A kind of smog of condescending pity surrounds self-publishing, whether you call it vanity publishing or indie. The assumption is that only not-very-good writers resort to such a course. It’s true that a lot of poor stuff does get printed. There’s no quality control in force. But it’s also true that a lot of polished, skilful and entertaining novels are no longer taken on by mainstream publishers who favour big names or debut writers, as well as subject matter of very wide appeal. Naturally enough, they need to make money, pay rent, hire editors.
I was never a big name. I avoided publicity. I lived on a Greek island, and barely knew what my agent was handling on my behalf back home. In the 1990s, with seven novels, children’s books and a non-fiction book of natural history with Peter as illustrator stacked up behind me, I spent years training and practising as a counsellor. When I returned to writing and enjoying fiction, I found I was back at the beginning, knocking on closed doors.
Now I’ve woken up to the reality of the situation. It’s no good grumbling at rejection. I’ve taken matters into my own hands. It’s liberating.
But it does mean I have to do all the tedious work of checking for errors in the writing and then – worst of all – approaching the world with the news of publication. Selling our wares is not the natural territory of writers. I’ve been bludgeoning my contact list with self-advertising. People once met, say on a New Zealand trek or in a New York hotel, are getting emails about the Amazon availability of ‘White Lies’ and ‘A Home from Home’. I imagine them scratching their heads and asking: “Who on earth is this annoyingly importunate person shouting about their own books?”