It’s been just over a month since Chris Thomas burst onto the literary scene in a blaze of Tweets, Facebook posts and general bothering of everyone I know until they bought a copy of my debut novel The Red Room. Or at least made enough of a hint that they would buy it so that I left them alone.
I would like to say that the month since release has been a whirlwind of excitement, media appearances, interviews and five star reviews from bloggers. But I can’t (although I did go on local radio!). In reality, what the last month has been is a demonstration of just how hard self-publishing is. And I thought I was quite well prepared for it.
The Top 10… for a bit
The first thing that hit me was that Amazon rankings can fall as well as rise. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that the heady position of number 9 in a fairly specific sub-category Amazon was down to anything other than a flurry of friends and family buying it on the first couple of days. Or that being in a ‘Top 10’ would imminently lead to being short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. But when it began to drop down into the 20s, then 50s, even 100s, you cannot help but get a small sinking feeling that your book is slowly disappearing, end-of-Toy-Story-3-style, into an abyss of literary failure never to be seen again.
The problem with proof reading
Another less-than-awesome problem that occurred was when people start pointing out errors. Yes, errors. Not continuity errors or plot holes (I tried ludicrously hard to ensure they never appeared in the first place) but spelling mistakes, missing words, that type of thing. The kind that would make any self-respecting member of the grammar Gestapo go tight in the chest and start hyperventilating as they reach for quill and parchment to pen a strongly worded letter to the Times Literary Supplement about the abomination that is Self-Published Authors.
“Why didn’t you use spell-checker?” people would shout from the metaphorical rooftops.
“I did!” I reply, desperately trying to make them believe. “But if the word’s spelt correctly and just used in the wrong context, it won’t bloody well pick it up, will it?”
“Why didn’t you have it proof-read?” shouts someone else.
“Well, perhaps you should have. Then you would have found all the mistakes and… Wait, what? You did?”
“Yes I did.”
And therein lies another point of my learning. I paid for a proof-reading service. Job done, right? Just take the final file they sent me and upload it, right? Not in my case. Using a self-publishing platform such as Ingram Spark, it costs me money every time I upload an amended master file for print and E-book. I am pretty certain that the cost of uploading what is the current, hopefully error-free (please God make it so, I’ve just printed 100 of the buggers), version has far out-weighed whatever royalties I am due from the first month’s sales. I have got no idea what the standard would be for a traditionally published and proof-read novel; one mistake in 100,000 words? No mistakes in 100,000 words? But despite much-appreciated comforting words of, er, comfort from my readers that “I didn’t spot any” or “most people won’t notice” the fact is that I know and I, for one, wouldn’t want to ask people to buy a book that I knew had errors, regardless of whether they’re minor and don’t detract from the story.
Stiff upper lip, old boy
It’s still very stressful. People own hard copies with errors. I can’t do anything about that now. But as with sliding Amazon rankings, it is important as a self-publisher to remain positive. The print copies with errors in circulation have become “collectors’ editions” that will be worth a small fortune in years to come, like a rare upside-down printed stamp, or something. And the Amazon ranking? It’s there for the taking.
As a self-publisher you don’t have that automatic kudos that your work must be good because not only has a literary agent said so, but so has a publishing house that is prepared to spend a whole bunch of cash promoting it. Therefore you have to keep believing that what you have produced is worthy of a place on bookshelves and that once word starts reaching the readers of the world, they will see it as well.
I learnt more lessons about publishing a book in the last two months of this process, than in the previous few decades that I have existed on this planet. More than I would want to put in a single blog post lest my readers begin to lose the will to live. So, more will follow soon.
But will Book 2 be easier? Too damn right it will be.
Thanks for reading.