It's been a couple of months now since my book came out, on the excellent Dead Ink Books. It has been such a fun few months. The guys behind the press - Wes and Nathan - have done so much great stuff that I could never have managed to do by myself. I've been on a book tour with my Dead Ink cohort Richard Smyth. Both of us have been to Manchester, London, Leeds, and Wakefield, on promotional events. We've been in the paper and in magazines. It really has been a great experience and I'm massively grateful to everyone at Dead Ink for everything they've done, and to Richard for making the book tour so enjoyable.
My friends will attest that I'm a big fan of Independent Things. Independent shops, independent cafes, independent music, independent clothes, the newspaper The Independent. Basically if you put the word "Independent" in front of it, there's a fair bet I'll find something to like about it.
You see, the thing about independent things is that they're INTERESTING. In independent record labels, and in independent press, you find fanatically driven people putting out the things they love with few resources, and doing it because they love it. That's the sort of thing that's exactly up my street.
Dead Ink have been running as a press now for several years, and they're pretty well established. They started out as a digital only imprint, and now do 'actual' books. (With pages, and everything.) I had always hoped to have my book come out on an independent press, so I was really excited when they got in touch and said they wanted to publish my book.
Because I'm such a fan of Independent Things, people often ask me what I think about self-publishing. (Confusingly, people who self-publish also often call themselves "Indie Authors".) I've got an opinion about it, just like I've got an opinion about everything.
Lots of people are self-publishing these days. It's so much easier than it used to be, and as a consequence loads of people are doing it. A lot of the people I've talked to who have self-published, end up doing it because they haven't been able to find a publisher for their work. Nothing wrong with that, if that's the way you want to do it. But one thing that I've found in working with an independent press is, that even working with a small press you have so many more resources and reach than you would have putting something out yourself.
Here are the things I've really enjoyed in my experience working with Dead Ink Books.
1. Editorial input.
In summer 2013, I handed Nathan Connolly what I thought was the final draft of my novel. I'd got things as far as I could myself, and had already sent the book around a few trusted writer-friends for critique. But what the book really needed was an editor's eye: somebody experienced, who could look at my work fully objectively (let's face it, your writer-friends are never going to be as savage as you need them to be) and tell me where I was going wrong.
Nathan had a few suggestions about the structure of the book, and about where I could work a bit harder to improve things. Many of his suggestions were extremely good and changed the book much for the better.
If I hadn't had access to an editor through working with Dead Ink, I can categorically say that Brick Mother would have been a much worse book.
2. Graphic design.
I cannot draw for toffee. I have friends who can, but if I'd been self-publishing, I would have had to pay a friend to make the cover. And yes, drawing a cover is a service you should pay for - because good design and artistry costs money, and I wouldn't feel great about asking a friend to do it for nothing.
In addition, because they're my friends and I don't want to hurt their feelings, if they'd done a not-quite-right version of the cover, I wouldn't have felt able to say. Working with the fab Estelle Morris (who designed the cover both of Brick Mother and of Wild Ink), I was able to email suggestions back and forth, and choose from an impressive array of images which she'd given to me to choose from. It was a very good experience and I think the cover looks ace.
3. Publicity & distribution
Now this is a big one. I like socialising and I like a good chat, but a salesperson I am not. Could I go around book fairs convincing a distributor to pick up my book so it would make its way into shops up and down the country? I could not. But Wes and Nathan can: they've got all the Dead Ink books distributed, in shops throughout the UK. To my knowledge, there isn't a distribution company in the UK that will distribute self-published titles into shops.
And as for publicity: we've been in various blogs, magazines and papers. Some of the blog stuff, I sorted out myself - but I do also think that many of the blogs wouldn't have touched my book with somebody else's bargepole if it hadn't had a good cover, good content (see above) or been published by reputable small press.
In addition, I've appeared at two literature festivals and two book parties now, all publicity events which were organised by people at Dead Ink. It's crucial to me that that kind of organisation stuff was sorted out by somebody else: it left me with more free time to write.
4. Infrastructure and organisation.
Every time you sort out a book review, a goodwill copy, journalistic requests, etc, somebody, somewhere, has to get down the post office and send books out. Somebody has to warehouse the books somewhere, whether it's a sort of modest warehouse that also doubles as a spare room or a box under the kitchen table.
Who has done this for me and my cohort Richard Smyth? Wes and Nathan. Yes, I've got a box of books in my house, but they're my books, for me to take around events and sell. They're not books that I have to use to fulfil orders through the website - Nathan and Wes do that. Again, leaving my hands free from organisational stuff, in order to have more time to write.
It is true that alongside this I manage my own social media account (Twitter! Facebook!) - but thanks to the input and doings of Dead Ink, I don't need to use my own accounts to spam my followers / friends with exhortations to buy my book. I hate it when authors do that and, thanks to Dead Ink, who will do some of it for me, I don't need to do it all myself.