There comes a day when enough is enough.
So many times on this blog I debated the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Both generally, and in terms of trying to decide what was right for my own books, in particular.
Having announced last week that I was making a leap and starting a crowdfunding campaign to put my novel in print, I wanted to delve in and explain how I finally made the seemingly impossible choice.
May this year was the most recent time I approached the topic publicly. In my post ‘Thoughts on Legacies in a Time of Lockdown‘ – in which I was discussing how living in scarier times gave me new perspective and had me questioning what to do with my extensive body of work – I said, “I talk about choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing like it’s a decision, but obviously it’s not as simple as that. If I could just decide to be traditionally published, I would. It is what I prefer, but whether someone else publishes me or not is ultimately out of my hands.”
At that point, I also said I wasn’t ready to self-publish, but was leaning ever closer to the idea of doing so in the “next six months.”
It was following this post that I had an epiphany; a brainwave so simple and straightforward that I felt like a complete idiot for not having it before, instead wasting literal years torturing myself over this decision that, as I’ve said, isn’t really a decision for me to make.
Aside from the general existential dread about what would happen to my words after I’m gone, my fear was that I would self-publish and, in doing so, miss out on all the benefits of traditional publishing. I was worried it would go badly wrong, like when I tried it before for poetry and short stories, and I was worried I would regret it.
It’s impossible to say what we’ll regret. And it’s even possible that I could have gotten a traditional publishing deal that I went on to regret. I know a lot of the time they’re talked about like they are the holy grail, but sometimes – for some people – they don’t work out.
As for it going badly wrong, it’s a legitimate fear, but without the use of a crystal ball to tell me everything will go perfectly, there’s only one way to mitigate it. And that’s doing my best and trusting in the fact that I have learned from the mistakes I made before and now do know what I’m doing.
That leaves me with that first fear I mentioned: that I might miss out on a traditional deal by going my own way. It was regarding this that my epiphany came about.
You see, I was stuck in this binary state of mind where I could only go for one or the other. It was either/or. And while I was in the limbo of indecision over picking, railing against how frustrating it was, part of me also felt safe in the inaction. It was holding off the fears I listed above, meaning I didn’t have to think about them.
Which was all well and good until I got sick of waiting. The frustration finally overwhelmed the fear and I came back to a question a few writer friends had asked me throughout the submission process my novel underwent: What happens when you get to the end of your list of agents?
My answer had always been to start looking for publishers I could submit to directly.
And what then? I’d been asked. Then, I would say, I start seriously reconsidering self-publishing.
Jo Zebedee asked me why I didn’t just submit to everyone on my list in one go instead of drawing it out by doing one or two a week. I said no, I couldn’t possibly do that. But I couldn’t really put my finger on the reason as to why. From my perspective now, I think it’s fairly easy to see that it was those fears raising their heads again.
Jo must have given me the advice to just get on with it a year or more ago, which makes me feel particularly dense for not realising it was indeed the key to my solution. Between my conversation with her and others asking me ‘what comes next?’ I already had the parts I needed to put everything together.
And so, in June 2020 it all finally clicked.
I realise this blog post has become overly long and anyone still reading must be chomping at the bit for me to finally reveal the solution I promised – this epiphany I spoke of. That’s rather fitting, considering how much I overthought the entire process, but I’m done with that now, so here it is:
I didn’t have to pick a side on the traditional publishing vs self-publishing debate. The different models work for different people at different times. And just because you’ve used one model before doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind and go down the other route at a different point in your career.
This impossible decision was indeed out of my hands, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have some control over whose hands it was in.
I needed to bite the bullet and just do what I’d been threatening this entire time.
I needed to ‘get on with it’ like Jo said, and instead of picking which avenue to pursue, I had to explore one avenue fully and then go down the other one if the first didn’t pan out.
I came up with a plan:
First, I would work on my submission list. I spent a day researching to see if there were any suitable agents I’d missed off it, and I also added a list of potential publishers to the bottom. Then I spent the best part of a week submitting to all of them.
Step Two: I applied for funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Step Three: I waited. It would take three months for me to find out if my funding application was successful and, in the meantime, I should be getting responses from the agents and publishers I submitted to.
If I got a publishing contract, success! If I didn’t, but got the funding, I would be financially stable enough to keep myself in food and water while I self-published. It was win-win. Foolproof! – except in the case where I didn’t get the funding or the publishing contract, but I’ll come back to that.
Knowing these decisions were coming gave me a huge amount of relief. Suddenly, it was like there was a deadline on which I would finally know what the next course of action was, and I wouldn’t have to worry about whether it was the right one, because I’d know that I’d done my due diligence and put everything into my preferred option (traditional publishing). I was fine with taking my back up option (self-publishing), so long as I wouldn’t have the lingering doubt about Plan A.
Roll on deadline day.
The decisions for Arts Council funding were pushed back by a month. And when they did come, it was a no for me.
Four out of the ten agents I applied to in June replied to say they regretfully weren’t taking me on. One out of the five publishers turned me down. The rest didn’t reply at all.
And so I was back asking, ‘What now?’
I’d gone through my three steps and discovered that both Plan A and Plan B weren’t viable.
I needed a Plan C. Which, as you’ll know, turned out to be crowdfunding. And which is going really well! There’re 29 days left on the campaign and it’s 82% funded already. That’s obviously fantastic, but do you know what’s best of all? I know with certainty that it’s the right option for this book. You could cynically say, ‘it’s your only option’ and that’s true, but that’s a good thing. To have picked this path without first having tried the other two and found them unviable would have left me with a perpetual case of ‘what if?’ And I’m so, so glad I don’t have that.
I truly feel relief now. And excitement.
This is happening!
To help put Full Term into print, you can pledge here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/full-term-a-novel/
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