A fading Scar

November 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )


It’s a little over a year since I published Scar, and the promotional effort has finally run out of steam, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the whole process of bringing a book like this into the world.

This industry is a joke. I’ve worked in my life in a few different fields, but never have I encountered the lack of professionalism I’ve found among those who work in the publishing/media industry. In fairness, an alarming amount of bloggers, reviewers, radio hosts and writers are, in fact, amateurs, working at something they love in the off-hours they have outside of their regular, paying jobs and their lives, so they get a free pass. Likewise, some people I’ve worked with have been fantastic. However, I have been deeply disappointed by the blithe indifference of some ‘professionals’ I’ve dealt with.

By way of example; I was scheduled to be interviewed on a major national arts and culture program, the sort of coverage I barely dared dream of. For months, I was told I was going to be on the show – then suddenly, one day I wasn’t. Just like that, they decided not to do it. Likewise, I was told I would get coverage in a national newspaper; that didn’t happen either.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I almost wish I hadn’t got so close, because I never expected to get coverage like that. But to be promised it, and to have those promises broken, took a huge chunk out of my enthusiasm. This is not in any way unusual, but for me, it was unexpected, so be warned. In media, nothing is real until it actually happens. I had to stop announcing upcoming interviews or reviews because so many of them fell through at the last minute.

I can’t complain about the coverage I did get, though. For an unknown writer with a self-published novel, I got a good deal of media attention – way more than many people in a similar position to me. And what did that attention get me? Next to nothing.

Luckily, I went into publishing Scar with what I hoped were reasonable expectations. ‘If it sells 500 copies’, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll be happy with that.’ Well, I’m not happy. Scar is still for sale, and as a self-published book on Createspace, will never go out of print; it’s possible that someone will be buying a copy of Scar after I’m dead. So the final numbers are never in. But with thousands of books published each and every day, and Scar now a year old, and with me no longer attempting to get any kind of media coverage, it’s safe to say that Scar has reached its twilight years. Not only am I nowhere near my dream of supporting myself through writing, I haven’t even recouped the money I spent bringing Scar to print and promoting it. Far from being a career, writing for me has become a massively expensive hobby. To date, I’d estimate I’ve sold less than 100 copies of Scar, in all its formats, and that includes friends and family who have bought it.

Yeah, it’s depressing. To work this hard on something, pour your heart and soul into it, and find that nobody gives a shit is not what an aspiring writer dreams of. I would not have chosen this.

But a more fundamental question is, if I could have known what the reception would be like for my book, if I could have known how disappointing this whole process would be, would I still have published Scar? The answer, if there was any doubt, is yes.

This is why attitude is crucial if you want to be a writer. If you’re writing because you think you’ll get rich, you’re doing it wrong. Breaking even is a dream for most of us. I wrote Scar because I wanted to, because I had things I wanted to say and scenes I wanted to write. I wrote Scar to address certain aspects of my past and of myself, to express certain ideas I had, and, if it doesn’t sound too grand, to change who I was. And I did all of those things.

Of course, I could have just written the book and left it at that. I didn’t need to put myself through the heartache of publishing and marketing a difficult novel in an ADD world. My reasons for doing that are not all that clear to me, mainly because I don’t have the heart to examine them too closely. I suspect that I would find something small and unpleasant at the bottom of it all, some pathetic craving to win the admiration of strangers which I have worked hard to weed out of myself in every other facet of my life.

Either way, Scar’s out there, and I don’t regret it. I’m upset that I failed, but not that I tried. There are things I would do differently; if I knew I’d sell less than 100 copies, I wouldn’t have spent thousands of dollars on marketing. But I would still have published, still gotten reviews, still done interviews. Doing those things was its own reward; I had fun doing it, which I didn’t expect. Failure is a prerequisite of life; hiding from it is ultimately the surest guarantee against both success and happiness. So no, I don’t regret publishing Scar.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a show put on by someone I consider to be one of Canada’s best songwriters. When he started playing that night, there were three people in the audience, including myself. By the time the show finished, the audience had peaked at four or five. Last night, I was talking about it with some friends. One of them voiced the opinion that if he were that songwriter, he would have left without playing anything; what’s the point?

