THE MAN WHO SELF-PUBLISHED CHRISTMAS

It’s Christmas! That magical time of year when we get to indulge in the finer things: quality time with our loved ones, outrageous quantities of food and drink, and those old family favourites – The Great Escape, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone and so on – that keep on giving year after year.

Every family has their own Christmas classic, but if there’s one story that above all others captures the spirit of the season , it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story of the thawing of the irascible Scrooge’s cold heart, the book has proven so popular that it has been adapted for the screen no less than forty-seven times. Yet another adaptation has hit cinema screens this year, in The Man Who Invented Christmas. The story has entered pop culture like few others. How many Scrooges do you know, ready to pronounce “Bah humbug” at the first sighting of decorations? And at how many dinner tables this Christmas will some wit toast, ‘God bless, us every one!”?

Given its place as a staple of popular culture, it might surprise reader to learn that A Christmas Carol had rather troubled beginnings. Upon receiving the finished manuscript, Dickens’ publisher was lukewarm to the author’s new story; dismayed at this reaction, Dickens decided to take matters into his own hands and pay for the printing of the book himself. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, in the spirit of A Christmas Carol, what’s the moral here? It’s that publishers aren’t always right. In fairness to Dickens’ publisher, unlike Scrooge, they didn’t have a clairvoyant ghost to help see into the future. But while the publisher might be excused for not seeing the Muppet’s 1992 adaptation coming, the calculations as to the work’s commercial viability were clearly somewhat off. So if publishers are hardly infallible, why is self-publishing still so often seen as something shameful, the last resort of the failed writer? It’s hard to factor Charles Dickens into that definition. Or Beatrix Potter, whose Peter Rabbit stories were likewise self-published. Or Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Margaret Atwood or Virginia Woolf, all of whom subsidised the production of their own work. Or, in the modern day, Andy Weir, whose 2011 self-published novel The Martian was adapted into an Academy Award winning 2015 movie by none other than Ridley Scott.

Perhaps if the origins of A Christmas Carol were more widely known, there would be less-stigma attached to self-publishing. Or perhaps, as the contemporary successes mount up, this attitude is already beginning to shift. With more authors electing to self-publish than ever before, it seems that writers are increasingly savvy to shortcomings of a traditional publishing arrangement.

Though many involved in the industry wish it weren’t so, publishing is a business. And like with all businesses, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Sometimes a book has to be turned down, regardless of its quality, simply because the money isn’t there to support its release. Sometimes a book will be turned down because it seems of niche appeal. No editor thought a work of BDSM erotica would prove quite as popular as 50 Shades of Grey has, but like it or loathe it, EL James’ self-published novel is now Britain’s best-selling book of all time.

As Dickens’ Christmas classic proves, a good idea will win out. The right story, the right subject will find a readership, as long as its author is committed and enthusiastic in sharing their work with the world. Of course, certain factors can help ease a book’s journey to commercial success: an appealing cover, an engaging blurb, a professional standard of typesetting, perfect grammar, etc. But at the heart of it all is the author and the book itself.

And luckily, there are many publishers now wising up to this. A modern self-publisher’s role is not to be a gatekeeper, turning away those deemed unworthy, but to help a book finds its place in world. Using their industry experience, a self-publisher will find a way to present a piece of writing in just the right fashion, and to just the right people, to help it along its way to success. They work with an author; they don’t dictate to them.

So this Christmas, as you take stock of the important things in life, here’s something to mull over: by Christmas 2018 your book could be wrapped up underneath thousands of trees; around the dinner table you could be toasting to your new career as an author. Sound good? Then treat yourself this Christmas and get in touch!

MEET MICHELLE MONAN

The Cover of Can You Hear it Too? by Jelly Bean Self-PublishingMichelle lives with her husband and two sons in the small village in Surrey where she was born. For twelve years she owned and ran two nursery schools, and her favourite part of the day was always story time. She noticed that the children always enjoyed the rhyming stories the most, and so when it came to writing her first book, Can You Hear It Too?, Michelle knew that it should be in verse.

Can You Hear It Too? is based on Michelle’s childhood memories of playing in the great outdoors with her friends.

She says: ‘We were lucky enough to grow up in an area with just a few houses and fields and woodland all around us. We used to have great fun building dens in the woods. When we heard noises from outside, we would huddle in the den wondering what it might be, but it always turned out to be friends, people we were familiar with or woodland creatures.’

These days Michelle enjoys walking, cycling, going to music concerts, holidaying with her husband and children. In between all this, Michelle works as a teaching assistant. 

JUDGING AT FONT VALUE

Let’s talk fonts. No, no, wait… come back. It’s fun, I promise. Well, it’s important, anyway. I mean, check this out:

Now, if you were James Joyce and you’d sprung for a self-publishing contract, this isn’t exactly what you’d want, is it? It’s a detail that many, authors and readers alike, often do not consider, but the right font is essential to a book’s success.

There are certain fonts that you’re used to seeing in certain contexts, and while you might not think about it consciously, when one wanders into the wrong book you can be sure you’re brain notices. Bearing in mind that ‘font’ includes variables such as line spacing and style, imagine, say, Stephen King set up like this:

Weird, right? Sort of undermines the whole effect. That’s because we’re used to seeing wide line spacing like that in children’s books, to help young readers focus on the words. Or how about this:

Dense, claustrophobic, intense… Probably not what A.A. Milne was going for when hewrote that particular piece. Now cast about you for the nearest professionally produced book. A Penguin classic or something. See the difference?  

