Why Self-Publishing really can work…
…but only if you really put yourself out there.
Here’s a tale to gladden the heart of every self-published author. It is a simple tale with a moral that says, if you work at the publicity the same way you worked at the novel, you just never know where you might end up.
Barry Nugent wrote a dark urban supernatural fantasy called Fallen Heroes. He self-published it. And then he worked bloody hard at letting people know he’d done it. Read on for what happened next. It’s quite a story.
Alright then, let’s do what we have to do… who are you and what do you do for a living and for a bit of relaxation?
My name is Barry Nugent, I’m forty years old and I work as a computer programmer. It’s not exactly the most thrilling job in the world (hope my boss doesn’t read this) but it pays the bills and the people I work with are all good folks.
I would love to say I travel the world having wacky adventures but instead I settle for being a huge gamer. You will often find me wasting valuable writing time on my Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii.
I love reading comics, books as well as watching films and TV (Why do I feel like I’m filling in a form for an internet dating service?).
Assuming this isn’t internet dating for a moment, where would you place yourself as a fan in the genre?
Hmm, I don’t think I’d place myself anywhere in the genre. I love Comics, Films, TV Gaming and everything else I do all pretty equally. I have moments where all I’m doing is gaming and other times where you can’t drag me away from the latest book or comic but overall it’s pretty even across the board.
I can feel myself slipping towards the gaming side of things, at the moment, as I have a few games begging for my attention.
Though you’re a comic lover, you chose to write Fallen Heroes as a novel. Why is that? And while you’re at it, give us a quick procis of it.
Well I can write novels (at least I think I can) but I can’t get my head around writing a comic. I tried to write a screenplay of one of my stories once which is a similar format I think to writing for comics and I couldn’t get past the first two pages of script before my brain just shut down. I’ve talked to some comic writers who think writing a book is the most difficult thing in the world and how they wouldn’t attempt it. I just laugh because I’m thinking exactly the same thing about writing a comic.
Fallen Heroes is a modern day adventure tale with a heavy dose of the supernatural which, although it crosses into other genres, would stay true to its pulp roots.
The story revolves around a collection of larger than life characters who must come together to prevent the completion of a plan which has been put into effect over nine hundred years before they were born. It’s your classic globe-trotting adventure with, I hope, an interesting and diverse mix of heroes, anti-heroes and villains. There’s cliff-hangers galore, big action set-pieces and a few twists all wrapped up in one hell of an adventure. Well, you did ask the author…
You’ve done what many have done and self-published Fallen Heroes. You went down that route because…?
Well I could give you the standard response which is no one wanted to publish it but I think there was more to it than that. I made some mistakes along the way that I think hampered my chances in the first instance to find a publisher. I didn’t realise those mistakes until I had self-published the book. By self-published I mean I put the book out as a Print on Demand novel via Lulu. I read afterwards that POD isn’t considered, by some, true self-publishing and it’s more vanity publishing. To be honest I’m not to worried with either tagline as they both seem to have a stigma attached to them (although vanity published stuff definitely gets a lot more flack)
When the first draft of Fallen Heroes was finished it was over 200,000 words and I pitched it as a multi-genre novel (another bad idea as I learnt that publishers like to know exactly where a book will fit into the marketplace in terms of genre). I pitched this first draft for about a year with no luck. I received some feedback telling me that the book was way too long for a first time novel. I worked on the book over the next eighteen months and edited it down to a more manageable 130,000 words, which was probably still a little long. I heard about Print on Demand and Lulu and went straight into that avenue as I wanted to get the book out there.
I was not prepared for the negative views on Print on Demand or Self-Publishing I encountered. I really did not think it would be a problem publishing in this manner. I think my attitude came from the comics world where there didn’t seem to be anywhere near the same stigma and bad press that a self-published novel can get.
I told myself I had a choice. I could move forward or I could write-off Fallen Heroes and move onto to the next book. I chose to soldier on.
The goal I set myself was to produce a book that is if someone picked it off a shelf in, say, Waterstone’s, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and any other book on the shelf.
Looking back now I wouldn’t change anything but I think I should have tried pitching the final edit around a bit more before going the POD route.
