A Champagne Moment – indie author turns traditional?

graphics-champagne-530337Most of the regular readers of this blog will know me as an indie author – ie self published. I have spoken at length about my fantastic and exciting experiences over the last twelve months or so, and written about more or less everything that I have learned.

Well, today is another landmark in the journey – because my first novel, Only the Innocent, is today being published in paperback and audio formats as well as the original Kindle format in the US and Canada. This is my first ever traditional publishing deal, and it is so very interesting to compare the experiences.

Before going any further, I should say that my ‘traditional’ publisher is probably not as traditional as most. It’s Thomas and Mercer, an imprint of Amazon. But while their selling methods might be different and their channels to market a little more focused, the actual process of getting my book out there is, I imagine, much the same as with any other publisher.

When I wrote Only the Innocent, as I have said many times before, I didn’t expect to sell many copies. I just thought I would ‘have a go’. Because of this, I didn’t really want to spend too much money on it. I was unbelievably fortunate to have a great graphics designer friend and former colleague who insisted on doing all of the artwork for me – and that made a huge difference. But I relied on friends and family for proof reading, and although they did a great job, I carried on tweaking after they had finished and introduced some errors.

What I hadn’t realised at that time is that there is so much more to book editing than checking spelling and grammar! As soon as I found myself a fantastic agent, she immediately began working on Only the Innocent to point out the weaknesses. Fortunately, she did nothing to change the plot, but she did show me where the writing could be improved, where there was too much fat, and where I wasn’t actually doing any scene setting. That was such a revelation, and the resulting version of Only the Innocent was so much better than the original. As a self-published author I still had to do all my own marketing, of course. I’ve written such a lot about that, though, so I won’t say more here.

As soon as Thomas and Mercer acquired the publishing rights, it became a whole different ball game. They didn’t think it needed a developmental edit – because the plot was sorted and my agent and one of her editors had helped me to improve some of the bits of ‘dodgy’ writing. But all sorts of other things started to happen at once. The machine kicked in!

T&M had people working on the cover – all I had to do was approve designs, rather than come up with concepts. They wrote a blurb for the back cover – I made about one change, but it was all done. My book went into copy-editing, and I got back some fantastic comments from the editor. Not only did she find a couple of mistakes that seemed to have passed everybody by, but she also pointed out any small inconsistencies – for example, they way I deal with character thoughts. Everything comes back for me to review and to say if I agree or not. Then there’s the interior layout – a range of options for me to choose from, but somebody else does the work.

Finally, a big box of books arrives – beautifully printed -and it’s just such a great feeling.

The whole process is a tremendous experience, and all so different from self-publishing, where you inevitably take the whole burden on your own shoulders.

Coming up to launch, I had a chat with my publishers about marketing. I was expecting to have to do loads, as most authors I have spoken to that are indie turned traditional suggest that they do as much marketing now as they ever did. But I was told about the marketing plan, and while encouraged to do my bit, they were adamant that I should be focusing on writing! They must be doing something right, because the Kindle version has been rising up the sales ranks rapidly in the run up to launch.

My second book is almost finished. I was pretty much ready to publish in the UK but my US publishing team wants to do a development edit on the book, and it makes sense to have identical versions in both countries. Their editor will go through each and every plot line, making sure there are no loose ends, nothing ambiguous (unless intentionally so) and no confusion. What I love about it is that it is an edit with a timetable. It’s not a case of ‘whenever’; it is tightly controlled (I just have to deliver the amends to schedule… gulp!).

And the reason for the question mark in the title?

In spite of everything, I have chosen to publish my second book independently in the UK and elsewhere (everywhere except the US and Canada). The principle reason for this is that it is now over a year since I published Only the Innocent, and if I were lucky enough to find a UK publisher for my work, the delay prior to publishing would put back the launch until later in the year. I think it’s too long to wait.

But my experience with a more traditional publisher has been excellent, and I am really excited to see the results of their marketing.

What is has taught me is that for anything I publish either now or in the future, professionalism is everything – even if I have to pay for it. It has made me see that there is much more to writing a book than coming up with a good story and getting it all down on paper. I have so much to learn, it’s scary! But it’s fun too. One thing that I do now realise is that there are many aspects of writing a book that other people do better than I do – experts in the field of cover design, editing (at a number of different levels), book layout, marketing – the list goes on.

If you’re considering self-publishing, I understand that money is probably tight. But I would urge you to think about a professional cover, and a proper edit by an experienced editor. I have read some good indie books over the last year or so. Really strong stories. But now that I have seen what a difference a professional team can make, I can see how some of those books could have been turned from really good to great.

OnlytheInnocentI will report back as time goes on to let you know how successful the traditional publishing venture has been – but up to now, it’s been a real pleasure.

Good luck with your publishing ventures!

Only the Innocent is available from Amazon.com in paperback, audio and Kindle versions, and is launched on 5th February 2013.