Today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Jane Davis. I met Jane at LBF, having already ‘met’ online recently when Jane interviewed me for her own website. Here, Jane describes her journey in self-publishing, on the release of her fifth novel, An Unchoreographed Life. Take it away, Jane …
“I am often asked why I chose self-publishing.
My first novel (hidden away under lock and key) earned me the praise, “Jane, you are a writer”, but not a publishing contract. My second novel had been sitting in my overworked agent’s ‘in’ tray for several months when I attended the Winchester Writers’ Conference in June 2008. It was there that I learned about the Daily Mail First Novel Award. With the closing date for entries only two days away, I had nothing to lose. My incentive for entering wasn’t the thought of winning. It was the promise that all entries would be read.
I left my job of twenty-three years the following September, jaded from having had to make so many colleagues redundant. Every time I turned on the television there was talk of financial doom and gloom. Then came the call from Transworld announcing that I had won.
It was surreal. Because I was on my own, there was no one to ask, “Hey, did that just happen?” I phoned back just to be sure.
The following weeks were heady. The Bookseller included me in their ‘One to Watch’ section. Joanna Harris, an author I admire enormously, described me as a ‘promising new writer.’ I was going to be The Next Big Thing.
Except that I wasn’t.
In a year when fiction sales plummeted, Half-truths and White Lies, sold reasonably well. Then, in 2009, came my reality check. Transworld exercised their right to ‘first refusal’ of my follow-up novel. The reason? It wasn’t ‘women’s fiction’. I hadn’t appreciated (and no one had thought to explain) the implications of being published under their Black Swan imprint. I had been pigeon-holed – and my new work didn’t fit.
Parting company with my agent, I sought new representation. Rejection letters flattered. My writing was not for them, but with my credentials, I would be snapped up. For a while, I believed them.
Over the next four years, I produced two further novels. Had I been under contract, I would have been chasing deadlines. Instead, with the luxury of time, I added layers to plots, depth to characters and a real sense of time and place. As Hugh Howey said at the London Book Fair, authors should enjoy their anonymity.
By 2012, I was touting three novels around the market. Believe me, this is not a position you want to be in. I began to feel like the lady character in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys who attends the same writing conference year after year with a slightly different edit of the same novel. A novel which continues to be rejected, albeit for slightly different reasons.
In November 2012, I decided I owed it to myself to investigate something I had been resisting. I attended the Writers’ & Artists’ Self Publishing in a Digital Age conference. It was a revelation! There, established authors who had been dropped by their publishers were rubbing shoulders with first-time writers who had released their e-book priced at 99p and had sold 100,000 copies within a year. It was a publishing revolution. So was I in or was I out?
Deciding I was in, I released I Stopped Time and These Fragile Things on Christmas Day, using Amazon KPD. (I have since experimented with Smashwords and Kobo.) The decision how to present the work – the designs of covers and the interiors – were all mine. As were the mistakes. (Neil Gaiman refers to Gaiman’s Law. If there’s one typo, it will be on the page your new book falls open to the first time that you pick it up.) Learning by my mistakes, I ironed them out. The following summer, I released paperbacks, using Createspace’s Print on Demand service. The second time around, I was aware that I needed more help. As well as a structural edit, I bartered for services, using a copy editor in return for a testimonial. I also expanded on my volunteer army of beta readers and proofreaders. I didn’t have to ask for volunteers. They came to me. In November that same year, I released A Funeral for an Owl. For my forthcoming novel, An Unchoreographed Life, I have used even more external services. The manuscript has actually undergone three separate copy edits, one of which I have paid for. I am also using someone to format the e-books. Readers who discover me tend to devour everything I have written, so I really owe it to them to get it right.
An Unchoreographed Life is the phrase with which Margot Fonteyne described her tumultuous off-stage existence. It seemed an ideal choice for my story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother.
One of the huge joys of self-publishing is choosing how to present your work. I have been working with Andrew Candy for the last two years. As I learn to trust his instincts, my briefs grow more complex. For the cover of A Funeral for an Owl, I provided him with five images and precise instructions about where each should go, but the end result was still a surprise. This time, I described a scene from the book, where my main character Alison comes face to face with a deer. I asked if it would be possible to combine the image of a ballerina with a deer. When the answer was yes, I then had to go out and source the photographs. For this I always use www.dreamstime.com who offer a huge variety and very reasonable prices.
