Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Why I've self published my latest novel

By Diana Kimpton
Guest Blogger

Diana is the author of more than 40 books for children including the successful Pony-Mad Princess series. She also runs Wordpool and Contact an Author. There Must Be Horses is her first novel for older readers.

When I started work on There Must Be Horses, I already had two traditional publishers interested in seeing the book on the basis of a brief synopsis and I was dreaming of my first ever auction.

But the book took a long time to write and that time coincided with the biggest changes in publishing since I first became an author, more than 20 years ago.

As the writing progressed, I realised two things. Firstly, this was going to be the best book I had ever written.

Secondly, I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to hand it over to a traditional publisher.

Like many of my writing friends, I was experimenting with using Kindle Direct Publishing to bring new life to out-of-print work. I was also toying with self publishing a book I’d never managed to sell. The real test of this brave new world would be to self publish a book I was sure I could sell conventionally if I wanted to. But did I have the courage to try?


It was a hard decision involving lots of thought, nailbiting and finger crossing plus some important financial calculations.

A traditional publisher would give me an advance of royalties and take on all the risks and expense of editing, design, production and marketing. Publishing myself would mean taking on those costs and risks myself and kissing goodbye to the advance. However, if and when the book sold, I would get to keep all the profits on each copy – an amount far exceeding normal royalties. And I would receive that money far sooner. No more waiting six to nine months for a royalty statement.


But money wasn’t the most important issue for me. More than anything, I wanted to keep control of my book and not let anyone spoil it.

I didn’t want to work with an editor who didn’t understand my writing style. I didn’t want to be told to change the name of my main character to something more popular and I absolutely definitely didn’t want the cover to be pink. The thought of possible fights ahead made me cringe. I’d had them before with other books and knew how stressful they could be.

Self publishing would let me choose my own editor and have total say on the cover. The book would be published exactly the way I wanted it, and I’d only have myself to blame if it didn’t sell.


Traditional publishing would also involve a traditional publishing contract and I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to sign one. Over the last twenty years, contracts have become longer, more complicated and more restrictive. In particular, the non-competing works clause has changed from a simple, quite reasonable way to stop you producing an abridgement or other version of the same story for a different publisher to a swingeing restriction on trade that sets out to stop you writing anything that might compete with this one book.

I once pointed out to a publisher that their wording meant I couldn’t write another book for the same market without their permission and was told that was exactly what they intended.

As a result, I walked away from that deal and now I had the chance to walk away from non-competing works clauses completely. Self publishing would give me the freedom to write whatever I fancied in the coming years.



Big changes in any industry cause casualties. Few typewriter companies survived the introduction of computers and the switch to digital photography caused the collapse of companies that made or processed film.

Similarly, some publishers won't adapt fast enough to survive the digital revolution and I’ve learned the hard way that authors can run into trouble when publishers close down or are taken over.

We’re often at the end of the list of creditors and our books can end up being part of the assets sold on to new owners that we may not have chosen to work with. Royalty payments can be delayed for months in the resulting chaos and it can be hard to get your rights back from a company that no longer exists.

 At this time of flux in publishing, self publishing offered an alternative to signing away my rights to a company that might not exist in a few years' time.


In the end, after months of thought, it was my mother’s death in January 2012 that finally made up my mind. Her departure from my life was a painful reminder of my own mortality that made the timescales involved in traditional publishing look tortuously long.

Sending the book out in the usual way would involve months of waiting for decisions, more months waiting for contract negotiation and editorial feedback and final publication in 2014 or even later. Doing it myself would have the book edited and on the market in time for Christmas.

So I armed myself with some savings, left my agent and stepped out on my own. It’s been a huge learning curve, nowhere near as expensive as I expected and huge fun.

Having a new book published is always exciting, but it’s even better when the finished product really is all my own work.

About There Must Be Horses: Sasha’s love of horses has been the only constant during her turbulent life in care. When a failed adoption placement results in yet another move, she ends up at Kingfishers – a farm where Joe and Beth train troubled horses. To Sasha, this seems like the perfect place to live. But she can’t stay. Joe and Beth are adamant about that. They have only agreed to take her for a little while, and they only did that reluctantly.

Can Sasha persuade them to change their minds and let her stay forever? And can she do it before her social worker finds her another home – one without horses?

View There Must Be Horses on Amazon in Paperback, on Kindle


  1. Hi Diana, What an uplifting post! Having recently decided not to wait any longer for my own 'big break' I self published two novels on Kindle, am in the process of publishing them in paperback, and I have had such fun!
    Unlike you, I don't have a history in mainstream publishing to draw upon or compare my experiences to, but after several near misses, I too decided life was too short and took control of my destiny. (See my own blog post about this -
    I have good sales days and bad sales days, and on the bad days I still hanker after that traditional contract. But, your comments about restrictive clauses are very interesting and definitely worth considering if that traditional offer comes along.
    Thanks for sharing your experience, and good luck with There Must be Horses!

