Submit your book to a publisher, or publish it yourself? It’s the question many writers ask. Completing a book - poetry, short stories, novel, non-fiction - takes a lot of time and effort and most of us aren’t content with leaving the manuscript, unread, in a drawer. Members of writing groups get some feedback as the work progresses but there comes a time when we feel the need for a wider range of readers.
In 2012 Pewter Rose Press published Brushstrokes, my short story collection but they rejected The Mulberry Fugue, the novel I submitted in 2014 so I decided to publish it myself. Now I’ve had experience of both methods, I’ve been asked which was preferable.
It’s exciting getting an email from a publisher accepting the work you submitted - cloud nine for a while. And then comes the editing, the negotiation between you and the publisher about what will appear on the page. Small changes, of syntax, or paragraph order etc. aren’t too difficult to make but larger ones are more tricky. I found it very difficult when asked to alter the ending of one story and wasn’t confident enough to dig in my heels.
With self publishing you make all those decisions yourself. In many ways that’s an advantage but without another eye or opinion, it can be daunting to launch your work. Any mistakes are your own. To keep costs down, I opted to proof-read and edit myself. I wouldn’t do this again. However many times you re-read, you see what you intend to be there, not what actually is. There are typos in my novel which I regret.
I had found most of them myself before the book went to print but I was unfortunate in my choice of publishing package. The guy dealing with my novel, an ex-army brigadier, was not only patronising [he spoke of ‘Ladies in writing groups who fancy seeing their work in print.’] but intransigent when it came to the timescale we’d agreed. He was, he said, too busy with a ‘much bigger project’ to allow me more time for further editing. When I suggested it was in his firm’s own interest to put out the best book we could produce between us, he informed me there wasn’t a book in print without mistakes in it.
I’d chosen a local company who publish a lifestyle magazine as well as offering publishing packages. I had heard good reports of the way they dealt with writers and also wanted the option to sort out problems face-to-face. Only after I’d signed the contract did I discover that this side of the business was now being run from another part of the country. All communication had to be by email.
These days, even well-established writers, published by the big publishing houses, are expected to take a big part in marketing their books. Many small presses aren’t able to offer much in the way of publicity and marketing opportunities. As with self-publishing, it’s down to you.
Pewter Rose made the decision about how many copies of Brushstrokes to have printed; sales amounted to about 250. I had 100 copies of The Mulberry Fugue printed, many of which were sold at the launch event I organised along with two friends whose work came out at the same time. Publicity in local Arts magazines and Amazon reviews resulted in further sales. Experience suggests that meeting the writer and hearing her read her work is one of the best way to sell books. After readings at Moorside Writers’ events later in the year, I hope to have sold them all.
The more copies of The Mulberry Fugue I had printed, the cheaper they would be per copy. It’s tempting to place a large order and hope for the best but a friend who opted for 300 copies is now wondering how she will sell them.
Using an online publishing/printing service, like Lulu, is probably a better way into print than the one I used. They will store your manuscript and print it only on demand. If you don’t want a personal service and can jump the online hurdles, this is a better option financially. Royalties on Brushstrokes are 8%; The Mulberry Fugue would only make a profit if I offered it at a price far higher than most readers would be prepared to pay.
It is good to see your words between covers. Both publisher and publishing package did a very good job making my books look attractive. In neither case was it down to me to apply for an ISBN number or arrange Amazon sales.
If I finish another book, I shall either just have it printed by a local printer, after persuading someone else to proof read it for me, or ask advice from a friend who has successfully used one of the online services. Another option would be to send out chapters, by email, to interested readers. After all, there are very good precedents for issuing fiction in instalments.