Why I am self-published

Why I am self-published

(content note for VERY strong language)

Recently the whole self-published versus traditionally published wrestling match has reignited, following a post by Ros Barber in the Guardian online. I’m not going to address the article because that would be juvenile, petty and a waste of time. More than that, it would only be my opinion and that is of little real worth. I am no one of note, or of influence. I’m an author who self-published, which makes me mud on the shoes of many.

In the 90’s I spent a couple of years going through the rigmarole of jumping through the hoops set by publishers and agents. Combined with an absurdly low income at the time that meant affording printer paper and postage was a big deal, the whole time was intensely stressful. I got asked for full manuscripts many times, and some went through several readers and editors at major publishing houses. The fore-runner to Square Peg got to committee stage at one of the Big Six. They asked me to rewrite certain parts; I was about to sit down to start that when the worst headache on the planet descended on me and put a stop to it. I was rushed to hospital with a brain haemorrhage. After I recovered enough from that to carry on writing, I did what they’d asked with the book, sent it in and waited. A few weeks later, the Dear John letter arrived. Blah blah blah. It boiled down to this: we like it but you’re an unknown and we can’t quite take the risk if we don’t love it enough to have its babies. So, knowing the whole process had almost killed me, I quit. I quit writing altogether.

In 2003 I began writing again after a gap of eight years, because a novel was forcing its way out of me; rather than burst open like one of Ripley’s shipmates, I gave in and wrote the damned thing (it was The Bet, for what that’s worth) and was faced with being back on the submissions treadmill all over again. The explosion of creative expression I experienced (I can’t quite say enjoyed because it was so compulsive) lasted for three years and in that time I had a lot of feedback from publishers and agents telling me I was almost there, send us the next one, over and over again. I even had an agent (turned out to be less use than a chocolate fireguard). But nothing ever went the whole distance, not even the novel that kept an editor at Random up all night to finish. It always ended in the same way: you’re good, very good, but you haven’t yet written a book we think will be a break-out success, keep on sending us stuff and we’ll keep reading.

There comes a moment where your entire being says: Oh just fuck right off, and when you’ve got there, fuck off even further and keep on fucking off until you’re a speck on the horizon, and then fuck off some more.

That’s what mine started saying. Letting someone else, some other entity or organisation, hold you so firmly in the palm of their sweaty little mitt, that you cannot move, do anything, because they hold you so tightly in their thrall, is beyond BAD for the soul. It’s toxic, corrosive and suffocating. Publishers have authors exactly where they want them: bent over, subjugated and submissive. There’s always the awareness that if you, the author, don’t do what they ask, there’s hundreds if not thousands of other authors panting and eager to take your place. You, the author, are not a real living human being: you are a content provider, nothing more.

So I stepped away. I took back my dreams and my hopes and my soul, and I walked away. At that stage, self-publishing was in its infancy and I had no idea really that it existed. I equated it with vanity publishing. Some still do, and indeed, there are numerous so-called small presses that are really vanity presses. I came to self-publishing at the behest of someone else who offered themselves as a helper who would do it for me. That’s one of the reasons why now I find it difficult to trust anyone, because that aspect didn’t end well. It could have ended much worse, but I dusted myself off and got on with it myself, learning as I went. I made mistakes for sure, but I’d begun.

Since then, I have put out quite a number of books: four novels, a novella, two collections of short stories, a collection of essays on depression, a poetry collection and a little paperback of guided meditations. I have had many thousands of readers, some of whom read everything and buy it in both e-version and in paperback. Had I kept on plugging away at submitting to publishers that would not have happened. I would either be dead (probably by my own hand) or locked away wearing a fetching jacket fastened at the back. Publishing is a business; it’s primarily about the money; it doesn’t care that the Dear John letters can destroy someone, for a day or for all eternity. It’s a business transaction to them, nothing more. If a book isn’t going to have a good chance of making money, they don’t take it on, no matter their personal liking for a story. That way leads to losing your job. An author whose first book doesn’t earn out the advance rarely gets a second book through. Once, they might have had three or four books published, to build an audience, but now, you have six months MAXIMUM to make that first book a success.

