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Why self-publishing is the hardest AND most rewarding thing ever

I made the decision to self-publish my book after several months of frustration with querying agents. Agent after agent either rejected me – which I was less upset by, because after all, it’s their call – or completely ignored me. I posted something about this on Twitter, hoping that it wasn’t just me, and one of the comments I got was “Why don’t you try self-publishing?”

I have to say that I hadn’t even considered it before. I had heard of it, and indeed one of my teachers used it to publish a little story I’d written when I was eight or so (now no longer available), but for The Silent Chapter I had been determined to do things ‘properly’. Now, of course, I know there is no ‘proper’ way to get published, but the Katherine from a year ago was very much immersed in the idea that the only way to be a successful author was to get an agent and a publishing deal with a well-established publisher. Which, I know now, is not true. There are plenty of successful self-published authors out there.

When I read that Twitter comment from the lovely Claire Highton-Stevenson, however, it was like a lightbulb moment. I thought “Yes, why don’t I self-publish?” So from there, I built myself a website, a book cover, an Amazon KDP account, and set The Silent Chapter up to publish. For the next five months, I hammered my social media with links to pre-order, and promotional material, and advance reviews. I even set up a mailing list (to which you can subscribe here – it’s a monthly instalment of bookish fun). And on February 7th, 2022, The Silent Chapter came out into the world.

I was – and still am – very proud of what I did. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Whatever you see, I did. I made the cover. I wrote the book. I created the blurb. I formatted the manuscript to fit. I created the author page, and the acknowledgements, and the contents. (I also left a typo in there, but I’m allowing myself to be human. I can’t even remember what it is now – if anyone finds it, please do remind me…)

When I finally held the finished author copies in my hands, without that horrible ‘Not For Resale’ banner that Amazon puts on all proof copies, I rejoiced in the fact that I had done it. “I did that! All of that!” I said excitedly to my mum when first I showed her. I also rejoiced in the fact that I could take proper photos with it – and we have had several photoshoots in my back garden (my neighbours must think I’m nuts).

But it’s not an easy road. Have no doubts about that. At pretty much every stage, I was at some point riddled with self-doubt. When I paid money to buy the domain name for my website, I wondered if it would all pay off (pun not intended). When I spent hours upon hours trying to format my book cover so that it would look half-decent, I wondered what the hell I was doing. When I ordered proof after proof copy until I was assured that it looked like a ‘proper book’, I looked at the towering pile and wondered how I was going to get rid of them. (Spoiler alert – I still have some.) It certainly tested my mettle, but I surged forward, determined that The Silent Chapter would make it out into the world, whatever it took.

When publication day came, I had to go to work, so I didn’t check the statistics on my KDP dashboard until I came home that evening. I had sold seven copies. I didn’t really feel much, because I didn’t know what to expect. Over the coming weeks, I was heartened to see that sales were steady, although I never got more than two or three in a day, and never every day. But since the end of March, sales have dropped off significantly. This was when I decided to really ramp up my marketing of The Silent Chapter… and when I realised just how hard it was going to get.

I had already had a taste of this earlier in the year. I went through The Empowered Author’s list of reputable book reviewers, and approached all who I thought might be interested in The Silent Chapter. Looking back now, I must have sent at least ten review requests. And the number of replies I got? None. Zero. Zilch. In the end I got all my wonderful ARC reviewers from Twitter, but I did wonder… Is it me, or is it the fact that I’m self-published? The fact that I got so many great reviews in the end suggests the latter.

Some book bloggers and reviewers don’t even accept self-published works, full stop. I was shocked and saddened to find this, and it just reinforces the fact that I was soon to find out: self-publishing is regarded as the ugly sister of traditional publishing.

Since then, I have approached many people and organisations asking them if they'd like to collaborate. I won’t name names, but this list includes famous magazines, local magazines, national radio stations, newspapers, even a friend of mine whose daughter specialises in marketing and who she suggested I approach for advice. None of them replied. Not one. Not even to acknowledge my existence. The one organisation who did take a gamble and feature me was my local radio station, BBC Three Counties Radio. I had an interview with Babs Michel on her evening programme (you can find the audio clip and a transcript here), and I will be eternally grateful to Babs and her producer Kimberley for taking a chance on me.

In some respects, I get it. I could be anyone. I could be a scammer. I could be some weirdo trying to engage them in random conversation like I get in my Twitter DMs. But I’m not. I’m just a self-published author trying to get my book out there. Because my book – as with most books, self-published or traditionally published – has a message to broadcast. I will talk about that in another blog post. And try as we might, we can’t do this alone.

So – my point. If you’re a self-published author who’s had this problem: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you’re a self-published author who’s NOT had this problem: PLEASE SHARE WITH ME YOUR SECRETS! If you’re a traditionally published author: PLEASE DO WHAT YOU CAN TO HELP YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED COUNTERPARTS. And if you’re a TV producer, or a magazine editor, or a journalist, or someone else whose powers could help boost a self-published author: WE ARE NOT INFERIOR TO OTHER AUTHORS, JUST BECAUSE WE CHOSE TO GO IT ALONE. PLEASE VIEW US, AND TREAT US, AS EQUALS.

Oh, and if you’re a reader… please buy The Silent Chapter. Sorry, just had to put that in there.



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