British journalist Emma Burstall weighs up whether she’ll go the self-publishing route for her fourth novel …

emma burstallShould you self-publish?
I used to think I’d never go down the self-publishing route. It seemed to me that without the validation of a reputable, conventional publisher, my book mustn’t be worth publishing at all.

Now, though, with the publishing industry in a state of flux, and after some experiences which I’ll share with you, I’ve changed my tune.
My first two books, Gym and Slimline and Never Close Your Eyes (henceforth I’ll called them G & S and NCYE) , were published by Preface (a Random House imprint) and whilst I was thrilled to be taken on by such a large concern, I soon lost my rose-tinted spectacles.

I had a really excellent editor who gave me a great deal of time and help, but I was shocked by how old-fashioned and haphazard the marketing and publicity machines were.

Being new to the game I didn’t know what to expect, but fondly imagined as my publisher had already invested so much time and money in me, they’d make damn sure my book was as widely publicised and available as possible. Not so.

It became clear rather late in the day that if I wanted publicity, I was going to have to do most of it myself. Luckily, being a journalist, I had good contacts, but I wished I’d known earlier so I could start the all-important process sooner.

As for distribution and availability, well. Both my first books are set in and around South West London. I managed to get some reasonable publicity in local newspapers and magazines as well as the nationals. But when people walked into bookshops wanting to buy G & S, having read about it in the press, it was almost nowhere to be seen.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it was when potential readers contacted me via my website to say they couldn’t find G & S anywhere. All I could think was – why would Preface invest so much in producing my book, only for no one to be able to buy it?

The answer, of course, was lack of cash. Budgets for debut novels are tiny and all the big money goes towards publicising, marketing and distributing well-known, established authors. New books, it seems, are released on a wing and a prayer. A very few will make it by word of mouth alone and that’s wonderful. But most don’t.

With NCYE, I was more savvy. Knowing I could expect little from Preface as publication day loomed, I started my own publicity earlier. I also introduced myself to as many bookshop owners and managers in advance as I could. I wanted to make damn sure that copies were available to as many readers as possible, but of course there’s only so much one person can do. I’ve heard many other authors complain in similar vein so I know I’m not alone.

By the time it came to my third book, The Darling Girls, I’d learned a lot and was far more hard-headed. In view of previous experiences, my agent and I decided to put it straight on Kindle and see what happened.

We published last June and with very little fanfare, it quickly shot into the top 50 bestsellers in romantic suspense and continues to do well – and what’s more, I get to keep most of the profits!

Of course it’s wonderful to see your book in physical form, but the e-book market is growing apace and as an avid Kindle user myself, I can understand why.

I’m now writing my fourth novel and I’m not sure at this stage whether I’ll look for a conventional publisher or go down the e-book route straightaway. I think there will always be room for both.

The wonderful thing, though, about self-publishing from the writer’s point of view is that you can bypass the endless wait and get your book out there fast. And from a reader’s point of view, you are no longer confined to reading only books that (subjective) publishers think are worthy and make up your own mind.
I’m not saying self-publishing is easy, it’s extremely hard work and I still have an awful lot to learn about clever use of social media in particular. But if, as a writer, you think it’s better to have a conventional publisher rather than have do it all yourself, if my experiences are anything to go by, you’ll be doing a lot of it yourself anyway!

the darling girlsThree women in love with the same man meet for the first time at his funeral. Can they separate the truth from the lies – and learn to trust again? When world-famous music conductor Leo Bruck dies suddenly, he leaves behind three grieving women and a mass of unanswered questions. Did the man who juggled these simultaneous relationships while thrilling audiences around the globe, direct The Darling Girls like an orchestra? Victoria, his partner of twenty years and mother of two of his children, regards herself as his rightful widow and keeper of his legacy. However, a series of shocking discoveries forces her to re-examine the man she thought she knew and query the very foundation of their relationship. Maddy, mother of Leo’s daughter Phoebe, has a high-powered job and seems independent and sorted. But events take a sinister turn when Maddy becomes involved with Victoria’s troubled teenage son, and her safe world starts to go awry. Finally there’s Cat who, at just 24, is Leo’s youngest lover. Coping with a sick mother and battling demons from her childhood, she is finding it increasingly hard to hold it together. Will grief, anger and bitterness blind her to the possibility of ever finding happiness, career fulfilment – and even, perhaps, new love? The Darling Girls is a moving story of love, loss, and the prevailing power of female friendship. Can these three very different women, whose lives become inextricably bound, break free from the masterful control Leo exerts – even from the grave – once and for all?

Emma Burstall has written extensively for national newspapers and women’s magazines including the Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Red, Good Housekeeping, Woman & Home and Woman. She read English at Cambridge University and began her career as a cub reporter on the Western Morning News in Plymouth, later becoming features editor of Woman and Family Circle. She gets by in French and Spanish and works out – occasionally – at her local gym. After walking her youngest to school, you might also spot her jogging in Richmond Park with some friends. Slowly. Emma lives in South West London with her husband, the political commentator Kevin Maguire, and their three children, aged 25, 20 and 10. She’s currently working on her fourth novel.

3 comments on “To Self-Publish or Not”

  1. I have yet to read the darling girls, but have read your first two, but as more or a print girl myself, I’d rather read a print copy and pass it on to friends, with kindle format I cannot do this which is such a shame as your a very good writer. Maybe try and do both formats at the same time for your fourth novel? best of luck! Kat

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