Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is Self-Publishing Worth It?

It’s true that the hardest thing to do for any writer is to have their work published. With thousands of manuscripts flooding the desks of literary agents across the globe every month, seeing your word in print can be the most challenging aspect to any writer. I myself was one of these, and although fortunate to have a literary agent, the first manuscript I wrote still failed to place with any publishers. So, in the grand scheme of things, it can become even more difficult to get your work published than you may think. As authors, we all share a belief that our work is good enough for others to read, whether it be family members or the wider reading community. We like to think that our work can entertain at least someone out there willing to give it a chance.
     For any new author attempting to have a work noticed, you have to place yourself in the publisher’s position. What makes your work stand out? What makes you stand out against the other submissions from new authors? Why should the publisher invest in you?
     After some sound advice I took it upon myself to answer these questions. I did it the long way around, but anyone who’s prepared to put the work in has every chance of getting published, as long as the effort is there.
     I started by self-publishing my first book, The Dark Army. I took out a basic package which meant no extras or anything else, and had the book published on a print-on-demand basis. There in was the first step I took to becoming an author. With an actual, physical book in my hands, there was a product I could market. I knew that if I could draw attention to the book I could at least show people it was out there and available. Back at the beginning, my first book was aimed at a younger market, 10 +, so I bombarded my local schools with information and offers of signings, talks, assemblies, that kind of thing. One thing I learned about the schools was that it didn’t matter about my name, if you have a book with your name on it, to my target audience at least, I was as famous as any top named author. Book signings went well, the local press became involved, and the basic website I had created back then was receiving hits and emails. I also gained my home county of Northamptonshire, UK ,some interest as this was where my book was set. My first piece of advice to any writers looking to get published is to know your target audience. Know who to sell the book to, and have a plan about doing it. You’ll find that if you can appeal to those who may be interested in your book, people will help you. My first two books and the subsequent trilogy edition all involved characters that were animals, and could be found in rural England, and I found that many wildlife charities and organisations were more than happy to help because I portrayed the wildlife in a positive way. This in turn reached an even further audience of readers, as anyone affiliated with these organisations were already interested in wildlife which helped my cause.
     With a small legion of fans emailing me to see if another book in the series would be written, I decided to write the second, which I called The Beast, and again published it myself through print-on-demand. This time I had an author foreword from an author more established than myself, and this came about through social networking. A basic book page on Facebook to this day only holds approximately 66 likes, but the reach to others sometimes strays to a much further audience. Friends of your fans can also see your book page, and anything you write. So, with a second book and a fantastic foreword, I did the same again, hit the schools, assemblies, same old same old, only this time had something different to offer. A good friend I met from a wildlife organisation that cares for many breeds of owl accompanied me on these trips. He would bring some of his birds to display and talk about, and as there were owls in my Tales of Averon books, would go on to explain the differences between the fiction I wrote and the facts of how they lived and behaved in reality. This generated more interest, and was now appealing to an older audience, especially locally, as people were reading my books that were based near their homes.
     Upon completing the third instalment in my series, my literary agent submitted the manuscript to publishers, and it placed. Not only did it place, but it won the publisher’s prestigious prize award for that year (2012). As the rights to the first two books still solely belonged to me, as they were print-on-demand publications, the publisher took all three instalments and released it as a trilogy edition.
     With this achievement I entered an international competition to finish a Science Fiction title, and I co-won the honour with another author. I also wrote my first horror manuscript which placed with a different publisher.
     I strongly believe that these achievements were down to hard work and determination. I spent a year and a half hitting the road, marketing my book, holding talks and writing workshops, speaking to my target audience, chasing the local press, being involved with organisations, and doing this around the commitment to my day job. It was tough and draining at times, but I achieved in getting my work out there and published.
I believe that if any unpublished author feels so strongly about their work, and believe it is truly a work that readers will like, to go ahead, print the work and market it yourself. Make a name for yourself. Show that you are prepared to work hard to do so. That book that you put out there could lead to greater opportunities down the line. When I first started, the publisher reviewing my work asked; “Who is Alan Keen? What has he published? Why should we publish his work?” the answers were “A new author, nothing previous, no notable achievements.” You see where I’m going? Having a product and marketing it can help raise your profile, and help you become recognised if you should attempt to publish works afterwards. A simple website I created put me in touch with a readership and social networking allowed me to speak to readers and fellow authors. Knowing my target audience and researching how to utilise promotion to appeal to them was key. For me, the best place to promote these books to begin with was schools. I’ve since found that as the books appealed to adults too, the best place to reach them was through reading clubs and workshops. It’s just a case of thinking outside the box. The opportunities are there, you just have to chase them.
So, in conclusion, to any authors looking to get a book published, my advice would be this; if you can’t get literary representation or cannot place your book, do it yourself. Know your target audience, research thoroughly and explore every avenue on how to reach them. This can be a very creative process on the author’s behalf, so be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time researching this. Never underestimate the power of local contacts. Your local bookshop is also a great place to market, whether it be for stock of your title or book signings. Again, local authors also help the shop to thrive. I’ve often found that book shops are great to mingle, as everyone who enters usually enjoy reading. Having the opportunity to speak to an author can, at times, be unique, and if you engage with anyone interested in you, they usually leave with a copy of your book. Libraries will welcome their local authors and usually encourage them to participate in events, and local press are usually happy to promote a local author in the interest of the area. Hold competitions and offer your book as a prize. If you manage to get a book signing somewhere, entice your customers. Book marks are relatively inexpensive and can be custom created, so why not offer a free one with every book purchase?
Self-publishing, hard work and determination can start the ball rolling on raising a profile. The book you promote may not be the book that gets you the representation, but it will raise your profile if you do the research and invest the time to do so. I followed this sound advice and I’m very glad that I did so.

Alan (A.M.) Keen


Rutchie said...

Upon reading this article, I was really engaged by how you started as a self-publisher, work hard and become what you are now. Self-publishing is very challenging because you have to do all the work that's why you're right when you said that hard work and determination is the key.

You're just a few of the stories I know who succeeded in the self-publishing route. I think it's worthy that you self-published first.

linda_rettstatt said...

I admire those who have self-published and done it well. I, myself, enjoy having my books go through a publisher and the full editing process that's applied. Not to mention to promotional aspects. Publishing is wide open today and there's not so much a right or wrong way to pursue it. But I've seen many self-pubbed books that seem to have missed a few steps in the process and I think that makes it difficult for self-published authors to gain credibility. I'm glad you were successful in your endeavor.

Alan Keen said...

Absolutely, i agree that self published titles do tend to miss out on many options that a traditionally published title does and come with a stigma attached to them. No book store would stock my first book, no one would review it, and it was incredibly difficult to get it looked over with any seriousness. What it allowed me to do though was create a product that showcased what i could create, and that opened the door later on for the traditional published books i wrote. It is an incredibly difficult process but i think for any potential author this is a step forward in gaining literary representation in the long run. Thank you for reading my thoughts, and your kind words