Five Things I Didn’t Expect Of Self-Publishing: 1 Month In

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.

a) Paid.
b) Busy.
c) Demanding.

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.

However.

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.

Advertisements

A Q&A With Myself

Because I’ve just done the thing I always wanted to do, so I figured I’d talk to myself about it. I’m all of a quiver of excitement because, as I keep saying, having a Real Live Book is the only proper solid goal I’ve ever had in my entire life. I want to remember this day as slightly more than formatting fails and fear, so…yeah. Let me be self-indulgent and overshare.

– Doesn’t self-publishing feel like cheating in some way?

It feels a bit like I might not have published the same book as the one that would’ve come out if I’d had an agent and editor rip their way through it. In that sense, this almost feels less like cheating, because I haven’t done anything to this book to make it easier either to sell or to read, apart from the things that I consider common courtesy, like panicking about spelling and trying to keep chapters short and organised.

– What inspired this book?

Living in a castle. Even when they do have windows, the air has a very special texture, and they’re so winding and interesting you sort of don’t need to go outside. As for the rest of it? I can only say it all came together so neatly even I was surprised and confused. I don’t know what it comes from. There are a couple of scenes that I’ve always wanted to write – some of the best writing advice is ‘don’t save your good ideas for a different book’ – and so I very much wrote things I’d always wanted to in here.

– Where did you write it?

The first 60k I wrote in bed, in my bedroom, which was more of a heap of everything I’d ever owned. It was most uncomfortable, but the book carried me right away from it all. The rest of it took a long time. In March 2012 I rented a tiny office and treated working on this, and a few other things, like a proper job, working from 6.30am-3pm every day. By the time I’d finished that, I had a solid first draft…which was 140k. Obviously far too long.

After that, I saw the HarperVoyager contest which was looking for YA dystopia, amongst other things, and thought, eh, I will have a crack at it. I edited like a mad thing, hacked 20k out of the story and sent it off. They weren’t interested, but hey, it got me through the first serious polish.

Then I thought I’d try proper agents. I polished further, rewrote a few things. No dice. Then I found a handful of agents’ blogs begging people not to send them novels that started with a dream, and I thought about changing the beginning and everything again…and then I read some stuff from people who’d been accepted by agents and were thrilled about their novel coming out in Summer 2014…and I thought, no, no, I love this right now and I want it to go off and play, not have to do another round of being sold, which, besides, doesn’t sound like something this can be. And that’s okay.

So I’ve spent the last two months polishing and polishing as best I can. I’ve nowhere near the funds to employ anyone to help me polish, so I hope it’s going to suffice. I’d say I’ve been through this manuscript at least forty times, although the very last time I still found a space where a space ought not to be, so…there comes a time when, for me, it is time to put the thing aside and do the next thing. This is that time.

– Who will like this book?

I’ve no idea. *I* like this book. I love the characters. I worry that’s because I know them better than the reader will, but I’ve had a tiny handful of others read it and they seemed fond enough. It’s dark in places, there are one or two unpleasant scenes, but it’s nothing I didn’t let my mother read, and she claims to love it, but she really is saying that out of terrible bias, because she doesn’t like all kinds of awesome books that are better written than mine. I don’t even really know what to compare this to, although I haven’t been allowed to read Gormenghast; for the whole duration of my work on this because I’m told it’s bothersomely similar in places. Which is fine, and entirely unintentional on my part, because I haven’t gone near it since I was about 17, but damn, when someone tells you you can’t read something, if it doesn’t become the only thing you want to read at all, and a lot, please thanks.

– What did you cut out?

Overall, I’ve cut at least 50k. Almost all of it was adverbs and internal monologue which was repeated elsewhere. It was an exhausting process. I fear, occasionally, I cut too much, that my characters will be a bit hindered by not having all their weird exposition, but then less is almost always more with writing, so, here’s hoping. Also infinite instances of the word ‘that’, and a shedload of ellipses.

– Do you feel like you’ve fulfilled a dream?

Honestly, yes. Way more than I’d thought I would. It’s very exciting. It’s very small and I know it’s something anyone can do, I know a lot of things, but there is a thing with my name on it and it is a complete story. That’s amazing for me. Hurrah for me 🙂

– You say you could keep changing things. What else would you change?

