It’s not quite true to say that the challenges involved in self-publishing made me regret ever writing Between Heaven and Earth: A Journey With My Grandfather – but almost. I lost count of the number of times I just wanted to send my manuscript off to a traditional publisher and have done with it.
I’m not going to pretend that it was a steep but positive learning curve, worth all the headaches and heartache. Nor am I going to be glib and say that if you persevere, you’ll get there in the end. Instead, I will issue a health warning: anyone setting out on the author’s indie route for the first time is almost destined to find it far worse than they imagined.
Before diving in, I discussed the issue with a couple of friends who knew a little about literary matters. They urged me to try the old-fashioned route before succumbing to the DIY approach. So, I tried to find a literary agent. Having scoured the Writers and Artists Yearbook online and picked those that dealt in non-fiction, I wrote to about 12 of them. I received replies from three, only one whose letter was a bespoke response – but still a no-no.
I also wrote direct to a number of publishers. Not so many, perhaps five. No reply at all from any of them. I cheered myself up by reasoning that it was all to do with Covid-19 and that under normal circumstances they would have been elbowing their way towards my book.
Now another search was required: this time for an editor. Luck was on my side. A good friend of mine, who was a successful self-publisher and who proudly claimed that his book sales were significantly boosting his pension pot, recommended Jen. Jen lived on a remote Greek island, but I caught her when she was in London and we agreed to go ahead. I needed a structural editor who would stand back and advise me on which parts of the book worked and which parts needed adjusting. This she did, but she tired towards the end when ‘the religious bits’ overwhelmed her. It cost me £750. No matter, she basically did a good job and I carried on where she left off and ruthlessly shaved off whole passages that were flabby and added nothing to the narrative. I also needed to reduce the size from a hulking great 123,000 words to something more like 100,000.
After the structural editing came the close, textual editing and here Jen recommended another editor friend of hers who lived in Fremantle, Australia. Ian was painstaking in his checking and did an excellent job. Cost: £400. He put me right on the most minuscule of things: for example, coming from a journalism background, I made my speech marks double inverted commas instead of single, which they are in books. Newspapers put all numbers above nine in digits – so 10, not ten. Which is how I wrote my numbers. The ever-meticulous Ian changed the lot to match publishing norms.
So, self-publishing it had to be. Now came the issue of who to go with. Amazon, IngramSpark, Lulu. Blurb, Smashwords? The list seemed endless and their websites all claimed to provide the universal answer to the stressed-out indie author’s problems. I had no way of knowing which would best suit my purposes. It was that dark labyrinth again. I sought help and advice, but I found that while some independent authors knew discrete areas of self-publishing well, no one could give me a much-needed overview.
Instinctively, I wanted to avoid the behemoth that is Amazon, but successful self-published authors pointed out the extraordinary extent of its distribution arms, tentacles which reached all corners of the world. As I wavered, I could feel its alluring tendrils encircling me and my book. Well, dear reader, I allowed this faceless 21st-century monster to have its evil way with me. One month on from publication day, I still don’t know if I did the right thing.