After my announcement that I was going self-published, a few people thought that I’d just taken Black as Knight’s submission process badly, and that I should have just gone and written another book and moved on. What they don’t know is that I did.

Not that the Black as Knight submission process didn’t hurt. It did. After spending 8 years on that book, for it to spend another 8 months on submission, only for it to then fail at the last approval… was very tough! After that happened in March 2021, I needed some time off to feel all the disappointment.

I started bouncing back around May, and after discussions with my agent, I came up with a few book ideas. The one I ultimately worked on was called The Accursed.

I spent most of that summer doing two things: writing that book and learning all I could about story structure. I watched a lot of YouTube and read a lot of books on plot and story theory. Why? Because I never wanted to spend 8 years editing a book again. I’d get The Accursed right the first time, and only need light edits.

The Accursed was a complicated book. It had several points of view, with the idea that at key points within the book, there would be flashbacks to give new insight into the characters. I’d plotted it out as a 4 act structure.

Except, as I came to the end of the third act, I realized that the book really needed to end there. It was a natural conclusion. It was already 150,000 words long. But I then had a book that was now missing its final act. And on top of that, I realized that I had one point of view that had about 2 of the 150 chapters of that book.

So I ended up with the very thing that I didn’t want: a messy first draft. People think it was Black as Knight that broke me. It was actually The Accursed.

The thought of having to pull that book apart and fix it got me questioning my love of writing.

I reached early autumn trying to find my love of writing. I tried a few projects – my video series, The First Draft was one, trying to get me to enjoy the mess. But you’ll notice that everything suddenly dried up.

So here’s what actually happened.

In my research, I found a group of writers who wrote fast and published on Kindle. They made decent money as well. They published extremely detailed instructions on what they did as well.

I’ll admit, after 8 years on Black as Knight, the idea of writing a short story and having it on sale by the end of the week felt so freeing. But I had fears as well. What if I did that, and I was terrible?

And that’s when some suggested a pen name. If those books got 1 star reviews, I could just bin the pen name.

The instructions also taught a lot about self-publishing as well. They went into metadata and how to do your own covers. Given I’d done a bit of games writing and tried a few screenplays, I thought this might be another thing to diversify my talents.

My aim wasn’t to be good, it was to have a safe space in which to learn and fail. I felt like a failure and needed something to regain my confidence in private. It was also a challenge. I had a week to write, edit and produce a 12k word short. It seemed impossible.

But I tried it and quickly found insights about myself. When I was under pressure and didn’t have time to think, I inevitably made the right decision. I learned to love the messy first draft because I now had 8 years of experience of rewriting and editing and had become good at fixing drafts. I just needed to trust myself.

There was no time for anything else. I was a conveyor belt, churning out these stories. In one month, I wrote 250,000 words. And I know what you’ll say? “Were they good words?” They were certainly fixable as those books got plenty of 5 star reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.

This was a revelation to me. I could write a good book, and fast, but I had to get out of my way, and just get on with the work.

That’s not to say I didn’t make mistakes, but I took the profits I made to finance improvements. I got a lifetime license to ProWritingAid to help with editing. I bought another lifetime license to Plottr to help with planning out books. I bought Atticus to help with ebook production.

By the end of 2021, I was making more money pro rata than my traditionally published novelist friends. This provide to me that everything that original article had said about self-publishing was right.

I took the mindset that this was all an experiment. That this was me dipping my toe in the waters to get a feel for how hot the waters were. Did I want to write short stories for ever more? No.

So I wanted to take it further and see how this worked with novels. I had one problem, though. My agent contract said that commercial novels had to go through her. And I didn’t want to break that contract. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go self-publishing at that point. This wasn’t about money, it was about understanding the landscape. I just wanted to learn so I could make an informed decision.

So I decided to go short. I started a new pen name and wrote ‘novels’ around 40-50k in length – far under the commercial limits traditional publishers want. My plan for 2022 was to write up to 12 of these, and see how they did. I came to the conclusion that I’d get to the end of 2022 and decide which market (traditional or self-published) was best for me.

