“Authors today need a publisher about as much as they need a tapeworm in their gut.” So why is it that the prospect of self publication, on top of the already daunting prospect of writing a piece that could be accessed by the world, seem such a distant goal to some?
Self publication is more accessible than ever in an increasingly digitised world, and helping writers understand that it is a realistic method of publication is integral to furthering the exposure of many works that might otherwise go unpublished.
Rob Enright is an author whose debut novel One By One was self published on Amazon in March 2015, receiving critical acclaim and a nomination for Go Social Book Of The Year 2015. I spoke to him about his experience of self publication, his influences, writing process and upcoming work…
Were there any notable pitfalls of self publication, or was there a kind of liberation associated with a DIY attitude?
It’s a double edged sword, I won’t lie. There is a real satisfaction in getting everything in place, making contacts with reviewers, authors, readers etc. The whole process of designing the front cover, the tag lines, the promotional banners – it was all brilliant and so much fun. To this day, I am linking and connecting with new authors and readers and it is so brilliant to know I have done that all on a DIY attitude (admittedly have had help with graphics etc).
The downside is the pain of editing. The mind-numbing job of fine tooth combing your work for errors and correcting them. To self publish on Kindle, you need to have your book formatted correctly, otherwise it will look a mess and to be honest, Amazon do very little to help you in that regard. I downloaded a couple of free books on my Kindle that gives you step by step guides on how to format your work so it meets the required specifications. It was a LONG process.
The other pitfall of self publication is the crushing realisation that everyone is doing it. I believe that One by One is a great book, but when it is swimming in a sea of millions of other self published books, all of varying quality, it can drown slightly. It is difficult to stand out and there are many places willing to take your money with the idea of exploiting it so that they can make your writing dreams come true. I had my fingers burnt from one such company and then decided to promote my book the old fashioned way – by simply talking about it.
Was it hard to gauge how successful the novel was going to be before you self-published it?
I honestly had no idea. I set out with one goal: to have someone I didn’t know to give it a five star rating. That was all I wanted to achieve. That would tell me that I am good enough to pursue being a writer and One by One has exceeded all of my expectations. I got a five star review from the first reviewer I contacted (Crime Book Club) and since then have just welcomed all feedback (mostly positive but you get the odd constructive piece which is just as valuable).
Did you have anyone critically reading your work as it was being produced, much like a publisher would?
I had a number of people reading it bit by bit, and then 2 of my closest friends went through it with a red pen and did their best to crush me! Only kidding. But they went through every single sentence, every word and every letter. I couldn’t have put the book out without their help and I would implore anyone looking to self-publish to really invest time and effort in getting the mistakes ironed out. It makes a big difference!
Do you take a particular approach to your writing, such as working out in advance important plot points, or do you just let your inner-nerd flourish?
I make a structured ‘S’ plan before I start. Draw an S on a sheet and you have your start and end points. Then you just line off the ‘S’ with points and it soon flows together. Once I have that down I broke it up into chapters, writing out bullet points for each one to structure how and where things happen. I also make notes of all characteristics of characters such as age, hair colour, siblings etc. It made it a lot easier than trying to jump back through the book to recall what colour someone’s hair was or how old I said they were!
But when it came to writing the actual book, I would say at least 25% of what is in the finished book was written on the spot. Some of the twists and scenes were not even conceived until I was actually on that page. The same with my new book – I have a whole synopsis and a notebook full of character profiles. But scenes and characters are just appearing as I am writing. It’s great fun!
Do you base your characters on real people, or choose to work on their personalities completely as a product of your own imagination?
That is tricky. Lucas Cole, the protagonist of One by One, is a purely fictional creation. I don’t know many hunky, action hero types! But more in my current book, Bermuda, do I have characters based on people I know, with similar names or character traits and I also have a few characters whose opinions on certain matters are either my own or those of people I know.
It is tricky to strike the right balance and as my work is purely fiction with the intent of writing enjoyable stories as opposed to hiding a message, I try to make the characters as fictional as possible.
(This might be a question you’ve heard plenty of times) – What was the inspiration for your first novel One By One? Were you an avid fan of crime fiction before you began writing it?
I wouldn’t actually say an avid fan of crime fiction, just more a fan of fiction. I love a great story or a compelling character, be it crime, sci-fi, horror. I feel if the storyline or the interaction between characters can draw you in enough, then it is worth all the time you spend with it.
My main inspiration to do One by One was that I wanted to do a revenge story where the hero was on par with the villains he was going after. It was heavily influenced by 2 of my favourite films – Man on Fire and The Crow, both of them relaying a story of revenge in different ways. I wanted to do something similar and I think that was what inspired me. The thought of doing a well known story but with my own spin on it.
With 2016 set to see the release of Doorways which I understand is to be the first of a series of sci-fi novels, I’m interested to know what made you move away from further work on crime fiction, considering that One by One was nominated for an award.
I was asked the exact same question by my publisher. To be honest, there is no set reason. I can safely admit that I am a geek. Have always been into my films, my sci-fi, my games etc. A number of my ideas have derived in this type of genre (the first idea I ever had was a comic series based on the Grim Reaper caught in the middle of a battle between heaven and hell). I think I just let the idea’s in my head grow and one of them spoke louder than any other and that was Bermuda.
Bermuda itself started as much more of a crime story yet as the idea grew, it became entrenched more in sci-fi and horror and the genre shifted. I decided to just run with it and it seems, what with it being picked up quite quickly by a publisher, to have been the correct decision. I always told myself I would write what I want to write and I am glad I have stuck to that notion.
What would be the most important piece of advice you would give to somebody looking to self publicise their work?
There is no formula. Stay away from the people who tell you the top marketing tips, sell their reviews or space on their websites. It is all exploitation. The only thing I can say is that the only person you need to believe in is yourself. If you love the idea, can believe in it and live and breath it, then get it out there. People will support you, no matter if they hate the genre or don’t even like to read.
But be prepared to work hard. It will not happen overnight. It took me a year to write One by One. Before that, it took me ten years to get confident enough, practice and come up with the idea. If you really want to be a writer and you are going to self publish, then I will tell you now, you will never work harder but you will never be happier!
Rob’s new sci-fi book Doorways, will be available in 2016 under Urbane Publications.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @renright_author
Article and interview by Matthew Gannon