At Home in the Pays d’Oc is the story of how my husband and I were adopted, while in France, by a small brown and white dog, and how we ended up spending four years as residents of a village in the Languedoc.
It is true, up to a point, although I wouldn’t dream of spoiling a good story for the sake of a few hard facts. Some of my beta readers have been kind enough to say it is funny. If you want to read it, it will soon be available through Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. If you subscribe to Tolino, Scribd or Apple you will, I’m told, find it there.
But the point of this post is not to tell you about the book. It is to tell you how it came into existence: a salutary tale (or a warning) for all indie publishers. It’s about perseverance in the face of all odds; it’s about saying ‘I quit’ nine times and going back, reluctantly, with gritted teeth and dragging heels, a tenth time.
There’s a lot to be said for indie publishing. Yes, it would be nice to have an agent pick up your book, or a publisher swoop on it with cries of joy. But then what? You’ll still have to make sure the copy is up to scratch. You’ll still have to do most of the marketing yourself. And if you have an agent, after all the blood and sweat and tears you will still have to part with some of your hard-won royalties in commission.
So you decide to go independent. Your next question is, how? In the past the newspapers were stuffed with ads from ‘publishers’ saying how they’d love to publish your book. And in many cases you’d end up hundreds or even thousands of pounds poorer with a garage full of books, often poorly produced and unsaleable. This was the dreaded vanity publishing, and it was a rip-off.
Then Amazon came along and kicked the whole thing into touch with CreateSpace. Suddenly vanity publishers became indie publishers, with a whole new-found respectability.
Other platforms are available, such as Ingram Spark. Some are free, some charge a small amount, but the crucial thing is that they offer print on demand and world-wide distribution. If you have a computer and a lot of determination you can produce a book almost indistinguishable from something rolling off the presses of Penguin or Hodder.
But that’s the snag. You still have to do the work yourself. Amazon and the others will tell you how easy it is. It isn’t. You will have to battle with page sizes and templates and embedded fonts and pages which don’t end where you expect them to. You will spend half your time waiting for Customer Support to answer your latest frantic plea for help, and if the publisher happens to be in the USA this could mean a 24-hour delay. If you are lucky the reply will actually address your question. In the worst cases you’ll get an off-the-shelf reply which is no help at all. You will give up at least once, I guarantee it.
If you don’t edit, proofread, check, check and check again, no-one is going to do it for you. And even if you do, there are bound to be things you miss, so it’s a good idea to beg or bribe a kindly beta reader to cast an eye over the text.
So, where do you start? My advice is to find out what other people are doing. If you are in a writing group, talk to your fellow writers; if you aren’t, it’s a good idea to join one, for mutual support and advice. Pick their brains about the technicalities, ask them about the platforms they have used. Do you know what an e-pub file is? Do you understand about ISBNs? Do you know how to turn your Word document into a file suitable for print or an e-reader? Do you know how to get free copies to your beta readers and reviewers without their having to wade through a massive Word document? There are people out there who know these things, and who are willing to share their experiences.
Secondly, and this is important, see what ‘real’ books look like. Some time ago a member of our writing group proudly brought in her latest publication. It was printed in a 12pt sans serif type and wasn’t justified (that is, the lines didn’t come to a neat right-hand margin). It had no copyright page, no dedication, author bio or acknowledgements. Frankly it looked like 120 pages of a Word document shoved between two covers. Nothing could have been less like a real book.
So, with all this angst and hassle, is it all worth it? Yes, it is. If you have faith in your book, if you want to do it justice, you will hack your way through the self-publishing jungle and come out on to the sunlit uplands of a finished book to be proud of. Good luck!