Five Things I've Learned About E-Publishing

It's the London Book Fair this week and I'd love to have gone and supported other Indie authors on the ALLIA stand, authors such as my fellow Electric Author Roz Morris,  but it couldn't be fitted in this year.  However, I'm there in spirit and thought it might be useful to others thinking of E-publishing, if I shared some of the things I've learned in the last 3 years.

What have I learned about e-publishing?

1.  Not to be snobbish about indie publishing

As a traditionally published author, I’d been brought up to believe that any kind of self-publishing was vanity publishing.  Then as a creative writing tutor, I watched some of my students putting very sub-standard work out through firms such as Author House, claiming it as genuine publication, and it horrified me.  I was a very slow convert to Indie publishing and came into it initially just to put my back-list into print. This seemed a legitimate use of the POD and e-book capability - after all, those books had the gatekeepers’ seal of approval so there was no shame attached. What a lot I had to learn!  

2.  What fantastic things are on offer out there!

That was the first thing I discovered as I began to explore the Indie-book jungle. Not only were there lots of exciting new writers, victims of the recession in publishing, but some of the best-selling writers were putting their back-lists out, and they were publishing new books too.  I went to a London Writers’ Club event where an author publishing main-stream romantic novels with Random House gave a talk on her experience.  In four years she had gone from having big advances (around £80,000) offered for her books, to a miserly £10,000.  There had been complaints that her books weren’t selling as well as expected.  She complained that they weren’t making much of an effort to sell them.  So she decided to do it herself using Lulu and Amazon.  She’d sold almost £8,000 worth of books in the first two months with very little effort. Her experience with her publishers was fairly common among the writers in the room.  We’d all seen reduced advances, books that were still selling taken out of print, been victims of conscious decisions not to promote our work. It was soul-destroying.

3.  That it’s the only way to go now

When I sent my last manuscript to my agent - a lovely person and very over-worked - she simply didn’t have the time to read it.  The reader’s report she commissioned was glowing, but my agent warned me that it was not ‘in genre’ enough to fit marketing slots.  The process of submission and response took months and months and months.  In the end we agreed that I would publish it myself.  The current system of agent submission (always supposing you have one), reader’s report, (often around 5 or 6 months) followed by approach to publishers (who can take more than 6 months to respond), simply can’t be justified with today’s technology.  Even if your book is accepted it will be at least another year before it hits the bookshops.  With e-publication and POD I can have a book edited, proof-read and on sale within 3 months of finishing the manuscript - just like it used to be in the old days.  And most of the money it earns is mine.

4.  That it’s not enough to write - you have to learn how to be a publisher

That’s been a big learning curve.  Once upon a time I would have been rung up by an enthusiastic young girl with a media degree working as an intern, and she’d send me a questionnaire, followed a few weeks later by a list of talks, bookshop events and literature festivals.  Not any more.  Now I have to do my own editing, proof-reading, publicity and arrange my own author events.  And it is hard!  Most literature festivals aren’t even looking at Indie authors, even if they have a long track-record with traditional publishers. 

5.  The importance of friends rather than competitors.

I found the traditional literature scene very competitive and, though I have met some kindred spirits, I’ve also witnessed, or been the victim of, petty rivalries and jealousies, often conducted in the press under the cover of honest reviews.  In the indie world I’ve discovered a friendly, supportive group of people, all anxious to help each other navigate the maze.  We’re sharing information, rather than guarding it, with the kind of generosity I’ve rarely seen in the marketplace. This is completely new and probably the best thing I’ve learned from the two years I’ve been in Indie publishing - the importance of cooperation, not competition.


  1. Thank you for those points, very insightful (as usual)

    It is amazing how much things have changed.
    Business "rationalisation" + new technology have changed the situation completely.

    It is amazing how generous people are in this community. And I have to say you would be a leader in those stakes!

  2. Thank you Al! But it really is a case of strength in numbers! And maybe it's to do with the internet, which from the very beginning has been all about sharing, and sharing freely.

  3. Hi Kathleen,

    As a new visitor to your site I just wanted to say how interesting this post is. I'm still a 'new writer', unpublished and working on my 2nd novel (historical fiction). It always sounds so disheartening to hear about the adverse changes in traditional publishing now and so it's very uplifting to hear of your experiences in self publishing. It does indeed seem to be a most variable or perhaps eclectic platform but you are right in that there are some wonderful books to explore and new authors to discover. I always said that I'd at least attempt to snare a traditional publisher but as time goes by I'm more and more tempted to just go it alone. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Glad that my comments were helpful Suzy. Actually, there's no reason why you can't E-publish and submit to a publisher at the same time. More and more publishers are looking at the e-book scene before signing an author up. Harper Collins is one of them. E-publishing first can allow you to respond to reader's comments and sharpen up the manuscript before submitting it traditionally, and if it's popular and attracting 5 star reviews, publishers are more likely to be interested.
      Good luck!

  4. Such a very positive, generous post Kathleen. Your insight into the world of publishing is exemplary,
    Point by point I agree with everything you say. My experience relates to that of your London Writer's Club speaker, although I can't claim such a level of Indie success - mine is much more modest. I am hoping that my own six publications and the fact that my publisher has put my back-list out there on Kindle will, bode well for the slow burn. - I think mainstream romance is the winner in this field...)
    My one concern is the amount of time it takes to be your own publisher etc. (I wish I had a partner who would help me in this...) If it leaves no time for the properly serious focus on the next novel (I am nothing if not serious!) then the baby is out with the bathwater perhaps.
    Thank you for commenting so helpfully on my '10 tips for a halfway edit' blog. I appreciate that so much. WX

    1. Thanks Wendy - you're right about the time - it's one of the drawbacks, but at least I have Neil to do the techie bits and I just handle the publicity side of things. It does help being able to share the work.
      Your 10 tips were great - that's a good example of what I meant about the e-book circuit being such a sharing place. And you're one of the best at sharing!


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