I disagree, though. An audience of one is still an audience. I always said that if one person was moved by my book, one complete stranger who has no reason to lie, who doesn’t know me but truly loves my work, it would all be worth it. Well, that theory was put to the test with Scar. Some people have really loved this book. People I don’t know and will never meet, who only know me through Scar, were touched by what I wrote. That’s worth a lot.

So my advice to the hypothetical wannabe writer I loosely address this blog to is to be sure in yourself why you’re doing this, and be prepared to fail miserably. If it’s money and fame you’re after, put out a sex tape. Writing is a compulsion; it has to be, like a caged animal obsessively rubbing its body bare against the bars of its cage. There’s nothing else on this world I’d put anything like this amount of work into. My story goes to prove that you can work your ass off, do everything right and still fail.

Writing’s the only thing I ever wanted. The other things people want – material possessions, relationships, careers – never really interested me, and I never made any great effort to acquire those things. Interestingly enough, though, all of those things happened while I was busy chasing other dreams. Maybe there’s another lesson in there somewhere.

Will I write again? Almost definitely. Will I self-publish again? Quite possibly. The publishing industry is still the giant mess it was when I started this blog; in some ways, it’s probably worse. Until publishers start trying to publish quality writing and support and nurture new talent, instead of endlessly chasing the Next Big Thing by mindlessly aping the Last Big Thing, self-publishing still holds out hope to dreamers like me. But I’ll approach it with less starry-eyed optimism, I know that. I’ll work just as hard at writing something new, but I don’t see myself going to the same efforts to promote it. It turns out that all the promotion in the world is not going to make people like my books. Not many people, anyway.

It’s not all bad. A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old niece was told to do a project on somebody she admires. We live on separate continents, but she picked me, because in her mind, I’m this famous published novelist. And at the risk of sentimentality, that was worth more to me than any amount of glowing reviews.


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Promoting your novel, part 2 – Reviews

August 12, 2012 at 10:44 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Come closer. Closer. Listen. I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready?

Nobody really knows how to sell books.

Oh, lots of people will say that they do. Some people have made a living out of claiming to have the secret. Big publishers exist purely to sell books, and make millions, so they must know, right? Wrong. 70 per cent of books make a loss. Think about what that means, especially when the average advance for a first book is $5000. Most books make less than that. And that’s not self-published books, that’s all books published. Seventy per cent. In my non-writing life, I run a pest control company; if 70% of our treatments failed, we’d be out of business in a month.

But if no one knows how to sell books, how are you supposed to sell yours?

If I had the answer to that, I’d be writing this blog from the cabin in the woods I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. Instead, I’m writing it in a basement in a city I barely know. I don’t know how to sell books. But one thing that virtually everyone insists you need to have is reviews.

Book reviews may not be as important to sales as they once were, but they’re still one of the most helpful things you can do to sell your book. Get as many reviews as you can, but know that not all reviews are created equal. Amazon reviews are nice when they’re positive, but everybody knows that they could just be written by supportive friends and family. You can pay people to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon, too, so the credibility is diminished. What helps more is a review from a reputable reviewer.

Now, if you’re not with a major publisher, you’re not going to get reviewed in a major newspaper or magazine. The big publishers buy up ad space in the big papers and ensure that only their own books get reviewed, so unless you have an ‘in’, you can forget about getting a review in The Guardian or the New York Times.

Luckily for us indies, bloggers have become far more important in the last few years, and they’re much more open to reading a book by an unknown . If you’re as small-time as I am, pretty much any blog is good, but here’s a super helpful list of the biggest names in the game: http://www.invesp.com/blog-rank/Books#visit.

