Polly Courtney: Beyond the publishing deal

Greetings, Movellians! Thanks so much for your feedback on my first post, Getting the Publishing Deal, and my second post, The Reality of the Publishing Deal. As a community, you obviously have a very good sense of what works creatively as well as commercially in a novel. It's a pity my publishers didn't!


This is the third and final instalment of the series and I'm picking up from where I left off, which was a state of frustration at the way that my novels had been assigned titles and cover designs that didn't seem to match the contents and had no consistency from one to the next.


After the usual attempts to change the title / strapline / cover design for It's a Man's World, I gave up and accepted my fate. But the burning sensation inside me wouldn't go away. I was expected to do much of the book promotion myself, which would have been fine had I felt proud of the product I was supposed to promote… but I couldn't expect the newspapers to take me seriously when my book looked the way it did. I couldn't expect to write hard-hitting features on 'lads' mag culture' (the theme of the book) when the image on the front screamed "ditsy girls' book!".


I called upon other authors for advice and quite soon I realised that I wasn't the only novelist in this situation. There were many, many frustrated writers out there who disagreed with the way their books were being marketed but were powerless to do anything about it because, contractually, the title and cover design is the choice of the publisher. So, I decided to bring this problem into the spotlight. I crafted a speech for my book launch that essentially revealed that I would be walking out on HarperCollins for good.


‘For those of you wondering what next,' I told everyone, including my unsuspecting editors from HarperCollins, 'I can promise you that there will be more books. I can also promise you that they will not be published by HarperCollins or any other large publishing house. I will be taking things in-house, so to speak, and returning to self-publishing.'

I concluded: ‘I’m really proud of what’s inside this book. I’d just say one thing: don’t judge a book by its cover.’ The story made the headlines and pretty soon, other authors came out of the woodwork and echoed my concerns. In fact, only the other week, YA author Maureen Johnson made a similar statement with the launch of her inspired #CoverFlip challenge. (Read more about this here.)


On my part, it wasn't a spontaneous rebellion; it was the result of a good deal of thought. I knew that by publicly walking out on my publisher I would be shunned by the traditional publishing industry from this point on. I realised that my chances of getting another book deal would be close to zero, but… the truth was, I didn’t care.


I knew what was required to successfully publish a novel. I had learnt the best (and worst) ways to put out a book and I felt confident that with the right team around me, I could pull together all the necessary components of the publishing process to give my next book the very best chance of success.


What components? I hear you ask. Well, perhaps the best way to break it down is to introduce you to the team of people who've been involved in the creation and promotion of my latest novel, Feral Youth:

In addition to using a (fantastic) freelance editor (Joy Tibbs), I got a whole lot of feedback from readers, Facebook fans and Twitter followers who offered to read early drafts. I hired a (fantastic) freelance cover designer (Sinem Erkas) and I used a (yep, also fantastic) publishing house (Troubador) for the production of printed copies and distribution to book shops. As for promotion… well, I've had the freedom to be a bit inventive, producing a movie-style trailer (which I'll share with you next week - check out the pics here) and doing a lot of interviews and talks about my experiences researching and writing the book - again with a team of people I trust to do a good job.


In short, it's been a really liberating experience for me. I've been able to write about a subject I care about, retaining control of the way it's marketed, and promoting it to the people I think will enjoy it. Because ultimately, that's what matters most. I don't know about you, but for me the best thing in the world is hearing from readers who say they love your work - so it's the (self) publisher's job to get it into those readers' hands.


Polly Courtney’s latest novel, Feral Youth, comes out 26th June and you can read the first ten chapters here:


We'll be posting more instalments in the weeks leading up to publication on 26th June.

We’ll also be running a writing activity around this with a very exciting prize, so keep checking in!

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