First posted posted on Tiffani Angus Blog in 2016
Because I am a lecturer in publishing and I teach creative writing, self-publishing often comes up in conversation in class. My only knowledge of it was from friends–their successes and failures–and from what I see on Twitter (that is, the constant spam from some writers). So I decided to try it out for myself, to get an idea of the steps required to go from manuscript to “book”. I didn’t do it with the idea of making any money; some things are done for the experience, not the results.
First up, I needed something to publish:
I’ve had some short stories floating around, pieces I’ve gotten good feedback on, but pieces without secure homes because they’re just odd and hard to place. I chose two: “Hill Witch” and “Litter.” They don’t share a genre (one is dark fantasy the other post-apocalyptic science fiction), but they share a theme: the consequences of accepting help from others. I also believe in the idea that things you like go together because they’re yours, like odd soft furnishings. So these are my throw-pillow stories!
Then, I needed to decide which platform to use:
There are dozens out there, but I decided to go with the big guns (you know, the one that starts with A and ends with mazon). Their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform walks you through the whole process.
Next, I had to set up my account and deal with the tax thing:
Of utmost importance, I had to get a cover made:
There are people out there who make covers for self-publishing writers; they are easy enough to find on the internet. But I wanted to give work (and money) to a creative person I know, or someone I could get to know. Luckily, a friend of a friend is an artist and designs covers, so I sent him the stories and my ideas, along with a list of themes and images in the stories. He sent back this awesome cover. The contrast is especially striking and looks great even when the cover is a thumbnail–something to keep in mind when self-pubbing!
Then I just had to follow the steps:
The site talked me through the businessy stuff (titles, subtitles, categories, descriptions, keywords, and–very important–royalties). It also allows the user to see what the book will look like on a Kindle. This is a vital step because it’s where you see all the boo-boos. I fixed and re-loaded the file half a dozen times before I thought it was right. (And even then I was wrong! Please, don’t be like me and do this late at night and in a hurry because you promised to discuss it with your students the next day!)
Finally, you click “publish”:
And then the next night, as you are listening to a publishing-industry professional explain the ebook business to your students, it dawns on you that you’re a total idiot and used the word “Bibliography” instead of “Biography” on the last page of your manuscript. (Because you’re an academic and used to the last page of nearly everything containing a list of works cited!) So then you go home, click “unpublish,” fix the damn thing, “click “publish” again, and then turn your attention to PR. And that’s where things get…uncomfortable.
Doing PR Without a Buffer
What happens after you click “publish”:
Selling the stories. To the public. Those people out there: the ones with money.
Following a set of physical steps to go from A to B is easy. It’s the mental work that’s difficult. Every other time I’ve sold fiction, I’ve done so in an anthology or magazine market. That means that someone in a position of authority decided my work was good enough to pay me money. The fiction had been deemed good enough to send out into the world with their brand on it. Plugging that work was easy. I mean, it was still weird–asking people to buy what you’re selling always is, and likely always will be–but those stories had a patina of respectability.
Asking people to pay for something you’ve decided on your own is some level of “good enough” is embarrassing, to put it bluntly. I’m not only asking people to trust my writing; I’m asking them to trust me. This is difficult in the writing world, especially in the SFF world, and especially if you’re a woman in this world.
In the past few years, a lot of women including women of colour have been winning SFF awards, which makes the news each time. I’m sure it is driving many of the RPs and SPs a bit daffy (which is a GOOD thing), but it’s the fact that it’s news that women sweep awards that is important; too often SFF is still seen as a white guy’s game, regardless of evidence to the contrary. People are often surprised when I mention what I write, especially in some academic circles. Add in the attitude toward self-publishing, and you can see how doing my own PR for my own work that no one else gave me permission to sell can be difficult. Is difficult.
At this point, I’m not 100% sure what to do about it, other than possibly re-read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking and remind myself of the question I used to ask myself five or six years ago when I doubted and wondered why me: why NOT me?
Self-publishing has evened out the playing field and made the publishing industry a bit more democratic, giving everyone the opportunity to ask themselves Why Not Me. But it’s that last word—me—that is most important, because you go from being just the author to being the editor, project manager, typesetter, seller, and PR machine. But it can be an eye-opening way of seeing what you’re ready for and what you’re made of.
If I wait around for someone else to give me permission to try to be awesome, I will wait forever.
Tiffani Angus teaches writing and publishing at undergraduate and post-graduate levels at Anglia Ruskin University. Her background in publishing includes several years working as an editor for an educational materials developer in the US; as a freelance writer/editor/proof-reader for educational, corporate, and private clients; and as a newspaper copy editor.
Tiffani is the author of short stories in several genres, mainly historical fantasy, and her debut novel about a “haunted” garden will be published in April 2020. A graduate of Clarion 2009, Tiffani is involved in genre fandom as a guest and panellist at SFF conventions.