What assisted publishing did for me – a cautionary tale.
The New Year is supposed to be a time for looking forward and this January is no exception. But before I start in on 2017 I have some unfinished business from last year. Very soon my two published novels will have no presence on Amazon, until I get my head round the intricacies of self-publishing and re-launch them myself. 2016 was a demoralising year. Here’s what happened.
The year started well – by February I had completed my second novel. But my small, independent publishers declined it, citing a temporary closure of their list. Fair enough, but the novel was the second in a series; a standalone story in the same setting as the first, so difficult to attract other interest. Not to worry, though. The publishers were launching a new division, designed to bridge the gap between traditional and self-publishing, where authors would shoulder some of the publishing costs themselves. Hey, even the Brontë sisters helped finance their first publications. And I was offered a good deal. Both my novels would be published under the same umbrella, a level of consistency would be achieved in the cover design and pricing… sounded good. I signed up.
I must stress that this is purely my own experience, and I’ve thought long and hard before writing about it here. I’m certainly not saying that all companies are the same, but “assisted publishing” didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped. Who would have thought, back in those heady days of April 2016, when I submitted the final version of the manuscript – already edited and proofread – that I would still be waiting for a paperback copy in December?
Delay followed delay and assistance was in short supply, but by the end of August we were finally ready. Cue much celebration when the download went live on Amazon. But no print option and no paperbacks. September came and went. I couldn’t arrange a book signing with no books. The books were finally delivered at the end of October.
But hold the champagne. I opened a copy and discovered that the publisher had mistakenly sent the Kindle file to the printer. It had a contents page but no page numbers, and all the copyright and publishing information was at the back. Not ideal.
Ho hum. More thumb-twiddling as we waited for the reprint. Nothing but tumbleweed arrived in my inbox until finally, on 20th December, a new consignment of paperbacks arrived.Surely they’d be correct this time? Er… not quite. This time the acknowledgements page had gone AWOL.True, I have had apologies, a small amount of free Facebook advertising and a partial refund, but these are meaningless when set against the months of delays I’ve experienced. I wasn’t even able to arrange a Christmas promotion on the Kindle editions because the publisher had control of the Amazon account and they had to arrange this for me. Or they might have done if they’d responded to my repeated requests before closing the office for the holiday.
So what have I learned?
- Ask questions. Find out what’s included in the price and who is responsible for what. It can be very frustrating when your Amazon pages are administered by your publisher but they don’t respond to your emails.
- Even if you’re being assisted, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the different aspects of self-publishing. Find out what is involved with the various self-publishing and print on demand platforms so you can make informed decisions about marketing, pricing and seasonal promotions. I was ignorant of a lot of this stuff and relied too much on the publisher doing the best thing.
- You might think that, if you go with a small company, you will have all their attention. Not necessarily. Small companies don’t have huge resources, and they will concentrate their fire power on their big earners. If they overstretch themselves by taking on too many clients, you might suffer.
- Find out what happens when the contact comes to an end. If your publisher has managed to place copies with one of the big wholesale book distributors, will these be pulled when the contract finishes? Mine were.
- You only need an ISBN if you plan to make your book available to libraries and bookshops but you may be offered one as part of the publishing service. The ISBN attributed to your book is unique. But it is assigned to the publisher, which means your title can’t be distributed independently, or by any other publisher, using that ISBN. If you decide you need an ISBN, you might want to consider buying it yourself.
The contract has now been terminated and the manuscript and cover files in the process of being returned, expunged of the ISBN, barcode and all references to the publisher (which gives me another set of problems….) The whole sorry experience has taken more than ten months and it’s left a cynical aftertaste. I have been thoroughly deflated and disappointed. My writing has been affected and I seriously considering packing it all in. Glad to say I’m over that now.
Next time I’m going it alone. It can’t possibly be as bad as this…. can it?