In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss why they each chose self-publishing for particular book projects… experiences and choices, challenges and opportunities.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- The reasons for choosing self-publishing
- Pros and cons of the experience, and any regrets
- How our faith influenced our choices.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Why We Chose Self-publishing.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy. I live in Brisbane in Queensland. I’m a former early childhood educator. I have four adult children and I write romance under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hello, I’m Donita Bundy and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my preaching and teaching and more recently my writing and blogging. To find out more about me you can go to donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, it’s the next one in our Publishing series and we’re going to talk about why we personally chose self-publishing for some of our books. We’ll be going to share our experiences and choices, some of the challenges and opportunities and also how our faith has influenced the process along the way.
Alison, would you like to start for us? Why did you choose self-publishing and do you have any regrets? Was it good? Was it bad? What’s going on?
Alison Joy: Okay. Well, as I mentioned in the intro, I’m a romance writer and romance writing is a very, very competitive field. So, my thought was, “Who am I to be picked up by a publishing house when there are so, so, so many other writers to choose from?”
So, I guess probably a fear of being rejected too much or just wanting to actually have a go and get it out there and do something rather than just spend all my time writing to publishing houses and getting rejected and writing and getting rejected. Okay. Well, just because you’re not traditionally published doesn’t mean that your book’s not worthy because it just doesn’t fit into what their requirements are. And as we mentioned in the previous podcast, they’re looking to make money for their company so they have to choose what they think is going to be the best return for their investment.
So, they’re going to go for name authors that they already have established. So, as a nobody getting published it is a lot more difficult, I would say, in this particular field. So, that’s probably one of the reasons and because I think I wanted to have more control over the way it went together, the cover design, just the whole aspect of it. Which, of course, is a monstrously huge learning curve and I don’t think I’ve got very far up the curve at the moment but it’s a learning process.
Belinda Pollard: Well, you’ve got two books out so you must have got somewhere up the curve!
Alison Joy: Just I’ve got to get further up the marketing curve, I think, that’s the one that’s the hardest. Well, they’re all hard but harder than the others!
Belinda Pollard: Were you surprised, when you did it, were you surprised at how hard it was or had you been expecting that?
Alison Joy: I don’t think even if you’re told it’s going to be hard you realise the enormity of it until you’re in the situation. It’s like being a parent. You can learn all the head knowledge but until you’re actually doing it, it’s a whole different ball game. And everybody’s different.
Everyone’s experience is different because what you, Belinda, have experienced as an independent author and what Donita has experienced is totally different and everybody’s pathway is different. Everyone’s experience is slightly different so you can get the head knowledge but until you’re actually on that path and trying to do it yourself, you’ve got really no idea.
Do I have regrets? Even though I knew it was upfront costs I probably should have allocated more for the marketing side of things because you can’t have one without the other and trying to market on a shoestring because you’ve put all your money into your book is probably not the wisest thing to do. When you allocate money for your book, you still need to allocate X amount of dollars for publishing for actually the marketing side of things.
And it’s trying to establish a platform and trying to establish yourself and get yourself out there. Yes, it’s not an easy road.
Donita Bundy: As Belinda pointed out you’ve got two books out now; did that change for the second book. Did you change the way you did things between the first and the second.
Alison Joy: Basically, splashing around under water, paddling like crazy, trying to get somewhere.
Belinda Pollard: You’re referring to marketing at this point?
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: Yes. The whole book writing process up until then has been obviously a lot easier because I know what to expect and I know what’s expected of me and I’m assuming that I am a better writer this second time around. Hopefully I’m learning from my mistakes and not making the same ones over and over but I might be a slow learner, I don’t know! You’d have to talk to my editor about that!
It’s going to be tough whichever way you go so there’s no easy road and no matter which choice you make it’s not going to be easy.
Belinda Pollard: Did your faith influence the choices that you made?
Alison Joy: I guess because romance publishing houses cover a wide range of genres and sub-genres and a wide range of “heat levels” for want of a better word that seems to be common. I think if you go with a particular publishing house, you’ve got to understand that they’re also going to be promoting books that – you might personally not be comfortable being associated with this particular publishing house. Does that make sense? And they’re going to do things in the promotion field that you may not be comfortable with.
