Tasha Harrison on self publishing: ‘I was sick of rejection’
After trying to publish her work through traditional routes for 10 years, Tasha Harrison decided to take control and self-publish.
• Tasha Harrison was recommended by readers greenawayzoo and LS Young. Scroll down to recommend your own favourite self-published books
Why did you choose to self-publish?
I first had interest from a literary agent back in 2001, after sending out a stack of manuscripts. It eventually came to nothing, but at the time I was over the moon just to have confirmation I could write. A year later, after another mass send-out, I found another literary agent who took me on but, unfortunately, she was unable to sell my book, Package Deal. After that disappointment, I told her I was thinking of self-publishing but she didn’t think it was a good idea, so we parted ways. This was 2004 – before the rise of ebooks and the birth of Facebook and Twitter. My husband, Chris, runs a graphic design agency so he helped me to design a cover for Package Deal and we printed a few hundred copies. He also set up a website for me to sell them through. I had no marketing plan but to my amazement several branches of Waterstones in East Sussex took it on, as well as a few independent bookshops. I also got a tiny bit of publicity although most of the press refuse to review self-published books. All in all, I probably sold around 150 copies – but most of those were to friends.
Despite making a loss, it wasn’t completely in vain. I sent off 50 of my new paperbacks and the first three chapters of my next novel, Hot Property, to another round of agents. Before long, I landed myself a new agent who was absolutely certain she could sell Hot Property. But after several drafts, she seemed less keen and told me to write something else, so I did, my third book – Pearls. When I submitted the manuscript, however, she turned it down and politely let me go. To say I was gutted was an understatement. I felt I’d reached the end of the road. It was then 2011. For 10 years, I’d been trying to find a way in, but it was “access denied” every time.
I put my books to one side for a year – I had enough to keep me busy working part-time as a copywriter and looking after two young children. Then Chris got wind of people self-publishing on Amazon and suggested I give it a go. As it would cost us nothing – Package Deal and Hot Property had already been edited and proofread, and Chris could sort out the covers – it was a no-brainer. I was sick of rejection and waiting for agents to get back to me while my books waited in slushpiles. That route clearly didn’t work and I’d wasted enough time trying it. It was time to try something else, so in early 2012, I self-published with Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
Tell us a bit about the books
Package Deal is a comedy about a group of British holidaymakers whose lives become entangled on the Greek island of Kefalonia. It’s told from several characters’ perspectives, including lone traveller Mia who has a more specific reason for going to Kefalonia than her neighbouring counterparts.
Hot Property is also a comedy, this time about a group of British expats who are all chasing the sun, sea and sand dream in Crete, but whose plans for an idyllic lifestyle come a cropper thanks to a handsome but devious property dealer.
My third novel, Pearls, is different. It’s set in England, and is about three women – a reformed alcoholic, a cleaner and a career-driven magazine designer – whose lives converge when they each try to follow or resist fate.
My first two books are beach reads – sort of EastEnders meets Shirley Valentine. My third is a little more serious than the previous two, although it still has a comic element. If I had to put all three books under one umbrella, I suppose it would be “feel-good fiction“. All three books are currently only available as ebooks.
What are the positives of self-publishing?
I’m in control – well, more than I was, at any rate. My books are selling and people are contacting me to say how much they’ve enjoyed reading them. I’ve waited a long time to have that satisfaction! I have instant access to my sales figures, can change my cover image, price and content whenever I want and work to my own deadlines. I’m not worrying too much about what genre I fall under, either. Overall, self-publishing has been liberating.
And the negatives?
Marketing. I’m building a readership from scratch, progress is slow and I’m learning on the job. I joined Twitter and set up a Facebook author page the same day I uploaded my first two books to Amazon – hardly a marketing plan. At first, I found it nerve-wracking interacting with other people on Twitter, asking for advice and feedback. However, I’ve met some lovely authors that way and have learned a lot from them. I’ve also met some lovely readers. Twitter is a great networking tool but it’s not a bookselling tool, although it can be useful when running a free promotion, which I’ve experimented with a few times. Overall, finding the time to market my books and write the next one is the biggest challenge – there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
How are you pricing your books?