I self-published because it was the way forward for me, because the road to legacy publishing was policed by entities that make Procrustes look like the perfect gracious host, and because I do not regard myself as a content provider or my books as products. Every book or poem I write is a glimpse of a world inside my head; it exists somewhere beyond this existence and being able to share it with others is a privilege denied to me and you by traditional paths to publishing.

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45 thoughts on “Why I am self-published

  1. Well said Vivienne. I also self published. When my first novel was completed in 2006 I had visions of being traditionally published, but I soon realised that was not going to happen. At that time self publishing was a foreign language as far as I was considered. I went down the vanity route (never again – con artists) In 2012 I had the rights to my books (4 at that time), self publishing was more straight forward, and cost nothing, so …. I now have 7 novels, and 3 novellas. Certainly there is a lot of rubbish self published, because it is so easy; but there is also a lot of tripe coming from the mainstream publisher. wish you every success Vivienne.

  2. Very well said Although I haven’t yet published. Thge only possible way for me is self-publishing. (can’t lick the backside of somebody, I just can’t)

    • Hi Ausone2910 – as I see it being self published gives me complete control over everything. My cover, my novel, my publicity, my promotion. OK it’s not easy, and sales at present are appalling, and sure I’ve made mistakes, and will probably continue to make them, but at least I am not beholding to anyone. Wish you well with whatever you do.

  3. I know nothing about the business or politics of publishing – but I love your writing and I am so grateful that your work is “out there” in a form that I can buy, read, savour and enjoy. So, thank you!

  4. Go Viv!

    Love this: There comes a moment where your entire being says: Oh just fuck right off, and when you’ve got there, fuck off even further and keep on fucking off until you’re a speck on the horizon, and then fuck off some more.

    Yes!

    Taking control is the most wonderful feeling.

  5. Hi Viv

    Having spent years hoping to follow the traditional route of publishing, I too am thinking of self-publishing and putting an end to the destructive negativity that constant rejections cause. I had a London-based agent who was also useless (I wonder if she was the same one that you had). I had an offer of publication for my first novel in 2012. My agent advised me to turn it down and assured me that she’d find me a larger publisher. I was new to the business and naive. I listened to her. She didn’t find me another publisher. I sacked her for poor advice a year later. I’ve won competitions and in the last four months have been shortlisted for 2 national novel writing competitions. I now have 4 novels so I am serious about writing. As you say, they’re not willing to take a financial chance on debut authors, but if a z-lister celebrity has a ghost writer work for them, then it’s a YES PLEASE. I feel a rant coming on. I’d better get my coat…..

    Ange x

  6. Yep, I had a London agent (ooh…we should name and shame) she was useless. I didn’t realise this as I didn’t know what she wasn’t doing. Only when she ‘refused’; to send out Diamonds & Dust did I wake up, get rid and go Indie. Now I am entirely self-published. Yaay…

  7. I agree with everything :there comes a moment where your entire being says: Oh just fuck right off, and when you’ve got there, fuck off even further and keep on fucking off until you’re a speck on the horizon, and then fuck off some more.

    But here’s the rub. Usually I agree with everything that those that follow traditional routes also say. There’s no need to re-hash them. It’s in one word: quality.

    As you said there’s tens of thousand waiting to replace you and do whatever it takes to get that golden crown of publication. But there’s literally millions of self-published authors and that number keeps growing. The problem isn’t in the writing. That’s the easy part. The problem is selling. Everyone is trying to sell to someone else. No one is buying. And you are invisible in cyberspace.

    How do you become visible I’d ask. How do you get yourself noticed? And with so many writers giving their work away, how can charge anything more than the price of a tin of Cambell’s soup for all your work. how do you keep afloat in a world that doesn’t see you?

  8. I’ve yet to self-publish though it’s on the cards. I’ve also been through the traditional route and come out squeezed to within an inch of my life. Your reasons for self-publishing are spot on. I laughed like a drain and very much enjoyed the bad language!