Belinda Pollard: Donita, what about you? Why did you choose it and how did that come about and are you glad, or sad, or mad?
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Dr Seuss! I chose self-publishing because I thought traditional was beyond me. When I first started out, I had my manuscript. I was a newb. I was naïve and I was told to launch via an agent. So, I went out and I did all the research, I bought all the books, found out which agents would represent my genre and my style of writing, Christian, fantasy, all of the kind of things that I covered in my book. I rounded it down to two who would accept my kind of writing who happened to be in America and I sent my manuscript off with my cover letter and I’d done all the work. And I was immediately picked up by one and I was so excited because someone said, “It’s going to take you months and months before you hear back, if anything.”
Within two days I’d been given the thumbs up. I was just over the moon with excitement and this particular agent said, “Right. Really loved your work. I’d like to work with you. Here are the things that I need you to do. So, here’s a checklist. Come back and talk to me in six-months’ time.”
So, I pursued this list with a passion and I ticked all the boxes and I started a website and I started a blog and I got public speaking and I started social media. I had been a social-media-phobe so I’d gone from nothing and I had launched and I had an Instagram account and a Facebook account. And I had done all the research and I was just pouring myself into this checklist that I needed to do to be acceptable to this agent. And I got back to him in six-months’ time and it was like that scene from the Western with the tumble weed rolling through the centre of the ghost town.
My numbers and my following were nowhere near the thousands that were required and my email list on my website was still in the double figures instead of the five figures. So, I just looked and I just realised that I did not have it in me to be traditionally published. I couldn’t do all these things and as Alison said I think in our previous podcast that I had poured myself into the checklist and I had not written one word of my next novel. I hadn’t done any work in my writing.
So, I just thought: I can’t do traditional publishing. I just don’t have it in me. I’m not capable.
Belinda Pollard: It’s interesting that it wasn’t your manuscript that was the problem.
Donita Bundy: No.
Belinda Pollard: It was purely your author platform.
Donita Bundy: Yes. Because he picked it up immediately and said, “I love this. Yes, I want to work you.” And so, like I said, I was just like on cloud nine. This guy was quite a prominent agent so I was so excited. And then I just thought, I can’t do this and I can’t be a mum and a wife and live a normal life and still achieve all of these things and write books.
So, I had to say, well, what do you want to do? I want to write books and I would love to have a book published and obviously I can’t do it traditionally because I can’t do the multiple thousands of followers. So, I just went, “Right. I believe in the story.” I thought, I had the affirmation from the agent and I thought, “Well, yes, it must be okay because he liked it!”
Belinda Pollard: Absolutely.
Donita Bundy: I’ve got a story. I love the story. I love my characters and I want to give them life so that’s why I went with self-publishing and not traditional. Yes.
So, the biggest pro for going self-publishing was that I can now hold my book in my hands. It’s a physical thing. I am a published author. I can tick that box and that’s what I’ve achieved. The biggest con was like you just said, Alison, it was the constant ridiculous learning curves. The learning cliff! Doing what was required and not knowing what you don’t know and it’s just like there’s so much out there. There is so much that you need to know and do.
Belinda Pollard: I’m getting a vision here of Tom Cruise climbing that cliff that leans backwards at the beginning of one the… [Mission Impossible theme] “Doot, doot, doo-doo. Doot, doot, doo-doo.”
Donita Bundy: Yes! That’s exactly it. It’s this one and you’re climbing this one so you’re not just upwards and you’re not just backwards. You’re like climbing across the ceiling, upside down with your toes, wearing a barbed wire mini skirt!
Belinda Pollard: But other than that, dear listener, we can highly recommend self-publishing!
Donita Bundy: I tell you what, the learning curve happens once. Unless you get to the top, there might be another learning curve. Actually, there will always be another learning curve but the fact of the matter is you have achieved so much and you’re already standing from a new platform looking at a different view because you’ve overcome those challenges and you’ve learnt those lessons. And from those shoulders you stand on and you launch into the next learning curve.
