The Realities of Independent Publishing #1

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

In this series of blog posts we summarise a decade’s worth of wisdom from our experience on the front line of independent publishing, sharing the top trade secrets we believe every aspiring author should know.

The publishing industry presents so many wonderful options for writers today. That being said, it can be an overwhelming industry to navigate. For those looking to publish independently, there is so much practical information about the writing process, the steps to publication and how to go about it all. But what we don’t see as much of are the honest realities of independent publishing, the choices you should or shouldn’t be making, and the implications of those choices.

Over the last ten years whitefox has worked closely with over 600 independent authors, assisting them in producing their books and taking them to market. During that period we have worked on fiction, memoir, arts, culture, history, cookery, business, children’s books, and everything in between. We understand the intricacies of the process and what factors can dictate whether a book rockets or fizzles out.

#1 Having creative control can be a great asset, especially when paired with a trusted and professional editorial opinion

If you’re reading this article you have likely researched in depth the benefits of independent publish- ing. When comparing the various routes, it’s often the ability to retain creative control that holds the greatest appeal to our authors. The process of writing a book is deeply personal, not to mention strenuous and time-consuming, so when it comes to the editorial phase authors like to be heavily involved – as they should be! While writing a book is – for the most part – a solitary endeavour, publishing a book is a collaborative one. No matter how emotionally tied you are to every word you’ve written, letting in the right professional opinions is one of the greatest gifts you can give your manuscript. We stress the word ‘right’ here, because not all editors are created equal. The editor you pick should have considerable experience in the genre, fierce attention to detail, be able to see your vision for the book and make the correct judgements on the text. It’s one of the most important choices you’ll make when pursuing an independent publishing route, and don’t forget that, unlike with a traditional publisher, you do have a choice – and the final say.

Your editor’s job isn’t to tell you what you want to hear, it’s to provide you with objective, constructive feedback that will help you polish your manuscript and improve its readability. Editors should be sensitive in their approach to your work and an experienced one will expertly navigate the relationship. Bear in mind that the editorial process can often require authors to be vulnerable. Lawyer Helen Garlick worked with whitefox to edit her deeply personal memoir No Place to Lie, which reveals the truth behind her young- er brother’s death in 1981 and her mother’s hidden sexuality. Helen’s emotional connection to her broth- er’s story, and the pressure she felt to do it justice, meant that sourcing the right person was paramount. Editor Sam Boyce had the delicate task of helping Helen transform the text from an account of events into an engaging and powerful story, and it proved to be a harmonious partnership. Helen acknowledged Sam in her book ‘for editing with such empathy, wisdom and [a] light touch’.

‘I’ve traditionally published in the past (e.g. Penguin, Simon & Schuster) but for this intensely personal story, I wanted to have agency and real creative freedom. I also wanted a highly professional collaborative team – we all work better together when connected.’ | Helen Garlick, author of No Place to Lie

When the perfect balance is struck between author and editor, you will see it in the results. Another successful author–editor pairing was achieved for David Sellu, a surgeon who was wrongfully convicted in 2010 when a patient died under his care. This resulted in his licence to practice medicine being suspended and his career being cut short, and he spent fifteen months in prison before he won the appeal against his conviction. Struggling to get any one to take notice of his incredible story, David made the decision to publish independently and approached whitefox to assist him. He had a very clear idea of how he wanted to tell his story, but he also understood that his manuscript would need the input of an editor to ensure it was achieving the correct tone to expose the in- justice he’d suffered and earn the sympathy of his readers. The resulting book, Did He Save Lives?, gained media attention across newspapers and on Sky News, and has since gone on to reprint three times. When deployed wisely, having creative control over your work when you publish independently only adds value. If you want to elevate your manuscript as much as possible, follow these two steps: firstly, spend time sourcing the best possible editor you can find; secondly, trust them and act upon their advice.

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Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.