking for text formatting errors in Quark (I speak from experience), then you're better off paying someone else to type-set your book. It is now possible to create a print-ready PDF straight from MS Word, but purely in my own opinion the results look less professional than a book laid out via a proper DTP package.
Ignore people who tell you that if you've resorted to self-publishing then your book was clearly "not good enough" to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Plenty of highly respected authors began by self-publishing (e.g. Alexandre Dumas, Virginia Woolfe). These days mainstream publishers are more than ever driven by profit and loss, and not necessarily by whether the book in front of them is good in its own right. If your book is genuinely awful and the MS badly presented, then yes in any event they'll never pick it up; but even if it is well-written and captures the reader from page one, if it's in a genre the publisher doesn't think is currently fashionable enough to recoup costs then they'll reject it on that count as well. They have to. Moving on to self-publishing has nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with acknowledging the current state of the market and using new publishing methods as an alternative outlet to help get your work "out there" - which presumably was your goal when you wrote the book in the first place. If your work is good, and you are persistent, then I believe that ultimately you will find success either by the independent route or by a mainstream contact subsequently latching on to what you are doing.
S. F. Jones is the author of The Tempest: Last Prayers Part 1 and a historical writer, researcher and former military re-enactor.