When I first uploaded my books, I priced them at £2.99 each (allowing me 70% royalties). After a good start and a successful summer last year that surpassed my expectations, my sales plummeted overnight last September and trickled in over the winter. Suddenly, my future in self-publishing was looking a lot less rosy. I got a bit obsessed with what could possibly have caused such a sudden, dramatic drop in my sales. I came up with various theories – Amazon’s algorithms, the sudden expansion of Amazon into other countries, perhaps my books only have summer time appeal, etc – until, eventually, I realised there was nothing I could do about it. Reluctantly, I dropped the price to 99p, which reduced my royalties to 35%. My reasoning was that it was still early days and I wanted to encourage readers to take a chance on me. Sales have picked up considerably since then.
In my first year of self-publishing, I sold over 1,500 books. In the first half of this year I’ve sold 2,000. For someone who thought they’d be lucky to sell 100, that’s pretty good going!
Have you worked with an editor or designer on the novel?
I edited my first two novels under the guidance of the agents I had at the time, but with my third, Pearls, I was on my own. I sent it to my friend Jo Dearden – a fellow copywriter who I used to work with – and paid her to help me edit and proofread it. She made valid points, spotted inconsistencies and threw ideas on to the pitch. Then it was really hard to know when to follow her advice and when to stick to my guns. As for a designer, I’m very fortunate that my husband has designed all my covers – although I have to do all his proofreading in return!
Do you think this is important?
Professional proofreading and cover design is crucial. I think it’s best to view these services as an investment rather than a cost. When my local Waterstones took Package Deal on a few years back, they looked at the cover, read the blurb and said “yes”. I was astonished. I thought they’d take a few weeks to consider it. But that’s how we all buy books – the cover draws you in, so you read the blurb. If the blurb appeals, you buy the book. So those two elements are essential to get right.
As for proofreading, it’s not humanly possible to spot every one of your typos among 80,000 words – you need a few fresh pairs of eyes. Saying that, I’ve yet to read a traditionally published book without a single typo in it. With regards to editing, it’s important, but I think it’s more subjective. An editor can provide a lot of insightful advice, but you don’t have to follow it all if it doesn’t feel right.
Would you self-publish again?
Yes. I’m currently working on my fourth novel, Blown-Away Man, about an advertising executive who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after having a bombshell dropped on him at a school reunion. I’m also working on a collection of humorous children’s stories, called The Adventures of Fartina Gasratilova. Both books have samples on my blog and should be ready to publish by the end of the year.
A short passage from Pearls
You don’t remember the last time you slapped me, do you?’ said Katherine.
How Miriam wanted to wipe her 15-year-old daughter’s mocking expression from her face right there and then.
‘OK, I’ll tell you,’ Katherine sighed. ‘It was a few days ago when you accused me of not telling you that I’d be staying the night at Samantha’s. Only I did tell you. I’d even written you a note, just in case you forgot about it. Later I found my note and showed it to you and instead of apologising to me you slapped me. I said it was no wonder Julian was avoiding you, ‘cos who wants to spend all their time with a pisshead? You slapped me again, and that time, I slapped you back.’
Miriam had no recollection of any of this. She wouldn’t put it past her angry, rebellious daughter to make it all up just to get back at her.
‘You’re –’ She hesitated.
‘Lying?’ Katherine laughed. ‘Jesus, Mum. You really don’t remember a thing, do you? Weird … I wonder if this is what it’s like to live with someone with Alzheimer’s?’
Miriam exploded. ‘GET OUT!’
Katherine saluted her. ‘Adios, amigo.’ She opened the door and hopped out.
Miriam sped off, nearly colliding with another vehicle and bolting through a red light.