Remember when querying blogs to choose carefully; don’t ask a site that only reviews sci-fi to take a look at your romance novel. And don’t be formulaic; these bloggers have writers emailing them all day long, begging for some coverage. They can spot a form email a mile away.

I’ve been fortunate to be reviewed in a few different publications, by professionals. This is the value of a publicist; without her help, I’d have maybe one or two of the reviews I currently do. Here’s the list of professional reviews of my novel as of August 2012:







Yeah, six. It took me and a professional publicist six months to get this many, and as you can see, they’re not all positive. One in particular is brutal – more on that in another post.

For all these reviews, how many books do you think I sold? That’s right, none. Not one. As far as I can tell, these reviews have not helped me in the slightest. People have bought my book because they know me, or because a friend recommended it. Some people found it on goodreads.com; some people read an article I wrote and bought a book because of that. But, at least as far as I know, these reviews did nothing whatsoever for my sales.

So are reviews a waste of time? Well, no. I don’t think so. For a start, you didn’t write Scar; you wrote your book, and it’s not mine, and so just because reviews didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Secondly, reviews have a purpose beyond selling books. At their best, reviews by professionals can actually help you grow as a writer. An insightful reviewer can reveal weaknesses you didn’t know you had, making the next thing you write stronger. On the other hand, a really negative review, like all of life’s setbacks, at least offers you the opportunity to grow as a person.

My six reviews may not seem like a lot, but I was happy to get them. The most damning criticism of all is silence.

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Createspace works in mysterious ways

May 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I logged into Createspace today, which is no longer a daily activity for me, the way it was when I first published Scar. Sometimes I’ll go a couple of weeks without checking in.

But today I logged in and found the dashboard looks a little different. It now displays royalties earned in dollars, British pounds and Euros. I clicked around a little more, and found that there’s a whole new sales channel Scar wasn’t enrolled in: Amazon Europe.

When I got started with Creatpace, I paid extra – $35 or something like that – to have my book placed in their Extended Distribution Channel (EDC). This would help my book get listed in non-US Amazon sites, such as Amazon.co.uk, .de, .fr and so on. A while ago, they did away with this system and started including EDC for everyone.

Now they’ve changed the system again, and it’s actually a good thing. It seems they’ve finally realised the whole point of print-on-demand, and started printing books in the country they are ordered in. This means faster shipping times for customers and, thanks to lower production costs, (slightly) higher royalties for authors. Honestly, it’s ridiculous that it’s taken them this long to figure it out. It’s not as though Europe doesn’t have printing facilities, after all. Why print a book in America and ship it across the world when you can just send a computer file?

It’s all good news for those of us who sell books overseas. I just wish Createspace had let us know when the changes were made; an email would have been nice.

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Freebies #2

December 17, 2011 at 11:38 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Two more free ebooks available now on smashwords: “Of Flowers and Sunlight” and “Linares del Arroyo”. “Linares del Arroyo” received an Honourable Mention in The Fiddlehead magazine’s short story competetion, and was previously published in the Spring 2009 issue.

Go here to read them:


Merry Christmas!

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Creating a book cover: The Dostoevsky/Kardashian Method

December 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

It occurred to me recently that I’ve neglected to mention one very important aspect of publishing Scar: the cover. Part of what got me thinking about this was going through the self-published books on Smashwords, goodreads.com and other sites, and seeing some truly awful covers.

Forget the old cliche about not judging a book by its cover; that’s what the cover is there for. How do you make your book stand out when it’s surrounded by thousands of others, whether on a physical bookstore shelf or online? Your cover is your first chance to get people interested in your book, and if it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter if you wrote the best novel in human history; no one will ever know, because no one will ever get past that boring/hideous/offensive cover.

For the self-publisher, the cover of your book needs to do three things:

1)      Grab the (potential) reader’s attention and make them want to know more.

2)      Convey in an instant what kind of book this is, so that you know you’re engaging with the right kind of reader, ie. people who actually read the type of book you’ve written.

