I approached self-publishing on Amazon with a great deal of naivety and a minimum amount of research. This is largely because I had hoped to score a ‘proper’ publishing deal in the first instance, convinced that my book was fantastic. Fantastic it may be, but tbh, I can’t tell you why, and if I, the person who not only knows every damn word of the book but the person who made up every word of that book, cannot explain to you why it’s great, I certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to do it. And that was the main reason I backed away from querying pretty quick – that and the double handful of form rejections from agents who sounded like they ought to adore my writing. There’s a whole other post about that time, but not now.
This is, and I’m telling myself as much as you, because damnit, I love a tangent, about the things that have surprised me most in the month since I’ve thrown my novel, The Pulse, at the world’s Kindles/iPads and hoped that they’ would notice.
1. It’s not easy to be reviewed.
Having internetted since before the Internet was even universally called that, I had assumed there’d be plenty of reviewers around who would, in exchange for a free copy, read my book and write a paragraph or two about what they thought of it. This, I’d hoped would help me get over that ‘I’ve no idea how to sell this book’ thing I’ve just described.
I was incredibly surprised, therefore, to find that, in at least rounds one and two of Google-fu, book reviewing bloggers appear to come in three types.
Now I am in no, no way whatsoever questioning their right to be any of those things, not at all, for the nice thing with the internet is that we can all do things however we like, and a fact about being good at something is that it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by requests to do it more, and, as in #3, reading doesn’t happen in an instant, so one must find ways to be selective in order to maintain a decent blog, I understand this.
There is literally no way on this earth I’m going to write a formal query letter along with a short essay about myself and enclose a writing C.V. to anyone to get them to review my book. I’m also not even slightly at all whatsoever going to pay them to do it, or, worse, pay an agency to allow me to submit the opportunity to pitch at bloggers (I had never imagined these sites existed before, oh sweet stupid me).
I was really hoping to find enthusiastic, speedy readers with a reasonable circle of friends or followers or whatever, who were open to free stuff and had the time to have at it. I am so confused by the entire industry that seems to exist at the forefront of self-published novel reviewing. I’m also slightly gutted that I didn’t get in on it at the ground floor XD I have often reviewed things people have sent me through my but I’ve no idea how they found me, and, maybe I’m being too British here, feel a bit odd at the idea of simply randomly contacting people I don’t know.
Part of my research involved looking up a few self-published authors I don’t know personally, but whose books I have found and read one way or another, and seeing what they’d done. Seeing that most of them have used these, in cases, exceptionally high-cost services makes me think that they must work for the right book, but they seem, with a bit of further research, to be so high-risk that even if I had $200 to subscribe to this or sign up for that, I just wouldn’t.
I realise there are two different things here – companies offering mailshots and large scale contacts, and individuals who are established and high traffic, but in both cases I saw so very many examples of sites clogged with fellow self-published writers trying to get in the door, rather than enthusiastic readers engaging with what had been said or thanking said sites for the rec or just…any kind of interaction you might hope to see around a book.
The biggest surprise of all was, as I say, how difficult it seems to be to find a blogger who isn’t as difficult to get to (if not, in a few cases, much harder) than a professional agent. Have I missed something? Do, please, let me know. And if you’re the kind of review blogger I’ve missed, and you’d like a copy, hit me up with the contact form at the bottom of this post XD
This is all very much a work in progress, and, to be fair, I didn’t expect to find all the solutions to all these things immediately. Again, I could’ve made things a lot easier on myself by having that more commercial, describable novel, but hey. And in the meantime I do have a fine new site reviewing my book, for which I am stunningly grateful and excited, so there are, I’m sure, many things I’ve missed and overlooked and just plain failed at…I do hope so. I really do. It’s slightly scary out here.
2. There are new levels of awkward between you and your loved ones for ages.
Everything is scary and congratulations have never made me more stressed. An example: my mother kept telling people about it. Everyone, naturally, said they wanted to read it – even before they asked what it was about. And then they asked what it was about, and see my lead-in paragraph for the issues there.
YA novels, especially specific, non-romantic ones like mine are not for everyone. My 72-year-old godmother who adores romance novels featuring sickening ladies in heavily-curtained 1880s drawing rooms might, might suddenly find herself fascinated by my world and word-power…but I doubt it. And that’s okay. That’s fine. It’s incredibly nice that people that know me (or even just my mum) want to read my story, but when you know it’s ‘not their usual sort of thing’ there’s that heavy dread and fearful smile I apparently instinctively synchronise at such points, where I say, “Oh, you don’t have to…” and “That’s lovely, let me know what you think…” knowing full well that either they won’t get around to it but will keep telling you they’re going to for the foreseeable, meaning that we have to have this difficult conversation every time we meet for ages.
This brings me to: 3. There is no immediate gratification in a 105,000-word novel.
Not everyone reads books as quickly and fervently as I do. Not least because not everyone can decide to read all night, or all morning, or all anything unless they’re on a very specific kind of holiday. One of the things that validates my life choices even a bit is how much I love being able to read nearly whenever I want to, as long as, at some point in the week, I do all the things I must. But I digress – the point is, it takes a long, long time for people to get through the book. If they make it through. Which, if your book is as slow and peculiar as mine is at the beginning, they may just not. Which is fine too, except then there’s that whole time when all you can think of when interacting with someone is BUT WHAT DID YOU THINK OF MY BOOK and you cannot, cannot ever ask this because either a) there’s that conversation about how they haven’t got around to it/got that far with it yet because damnit they are a proper human with a life and things that mean they can’t just sit and read even if they really want to, or because b) they’re just not that into it and they’re going to persevere because they care and it’s alright, sure, but they have limited reading time and you can’t plough through a book when you’re not in the mood because that’s what we all had to do at school and perfectly decent and indeed important works of literature have suffered terribly for this.
So you wait. And hope. And wait some more.
Until…4. It still doesn’t feel any different at all from the way I imagined having a real print book deal would.
I wondered if I would get over that feeling early on, but I haven’t, not yet. Because when someone tweets you and says things like “I kinda want someone to put Aiden in his place” or “I just shouted ‘Nooo!’ so loud I startled my cat”, you don’t go, “Oh, thanks, but it’s only an ebook” or think about the format in which they’re ingesting your words at all, no, you just – or I just – wibble and think omg I did this all wrapped up in a peculiar amount of pride.
It’s true that, when coming across #1, I thought a fair few times about how nice it would be to have someone else financially invested sufficiently to go out there and sell my book to people for me, but then again, I still have a great sense of value in that thing – at least it’s exactly, completely, 100% all me. And it definitely wouldn’t have been if it had been ‘properly’ published. For better or worse, it’s all my own stuff.
5. Word-of-mouth is your best, best, best friend.
If one person who has actually read your book and liked it tells someone else to buy it, that is literally the best thing that has ever happened and you just want to go and buy them a pint (which, comically, costs at least twice as much as the book) and dance in the streets because there is no higher compliment, to my mind, than convincing someone else to get a book you’ve enjoyed. It’s the greatest display of confidence you can share in something, and it’s the finest ‘proof’, if proof can be had, that they’re not lying about having liked it. It’s lovely. And it makes me work much harder myself to share, review and lend things I’ve loved reading or listening to with anyone I think might share my feelings. Share, people. It’s wonderful.