Phil: Last week, we chatted with author Polly Courtney about the writing process. This isn’t the end of the process. While most writers dream of handing their manuscript over to a publisher who will take it away and sell the book, Polly choses to self-publish. How does author as publishing house work? We were eager to know…
Most new authors concentrate on producing a story but as a self-publisher, you appear to approach the book as much more than this. Does the book just become “product” to sell this way? Can the temptation to write something easy to sell ever change the content of the book?
Good question. It’s one of those things that’s very personal: some authors feel it’s compromising their integrity to think about the commerciality of their novel before they start writing. I don’t have a problem with it – although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I change my intentions for a book based on its market appeal. I’m fortunate, in a way, that the subjects which get me going are also ones that other people find interesting. Would I write a book about a little-known issue that had never hit the news? Maybe – no, definitely, if I felt strongly enough about it. I’d just have to create the demand, instead of using existing interest in the subject.
Your books are famously not chick-lit but do they fit a genre? Does this matter if you don’t have to fit within the pre-conceived ideas of a publishers marketing department, or does it make it harder pitching the book to sellers?
I’ve never been good at fitting in a box (book-wise). It’s a problem for publishers, definitely. They need to be able to see where a book will sit ‘on the shelf’, but mine falls between shelves; it’s fiction, but it’s social issues-led. “What do we call it? Which author is it like?” publishers ask, in a panic. That’s why I was squeezed into the ‘chick lit’ mould when I was with HarperCollins: it was the closest recognised genre they were happy to work with. Frankly, I don’t need to put my work in a box; the main thing is that it’s well represented in a visual sense (i.e. title and cover) so that readers can tell what themes and styles are inside. That’s the beauty of online bookstores; the recommendations engines can provide suggestions for readers based on their reading habits. No need for shelf-based searching any more!
(These are the ‘on brand’ cover designs for my self-published novels, courtesy of the incredible Sinem Erkas):
How does the planning work? Do you treat it like a project with charts, spreadsheets, budgets and all the related paraphernalia?
Oh, boy. You asked for it. I am anal when it comes to planning. Seriously, there are financial spreadsheets, Excel timeplans and lists – many, many lists. In the run-up to launch for Feral Youth, my boss has left me daily to-do lists with penalties for late completion. It’s tough, working for yourself (but I love it).
What advice could you give to new authors looking to promote their books? Since you have a new novel out and are re-releasing some old ones, presumably there is a plan, what does it involve?
Here’s some advice I would give any author or wannabe author (including my twenty-four-year-old self, a few years ago):
Take time to think about what you really want to write (style, content, themes etc.) and who might like to read it (demographics, attitudinal groups, etc.) and then think about the best way to publish, staying true to these two important things. For some writers, this might mean signing with a publisher (one that really understands your goals), but for others it might mean going it alone and retaining control over the execution of that vision. And remember: if it doesn’t fit in a box, that’s not a problem any more 🙂
Thank you again for your time Polly. Don’t forget, if you want to know more, visit pollycourtney.com