3)      Make your book look as professional and high quality as any other book out there.

The first two points are just as important for a major publisher as they are for anyone else, and big publishers will spend thousands on getting the covers of their books right. You don’t need to do that, but you do need to be aware of the tricks and techniques the big guys use, so you can steal borrow them.

Step 1: Grab the reader’s attention

Which of these looks more interesting?

I’ll admit that “Database Issues…” isn’t helped by its subject matter, but the cover for “The Sisters Brothers” draws your eye towards it. It has bright, bold, primary colours; red, in particular, always attracts attention. It has interesting fonts. It has both human figures and what looks like a face, two things we are evolutionarily conditioned to notice and look for, as anyone who doubts Jesus’ appearance in a piece of toast will tell you. One of these books makes you interested to know more, and the other doesn’t, unless you’re really curious about geographic information systems.

Step 2: Attracting the right kind of reader

A good cover should convey the essence of the book in the time it takes to glance at it. Sounds difficult, but fortunately, we humans are visual creatures, and we’ve been conveying information visually for a very long time now. Not only that, but publishers have developed a visual language of book covers that enables customers to make snap-second decisions on books they know nothing about.

Look at these two:

Both attract attention, but whose attention? One is an intense, harrowing exploration of morality and suffering; the other is by Dostoevsky (Ba-boom! Thank you, I’ll be here all week.) ‘The Idiot’ promises sophistication, abstraction, intensity; ‘Kardashian Konfidential’ offers glamour, celebrity and gossip. Both of these books might catch my eye in a bookstore, but I’d only consider buying one of them. The publishers are marketing to two very different demographics, and when they designed the cover on the Kardashian’s book, they weren’t thinking of me.

Look at books similar to yours; does your cover look like theirs? If you’ve written a story about a single girl in the city trying to choose between her sexy but caddish boss and her endearingly nerdy childhood sweetheart, a hot pink cover with a pair of shoes on the front is perfectly appropriate, but it might not work as well for a dystopian steampunk fantasy.

Step 3: Looking the part

If you take the time to learn the language of book covers, you’re already halfway to not looking like an amateur, because you’ll quickly learn how to target the right audience with your cover. But there are other pitfalls to avoid. One that self-published writers often make is having covers that are far too ‘busy’.  Just because your book has scenes set in Paris, Australia and outer space doesn’t mean you have to have the Eiffel Tower, Ayers rock and the moon on the cover. Don’t try and tell the story in an image; that’s not what the cover is for. You want to give a sense of the overall tone of the book, but that’s all. Is it a fun summer read? A rumination on the transience of all things? A political pot-boiler? A murder mystery? These are things a good cover makes clear.

Another common error by self-published writers is having too much writing on the cover. You know those taglines that movies have, like ‘Alien’s memorable “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream?” Leave those to the movies. Big publishing houses don’t put taglines on the front of their books, and neither should you. If you really want a tagline, you can put it on the back cover, where the blurb goes; not on the front.

The front cover of a novel really only needs two pieces of text; the author’s name and the title. Sometimes a pull-quote from a favourable review might find its way there too, but be sparing. Also, if the book is in a series, it’s fine to mention that on the front. Murder mysteries seem particularly prone to this, often listing the main recurring character by name: “A Sluethy McSolve Mystery”. (Sluethy McSolve is the hard-boiled private detective/concert pianist I just invented, in case you were wondering.) This falls under the category of conveying to the reader what kind of book this is.

Simplicity is key; less here is definitely more. Consider the fact that the world’s biggest bookseller has no physical stores, only a website which will shrink your cover down to the resolution of a three-year-old’s drawing and display it as a 1 inch jpeg. The simpler a cover is, the better it will look in those conditions. (Up to a point, of course. The simplest cover is no cover at all, but that won’t sell many books.)

Scar: The story behind the cover

Throughout the process of publishing Scar, I’ve had quite a few people comment favourably on the cover. Not just friends of mine, either; even the folks at Createspace complimented me on it.