That was a little bit overwhelming but I’d already come from an overwhelming journey through trying to be traditionally published. So, it was just more learning and I just think, “Oh, goodness me!” But anyway, lifelong learners and that’s a good thing.
I don’t have any regrets and I’m actually so grateful I went through the process of all those things that that agent asked me to do because that journey has brought me to a totally different life because now, I have a website. Now, I blog. Now, I am teaching writing. Now, I’m on Instagram and through that I have re-entered my hobby of photography through which I have learnt the art of book cover design and things like that.
All of these things I wouldn’t have attempted if I hadn’t been challenged in the first place with that carrot. Like, do all this and you’ll be traditionally published.
Belinda Pollard: And you need all those things for self-publishing as well.
Donita Bundy: Exactly! So, I’ve learnt so much and I was spurred on by this goal. When the goal was removed and I didn’t get the carrot, I actually realised that I had a wealth of information and some skills. I had been pushed and fast tracked down the path that led me to where I am now which I’m just so grateful.
So, at the time it was ugly, but I’m very grateful for that process and I just love the fact that I’ve just launched myself on a whole new life and it happened very quickly. That’s good!
Alison Joy: I think the other thing is because when you’re independent there’s so many people out there with advice and saying, “Well, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that. You’ve got to go this way and you’ve got to go that way,” and there’s no one, right answer. It’s just finding what works for you.
Donita Bundy: Yep.
Alison Joy: And I was reading someone, was it David Gaughran, just this morning and he was saying, “If you don’t like Facebook ads, don’t do Facebook ads.” You’ve got to find out what works for you. You don’t do it because this guru says you have to and this guru says you have to do this. Trying to figure it out for yourself and figure out what works for you and your lifestyle and where you’re at, at the moment.
Donita Bundy: And I think that’s the other benefit for us coming into it. I know, Belinda, you’ve been in this and doing this for many years but for people like Alison and myself who are newer to the self-publishing there are those who’ve gone before us and broken down those barriers. And so, entering into self-publishing now and starting your own website now and starting your own blog now, I believe, would be so much easier than the people who were starting and being independent authors decades ago when it first happened because it’s like now if you’re gluten-free there are so many options whereas if you were gluten-free 20 years ago you were on your own.
I’m so grateful for the people who’ve gone before. And another really good thing is about belonging to that community of people who are at different levels, different places in the journey. There are people to ask.
Belinda Pollard: And there is quite a strong community spirit, isn’t there? I mean, there’s some people who won’t tell you anything because it’s all their big secrets in the cone of silence, but most people are very community minded and always wanting to help each other.
Quite interesting, that process. Rather than just seeing one another as competitors.
Donita Bundy: Absolutely. So, what about you, Belinda, because you’ve been traditionally published and self-published but most recently self-published. Why have you gone that way?
Belinda Pollard: It’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about that and how much I have moved towards self-publishing in recent years from being right back in the traditional camp, back in the day.
Just to be clear, I’m traditionally published with Christian devotionals so quite a different format to the crime novels and the memoirs that I’m writing now. So, they were different things but, yes, I was in that traditional space for 15 years.
I had been planning for quite a while thinking that I might self-publish some non-fiction but I had not thought that I would self-publish fiction. I wanted to write fiction. I love fiction. But I had thought that I would not self-publish that.
So, I was writing a mainstream crime novel, so not a Christian crime novel, but a mainstream crime novel with some gracenotes in it. And I won an award with that that got me an introduction to a Big 5 publisher. That introduction did not result in an offer but I could have resubmitted to them after I did some further work.
I began on the further work. I worked with beta readers and did my own revision. I spent a lot of time learning about fiction because I’d mostly been in the non-fiction space so I was learning this whole new area and exploring and learning stuff.
I had also, at the same time, been working with a lot more self-publishers. My work as a book editor had been, back in the day, mostly for publishers or for authors who were writing to submit to publishers and wanted to get their book in good condition before they submitted it. And then I had some self-publishers start coming into the mix.
