Why I’m Self-Publishing: A Guest Post by Roz Morris

Many of you may know Roz Morris from her fantastic writing blog and her indispensable writing guide, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Fix, Finish and Draft with Confidence. As of yesterday, she and I now have something in common too: after saying in the past that while we were happy to self-publish our non-fiction, we’d never, ever self-publish a novel, we’re doing just that! Roz has put an ingenious twist on her novel release, My Memories of a Future Life, so I asked her to tell us more about her decision. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Roz!

Why I’m self-publishing

If you’d asked me in January, I wouldn’t have thought self-publishing a novel was a good idea. It was fine for non-fiction, where you could demonstrate your expertise and gather readers who liked your style. I’d already done it with a book on writing – Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How you Can Draft, fix and Finish With Confidence. Publishers thought it was fine, but too short to put out in print. So I published it myself and each month it gathers fans who tell me there is nothing else like it and it’s exactly what they need.

But self-publishing fiction? Wasn’t that like admitting you couldn’t get properly published?

Maybe years ago it was. But these days there are two reasons novels don’t find publishers. One is that they’re not good enough. The other is that they’re not what the market needs.

My novel

I had a novel on submission, My Memories of a Future Life. A quirky twist on reincarnation, it falls between genres. Too unusual to be either genre fiction or traditionally literary. My agent took me on because she loved it and said it reminded her of The Time Traveller’s Wife, in a Derren Brown way. But publishers won’t take chances on new unusual fiction.

I had rejections that went ‘a fascinating little novel – if it was more like a conventional thriller we’d have taken it’. ‘We loved Roz’s writing, she really knows her craft, but it wouldn’t be right for our list’. And: ‘I really liked it but I have no idea how I’m going to persuade marketing.’ Exactly like Catherine’s experience with Results Not Typical.

My Memories of a Future Life was inspired by the novels that were being published ten or twenty years ago. What if you were somebody’s past? What parts of you would haunt them? Could they give you the answers you need now? The publishing economy won’t stand novels like that now, but readers still adore them. It’s all the things I would tell authors not to do if they were hoping for representation or publication now, and it’s what I had to write.

Around spring this year, agents started talking about becoming publishers. The term self-publishing, which has been trying for years to peel itself away from the stigma of vanity (and helped by pioneers like our Catherine here) was at last being used in respectable circles – although with much gnashing of teeth.

Did I dare?

I looked at my manuscript. Did I dare put it out myself?

Then I hit on an idea. With our brave new world of Kindle, short-form fiction is just as saleable as long-form. What if I put my novel out as a serial, the way Dickens used to? If part of the problem was that I’d paced a ‘proper’ novel like a Hitchcock movie and done a few cheeky things with reality, I should make a virtue out of it. A literary novel in four parts, a hefty 25k words for the magic 0.99c a time?

I talked it over with my agent. Do it, he said. You’ve already self-published so you know how to do it to proper standards. And if you get good sales, publishers are more likely to take notice of your next book, which we can sell conventionally.

Times change, huh? Not so long ago, people worried that self-publishing your fiction was like taking a bulldozer to your career.

Not ‘either or’

By the way, just because you espouse self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to shun conventional publishing. I’ve got experience of both ends of the publishing spectrum, from self-pubbing Nail Your Novel and ghostwriting for the mighty behemoths like Random House. The publishers weren’t ‘wrong’ about Nail Your Novel. It was too short for them to turn a profit. I would love a conventional publishing deal for My Memories of a Future Life, but it breaks the rules of the commercial market now and so I’m better putting out myself. I have many other books in me that will be a good fit with bigger publishers. Talk to any self-publisher today and they will say the same. We can mix and match in our careers.

This time in publishing is groundbreaking and pioneering. Publishers won’t help authors create their own platforms and so we have to do it ourselves. But this also means we’re in the driving seat if we write great books and find the right audience. We’re like the indie musicians taking control – and possibly going to publishers on more equal terms.

And as for the four-part serialisation? My agent is watching keenly to see how it works as a model for ebook releases of their own. Yes, folks. Writers here and now are setting the agenda for the future of the industry.

My Memories of a Future Life Episode 1, The Red Season, was released on Kindle yesterday, 29 August. Find it on the Kindle store here. Find out more on www.mymemoriesofafuturelife.com.

About Roz Morris:

Roz Morris is a ghostwriter, editor and the author of Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available from Amazon. Her website is www.rozmorris.wordpress.com and she blogs at www.nailyournovel.com. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dirtywhitecandy and www.twitter.com/byrozmorris.

Thanks so much Roz – fantastically interesting post and best of luck with My Memories of a Future Life! Self-publishers: take note. This is how an experienced writer familiar with the publishing industry comes to the decision to self-publish – slowly, considerately and not at all lightly.

15 thoughts on “Why I’m Self-Publishing: A Guest Post by Roz Morris

  1. Lindsay Edmunds says:

    The comment that stood out: “The publishing economy won’t stand novels like that now, but readers still adore them.”

    Seems if readers adore stories like that, they would be rather good for publishers.

    • rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy says:

      It’s cockeyed, isn’t it, Lindsay? But that’s the way the industry works now. It didn’t always, but there weren’t so many other competitors for entertainment spending.