  9. Well we all know of the famous writers who were turned down numerous times (J K Rowling?) by publishers and who went on to sell millions, just as the recording company executive who turned down the Beatles is probably still trying to live it down. So really, I don’t believe that publishers are any more infallible than the rest of us. The problems go back to the men in suits, who seem to control every aspect of merchandising products. In the UK the four largest supermarkets decided to sell books along with the groceries, but they declined to sell any more than about 50 titles, which had to be from proven best-sellers, and not untested authors. They also informed the publishing houses that the price of the books had to be kept down to less than £5, because they decreed that their customers would not pay more than that. But of course they still expected a certain percentage profit on the books, so guess who took the hit on the price? Their entrance to the book market effectively caused the decline of the independent and chain bookshops alike, who could not even buy the books themselves at the price that the supermarkets were selling at, and this effectively closed the entrance to the market to unproven authors. It is the advent of the self-published author that has started the fightback, but now we are faced with the might of multinational companies like Amazon, who also want to control the market.
    This is not just a problem associated with selling books. It applies to many more of the products they sell. In my former existence as a dairy farmer, the price of the milk was forced down and down by loss-leading that we were, along with many thousands of farmers, forced out of business. The same thing applies to fresh vegetables, meat and numerous other items. The farmer growing cauliflowers, for example, is told how much they will pay them for the cauliflower, not the other way round. It is quite amusing now to witness those same supermarkets suddenly being threatened by lower cost foreign supermarkets, who are taking their share of the market.

    Perhaps the answer to the problem is for writers to form co-operatives to market their books, the same as some dairy farmers did to combat the supermarkets. But it is a gargantuan task to marshall lots of independent writers into a group big enough to take on the giants, because the giants would fight back with all the weapons at their disposal. So I don’t really know what the answer is, other than writers supporting and encouraging each other, and to hope that the talents of the really good writers will shine through and get the exposure they deserve. I’m sorry to go on about this for so long, but it is a subject I feel strongly about, and it hurts me that so many talented writers (and I don’t include myself) don’t get the recognition they deserve.

    • Rachel – you articulated this really well. Thank you. With Amazon, it’s rather as if we are playing a game in which we are not party to all the rules (and these change on a whim). Just retaining access to the marketplace is a triumph at present.

  10. I loved reading your story. It was very interesting. I’m so sorry you had a brain hemorrhage all those years ago, but glad you recovered from it. I’m also glad you’ve been able to write and publish so much now, despite what agents and publishers put you through in the past.

  11. Congrats, Vivienne, you have expressed my feelings exactly- and those of many others. Why be owned? Why be exploited, damned, encouraged only to be cast further into the pit of the not-good-enough-yet? ‘We love your work but …’ Yeah, right… ‘Submission’ says it all: creatives can’t afford to be slaves – writing well is hard work, and if we do it well, we also need to feel it’s worth the sweat. We have our lives to protect. And we do have our readers …

  12. Great post Viv.

    I read Ros Barber’s article yesterday and RT’d a link to it on Twitter. I thought it was bound to light the blue touchpaper ( and seemed designed to do just that) .

    There’s about 20 trad published short story collections in the UK each year. Just 20. I’ve just helped crowdfund an author whose first collection won the Scott Prize who couldn’t find a publisher for his second. There’s countless excellent short story writers published in lit mags and anthologies who self-publish as publishers aren’t interested. And the small presses are so tiny you may as well do it yourself anyway.

    The greatest answer to the charge self-publishing doesn’t work is people like yourself for whom it does

  13. I love the world inside your head, Vivienne, and I’m so pleased I found it…I guess I think that traditional publishing can’t afford to take the risks in the beauty of your writing, but my thoughts are that it leaves you in a very difficult place because, surmising here, the marketing and sales that are involved in self-publishing must surely drain the life blood from you. As one of those fans who buys most things please do keep on writing… your voice is unique, and says some really important things for those of us who are exploring the wider world.

  14. Quite amazing how arrogant the supposed gate-keepers are. So many of us have gone the route – submitting to agents or publishers (No, you absolutely must not submit to more than one at a time, yes, double-spaced, actual paper, expensive postage, and of course, don’t dare to complain that it takes several months to get the rejection for each one.)
    And then the small publisher which so frequently turn out to be a disappointment or worse, and then, finally, the freedom of doing it yourself, making sure that your product is good, (no errors slipped in by someone else) and TOTAL CONTROL.
    Sales – well, I am very happy if I get a sale a day. It doesn’t matter much if I don’t achieve that small goal. I have my books published the way I want them, I have control, no-one else, and I am proud of them.

