Thursday, 4 December 2014

Guest blog: Karen Bush

Karen Bush is a published author. She's written several very well-received non fiction books, including 201 Hints for Handy Horse Persons which made it into Horse & Hound's Great Horse Books feature. She's also written some of the official ABRS manuals with Julian Marczak: The Principles of Teaching Riding and 101 Riding Exercises.

In today's post, she talks about why she's turned to self publishing. Karen hasn't just published her stories - she also talks about the benefits of self publishing conventional books which have gone out of print.

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I’ve been writing for a while now: I started out doing articles for horsy magazines (and even spent a spell as an equine agony aunt for PONY and Your Horse), and then began to write books too. Unless you are Jilly Cooper or Dick Francis, horsy books don’t pay as well as magazine features, but I like doing them. It’s nice to be able to do a properly thorough job, to expand on subjects that you are forced to condense down to a mere 1500 – 2000 words in a magazine article. Even after all these years, it’s also still a thrill when you finally get to hold a fresh-off-the-press copy of your brand new book in your hands.

But I write for what is essentially a small, very specialist market and publishers seem increasingly reluctant to take a punt on anything that’s not going to be a big seller. And if it’s difficult to sell a factual book to a publisher these days, it’s even harder to sell one which is not just children’s fiction, but horror of horrors, is children’s equestrian fiction.

So I have turned to self-publishing with Amazon Kindle. And to my surprise I’m really enjoying it; true there are some cons, but as far as I’m concerned, the pros far outweigh any disadvantages.



For starters, there is the freedom to choose what I write about: I can finally get round to publishing some of those books which are too niche even for niche publishers but which I really want to write and for which I’m sure there will be an appreciative if tiny audience. And although in the past I’ve worked with some fabulous editors, I’ve also had some far from happy experiences with a few who failed to change my painstakingly corrected page proofs, who took it upon themselves to change entire sentences and with it the sense of what I had written, and even introduced some truly appalling gaffes because they used spellcheckers instead of their own eyes. I still cringe at the memory of ‘excerpt’ changed to ‘exert’ in one book. Now that I am my own publisher, any typos that appear are entirely my own fault. I don’t claim to be perfect, but at least I do try to get it right, because my book isn’t just a job but my pet project.

Self-publishing also means that I no longer worry about my ideas getting pinched. Yes, I know - it is a typical grumble of us paranoid writers. But twice before now I have pitched ideas to one particular publisher who expressed interest and requested detailed book plans. Both books were ultimately rejected on the grounds that there would be no market for them and they were unsuitable for their booklist anyway. Yet just over twelve months later, books on the same two subjects appeared, written by more famous people and following very closely to the detailed book plan I had submitted. It was too much of a coincidence and I won’t ever pitch ideas to that particular editor now. But it does rather destroy your trust in publishers. You can’t copyright ideas, it is true, so nowadays I prefer to keep them close to my chest.

Self-publishing is also a brilliant way of keeping out-of-print books available. Recently I’ve been helping one of my writing heroes, Caroline Akrill, get her out of print (OOP) books back into circulation in digital format (yes, I’m not above a bit of shameless name dropping!) I’m hoping that eventually this will mean that I’ll finally get to read the two books I’ve not yet been able to get my hands on as they are either unobtainable or out of my price range when the occasional copy pops up. When one of my own books went OOP it was initially a small disaster, since it was also an official ABRS manual. But the solution was at hand. My lovely co-author Julian Marczak and I simply e-booked it, and better still – another advantage of digital publishing – were able to make it available at a more affordable price for cash-strapped students than the hefty price which the publisher had slapped on it. That’s another of the things that I like about self-publishing; I really like being able to control the pricing. As my fiction books are written primarily for children (although adults seem to quite enjoy them too) I like to be able to make them affordable for them to buy. I remember all too well the hardship involved in saving up to buy books in my yoof.


Still not convinced about the benefits of self-publishing? Well, here’s another good reason: it’s really, really easy to change things, whether correcting typos that have slipped through the net, or adding new stuff. When I wrote The Five Pound Pony and other stories, I added a brief related article at the end of each story as a kind of bonus feature; and then thought that it would be nice to do the same with the previous book of short stories. So that’s exactly what I did. What’s more anyone who has already bought a copy of The Great Rosette Robbery doesn’t now have to buy another one in order to read the new material as would be the case with traditional publishing; all you need do is update your account to get the new version for free. I’ve got one traditionally published book that has been in print continuously since 1988 and some of it is so dated now that it makes me wince. How I wish it was an e-book that I could update so easily.

On the minus side, you do have to do all your own PR, which can be a bit time consuming, but to be honest it’s not that much of a drawback when you consider the length of the publicity forms you have to fill in for traditional publishers, many of whom seem to expect you to do a lot of the promotional legwork anyway.

And while it’s true that not everyone has an e-reader, lack of such a device doesn’t stop you from being able to read an e-book. You can download a free app from Amazon which enables you to read e-books on your PC, tablet or even your mobile phone. Most children have access to one or more of those these days even though they may not have a dedicated e-reader. And I was amazed to see just how many people were reading books on their mobile phones when I was last on the train.

And if the desire to hold a ‘proper’ book in my hands becomes too great, I’ve already done all the hard work of preparing the text and can produce a paper edition with the greatest of ease using CreateSpace or similar.

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You can find Karen Bush at her website: www.karenbush.jimdo.com 

Karen's pony books are:



4 comments:

Elaine Brown said...

This is extremely interesting for me. I have self-published on e-reader and I was thinking about getting my books published. I am worried about the PR side of it as I have so little time and was thinking of doing the rounds of publishers again. Definitely food for thought.

jane ayres said...

Hi Karen - It was great to read this post, and thanks for sharing. As a pony author currently self pubbing my backlist, I really identified with this - and to accept that it is a small niche market (easy to forget this sometimes when I compare my sales to thriller and romance authors with much bigger sales!) I also like your website - was it easy to set up? I'm very untechie! Best wishes

Amanda Wills said...

Really interesting post. There are so many advantages to self-publishing these days, not least the fact that the only real outlay is your time. Stumping up money to pay for even a small print run, as I would have had to do if I'd self-published ten years ago, wouldn't have been an option for me and as a consequence I'd probably never have written a word. Thanks for sharing!

madwippitt said...

Sorry to delay on replying - have only just spotted this - thanks for the positive comments and Jane - yes, the website is very easy to set up. It takes a few hours to find your way around but once you have grasped how to use the basic tools is simple and changes are dead easy to make whenever you want to update it or change the appearance. It is also free - with the option of upgrading should you wish - this carries a few benefits, but ones I don't really feel that I need. I use jimdo, but there are plenty of other free website building sites out there such as Weebly ... browse around and find the one you like the best.
Elaine - the PR can be horribly time consuming - but so is filling in all those marketing forms for publishers, and anyway, you are frequently expected to do a lot yourself - not just contacting local papers and magazines, but setting up websites, FB pages, author pages on Amazon, Twitter and all the rest ... With one or two exceptions, virtually all the publicity that has been generated by my trad.published titles has been generated either by the publisher sending out review copies (which anyone can do - you don't need a publisher to do it for you) or by myself ... And Amanda - yes the freedom is wonderful! And free!