Happy 4th Birthday CCB!
I started Curious Cat Books for a very important reason—well, several if we're being honest!—and they have been a vital part of building and growing the company over the past four years. I understood my 'why?' from day one, and have continued to develop how I work (and what I offer) based on those initial goals ever since.
When you're looking for a publisher (or indeed any professional to help you with a project as personal as your debut), you'll want to know why they do what they do, who is the brains behind the business model, what their motives are, and what they're going to do for you and the manuscript you've slaved over for, potentially, years. So I wanted to share a more in-depth mission statement here on the CCB blog. Get to know me and my morals and values before you query with CCB to know if I'm the right fit for your book.
I got rejected, too.
In 2009, I began to query agents and traditional publishers for my debut novel. I was 17 and inexperienced at the time, but hopeful because I began to receive responses that said my book was 'good, but not what we're looking for' or 'good, but not something we'd be able to work with right now'. They liked it, I think, but it either wasn't a fit for their target audience or it was, but they were looking for a different genre at that time. Some publishers didn't respond to me at all, and some responded (but I'd rather they hadn't, because I couldn't read the handwritten comments anyway). A few said they wanted to be the sole publisher queried (rather than sending out your book to several at the same time) but either would not respond or would, but within 6 months. This made planning and lining up another publisher impossible. One publisher in particular, I will always remember, replied 'we don't publish poetry' and sent everything back. This frustrated me, because I didn't write poetry. I wrote fiction. They had seen a snippet from my favourite poem at the front (the poem that inspired the novel) and had not bothered to turn the page any further.
After several months, I signed with an agent who told me he was 'doing me a favour, being so busy with all the other authors'. I made the mistake of taking this as a compliment rather than seeing it as a red flag. It wasn't long before a request for payment from that agent arrived in my inbox (for editing he wanted to do) because, 'the book needs work'. Before, he and I hadn't spoken over the phone once, and any updates or feedback I did receive, I'd had to request several times. I understood how busy he must have been, but I began to worry. Thankfully, the initial feedback was, 'it's with X publisher, and they seem impressed'. But then, a few days later, I'd be told, 'it's a no, they're not happy with the prose'. When I asked him to elaborate, he said, 'they like what you write, just not the way you've written it'. It was time for plan B.
I think I stayed with the agent for the first year until 2010, then chose not to renew my contract. A relative asked if I'd considered 'self-publishing' (I hadn't... I'd never heard of it!). The idea sounded intriguing though, and when I made a list, the benefits were undeniable. I'd been made to feel small and unworthy so far, and no longer wanted to fight against already established authors for my place. I couldn't and wouldn't win when the publishers I was interested in already represented so many successful, prolific writers.
I wanted to prove to myself and others I could get so far on my own. I chose my platform and did my research. It took a while to learn the skills and systems I needed. Laws and procedures were a nightmare—copyright and legal deposits blew my mind! But I did it.
I figured out my 'why?'
When I decided to launch Curious Cat Books four years ago*, initially it was to publish my own titles. I think I even once said in an interview that I'd never represent another author, because managing my own books was hard enough work. In the beginning, it was. But over time, I picked up practices and techniques, hacks and systems that helped me to streamline my processes to improve quality and speed, etc. Soon, I realised I had tons more to offer.
I could see there was a gap in the industry from social media posts. Authors wanted straightforward, honest advice from someone who had been there, done that, and who were still fighting for success themselves—somebody who wasn't afraid to say, 'this is how I did it, but it may not always be the way forward'. I knew I could be that person. I wanted to see indie authors given recognition for their talent because they deserved it. I saw a future where all books would be considered for the shelves of the biggest retailers based on their quality and not on their 'status' (in other words, not only because a big name was backing them or they were already famous, but because the book was special).
There has always been space for authors who work hard and dedicate themselves to make it in this industry, despite the brush they seemed to instantly be tarred with when they proudly announced they were self-published. I've seen the light drain from people's eyes when they've talked with me in the past—interested and engaged until they heard me say 'self-published'. So many conversations were ended because of it.
Authors wanting to expand their knowledge, willing to take constructive criticism and learn from their mistakes have always deserved the same opportunities as those with traditional contracts, not to suffer others upturning their noses. Something else I have physically witnessed happen.
I wanted to prove talent (a bloody good book!) and the investment of blood, sweat and tears leads to success. It doesn't matter how a book is brought to life, as proven at a recent CCB event. I asked a room of 100 people to raise their hand if they knew the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing... there weren't many hands in the air, and it gave me joy. Those readers would therefore buy a book because it looked and sounded amazing, not because of how it had landed on the shelves.
The authors I wanted to help
Immediately, I mapped out the types of writers I knew I'd be able to help. Authors with something to say (a message to share) or something to prove; people who wanted to make a difference if given their moment in the spotlight. I have always believed books are time capsules and not only document history, but protect the morals, values and beliefs of that author at that specific moment—they live on when we cannot, and they leave a piece of someone's heart and soul behind for future generations to embody. Authors who think and feel the same are my kind of people: passionate, creative, imaginative. They see a future beyond their own success, and in my opinion, it is these writers who will one day lead the way forward in this industry.
Whether an author wants to hold their book to achieve this for their children or for the world makes no difference. It is the acknowledgement that their art is not only for themselves that I look for. I work with writers that want to see their book in print because yes, it's been a lifelong dream, but also so their grandchildren and great grandchildren will one day know them through their stories. I work with writers who hope to be bestsellers and lift the spirits of people all over the world, because they, in their youth, had to suffer feeling less than their incredible selves, and want to prevent others struggling the way they did.
In conclusion, I love this industry.
Independent publishing builds self-confidence, image and belief. It pushes us to be more and to do more outside our comfort zones. Rejections do give you that thicker skin, but deciding to create something (and then actually doing it) with little to no external professional help not only screams bravery and strength, but it indicates to me that they have a thirst for knowledge. There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn how to do things on your own (as far as you can) to prove your worth whilst enjoying the benefits and rewards along the way. It does not make a writer lazy or 'a cheat' to bypass the traditional methods of publishing a book, nor does it mean the book isn't good. Believe me, self-publishing isn't a way to avoid gatekeepers, because it places the decisions and reviews in the hands of the most important gatekeepers ever... readers! Achieving their approval without an initial injection of financial or professional support is impressive to say the least.
Overall, I want authors to have faith and believe in themselves. I've worked alongside authors with Dyslexia who thought they would never hold their book in their hands because of it. Of course you can! I've worked with authors who have so much to teach others, but are afraid of the spotlight, so didn't think they could publish a book. Of course you can! Anyone can be an author if the book is good enough thanks to the independent publishing universe, and I am so grateful for it and so proud of all the authors who have chosen CCB so far.
If writing a book is your dream and you think I can help you bring it to life, please get in touch. CCB is a small publisher and can only take a handful of books per year at the moment (submissions are open January 2022). I wish I could take them all!
I'd love to hear about you and your manuscript, and to hear more about your vision for the future of publishing.
*CCB turned 4 on January 13th 2022.