SJ Sherwood, author of The Denounced series, discusses why he opted to self-publish, and the things he learned along the way...
Somebody once told me that everything you want sits just outside of your comfort zone. It was advice I was ignoring. My writing story was a familiar one: I’d have an idea, it would excite me and I would slowly bring it to life. Once I had my precious gem all shiny, I would send out to agents with repressed dreams that would keep me buoyant for weeks. But slowly, my self-esteem was attacked with each new rejection that pinged into my inbox. Those rejections hurt, but worse, I’d started to become anaesthetised to whole process.
I realised I’d written more than I cared to admit and had put enormous effort into each new project. I'd started my writing journey with short stories, moving on to screen plays, TV plays and several novels. I’d worked with literary consultants, workshops and writing groups. If 10,000 hours is the benchmark for knowing your trade then I’d smashed that years ago. There were sprinklings of crumbs. I was starting to get noticed on the slush piles and I had met several agents, having representation for a short time. The so-called Nirvana, or not in my case. I couldn’t make the final breakthrough and the frustrations continued. Like so many authors, I kept writing, thinking the next one will be the one. I just needed to work harder, make it more perfect, get my head down.
It was a throw away comment of my then girlfriend that changed everything. She asked me why I kept giving my power away with something that was so important to me? Ouch. I didn’t have an answer, but she was right. I needed to re-frame my world. I’d become stuck in an antiquated system where I believed you needed an agent to get to a publisher to get to your audience, and their rejection of my work was a benchmark to whether it was worthy of a place in the world or not. I’d made my life binary, plus in the back of my mind, I harboured thoughts that only the delusional or worse, the desperate, self-published.
But the truth was I was being arrogant and I was running scared. The publishing world was changing, but my attitude to it wasn’t. The indie author was a new beast to be taken seriously. The old model protected publishers and to a degree agents who are the gatekeepers and feeders of the chain. Once I realised there was another legitimate, thriving paradigm, my eyes were opened. It was a buzzing business I had completely missed.
I was astonished at the sheer volume of insightful information on the indie world and I couldn’t get enough. I stumbled across two podcasts that pushed me over the edge. The James Altucher Show (available free on iTunes) had interviewed Huge Howey, Wool Series (ep:9) and Andy Weir, The Martian (ep:92). Both talked openly about the business of self-publishing and why you should do it. And if I wasn't already convinced, I was beginning to see that indie authors were either making a living or at least supplementing their incomes successfully. They were also creating their own life styles, beholden to no-one but themselves.
I set up my own company for less than a £100 and I was off, hooked on my new indie drug. The freedom was liberating and I started to have fun in ways I didn’t expect. My cover was designed through 99-designs and I had 12 designers enter the auction and 140 designs to choose from! I was blown away by the quality and I couldn’t have been happier with the final outcome, which set the tone for my website and marketing. I purchased my own ISBN’s and created my website via Squarespace. I was learning new skills and meeting interesting people. What had once been a dark place was now sunny and bright, all because I had stepped out of my comfort zone.
KDP has changed the industry and it’s fascinating to watch it develop. As I write this, the Alliance of Independent Authors is streaming podcasts from their own Indie Frankfurt Book Fair. But it all comes back to your audience. We live in a world where we can reach our readers ourselves. The platforms are out there, working and proven. And buyers of books don’t think: ‘this publishing house published this title so let me buy it'. As long as your book is professionally produced and is of interest to your target audience, you’re in the game. You’re a player.
If you’re apprehensive of taking the plunge, or worse, are being arrogant with yourself, or are plain scared. Don’t be. Just re-frame your world and stop giving your power away to an antiquated model. That has to be a better path than having your dreams smashed by another rejection email.
Finally, my approach to self-publishing was to keep the work flow bite-sized and to make sure I had a framework that would guide me successfully toward my goal. It was nothing over complicated and very much one step at a time. Below are some points you might like to consider:
SJ Sherwood grew up in a small town in the Midlands and dreamt of escaping to the bright lights of a Metropolis. It came in the form of winning a Scholarship to E-15 Drama School. He was actor for a short time, before deciding it wasn’t the life for him. He went back to school and entered corporate world doing mostly sales. The one constant in his life has been his passion for drama and storytelling. The Denounced is a YA Dystopian Trilogy set in a world that has been divided into Secular and Non-Secular Quadrants. Book 1, A Grey Sun is available through Amazon (16th November 2017).
You can find out more at www.thedenounced.com