Traditional or self publish?

Ice King cover

I like facts and figures so I collated some facts and figures about trying to get a book published.

After months of research and many more months of writing I completed an historical novel, called Ice King , all I required now was a publisher or agent who might be interested in my work.

Before sending Ice King to anybody I  had the manuscript assessed to find out if I could write, and if the story was interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention.

The initial word count was 150,000, and I knew that publishers would not consider such a large novel from an unknown author, so under advice from the assessor I reduced the word count to 120,000 words. I was aiming to cut it to 90,000, which is the breakpoint, apparently, for unknown authors. If I had managed to cut it to 90,000 words it would have destroyed the overall story, even 120,000 words was a struggle to keep the story together.

The assessor lived north of Sydney, so all our communications were via the internet – we never did meet. At the end of a few weeks, and taking in to account the assessors’ detailed suggestions, I had a novel of 120,000 words.

The next job was to have it professionally edited. I hired an editor, who lived in country New South Wales, Australia, and during the editing process she moved to Perth, so I didn’t get to meet my editor either.

The assessor was a male, so I deliberately set out to find a female editor because I wanted input from both sexes. My editor was born in New Zealand, educated in New York, and graduated from Columbia College, New York.
She won the American James Jones Literary Award for her first novel in 1999, so I judged that she would be the one to edit my novel.

Once the editor had finished I had the best possible chance of getting my book published – wishful thinking with hindsight.

Ice King is a trans- Atlantic centred story set between 1804 to 1807. The story takes place mainly between Liverpool in England, and Boston in the US, so I had my doubts of any interest in this type of story from an Australian publisher or agent, I was correct – unfortunately.

I sent out thirty five proposals, which generated a 45.7% response – all negative, I am sorry to say.

I was in good company Gone with the wind 38 Margaret Mitchell was rejected thirty eight times – I don’t consider myself to be as good as this author, but her number of rejections gave me hope.

This is the breakdown –

Australia – three companies approached – one answered – my work was rejected.
Of the other two, one asked for a synopsis & two chapters, which were sent. The agent didn’t communicate further. The other failed to reply to the initial approach.

ContestMathew Reilly was turned down by every publishing house in Australia before self publishing. His book was picked up, after he self published, by an Australian publisher and republished under the publishing house imprint. He is now in great demand with fifteen books to his name.

UK – twenty two companies approached – nine answered – all nine sent personal e-mails – which were polite, but they were all rejections.
Of the thirteen that failed to reply, three sent auto replies that they had received the submission. The other ten failed to reply to the initial approach.

watershipDown 26 Richard Adams was rejected twenty six time by British publishers

USA – Ten companies approached – six answered – all six sent personal e-mails – polite, but they were rejections.
Of the four that failed to reply, one sent an auto reply, one asked for additional sample chapter & didn’t communicate further, the others didn’t acknowledge the initial submission.

Carrie 30Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ was rejected thirty times by American publishers.

I only approached agents and publishers who were interested in new authors or  specialised in historical fiction. I didn’t wish to waste the time of a publishers or agent who focused on westerns, crime, horror, or fantasy books etc.

The lack of interest from traditional publishers and agents made me think of what to do next.

I decided to self publish. I hired an American company to format the manuscript so that I would be able to give a computer file to any book printer, and they would be able to produce a paperback edition of the book.

At the same time I had a web site created, Geoff Woodland, which included the front cover in an effort to market the book. My problem was that the sales of the book were of more interest to British and American readers than Australian readers. The postage charges from Australia killed the European and American sales, so I opened an account with Lightning Source of the US & UK for print on demand, and this worked reasonably well, but I was not selling as many copies as I’d hoped, which I put it down to price, because I had to include local US or UK postage.
Lightning Source issued a monthly catalogue of all their available books to booksellers. To be included in the catalogue there was a cost to the author, but competition between hundreds of authors for recognition swamped many small book sellers, and large booksellers only stocked popular selling books of well known authors. An author not living in the UK or US was at a definite disadvantage.

I looked around for an outlet that would allow me to sell Ice King at a cost that was not too expensive. I found e-books! Amazon & Smashwords would be my salvation. I had the Ice King Word file created in to a mobi file to upload to Amazon. I also uploaded to Smashwords, which was easier, because Smashwords had a program to auto convert Word to their own system.

Ice King became an e-book and sales picked up. Flattering reviews started to appear and I had a feeling that it had all be worth while – or had it?

A few months after the release of the e-book version it was picked up by a UK publisher, and they wanted to republish under their own imprint.

I was over the moon! A real publisher, who had been in business for over one hundred and fifty years, wanted to publish Ice King.

I was offered a contract, and with this under my belt I felt sure I would be able to secure an agent.  . . . . . .