      My agent is constantly telling me about the much-loved novels that wouldn’t be published now as first books because they broke the mould a little too much. Skellig by David Almond. The Bridge by Iain Banks. Holes (can’t remember the writer’s name!) It’s a shame, because that stultifies the artform.

  2. Glynis Smy says:

    I am looking forward to reading my copy, Roz. I downloaded today. Good luck. It is interesting that both you ladies changed your minds.

    I am standing tiptoe on the edge of wanting to s/p. My first ms is out with a publisher who called for the full. I was told by a quality NY agent that it was good and I was a good writer, but the novel was not for her.S he cannot market it. I think it is because it is a sub-genre. If I get no joy from the publisher I will s/p.

    My second is staring at me and daring me. I am 90% there on courage, but need to learn more of the technical side of ms format and cover design before I attempt this path.

    The publishing world is changing.

    • rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy says:

      Hello Glynis – thanks so much for the nuggets of encouragement you’ve been leaving around the tweetverse and facebookface for me today!
      If you need to know about manuscript formatting for Kindle, you can do no worse than look at Catherine’e extensive posts here. I used them to put Nail Your Novel on Kindle. As for cover design, unless you have publishing experience you should get some pro input – but you probably know that anyway.
      All may change when that publisher gives you a verdict. You never know. But as more of us self-pub for some projects and not for others, you could start learning ‘just in theory….’

  3. Tahlia Newland says:

    It’s wonderful that we have these options now. My agent said that 3 or 4 years ago, my novel would have been snapped up, several publishers said they were interested but they had too many in the same genre already waiting to go out. I’m still waiting on a few more publishers but it’s nice to know that I don’t fall into the first reason for not being published and that I will be able to publish it myself if no one wants to take the risk and do it for me.

    In the meantime, I’m writing a novella length prequel that I intend to self publish on ebook. Novellas are a great length for ebook and I think we’ll see a growth in that size book. I think that the serialisation will work well.

    I’m really looking forward to reading your book because I like the sound of your ‘different’

    • rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy says:

      Thanks, Tahlia! What a good idea to write and publish a prequel. Again, this is where the traditional publishing model doesn’t work for the final product, if we can call it that.
      In traditional publishing you’d have had to grind out 60k words at least to justify getting that story into print, regardless of whether it deserved it – just look at all the lacklustre sequels to books that have been successful. But you can put out a tie-in book that is the length it needs to be – and that readers will enjoy.
      Best of luck with it!

  4. Terry Odell says:

    I did the same thing. I had 3 novels in a series with a publisher, but they changed their imprint structure, and the 4th one I wrote didn’t really fit, yet (I think) it’s still a good book. I took it the indie route after having some experience with back list titles. I think this system definitely allows more genre bending while letting readers choose rather than having publishers set up the boxes books have to squeeze into.

    • rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy says:

      Good for you, Terry. And you’ve already got the readership so you’re onto a winner.
      The point about publishers’ boxes is important. They are not chosen because that is where the best reading experiences are – they are chosen because they are the easiest selling models. If you have a big company or a shop you have to think that way, but if you’re a writer or a reader you don’t.

  5. plantainperiodicals says:

    This post gives me that extra bit of courage and nudge in the self publishing direction I needed. Is it strange that I have never really wanted an agent and always dreamed of self publishing a large number of novellas??

    I absolutely love the kindle and e – readers because of the flexibility they give. It’s good to know that a lot of other writers think so too.

  6. Judith Marshall says:

    Hi Roz, Congratulations on taking the leap into self-publishing (or as I like to call it independent publishing) your fiction. I took an even bigger leap and independently publishing my novel, “Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever,” in 2009 before everyone was doing it. After more than 200 agent rejections (many asking for the entire manuscript), I bit the bullet and published through BookSurge (now CreateSpace) in both print and as an eBook. I’m so happy I did. The eBook is selling like hotcakes and the book has been optioned for the big screen.

    Power to indie authors!

  7. Deborah Anderson says:

    Great article and love your style. You brought up some excellent points for self-publishing, especially the “either or” part where you do not have to commit yourself to one or the other today… Thanks!

  8. Beverly K says:

    Perfect timing for me to read this. I’m beyond frustrated. I spent years writing my novel. It’s fiction. So people said, well, best to put it under Women’ s Fiction. It’s inspirational and has an uplifting message. People said, oh put it under inspirational fiction genre. The underlying theme is about past lives and reincarnation. People said, well try it under spiritual, or new age, or visionary, or metaphysical. Problem is after going through a list of over 150 literary agents, not one was looking for me! My story doesn’t fit anywhere. Apparently not marketable, but like you said, people want to read this stuff. A huge percent of the agents were closed to new queries anyway, and others said it would take 8-12 weeks for them to respond and if they did and requested a partial or full, it could take up to 6 months to hear from them. If you write middle grade, YA, or suspense or thriller (and be the new Gone, Girl) you have a chance. Me? I don’t have a chance going the traditional route. I know nothing about the self publishing route and it looks very confusing and I do worry about being scammed. You have to upfront a lot of money for a good editor, book cover, typesetting etc. I guess it is the direction I have to go. There’s no place like home, and I can’t seem to find one, so maybe I will have to build it myself. Thanks for your article.

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