In the autumn of 2018, I celebrated becoming the owner of two passports – and thus two citizenships – German in addition to my native British. I’ve always enjoyed being something of a mongrel, and I believe that in the future, having experience of both cultures, languages, and ways of doing things will stand me in good stead for whatever life throws my way.
At around the same time, I signed a publishing contract for the third in a series of retro-style adventure stories for 9 -12s. And this signature would also lead me towards a new status, this time as an author – what I believe is called a hybrid. It’s nothing to do with roses, or vehicles, or designer dogs with funny names, but rather an author who is both traditionally and self-published. But before you start imagining the story of an author bravely going it alone after enjoying the dizzy heights of publication by one of the Big 5 publishers, let me gently remind you of what you already know: every path to publication is different.
My traditional publisher couldn’t be less conventional. And my self-publisher service provider has often been described as a Rolls-Royce.
Boy’s Own Adventures for the 21st Century Boy – or Girl
Although I’ve written fiction on and off throughout my life, it wasn’t until I’d completed a fourth novel that I decided to take this publication business seriously. This particular story was inspired by my father, who’d been an RAF pilot during the Cold War years. When my young son started asking questions about the granddad he’d never known, a delightful question whizzed its way into my head: what if a 21st century boy, born into the digital age of smart phones, Google and virtual reality could meet a hero of the analogue age, and experience all the adventures of those days?
Cue a reimagining of the Boy’s Own-style adventure story for the 21st century boy – or girl. I did have interest from one or two agents, but in the end, it was a competition run by a small press (Earlyworks Press) that was my stepping stone to publication. The Bother in Burmeon was published in 2012 by Circaidy Gregory, an Earlyworks Press imprint. Two years later, a sequel – or is it a prequel? – saw my young hero whisked back in time for another adventure with his Grandpop, this time in Trouble in Teutonia. For both of these titles, I’d enjoyed the creative freedom an author has with a small publisher – I had considerable personal input into the cover design and the look and feel of the book (carefully produced to reflect the retro-style) as well as writing the story. A drawback of a smaller publisher is that marketing budgets don’t stretch further than a few posters and flyers, but the advantage is that the author has licence to do their own thing. I had great fun contacting my old chums in advertising and design for the websites and the YouTube trailer.
Going it Alone
The next book was rather a long time coming, as work and family life gobbled up much of my spare (writing) time. My publisher gave an enthusiastic but non-committal response to the story in theory as I crossed my fingers and got on with polishing. But after a few months, the woes that can beset a small press became more and more apparent; lack of time and resources, other priorities necessary simply to keep afloat, promises made to other authors way in front of me in the pecking order. A decision deadline came, and I was advised it would be better for me to find another publisher or go it alone.
I have to admit this flung me down in the dumps. 2018 wasn’t my greatest year. My mother was seriously ill, my finances were in a parlous state (I’m self-employed) and I was facing all manner of Kafkaesque bureaucracy from the German authorities as regards my citizenship application. Although I was pleased with what I’d written, it was clear that no agent or publisher would touch the third in a series published by someone else with a bargepole. I got excited for about five minutes about real self-publishing – setting up my own imprint, getting my own ISBN and maybe even using the same printer as the first two books. But then the realities of trade listings, distribution, storage, fulfilment and all of that back-end stuff hit me. It would be a logistical nightmare for someone living in Germany.
I gritted my teeth and approached five UK-based companies offering self-publishing services. These ranged from a printer with an add-on distribution offer to the aforementioned “Rolls Royce” – Troubador/Matador. I’d deliberately excluded any companies that were primarily focused on ebooks, or looked too rigid in their offerings because my aim was to publish a paperback similar in size, look and feel as the previous two. As it was, I only heard back from the two I’ve mentioned – not a squeak from the other three. I won’t name them, but I do find it pretty shabby. Although I was impressed with Clays, and my heart still yearned to do real self-publishing, the lure of an all-in-one package with hand-holding when needed and, importantly, that back-end clout led me to Matador.
I don’t suppose Matador have a typical customer, but I’m convinced that if they do, it wasn’t me! I presented them the potentially awkward combination of wanting to do some things myself, exact specifications right up to type and weight of paper to be used, if possible, and some degree of publishing knowledge. I was generally very pleased with my experience. The finished book is top quality, with high production values. While not replicating the other books in the series exactly (for example, I wanted 90 gsm paper, which Matador could not supply) the book fits well with the first two – more of a step-sibling than a cuckoo in the nest. In fact, there are one or two respects where I think the Matador book is superior. The people I dealt with at Matador were, without exception, friendly, knowledgeable, responsive, efficient and persistent in going the extra mile to get things sorted out when one or two hiccoughs occurred. My criticisms (I am being nit-picky, and these relate mainly to my unusual situation) centre around Matador not being quite as open to tailor-made solutions as I’d hoped. There is a system, and it’s clear that the preference is for authors to go along with this, rather than taking on elements themselves. An example here would be commissioning your own cover design or getting your own ISBN. A standard information sheet about the subject is sent to you, with dire warnings of what can go wrong. The ominous tone of these pdfs was rather off-putting. So, probably more one-size-fits-all than I’d hoped, although I can understand the reasoning behind it.
Thrills, Spills and a Happy End
Having said that, I would nevertheless thoroughly recommend Matador for publishing any kind of book. I am tickled pink with the results. There are probably cheaper ways and means of getting a book published, but I believe strongly that you get what you pay for.
I recently took delivery of the bulk of my copies of The Al-Eden Emergency. It’s set in a 1966 Middle East and Swinging London jetpunk world. There are thrills and spills aplenty, scorpions, sharks, amazing aircraft and ancient prophecies. A sinister rebel army, kidnapping teens to fulfil its mysterious leader’s evil ambition, adds a strong note of relevance for today.
There’s a positive postscript to this story: although she didn’t have time or resource to publish my third book in the timescale I would have liked, my original publisher recently had some rather good news for me. She’ll be publishing a 2nd edition of The Bother in Burmeon on 1st March 2019 – the day after the official publication date of my Matador book.
Now, that really does make me a happy hybrid. Maybe, in the style of those designer dogs, I should start referring to myself as “trelf-published.”
Flying and travel are in Susan Moss’s blood – she visited four of the world’s continents before starting school. She read avidly and wrote determinedly in between plotting to become a spy and building brother-proof camps.
She studied Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking part in some interesting experiments in parapsychology as well as playing trumpet in a Big Band. A chance meeting in an Austrian ski hut resulted in more travel – this time to Germany, where she now lives in a small town outside Frankfurt with her husband and son.
The Bother in Burmeon, her first published novel, won the Earlyworks Press international ‘Novels for Children or Teens’ competition, and the sprequel, Trouble in Teutonia, was short-listed for the International Rubery Award in 2015.
Informative and entertaining article. Happy to list Susan’s books on my publishing website. There is no charge for this at present.