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Opinion: Why I Swapped the Traditional Publishing Dream to Self-Publish

headshot of Emily Benet

Emily Benet, newly independent

With two trade-published books to her name, one fiction, one non-fiction, Emily Benet chose to switch to the path of the indie author and self-publish her third book, a novel, The Hen Party. Her encouraging case study may inspire other authors to do the same, and reaffirm the conviction of those already following that course.

 

The dream had come true. I had an agent. I’d been published by one of the big five. Yet here I was, dithering over whether to send my fourth book to an independent editor. It felt like the most significant decision of my writing career. To self-publish or to continue along the traditional route?

My novel, The Hen Party, was out on submission and the rave rejections were trickling in after months of waiting around. I was starting to wonder what I’d say if it was accepted. I’d been listening to the Creative Penn podcast for years, and the idea of taking my career into my own hands sounded really appealing.

After all, my experience with traditional publishing hadn’t exactly been the dream I’d imagined.

My First Trade-Publishing Breakthrough

My writing career kick-started with my blog in 2008, about working in my parents’ quirky chandelier shop. I had plenty of rejection letters under my belt, and I just wanted someone to read what I wrote.

Fast forward six months and Salt Publishing spotted it, thanks to a Facebook link I’d left on their wall, and commissioned the book Shop Girl Diaries.

I thought it would all be easy after my first published book. But the reality was: nothing changed.

I sold my thousand copies thanks to my parents’ chandelier shop, but after that I was back to submitting to agents from my Writers’ &Artists’ Yearbook.

Wattpad as Launchpad

Once again, it was an urge to get my writing out there and build a readership that made me post the romantic comedy, Spray Painted Bananas, on Wattpad. The response was incredible. When it reached half a million hits, I wrote to a couple of agents. This time they both said yes.

It took a whopping eight months before I signed with a publisher. They didn’t like the title Spray Painted Bananas. The book was renamed The Temp, the comic banana replaced with a pouty woman swathed in pink, and all the Wattpaders who had said they wanted the physical copy couldn’t find it.

It swiftly disappeared into oblivion leaving me with an ache of disappointment.

Third Book Lucky?

But my next book would be more successful, I thought. I was very proud of my third novel. It was a romantic comedy about social media addiction called, #PleaseRetweet. I spent money on a PR company, wrote lots of guests posts for book bloggers and did all I could to help as I waited for the great launch by my big publisher.

  • But there was no publicity campaign. Only famous authors get all that.
  • My royalty check was embarrassing.
  • I felt frustrated that I couldn’t get my hands on my books.

I felt if I could just change their covers, play with the price, run Facebook adverts – do something recommended in the Creative Penn podcast I kept listening to – then I might be able to improve sales.

Self-publishing by Any Other Name

cover of The Hen Party

Emily Benet’s new novel, proudly self-published

At the time, I didn’t think of blogging as self-publishing; but it was and it was successful. Wattpad too, was a form of self-publishing, and it was successful. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to come around to self-publishing, but as I press send on that email to the independent editor and embark on a new self-publishing journey, I feel a rush of adrenalin.

It’s not even about sales right now. It’s about feeling empowered and taking back control so that I can give my books their best chance to succeed.

The Hen Party is available now in ebook and from July 2017 in paperback.

OVER TO YOU Have you moved from trade to self-publishing? Are you a bit of both – a hybrid author? We’d love to hear whether your experience chimes with Emily’s, so please feel free to leave comments!

#Authors - #selfpublishing or #traditional?@EmilyBenet explains why she's gone indie Click To Tweet

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6 Responses to Opinion: Why I Swapped the Traditional Publishing Dream to Self-Publish

  1. Emily Benet June 21, 2017 at 9:57 pm #

    Thanks everybody for reading and for all the well wishes! I can see it’s not going to be an easy peasy journey and @KS.Trenton I know what you mean about struggling to find the balance. I know I’ve got to spend each day creating something NEW – and not just focus on marketing, but I keep falling into the internet hole as marketing queries and ideas occur to me. Getting rights back also proving tricky for me @Pamela which is annoying as I would give one away as a permafree or to build subscriptions if I could… but hopefully I’ll get at least one set back soon.

