Life in the self-published ghetto

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  David Brzeski 5 years, 8 months ago.

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    David Brzeski

    It’s been an interesting year for us. My partner Jilly Paddock retired from her job as a biomedical scientist for the NHS early, while she still had some possibility of an (albeit lower) pension. The state of the NHS is such that we simply didn’t consider it a good risk for her to hang around until retirement age.

    Some 30 years ago now, Jilly took her first steps as a writer. She sold a couple of stories to magazines & secured an agent (Dorothy Lumley of the Dorian Literary Agency).

    It was the early 90s. Magazines were folding left right & centre. Jilly’s novel was collecting rejections. Nice rejections, but the frustrating kind. The kind that said, I really loved this book, but it doesn’t fit our list right now. The market for genre fiction was contracting fast. Publishers were just looking for the next Terry Pratchett. Self-publishing back then was a pipe dream.

    Disheartened, Jilly gradually slowed down & then stopped writing for a long time.

    Since retiring & having plenty of time on her hands, the bug has possessed her again. Self-publishers were making serious inroads on Amazon & it was suddenly possible to side-step the endless chain of rejections.

    I helped a lot that she had a huge backlog of work that just needed tweaking & bringing up-to-date, before releasing on an unsuspecting public.

    The first was her novella, ‘No Earthly Shore’, which had been workshopped on the authonomy website for some time.
    This was followed by ‘The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone’, the opening novella in her SF/crime series about Afton and Jerome, a couple of police officers on a colony world. We priced them cheaply, as they weren’t full-length novels & ran some free promotions. We gave away a lot more than we sold obviously, but sales were encouraging.

    After having tested the waters & picking up a few good reviews for the two novellas, she dragged out that novel that had received all those really nice rejections. We followed some advice that it would be a mistake to price her novel too low, so we went for a (we thought) reasonable $4.99, which works out at £3.23 in the UK. We also decided not to make it free until we had at least one more book in the series out there. Sadly, sales on ‘To Die a Stranger’ have been very slow so far. Still, we have managed to pick up some more good reviews.

    Most recently, we’ve issued a collection of her short stories, ‘The Dragon, Fly and other flights of Fancy’. This is basically a collection of all her completed short fiction, including updated versions of those two early 90s sales and another that sold, but had the magazine in question die before they got to it. The title story was originally written on a creative writing course & much admired by Iain (M.) Banks, who was one of the authors running the workshops. It also contains a couple of chapters from later books in her novel series, reworked as short stories. We decided to make this one free for 4 days to begin with and it shifted a good number. Actual sales since the free promotion have been more of a trickle, but it is selling a few.

    Due to the huge numbers of self-publish material flooding Amazon these days, they have recently changed their algorithms so that copies downloaded during free promotions no longer allow the book to make any lasting dent on the ratings, so they no longer gain a higher position in customer searches.

    Still, I am told that the good stuff floats to the surface eventually & as she gets more books out there, they should pick up some momentum.

    As long as people keep on comparing her work to people like Bradbury, LeGuin & McCaffrey then she will get noticed eventually and folks will realise she’s not the typical badly edited error ridden vanity published wannabe, with tons of 5 star reviews, all from friends and family members.

    Our next step is to explore other avenues of self-promotion, work on getting some actual physical books out there for the die-hards & maybe expand the electronic publishing beyond the Kindle.

    I do wonder if it wasn’t a bad decision to publish her books as by Jilly Paddock, rather than the more formal G.M. Paddock, or Gillian M. Paddock she used for those two early sales? I’ve read that there’s still an anti female author bias in the SF readership, which is depressing. How could the most forward looking genre be so backwards in its attitudes?


    Patrick Mahon

    Thanks David – a very interesting insight.

    From a personal perspective, as an aspiring (but unpublished) writer, I have a very great deal of sympathy with Jilly’s situation.

    On the other hand, I do wonder – with my reader’s hat on – how any of us can hope to keep up with the explosion in volume of titles that self-publishing (whether in paper or digital formats) potentially represents. I find it very difficult at the moment to even read half of the stuff I really want to read from established publishers.

    Finding the time to find out about new titles, and to gain enough information about them to be able to make a reasonably rational decision as to whether to buy something or not, is not trivial – and it looks to get increasingly tricky.

    Under these circumstances, how a self-published author competes for air-time, in order to have a chance of persuading potential readers to try their story, seems to me to be a great challenge.

    Best of luck to you both – I hope Jilly continues to find more readers for her books.


    David Brzeski

    You make good points Patrick. The free ebook thing has really gone too far now. There are now several websites dedicated to nothing more than publishing links for free kindle editions. I used to download a lot, but like you, I have too little time to have any hope of reading them. The point of going free used to be simply that it bumped you up the amazon charts & made your book more visible to actual customers. It didn’t really matter that very few of the free downloaders ever read your book. Now the only free downloads that matter are those that go to people who actually read them & perhaps review your book, or actually buy your other books. I think it’s better that way to be honest.
    So maybe it will take longer than we’d like, but we’ll get there eventually. Positive reviews from people we don’t know personally are gradually mounting up. Her novel just got reviewed on the BFS website. Not by me, I hasten to add. While I do review a lot of books for the BFS I will not review Jilly’s. I didn’t know the reviewer at all before he posted his first review of one of Jilly’s books.
    Check her latest review out here, if you’re interested.

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