Today's questions focus on process: Andy's decision to self-publish and how he went about getting his book into print and onto screens - the story of the book, in other words. Next week, the Q&A will focus on the story in the book.
And now - over to Andy et al.
Andy: Susan, John, Mandy, Lindsay, Jeff, Mark and Eli are all writers at different stages of their writing careers. Each one of them has been remarkably supportive of Blow Your Kiss Hello and it seemed only fair to give them the chance to put me in the hot seat. What follows are the answers to the questions they put to me regarding the novel and my writing. I’ll try to be as honest as I can in my replies!
Mandy: Having not followed the traditional route of agent/publisher, how did you make the decision that BYKH was ready for self-publication?
Susan: My question is about going self-published: was it a gradual realisation or more of a sudden epiphany? What ended up being the deciding factor that made you go for it?
Mark: I'm so glad you did, but what gave you the confidence to get BYKH published when traditional publishers wouldn't bite?
Andy: Being self-published was never the goal. In fact I was dead set against it. My opinion of the quality of the vast majority of self-published work was (and remains) pretty low, although of course there are some excellent exceptions. I also wanted the validation of being recognized as good enough by the industry. So I went on the submissions trail, like thousands of others do. And then the inevitable rejections began to arrive, although those that commented (as opposed to just saying ‘no thanks’) were remarkably positive. One agent, for example, said, and this is a direct quote, “I’m torn because you write with great originality and panache and that’s so rare to find… I wish you the best of luck in placing this. I shall kick myself when I read about some mega deal!” Others were in a similar vein, so I thought that the book must have something.
However, over time I began to lose faith, not so much in my book but in the industry itself. It seemed to me that what was getting promoted as fabulous new works were pretty lame in many cases and there was a real reluctance to turn to anything that wasn’t conventional. And I know this is something that happens in times of recession, you can see it across all the arts; people turn to the equivalent of cultural comfort food. Whilst this was happening, the validation began to come from other places:
Other authors whom I chatted to on Twitter began asking about the book and whether they could read it. And these were successful, recognised authors, like John Harding (Florence & Giles, What We Did On Our Holiday) and Chrissie Manby (Kate’s Wedding, Getting Over Mr Right). And once they’d read it, they came back with fulsome praise. Barry Walsh, who’s own debut The Pimlico Kid is published this summer by Harper Collins, said he preferred it to a book he’d recently read by a fabulously well-known writer. And of course, Debi, who had worked as my editor and who has helped BYKH become the book it is. She was a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement.
So with nothing happening for me by way of the traditional route, it was these people who gave me the confidence and the impetus to go down the self-published track, as I could see the alternative being for it to sit in a drawer for years, something I wasn’t prepared to let happen. And to answer Susan’s specific point about an epiphany:
I was at lunch with a friend who asked me if I’d read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I admit I snorted a bit and said something derisory about it having been self-published and my friend snorted right back at me and said, “So?” And it was at that point that I realised that so long as a book’s well presented, readers simply don’t care whether it’s self-published or not. And that was a kind of epiphany.
Jeff: Marketing - your background seems well placed to be able to get this moving and it seems a very professional product. Have you thought of marketing this aspect of your skill set? The book seems to be a remarkable advert for your talents as not only a writer but as someone who can marshal all of the skills required to create a very professional product. With the growing demand for self-publishing, this fills a gap.
Andy: It’s good of you to say so and yes, I did consider it. However, there are a number of companies out there who claim to be able to help the self-publisher. True, most of them don’t seem to be anything other than money-grabbers, but therein lies part of the problem: in order for me to do this for someone else, there would need to be a charge, and not a small one. After all, it has cost hundreds of pounds to get my own book into this shape. For most people looking to self-publish, large fees are unsustainable and basic self-publishing can be done at comparatively little cost, so that tends to be the route that most choose. The fact that this can result in an “inferior-looking” product is subjective and most seem happy. So whilst everyone will want their book to be the best it can be, I don’t think many are prepared to pay what it might cost for someone else to undertake the whole process for them. Then again, if you want me to publish your work, you know where I am!
Mark: What's been the most difficult part of your quest to see BYKH published? And the most exciting?
Andy: In terms of actually publishing, the most difficult part was coming to terms with the self-published route. Thankfully, I now see it as no different from a band releasing tracks via YouTube or whatever without a record label. The most exciting was definitely receiving the first proof copy from the printer.
Lindsay: Where were you when you first had the idea for the book, where were you in life, what prompted you to begin?
Andy: Physically? I was sitting by the side of a swimming pool in Jamaica! Although I did already have bits of it underway without really knowing what I was going to do with them. I was at a very fortunate stage in life – I’d just sold my business and was contemplating some time away from the day job and I was wondering about doing the thing I’d always promised myself I’d do – write the damn book. The bones of the plot just came to me in the sunshine and after a few days making some notes I knew that this was what I was going to spend the next year or so doing.