What follows is Jodi Taylor’s guest blog about her path to self-publication. Jodi tried the agent route, wasn’t successful (we’re still not sure why), so published her book independently with amazing success, emerging at the end of the process with a three-book deal from an independent publisher.
Some time ago, I sat down and wrote the first sentence of my novel, Just One Damned Thing After Another.
Actually, that’s not true, because, having no idea what I was doing, I started in the middle of my book and wrote backwards, but I like a good dramatic opening.
Like many people, once I started, I couldn’t stop. The word just piled up like the contents of an elephant house whose occupants haven’t been able to get out much. The first draft totalled 123,000 words and at this point I realised I was a writer in need of help.
The Secret To Getting An Agent
Jericho Writers has asked me not to plug them, but I can’t help it. I sent them my manuscript and seriously expected a ‘Thank you for sending us your novel. It’s not really quite good enough for publication but you obviously enjoyed writing and that that’s the main thing.’
What I actually received from them was a closely packed editorial report (a bit like these ones) and tons and tons of much needed encouragement.
About six brain-boggling months later, during which I parted, weeping, with some of my best prose, my favourite characters and about thirty thousand words, I finally had something I was prepared to let the world see.
At this point, never having heard of self-publishing, I proceeded along the conventional route, sending off the required chapters to a few carefully selected agents. Three months later I repeated the procedure. And then again.
A year passed – I grew older and my cherished novel had been rejected by the biggest and best in the land. I was quietly proud.
And then (have I mentioned the importance of wine in the creative process?), during a very long lunch with very good friends, I heard of the existence of an online organisation named Smashwords.
Overcoming my deeply held belief that self-publishing is the last refuge of the talentless, I swallowed my pride, some black coffee, and got stuck in.
I got the manuscript formatted – the technically competent can easily do it for themselves – or Smashwords can supply a list of approved formatters if you wish. Total cost $54 dollars for the Smashwords format and $54 for the zipped Amazon file.
The same company also offers a range of cover design services. I chose the middle range option, sent them the blurb and told them they could be as creative as they liked. Cost $137. The result was first-class, and I’ve received some very favourable comments.
The formatted files and cover design came back within five days, I sat down at my laptop and uploaded the files to Smashwords and Amazon. It took only a couple of hours and I was led through the processes, step by simple step. I clicked ‘Send’ and, terrified at what I had unleashed, retired into a wine bottle.
And that’s it! That’s really all there is to it!
The whole process – from being persuaded to give it a go, to my book appearing on the Smashwords and Amazon lists – 6 days. As soon as they’d checked the format, Smashwords sent my book on to Apple, Nook, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and all the rest. I didn’t have to do a thing.
My life changed.
It might perhaps be clear by now that I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place, but normal life as I had known it just disappeared completely. Obsessed, I started getting up in the middle of the night to view my all my download figures.
Do not do this.
Wobbling blearily up and downstairs with a mug of tea and an open laptop is not a good idea. Trust me.
It gets even more embarrassing. Because I hadn’t got a clue what was going on, I couldn’t understand where all the reviews were coming from. According to the figures I had, apparently, only sold 3 copies and yet I had over one hundred reviews. I emailed Amazon.
A very, very kind lady gently broke the news that I was looking at the wrong column and that I had, in fact, had over 25,000 downloads.
Life changed all over again.
For a start, I had to have a good sit-down. I began to suffer separation anxiety if I couldn’t check my download figures every couple of hours. Did I mention I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place?
The book climbed steadily up the Amazon charts, reaching Number One of their Free list. I suspect this was because many people were downloading free books for their holiday reading. It never occurred to me to schedule publication to coincide with a seasonal event. That’s how dumb I am, but it makes sense. Publish a Christmas story at Christmas. By now, of course, I had to be surgically separated from my laptop.
And then – I opened my emails one morning to find the independent publisher, Accent Press, was interested in offering me a publishing contract.
The last remaining brain cell fled for the hills.
They contacted me – we liked the sound of each other – and they emailed me a draft three-book contract.
Because, even with over 65,000 downloads and over 500 reviews, I didn’t have an agent (and still don’t – what is it about me? I know I’m not normal, but I’m not that bad, surely?), I was advised to contact the Society of Authors, who were marvellous and offered excellent advice and assistance.
So my book was published in paperback on September 12th, less than 3 months after the initial Smashwords publication on June 24th.
Of course, my life is now full of deadlines, re-writes, blogs, author interview (only one, actually, but it sounds so grand. Please forgive me.), but the sequel, if I live long enough and survive the editing process, will be published around the end of November. And the third one, next year.
So, do I have any advice for fellow writers?
Well, first of all, you’ve got the write the damned thing. So knuckle down and write.
Secondly, avail yourself of the very excellent service offered by this team. I have no hesitation in saying none of this would have happened but for their superb editorial services.
Thirdly, if you can’t get an agent, it’s not the end of the world. You can do it alone. Some people prefer it that way because you have complete control over every stage of the process. Yes, there’s a lot of self-published dross out there, but there’s no reason why yours should be part of that mountain. Lack of attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling are common complaints. My scattergun approach to commas received one or two comments.
Fourthly, do set up your social media sites in advance so you won’t be caught on the hop, like me. Even now I’m still not completely sure what a Twitter is. Get to know online book clubs such as Goodreads and add your book to their lists. Join the discussions.
Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Not simultaneously, obviously.
And enjoy yourself.
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