Interview with Emma Mitchell – December 2017
Who are you and when did your journey begin?
My name is Andrew Barrett, and I’m a CSI working for West Yorkshire Police. I’ve been doing this job for over twenty years, and I suppose that’s also the same time my writing ‘career’ began. I’d dabbled in writing since the mid-80s, but in 1997 I found that crime writing was the way to go.
So my journey began in the mid-90s, and aside from a few short breaks, I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s been a long apprenticeship, but I think I’ve finally worked my way up to being on the border between mediocre and quite good.
Tell us about where you are on your self-publishing journey right now in terms of books published, where you publish etc.
My self-publishing journey hasn’t been a straight motorway cruise. I began on the back roads, the twisting lanes where every junction is a tough decision. I’ve made more than my fair share of wrong turns; but the good thing about this journey is that there really is no end, and there’s no right or wrong way about getting there. So I guess to say I’ve made wrong turns is a little unfair. But I like to think that I’m off the twisty back lanes now and am on a trunk road.
I’ve published a trilogy that I began in 1997, and that ended somewhere around 2004. I was still crunching gears and glancing the kerbs back then. From 2004 until 2012 I wrote another two books featuring a protagonist who’s still with me today (we get along really well, except when he has me by the throat up against a wall). During that time I spent a few years script-writing, and I like to think that experience helped me define my writing skills, sharpen my dialogue, and concentrate more on brevity.
In 2012, I began Black by Rose, and I feel that this book is the pioneer of the kind of thing I’m writing today. It’s punchy, it’s deep, it’s crude, and above all it’s thrilling. Since then, Sword of Damocles, Ledston Luck, and a few short stories, have come along to reaffirm and strengthen my ‘new’ style.
So I’ve gone from crunching gears to driving with one arm out of the window and my shades on and Pink Floyd making my ears bleed. I’m not saying I’m so perfect that I don’t need to pay attention any more – nothing could be further from the truth, and I’m always nervously tapping the steering wheel as I wait for the wheel to come off – but now I’m more relaxed about it all. Finding a voice was the hardest thing, but I have it now – the rest is just finding stories.
Running parallel to the books I’ve mentioned, was a desire to be published. Back in the 80s it was my fervent dream. But really, the books I was writing then were horrible – only I didn’t know it. Around 2000 my dream looked like it had arrived. I got an agent and I floated above the potholed lane and knew I’d reached my destination. But it was a horrible experience that wasted a year of my life and punished me like I’d taken a shunt from behind. I had bad whiplash.
The deal died and my ‘destination’ vanished over the horizon but I kept on writing because it’s what I did. I did it for me, content to enjoy my stories, knowing they’d stay in a box file on a shelf in the attic. I loved that time – no pressure, no expectations.
In 2012 someone told me I could publish my books by myself. My ears pricked up and I turned Floyd down so I could listen. From then until now, I wrote my books, and I learned everything about self-publishing I could. I designed covers, I learned how to write blurb, how to market my wares, where and how to sell them, how to pay tax, how to back up files, how to build a ‘fan base’, and how to steal time from people so I could write. I learned how to get along with only a few hours’ sleep, and I learned how to cope with my growing selfishness as I became, and continue to be, obsessed with words. I’m still no good at anything on this list, but that’s fine, they’re all dents and dings on the vehicle that I’m travelling on this journey inside, and each of them has their own story, and each of them belongs there. Perfect imperfection.
2017 and I have a publisher! Let me just say that again. I HAVE A PUBLISHER! I have realised my dream. I have someone producing my covers. I have someone editing my book. I have someone marketing my book. I’ve reached my destination, right? Um, nope.
I look at my battered vehicle, (in the past it would have been a Ford Capri with a modified, painted and polished 2.9 V6 Cologne, but nowadays it’s probably a Landrover Discovery V8 – I like the comfort) and compare it with the publisher’s shiny Jaguar XF… Like I said at the beginning, there is no destination, only a series of experiences, and this is just another to add to the list. There are no wrong turnings, only decisions you make at a point in time with the information or the gut feelings you have available. So, we’ll not get too excited, we’ll just keep writing – that’s the only constant throughout this journey.
Why did you chose to self-publish?
I chose to self-publish because fitting someone else’s version of a beautiful commercial work of fiction was just so bastard difficult. I know my books don’t appeal to everyone, and even when they did (I’m talking about the agent, here) it was a permit for them to mess me about. But so far, the books have appealed to several hundred thousand readers, so there. Who was right? I was. My own version of something beautiful turned out to fit many many hundreds of others’ versions too. An agent or a publisher is by nature a subjective creature with pound signs spinning in their eyes (I know, they have to eat too), but in my own eyes is a far off place where the story is happening right now. That’s the important thing.
And now it seems a publisher’s version of a beautiful and commercial piece of work aligns with my own, and as long as they continue to align, I don’t see a problem. Now, go ahead and turn Pink Floyd back up.
What is best thing about self-publishing?
The best thing about self-publishing is freedom. You get to do it all, and you get to feel your own self-imposed pressure – it’s a beautiful thing. You have the chance to bugger everything up and not get fired for doing so, and you have the chance to pull something wonderful out of the mire. You get to be as good as you want to be, and you get to learn at your own pace. You’re very lucky as a self-published author because you get the satisfaction of creating everything – not only the worlds inside those pages, but your Facebook Page, your website, your newsletters, and you get to create the relationships with your readers. You are the designer, the sculptor, the salesman, the businessman. Welcome to your kingdom.
What is the worst thing about self-publishing?
The worst thing about self-publication is all of the above. You want to write, right? But how can you do that with your face planted against the screen watching Twitter feeds? It’s mid-December, and I haven’t written a piece of prose or dialogue since August. It’s killing me.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known before you published your first book?
What do I know now that I wish I’d known back then? Don’t be in a rush to get it out there. You see all these wonderful books zooming up the charts, collecting reviews as they go like picking cherries from a tree. And it’s easy, right? Don’t be a fool. It’s not easy. Writing isn’t easy, and certainly all the add-on bits and pieces are not easy. You see all these smiling authors collecting accolades and basking in glory and you rush, eager to be among them. Don’t rush; everything you’re aiming at is just plastic bullshit. You think Vogue would sell just as well with a tramp on the cover as it would with Kate Middleton? Trust me, most authors are that tramp because they slog their brains out when they should be asleep; they just put the makeup on when the photographer from Vogue calls around. Don’t rush to be part of the crowd. Get your story just right before you hit that big green publish button; so what if it takes another month? It’ll be out there a lifetime. The book will continue selling strong because you got the story right long after Vogue hits the bin.
If you could change one thing about your self-publishing journey, what would it be and why?
What would I change? Nothing. It’s all one big lesson. I messed up badly by publishing The Third Rule (260k words) as three separate volumes. People complained because they felt ripped off at having to buy episodes. So I put all three volumes back together and sold it as one volume. People complained because the book was too big. The lesson: suit yourself, there will always be those who complain so don’t accommodate them – you’ll never win.
Do you have any advice for those who might be looking in to self-publishing?
Considering self-publishing? Do it. You’ll never experience the thrill of being lord and master at anything else. It’s as hard as you want to make it; you’ll learn so many skills, you’ll learn so much about yourself. But most of all, don’t forget the central core of it all: story. Everything else is secondary. Everything.
Many thanks to Emma Mitchell for letting me reproduce her interview with me here. Find the original interview on her site here. And if you’re a writer, you need to check out Emma’s website here.