When I decided to self-publish The Color of Our Sky in 2015, it was after submitting my manuscript to several literary agents over a two-year span, and receiving many rejection letters in the process.
Leading up to that, I had arrived at a final draft of my novel after four years of writing and rewriting (and a lot of drafts!). After I started submitting it to agents, a couple of them responded with feedback and encouraged me to keep going. One suggested that I show the book to an editor, which would help the manuscript get better attention from literary agents. So I approached many freelance editors within the publishing industry and eventually found one that took interest in my book.
This guest post is by Amita Trasi. Trasi is the bestselling author of the novel The Color Of Our Sky, a Kirkus Indie Best Book that she self-published in 2015. Two years later, the Amazon bestseller was picked up by William Morrow—an imprint of HarperCollins—and re-published in April 2017. It’s currently a Globe and Mail bestseller in Canada. Trasi was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and has an MBA in human resource management and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. She currently lives in Woodlands, Texas, with her husband and two cats, and regularly supports and donates to organizations that fight human trafficking.
In early 2014, I read one of Hugh Howey’s (Wool) interviews in Writer’s Digest. I remember him saying, “Instead of [having your manuscripts] in a drawer or in self-addressed, stamped envelopes, have them out there where readers can find them.” And this sentence stayed in my head. When I broached the topic of self-publishing this novel, my editor (who had previously worked in the publishing industry), strongly advised me to keep trying with literary agents. She felt this book would do much better with a traditional publisher. At the time, I agreed with her. Because The Color of Our Sky is based in India, it includes the feel of Mumbai, the colloquial language of the land, and, as such, we thought it was a genre that wouldn’t be an optimal fit for the self-publishing route. So I tried submitting the revised manuscript to agents for a few more months. But by the end of 2014, I thought all my efforts were coming to naught. I just wanted to move on and write another novel.
So I started researching the self-publishing route. I decided it was the path I was going to take. If that meant I had only a slice of the audience, so be it! I was assured that at the very least, I had a few readers out there who would be reading my book.
I didn’t set out to self-publish my novel thinking that it would take off or that it would find a traditional publisher. I just wanted to move on, write another novel, and I liked the idea that my book wouldn’t be languishing in a drawer. Once I made that decision, I researched online for 2–3 months, then found a proofreader/copyeditor to work on my book, researched the best cover artists and worked with them on the cover. I read books on self-publishing, I followed Jane Friedman’s blog rabidly. I also highly recommend Joanna Penn’s blog, author Theresa Ragan’s blog, and The Book Designer.
Within self-publishing, there are so many paths one can take. I mixed-and-matched a few avenues for my book. I started months before the book was out in the world: I decided on the investment amount, how I was going to spend it and where, and carefully planned the outreach strategy. I used Createspace to publish the paperback, and put the e-book up for pre-order via KDP on Amazon, and also on iBooks, Kobo and Nook. I put an advance reader review [ARC] e-copy up on NetGalley, and did ARC paperback giveaways on Goodreads 1–2 months before I published the book. I also applied for reviews from a few important review outlets. It ended up receiving overwhelming positive feedback from bloggers and reviewers. Kirkus Reviews gave it a great review and selected it to be one of the Best Books of 2015 (Indie). It also got the five-star Readers’ Favorite Badge.
It was only after the book was published in June 2015 that I realized how much work went into it. It was almost like being a one-woman publishing company! Even after the book was published, the promotion activities had to be continuously planned and carried out. Then readers started writing to me with questions: Was this book available in bookstores? How could they order it from libraries? It was difficult getting it to libraries, and bookstores weren’t selling it!
During that time, I received an email from a publisher in Turkey who was interested in translation rights. They liked the book, but wanted to talk to an agent who could represent me. I went looking for an agent, once again, and Aroon Raman, a terrific author, recommended Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane agency. When I approached her for representation, she suggested instead that we try to sell it to a big New York publishing house.
When HarperCollins picked it up, my book had been out for about three months. When I self-published, I was under the impression that a traditional publisher doesn’t ask for your opinion or consult you on important aspects of your book, but that simply hasn’t been true. I’ve actually enjoyed the experience with my publisher so far: There are so many people from many different departments supporting this book. And I know that my book will be available to more readers now, and I think ultimately it has done much better with a traditional publisher than I could ever dream of achieving via self-publishing.
Ultimately, this is what I have to say on the self-publishing versus traditional publishing debate: I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision about choosing either way. It’s a lot about what each author wants from this journey. I don’t think any one way can assure success. There are too many factors that go into it. Only the author, who knows his book better than anyone else, can decide the path they want to take. Despite all the kind advice out there, it’s better to rely on one’s instinct to make this decision. Self-publishing is a complicated road. It takes a village—good editors, proofreaders, cover artists, copyeditors, formatting services, marketing advisors, etc. It requires a great deal of research to navigate. A few genres do tend to do better than others with self-publishing. But it does require considerable investment and work if one wants to reach a wider audience.
I personally found self-publishing to be limiting in the sense that many bestseller lists and reputed review outlets may not necessarily accommodate self-published books. It’s also difficult and may require a lot of work to gets one’s self-published book translated into other languages, while a traditional publisher has a rights department to help with that. And royalties from translations can be a good addition to one’s royalties from the English edition. Self-publishing is not something I would recommend jumping into blindly, or too quickly, just because it’s an option that’s available. But it is good for a writer to have this option available, and I think it is still a very viable path to consider, depending on one’s own publishing goals. Either way, expect to put in a lot of work—all of which will pay off when your book finally gets in the hands of readers.
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