Hello. I am an author. That still feels strange to type, let alone say out loud. Even though it feels really good.
About four months ago, I self-published my debut novel. It’s been going very well so far, considering that I have done and paid for everything myself, from the editing to the cover to the marketing costs. I should be feeling proud of myself, right? But then why is it so hard to even say I am an author? When it is so blatantly true.
After doing a little soul-searching, I found that the reason I feel I don’t deserve to be known as an author is because I didn’t go the traditional publishing route. There exists this idea that if you publish your own work because no publisher or agent picked up your work, you must not be a very good writer. But how can that be, when some of my favourite writers started out self-published? Margaret Atwood, Christopher Poalini, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf, even Edgar Allen Poe. The list goes on. Google it, some of the names will shock you.
Over the last few months, I’ve been asked the question how and why I self-published multiple times. I’m not an expert at all, having only recently started but I’ve gotten the question often enough that this morning when I woke up, my brain wouldn’t let me do anything else until I had written this small part of my story down. Who knows, perhaps it’ll inspire some of you to write or self-publish your work.
I started writing when I was eleven years old. I’m sure it was awful when I started but it wasn’t meant to be good. I was learning to put my thoughts to paper and it helped me understand and work through some of my emotions. My imagination is infinite and boundless to the point that it can be incredibly frigthening to some. I used to read my stories out loud to my parents and friends to try and get some validation but it wasn’t until high-school when one of my friends’ mothers read one of my stories that there was a suggestion that I may be good at it. This particular person was a famous South-African writer and a really big inspiration to me. I still read her books.
Nothing really changed after that. I was just encouraged to write more. And I did. I wrote all the time. Even when I should’ve been concentrating on something else. But when I get an idea, I am consumed and it distracts me from everything else until it’s written down.
This was no different when I got the idea for “Mother of the Fire”. Originally it was going to be called “London Bridge is burning down” but that changed during the final draft editing. I was going through a very difficult time when I started writing the book. My family and I were in immigration court because the British government wanted to deport me after I had finished five years of studying in the country, and despite the fact that both my parents and two brothers had recently obtained British nationality. During the case, my right to work was taken away and I had to report to an immigration centre every fortnight to prove I was still in the country and living at my parents’ address. The case continued for three years so needless to say, I didn’t have much to do but write.
When the second draft of the manuscript was completed, I went to the London Book Fair for the first time with the bright idea to find an agent or publisher. I entered and was a finalist in “The Write Competition” that year and got to pitch my book to a panel of four literary agents. None of them took it on. I didn’t give up there and spent the rest of the fair, pitching it to every literary agent I could corner and every publisher who would listen. No takers.
After draft three, I sent the manuscript to every historical fiction and young adult literary agent and publisher I could find in the UK. Many responded with a similar response: “You’re a very good writer, we like your voice, but we cannot market this book”, or “this will never work for a mainstream audience”. Hundreds of people from the industry and not a single one wanted to give my story a chance. I was devasted. I felt incredibly rejected by both the industry and the country whose government at that point was still trying to be rid of me.
Eventually we won the case…twice, and I was granted the right to stay but I was changed forever. I went through a major identity crisis and abondoned my book. I didn’t feel “right” in the UK anymore. A year later, I met my french husband, Vincent in London and a year after that, we moved permanently to the south of France.
A few months after arriving in France, I started the journey of healing and I looked at the book again. I contacted a close friend from the UK, Emily and she agreed to help me edit the book. She had been doing editing work for businesses and relished the idea of editing fiction. On top of that, she knew me well, she understood the inner-workings of my very wild mind and she would never dream of squashing my uniqueness by forcing me to fit the “mainstream” mould. Of course it was professional so I paid her and she took her work very seriously.
During the six month period, the book’s framework changed a lot. It was a lot more me and it lost all of its young adultness and became very clear adult historical fiction. Emily encouraged me to send the book to literary agents and publishers again as it had changed. Not the story but the way it was told. I listened to her and did so but to the same conclusion. This time I sent the manuscipt to the UK and the US but still it wasn’t “marketable because it wasn’t mainstream”. Perhaps now it was even less so than before.
I complained very mournfully to a friend in France and she introduced me to famous french author and critic, Sophie who suggested I have my story translated into french and published here. She was sure french agents would never turn something down for not being mainstream enough. I decided to give it a shot and got involved with some translators. It didn’t really work out as each of them had their own ideas of what the story should be like and I felt uncomfortable.
Again, I complained to my friend in France that no one wanted to read my stories and I had done all this work for nothing and she suggested I self-publish the book. It wasn’t the first time I had considered self-publishing but it seemed so difficult to go it alone and not to mention the cost.
Though it seemed there would be no other way for me to get my stories out there and I believed very strongly that they deserved to be read. So I started doing my research. Yes, it was going cost money from my own pocket with no guarentee that I would make any back. But when I was honest with myself, I realised it wasn’t about the money. It was deeper. I needed that connection with people. I needed them to see into my soul. And for that, they needed to read my stories. I knew it would involve a lot of work and heartache but again I knew it would be worth it if even if a handful of people connected with my stories.
So I found a graphic artist and she designed an absolutely gorgeous back and front cover. I bought the ISBN and the trade number for the book. I told the french government that I intended to publish books. I found an appropriate platform to publish the ebook on. Not Amazon. I will never publish anything on Amazon. I did some online marketing. I spent many months considering giving up on the whole thing but finally on the 20th of December 2020, I published “Mother of the Fire” as an ebook.
Then the real work began. I needed to market all the time and I hated it. So I found an awesome person to help me and soon, there was enough interest that I had to consider publishing the book in paperback form. Two weeks ago, the paperback was published. It is still not easy as I am running the whole business myself. I am posting the paperbacks to most countries in the world. I am paying for all the marketing costs and liasing with everyone who is helping me. But it is worth it.
In four short months, I have had only five star reviews on Kobo and Goodreads. I was recognised as an official Goodreads author. Professional reviewers on Instagram and Goodreads are reviewing my book. I’ve been asked to do interviews. And even though I am not even close to making back the money I’ve spent and am still spending, I’ve gotten what I really wanted: the connection. People I do not know have contacted me to ask where they can get the book, people I do not know have bought the book and those people have left life-changing reviews of how much the story has meant to them.
Do not let money, fear of rejection or this mountain of work hold you back from sharing your art with the world. It doesn’t matter what the industry thinks, your audience is out there. If you paint, you are a painter. If you make music, you are a musician. If you design games, you are a game designer. If you write, you are a writer. If you create, you are a creator. Don’t even let yourself tell you otherwise.
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If you are interested in reading, “Mother of the Fire”, please go to my website for the paperback: http://www.nicolevanniekerk.co.uk/
Or to Kobo for the ebook: https://www.kobo.com/fr/en/ebook/mother-of-the-fire