Why would a published author turn to self-publishing?

A friend publishes her crime novels with one publisher and young adult fantasy with another. I asked her why, since each company distributes titles in both genres, and either one would kill to have her exclusively. ‘The publisher has to suit the book,’ she said.

With so many wonderful publishers out there, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that for Ink, Inc., my new young adult sci-fi novel, the most suitable publisher was me.

I haven’t turned my back on traditional publishing – especially not now that I know the costs (financial and mental) of self-publishing! But Ink, Inc. is an unusual novel, and no matter what angle I looked at it from, I couldn’t see a way to make it work with anyone else.

The novel clocks in at just over 40,000 words, which is shorter than any of my other books (Money Run was about 60,000, The Lab was about 70,000). But it’s still too long to be called a novella. Any other publisher would have asked me to extend Ink, Inc. so it would be more marketable. But I didn’t want to stretch out the protagonist’s career as an ink miner, his kidnapping by a madwoman, his imprisonment in her apartment. The book wouldn’t work as as a long, meandering journey dotted with side-quests and subplots. Our species is rocketing toward an unsettling future – the book’s purpose is to describe that future and force the reader to confront some questions about it. Anything I added on top of that would just be padding.

Jack-Heath-Ash-Peak

The content is also fairly risky. In the world of Ink, Inc., constant drug use is not only permissible but a necessity, and the main character was born without a conscience. I wanted the book to explore some fairly complex ideas about responsibility and identity. But parents would stop listening after the word ‘drugs’ – or at least, most publishers would expect them to do so. Although my characters have been permitted to carry and use weapons, references to sex or drugs were purged from my other books during the editing process, and anything I wrote with a morally ambiguous protagonist was either significantly diluted or rejected outright. I needed a way to get Ink, Inc. out in the open with its teeth intact.

I should add that self-publishing the book was only possible because of my generous readers. They pre-purchased 156 books, 17 posters and naming rights to four characters for a total of almost $6,000. This was enough for me to hire a copy editor and a cover artist, as well as managing the printing and distribution. My readers even read the book online, one chapter at a time, and provided helpful feedback along the way. What crazy publisher would print a book that most of the potential readers have already devoured?

Me, that’s who. Self-publishing isn’t right for every book, but there’s no other way this other one could have come to exist, so I’m very glad I did it. I think both reluctant readers and sci-fi/YA fanatics will love Ink, Inc. – and at the very least, I can promise them that it’s like nothing they’ve read before.


Jack Heath will be launching Ink, Inc. at the Carlton store on 30th January at 6pm. Read more here.