Friday, September 8, 2023

Going It Alone: From Traditional to Indie: Guest Post by Jinny Alexander

In 2020, I signed a three-book deal with a small publisher. I was ecstatic, but blinkered, and it fell apart almost as fast as it had happened. The publisher was inexperienced but hopefully also fresh and emerging. I was willing to take the chance, and be part of building something new and exciting. My first book was a standalone, literary book, but the other two were the first of my Jess O’Malley Cozy Mystery Series.

In March 2022 my first book was launched, but a lot of mistakes were made – that the publisher uploaded an early proof version to all the distributors, and the copy that hit the bookshelves was riddled with formatting errors that the publisher had PUT IN during the editing process was probably the worst of the many mistakes. It was, frankly, an embarrassing mess. I wasn’t the only author from this publishing house experiencing problems. I wiped away tears and tried to stay positive. After all, I had a second book coming that October; a cheerful, genre-perfect Cozy Mystery. I’d make it work. I would.

But roundabout the middle of summer 2022, things turned from ‘mistakes’ to ‘nasty’ with the publisher. Mistakes were still being made – not necessarily the same mistakes – some new, some old – but as well as the mistakes, the attitude turned and it went from the initially great working relationship that I'd signed up for, to a very uncomfortable mix of ghosting and bullying and gaslighting. This wasn't my paranoia (trust me, I checked) – other authors were seeing the same things, and we were collectively worried, but my second book was due out that October, so I hung in there and hoped it would get better.

We should have been getting so excited about it – the Cozy market is huge; the book was good – that’s not big-headed smugness; the book was written as part of my Open University degree, and had been well-critiqued and tested – but I could see that its journey to publication wasn't going well. The publisher had stopped communicating; the cover was far from the agreed idea; ARCs weren’t sent out; the street team was given no information. I was given no information.

The worry ramped up from ‘niggling’ to ‘huge’, but it was getting too close to my launch date to make a fuss.

The publisher had done no marketing leading to the launch, so I pulled in a couple of favours from people I know. A local acquaintance of mine is a multi-million selling crime author, with a massiveIrish and UK following, so I asked her to share the launch details of A Diet of Death to her bazillion followers. Which she promptly did.

And then, just days before the launch, it became apparent A Diet of Death wouldn't be available in Ireland, where I live, and where the series is set. When I raised this with the publisher, they (inadvertently? Is that generous?) did ‘something’ that also left the book unavailable in the UK for the week around the official launch. This also wiped out a lot of the preorders.

I'm still very, very embarrassed that I got my best-selling acquaintance to promote my book, and then so many people couldn't buy it – it literally wasn't available to buy across Ireland and the UK, and this combined with zero marketing efforts in the US from my publisher, meant the book completely crashed. I spent launch week in tears, but now certain I had to get away from what had become a very toxic environment.

I decided if I had to walk away and leave my three books behind me, that's what I would do, for my sanity and health. A couple of weeks after A Diet of Death was ‘launched’, I requested termination of my contract with the publisher. To my immense relief, and some surprise, they immediately agreed, with full reversion of all my rights.

Fast-forward to July this year. In the interim, I’d finished my Creative Writing MA, and two other standalone literary novels. I hadn’t given much thought to what to do with the Jess O’Malley series; still licking my wounds and recovering my sanity, but even as I approached a handful of agents for my new books, the tiny whisper in the back of my mind was getting more insistent: You’ve got this cozy series; are you just going to throw it away?

In July 2023, a few things simultaneously happened – not least of which was being invited to join the new Cozy Crime Collective by one of its founders. She’d read A Diet of Death back in its pre-publication review cycle and enjoyed it immensely. A lot of other little things piled up together like building blocks, and I realised the only sensible thing to do with Jess O’Malley was to self-publish the series. With the first in the series being—albeit briefly—previously published, no agent or big publisher would give it a chance.

As this knowledge took root, I did a lot of research very quickly. I asked for help where it was needed, and paid for the things I can’t do myself (a great cover designer being the most important). By committing cold hard cash to the cover, formatting help and software, my own ISBNs, etc, I was both setting a reason to make this work, and a knowledge that if I am going to self-publish, I will do it WELL.

It's been a big turnaround mentally—I’d wanted the trad-publishing dream, but as that had turned into more of a nightmare, I know now I have nothing to lose. One persistent refrain during my time with the rogue publisher was the authors whispering amongst themselves: We could do this better by ourselves. We should have just self-published.  Now I know this is true: every step towards publication last October was filled with fresh dread – “What will go wrong?” 

Now, every step brings “Look what I’ve done right”.

Jinny Alexander was first published in Horse and Pony Magazine at the age of ten. The route to publication was so much easier way back then. Her home for now is in rural Ireland, in a village uncannily similar to Jess O’Malley’s fictional Ballyfortnum. While Jinny spends just as much time walking the country lanes with her dogs as Jess, Jinny has yet to stumble upon a murder. Phew. The first book in her Jess O’Malley Mystery Series, A Diet of Death has just been relaunched and its first sequel, A Hover of Trout, will follow in October.



Jinny Alexander said...

Hi, this is Jinny! Thank you so much for publishing this. I think it's very important to anyone else approaching publishing to realise it's not always an obvious or easy route, and a massive part of getting published is developing a thick skin and a lot of tenacity! Thanks for reading xx

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks, Jinny, for sharing your experience.