Now 99.9% of self-published novels disappear without a trace. You were determined not to let that happen. Tell me how you want about marketing yourself and Fallen Heroes in the early days. Did you have a clear strategy?
The only strategy I knew was the fact that I had no strategy. I had no idea how to market the book. The idea of shouting from the rooftops “Buy my book, it’s great” filled me with dread. Self promotion has never been one of my strong points but I knew if I didn’t do it no one was going to sweep in and save the day.
Halfway through writing Fallen Heroes my mum, who was my world and my biggest supporter of my writing passed away. She was the one who always told me to keep going no matter what everyone else said (my partner Sue has also been fantastic in that regard). I told myself if I ever finished the book it would be dedicated to her. I had no intention of letting her down and if that meant stepping out of my comfort zone then so be it.
I knew I wanted to get the book looking as professional as possible and the best place to start was the cover. I think the first hurdle a lot of self-published authors can fall at is not having a cover that does their book justice. I was not going to make that mistake. I found a great artist and we bounced some ideas back and forth about the look and feel of the cover. I think he surpassed my own expectations on what I was after.
I picked up a book called Pod People by Jeremy Robinson to get some solid marketing advice. Jeremy was a POD author who had become very successful with his book by following some simple marketing steps which he laid out in Pod People. The book was easy to read and understand. I did everything the book suggested and it was single most important purchase of my writing career.
How much of your spare time did you give to pushing Fallen Heroes? I want to get an idea of how hard you worked on this.
Pretty much all of it, apart from some of the weekends. If I wasn’t sending out query emails or putting together a press release I was trying to dream up other ways I could push the book.
I put together an audio trailer with a few voice actors, I designed and created my own website with backgrounds on the major characters and organisations mentioned in the book to try and raise interest. I’ve got audio versions of the first two chapters on the website and I’m now working with a voice actor to produce an audio version of the entire book (we’re about halfway through now). I’ve created a special edition of the book which is only available at conventions to sell copies of the book. The special edition comes with deleted scenes with my reasons as to why I deleted them from the final version, the original sketches used to help develop the cover and a preview of the second book. I sell this version slightly cheaper than the normal version but only at conventions. I’ve always managed to sell out of these at conventions which has been great.
I have Facebook and myspace pages for the book. I have a promotional pack containing business cards, bookmarks, postcards and even a few fridge magnets.
I’ve done a few signings for Waterstone’s and sent out countless press releases and updates on the book. I’ve been in my local newspaper, been mentioned several times in the writing magazine, done a couple of radio interviews and been on a few podcasts to try and raise the book’s profile.
I contacted nearly two hundred branches of Waterstone’s and got the book into a number of shops. One of those branches is Waterstone’s flagship branch in Piccadilly which is also regarded as the largest bookshop in Europe.
Most bookshops aren’t interested in Print On Demand books so to have got it onto the shelves of a single branch was a dream come true for me. The first time I walked into Waterstone’s and saw my book sitting next to an Indiana Jones novel I was the happiest man in Northampton.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was to walk up to customers during a signing and try to talk to them about the book. I remember walking up to one guy who was looking at a particular book. I looked over his shoulder and told him he shouldn’t buy the book he was holding because it was crap.
“Is it?” the man asked. “How do you know?”
“I’m the author,” I replied.
We both laughed and then chatted for a bit about the book and he later picked up a copy. I’m sure people shopping in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section of Waterstone’s that Saturday thought I was some kind of stalker.
What you realise very quickly is that no one knows who you are and just having a sign up saying you’re there to sign copies isn’t enough. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and talk to people which can be a challenge(well it was for me). My fondest memory however was explaining to a ten year old how I became a writer and then looking up and seeing ten other people listening, most of whom bought copies. I won’t ever forget that.
No doubt you received a good number of knock-backs, give us an idea how thick your skin had to get and how hard it might have been to get on and make another call/send another email?