Don’t let your hard work be undermined by inappropriate stylistic choices. It won’t matter how much care and thought you’ve put into your writing if all a reader can think when they open your book of is ugh, Comic Sans… Drop Jelly Bean Self-Publishing’s experienced typesetters a line, and let us find the right clothes for your writing to wear out into the world…

 

WHY CONSIDER SELF-PUBLISHING?

So you’ve written your book. First of all: kudos. They say everyone’s got a book in them, but not everyone has the work ethic to get that book onto the page. But what about the next step, getting it from the page and into print? It’s often the case that prospective authors find this stage as daunting as the writing process itself.

Of course, there is a well trodden path that authors can take: finding yourself an agent and letting them pitch your work to publishers. But of the literally thousands of literary agents out there, which is the best fit for you? And how can you guarantee that the publishers they approach are the right ones for your work? Authors are a dime a dozen to agents and publishers; there’s no guarantee that they will share your vision for your book, let alone give it the attention and care that it deserves. Perhaps they love it, but the next gap in their publishing schedule is in two years time; or perhaps instead of X, the main character did Y and Z instead? Oh, you don’t agree? Well, that’s a shame…

So that’s it. You’ve slaved over your manuscript, crafted it into something you’re proud of, and now you have to hand it over to a group of people you’ve met perhaps once or twice, to do with what they will, to release when it suits them, over which to exercise executive control in regards to the final text, cover art, illustrations, marketing, etc. etc.

Remember when I said, ‘So you’ve written your book’? Well, it’s not your book anymore…

Of course, many authors who pursue traditional publishing routes have positive experiences; but all of them, regardless of how happy they are with the final product, have to relinquish direct control of their work in the very early stages of the publishing process. It is this control that self-publishing seeks to return to the author. Authors who self-publish have the final say over every single aspect of their book: the text, the art, the design, even the blurb.

Of course, it is also the job of a self-publishers to advise you in your decisions. Here at Jelly Bean, our experienced industry professionals offer their guidance every step of the publishing process, from initial editing through to marketing. But that’s the key word: guidance. While guaranteeing that your book is professionally viable,  we will never forget that it is very personal to you. We will ensure your book reads how you want it to; that it looks just as you imagined it; that it is ready to be sold in the kind of environments you envisaged; that it will appeal to the people that you want it to buy it — all through a process tailored from the get go to your specific requirements, and costed accordingly.

Simply put, Jelly Bean Self-Publishing puts you, the author, first.

JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Do me a quick favour: Google ‘lousy book covers’.

You’re welcome — firstly for all for the hours of entertainment I’ve just provided, but secondly, and far more importantly, for warning you against the single biggest and most common mistake self-published authors make.

No matter how the old saying goes, everyone judges a book by its cover. It may not be fair, but it’s absolutely true. Pick one of the covers you’ve just seen. Imagine if that had been for the first edition of, say, The Great Gatsby. I think if that were the case it’s a pretty safe bet that old Gatsby wouldn’t be all he’s considered to be today.

Now, we shouldn’t be too critical of the unfortunate authors who’ve found themselves featured in such lists. Publishing a book yourself can be a daunting process, and there’s a lot more to consider than most first-time authors expect. It’s also fair to say that many literary minded people are perhaps not so astute when it comes to judging design. And when you’ve already handed over your hard earned cash to a designer only to be presented with, well, whatever some of those covers are supposed to be, I think some self-rationalisation is understandable.

This is why it’s so important to ensure that the design of your book cover is in good hands before you part with your money. At Jelly Bean Self-Publishing, we employ the same cover designers as those who work with our sister imprint, award-winning independent publisher Candy Jar Books, ensuring cover art of the highest standard. You put your name to the words; our artists put theirs to the art; we stake our professional reputation on the finished product. Together, we’ll try and stay laughing at those ‘lousy cover’ lists — not featuring on them.

THE THING ABOUT CANCER

A diagnosis of cancer is a shock for anyone, but for a child it can be particularly difficult. Suddenly the child is required to process some very big, very adult emotions: shock, anger, sadness, and a feeling of isolation from their peers. These were emotions that Sarah Josefsburg, as an adult, found herself struggling with during her own fight with cancer. And it was because of them that she was inspired to write her debut publication, Rosie the Rabbit, which seeks to impart to children undergoing chemotherapy some of the insights that helped her during her illness.

A beautifully illustrated, poetic children’s picture book, Rosie the Rabbit, reassures its young reader that while, of course, their cancer is a very big thing, it is not all they are. It reminds them that, though they might not be able to go out and play, they still have their imagination, can still make jokes, are still loved, still have friends, and still have much to look forward to. It is a book that’s promises that while the experience might not “make you stronger/Or braver/Or true/…every experience/ Will make you more you.”

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED SELF-PUBLISHING?

Many writers seem to shy away from this question, afraid that self-publishing is in some way admitting defeat. But the recent rise of self-publishing marks a radical change for readers, writers and publishers and shows that this is no longer the case. Read More →

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PAPERBACK

E-books are fantastic. You can carry hundreds of them in your bag at once, have a new one in your hands in seconds and try a new author at the fraction of the price of its paperback counterpart. But there is something strangely satisfying about the tactile nature of turning a page, of finishing a book and putting it on the shelf. You don’t get quite the same experience with an e-reader.

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SELF-EDITING – PREPARING YOUR WORK FOR SUBMISSION

Self-editing is a quintessential part of making your writing look polished and professional. It can be a tedious task, but the following tips will make it all worth your while. 

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Roald Dahl Day!

On Tuesday 13th September 2016 , we at Candy Jar Books joined the rest of the world in celebrating Roald Dahl. 

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