I wanted to keep it simple and stark. The tree comes from the mythological themes of the book; the tree has always been an archetypal image in mythologies throughout the world. Also, Scar is a book about family and the past; I felt the tree with its spreading roots was a good representation of that. The red was my girlfriend’s idea; it makes the cover much more striking, and also hints at the theme of blood, of family. The roots in the black soil also hint at the underworld, a major theme in the book being the psychological/mythological descent into the underworld of one’s psyche. That the upper branches of the tree suggest the human brain was a happy coincidence lost on me until my brother pointed it out.

I can’t draw worth a damn. But happily for me, and unhappily for them, artists are abundant, and cheap. There are as many people trying to break out into art as there are trying to write books, and in the meantime, many of them are happy to take on small jobs. I put an ad on craigslist looking for an artist, and got dozens of replies.  You can also explore deviantart.com to find someone whose style suits your book.

My cover was drawn by a Seattle artist named Michael Yakutis; he also drew comics of a few scenes from Scar for my website and advertising material. He’s talented, a real pleasure to work with and ridiculously reasonable; you can see more of his work at http://www.artifolio.com/artist/michaelyakutis888/.

There’s a lot about Scar that I’m proud of, and the cover is definitely one of those things. Every time I look at it, I feel a small swell of pride; that’s what a good cover can do.

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Createspace screws up a second time

October 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

It’s been a while since my last post, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. Tectonic shifts in my private life have kept me on the back foot for much of the summer. Also, proof reading took far longer than expected. Every time I thought I had the book exactly right, I’d send it off to Createspace; they’d send me another proof, and I’d find more mistakes. I went through four different proofs in this way. (The last error I found was a discrepancy in the reported ages of the main character and his father. I must have read this book fifteen times by now. Five other people have read it, including a professional editor, and no one spotted this. A lesson for writers: you can never read closely enough!)

Normally, when you receive a proof and it isn’t right, you go to your Createspace account and reject the proof. They will then ask a couple of questions as to why you don’t like the proof, essentially to make sure it’s not a printing error on their part. Then you upload a revised PDF, they process it and send you another proof, and the process starts again.
However, last time I rejected a proof, something strange happened. I got this message:

Congratulations on making “Scar” ( 3575000 ) available! All Content Creation products have been fulfilled and we would like to thank you for using our services. If you have not already, please follow the steps below to enable your title through our distribution channels.

I quickly emailed them back, explaining that I hadn’t accepted the proof, and that it wasn’t ready for publication. I got this message back:

In viewing the history of this title, I see that it has never gone available and that it is now currently in “Incomplete” status. The message you received seems to have been an error on our end and I sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused.

Upon further review of your account, I was able to see that you successfully uploaded revisions on August 29; however, these files have not been submitted for our review process. To do so, please log in to your account, navigate to the “Complete Setup” step in the “Setup” phase, and select “Submit files for Review” at the bottom of the screen. We’ll then review your files and send you an e-mail notification outlining the results of your submission within 24 to 48 hours.

Once your files pass review, you will have the option to either order another proof copy of your title or skip the physical proof step and make your title immediately available.

So I did what they said. I submitted my files for review, and got this message:

The text overlaps on the PDF page 126. Please adjust the text in the native program and recreate the PDF for publishing.

That was too much for me. After the months of work I put into getting the book right, after getting four different proofs which all had the unusual text effects I wanted, I was in no mood to be told a second time that what I had fought to get wasn’t possible. I fired off a slightly nasty email, telling them that I knew that what I was asking could be done, but if they were unwilling to do it I’d find someone else who would. I got this back:

Our Technical Services team has confirmed that your files will be accepted as they are submitted in your account. We have set your title back to “In Process” and you should expect to receive a new review shortly. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Obviously, this was all a frustrating waste of time, but all’s well that ends well, no? They fixed my problem, once I got firm with them.
What irks me, though, is that without my consent, they moved me one step further along in the publishing process. By accepting a proof I told them to reject, they advanced me to the next stage in the process, and once you reach that stage, additional proofs cost additional money. I had to pay $12.99 for the proof I’m currently waiting on.
I understand that they’re a business. I got four proofs for free, and I would have no problem if after that, they decided to charge me. If they had just sent me a message saying, ‘we can’t keep sending you books for free. From now on, we’ll charge you for additional proofs’, I would have been fine with that. But instead, they made a ‘mistake’ that I now have to pay for. Not cool.