I remember putting the first three chapters of the book onto a website for other writers to critique each other’s work. I was nervous as this was the first time I’d put the story out there. My first review, well to say it was scathing was an understatement the guy ripped the first three chapters to pieces. My favourite part of the review was when he said I had stolen Tom Clancy’s name by calling one of my characters Clancy, which showed my lack of imagination or originality. For the record I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel though I do love the Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell games.
The review really knocked me for a while but then I realised that not everyone is going to like my writing and I needed to get used to that.
Am I good writer? I don’t know, I hope so, it’s not for me to judge. I write what I enjoy and hope people enjoy it, that’s all I can do. If I get feedback so long as the criticism is useful rather than “Fallen Heroes sucks” then I can always look at that and think “Does this person have a point and if so what can I do about it on the next book.”
When I was sending out query after query to publishers and getting the knock-backs it was hard, very hard. What I tried to do was allow myself a day of mourning where I could thrash around and then wake up the next day and go “Oh well, who’s the next one on the publisher list.” It’s not a perfect coping mechanism but it’s better than nothing.
I think being able to deal with the knock-backs is an essential part of trying to get your stuff out there.
At the end of the day nothing is going to stop me writing, except maybe World War 3 or they bring out a new Indiana Jones game on the PS3.
Did you get lucky with any of the copies you sold at book shops or conventions?
I did. Very. I always thought it would be really cool to see my book as a graphic novel but I never thought that would happen. But amazingly, the creative director of Insomnia Publications, Nic Wilkinson had picked up a copy of the book and enjoyed it. She approached me with the idea of adapting the book as a graphic novel and I jumped at it.
A graphic novel, eh? Now given your love of the genre, how did that brighten your day?
I was over the moon. The cover has a kind of graphic novel style to it but I thought that would be as close as I would ever get to it. It was definitely a dream come true for me and I can’t wait to see it finished.
But there’s been more, hasn’t there… more interest from other parties?
Yes, and I feel incredibly fortunate. I have signed an option agreement with Celtic Films (who are behind the Sharpe TV series, starring Sean Bean). They are looking at adapting the book into a TV series. It’s still very, very early days and no writer has been attached or anything but it’s still exciting times. The weird thing was that they were on the hunt for a graphic novel to adapt when they stumbled across one of the many press releases I’d put out on the book (Press releases are my best friend). They went out and picked up several copies of the book which did the rounds in the office before they contacted me about picking up the rights.
I never forget seeing that first email as it arrived on April Fool’s Day so I spent most of the day thinking it was a wind up by one of my mates. I eventually contacted Celtic and the first words out of my mouth were “This isn’t a wind-up, is it?” (as you can tell I’m ever the professional). After I realised no one was about to jump out and say “Fooled you!” I went down to London and had a meeting with the guys at Celtic. I was impressed at how well they knew the book and their passion for trying to make the adaptation work.
Soon after I was approached by Celtic Films I got an agent. I signed on with Brendan Deneen of FinePrint Literary Management. This was perfect timing for me as I had two contracts in front me and no real understanding of legal maze of clauses and terminology before me. Brendan was a greet help in helping to understand this side of things.
Right. Time to remind ourselves. This is a self-published novel. Not one pushed out by a major publishing company. Where does it go from here?
Well Brendan is trying to get the book signed with a mainstream publisher so fingers crossed on that one. Insomnia Publications have now found a writer for the comic book adaptation. The hunt is now on to find an artist for the project. I can’t say too much on the TV adaptation other than Celtic are working on the project and I’ll be giving out more information as soon as I know anything concrete.
How long from your first email to Waterstones to the signing of the option agreement with Celtic Films?
Just over two years (I still have the original email I sent). I can’t believe I’ve been doing nothing but marketing the book for two years now but as someone said to me: marketing a book, especially a self published one, never really ends.
So… ever thought it could go like this, even in your wildest dreams?
No, not in my wildest dreams.
And just exactly how good does life seem right now?
My one dream from when I first started writing back when I was eleven was to walk into a bookshop and see my book sitting on a shelf. Here I am now twenty nine years later with copies of my book in the largest bookshop in Europe. I’ve done book signings, I have a graphic novel on the way and a possible TV series in the works.
In short life is bloody good at the moment.
Copyright 2009 James Barclay