Matthew Connolly, a self-published author, came to speak to us. He told us about his background as a freelance journalist and his journey to self-publishing with his first book Dances with the Daffodils.
Matthew had his manuscript accepted by a mainstream agent but ultimately rejected by publishers. He then decided to go the self-publishing route and eventually found his niche as a Lake District author, selling to the Lakes’ tourists.
- Be confident in yourself. Usually you’re told to not blitz all the agents, but Matthew broke all the rules and wrote to 80 agents instead of 3. Writing is about rejection, how you overcome it and turn it around. You have to make decisions to give up on an MS, on a peculiar style of writing, on a chapter, etc.
- The hardest part is writing the novel. People close to him warned him that his chances were slim, that it might ruin his marriage, told him about other authors who couldn’t deal with the failure, that it’s a precarious business with little to no money in it for most authors. But Matthew persevered and went ahead with writing s novel.
- Rejection is part of the journey. He found an agent, Eve White. She helped polish the MS. She was well connected and took it to lots of people at the London Book Fair, but they all said no. Matthew says to take rejection as a success and zoom in on their feedback.
- Believe in your product. Matthew thought about ditching book one to focus on book two when his agent suggested it, but he felt the book could make it. So he went back to the agent and suggested that he could self-publish with her as agent. She said that was fine as long as she got a commission.
- Research self-publishing. Matthew joined the Society of Authors, through which he went to a speech by Alison Baverstock and read her book The Naked Author. Alison suggested going for quality when self-publishing.
- Contact a cover designer. A way to produce your cover is to go into a bookstore, pick your favourite and see who did the cover design. Matthew emailed his favourite cover designer, who replied positively.
- Money. Matthew spent over £1000 between the printer, the cover designer, buying ISBNs, books on how to do it, signing up Kindle Direct , petrol, legwork, the typesetter, the copy editor… He set up a limited company, which also has costs, accountants, taxes… Now he wouldn’t bother with a limited company, he would set himself up as a sole trader. At the end of the day, though, you’re the boss of your business, the managing director of project.
- Connect. He really put himself out there, in the Lake District’s hotels and restaurants and more, and connected with other local authors.
- Be aware of discounts and pricing. The Lake district businesses took 40% discounts and unsold copies go back to the author. Amazon takes 60% for print books and 35% for eBooks. Matthew sold a few print runs at £6.99, but now he thinks that he should have sold them for £8.99 or even £9.99, because it makes the books seem worth more.
–> Traditional publishing might get you status but you lose control over editorial and aesthetic choices.
Matthew Connolly gave us a few more insights when he answered our questions.
In hindsight, would you have gone straight for self-publishing?
No. I always keep an eye out for traditional publishing options. However, I can’t continue to only try for traditional publishers because it’s soul-destroying when they ask you to ditch a manuscript you believe in (just because of its commercial viability) and then tell you to start over with a new book.
Tell us a bit about the editorial and aesthetic control you have in self-publishing.
It’s important to be nitpicky about your own work – in fact, you have to be your own editor and not cut corners because you want your book to be of literary quality. Your audience is busy, intellectual, and they deserve quality when they buy your book. As Hemingway said, you have to be your own BS detector.
I’ve had run-ins with typesetters and cover designers over layouts. You’re the quality control for your book so do it to the best of your ability.
You mentioned starting up Swallow Books, to help other authors to self-publish. As an author that’s been rejected by agents and publishers in the past, will you feel pressure if you’re in a position to reject other authors?
It’ll be about figuring out the right match, for both parties. And pointing them to services that can help them if it doesn’t work with me.
What could publishers do to soften the blow of rejection?
I actually think about that quite often. I bought the domain name artbreakhotel.org, with the idea of getting together with other heartbroken artists.
What advice do you have about selling books?
Try selling locally. With big publishers, often you can’t convince the sales team, you’ll receive feedback that “it’s a nice read but it’s not going to sell in Asda”. I didn’t go for traditional retail lines – I went to cafes, art galleries, etc. You have to think laterally, e.g. eBay, garden centres, gift shops, till points. Think about footfall and where there’s more exposure and less competition, for example country fairs.
I see myself as a local artisan. There’s nothing lovelier for people than to meet the author. So build that author–reader relationship.
What was the difference between your print and ebook sales?
I got a few thousand print sales versus an odd 500 ebook sales. Good reviews are worth their weight in gold.
What writing software do you like to use?
I like to use Scrivener, which gives you good control over the splurge.
Any last advice?
Don’t give up your day job if possible. Ideally it would be a 100% brainnumbing job, so that you have the mental energy to write.
Want to get more insight from other authors?
Check out Vulpes Libris’ author interviews.