Just on the point of release, I have interest in An Unchoreographed Life from an agent and, whilst I have butterflies in my stomach, I know better than to put things on hold. If a deal comes along, then I will happily crack open the champagne. But I am not as green as I was back in 2006. I now know how to do this by myself.
An Unchoreographed Life is available from Amazon.”
Thanks so much, Jane! Such a fascinating journey. For those of you interested in the process of producing Jane’s amazing cover for An Unchoreographed Life, here are some of the images Jane sourced and sent to her cover designer:
And here again is the final version of the cover – which I think is absolutely stunning. This cover is arresting, and one you aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.
You can contact Jane as follows:
June 3, 2014 at 9:45 am
Thanks for sharing your story with us Jane. It’s really great that you’ve taken the chance with self-publishing and that you’re seeing results. It’s really encouraging for me as an indie author to read your story. 🙂
June 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm
Hi Elaine, Looking back now at my own experience, I think that there is a whole industry of people discouraging authors from self-publishing. I was told time and time again that it wasn’t for ‘serious’ authors. That might have been best advice back in 2008, but it is certainly no longer the case – as I’m sure both Joanne and you will agree. Building readership is slow, but it’s really encouraging to see that once readers discover me, they read everything I’ve written. I’m hopeful that I’m doing something right! All the very best. x
June 4, 2014 at 6:42 pm
Thanks Jane! x
June 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm
Another who thanks you for sharing your story. As I weight the pros and cons of traditional vs. independent publishing, I’m encouraged by your example and your spirit.
June 3, 2014 at 9:04 pm
Julie, if you have received positive feedback about your writing but haven’t been able to secure the services of an agent, I would strongly encourage you to try self-publishing for yourself. But don’t push the magic button too soon. I read advice this week that authors might want to hold back until they have 3 books polished and ready to go. It was 4 years between the release of Half-truths and White Lies and I Stopped Time. I would love to have hung on to a few more of those 15,000 readers who bought my first novel, but I didn’t have anything else to sell them! By accident rather than design, my 4 self published books were published over the space of 2 years. It will be some wait until the next one! Best of luck with your writing journey. Janex
June 4, 2014 at 6:16 pm
Jane, thank you.
I’m so glad you raised the issue of timing and having enough to offer readers, because it’s been on my mind. I have one manuscript on its way to professional editor for a story/copy, then line/proofread edits; a second I will begin revising late summer/early autumn; and a third I hope to outline this summer and begin writing in late autumn.
I’m trying to envision a juggling act whereby I can (hopefully, pleadingly, selling-my-soulingly) earn enough from release one to pay for editing, graphics, marketing, etc on release 2 and so on. I’m just not sure if I have the patience and energy to spend the next several years chasing down traditional publication-not when the expectations of authors are increasingly on advancing one’s platform, anyway. I’m published in the short story/literary journal world and on my good days, I believe my novels will find a home with readers. As a full-time writer, I need to think about my ability to generate income on my own terms. I’d rather invest my energy in finding and cultivating my readers now. I will try the traditional route, but I have a time frame and rejection limit!
I’m also looking far more closely at partnership publishers (e.g. SheWrites Press), which offer distribution and graphics services.
I’m so grateful for writers like you, who share their journeys with honesty and integrity.
Also, would be you be willing to share who designed your covers? Love them to bits!
June 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm
What a really positive story from an unstoppable author…
June 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm
Thank you, Marilyn. I must say that I don’t always feel unstoppable Like every writer, I have the occasional moments of euphoria, peppered with huge moments of self-doubt, but I am spurred on by positive reviews and the incredible generosity of other writers out there in the indie community. Those are the things that make all the difference. Best wishes, Jane.
June 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm
Thanks for all the great comments and support for Jane. Sharing our stories and demystifying the whole publishing process is so important for all writers – whether already published or thinking of publishing in the future. Thanks again, Jane, and good luck with An Unchoreographed Life. Jo x