Shahida's Blog

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Part 2 Climbing the Publishing Ladder




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Part 2 of my blog ‘My Publishing Journey’ published in

My publishing journey had begun. The serious writing was taking shape and I was now being recognised as an author. Wow!  As a self-published author, it was a time-consuming struggle to promote myself, because self-publishing has had a bad press in the past. Anyone can self-publish, irrespective of the quality of the work, which in theory means that anything can be published, although the more professional self-publishing companies are as particular as mainstream publishers in the quality and genre of work they accept.

Self-publishing does have its advantages over mainstream publishing. The time to print is almost instant once the edited and formatted book is submitted and the royalty rates are usually very good, which means that if you wish you can donate a portion of the book sales to a charity of your choice; something that is rarely possible via mainstream publishing because the returns per book sale are generally poor. As I published through my own company, I could retain 100% of the royalties. However, self-published book sales are usually much lower and it’s often down to luck or persistent marketing efforts. It is a challenging industry to be part of and I was learning all the time.

I have always made time to fit my writing around my family, private and working life. That was the beauty of it; there were no deadlines to meet and I could take as long as I needed. My book ‘Ibrahim’ was listed on the National Autistic Society’s website as well as on Amazon and other online book stores. I managed all my own marketing and publicity and it sold a generous number of copies. When you self-publish, you pay for everything – design, editing, printing, advertising and distribution. Publishing this way didn’t mean that my book would be on bookshelves, because thousands of books are published every year and bookstores can’t accommodate all of them! However, the most rewarding part was being in control of my own book.

I started to receive emails from mothers who have autistic children. Many were able to relate to my situation and found comfort reading my book. I think that was the most rewarding part. I wanted to give hope and encouragement. These were what I was seeking when Ibrahim’s difficulties were at their peak. I also wanted to raise the awareness of the condition, particularly in the Asian community where autism wasn’t widely recognised.

I also wrote ‘The Integration of the Hijab into Police Uniforms’, which was published in the ‘Behind the Hijab’ anthology in March 2009 by Monsoon Press. This too was very well received.

I quickly learned that there was a lack of representation from Asian and black writers in Britain. Some publishers are hesitant to invest in the talents of such writers and unable to understand that there is a much wider readership market. This includes the second and third generation of Asian people in Britain who are greatly interested in reading about issues and concerns to which they can relate.

I went on to write my first full novel, ‘The Lascar’, in 2005. I chose the subject matter because one of my paternal ancestors was a Lascar. Lascar was a name given to South Asian sailors who worked aboard British merchant ships dating back to the 17th century. They worked under terrible conditions in the engine rooms of the steamships that ferried back and forth between England and Asia, carrying tea, coffee, sugar, spices and silk. Stories were passed down orally through generations, but Lascars have largely been forgotten in history and I wanted to highlight their story through my novel.

I decided not to self-publish my novel, as during my efforts to have ‘Ibrahim’ published, I learned that marketing self-published fiction is much harder than for a non-fiction book. Being published by an independent publisher generally carries more weight, because it shows that a professional has deemed your work to be marketable. The first draft took me about a year and was complete by 2006.  It was the start of an incredibly long journey towards publication.

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