    It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve sold my first 17 books from just putting the link on Facebook and had my first five star review from a book blogger who didn’t think she’d have time to read it – the review made me burst into tears from relief! It’s a start I can build upon. I plan to do online advertising once I’ve got a few more reviews. Congrats @Jeanne Marie Felfe on the book signing. I hope to do one too at my local book shop as soon as my print books arrive 🙂

  2. K.S. Trenten June 15, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    I’m a hybrid. I’m working on getting my ambient gender bending fantasy series, ‘Tales of the Navel/The Shadow Forest’ self published, but I’m also releasing my novella ‘Fairest’ again with a Nine Star Press GLBTQ+ anthology of fairy tales. I’ll admit, I’ve got a soft spot for Penguin. I’ve read many of their classics, plus I admired them for releasing so much science fiction and fantasy with GLBTQ+ subtext before it became popular to do so. I do like working with small publishers, where I can get to know all the people I’m working with. I also like retaining control over my material, which I can do more when I self publish. I like knowing how it all works, too, having a hand/say in the cover art, where my books are distributed, and being involved. My big concern is it takes time, time which I need to write. I’m still struggling to find a balance for it all.

  3. Pamela Crane June 15, 2017 at 1:38 am #

    My story was similar to this. My first novel got picked up by a reputable agent, who sold it to a medium-sized traditional house, and I was psyched. My editor was fabulous, but when I first saw my cover, I was mortified. It was horrendous. Then their pricing was way too high. My sales were dismal, and after two years I begged to get out of my contract. Eventually I got my rights back and decided to self-publish.

    And I’ve never looked back.

    I’ve just published my sixth book, with two more coming out this year. While it’s very time-consuming learning marketing while writing and handling all production elements myself, it’s been worth every sweat-and-blood minute. My upcoming release, The Art of Fear, has been an Amazon Hot New Release, and I’m finally making enough in sales to go part-time with my day job.

    Getting control over my publishing has allowed me to make this a career, and with enough work, I think it’s doable for any author.

  4. Deborah Lawrenson June 14, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    Oh yes, all this chimes with me – and I’m the veteran of eight big-five published novels. A very honest and rational post. The months of hanging around, wondering! The luck you need for the right editor to see a book at the right time, with the right-shaped hole in the list! The odd, and plain wrong decisions. One of my most successful novels (WHS Fresh Talent pick, eventually) I self-published because even when agents believed in it, editors didn’t. I found out – as you say – a great deal about the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry in proving them wrong.

    Published my latest, 300 Days of Sun, independently in the UK, while HarperCollins have published it well in the USA and Canada, and I’ve allowed UK sales of the print version. It’s been quite a struggle, to be honest. However surprisingly useless big publishers can be with marketing sometimes (not always, obviously), it really does help to have the initial boost of it being seen in shops with a few print reviews. After the first few weeks, though, mainstream published or independent, it usually comes down to the same effort required on the author’s part to work away trying to get the book noticed.

    Wishing you all the best for The Hen Party!

  5. Louise Walters June 14, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Hi Emily and ALLI, this does chime with me! My first novel was published by Hodder in 2014, and all was wonderful, and exciting, and I got lots of foreign deals and naively assumed I had “made it”.

    Then my second novel was rejected. My agent tried other publishers, but despite coming close to getting a deal, it got nowhere. So I decided to bring it out myself, and it’s been a revelation for me as a writer. I now feel I have a much more realistic understanding of the publishing industry! And I’ve loved the control and autonomy of self-publishing.

    Sales are not great, but I’m plugging away at marketing and publicity and my Am and GR reviews are really keeping me going, and encouraging me to do it all over again.

    Good luck, Emily! x

  6. Jeanne Marie Felfe June 12, 2017 at 7:18 pm #

    Hooray for you! I started out self-pub with my debut novel, The Art of Healing in June 2016, because I didn’t want to spend two years waiting around to see it in print, assuming I was even fortunate enough to get picked up by a publisher. I’ve spent the past year learning all the things I didn’t know I needed to know and actually just got home from my first ever book signing in my home town of Corpus Christi, TX. The signing went great and I now have the confidence to do more of that.

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