  2. Thank you from me too, Diana. Like Wendy, I've had several near misses. I've had an agent and lost an agent, almost had the deal, not had the deal, and now I wonder - is this how I want my career to develop? So many ups, so many downs and I'm thinking about my age too.
    So, I have decided to follow the self-publishing path for my non-picture books (before your post, it's very timely!) the first of which, Florence and the Meanies, will be out in Feb.
    I have had a few moments of uncertainty. It seemed like a big step away from what we unpublished authors perceive to be 'the dream'. But one of the advantages of knowing lots of authors through SCBWI and Notes from the Slushpile is a better understanding of 'the dream' and how the business of publishing works so I do feel I'm making the right choice for me.
    Nosy Crows Kate Wilson said at the SCBWI Winchester conference (paraphrasing) - Ask not what you can do for an editor, ask - what can an editor do for you that you can't do for yourself. Which I thought was very interesting and a turnaround from the normal advice given. But then she is dynamically different. But it shows how editors are having to change their attitudes too.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and good luck with There must be horses. What a great premise.

    1. Seth Godin's recent blog post What's It For? resonates:

      "If, seventy years ago, you asked Henry Luce, "What is Time magazine for?" he'd probably talk about setting society's agenda, capturing the attention of the educated and powerful and most of all, delivering the best weekly news package he could ... Today, the answer is clear. The purpose of the magazine is to make as much money as possible. Everything else is in service of that goal ... It used to be that the profit enabled the magazine to reach its goals. Today, the goal is to reach the profit."

      So, for us writers, what's it for is all about telling a story, developing our craft, contributing to the literary heritage.

      Which might not jibe well with the harsh economics of the publishing industry today.

    2. ... just to add - I should have said SOME of us writers ... there are those of course who will publish without revision, without care of craft or reader. To these writers, the answer to what it's for ends at being published.

    3. I think it all comes down to motivation. Luckily my scoobie/writing friends seem to be determined to write a book to be proud of, to entertain children with a professional product appropriate to the age group.

    4. Maureen, I'm watching your progress with interest! Good luck.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing all this Diana and thanks to the slushies for arranging it too. I've been wondering about this ever since the back end of last year. My husband and teen son and pushing me too and I think, reading this, you may have just tipped me over the edge. Good luck with There Must Be Horses.

  4. A really interesting post that had me clicking the link to buy the book! However, the link appears to be broken. I will go and search it out, but I thought you'd like to know about the problem.

    1. Thanks for the heads up! I've corrected the link.

    2. And I've checked it because I was correcting it too! It works.

  5. Fantastic post - you are very brave as most writers dream of finding an agent let alone a publisher to help them achieve their dream and you are privileged to have been published in the traditional way but seeing the changes in publishing first hand. I think you are an inspiration and a brilliant role-model for those of us trying really hard to get our work out there, showing that knowing what you want and sticking to your laurels can pay off! Good job - and the book looks fab by the way ;) x

    1. I agree - a great cover! Who designed it?

    2. I originally commissioned a cover designer but that didn't work out. So in the end, Steve and I did the cover ourselves using artwork from - I'd had that image of a horse's eye in my mind the whole time I was writing the book. We struggled a bit with the font for the title so a friend who is also a cover designer helped out by choosing that one to make it look as if Sasha was talking or writing graffiti.

  6. Hi Diana, I love the premise and the cover. This is a fascinating post. Did you attempt to interest bricks and mortar booksellers as well as selling the paperback online?
    I wish you loads of luck with it!

  7. Thank you for your honesty and wisdom.

    During my long journey into publication, self publishing niggled at the back of my mind. It would certainly have resolved that burning need to hold my own book in my hand.

    But in the end, having put so many years into it, I had to stick it out. Unlike your long years of experience, I had no track record which meant that it would have always troubled me to have had no other affirmation than my own.

    Self Publishing is not for the faint-hearted - it still suffers many challenges - the low regard of the industry, overenthusiastic unedited publishing, and the question of how to be noticed in the morass (a problem that also afflicts the traditionally published).

    The world is changing rapidly and clearly, traditional publishing is not changing rapidly enough for it. I wish you the best of luck - off to buy the book now!

  8. Hi Diana - thankyou for this brilliant post. I'm like you, a published author with a long track record, including experiences of problems with contracts, rights reversions,publishers going to the wall etc - and like you, I'm seriously considering self-publishing a couple of books I care about, even though one of them has found a publisher who likes it but wants some major edits. Have you written about the nuts and bolts of your self-pub process on another blog? I'd love to see what was actually involved for you. Jen x

  9. Thank you Diana for this interesting post. Currently I am busy writing a Memoir on interracial adoption of two sons - one as a baby and one who came to us as a four-year old. I feel sure that it says some interesting things and really want to get it "out there". Your post has made me think about Self-publishing, but not as a last resort. I too have had a few books traditionally published. I have only recently discovered plenty of websites and magazines for would-be adopters, so I believe that there will be people interested in our story. You have given me food for thought. Good luck with the book. It sounds great!

  10. A great post! Having self-published three children's novels, I have really enjoyed the experience and it's a real learning curve. I followed a great book by Peter Finch and found a reliable and friendly printer in York. The difficult part has been the marketing with book shops unwillingly to take the books although they appear on their online sites. At the SCBWI conf I asked the rep from Waterstone's about it, but she more or less said that's just how it is. It's good to see an established author going this way too.

