My road to self-publishing

Emily Sadovna
Opinion - Books Monday, 29 October 2018

Emily Sadovna reports on how, with the help of a few experts, she came to publish her debut novel

"A typical agent receives around 2,000 manuscripts per year and only takes on around two new authors" (Jericho Writers). This is grim reading to a writer with a story screaming to get out.

When I began writing my novel six years ago, I was a secondary school teacher and pregnant with my first child. I was sitting in the spare bedroom of the farm workers' cottage we rented in a slightly eerie but magical little Hampshire village. I began to type. Why? I love stories and magic. It was my version of 3D virtual reality, the perfect escapism from ordinary life. I had zero intention of showing my work to a single soul.

Then with much encouragement from my husband I began to, shakily, hand snippets of my story to willing readers. To my surprise, they liked the world I had created. What next? I felt I could tell a good story, and my imagination was limitless, but I had no idea how to shape this yarn into a commercially viable manuscript.

A world of publishing only accessible to the elite had become available to the mere mortal start-up writer. Websites and companies were showcasing the best freelancers of the industry. I chose as my first stop. I pitched my manuscript and synopsis to some carefully selected editors, and I received some offers - choosing to work with Roisin Heycock. I read her portfolio with awe and put my precious manuscript into her hands, terrified. What would she say about my amateurish scribblings?

There was a lot of work to do, but among my overly descriptive prose and grammatical mistakes, Roisin saw the workings of a good story. Together over the course of about a year and several book titles later, a beautifully crafted dark tale of witchcraft, time travel and conspiracy emerged. Next, I asked the dreaded question. Is it viable? Should I submit to agents? "Do it!" she said.

I am entrepreneurial, and I have been described as fearless by much more sensible people. I don't like rejection particularly: I am human, and it does grind me down. But I am also very resilient and stubborn. I saw those dismal odds of being published as a challenge. I carefully wrote my query letter, using online advice. I sent my manuscript to six agents and indie publishers who publish work in my genre, unfortunately to no avail. Presented with a choice, do I pursue the traditional publishing route? Do I continue to send my manuscript to agents and publishers to see my hard work evaporate into an endless pit along with other lost dreams?

Even if I was lucky enough to land a publishing deal, I was aware that the days of significant advances had ended. The chances were that I would have to carry out my marketing and publicity. Then there were the scarily low royalties.

In the end, I accepted the cold hard truth: my book didn't tick the right boxes for agents and publishers. If my novel were to have any chance of being read, I had to do it myself.

I looked into the options of self-publishing packages, which would have been the easiest option. I opened an Excel spreadsheet and crunched figures. For me, the numbers didn't add up, and the packages didn't produce the kind of final product I was looking for. I wanted my book, including the cover, to be comparable to traditionally published books.

I began to wonder if I could make up for my weaknesses and lack of publishing experience with the hub of freelancers at Reedsy, and with creative friends who have worked in similar industries. Through a bit of social media stalking, I tracked down an old friend who is a talented cover designer: Jim at Jim Smith Design agreed to interpret the workings of my mind into a stunning cover.

I recruited the marketing and self-publishing guru Mark Leslie Lefebvre through Reedsy. He became a valuable consultant, guiding me through the technicality of bringing a book to print as well as converting it to digital. His recommendations saved me more money than I spent on his services. I dusted off my old fashion styling and shooting skills and roped in my talented photographer friends to bring my characters to life. Then I found a star on in the shape of ‘Geekteknik' who elevated my promo video to a mini film masterpiece and turned my website into a professional author's page. I also threw myself into social media and gained a substantial following, an area alien to me until May this year. Then I recruited expert help in publicising myself and my book.

The process has stretched my technical and creative abilities to the limit, as well as the patience and understanding of my family. With the help of some excellent resources and talented people who are now accessible to ordinary people via the internet, I have turned an idea into not just a book I can place on my shelf but a business venture with scope. Look out for The Haunting of Violet Gray, part one of my Hunter's Moon trilogy.

Emily Sadovna trained as a fashion journalist, launched her own deli and catering business, and went on to qualify as a teacher of food and nutrition. She now teaches primary school children to cook in afterschool clubs. She lives with her husband and their two daughters on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. Her debut novel, The Haunting of Violet Gray, is out tomorrow (30 October).

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