Home thoughts from abroad on self-publishing

As soon as I get on a plane, this happens. In the days before actually setting off on a trip my head is full of logistical arrangements, blocking out the deeper bigger picture of what I’m doing and planning. As soon as the seat belt snaps on, the noise clears and my mind is free to roam again, with minimal distraction. It’s a form of mental hibernation, necessary to deal with the tedium of the journey itself.

Yesterday, it happened again, and by the time I checked into the hotel in Edmonton where I am now my head was busy with the decisions that I was rehearsing in the last blog post. In the past week or so, some of the picture has cleared a little, and the mental hibernation pushed that thinking along further. Realistically, my chance of finding an agent and surmounting the subsequent hurdle of a publishing deal, remains minimal. Infinitesimal actually, and as such probably doesn’t merit a major investment of my time. The submission to a potentially sympathetic agent has gone in, but my expectations remain very low.

I’ve also been prompted to re-think my use of an editor. My current editor has done a wonderful job for me, but she’s not part of the fiction publishing and bookselling network, and not a specialist in the genre I’m trying my hand at now – crime fiction. She knows a good story, but I suspect there’s more to the nuances of this genre that neither of us still know much about. We need to talk about that, and I might set out to find a specialist editor for feedback if not for further help.

Another chance encounter has also made me think about the stage of the paperback self-publishing process that is the most difficult for me – marketing and distribution. The two hang together of course: you need good promotion and marketing to raise the volume of sales to the point where the national distributors and bookshop chains are interested in putting your book on the shelf or storing them in a warehouse. The distribution deal I currently have covers only Cumbria, and what I need now is coverage elsewhere. More internet searches reveal a raft of ‘service providers’ who claim to be able to do that, but they’re expensive! Do I want to invest that much? Are my books worth it? The trilogy ‘Between the Mountains and the Sea’, set in West Cumbria, benefits from local distribution, but the new title ‘Cruel Tide’ is aimed at a wider market, at crime fiction readers wherever they be, although its links to the north-west of England are strong. Maybe investing in this would be worth it. There’s be less profit per book, but that could be offset by selling more books.

The cost of the ‘service’ is for each book, putting the cost of involving all four books is well beyond my means. But if I employ specialist help for the fourth book, might this bootstrap interest in the previous ones? The main female character of ‘Cruel Tide’ is the grand-daughter of the main female character in the trilogy, and the trilogy provides the extensive backstory of ‘Cruel Tide’ although the new book stands alone, and will probably become the first book of a new series.

As I’ve found so many times before, writing about these choices is clarifying them in my mind. Writing takes the early shape of ideas and sharpens them into the next stage. That’s one reason blogging is helpful: writing for an audience makes you concentrate harder than writing a few rambling notes for yourself. Five more weeks of travel lie ahead. By the time I arrive home I should have it all sorted out. Yeah, right.

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