Publishing a debut novel as a middle-aged unknown author: The good, the bad, and the downright frustrating

As an unknown author who has come to publishing (and back to creative writing) in my 40’s, one of the hardest and most frustrating things I’ve come across is book promotion.

More about that in a bit, though…. I’m going to start with the positives. Because there are lots.

The Good thing about publishing your own work as an unknown, 40+ year old author is most definitely the freedom.

When I had the idea for my debut novel ‘Dunn’ back in my late twenties, I of course thought it was going to be snapped up by a publisher IMMEDIATELY.

Fortunately, I then wrote whilst working full time and raising my son. So, it took me a long time to develop my creative writing skills and get the story right. I did both those things with guidance from the award-winning author, Toekey Jones. He not only helped me learn how to avoid overwriting, develop my characters and plot, and sidestep plotholes, he also taught me just how hard being a writer is FOR ANYONE now, let alone unknown me.

So I wrote a book that I would want to read.

I knew that the chances of landing an agent and a publishing deal were pretty much zero, so I didn’t try very hard. I wrote to three agents and got two rejections – one really positive one from Curtis Brown – the third agent didn’t reply.

With that, though, came the freedom to help design and choose my own book cover etc, and get the book out on my timescale….I’ve heard horror stories about authors being dropped by agent/publisher/both after ever-extending release dates. It took me nine years to get ‘Dunn’ right. I had a one year sabbatical to finish the proofreading edit and get it out there.

If I wanted my sabbatical to be meaningful, it was a no-brainer.

Self-publish; self-publish; self-publish

The question was how.

There are a load of companies out there that offer packages that include cover design, formatting, production, distribution and the terrifying marketing ….

The Alliance of independent authors (Alli) is a good place to start. They have lists and blacklists!

I had several criteria:

– I wanted my novel to look good and get the best shot at success it could after nine years writing (I worked out its more like thirteen years since its inception, but its been bitty to say the least).

– I hadn’t ever really used social media before this last year, so I wanted help getting that and marketing in general going.

So, I went with a company with a good reputation – Matador Troubador.

More good

Troubadour staff were great at answering questions from the start, and the production of my paperback and eBook was a breeze. They responded to everything really quickly; listened to me, and I am extremely happy with the end product.

They also offered various marketing options. As a social media Newby, I opted for extended ebook marketing – which involved listing my book for free download by ‘reading professionals on Netgalley; creating an amazon ad and generally helping me to try to get my book featured in local media. This was also all good. I got some mixed reviews, posted on goodreads, but enough positive comments to keep me happy enough. (There are others. … I always roll these ones out because Troubador made nice graphics for them and I don’t yet know how).

Unusual subject matter…

review here

I like character driven books that give a detailed insight into why people do what they do. I also get fed up with reading books about bad things happening to nice people. I wanted to show how anyone could fall for a psychotherapy cult without creating and torturing nice people. So, that’s what I did. My characters are all pretty horrible and my plot is intricate and detailed. It won’t be everyones cup of tea, as we say in the U.K. But horrible characters have colourful backstories and finding out how these people entrap their victims was fascinating. It gave me loads of material. I discuss my motivations in more depth in other posts.

The bad and the downright frustrating

In my very limited and short experience of marketing books, few people are interested, especially if you are self-published and unknown.

Most of the local media here in Sussex don’t care; even independent bookshops aren’t interested in hosting book signings, and many book bloggers have lists…

I found my blog tour with Silverdagger extremely helpful and motivating from this perspective. I’m not sure it got me any buys (more about sales data in a bit), but it got me website subscribers, twitter followers and some thoughtful reviews.

And don’t get me wrong. I knew that promoting my book would be mostly down to me (as it is for even those who score a publishing deal); that marketing it was going to be hard. I didn’t go into this expecting my ‘darkly humourous psychological suspense’ novel to be a best seller.

But I don’t think I had really grasped just what a time-eating, draining process promotion would be. I don’t think I’d realised how restrictive it was to publish with a company that handles your sales and distribution internally (including pricing/promotions etc), and I don’t think I had any idea that no one would give me regular updates on sales numbers. That, and the fact that it’s hard to make me and my book visible, could be extremely demotivating. Building a ‘platform’ is tricky and I’m fairly certain I don’t know how to do it.

But I’m not easily demotivated.

If my short career as a research scientist taught me anything, it was that if one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. It’s all about resilience. I tell my students that, I tell my son that. So, I can’t just give up myself.

And the best thing about doing this at my age is that it can be an experiment. Granted it has not been a cheap one and possibly not a gamble I will take with subsequent books, but after the time and effort that went into Dunn, it was worth it.

What’s next and what will I do differently

I am extremely pleased with the book that Troubador produced for me, and the inclusion of my book on Netgalley and production of an amazon ad made the extended ebook marketing value for money.

Not the social media marketing, though. I’ve done better with that myself, running a few facebook ads and building up a small twitter, wordpress and wattpad following…. And I mean small.

I will look into other options for the mythology-based urban fantasy that I am writing currently though, because I feel that I had little real choice in pricing with Troubador, particularly with the eBook. I am also restricted in my giveaway options etc, although that may be misunderstanding on my part that I need to investigate. I find it really frustrating how little information I get about sales, and whilst this is not entirely down to the company, I feel they should do more here. I also think they should offer to help arrange book signings etc as this seems to be very difficult. Maybe I should ask more questions about this too ….

I know I need to look for guest blog opportunities and I’m considering hosting some myself and maybe even reviewing some of the stories I’m enjoying on Wattpad here … That’s a BIG maybe. I have lots of grand ideas, but little time!

Would I go it alone and publish completely independently?

Probably not.

It’s a toss up between getting a well-produced end product and saving money. From the limited research I have done, Netgalley and Amazon ads aren’t cheap, so this is also worth having included in marketing packages too, even if I have no real indication that it had any impact on sales.

What else?

The blog tour was a great motivator even if I’m sceptical about its successes. I’ve come to the conclusion that looking for guest blogging opportunities and getting more reviews is the way forward. (I already knew this, but haven’t done much legwork yet). I have not seen any serious review for review swaps on Facebook, but maybe that’s worth pursuing.

Getting long listed for the 2018 Watty awards for book one in my young adult, urban fantasy ‘The Seagull’ has inspired me to look for other competitions…..

Maybe I’ll try some of the short stories that are brewing in my head to get more of my work out more quickly (hmmmm…time issues again)

I’m lucky in that I can treat my writing like running, which I love: I’m never going to make a career out of it, but I can keep trying to get better and better, and that goes for the marketing too.

Dunn is available at:

Also googlplay, apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones

You can find more about me at:




Twitter: @Kayjay9651


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s