When I wrote the first draft, for reasons best known to myself I decided to write like it was 1749, in a magnificently stupid voice which was precious close to “hast thou thine shiny things” or something, with a lot of “I cannot this” and “I shall not that” and, whilst I’m a huge proponent of keeping shall and shan’t in the English language, too much “but he is” and “she is that” is exhausting when the eye skims “he’s”, “can’t”, “won’t” etc so easily. There’s rather more left than might be sensible. I could make it all snappier. But then again, this is supposed to be on the side of archaic, and I want the speech patterns to grate and be peculiar at times. I’m not saying I made it deliberately rubbish, but I am saying that it felt odd to delete the lot in one (or even three) go(es). I don’t think I’d change any of the plot, or indeed any of the scenes.

One thing that confuses me is that, personally, I really don’t like reading books with alternating chapters. I’ve NO idea how I ended up writing one. I’m sorry about that, I want to say, because, yeah, they don’t agree with me…but there it is, there’s literally no other way I could tell this story!
 

– Are there any deleted scenes?

The book I started writing was not, well, let’s say it wasn’t a book I’d share with my mother. I realised after the initial NaNoWriMo thing, though, that that wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell, that there was a lot more going on in the world and the background, and that the story was actually about legacy and responsibility and things like that. Plus I thought I might actually like other people to read it, without having to pretend I was someone else. So I kept all the scenes, but drastically changed their content. That’s weird to think of, actually, that I didn’t really add any scenes or take any away – some got longer and more convoluted, but everything was basically there.
 

 
– Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?

I’ve a terrible feeling that if you did a timeline it’s very difficult to make everyone’s days and nights add up. I can’t tell you how hard I tried to fix that, but there came a point where I figured that it would probably be a better book if I stopped trying to mash it into a super-organised, carefully-filed place.

– Do you really think it’s good?

This is the question, really. I like it. I’ve said that. Objectively, is it brilliantly written? I don’t think so, but I think I’ve read worse writing, and I’ve read infinitely better. I think I’ve some nice turns of phrase, and there are certainly places where I’m punching above my weight, and others where it could undoubtedly be better. But this is my first book. I want to get better. I’m doing this on my own, and if I’d had a proper editor then I’m sure this would read like a more professional book. That’s not meant to be an excuse, exactly, just that it would read more as books-on-shelves read. I am proud of it, I’m nervous about whether it comes across as something worth being proud of, but it’s definitely time to put it out there and move on.

– Where can I buy it?

Oh right, yeah. UK edition, US edition.

The Pulse: Of Castles and Diamonds, Oh My*

I published my book today. If you’d like to preview/read it, you can do so here: UK edition or here US edition. Also on most international sites via the search thing, ‘The Pulse A E Shaw’ ought to do it XD

Also I have a Goodreads thing, I obsessively catalogue my reading and like to find books in all the places, so having an author account is crazy exciting. Come, add me.

The #1 thing people asked me when I said I’d a book was, ‘What’s it about?’ And even after infinite attempts to answer this question without ruining the general point of reading it, I still struggled. This should’ve been a sign that this wasn’t going to be an easily saleable thing, and it’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind for the next book. This is more of a ‘what’ book than a ‘how’, and I think that’s where the problem lies. Finding out what it’s actually about is, characters aside, the general purpose of reading this, as far as I can see at this point.

It’s also why I’m really looking forward to seeing if anyone does read it. Then they can tell me what they think it’s about. I also worry that it’s like some massive Rorschach thing – everyone will turn around and go, OMG, this is a massive metaphor for lmnop attribute about yourself that you clearly haven’t noticed (quite possibly being an only child, for example). This is perfectly possible, and I’m much more frightened of doing this than I’d thought I’d be.

I wasn’t anticipating a minor, but exceptionally irritating formatting screw-up when I first uploaded my book, so I’ve not been able to do the YAY HERE IT IS thing I wanted to do. I probably should’ve expected such a thing, because I did decide to go with inserting dividers in places, rather than just asterisking everything, but it all looked fine enough on the preview, so I went for it…and then it was annoyingly unfine. But I’m working on it. And I’ve done it now. So here’s this post. Eeeep. Hi. I’m going to try to be a real author.

*not the actual subtitle. possibly should’ve been.