Some of the earliest ones were back in the early 2000s when self-publishing was very different to now. Very different to now! I mean, these people had to come up with up to $10,000 to buy their first print run. And that’s not counting editing, cover design or any of the other stuff. And then when they had a garage full of books, then they had to ship them out to people whenever anyone ordered one, or they had to be constantly spruiking trying to get them into bookstores.
So, it was a whole different setup. So, the introduction of print on demand and ebooks and online distribution has revolutionised self-publishing and we can talk more about that in another episode. But basically, I had had this one encounter with a Big 5 publisher that did not end in a six-figure offer in spite of my strong wishes for that!
And I also submitted to one literary agent who I’d met at an event and she had said, “Yes, send me your book,” and then she never acknowledged it so I don’t know. I don’t know if she was underwhelmed or if it didn’t arrive or what happened.
But then my thinking changed. It just started to migrate and I guess I’d been praying about this stuff and things started moving.
So many more of my clients were self-publishing. I wanted to test it out for myself.
I wanted to have skin in the game and be able to have the integrity when I dealt with them of being able to say, “Well, yes, I’ve tried this and this worked and that didn’t.” I also wanted that creative control by which I don’t mean over my purple prose and the things that I was so attached to, because I do hire editors for my books – but especially over my gracenotes.
So, my little God hints that I wanted to incorporate in my mainstream book, I wanted to be able to retain. And I had a bit of an advantage in that I had that publishing experience and the skills and I’d been helping others self-publish. So I had that advantage in that some of the tasks I didn’t have to pay for because I already knew how to do them myself. So, that was handy.
I was concerned that mid-list authors don’t tend to get much marketing. Their books tend to be given three months to sink or swim. The publisher doesn’t put much power behind it and I thought, what if this book of mine did get picked up by a publisher but it died an early death because of not being well promoted? And it was the first in my series so it mattered to me. I was wanting to write a series of crime novels so book one mattered to me because it wasn’t a standalone. It was the launching pad for the series.
So, I went in and was surprised how terrifying I found self-publishing. That’s really helped me to empathise with my clients going forward from there! So even though I had that background I did find it quite terrifying.
Dear listener, don’t worry, we will help you! We’re presenting a few negatives here today but there’s also been these amazing positives.
It’s interesting, one of my brothers said to me after I got published, he was just curious about how it came about, and he said, “Oh yeah, but if you got an offer from a publisher, you wouldn’t say no.” And I said to him, “I might,” and his eyes just opened wide.
But the more I go on, the more I think nobody can promote my book with as much enthusiasm as I can. No one believes in it as much. No one will keep it out there for the next 20 years. It would just fall off, go out of print, but because I’m doing it for myself and because I have a bigger vision it has been immensely satisfying and immensely exciting and self-publishing is actually my default choice for a book nowadays.
I would find it quite hard to go back to the traditional publishing realm where I’m playing to someone else’s deadlines and someone else’s desires. I do occasionally write a short book or a Bible study or something for a traditional publisher but not my big work. I kind of want to continue to be able to push that forward myself.
Alison Joy: If you were with, say, a traditional publisher they have the rights to your book though; is that correct?
Belinda Pollard: You confer certain rights on them and that’s all covered by your contract. I’ve got one book that I’m working on at the moment where the rights have reverted to me. I’m working on self-publishing that book at the moment and that was a devotional book from 20 years ago.
Alison Joy: So, if you’re not happy with the way they’ve done it, you can’t necessarily go, “Okay, well I’m having it now and I’m doing it my way.”
Belinda Pollard: Not when they’ve still got it, no. But once the rights revert you can do whatever you like with it, within in the confines of your contract. Yes.
We’re running out of time. We’d better round this one out. How about I pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we pray for the listeners out there who are trying to figure out which path they want to take. We pray that you will give them wisdom and clarity and peace and purpose. And that you will help them to know how to serve you and how to connect and encourage and build up other Gracewriters. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Donita Bundy and Alison Joy, thank you. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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