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Why I Self-Published My Novel… After Saying I NEVER Would [Guest Post]

This week we’ve got a special guest post from longtime Duolit pal Catherine Ryan Howard. Following the success of her memoirs Mousetrapped: A Year and a Bit in Orlando and Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America Catherine released non-fiction book on her self-publishing experiences entitled Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Now she’s on a blog tour promoting her first novel, Results Not Typical.

In October 2010 I spoke at something called the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference in Dublin, Ireland. At the time I was barely a self-publisher – eight months before, I’d released a travel memoir called Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida and by feeling my way around things like Print-On-Demand, e-books and social media in the dark, I’d somehow managed to offload just under a thousand copies of it. It was my first time speaking publicly about self-publishing – in fact, I was only speaking because there’d been a problem with the person who was supposed to be – but I wasn’t one to pass up an opportunity.

Nor was I one to heed the age-old advice of “never say never.” At the end of the talk during the Q and A, I said I’d never self-publish a novel.

But yet I’ve just self-published a novel. So what changed?

When I self-published Mousetrapped, it was because I Have a Finished Book + POD and E-books are (Practically) Financial-Risk Free = Potential Income. I had just left my soul-destroying job as a paper pusher for Satan himself – or, at least, one of his closest disciples – to save my sanity and devote my time to writing a novel, and money was scarce. Even if the income from Mousetrapped was a trickle rather than a flood, it would help. I also believed based on the feedback that the book had got that it was a good book. It didn’t deserve to spend its days in the darkness of a bottom drawer. I knew I could find readers for it, and I was up for the challenge.

But it was all just going to be a one-off. I never thought about my self-publishing future; as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have one. This was just for now, for this book.

Having quit my job and moved back in with my parents, I was under a lot of pressure to achieve something in the publishing world. For me, this was getting that all important traditional publishing deal. But then Mousetrapped started selling, my blog started getting readers and “royalty” checks (they’re just profits, really) started coming in. I was interviewed on the radio, in magazines and newspapers. And a wonderful, most unexpected thing happened: the pressure went away – because I was already achieving something in the book world. Friends and family who’d thought I’d just given up the day job to lie on the couch and watch talk shows all day saw that I wasn’t, that I was working harder than I ever had before.

About eight months after I’d left the 9-5 to write full-time, there was a potential whiff of traditional publication success with the novel I’d completed, Results Not Typical. When it went away, I was devastated. But by the time it happened again, I’d enjoyed the trappings of being a successful self-publisher and I wasn’t anywhere near as upset. It was just a temporary set-back; it would happen eventually for me, I believed. Don’t underestimate what a steady income – a steady income from books – can do for a writer aspiring to traditional publication. The desperation, the all-or-nothing, the heartache when it doesn’t happen – it all gets so much easier. Because you’re already a success and if that dotted line appears, it’ll just be a bonus.

So then I started thinking about what I could control, which was my self-publishing operation, and how it made waiting for the things I couldn’t control, like getting published, so much easier to bear. I decided to take a few months off from trying to write a new, aimed-at-traditional-publication novel and use them to get my self-published profile into the best shape it could be. First, I wrote and released a how-to guide, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Next, I wrote and released the sequel of sorts to Mousetrapped, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America.

By then – this past summer – Results Not Typical, the aforementioned novel – had been rejected by several editors, who all said that it just wasn’t what was selling in the UK/Ireland market. It’s an unusual book that I describe as The Devil Wears Prada meets WeightWatchers, and chick-lit meets corporate satire. The new novel I was about to start work on was something completely different, as I felt there was little chance of getting an offer on another book exactly the same, as no doubt that too would be considered “not what’s selling.” I had an established readership (I’d sold about 8,000 books by this point) and I’d always wanted to see if I could repeat my results (no pun intended!) with fiction as all my books until now had been non-fiction. So I decided to self-publish it – and I did self-publish it at the beginning of this month.

I figure that even if a genie descends and grants me my every traditionally-published wish, it won’t be for any book like Results Not Typical. Therefore self-publishing cannot in any way affect my chances of that happening. On the contrary, they could potentially improve them. How good would it look to an editor if, a few months down the line, I could submit to them a new, finished novel and a CV that says I’ve already sold twenty thousand books? Pretty good, I’d imagine. Of course it remains to be seen whether or not I’ll be able to do that, but I’m up for the challenge of trying.

What it all boils down to, I think, is a shift in thinking. I realised that self-publishing isn’t just a one-off for me, but that it could be my main source of income and the foundation on which I hope to build a long-lasting writing career. It could be the “proof” I need that I can sell books; a calling card with publishers; something to keep me from giving up altogether when yet another rejection comes in. But most of it, I can control it. And it’s nice, in this uncertain publishing world, to have something I can control.

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at www.catherineryanhoward.com

Visit this link to Good Reads to enter for a chance to win one of five paperback copies of Catherine’s new novel, Results Not Typical.

  • I like how Catherine approaches self-publishing not as merely an alternative to traditional publishing, but as a kind of complementary route. So many writers I see take it too far one way or the other, and tout their chosen means of publication as the *only* way to go. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the fence, but the key isn’t in either/or, it’s in both/and. Catherine seems open to both self-pub and trad-pub as working hand-in-hand, which makes a lot of sense.

