Indie publishing – the good, the bad and the future

When I first started Retreat West in 2012, I had no idea what would happen and that it would still be going 8 years later. I especially didn’t envisage that I would become an indie publisher as I initially started it all as I needed to learn more about writing and couldn’t afford to do courses. So I started running the residential writing retreats and inviting the authors I wanted to learn from to teach at them.

But 5 years after it all began, Retreat West Books started in 2017 with the publication of the first anthology of winning stories in the annual Short Short Story and Flash Fiction Prizes we run, What Was Left. Next month we are publishing the fourth anthology, How to Hold an Umbrella, and very much looking forward to bringing you these fantastic stories.

In the three years since What Was Left launched we have also published four novels, a memoir, four short story collections and three charity anthologies that have raised thousands of pounds for social and environmental causes. We won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher, were shortlisted in the 2019 awards, and lots of our titles made the shortlists in other categories and received special mentions both years too. All of this is fantastic and we are so proud of every story we’ve had the privilege to publish.

Despite all of this, we are having to close the door on open submissions and will no longer be directly commissioning any more books. After Jan Kaneen’s gorgeous memoir-in-flash, The Naming of Bones, launches in Spring 2021, we will only be publishing books featuring work that comes through the competitions. 

Selling books is really hard and I have been financially supporting the publications with income from my work as a freelance journalist and from the teaching I do at literary events and retreats. When the lockdown was implemented in March, I lost all my teaching work booked in up to September this year. My freelance journalism commissions fell by a significant amount and I realised how unsustainable it was for me to continue publishing, no matter how much I wanted to carry on. I simply cannot afford it. 

I love what I do at Retreat West and really enjoy running the courses and competitions, which make just enough income for me to justify continuing to do this side of things. But what’s happened this year has really made me stop and think about it all and how much time and headspace I give to everyone else’s writing at the expense of my own.

So while everything, bar the direct commissioning of work to publish, is going to carry on, I am taking some of my time and headspace back. So there will be fewer group flash courses running and hopefully people will do the work-alone options more often instead, as the focus is on generating lots of new work to edit and sub out, and you will still get feedback on stories you create just not the forum option. So the Micro Fiction Month in November is going to be the last flash course with a forum for a good while. 

I’ll be taking on less editorial work too, but am putting together a great team of editors that can do this work instead. So there will still be lots of opportunities to get help to develop your work and get it published through our competitions.

Thanks as always for being a part of our reading and writing community. If you enjoy what we do and would like to support us, please buy one of our books, take out a membership, do a course, or buy me a coffee! It really will make a difference.

Amanda x