What on earth is an independent author?
In 1843, Charles John Huffam Dickens, the most successful novelist of his generation, was 31 years old and almost broke.
He had previously enjoyed huge success with The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, but his most recent novel, Martin Chuzzlewit was a disastrous flop. According to a number of modern biographers, Charles was living well beyond his means, trying to service debts including his father’s, and was facing likely bankruptcy. In an effort to get himself out of a big hole, he wrote a small book and took it to his publishers, Chapman & Hall. Despite his former successes, they rejected it.
Dickens felt they were wrong and decided to use some of his remaining resources to pay for it to be published himself, under the banner of Chapman & Hall, and for a larger negotiated share of the royalties. He financed the editors, the artists and the printing of the first 6,000 copies. The book was released on 19th December 1843 and sold out by Christmas Eve. Seeing this immediate success, his publisher had a change of heart and ‘came on board’ rather quickly.
So it is a fact that an author who independently organised and paid for the publication of his own book brought the world A Christmas Carol, a title that has never been out of print since that first Christmas of 1843, and which has been translated into a myriad of languages and adapted for radio, stage, TV, film and of course, Muppets.
Now, I am not Dickens. An obvious statement but one I should put out there, lest you think I am being immodest. I don’t think my first novel was Dickensian in most ways, shapes or forms. It was a cross genre science fiction / alternative history with a pinch of a religious element thrown into the mix. It was written, not like A Christmas Carol in 6 weeks, but over a period of 14 years. Yet it does share a trait or two with the tale of Marley and Scrooge. It was rejected by a publisher I sent it to. I got feedback from them, which was more than I got from most, and they said that whilst they saw merit… it wasn’t on trend for them at that particular juncture. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but knew it wasn’t going to be followed by a publishing contract. At an impasse, I turned to an author friend of mine and asked, “What now?”
The advice I got was that there was another way.
“No,” I countered., “I am not paying thousands of dollars to get some copies of my book printed and have to flog them off around the bazaars. I’ll end up with most of them as a layer of insulation in my loft.”
Dampening down my indignity at the suggestion of taking this ‘Vanity Printing’ route, my friend went on to explain that it wasn’t what he was suggesting at all. There was another path I could take; independent on-demand publishing.
It seemed that during the 14 years I had delayed finishing my manuscript, new technologies had come to maturity. Now, one could publish a paperback and it would sit on a computer server, somewhere, until a customer bought a single copy of it through an online bookseller. The biggest of these was of course, Amazon. At that point of purchase, an order would be passed to the printer / distributor who had the paperback on their server and a single copy would be printed and dispatched within a day or so to the customer. Anywhere on the planet. And not only paperbacks. One could also make an eBook version and have it available on Amazon’s Kindle store and a variety of other seller’s platforms.
I was intrigued. The choice was relatively stark. Try, try and try again to get it picked up by a traditional publisher (big or small) or try this new pathway. One bonus of which was a much more rapid publishing process that could see the book released at a time of my choosing, but certainly within months.
“However,” my friend cautioned. “You need to hire an editor, get a cover designer, a formatter. Do it properly. Learn the systems. Basically you need to learn how to publish a book. From a standing start. It isn’t plain sailing.”
He was not wrong. After about six months I had eventually stumbled my way through. On reflection, the cover was not great (it’s subsequently been changed and updated) and I probably went the wrong and long way around a number of problems. But, I got there in the end. On 26th Feb 2014, my first book, A Time To Every Purpose, was released under my penname of Ian Andrew. The paperback followed on 26th May of the same year.
I figured one or two people (other than my mum and my wife) might read it. I was pleasantly surprised when it was picked up for very favourable reviews by newspapers in the UK and Australia and sales were far better than I could ever have expected.
Buoyed by my surprising success, I decided to embark on a series of crime novels. The first won a major book award sponsored by Publishers Weekly in New York. By the time the second of the series came out, I had managed to understand most of the print-on-demand processes required. I also had access to editors, artists, formatters, proven experience in the doing of it and knew a bit about the surrounding landscape; the marketing, dealing with actual, bricks and mortar bookshops, libraries, competitions, fairs and festivals.
In tandem with all this ‘book stuff’, I was still running a training and consultancy business. This was my ‘proper day job’ and it covered a broad range of subjects from mine site Health and Safety through to using the Microsoft Office™ suite of products. I decided I would run a training session on how to become an independent author. Expecting perhaps a dozen attendees, I was surprised when, on a cold Tuesday evening in Western Australia, 40+ people turned up. I was more surprised when quite a few approached me at the end of the evening to ask, “That was really interesting, but can you do it for me?” Despite trying to tell them they could do it themselves, I eventually acquiesced.
In 2018, we helped three authors bring out their books. As I write this in April 2023, we have released 120+ books by 80+ authors located across the USA, UK, Ireland, France, Germany and every state and territory of Australia. We have a distributed team of contract editors, designers, publication specialists and marketers. My training business was wound down a few years ago and I now find myself in charge of not only The Book Reality Experience, a Publishing Assistance Service (following that hybrid, Dickensian system of author-funded publications) but also a micro-traditional publishing company called Leschenault Press.
I have also become a ghost writer and ‘owe myself’ the 4th novel in my crime series, but it has had to take a back seat as the joy of being able to assist other authors in making their book dream a reality is a complete delight and about as far away from bah humbug as one could possibly get.