One of the joys of being published by a small press is the sense of involvement and collaboration throughout the process. Not just the writing and editing process, but the whole business of producing and marketing and selling the book. Some may argue that it is the writer’s job to write and the publisher's job to publish - a simple division of labour. I disagree. I have no wish to hand over my novel to someone else and forget about it. I find the whole publishing process intensely interesting, especially since this is my first (and quite possibly only) chance.
First, the editing. All publishers will offer some editing - most with a great deal of commitment. I am lucky enough to have an editor who also happens to own the company (Linen Press Books), so between us we are pretty focused on creating the very best ‘product’ we can. The first stage focused on the manuscript as a whole. My editor suggested a number of structural revisions: a new beginning; bringing in a character earlier; writing new scenes to create empathy for one character; working on making another character more spirited. And in the process I discovered two new sub-plots which needed to be written. Once these were done, we began going through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, by email. My editor tidies up a lot at a superficial level (I’ve discovered various writerly ‘ticks’ which I was barely aware of) and makes suggestions for rewriting some whole sections. She is very good at putting her finger on the issues that need addressing, making appropriate suggestions and then letting me address them in my own way. This process will take months – the novel is about fifty chapters and we get through two or three per week. Simultaneously, she is working with another writer, Sophie Radice, whose novel, The Henry Experiment will be published early next year, so it’s all go. Mine is due to come out around the same time.
Then there’s the cover. As a painter, this has been one of the most exciting bits so far. I have heard of writers who feel upset and angry because their covers do not reflect the content of their book. I was directed to a wonderful photographic images site (Arcangel-Images) where I browsed for many happy hours, finding photographs which reflected the atmosphere and themes of my novel. My editor did so too, and there was quite a bit of to-and-froing until we found an image we both loved. This was then handed over to the designer to create the cover design.
Now we are approaching the marketing stage. This is where the big difference between the small independent publisher and the ‘big boys’ becomes clear. If you are published by one of the large houses, you may be assigned a publicity person and there may be some money in the pot for marketing. This might include your novel being sold in a prominent position in the bookshops (although not for very long, unless it turns out to be a best-seller). The publicity for The Making of Her will be entirely down to myself, my editor and her hard-working intern, as will persuading bookshops to stock it. This feels like a mountain to climb – but a fascinating and challenging one. As someone who is happy (ish) spending vast amounts of time alone with her computer, the thought of going out there and talking about my book is daunting, to say the least. But it’s also exciting. It's bringing out my latent extravert. I’ve drawn up a marketing plan. I am planning to take some evening classes in public speaking and I’m learning how to write a press release. Hema Macherla, Linen Press author of Blue Eyes and Breeze from the River Manjeera has been really helpful in answering my questions about how she approaches bookshops. I’m going to have postcards printed to hand out to everyone I know or meet. I'm researching literary festivals, book groups and libraries, local papers and magazines. This is the easy bit. The hard part will be making myself go out and talk to people. I suspect it may be like my search for an agent: a lot of knocking on doors and a lot of No, thank you.
Recently Linen Press have withdrawn their books from Amazon because every sale costs them £3. Yes, that’s right. Amazon takes 60%. So The Making of Her will be available through the Linen Press website, through Gardners and in chain stores like Waterstones if we can persuade them to take it. The indies may stock it but their turnover is generally small. An individually tailored marketing package and a personal approach seems to be the best, and only way forward.
Of course, the likelihood of selling a large number of copies is small and we don't know whether it depends on good reviews, articles in magazines, the grape-vine or just good luck. But you know what? After years and years of rejections and knock-backs, I consider it a huge privilege to be involved in the process of creating and selling my book. It may never happen again. So I'm going to do my best to enjoy every minute.