Cover Contest – The Latest

So far, the most surprising thing about my epublishing adventure is how much fun it is.

I had imagined that it would be a bit like internet dating in the late 1990s – the most common sense approach, but vaguely embarrassing, the kind of thing you would hide from your friends lest they bump into you in the wrong part of town, dressed in a purple tank top, holding a bunch of chrysanthemums and a helium balloon.

But no! I tell you, it’s great. For the last week, as the brave and lonely few who follow this blog know, I have been running a competition on 99designs to design the cover for my ebook. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

Think about it this way – should you actually get a publishing deal, how much choice do you actually have for the cover? I honestly don’t know, but I’m guessing that publishers, be they multinationals or indie presses, probably have their preferred designers and methods, and their related constraints due to time or money (or lack of interest). I can’t imagine it is the most favourable process for the author. Sure, there is consultation, but I’m pretty certain the ultimate decision maker is the publisher.

Now, compare it to the 99 designs experience. You launch your design brief online and without any favouritism or nepotism, the designs tumble onto your page. So far 35 designers have taken part, submitting 133 designs in total. You can check them out here:

I would estimate that around 60% of these designs are better than what I see on the Kindle store. So not only do I have the absolute freedom to choose my cover, I have a huge selection of quality designs.

Now, you might say, “Yes Neil, but this costs you $500, a writer with a publishing deal would pay nothing.”

I might reply: “Yes, but I’m getting what I want, and the design is mine to own forever. So stick that up your bahookie.”

Self-publishing can happen so fast, and on your own terms. This week, I have been comparing it to my experience with the traditional model. I had always been jealous of writer friends back in Scotland who had taken the decision (albeit a difficult one) to write full-time and have various jobs on the side to make money. I always thought I was at a disadvantage because I worked full-time and had less time to write – my peers could overtake me, finish projects quicker, get to the market faster. But I now realise that what I lack in time, I can make up for in cash.

Because, in this new world, what’s really that different between an individual and a publishing house? OK, an individual self-publishing their own work still carries a certain stigma, a suspicious whiff of the bloke down the train station ranting about hell and salvation. But when you deconstruct the traditional publishing model, what’s the reality? Is there really much difference between an individual publishing their own work from their home PC, or a small press (two or three people perhaps) who likewise do everything themselves or through contractors?

Consider my experience to date (side note: my agent is a brilliant person, and many of the publishers I spoke to were also passionate and admirable individuals, so just to be clear, it’s the model I’m criticising):

1999-2006: I write my first novel, The Vodka Angels.

2006: I get an agent.

2007: After around 20 rejections, the advice from my agent, some publishers and other writers is similar – get to work on a new novel, maybe you can sell The Vodka Angels later as part of a two-book deal. I put The Vodka Angels into storage.

2007-09: I write Amsterdam Rampant.

2010: My agent tries to sell Amsterdam Rampant. Fifteen or so rejections from the big UK publishing houses. I remember those lonely afternoons in Luxembourg, pressing F5 to refresh my emails – waiting, waiting, waiting.

2011-12: I edit Amsterdam Rampant down to a leaner version to make it more commercial. More rejections. The advice from my agent, some publishers and other writers is similar – get to work on a new novel, maybe you can sell Amsterdam Rampant later…

Imagine any other business running like that. You have a quality product, there is probably demand for it (as much as any similar product out there) yet you are blocked by numerous gates and gatekeepers. Many of the gatekeepers are no more qualified than you (or less qualified) to decide if the product has a future. Think about that for a moment – why trust all those years of work to a 23-year-old marketing graduate who might have ten other novels to sell? Instead of trusting myself, with 13 years’ experience in international business, halfway through an MBA degree, and one novel to focus on selling?

It’s exciting to feel this liberated, no longer waiting at the gates, begging for scraps.

Next steps? Tomorrow I will select my finalists for the cover design contest, and next week hope to announce the winner… after that, I will be close to publishing the novel…


3 thoughts on “Cover Contest – The Latest

  1. I guess the crucial thing with regard to self-publishing is being able to engage i nself-promotion and endless networking. I hate that part so much i just wouldn’t do it. And i don’t have a big network anyway. Since I know you are not an American sales- person at heart either, I am very interested in your approach to the self-publishing and self promotion option and how you will proceed and do this in your own worthy way. I take your point about the randomness of rejections and also the fact that your book might have been a great success on the market if it had been given the chance. Publishers are like generals, they say that generals always fight the last war strategically. I think the same is true of publishers. They are looking for imitations of the last big bestselling novel instead of anticipating the future one.

    • Hi Sinead, it’s a really good point and to be honest I don’t know the answer yet. As you suggest, it’s not in my DNA to be on Twitter posting something like ‘MY AMZNG NOVEL HAS 483 5* REVIEWS ON AMAZON, “BEST BOOK EVER” SEZ JK ROWLING’ every 15 minutes. Which, it seems, many self-published authors do. I think the key word for me is one you mention above – strategy. I have given myself a war chest of around 2,000 pounds to explore different ways of marketing the book (starting of course with the cover, which is arguably the most important marketing device of all). So I will do my research in the coming weeks and also blog openly about the different types of promotion that I try. Essentially it has to be all online as I don’t live in an English-speaking country. It’s going to be interesting…

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