  15. I applaud you for being so true to yourself and your experience! Thank you for sharing your story with us. It speaks of tenacity and perseverance in the name of your talent. I think you’ve made a complete and thorough case! Here’s to your continued success.

  16. Bloody well said, Viv, and ditto – my experiences were similar. “Love it, but can you change it so I can sell it to a Big Five?” No, thanks. What really pisses me off is the attitude of some writers who are published by small presses and think they’re ‘better’ than us. A recent blog post I read was nothing but a big ‘I’m now a published author’ brag, by someone who has previously made scathing comments about the self-published. I’ve got news for you, love. Anyone can get published by a small press. Some prefer to retain artistic control and all the royalites, that’s all.

  17. I am in the process of self-publishing a small book, and have been told I must invent an imprint name (ie JustLittleMe Books, or something like that), because to let Amazon publish it is the mark of an amateur. Well, I admit it, I’m an amateur. I write because I love it. No more, no less. As has been said, there’s plenty of rubbish published by ‘proper’ publishers, so why should it matter that my book is self-published? I also have books published by a small press, as it happens – but I’m proud of my work, all of it, and I don’t see why I should apologise for the fact that some of it is self-published.

    • The best reason to write. I started to write ‘well done’ but that sounds condescending. There is nothing to be condescending about. It is well done.

  18. “Content provider”, that got me. I have 5 Sci-Fi books, all about 400 pages out self-published and I have had Baen and Penguin both looking but nah, we won’t tell you why just pfft. Trying fifty ways to sell these books has made me into a Content Provider…I forget what being an author is.

    • Ha ha! I know, I know – everyone has that on their bio these days – content provider, creator, whatever…. ugh!!!

  19. Well said! I re-blogged it. I started writing late after I took early retirement from my “real job.” I didn’t think I had time to go the traditional route. So glad I went the self publish route. My first novel was an Amazon best seller for over 9 months, here and in the UK.

  20. Bravo! You are so right. No matter how good your work is, if a publisher doesn’t see $ signs they won’t take a risk. Self-publishing has been a wonderful experience for me, maybe because I love being in control, and most of all because I can look at my book and say ‘That’s 100% my work’. I have a great editor who cares about my work (and who is very strict, by the way and doesn’t let me away with anything) and although I will never be rich from this venture, the stories battling to get out of my head now have an escape route!

  21. Amazing post, I found myself going god so true, all the way through, if it wasn’t for Kindle I too would have that fetching straitjacket!

  22. Pingback: Why I am self-published | Heiditassone's Blog

  23. Thank you for this post and sharing your experience. If not for self publishing, I would never have read some truly great books and met their awesome creators. As a writer, I struggled with self doubt and did not need an agent or publisher stoking the fire. I’m glad I self-published.

  24. Thank you for this, Vivienne! As a relatively new author, I agree, the process of trying to sell your book to agents and publishers is one of the most frustrating things I have ever done. All the tepid replies, the encouragement that boils down to nothing. I am glad I self-published. Some people are willing to wait ten years, but I was not. Really enjoyed reading this.

  25. Viv, I’ve almost finished reading Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water, a book that you’ve recommended on your blog. Another blogging friend (also an author) recommended it too, so I ordered it a while back and am just getting to it, with no regrets. That book has an “other-worldly” feel to it very much like your books Away with the Fairies and Strangers and Pilgrims.

    So anyway: keep writing, and publish in any way that works for you. It would be our loss if you didn’t.

  26. i read this post with much interest. I also went through the whole agent, publisher route and yes postage and paper was a lot of money to us on a low income. I am just at the stage now where I am going to self publish and reading this article was inspiring to me. I loved the blue language section and nodded my head in approval. Thank you for posting.

  27. “There comes a moment where your entire being says: Oh just fuck right off, and when you’ve got there, fuck off even further and keep on fucking off until you’re a speck on the horizon, and then fuck off some more.”

    Lol, that’s brilliant! I’m laughing so much here that I’m in danger of waking everyone in the house. 😀

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