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The edit’s the thing…

March 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

So you’ve written that novel and you’re ready to publish it. You’ve shown it off to your family and friends, and at least some of them have agreed that it doesn’t suck. Good. But if you’re going to self-publish your novel, you’re going to need to hire a professional editor. You do. And those of you who think you don’t need one probably need one most of all.

Why? Well, a professional editor is, or should be, utterly unbiased. They get paid no matter what they think of your work, and so if it’s garbage, they’ll let you know, and if they praise it, you can believe them. No matter how objective your circle of friends tries to be, if they have an interest in your happiness, chances are they’ll go easy on you. A professional editor doesn’t have to live with you sulking because they suggested you could stand to lose chapters 7, 18, 119 and 237-298; or that your main character has the depth and complexity of a damp Kleenex on a rainy sidewalk and your plot twists may as well come with two week’s written notice.

Secondly, a professional editor probably knows more about what sells books than you, your family or your friends, unless you happen to come from a publishing dynasty or regularly lunch with the heads of the Seven Sisters of publishing. And if that’s the case, it’s pretty unlikely you’d be self-publishing in the first place. For example: my novel, Scar, contains a number of different fonts, representing the viewpoints of different characters. While my editor understood the impulse behind this, he cautioned against it, especially if I was to try to publish the book via the conventional route. Agents and publishers, he pointed out, are very wary of writing with more than one font; it reeks of amateurism, like wearing jeans to a job interview. No matter the quality of the work, most agents and publishers will stop reading once they see the font change. And there I was thinking I was all edgy and cool like Mark Z. Danielewski.

Editors – good editors – know books. It takes real skill to look at a finished manuscript written by a complete stranger and figure out how to make it better. After five years of writing Scar, I had reached a hopeless impasse. Too familiar with the story and too invested in the outcome to be able to so much as approach the clean-eyed objectivity of a new reader, I knew I needed a professional’s opinion. It was nice to hear that my girlfriend thought it was good, but I needed a more in-depth analysis.

So how do you find an editor? The same way I find everything else – the internet. If you’re self-publishing with one of the big companies, like Createspace or Lulu – more on them later – they can edit your manuscript for you, for a fee. Createspace, for instance, charges $0.0175 per word for a basic copyedit on a book longer than 10,000 words. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that Scar would cost $1750, just for a review of spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. A more comprehensive edit, in which they offered me the services of “a professional editor who will focus on improving sentence structure while providing suggestions to help you strengthen your book’s content” would have cost me around $3200; far more than I’m able to spend.

If you have money and time’s an issue, this might not be so bad. I can’t speak to the quality of Createspace’s editors. One thing that did put me off, though, was the fact that I had no way of knowing, at least before buying the service, who my editor was. If I’m laying out that kind of money, I want to be sure it’s being edited by someone with experience, who knows what they’re talking about.

So I decided to use the internet to do some shopping around, and eventually settled on pronovelediting.com. One of the many things I liked about them was that they were willing to do a sample edit of a couple of pages for free so I could see what to expect. I got samples from a few different companies, but the edit from pronovelediting.com was hands-down the sharpest, most insightful and most helpful of the bunch. Also, their turn-around times are impressive. And best of all, the edit for the entire manuscript came in at around $1500! (Though in fairness, I should point out that this was an edit of content, style, plot and things like that, and did not include the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. As it happens, I’m a fairly decent proofreader myself, and in order to keep costs down, I decided not to pay for that service. It’s easy to find people who can spell to help you out; not so easy to find help with the structure of a story, plot and character development, imagery, etc. That’s where I found I needed professional help.)

