It is my great pleasure to welcome back my friend and fellow author, Elizabeth Ducie to the blog. Apart from her successful non-fiction series The Business of Writing,Elizabeth has also written crime thrillers and has now ventured into the realms of cosy crime. Today, she offers her experience and advice about the field of self publishing. Thank you for your time, Elizabeth. Tell us how it all started.
Thank you for inviting me back to your blog today, Val. As it happens, my first foray into publishing came back in 1998 when Financial Times Healthcare published Manufacturing in the Global Pharmaceutical Industry. In the twenty-five years since then, I’ve produced a further two editions of the first book; two editions of a textbook on Quality; and co-authored a textbook on Process Design. All six books were published by mainstream academic publishers.
In the mid-2000s, I decided I wanted to write creatively instead; or ‘tell lies for a living’. In 2011 a friend and I self-published a collection of short stories, followed a year later by a second one. We knew the chances of getting a traditional publisher for short stories written by two unknown authors were very low, so we didn’t even try. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learned as we went along – and we had fun.
By 2014, my first novel was ready for publication. I sent it to a few agents and had a bit of interest. But I was too impatient (and too old) to waste time. Besides which I had three years’ experience in self-publishing, and felt I didn’t want to waste what I’d learned. So I decided to go it alone, to become an authorpreneur. That first novel was runner-up in the Self-published Book of the Year Awards, which I felt vindicated by decision. This month, I am publishing my seventh novel; I’ve also brought out a further three collections of short stories and the Author Foundation Series on business skills for authors. And I can honestly say I’ve never regretted the decision for a moment.
But I’m not naïve. I know the route I’ve chosen is not without its disadvantages. It’s certainly not an easy option, if done properly. There are pros and cons, as with any choice.
The skill set requirements are wide (and ever-changing). An authorpreneur is responsible not only for writing a book, but for editing, formatting, cover-design, production, marketing, sales, and distribution. I’m not saying one person has to do everything – although some do – but the responsibility for ensuring that everything is done on time and to a satisfactory standard, rests with one person. And that person needs to be relatively tech-savvy. This really is a case of ‘the buck stops here’.
It can be relentless at times. As I write this, I’m in the final phase of preparing for a book launch. My todo list is ever-increasing. And when I’m not sitting at my computer preparing social media posts or updating the back matter in my earlier books, I’m worrying about why I’m not sitting at my computer…
When I started on this route in 2011, self-publishing was very much a dirty word. I went around apologising for not ‘doing it properly.’ Thankfully those days have gone, and many readers don’t care, or even know, who the publisher of a book is. They just want a good story.
But there’s still a perception of poor quality in some quarters (and let’s be honest, the downside of having no gatekeepers is that there ARE some poor quality books out there. A situation that will only get worse with the growing use of AI to create content.) I’ve learned to ignore unthinking insults and throw-away remarks, knowing how hard most self-publishers, including myself, work at getting it right.
It’s harder, but not impossible to get books into bookshops, especially the larger chains. And most mainstream media will only review traditionally-published books. But. On the other hand…
I have a wonderful boss - myself. Before becoming a ‘full-time’ writer, I was an independent consultant for many years. I could never work to anyone’s else’s timetable. And I don’t have to. I tend to set myself very strict goals, which I nearly always meet. But if I fail, I don’t beat myself up about it.
I keep control of everything: content, cover design, marketing routes, the lot. I’ve had so many conversations with writer friends who have been unhappy with editorial decisions made about their books, which they were unable to change. And I know, in real time, how my sales are going. If something’s not working, I can change direction relatively easily.
I keep a much larger percentage of the income, per unit sold. True, I might not sell as many units, but each one is far more profitable.
And the window of opportunity is much wider; limited only by my inclination and imagination. A traditionally-published book will have a short period of time to prove itself before the publishers and the reading public move on. I have a series of thrillers that are more than 5 years old. They are looking a bit tired – and that’s reflected in the sales. So I’m planning a relaunch next year. I can only do that because I am self-published and choose to do so.
In conclusion, there are pros and cons to self-publishing and it’s not a route I would advise everyone to take. Full disclosure here for anyone who doesn’t know me: I’m well past official retirement age and am lucky enough not to have to earn a living from my books. And that obviously affects how hard I work and some of the decisions I make. But I believe passionately that self-publishing is not the final option for a would-be author; it’s a legitimate option.
And most of all, I am having fun!
I have been writing since I was very young. When I was a teenager, essays and poetry helped me win my first overseas trip via a newspaper competition. I returned to creative writing in 2006 after 30+ years as a technical writer. Since then, I've had great fun experimenting with different types of writing. I've written articles for content websites and on commission. I've written short stories and poetry for competitions, and have had a couple of wins, several honourable mentions and some short-listing.
I have since published many books for myself and a few for other people. Gorgito's Ice Rink, my debut novel, is set in Russia and based partly on my travel experiences. It was started in 2006. In 2010, frustrated by the time it was taking to complete, and to provide structure and discipline to the project, I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University. I graduated in January 2013. The novel was finally published in October 2014 and the following year, it was Runner-Up in the Self-Published Book of the Year Awards. I have since published three further novels, Counterfeit! Deception! and Corruption!, thrillers based in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals. My fifth novel, Murder at Mountjoy Manor, will be out in October 2021. It's the first of my Coombesford Chronicles, a series of cosy mysteries set in an English village.
I also write non-fiction. The Business of Writing series is based on lectures and blog posts aimed at helping writers set up and run their own small businesses. The latest part in the series deals with the topic of Indie Publishing.
I am a member of Chudleigh Writers' Circle, Exeter Writers, and ALLI (The Alliance of Independent Authors). At the beginning of 2020, I took on the role of Director for the Exeter Literary Festival. In 2021 I was a presenter at the Women in Publishing Summit. I spend far too much time on Facebook and Twitter, but have met some great writing buddies that way.