new book, writing

What I Learnt From Walking Away From a Mainstream Publisher


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Body Zero – Radical Preparation For the Return of Christ” has been out for almost one month now. It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating month of social media, events, packaging, daily trips to the Post Office and…a gradual easing into rest.

As though the finest cut of meat has been grilled, released from the fire and now sitting under a tin-foil canopy unto something like imperfect perfection, my very best is just being served as Body Zero does the rounds. Here’s what I learnt:

If you’ve ever worked on a writing/book project before you’ll understand the amount of loving labour and accumulative emotional calorie-count that’s involved – the ‘creative slide’ is often very slippery indeed.

But, undoubtedly, the hardest thing in this process was, having signed a contract, making the difficult decision to pull this particular book from the publisher. Boris Johnson is correct: in any business negotiation, you’re on a hiding to nothing if you’re not willing to walk away at any moment. (Btw, I think we should walk away if the European possy don’t play ball). Anyway, this walking away from the publishing contract was like super-setting chest, back and arms all in one gruelling high-intensity exercise session.

It killed.

The Dilemma

Walking away from the publishing contract, how would we handle the orders? How would we handle the distribution? What would people think of the book?  Are we allowed to do this legally having signed a contract? Would anyone get to hear about the book? Would the right people get the book in their hands? Is a publisher’s logo on the spine and the blurb that important? Wouldn’t a self-published book be stereotypically inferior?

Having celebrated our ‘traditional’ publishing contract with a bottle of prosecco at Pizza Express, were we now really about to say to them ‘thanks but no thanks’?

There was a price to pay. I knew that the immediate audience of this book would be smaller because of the decision to renege (with the publisher it would have been carted around UK bookshops etc) but, as we should all know, “success” isn’t always accurately measured in numerical size or order numbers – it’s just not.

For this particular book, I knew that it wasn’t to be plastered all over mainstream bookshelves – perhaps some, but not all. This was a book for a more limited audience and, in this case, independent quality was much more important to its message than wholesale quantity.

The Reality

To encourage you budding writers, the fact of the matter is that publishing a book completely independently has resulted in a much, much better product: the design was exactly as I wanted; the formatting, inside, included little touches that would have otherwise been seen as surplus to requirement; a consideration to the right (and wrong) fonts was prioritised as the vital element that it actually is (who’s with me on the life and death issue that the choosing the correct font is?!); and, most importantly, there was zero compromise on:

a) what I wanted to say and

b) how I wanted to say it.

The book is significantly better as a product cf. to how it would have been if left with the publisher.

Honour your book by resisting the lure that traditional publishing is the only way forward. It might not be. The message and the spirit of Body Zero is perhaps more bespoke, more personal, than other books and, hence, the personal touches and creative control very much mattered.

Mass-Produced Junk

We live in an Amazon world where, if books aren’t available on Amazon, we panic. But that’s silly, isn’t it? There is a curious attitude within some book distributors and book shops that if a book is “self-published” then it’s a book that immediately becomes seen as something lesser than if a publisher had taken charge. It’s like “self-published” is synonymous with a pair of “seconds” from a Clarks Shoe Shop, or a refurbished Mac from Apple. And the irony of this attitude is more than a little annoying given that, as I’ve said, the final product is undoubtedly better (in this case) precisely because we walked away from the publisher!

5 Lessons

  • You absolutely can produce professional-level books without needing to use a traditional publishing house.
  • Above all things, honour your book’s content by being uncompromising on the core content and core tone. Both are important and if a publisher isn’t fully on board with both you won’t do your heart justice.
  • Work with designers and creatives that don’t just want a transaction of services. Look for someone in your network who is genuinely in to what you’re producing, someone who genuinely cares and who has loads of talent.
  • Use your social network unashamedly for distribution and marketing. Don’t pre-cursor posts with “sorry about the #spam” – just share the heck out of your beautiful, beautiful product. Not everyone sees it and sharing creatively will help to connect to a wider audience and generate sales.
  • Big Cartel are awesome as an E-commerce solution…IMHO, way better than Shopify.
  • Finally, enjoy your product; enjoy your accomplishment, including all of its little imperfections (that most people will never notice).

You can buy your copies of Body Zero HERE, find out more about the book by following associated vlog content HERE, and connect with my author’s page on Facebook HERE.

Oh, and a couple of shots of yours truly enjoying some time in John Knox house yesterday!

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