I’m a literary leper and proud of it

I recently met up with an old friend who has just self published her memoir to share as she put it ‘the horrible experience of self-publishing’.

Horrible? I thought. Was that my experience? In some ways yes, in others…no.

Self-publishing advocates promote this alternative to seeing your gospel words in print as a financially viable option to traditional publishing. Mainly because you’re cutting out many of the middle people inclusive of publishing house, marketing team and book stores. Many of us have been lured into the process with promises of greater control for design, marketing, price point and even distribution.

When I first started my Masters in Creative Writing at QUT taking the then lonely path of self publishing was scorned at with gasps of horror and comments of ‘you don’t want to be one of those do you? No one will ever take your writing seriously’. At that time I agreed with them. Why would I want to join the literary lepers group?

I tried to get my manuscript (MS) Not Like My Mother published. I braced myself for the inevitable 301 rejections, sending off copies of my precious MS which I had poured many years of hard work into. After a few standard rejection letters I was encouraged by colleagues to enter a Manuscript Development Program. I was one of ten emerging writers in Australia to be chosen for the program and whisked away to a seaside retreat to work one-on-one with an editor with the hope that my baby would be chosen to become the publishing house’s next star performer.

The editor loved my MS enough to take Not Like My Mother through to acquisitions (thank you editor for your vote of confidence) but the marketing team, in their great wisdom, decided that Not Like My Mother was not marketable as it was post Global Financial Crisis and people were not buying stories about doom and gloom. Note to self, do not write about doom and gloom ever, ever again!

Hmmmm…I’d long been told that the story I had written was confronting, powerful and that I should tone it down. Yeah, right I thought tell that to all the victims of the Balkan war. I chose to ignore that advice even if it was to my own detriment. Surely, I reasoned, stories about a modern age genocide should be told. Stuff them I thought, I’ll self publish! By that time, I’d read a number of articles professing that many famous authors had originally self-published. I would be joining the esteemed company of Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Beatrix Potter. Others have since discredited these claims.

Not to be deterred, I made my decision based on the following:

1. The book had been rejected by the publishing house marketing team not because it was badly written but because of the tone and topic. A niche book that would probably not attract many readers.

2. Even if I sold only a few copies I still wanted to see my MS published.

3. I felt that self publishing would be a learning process that would enlighten me about traditional publishing just as much as self-publishing.

I set up an account with BookBaby and commenced the process of publishing an Ebook of Not Like My Mother. This was a relatively simple process for a non-techno head such as myself, though I did become frustrated with the formatting process. I organised a cover design through 99Designs and abracadabra I was now a literary leper. Now I just needed to sit tight and wait for the cheques to roll in.

To date I have sold exactly 42 Ebooks and made a grand total of $73.27. Doesn’t even cover my costs.  I had thought I’d sold more but my Bookbaby account says otherwise. Cue deflated ego. Yep. Not getting famous and rich any time soon.

Did I give up? No. I convinced myself that sales were low because a hard copy was not available. Utilising Createspace I recently went through the lengthy process of developing a print on demand hard copy of Not Like My Mother. I opted not to go through BookBaby because I discovered that I was unable to alter the price of the Ebook for any promotions.

While I am very pleased with the resulting hard copy from Createspace I found that editorial changes throughout the proofing process were not picked up, resulting in many return to sender and please fix messages with an angry face at the end of my email instead of a period. I am planning a book launch for the hard copy and it is now available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Not-Like-Mother-Azra-Alagic/dp/1484879554/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394689580&sr=1-2&keywords=not+like+my+mother  (yes please go buy it and support a member of the literary leper society).

Would I do it again? YES. The joy and emotion of seeing my work in hard cover was worth it all. I write not to make money, I write because I am driven to, because I have to. With many of my ‘traditionally published’ colleagues receiving small or no advances, little marketing support and not selling out, the option to go to a publishing house is not overly tempting though I will continue to try. With new media we also now have many more options, but for me seeing my work published is part of the creative learning process. It keeps me writing and gives me hope that one day, I will become a ‘real’ writer.

In the meantime, here are five ways to become a literary leper.

1. Choose a niche or controversial topic to write about because most traditional publishing houses won’t want to take the risk.

2. Obtain advice of mentors, colleagues and other literary folk and then ignore it and just go with your gut.

3. Gloat in your egotistical knowledge that you know better than those who have worked in the publishing industry most of their lives.

4. Don’t worry about marketing your book because you know…it will speak for itself.

5. Most important of all – just do it! Go ahead and self-publish and stuff the rest of them!