As the debate about traditional vs indie publishing goes on – and probably will do for some considerable time – it was great to hear from one author who has experienced both. Author David Treanor has kindly given us his perspective on the two sides of the publishing coin.
In my old life as a BBC journalist I would occasionally have to interview people for jobs. I’d take home a stack of application forms — maybe a-hundred or more — and try to draw up a shortlist of twelve. I used to like it when people made spelling mistakes. It meant I could rule them out right away. But I know I didn’t always get it right. Then would come a couple of days of interviews. Sometimes I felt that half the people I’d seen would be great at the job. But there was only one vacancy. So I did my best. But I will have made mistakes again.
I feel traditional publishing is like that. Far too many submissions, far too few opportunities to get into print. And those taking the decisions will have made mistakes. We all know the stories of the best sellers rejected a dozen times.
That’s what’s great about the indie revolution. It’s a democracy. If people like your book word will spread and they will buy it. But if they don’t, if you have got a flawed product or no promotion, then you’ll join the tens of thousands of others out there who never get anywhere. And that’s why going it alone can be hard. You don’t have the life support systems that a traditional publisher offers.
I know. I’ve seen it from both sides. My first book was published the traditional way. After taking voluntary redundancy from the BBC I set off with a friend on a charity road trip — an epic drive in an old van to Mongolia. Before I left I emailed three travel book publishers. One didn’t reply. One said sounds good, but hey times are hard and we don’t want new writers. The other, Summersdale, said maybe, get in touch when you’re back.
So I did, and after a couple of submissions of sample chapters they said yes and Mission Mongolia — Two Men, One Van, No Turning Back was published.
And I had an editor who went through it line by line, word by word, sometimes just picking up points of style (Second World War or World War Two?), sometimes picking up my typos in what I thought was clean copy, sometimes encouraging me to expand a section, sometimes to contract. I really liked the process, it was comforting to know someone was looking at my work in such detail. Then there was the cover designer. And the PR person who drew up the press release. All I had to do was write.
This time it’s been different. This time I’ve written a novel, The Past Lies Waiting, and Summersdale don’t publish fiction. I could have touted it around agents and publishers. But, like every journalist I’ve ever met, I’ve tried that in the past. And it’s not so much that rejection hurts it’s just that it takes such a darn long time.
So then I found Rachel’s blog. The advice was presented cogently. She was encouraging. And she was a success. And it gave me the confidence to have a go myself. And what I realised from my previous book was that if you write eighty-thousand words or more, no matter how many times you read them there will still be mistakes. You need someone to act as your editor. But they must be honest, have incredible attention to detail and be not afraid to tell you if something doesn’t work. Or if you’ve repeated yourself or spelled a name two different ways.
I was lucky in that one of my daughters, Emma, has an English Literature degree. She was used to studying texts. And I know everyone is thinking that having a family member to do this is a bad idea because they won’t be honest. But you haven’t met Emma. Just one example. My book is set largely in Tuscany. I have a character who is a bar owner who speaks good English. But not English as I had at first written it. The words I had put into his mouth would only have been spoken by a native English person, not one for whom English was a second language. She was right. I went back and changed it.
So we went through it, over and over, until we were both happy it was the best it could be.
Then there was the cover. I know a lot of the advice is pay to have one made, but I wanted to have a go myself. I studied what I felt worked on Kindle. I had a theme in mind. Emma’s partner, Jackson, took some photos for me, and I used Picasa to edit them dozens, no hundreds of ways using different type faces and colour combinations. I’m happy with the result. I think. But then I have always had my doubts about the professionally-done Mission Mongolia cover as I don’t think it reflects the humour which is in the book.
Then began the tricky bit.
I think using a computer is a bit like driving in London. You know your regular routes, know which lane to get into, know which turnings to take to get to a familiar destination. But turn off down an unexpected side road, or try to explore a new and strange territory and you quickly get lost. Computers can do far more than I will ever want them to do, and now I had to format my book and explore those unfamiliar routes.
I printed Rachel’s hints and Amazon’s instructions, and, with my wife Tricia by my side, we cracked it. Or we thought we had. It was only after I had published that I looked again at Rachel’s ‘The Back Road’ on my Kindle and noticed what I had taken for granted. The short paragraphs, and the spacing between them meant it was easy to read on a screen. My book had far too few paragraphs — a section of it was a diary which I had barely paragraphed at all — and not enough spacing. Page after page on Kindle was solid, off-putting type. I went back and did it all again and republished.
So now it’s out there, at £1.53. Another big advantage over traditional publishers. I can set the price. And the royalties are better. Now there’s a whole, other area. Marketing. There’s no publisher’s PR to help me here. I’m on my own. But it’s fun!