A year in the life of a self-published author: Part I – How things change!

It will be one year this week (today, to be precise) since Only the Innocent was published as an ebook on Amazon (and shortly afterwards in other ebook formats) – and what an incredible twelve months it has been.

I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you my experiences over the last year – the good, the bad, and the frankly quite unpleasant (but very little of that, I’m pleased to say). I have learned a lot, and it has been one of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences in my (very eventful) life.

And one thing is absolutely certain – I don’t regret for one minute deciding to self-publish my first book.

I am celebrating the anniversary of the launch of Only the Innocent by offering a special price for this week only – just £0.99 on Amazon in the UK, which is where the vast majority of my early sales came from. It was this success on Amazon that has frankly changed my life (and it’s still only $2.99 on Amazon US).

So what was I doing with my time a year ago?

Many writers who are reading this will be people who hold down full time jobs and possibly have a couple of kids at home. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it.  I applaud you. Without a doubt, I am one of the very fortunate ones who don’t have to worry about earning a living at the same time as writing. I sold a business a few years ago, and decided that I didn’t want to work for somebody else, having spent most of my life as ‘the boss’. I was too young for a pension, so we moved to Italy where we have a couple of properties.

As an interest rather than as a job, we decided to rent out one of our houses for holidays – and we also hosted weddings there. It was fun for a few years, but weddings are a bit nerve-racking and more and more people were asking for catered accommodation for their family holidays. I love to cook, but catering for sixteen people every night throughout the summer (when it’s 40 degrees outside isn’t much fun. I had to wear a headband so that sweat didn’t drip from my head into the food.

What started as a hobby had turned into a business – and one that we didn’t want. We decided in summer 2011 that it would be our last year – and it was a huge relief!

During the winter months of the previous two years, I had filled my time by writing. I had always wanted to write a novel, and had this idea in my head – what set of circumstances would be SO BAD that a woman would have no choice but to commit murder?

I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, and so I started to think about what would make me kill somebody in cold blood. And so I set to work and wrote (and rewrote) Only the Innocent.

Now it is hard to imagine a life in which I don’t write, and I have enjoyed every second of the writing experience. It’s also hard to imagine where I would be now if I had gone down the traditional route instead of the self-publishing route. But the truth is – I tried.

Like most writers, I submitted my book to agents. Admittedly, not that many, but that’s mainly because I don’t take rejection well – although that’s what I got – and most of them in the form of pre-printed postcards. To be fair, a couple of agents were much better than that, and provided detailed responses. It was largely because of those two that I carried on and had some belief in my book. Both said that they enjoyed Only the Innocent, but they didn’t feel that they would be able to place the novel with a publisher.

And there’s the rub. You may have a book that people want to read (as I think Only the Innocent proved by selling over 100,000 copies in the first six months), but if it doesn’t fit into a publisher’s list it won’t be considered. I have no argument with this. Publishing is a business, and all publishers have to look at what they believe they can sell, and put their resources to the best possible use. I am not knocking publishers, and I never would. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read so many fabulous books throughout my life.

On this occasion, though, failing to get a publisher was very possibly the best thing that could have happened. With a traditional deal, I am not sure that I would have put the same amount of effort into marketing my book, and I wouldn’t have learned so much. If I should get a traditional deal in the UK in the future, I now know my stuff. I know how to market my book – because I had to do it all myself. It is a lesson that was well worth learning, and one that I can use going forwards – whichever way I choose to go.

So twelve months ago, there I was – a completed novel but no interest in from an agent (let alone a publisher), and no longer running a rental business (or hobby) to keep me busy. I had lots of ideas for projects because I don’t like to be bored, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to start designing and making my own clothes or whether to write a cookery book for my husband. I’d completed my novel so now I was ready for the next challenge.

Self-publishing hadn’t really occurred to me. I had vaguely investigated publishing for the Kindle some time previously, but initially it was very difficult for authors outside the US. But one day in September 2011, I was just checking out something on the internet – I can’t even remember what – and I saw an article about UK authors self-publishing on the Kindle. I simply thought – “I can do that! I might just give it a go”.

And that was the start of my journey. Just one day, looking at the internet, and discovering that I could publish my book – a totalling life-changing decision.

Over the next few days, I am going to cover the lessons learned at each step of the way :

  • preparing the book for launch
  • writing a marketing plan
  • work, work, work – and getting fat!
  • finding an agent, and how things have changed
  • managing my new life – the support team
  • what next?

If you haven’t read Only the Innocent, I would love you to pick up a copy on Amazon UK at the special price of £0.99 this week, or spread the word. If you don’t buy from Amazon UK for the Kindle, ebooks are available in many other formats – all links can be found here – and it’s still less than a glass of wine (and lasts longer!).