The world of publishing is changing. Authors have the opportunity to bypasss the traditional route, and delve into self-publishing to deliver their stories to the world. I recently interviewed Australian author, Rebecca Bowyer (author of Maternal Instinct) to find out more about her journey to self-publishing.
NLK: What was the inspiration for Maternal Instinct, were you influenced by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale?
RB: In early 2015, I started writing Maternal Instinct when my kids were two and four. Being a parent is the hardest job I’d ever had, but it feels like one of the least valued by society. The message at the time was that having kids was a lifestyle choice and women who chose to stay at home to raise their children (rather than return to work) were a problem to be dealt with. Our GDP would be so much better if they were all in full-time work.
I found this incredibly disheartening. I wanted parenting to be valued for what it is – not 40 hours a week, but 168 hours. Not a drain on the economy, but raising our next generation.
I wanted to see what our world would look like if we did value parenting as an integral part of the economy. The Maternal Instinct world was the result. In a near-future Australia, parenting is a highly valued, paid role fulfilled by professionals known as Maters and Paters.
Of course, it was then a matter of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Maternal Instinct is not a utopia.
I studied The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and it made a lasting impression. It wasn’t a direct influence on Maternal Instinct, though my novel has been likened to Margaret Atwood’s incredible story partly because of the timing around renewed interest in The Handmaid’s Tale.
The MGM and Hulu series of The Handmaid’s Tale came out in April 2017. By then I’d signed with Fine Print Literary Management over in New York and my completed manuscript was being sent out to editors.
In the past 5-10 years there’s been a sharp rise in the number of great feminist dystopian fiction being written, published and read widely. I think the renewed interest in The Handmaid’s Tale is a symptom of this, rather than a cause.
NLK: Are you involved with any writer’s groups or writer’s centres? What has been the biggest benefit you have gained from such involvement?
RB: Twitter is my writing group! There’s such a wonderfully supportive community on there. I’m also a member of the Aussie Speculative Fiction Facebook group, and the Australian Writer’s Centre’s So You Want To Be A Writer podcast community Facebook group.
There are so many benefits to being part of a writing community, from moral support to practical tips on everything from how to make time to write to how to find an agent.
The biggest benefit, for me, has been the connections I’ve made with other writers. It’s wonderful to be part of a community dedicated to the craft of telling stories.
NLK: Are there any crossovers between your day job of digital strategy writing and web content and your creative process for writing fiction?
RB: Yes, absolutely. User-centred design is key to writing great web content and I use this in my fiction writing as well. My story is just words on a page without an audience and so I think of my audience often when writing – will the reader enjoy this scene? Will they be satisfied with the way this plot is heading? Will they be able to still follow it if they’re exhausted after a long day of work or interrupted fifty-five times an hour by small children?
Being a professional writer in my day job has also given me thicker skin when it comes to killing my darlings in fiction. Having to offer up my own writing for potential shredding (aka editing) and editing the work of others has helped me to approach the editing and re-writing process for my creative work with a much more open mind.
NLK: What drew you to the self-publishing pathway?
NLK: My path to self-publishing has been long and winding. I have a wonderful literary agent, Lauren Bieker from Fine Print Literary Management, who has worked tirelessly to find a publishing home for my manuscript. We had serious interest from a couple of big publishers for Maternal Instinct but ultimately it didn’t make it through all the hoops required for a contract to be offered.
I had to choose between shelving the manuscript, pursuing publication with a small press or publishing it myself. I didn’t want to shelve it because I strongly believe it’s a story that needs to be told. I chose to publish it myself rather than go with a small press because I have a background in digital marketing and project management so I was confident I could manage the process.
Fine Print Literary Management is still managing subsidiary rights, such as foreign translation and audio, for Maternal Instinct.
NLK: What advice would you give to other writers considering self-publishing?
RB: It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s a lot of work, you’re taking on the financial risk yourself and it’ll take you away from actual writing. I strongly recommend setting aside a period of time to try submitting to agents and/or publishers before making the decision to self-publish.
If you do decide to self-publish, my advice is:
- Research first – what are you getting yourself into? Indie authors are incredibly generous with their advice online. Just start reading!
- Start early – there’s a good reason traditional publishing seems slow. Allow plenty of time for editing, production and marketing. I’ve taken eight months from making the decision to publication day and have had to make it work alongside a 5-day per week day job plus parenting. Also keep in mind that early reviews are important and many reviewers will require an advance copy up to three months before publication.
- Pay for professional editing and cover design – Unless you happen to be a graphic designer, you should never try to DIY your book cover. As for editing, you need fresh eyes that aren’t yours. Even professional editors don’t edit their own manuscript.
- Set a budget – figure out early where the money will come from. You’ll need to consider editing, cover design, interior design (typesetting), production costs (eg. getting ISBNs and barcodes, set up costs for IngramSpark etc, initial print run if you’re not opting for print-on-demand) and marketing.
NLK: How did you go about crowd-funding Maternal Instinct?
RB: I ran a Kickstarter campaignto raise funds for editing, design, production, distribution and a small amount for marketing (I’ve funded most of the marketing budget). I offered copies of the novel as rewards, along with a few other fun rewards such as character naming rights and mentions on the ‘Thank you’ page. I’m incredibly grateful to the 80 people who backed the project. Without their financial support, I wouldn’t be talking to you about this today!
NLK: How can people find out more about Maternal Instinct?
RB: Head to the Maternal Instinct page on the Story Addict website! The page includes a list of retailers you can purchase it from, or just ask at your local library (they’ll be able to order it in if they don’t have it already). If you’d like to read a few reviews, head to the Maternal Instinct Goodreads page.
Rebecca Bowyer lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two young sons. When not at her day jobs as a digital experience strategist and kid-wrangler, she can be found writing about books, reading and writing at Story Addict.
Rebecca’s articles on writing, feminism, parenting and the history of parenting have been published widely, including on Women’s Agenda, Ripen the Page Literary Magazine, Kidspot, Essential Kids, Mamamia, Seeing the Lighter Side and more.
Maternal Instinct is her first novel.
Connect with Rebecca
About Maternal Instinct
Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?
19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.
Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.
When Monica turns to her birth mother, Alice, for help, she triggers a series of events that force Alice to confront her own dark past. Alice must decide – help her daughter break the law, or persuade her to accept her fate and do what’s best for the nation’s children.