Julia Johnston

The fourth in a series of five blog posts by Julia Johnston (author of If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree) charting her journey from preparing to submit her manuscript to agents, through to the self-publishing of her debut novel.

This week: she explains her decision to self-publish her novel. 

Dazed and confused by the keen interest/no-interest-at-all-anymore from two lovely successful literary agents, I braced myself for the writing of another batch of begging letters. I braced myself, too, for the year or more of waiting. I’m on a merry-go-round, up and down, round and round, going nowhere fast (well, slowly I suppose).

Out of nowhere, blogs, articles and podcasts oozed information, advice, and real-life experiences on self-publishing; you couldn’t move for them. I see now it was the zeitgeist phenomenon in action. Perhaps I needed to think seriously about it? “Why don’t you self-publish?” I kept hearing. Easier said than done, I thought, and wasn’t that for rubbish writers, anyway, who weren’t good enough to take the ‘proper route’? Or was that ‘Vanity Publishing’?  And did any of it matter?

Yes, it turned out, it did matter. 

‘Making the decision: should you self-publish?’ The words sprung themselves at me from an uncannily timely Writers & Artists email. Are you convinced by your book, but couldn’t convince a traditional publisher? Would you like to have control over how it is published? Are you committed to making it work? Aye aye—I liked the sound of this. All a bit scary, but could this be the very thing?

The London conference was entitled ‘Self-publishing in the Digital Age’. It was to offer insight and advice for every critical step of the self-publishing route and delegates were invited to submit their book blurb too, with the chance of winning a publishing package. The day was going to be just the ticket; it was to cover five main areas: 

  • • choosing a provider and distribution route 
  • • editing your manuscript
  • • surfing the tsunami of content to bring your book to the top
  • • building a social media platform
  • • engaging your readers and building book buzz

Oh, and it was to be followed by networking drinkies!

Post-conference and aforementioned beverages, my head was swimming from the sea of knowledge I’d lapped up that day in December 2012; I had copious notes and stacks to follow up, but the key attraction was that it all made perfect sense and it seemed all doable. The begging letters could cower in my cupboard for now. I’m at the end of the ghost train ride, wondering what all the fuss was about, ready to enter a new bright domain—ready to self-publish! But who to go with? And how much could I afford?

A week later, I was about to press the goodbye button on a spam-looking email, beginning as it did with the trick word, ‘Congratulations!’ but, would you believe it, I’d only gone and won the blinkin’ blurb competition?! I’m on one of those rides that shoot you straight up in the air and hovers you in ecstasy awhile. It was judged by the editor of Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, Alysoun Owen. My first novel, If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree, was to be published by Amazon’s Createspace, and the prize package included a professional cover design and edit. The novel was to be on sale via Amazon and through American bookshops as a paperback within a month, and would be available on Kindle three weeks after that.

It ended up taking nigh on a year before the book was out… more on that in the next post.

A bit weird that my book was buyable through bookshops in the US, but not here. My hope was that, if it did/does well, there might be a possibility of being picked up by a traditional publisher; some refer to Amazon as the 'annotated slushpile'. But I don’t know about that any more—whether I want that, I mean. Through joining ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors), I realize there is much priceless advice, support and know-how for indie authors to freely tap into. For the moment, I’m embracing the conviction that anything’s possible. At least my novel is no longer hostage on a hard-drive, and can be acquired by anyone who cares to read it.

On this bookshop malarkey, I am totally aware of the unrelationship between book stores and Amazon, but it still surprised me that my local (award-winning) bookshop was positively nauseated by the idea of stocking my tainted tome. I had thought the whole 'local writer wins international competition to have book published' angle might swing it for me, since it sits comfortably with other local news items such as, 'Man sets fire to tree stump', ‘Dolphin comes to play’ and ‘Boy’s pocket money stolen’, but it seemed not. 

I reckon they ought to let little old me have my book displayed in the window/back shelf/toilet; makes me feel like I’m still not classed as a proper author to be refused inclusion. I am not for the demise of bookshops in any shape or form, but there’s a place for everyone in this new era of publishing. I think we would all do well to wise up to that. My book might have even dragged a few more punters through the door! But, hey, I no make de rules...

And as for securing a literary agent... it's on hold for the time being while I bask in the certainty that at least a few respected writing people have endorsed my book (yes—I can finally say 'book' without feeling like a fraud!) 

Writing tips:


Self-publish if you are convinced about your work, but can’t convince a literary agent or publisher.


Self-publish if you would like to have control over how your book is published—editing, interior design, cover design, price, blurb…


Self-publish if you have the time and motivation to make it work. 

Julia Johnston

Some suggested reading:

Choosing a Self-Publishing Service is a thorough, intelligent guide from The Alliance of Independent Authors, which will be updated regularly, available as it is in eBook form, pdf and epub. The guide will take you through each area of consideration and will save you months of research. This is the related blog.

www.thecreativepenn.com is a highly recommended website. There’s not much the ubiquitous and brilliant Joanna Penn doesn’t know about self-publishing…!

Next time…

The process of self-publishing with Createspace and how to promote your book

Find out more about Julia on her website and follow her on Twitter. Find out more about her debut novel here. You can also find her on Goodreads. 

To read the rest in the series, please take a look below:

Ready to be Read?

Ready To Submit To Literary Agents!

Ready to Revise & Rewrite for a Literary Agent?

Ready to Promote & Market Your Book?