Thursday, 23 July 2015

Guest Post: Self-Publishing: As Easy as....... by Elaine Spires

Thank you so much for having me as your guest blogger today!

During the late 1990s and early 2000s I wrote several plays.  I was a regular member of the Anna Scher Theatre at that time and Anna, the most wonderful, supportive teacher and friend, always encouraged us to write and put on plays during the weekly sessions, the best of which were then performed in the Festival of Plays at the end of each term.  I discovered I loved writing plays; I found them easy because I've always felt I can write convincing dialogue, whereas I struggle more with descriptive prose.

For most of my adult life my relationship with food has been an unhealthy one.  I am an emotional eater; food has been my drug of choice.  So in 2005 I decided to write a play about a compulsive over-eater and so What's Eating Me was born.  The play follows morbidly obese Eileen Holloway as she goes on a life-changing reality TV series, Barbara's Beautiful Bodies and how she deals with the aftermath of celebrity once the cameras stop rolling.  I performed the play on the London and Edinburgh Fringes and was over-joyed at how well received it was.

Once the play was over, the usual feelings of post-show-anti-climax came, but it was more than that.  I didn't want to let go of Eileen.  And so, after a long time of indecision, of humming and haaing over whether I should perform it again as a play or take it on tour, I decided to turn the play into a novel and a year later it was written.  Then came the big question.......What do I do with it now?  It seemed to me I was faced with two options - either send it out to publishers and wait for their (probably) rejection letters or self-publish.  One of the problems I had with sending it to publishers is that they are quite specific about the types of book they will accept.  Back then, it was 2008/9, everyone seemed to be publishing chick-lit.  Or romance.  Or adventure.  Or thrillers.  Or sci-fi.  Or erotica.  My little book didn't fall into any one of those categories.

So, I decided to self-publish.  I did so through Lulu, which was relatively painless, later publishing it on Kindle, too.  The biggest problem for me was the technical stuff; the actual up-loading of the book and its cover.  I am an absolute technophobe and the 'simple steps' to follow were up a steep, twisting, icy pathway for me and took me ages to complete.  The cover was a nightmare and now, looking back, the first cover I had looked quite amateurish and just a bit garish.  I have since self-published four more novels, two books of short stories and two novellas.

You see, self-publishing is easy.  The difficult part is self-promotion.  Yes, I know, don't tell me!  E L James has ended up a multi-millionaire after initially self-publishing Fifty Shades of Grey as an e-book and promoting it through social media.  She is the once-in-a-generation success story.  Getting your book out there takes loads of time, a considerable amount of money and Herculean effort.  How do you compete with the publishing houses?  How do you compete with the thousands of other indie authors who are vying to get their books noticed?

I wish I had the answer.  When I've put my books out as freebies for a day or so, I have actually made it to No 1 of the Amazon humorous list and Amazon contemporary women's literature list for free books.  Not quite the same as reaching No 1 on the Amazon Best-Sellers list and making lots of lovely money in the process.  But, it is a step forward.  Recently just over five hundred people downloaded Singles' Holiday when it was on free-offer over the weekend.  Twelve of them, so far, have gone on to buy the sequels, Singles and Spice and Single All The Way.  I hope that before long the other four hundred and ninety will do the same.

Self-publishing can be very lonely, too.  First of all, writing itself is a lonely life.  I don't know about other writers but I spend my time alone in front of the keyboard, coffee constantly being refilled, Radio Two playing softly in the background dreading, yet at the same time sometimes wishing for a distraction in the form of a phone call or even the postman ringing the doorbell with a wad of junk-mail he can't get through the letter box.  With no editor to report to or liaise with or to support me and back me up, I often feel completely alone.

I have to be honest and say that I sometimes find it hard when I see other self-published authors being given two or three book deals by publishers, or when I read a conventionally-published book that's climbing up the charts that I don't like.  It is hard not to be envious.  I hope it doesn't sound conceited to admit that I sometimes say 'Why her and not me?  My books are good!'

However, then I hear horror stories of how editors and publishers don't allow authors to give their books the endings they want or decide to change the format or storyline and I'm not sure quite how I would handle that.  Walking into W H Smith's and seeing my books laid out in a huge display would be a dream come true, of course it would.  Not just to feed my ego but also to feed my bank balance because I have this terrible habit of paying rent once a month and eating every day.  But then, if I were to be given a book deal, would my books and my characters and my stories still be my own?  Would I have total autonomy over my work?  Hmm!  Honest answer?  I'd love to be given the chance to find out and feel what it's like.

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