After burning myself out a bit on shorts, I wanted to slow down a little but I could still write a book inside a month. But I had a complication.

I changed day jobs and moved into quite a demanding role. It required (and still does require) a lot of thinking so come the end of the day I was too knackered to write. So in July 2022, I decided to put the plan on hold for a while – at least until I had settled down in my new job.

In the meantime, I used income to pay for some recommended courses on advertising. So whilst I wasn’t working on my self-publishing experiments, I was still learning and growing.

I also tried my hand at another novel to send to my agent and the traditional market. By this time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my writing career, but I thought it would probably involve some hybrid of trad and indy publishing. But still, the thoughts of being tied to a book a year, and the prospect of 8 years of edits, really turned me off.

I picked things up again in 2023. I went to Eastercon and had a great time. It was good to catch up with people I’d not seen since before the pandemic. Most of them were now traditionally published, and part of me wanted to come away with a renewed passion for trad publishing. However, hearing of all their challenges and issues with the marketplace meant that the only thing I came back with was Covid.

Still, I gave myself a hard deadline of the end of the year to make a decision. It gave me time to think but also more time to experiment. I certainly had my own challenges, but unlike my trad published friends, I was in a position to fix them. I made yet more mistakes, but all of them were fixable.

I released 5 books in 2023. I made mistakes; I learned a lot. It certainly wasn’t easy. The mindset is very different. I see a lot of trad published authors see the extra work being in the production. That’s the easy part. It’s the marketing that’s the challenge.

In the meantime, an author who I share mutuals with made a post in one of the private groups I’d joined over the past two years. They’d started self-publishing around the same time as I started my experiments, but had jumped in with both feet. In just a couple of years, they’d made over a million. And the only difference was that they’d committed from the outset. It made me realize that I could always find more to experiment with, but until I fully committed, I’d always be half-arsing it.

So we get to this month, my final release of the year and the end of two years of experiments.

I’ve learned so much. That’s the biggest downside to self-publishing. There’s a wealth of information and you either have to be really selective and improve as you go along, or you’ll be overwhelmed. Even now, I’m looking at the current buzz for direct sales and wondering if that’s something I should be diving into, or leaving for further down the road.

On one hand, those experiments allowed me to gain the knowledge and confidence that I can do this thing. I was willing to take risks because the worst that could happen would be that I just move to a new pen name. But if I’d taken the plunge, I could have been 2 years further ahead. This whole process feels like starting at square one again.

Except, I’m starting with 2 years of knowledge.

Either way, my opinion hasn’t changed since Eastercon. For what I want to write, traditional is an ill-fit. Book contracts are getting shorter, which means huge overarching stories are near impossible unless you are already established. And yes, if you do well, you’ll likely get a new contract, but to me that’s the difference between an HBO miniseries and one that gets written and filmed while the season is airing.

I’m certainly not anti-trad publishing. I think for some people it’s certainly the right path, and who knows, maybe one of my projects in the future might be better suited to it. But after spending the last two years learning, I’d prefer to have more control.

I look at trad publishing marketing and its last year’s Indy tactics. I totally understand why, and I’m not knocking it. But it used to be that trad publishing was the safer option to Indy publishing. I really don’t believe that now.

And I’m not saying this is what everyone should be doing. As I said, I have no hate for trad publishing, and I’m still going to champion my trad published friends. But this has felt right for me for a while now, and despite trying hard to convince myself otherwise, that view hasn’t wavered.

This isn’t a shortcut. This is a strategic decision that is probably going to take me years to bring to fruition. My plan isn’t to take my trunk novels and publish them next week. Sure, I will probably revisit some and release, but down the line.

Hence why I’m writing the start of a new series that I plan to release in 2024. At times, it feels like I’m back at square one again, but at other times, I’m talking to someone and mention some nugget or other of information I’ve learnt that forms part of my strategy. It’s then I realize that even though the market constantly changes and there will always be new things to learn, I’m not going into this blind, but with the experience of having published 26 books over the last 2 years.