Better Than This is a story about finding the strength to break free from old habits, to dream with purpose and to believe in happiness. Life, and love, doesn't have to be perfect but sometimes everything depends on knowing that it can be better than this...
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you have any doubts?
I publish through traditional presses as part of my job. Academic publishing isn’t designed to pay, so in that sense it is different from being a commercial author with a traditional press, but it does mean that I know quite a bit about how the editorial process works, pitching ideas etc. And it can be fun - I’m not against traditional publishing! But, because it is what I do for work, it feels like…work. And it is slow. It can take months or years to get even a 10,000 word article through the publication process.
When I decided to publish my first novel I knew I wanted an experience that felt different from my day job, I wanted more control over the process, and I had done my research with respect to remuneration. It isn’t easy to make money publishing fiction whichever route you take, but the numbers seemed to stack up better for indie publishing for what I’m looking for (a steady, scalable income and lots of control about when and how I work).
I’m naturally quite an indecisive person, so I spent quite a while looking into all of the options and asking advice. Once I’d made my choice, though, and was happy with my reasons, I got stuck in. When I choose a path, having the doubts before I start out means I don’t have to carry them with me!
What did you like best?
I absolutely love the writing process. My favourite stages are probably writing first chapters (often from the beginning and the end, then I work out what happens in the middle) and the editing process. I go over my drafts over and over, until I’m happy with every word, and I lose myself completely in the story.
To my surprise, though, I also ended up loving the cover design process. My brain is definitely a word brain, so it always intimidated me and I had a bit of a false start with one designer, but then I found Jacqueline Abromeit at goodcoverdesigns.co.uk. I saw her portfolio and just knew she was the designer I wanted to work with, and when I saw her first draft of the cover of Better Than This it was incredible. My book suddenly seemed real, and Jacqueline brought out colours and shapes and textures that made me see different things in my own text.
What was the hardest part?
Coming up with a title! The manuscript had a working title throughout the writing process, but I always knew it wasn’t quite right. When it was done, I spent about a week throwing titles out to my partner. Mostly he winced and I knew it wasn’t quite right. He would suggest something and it wouldn’t feel right. It got quite frustrating. Then it appeared and I knew that Better Than This was the one I’d been looking for. (And he agreed!)
The other very hard part of indie publishing, as I’m sure every indie author out there agrees, is marketing. I’ve never really done any marketing and I didn’t have any form of social media except LinkedIn until a few weeks before my book was released. Now I’m working with a professional marketing specialist and I still don’t feel like I’ve got it figured out, but it’s a skill, like any other, and I’m willing to give it time and effort. As my parents always taught me, that’s all we can ever do.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely. In fact, I will be indie publishing my second novel this Easter. The process has been complicated in places and I feel like I’m learning new things at every stage, but I’m looking forward to going through it the second time around and doing it better. It is also exciting building up some momentum. Control is one of the key things that drew me to indie publishing and I really enjoy the direct relationship between putting in work and seeing changes, whether that is in marketing, editing or creating new stories.
What advice do you have for authors just starting?
Start with your story. I did a lot of research while I was writing but whatever decision you make about how to publish, it all has to start with a story that is as good as you can make it and that you really believe in. All publishing involves putting a piece of yourself into the world. It is always scary. Indie publishing means that you don’t have a lot of the support and encouragement or the sense of a safety net that traditional publishing gives you. If you make a terrible decision about your cover or editing, nobody will necessarily be there with years of experience in the industry to tell you. That makes it even more imperative to trust in your own work and to know that you have made it the very best that you can.
I also found The Creative Penn podcast by indie author Joanna Penn truly inspirational. The podcast has been going for over ten years so there are hours and hours of content, including interviews with authors, editors, designers, marketers, etc. as well as reflections on different kinds of publishing, genres and reader groups and building a fan community. There is so much information out there, and there are so many people offering advice. The Creative Penn has become my final checkpoint for everything. I read widely, but in the final analysis, if Joanna Penn says something is a good idea, then I trust that she knows what she is doing and has tried it out herself.
Rebecca Darley is a full time historian, currently working at the University of Leeds. Her academic specialism is the world of the Western Indian Ocean in the first millennium CE. In 2022, she also began publishing fiction under the pen name Rose Marzin. As an indie (self-published) author, Rose Marzin writes contemporary and historical romance, with a focus on the emotional complexities of human relationships.
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