Self-Publishing Fiction

Posted on: 05 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Author Johnnie Johnson shares his experience of self-publishing.

This self-publishing business, it’s all very well, all so exciting, at least so they say - but it does present some difficulties.

At the outset, let me say this, I am not a natural salesman.  I loathe selling anything. I am inhibited, embarrassed, a weak and creeping figure once I’m cast in the role of salesman. It isn’t the writing that presents the problems for me. It’s the selling. And while selling non-fiction is relatively easy, fiction is not. And particularly self-published fiction.

I know this from raw experience. Of my 23 books, all written since my retirement in 1988, only two are fiction, both self-published. This was where the hard work lay. Of the remaining books, all of them non-fiction, four were self-published and the rest published in the traditional way through mainline publishers. Easy.

When my novel, And Such Great Names As These, written under my pseudonym Allen Makepeace, was released in February 2007, I was aware that I should have to devise a sales strategy that I could cope with.

Any self-published fiction is undeniably difficult to sell. You’re an unknown, you struggle for reviews, you cannot cut your costs in the way that major publishers do. I concluded therefore that I could not rely exclusively on bookshop sales. There is just so much choice on the booksellers’ shelves and you are in contention with the great names with all the backing that their publishers can give them.

Instead I aimed at the public libraries. I approached them by e-mail, sending an attachment with a brief summary of the story, quotes from newspaper crits and a colour picture of the cover. Of course I cannot say how successful this campaign was.  Mixed, I should say, but on balance I fancy that it was worthwhile.

Johnnie JohnsonSomething else did occur to me. One influence on our reading today is the Reading Group. There are thousands of them, some attached to libraries, others independent. These are enthusiastic readers, keen to talk about the books they are reading. It seemed to me that that was where I ought to be concentrating.

My strategy was simple. I rang two major libraries, one in the north and the other in the south. I asked their senior librarians if they would like half a dozen free copies for their Reading Groups. All I asked was that they write a review and send it to Newbooks Magazine which appears in most public libraries free of charge.

Of course there was a risk. What if they hated the book? What if they thought it was third-rate, inconsequential, poorly constructed with a lousy plot and unconvincing characters? And you can't rely on book reviewers, can you? Look at the reviews in the newspapers, how they contradict each other. One critic lauds a piece of work while another damns it to eternity. So what if they didn’t like my book? What if they shredded it? Well, that's the risk I had to take.

In all, from the two libraries came three Group responses, one giving me a four-star review and the others five-stars. I really had struck lucky. Funny isn’t it, the Reading Group at a library just down the road might have reached opposite conclusions. Anyway, the reviews appeared in the November-December 2007 issue of Newbooks Magazine.

Results? Of course, it is difficult to say but there was a generous surge of purchases in the following weeks. I do not know if these came directly from the reviews but some of them must have done so.

But one clear result emerged from all of this. In December I had a telephone call from Julian Batson of Oakhill Publishing which sells audio books to libraries throughout the world. He told me that his attention had been drawn to the reviews and asked if I would send him a copy of the book. If he liked it, he said, he would release it on CD and cassette.

A week later Julian rang again, offering a contract, renewable after five years, a significant advance and generous royalties. Within 48 hours of his phone call the signed contract was back on his desk.

The recording has now been made by film/TV/stage actor Tim Bruce. I was extremely pleased to receive an email from him, telling how much he had enjoyed recording the book with what he described as its ‘muscular prose’ and its strong characterisation.  We all need a pat on the back. Regularly!

Oddly, I have never read any book that I have written after publication. I am rather afraid of finding typos and, more frustrating, whole swathes of text which could have been better written. And I don’t suppose that I shall ever read And Such Great Names As These and even now I have listened to about ten minutes of the audio version.  So I cannot really be the best judge!  Nevertheless, many libraries are buying the audio versions so it must be okay.

I have to put all this down to a bit of luck. What if the Reading Groups had given it the thumbs down? What if someone browsing through ‘newbooks magazine’ had not seen the reviews that he mentioned to Julian Batson? What if, when Julian got his copy from me, he hadn't liked it? So, talent, maybe, application perhaps, but most of all you can’t beat a jolly good slice of luck

Of course, because the disks are costly, they are targeted principally at libraries.  So why don’t you see what all this fuss is about? Why don’t you borrow a copy from your local library? It should be available by now. And, of course, if it isn’t there, do ask! It would help a timid 80-year-old self-publisher!

And Such Great Names As These

Johnnie Johnson can be contacted through his website, Such Great Names As These by Allen Makepeace is £7.99 and available from all good bookshops.  Signed copies, post free, can also be obtained through the above website.  The audio version of the novel may be had through local libraries.

About Johnnie Johnson

Johnnie Johnson and David Arscott have written more than 60 titles between them, both fiction and non-fiction, and have a broad experience of both mainstream and self-publishing.

Now the two local authors with a wealth of publishing experience between them are organising a day's seminar in Lewes to take writers through the process of organinsing your book, hardware and software, designing a cover, preparing your book for the printer, costing and pricing and promotion and distribution.

Their seminar is at the John Harvey Tavern in Lewes, on Tuesday, 21st October, from 10am until 4pm.

The fee is £100 a head, including morning coffee and tea in the afternoon. The Tavern serves snacks and lunches.

For further details contact David or Johnnie by Tuesday 30th September on:

Johnnie Johnson: 01323 725524 or

David Arscott: 01273 470100 or

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