  • I love your positive outlook, Catherine! I, too, was trying to go the traditional route with my first foray into fiction. I was devastated when things fell apart! I decided to try the e-publishing route and am really excited about the possibilities. Best wishes to you and your new career path!

  • If I’d had a crystal ball a few years ago, I would’ve been shocked to look into the future and see myself with several self-published books. But then, if I’d been able to see the future, I also would have known what a viable – and frankly, extremely appealing – option self-publishing has recently morphed into. I haven’t sworn off traditional publishing – I do have multiple books, in two genres, with publishers – but in my opinion, self-publishing is extremely rewarding, and I love it.

  • Thanks for your comments! Glad you liked the post.

    And thanks to the Duolit ladies for having me! :-)

  • Pingback: RESULTS NOT TYPICAL Blog Tour Digest Week 3: It’s Over! « Catherine, Caffeinated()

  • Good post. Hang in there.

    Question: Why do you do POD instead of ordering books and either doing the fulfillment yourself, or having Amazon do it for you?

    In your model, as I understand it, there is little margin in paper books. It’s in ebooks. However, there is still a huge market in print, and you’d get a rough 70/30 if you ordered, say, 2,000 at a time.

    Here is how I did it: http://bloggingthecasbah.blogspot.com/2011/09/casbah-publishing-now-in-business.html


  • This was so inspiring! I like the way she thought things out and had a sort of plan of action when it came to self publishing.

  • Interesting post, mainly because I am saying I will never self-publish. I’ve had five novels published by British and American publishers, another one due out next Feb and another one (cross fingers) which will be accepted by my American publisher. Maybe I could make more money from self-publishing, but that isn’t my aim. I prefer to have my work accepted by a professional editor, which gives me a sense that my writing is worthy of being published. I don’t believe that self-publishing would give me that feeling. But that’s just my personal opinion.

  • Another great article from Ms Howard. Im always interested in her what insights she has to offer on her self-publ journey and I like how she sees it as a complementary route with trad publ. Im new to the self-publ world as of two months ago and its an exciting and exhausting path. Here in our part of the world ( New Zealand and the Pacific) Im finding that profit is in print books and so we have taken slightly diff approach to self-publ. I was recently offered a publ contract from a ‘trad publ’ though EXCEPT that Im trying to decide if I want to give up my freedom and ‘control’ of every book angle of the process. Self-publ is a huge amount of work, but youre in business for yourself and you are the master of your own journey. Which I love.

  • love this post, sometimes we get surprised the our own successes..

    especially loved the way you described how the trad. publ. rejection didn’t really set u back b/cs of your self-publ. sales ! great job

  • Outstanding blog post on the process and frankly encouraging to me. 8,000 unit sales of anything (book, cookies) is an excellent accomplishment, congrats Catherine!. For me a newly minted independent publisher/author who has just released a first time novel this is a good story to read. I can understand the allure of trad publishing, after all, they have spent millions making independent authors feel like typing monkeys for even thinking about getting into their business. I am so glad technology has evened the playing field and given anyone the opportunity to find and build niche audiences. Trad publishing will survive and will learn to co-exist with the emerging world of indie publishing. It has no choice.

  • Great stuff! I always said I never would either, but after 5 years of querying and getting 2 offers for book deals that might as well have been American Idol contracts, I decided to go the self-pub route just a few days ago. 13 copies sold (and counting, I hope).

  • Thanks for this post! I am an aspiring novelist and nonfiction writer, and your story really hits home for me. I am pursuing traditional publishing for the next few months and if I don’t get an agent by then, you have made a great case for self-publishing. Thank you for the insight!

  • I think another reason to self-publish is that, if you’ve been trying for years to go the traditional route without success, what have you got to lose? As well, if you have confidence in yourself, and if you really and truly believe you’re THAT good and the world is wrong about your talent, this is your chance to prove it.

    • Toni

      Exactly, Mario! Many authors have been stuck in the traditional-route-rejection-hell for so long that their confidence drops and they feel stuck. Self-publishing is hard work, but if you’re willing to take the leap and do it right, the results can be truly amazing.

  • Pingback: Self-Publishing through the Eyes of Non-Authors | Three Fires()

  • Susan Baganz

    I am an author of non-fiction and fiction – and unpubbed to date. I’m trying for traditional publishing while honing my craft – but not ruling out the self or subsidy publishing venue. I like the idea of income but fear i don’t have the wisdom to push myself to higher sales – but I keep reading and writing and networking and growing and who knows? I pray God will show me which door I’m to walk through at just the right time. Your experience gives me hope that maybe, if that door is right, it could be a successful thing to attempt. 

    • I think the key is to go into it with an open mind and reasonable expectations. Look at it as an opportunity to share your work with the world and connect with others — the rest is just a bonus! In terms of boosting sales, the more marketing you do up front (and there’s no reason you can’t start now, while still deciding your publishing future), the easier sales will be down the road. Good luck, Susan — give us a shout if we can help!

  • To everyone who’s come across Catherine Ryan Howard for the first time here on Duolit, I urge you to check out her blog, it’s fantastic and filled with lots of useful information and personal insight. She’s truly aces, I found it a godsend when finalising the launch of my debut novel. x

  • Pauline Wiles

    Thanks, I’ve been to Catherine’s blog many times (as Yasmin says, it’s awesome) but for some reason I didn’t know about her new novel.