I’ve reached the end of my indie era

When I secured a 3-book publishing deal with So Vain Books in September 2014, I was elated. Six months later, that contract extended to include a prequel novella. So exciting! My star was going to rise and my publishing dreams were going to come true.

Not really.

Two years later, my dreams were in tatters and my star was in a locked box at the bottom of the North Sea. With my publisher about to cease trading imminently, I secured my rights back and was back to square one. It was over and, with less than 2,500 sales across all four titles, it hadn’t quite been the success I’d hoped.

It had taken me one year and twenty-three rejections to get my publishing deal and another nine months to get my first book out there. Although trying to secure another publishing deal seemed the logical route, I couldn’t risk losing what little momentum I had by taking the time to try to do so. Besides, I didn’t have anything new written so I’d have been going out with the same trilogy and novella that So Vain Books had published and I wasn’t sure how well that would be received.

I hadn’t set the publishing world alight with my chart positions or sales volumes but I did have very good reviews. It seemed that hardly anyone discovered my books but those who did loved them. With that encouragement, my husband knocked together temporary covers and I re-issued the four books as an independent (indie) author in the autumn of 2016.

Indie publishing (or self-publishing) is not an easy route. It’s an amazing route to market for so many different circumstances – struggling to find a traditional publishing deal, not wanting a traditional deal, writing something niche, wanting control of decisions to name just a few reasons a writer might choose this route – but it is heaving with other indies. To stand out and achieve success, a lot of time and money needs to go into promotional activities and this can be a massive challenge if you’re not writing full-time and/or don’t have the money to invest. Both applied to me.

We knew the covers looked a bit ‘home-made’ because they’d been a rush-job to get my books back out there so I asked hubby to re-do them hoping fresh covers would have a positive impact. They didn’t.

I toyed with changing the titles but I knew that, like the covers, the problem was visibility. I didn’t have the know-how (or the money or the time) to get my books out there to a wider audience so the reality was that I could change everything about them and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

I had hoped that bringing new books out would gain momentum. I did have a flurry of success with my first two Christmas books in 2017 but the level of sales and the chart positions were still nothing to write home about and they dipped off in the spring.

I paid to go on blog tours which brought me some brilliant exposure and some new fans in the blogging community but didn’t translate into sales. I even won several Chill With A Book awards including book of the month several times, cover of the month and book of the year 2019 for Dreaming About Daran. But it still didn’t translate into sales.

In 2018, completely disillusioned by lack of sales but too swamped down with the day job to invest the time in improving things, I concluded that the indie route was not for me. Several author friends were enjoying great success as indies and it was inspiring to see them doing so well… but it hadn’t hit the mark for me and I was starting to question whether I was kidding myself that I could even write!

I decided to try for a publishing deal again with a new novel I’d written and the potential to open up conversations about taking on my backlist.

A typical fortnight of sales as an indie. Some months would be much worse

Securing a publishing deal with Boldwood Books in spring 2019 is the best thing that could ever have happened to me. I had nine books in my backlist at that point and Boldwood offered me a deal for four brand new books and five from my backlist (although that was really six titles as I’d written a sequel to the original novella and the two would be combined to make one full-length novel released through Boldwood).

This contract turned me into a hybrid author where I had a traditional publishing deal but I also had self-published titles available.

My debut with Boldwood was The Secret to Happiness – the book that secured me the publishing deal. It was released first followed by the re-issue of my original ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, re-edited and re-titled. Making Wishes at Bay View was the combined Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish. New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms replaced Searching for Steven. Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove was the new title for Getting Over Gary, and Dreaming About Daran became Coming Home to Seashell Cottage.

I later signed contract addendums for the final three books in my backlist which Boldwood have been steadily re-releasing over the past year with new titles (except Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes which kept the same title), new covers and a fresh edit. Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café became Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café and Bear With Me became All You Need Is Love.

None of the edits have fundamentally changed the stories; they’ve just updated aspects such as technology, removed extraneous detail and added in more emotion at times, and have generally resulted in a more polished manuscript and smoother story. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with my amazing editor, Nia Beynon, from whom I have learned so much. Her input has definitely improved my writing.

I am currently working on the edits for the very final book in my backlist to be re-released: the story formerly known as Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. At the weekend, I took the indie version of this book down from sale ready to get the new title, cover and blurb up for pre-order this week (watch this space for the reveal!)

Each time I unpublished one of the other titles in my backlist, I thought nothing of it but when I took Charlee down on Saturday, it felt like quite a poignant moment. As I watched the final of nine titles on my author dashboard (the behind the scenes place where indie authors upload their books, load blurbs and covers and keep a track of sales) turn to ‘unpublished’ it struck me that I wasn’t just unpublishing another title; I was saying goodbye to being an indie author. Even though I struggled to make sales, I was indie for 4.5 years. I’ve had lots of jobs that haven’t lasted that long! It is the end of an era and that feels a little strange.

Although I didn’t have a great start with my first publisher and being an indie was exceptionally tough, I learned so much through those experiences. I learned about the type of author I am, which parts of the publishing process I’m good at (and not so good at), and I’ve appreciated all the amazing things Boldwood have done for me all the more because I know what it means to feel so far away from anything resembling success as an author.

I will be forever grateful that the publishing world has evolved so much over the years that there is an indie route available and that, even those my sales were limited, I still had sales. People who weren’t friends or family members discovered my writing and some of those readers are still with me today although they now sit alongside an amazing group of new readers who’ve discovered my stories thanks to Boldwood.

Indie wasn’t for me but it did help make me the author I am today and I’m glad I experienced it. So, goodbye to being an indie. Will I ever try that route again? Who knows?! I’ve just submitted the first book on another twelve-book contract with Boldwood, releasing four books a year over the next three years. I’m due back the edits on that today, after which I’ll start writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series and I would hope that I continue to build a readership and write books that my readers and publisher love. But it’s good to know there’s still the indie route there if I didn’t get a third contract or if I wanted to write something different at some point in the future which didn’t fit in with Boldwood’s genres. Given the choice, traditional publishing is my preferred home but I think it helps when I have such a brilliant publisher and such a great relationship with them. I couldn’t imagine home being anywhere else.

Wishing you a fabulous week and thank you so very much for the part you’ve played in supporting my writing journey so far.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

4 thoughts on “I’ve reached the end of my indie era

  1. Incredible endurance and determination are stand out qualities Jessica. You should be very proud.
    You serve as inspiration to people like myself who have yet to secure interest.
    I have enjoyed your books immensely.
    Well done 🌻🌻

    Liked by 1 person

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