  11. Thanks for the intelligent and honest insight into the world of book publishing. People very rarely talk about publishing contracts, my understanding is that it is because they are restricted from doing so.

    Though I was tempted to get a kindle version (instant gratification!) I have just ordered a hard copy of your book because I would like to keep it for my daughter to read one day and this may take a few years.

    I love the sound of your story and the look of your cover - you are right that pink would not have worked.

  12. Thanks for sharing this Diana - you've clearly made the right decision for you. I think self-publishing always niggles at the back of our minds. Family and friends often suggest it to me - 'but you've done all this work, how long are you going to wait?' I'm in the same position as Candy was before she was published by David Fickling and it's a hard place to be - like Maureen, I am the Queen of near misses - but for me, I yearn for the editor/writer relationship. That is what I'm waiting for. Maybe I've been spoiled by too many excellent SCBWI workshops, maybe I have a rose-tinted view of the editorial relationship, maybe I'll be dead before I get a deal but, while I think it's right for some, it's not right for me - not yet in any case.

    1. "Not yet" has been my mantra for a while! I ummed and aahed about self-publishing my last book, but I think my current work-in-progress is likely to be the last one I try to get published traditionally. Probably.

  13. Really interesting - maybe Diana could run a SCBWI_BI conference session on the nuts and bolts of the process? Not forgetting the costs - which may be prohibitive for many. Getting the book professionally edited - as Kathryn says, working with a great editor is something to hope for - must be a bit of a challenge.

    This sounds like a great read!

    1. Mind you, there are some brilliant editors who've gone freelance - my editor at DFB Bella Pearson is setting up as a freelance editor. And then there's the Golden Egg people and Cornerstones.

    2. Yes, it's becoming a bit of a rush. There's definitely a gap for experienced independent editors, both in self-publishing and refining work before approaching traditional publishers.

  14. Thank you for sharing Diana, I found it very interesting to read your reasons for self publishing. I'm sure There Must be Horses will sell well.

  15. A great post, Diana – and the story sounds wonderful! Like many here I'm a self-published children's author who had a few near misses (one with Bloomsbury and then with a couple of agents). I then put my writing in a drawer and went back to the day job (also writing!) for 10 years.

    By the time I took a sabbatical two years ago the landscape had dramatically changed and I quickly decided that self-publishing was for me. As I work in writing and the web in the day job it certainly helped give me the confidence, but I am by no means highly technical.

    I am so grateful for how the new world enabled me to take control of my destiny!
    To date (and we indie authors are very good at sharing our experiences, as you will see on many of the blogs) I've now sold over 1,000 copies of The Secret Lake in print and more again on Kindle - and my books are stocked in Waterstones in SW London where I’ve had sell-out signings. I can’t begin to describe the joy it brings to see my stories finally out there and being read– and, more importantly, to get such wonderful feedback from the children. My second book Eeek! has done really well in print too – and had been selected as a great book for boys and reluctant readers by Julia Eccleshare and The Literacy Trust on the LoveReading4Kids website

    For anyone wanting to know more about the practical aspects of self publishing, take a look at my blog - you will find lots of tips there – as well as useful links. I was keen to share these because at the time it was such hard work finding my way around and wanted to help others by giving them shortcuts. But - more importantly - I would highly recommend taking a look at the Alliance of Independent Authors. You will find a link to them on my site. They launched at the London Book Fair last year (and will be there this year). When I first started on my self publishing journey it felt a very lonely experience – the Alliance is a not-for-profit organization founded by Orna Ross who had previously been with Penguin. There are many ex-traditionally published members as well as the likes of me who never quite made it – and the practical help and advice is outstanding - quality is the mantra - and relationships are gradually being built with Rights Agents and literary festivals and more. The alliance also hosts regular meet-ups on line and in person….

    I’ve said enough. I’m now off to order your book, Diana! I wish you the very best of luck with it! Karen Inglis

    1. Thanks for your comment, Karen, I'll follow up your links.

  16. Diana - I just received my copy of the paperback version. I love your logo!

    1. Glad you liked it and thanks to everyone who posted comments. I will be writing more about self publishing on my blog and on the new website that's currently under development.

    2. That website is now online at

  17. Thank you for this Diana. Living in South Africa, the system works differently here in that we don't have agents but submit directly to publishers. The market for picture books is tiny however as the focus lies on educational materials (as this is what the government pays for). After years of doing bread-and-butter writing I've self-published a picture book, Perfect Place, which I'll be launching next month and soon to be followed by many others hopefully. I found the publishing steps to be straight forward, fairly easy and loads of creative fun (although I had to borrow against my house' bond to afford it...eeek) BUT the marketing/sales part is where I find I fall down. What kind of advise would you give me around this?

  18. A children's book publicist once told me that it's word of mouth recommendation that sells books and the best way to get that started is to give books away. Sometimes you can tie the giveaways are tied to an interview or review in a magazine, newspaper or blog.

  19. I Write. I Publish Everywhere.

    13 Published Books With My Big Two.
    and Many More As Well.



    OH WELL.


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