Reviving forgotten manuscripts

Although the market continues to be flooded with self-published books, I understand that the torrent is slowing down. Maybe this is because, having realised that indie authorship does not provide an easy path to best-seller status, many less committed writers are giving up. Another reason could be that the backlog of old manuscripts, which had been rejected for traditional publication but can now be published by authors themselves, is starting to clear. Having taught myself the basic ropes by self-publishing Persons not Diseases and my trilogy of Three Novellas I am now looking at reviving my own backlog.

The first adult novel I ever wrote is over thirty years old. I recently rescued its faded typescript from the drawer where it has been languishing all this time, and have been converting it to electronic format. It is a gently satirical mystery / romance set in an English mental asylum in the 1980s, and in many ways it describes a forgotten world, for so many aspects of life have changed. Today’s readers may find it hard to believe that, for example, staff used to smoke and drink on duty, did not have computers or mobile phones, or that orders from male doctors were so readily obeyed by nurses and patients alike. Parts of the text seem quite embarrassing or outrageous to my more sedate older self – should I defer to political correctness and tone them down? Should I publish the book at all?

Even after all these years it is difficult for me to look objectively at this first novel, remembering so clearly as I do the passionate enthusiasm with which I wrote it and my bitter disappointment when a series of rejection letters arrived in the post. I am hoping that a few trusted people will agree to read it and give me some kind but honest feedback.

The joys and challenges of indie authorship

Three years ago I made the transition from traditionally published writer to indie author, and have now self-published three non-fiction titles and three novellas. There were plenty of mistakes and frustrations, especially to begin with, and I still have a lot to learn. But, overall, being an indie author has brought me as much satisfaction as anything I have done in my previous careers. New Year seems a good time to review my personal perspective on self-publishing, and some of what follows may be useful to others just starting out on this path.

I like being free to write what I want, without having to fit into an accepted genre or follow a formula. This does however make it more difficult to choose the most suitable categories and keywords through which potential readers can discover my books.

I like being able to upload my books as soon as I am ready, without having to wait several months for the traditional publishing process to run its course. But because modern self-publishing is so fast, cheap and easy it is tempting to go into print too soon without taking time and care to make both content and presentation the best they can be, thereby adding to the glut of mediocre books which give self-publishing a bad name. So I try to be patient, asking several other people to review my draft manuscripts and point out the errors which I have missed, and disciplining myself to check through the final version several times in the vain hope that not a single typo slips through the net.

I like being able to choose the layout, cover image and price of my books. Though I don’t have either the skills or the software to handle all the technical aspects myself, I have found an expert formatter and an expert cover designer to help, and it is a pleasure to work with them both.

I like being able to check my sales figures frequently, even if there are not very many paid ones. With literally millions of books available, readers are spoiled for choice, so I count every sale as cause for celebration. Free books are a different matter – thousands of people have downloaded the free e-books which I have offered from time to time, though I do wonder how many of these free copies have actually been read.

I still can’t really say that I like marketing, which seemed a huge challenge at first, alien to my personality and training. Exploring ways to publicise my work has been a steep learning curve and I have found some methods which I do enjoy, for example creating a proper mailing list and email newsletter. But I find that marketing takes up too much of the time which could have been spent on actual writing. My one experience of paying someone else to do it for me proved an expensive failure.

The world of books has been transformed in the last few years, and it will be interesting to see what the future will bring. My hope is that self-published titles will be fewer in number but better in quality, though I don’t know how this can be achieved.