Where Angels Fear to Tread: the Joys and Perils of Self-Publishing

WebDon’t blow your own trumpet, I was taught. It is unseemly. Attention seeking. Narcissistic even.

Fair enough.

This is the problem though: when you’re a self-publishing author, you don’t have a wingman taking care of the brass section. Any laudatory trumpeting will have to be done by yours truly, for you are not only an author, but also a blinkered editor, a dilettante publisher, a lethargic sales manager and a goofy media liaison officer. And don’t start me on the joys of completing business activity statements…

You get the picture: there is a point where writing a novel feels like the easy bit.

They say it has never been this easy to publish. There’s a suite of fantastic software to help you along. I wrote The Best of Intentions, my debut novel, using Scrivener, formatted it with Vellum and published the paperback version using IngramSpark. A breeze, relatively speaking.

Next comes the hard bit, as your magnum opus sits quivering on those servers, waiting for the ‘demand’ part of Print-on-Demand (POD) to eventuate. But all that happens is the resounding silence of the internet.

Mind you, there’s a lot of help available for self-publishing authors these days. Just look up these names: Jane Friedman, David Gaughran, Joanna Penn. They are, in my view, the current aristocracy when it comes to advice about writing, publishing and marketing. I recommend Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer to anyone with literary inclinations or a related disorder.

Did I follow all their advice to the letter? Hmm… I imagine my gurus might take me to task for not having a mailing list facility and for not running discounts and giveaways. How’s that working for me? I admit that my old school belief that the quality of my work would somehow become apparent to the masses is not so much wishful as magical thinking…

I also started my marketing campaign way too late. For my next novel, I intend to plan the marketing campaign one year out from the expected launch date, with the first activities (such as Advance Reader Copies to garner early reviews) taking place six months out.

You do run into barriers as a self-published author. Your work is deemed ineligible for several literary awards and competitions by virtue of your business model. Newspapers, literary magazines and bookstores may reject or just ignore your approaches.

But did I have some little marketing successes since the paperback version came out seven months ago? Sure.

So far I got my novel into at least two public libraries and one local bookstore (thank you Croydon Collins). In June a group of people braved the Melbourne cold to turn up for my first author talk. And just the other day Self-Publishing Review rated my novel five stars, calling it “a powerfully moving read” and “a feast for the senses”. You can check out the full review here.

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Gilbert Van Hoeydonck’s author talk at Realm Library, Ringwood – 18 June 2019

Would I self-publish again? You bet. Marketing is a time sink, but so is pitching to publishers and agents. I retain control over my text, title, cover design, copyright, subsidiary rights, production schedule, price and distribution. I did not have to prune my 107,000-word novel down to the purely commercial 80,000-word industry benchmark. It was easy to contract in a professional editor and cover designer. My book has an unlimited shelf life and the POD model ensures there’s no unsold copies to be remaindered or destroyed. And let’s face it: there’s great artisanal pleasure in being able to produce quality work from your writing desk, start to finish, without having to involve a large publishing house.

No one said it was going to be easy, but it is deeply satisfying to hold that freshly printed book in your hands….

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And please check out my book if you love language and have a passion for social justice. You’ll find more information about The Best of Intentions on its homepage.