Editing your manuscript is one of the most important steps to making a great book, so price isn’t everything. Getting it done right is going to cost you money, no matter which route you go down. I went through a bunch of different editors, and was quoted anywhere from $800 to $5000. This isn’t the time to cheap out, but your own circumstances will dictate what you can afford. The quote for $5000 I got was from a big name in the publishing industry, a man with decades of experience behind him who has edited some of the biggest bestsellers around. It would have been great to have someone like that in my corner, but I simply don’t have that kind of money. I’m guessing lots of people don’t.

In the end, I was very happy with the service I got from pronovelediting.com. The editor really seemed to understand what I was trying to do with Scar, and the suggestions he made helped it to be a far better book than it would otherwise be. Scar is not the easiest novel to edit by any means, and $1500 was, to me, a small price to pay to make sure it was all it could be before I set it loose on an unsuspecting public…

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In the Beginning….

March 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

It’s not that I’m a complete dilettante. I’ve published before; a few short stories, here and there. I’ve won a couple of prizes for them. I even got paid for writing them, which is a big deal when you’re 22 and have been dreaming of being a writer as long as you can remember.

You’re 22 and piss-poor, but you’re happy, smiling away in your tiny basement apartment and drinking your shitty warehouse wages, because the future is yours. Everything you ever wanted is just around the next corner. All you have to do is grab it.

A few beers, a few jobs, a few stories later, and you’re 27.  Not old, for a writer; but not a kid anymore, either. Especially considering how early you started; you wrote your first novel at the age of 18. OK, so it wasn’t a good novel, but it was a novel all the same.

So it’s time to get serious. If there’s one thing your 27 years of life have taught you, it’s that nothing is ever handed to you. Nothing comes easy. Dreams are pointless unless you chase them, but they’ll never happen unless you make them.

You have another novel now, a better one. You’ve been moulding this in the dark for five years. It’s outlasted any job or relationship you’ve had. You’ve infused it with your own red life, filled its dark heart to the brim with cruelty and beauty, and now it sits brooding on your desk. At night you can almost hear it breathing, snarling.

Time to find a publisher. But before you can do that, you should probably get an agent. So you look around. You send out emails and manuscripts, first to the big guys, then to the smaller guys, then, finally, to anyone you think might take a chance on an unknown.

Mostly, you get ignored. Often, you get a formulaic response: thanks, but no thanks. Now and again, a spark of interest sends you swaggering for a while; but then the verdict comes. It’s good, it’s really good, but we just don’t see how we can sell it, especially in the current climate.

They couldn’t sell Kafka either. No one wanted to publish Lolita. Confederacy of Dunces was published too late for its unfortunate author. Most great books were rejected at least once; all great authors were rejected many times. You’re in good company.

But you have something the old masters never had. You live in a world far smaller than any they imagined, a world bounded in copper wire where you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without leaving your apartment. You live in a world where technology has robbed the old gatekeepers of their power, where anyone can be heard by everyone. You live in a world where a book you wrote in Vancouver can be ordered by someone in Australia, and printed right there. No shipping, no bulk quantities. Print on Demand. Another front in the ongoing democratisation of culture.

After rejections into the teens, I started to wonder what exactly I need a publisher for. How much did I expect them to invest in advertising a first-time novel with unconventional formatting and difficult-to-classify subject matter? What kind of changes would they ask me to make? What compromises would I be forced to suffer in order to put before the public a book I might no longer recognise as my own? And if I sold my novel’s soul to the corporations, what could I expect to get in return?

So I decided to do it for myself. All of it. This blog will follow my adventure in self-publishing, from choosing a printing service to marketing to sales and beyond. The (hopefully many) highs and the (hopefully few) lows. You’ll see me fail or succeed as it happens. Either way, it’ll be my own failures, and my own success.

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