The Rocky Road to Publication: for and against co- or self-publishing

Dina Davis, the author: I gave the following brief talk at a recent meeting of Waverley Writers, so that my colleagues could share in my newfound knowledge of the publishing process:

Fifteen years ago I came across a newspaper article called “Haunted by the Ghosts of Love”. It was the story of the woman who had come between two famous poets: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Her name was Assia Gutmann Wevill. Assia’s story fascinated me, and I began to research her life. Apart from one factual biography of Assia (Lover of Unreason by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren), all I found was a paragraph or sometimes a mere chapter, in the weighty biographies of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Assia had virtually been written out of history. I decided her story had to be told, and to use fiction to do so.

Inspired by the ‘Capriccio’ poems of Ted Hughes, a series which relate to his relationship with Assia, the first version of my novel was very different to today’s: it was episodic in structure, and introduced each chapter with a quote from a carefully chosen poem from Hughes’s ‘Capriccio‘.

Being a law-abiding citizen, I requested permission to quote from ‘Capriccio’, and wrote to Faber & Faber, Hughes’s & Plath’s publishers, expecting agreement.  (I had reduced the quotes to only 13 lines of poetry in a 90,000 word novel). I not only received a blunt refusal from the publishers, but an instruction from the Hughes Estate to change all the protagonists’ names. After receiving this veto from the Hughes Estate, I shelved the book and considered it not publishable. I felt the poetry excerpts were an integral part of the novel, giving it shape, and referencing the Capriccio poems by Hughes.

Four years later, I realised that the book into which I’d put fifteen years of research and hard work, deserved to be published. I consulted an intellectual property lawyer, and followed her advice. To avoid any future legal or copyright issues, I complied with the Estate’s requests, and completely rewrote the novel without one word of poetry. I also changed the names of people and places, so that Ted became Larry, Sylvia became Grace, and Assia became Esther (actually her second name).

The advantages of co- or self- publishing were many: the process took only a few months, rather than two or three years it can take with a mainstream publisher. The author has complete control, with guidance from the editor and publisher, and the final product, in this case, was attractive and professional. I used print-on-demand so that the process was economical and environmentally sustainable.

The work of an author is never finished when your book is finally published; even with a mainstream publisher, there are hours of promotion, marketing, distribution, and sheer legwork. Self-promotion does not come easily to many of us who are used to the solitary life of writing. But it is necessary if you want your book to reach a wide readership.


Capriccio: A Novel is available from Amazon as a paperback or hard copy, and in Sydney from Berkelouws bookshop in Darlinghurst.

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