February 26, 2024

Underdogs Avoiding the Slush Pile by Kirsty Fox

I’ve written a novel called ‘Dogtooth Chronicals’ (sic). It’s semi-apocalyptic, multi-perspective and riddled with cynical Northern humour and magic realism. In a few months time I plan to self-publish, and if it takes off, set up my own indie publishing house. This is not quite the traditional path to getting into print, but I have my reasons.

The world of indie books is currently facing seismic changes. In the same way that digital music has changed the face of the independent music scene, the invention of the eBook and the growth in social media are doing the same for books. Until recently, most ordinary folk probably weren’t aware there was such a thing as an indie book. And self-publishing was seen as a vanity project, for writers with plenty of money, but not enough talent to get picked up by a ‘real publisher’.

The legacy of these attitudes still loiter like bored hoodies. While an unsigned band is seen as a potentially exciting thing – a pool of latent potential, an underdog – unsigned authors face no such sympathetic ears. Most people wield an opinion of what makes ‘good music’, but the definition of ‘good writing’ is left for academics and publishers.

Like the commercial music industry, the commercial publishing industry want what sells, not what’s best. And what sells is fairly prescribed – big genre pieces like Twilight and Harry Potter, celebrity memoirs, and novels which fit into the sort of trends currently winning literary awards, Historic Romance being an example of this. It often takes a talented writer with a great manuscript up to a decade to get published. And once they do the royalties they receive are pretty minimal.

While eBooks aren’t for everyone, they eliminate all the printing, shipping and storage costs involved in producing real books, making self-publishing more viable to the average Joe. There have been several big rags-to-riches stories recently. U.S author, Amanda Hocking, has shot to fame with a series of paranormal novels she originally self-published. She’s now signed to a big publisher, which I don’t scorn. The publishing process is an arduous one. For a decent product, the book must go through a series of different edits and have a good cover design and blurb.  While eBooks don’t require finding an economically viable book printers, or shipping and storage costs, they must still be formatted correctly and put for sale on reputable internet sites. Then there’s publicity and marketing. While all authors must promote their own work, it’s certainly less scary with an experienced hand to guide you.

It’s precisely the areas where corner-cutting happens which continue to give self-publishing a bad name. The advice dealt again and again is if you’ve invested so much time in writing a novel, to give it a clip-art cover and leave it full of grammatical and structural errors is not doing it justice. A good musician would never release a demo tape as a finished article. Money must be invested on a professional editor and a reputable cover designer. Publishing a book is a collaborative thing (like producing an album). I have every confidence in my writing ability, but without my editor and designer I know ‘Dogtooth Chronicals’ would be a haphazard shambles. A graveyard of potential greatness.

I am lucky in that I’ve inherited a moderate sum of money which can cover not only my editing costs, but also means I can do a run of printed copies. I love real books. While digital books are the place where profits lurk, I want to be able to hold an object in my hand and say ‘I did that’. The literary bubble is in a state of flux, the old ways are fading. I plan to model my book launch on examples from the music industry. No stuffy room full of bespectacled intellectuals making sycophantic noises. I wrote this book for my generation, I want something suitable. A celebration. I want people who rarely get excited about a book to be excited about a book.

This may sound a little over-ambitious. But now is not the time for shyness and modesty. I’m not just an author, I’m a publisher. I need to learn to stamp my feet and shout.

by Kirsty Fox

For more information on ‘Dogtooth Chronicals’ and further indie projects visit


1 Comment on Underdogs Avoiding the Slush Pile by Kirsty Fox

  1. This is a great article – we need to get this debate out there about the way publishing is transforming. Many traditional publishers are fearful in the current market and the face of ebooks, the power of amazon and apple, etc. Its ludicrously hard to break into the market as an author, or indeed as an aspiring agent or editor. I think this is partly responsible for the rise in creative writing courses, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I love Kirsty’s comparison of unsigned bands/singers with unsigned writers – she’s highlighted a kep problem and it’s time to redress that balance. Having said that it’s not yet time to write off indie publishers; literary prizes are now dominated by the larger indie houses, and lots of the smaller ones are radically reimagining the author/publisher relationship. Self publishing is fantastic, but it’s still very hard to rise to the top without an established name/network. I’d encourage any aspiring writers out there to check out my publisher – Roundfire, an imprint of John Hunt Books – they and theier related imprints are doing something really very different, slashing traditional publishing costs and committing to publishing any book they think is good, whether or not they think it has a large market. It’s a very transparent organisation and so far I have nothing but praise for it. Above all, keep writing, keep believing and put the rejection letter where they belong – in the bin.

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