Writing a debut novel, the Lockdown Series Part 6 – Agents, self-publishing stigma, dealing with disappointments, and some general tips.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this little series you can find part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE , part  3 HERE, part 4 HERE and part 5 HERE. Read them first, then come back. No rush – I’ll just wash my hair while I wait for you.

Right, the first, and most important thing piece of advice I would give you actually goes all the way back to the first post in this series: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF and your writing. Let me give you an example:

You have your debut novel all written and ready to be published but then you decide you want to have an audio version made using ACX. You have two choices on how to do that (assuming you aren’t narrating it yourself) – 1) Hiring someone to produce it and paying them half of your royalties, or 2) paying someone a flat fee up front, then keeping all the royalties for yourself.

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Share royalties? Never!

It’s very tempting to go for the royalty share, because you’re really getting your audiobook narrated without paying a penny straight away. But what happens if your book explodes and thousands of people want the audiobook? Do you really want to share half your royalties with someone else? What if the book is made into a movie and MILLIONS of people want to buy the audiobook? You could be losing out on a fortune, while making someone else wealthy. Of course, it’s highly unlikely your debut novel is going to become the next Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey, but you know your book is good, right? You know people will enjoy it, and leave great reviews, and it will do well, or at least that’s how you should be looking at it. Call it arrogance if you like, but when it comes to deals for audiobooks or foreign translations, if you can afford it, don’t share the royalties. Believe that your book is going to be BIG, and do what you can to make it so.

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Now, it’s quite possible you won’t be able to afford to pay a narrator the full cost, so royalty share will be your only option. But, once your book starts selling like hot cakes – and it will, won’t it? – next time around you’ll have some extra cash available to choose how you want to do things.

Next tip – X marks the spot. Some of you will already by doing something like this, but when I started out I didn’t think of it and it would have saved me a lot of hassle. Quite simply, when you’re in full flow, writing away like crazy, then come to a section which needs researched – rather than immediately heading for a book or Google, put an X in your document and KEEP WRITING. If you’re like me, your writing time is often precious – half an hour grabbed here and there when the kids aren’t around or whatever. It’s not worth wasting that time just to look up a fact. You can do that ANY time – your book will come together quicker if you get it down when you’re in the zone. Then, later on, when you’re in bed or on the train or whatever, just bring up your document on your laptop or phone, and search for all the X’s. Fill them in at your leisure! It’s such an obvious tip, but many people don’t think of it and it really does lead to a more efficient way of working.

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Next – there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing! I expect lots of people who read this and are working on a debut novel will be dreaming of finding a huge publisher and seeing their book as a hardback. I had the same dream – hey, I still would love to see at least one of my books in that coveted form. But is it worth chasing that dream for months, YEARS, trying to find an agent, then, if you do, waiting for them to sell it to a major publisher? Do you realise how many authors nowadays are making a living from going down that route? I’ve been on panels with Amazon, sitting beside authors who’ve had major deals with big publishers, only to realise they’re making a pittance from the royalties and they switch voluntarily to self-publishing because it brings in more money and allows them to actually earn a decent living.

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Counting my money during lockdown.

Years ago there was a stigma attached to self-publishing but nowadays readers have come to realise some of the best books out there are written by independent authors. However, I’m not saying you MUST publish yourself – just be aware that you have a choice. You could try and find a publisher, of course, follow that dream if it means a lot to you! But don’t sink years of your life into it when your book could be out there making you money while you work on the next volume.

Now, that all brings me onto the subject of AGENTS. Is it even worth trying to find an agent these days? I guess it must be or they wouldn’t still exist. I was so excited to be taken on by an agent in New York about three years ago as I knew he’d managed to sell books to some major publishing houses so I really thought that was it – I’d made it. He liked The Druid and obviously I believed completely in it, so I waited eagerly as he started the process of selling it to a publisher. Months went past and nothing happened. In the end, after a year of very little happening, I grew disillusioned – I’d already managed to sell over 100,000 self-published books on my own by this point. Yet my agent was only getting rejections for The Druid and it took me back to the start, when the same thing had happened with Wolf’s Head and agents told me there was no market for it. I believed there was a market for Wolf’s Head in 2013 and I was right. I believed in The Druid just as much. More! So it was very depressing to have these publishers rejecting me all over again. In the end, I decided enough was enough and I self-published it. Guess what? There was a market for it, as the chart placings and sales figures showed. It’s still in the top 1000 overall in the UK right now, over a year after its release.

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I don’t blame my agent for any of this – I believe he did what he could to sell it and was just as surprised and frustrated as me by the publishers’ apathy. But it was a lesson learned for me. If you truly want to follow that traditional publishing route, and hold a hardback in your hand one day, you need to find an agent, then a willing publisher – and it’s then highly likely you’ll make a LOT less money than you would if you self-published your book. Think very carefully about it – there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing!

Okay, the last thing I can think of to mention are the inevitable disappointments you’re going to face as an author. There’ll be times when it looks like something big is going to happen, only for it to fall apart, rather like when I got an agent. Or there was the time a major movie producer got in touch with me about possibly turning The Wolf and the Raven into a Hollywood blockbuster. I had practically selected which Ferrari I was going to buy, but never heard from them again after the first couple of emails. Then, a little more prosaically, there’s been occasions when it looks like one of my books will be featured in Amazon deals in the USA, which would surely have resulted in some big sales, only for it not to happen, and once a Spanish publisher asked about translating my books only to ignore my emails once I sent them the paperbacks (at my own cost).

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The only Ferrari I’ll probably ever own, sadly.

Here’s the lesson I learned from all these things: Have hope, but don’t build up your hopes too much. As we say in Scotland, “what’s for you won’t go by you.” Don’t fret about a deal that might have been, focus on making something else good happen instead. As soon as I parted ways with my agent I managed to secure a deal, by myself, with Audible for my standalone novel Lucia. They bought the audio rights from me, edited, copyedited and hired a top-class narrator, while I retained the ebook and paperback rights. So, keep believing.

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Ultimately – the only way anything can happen is if you actually publish your novel. So stop editing, proofing and procrastinating, and get it out there for people to buy NOW. Your journey is about to begin, so get to it!

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