Welcome aboard the Coffee2Words blog, Henry Martin.
Henry is a self-published author of five works. Including, Coffee, Cigarettes and Murderous Thoughts, that I read and reviewed.
Henry agreed to write a guest post for my blog when I asked him. I left the topic up to him and here’s what he came up with…
The one question I get asked most often is: Why did you decide to self-publish?
There are many, many reasons, but it all really boils down to what technology is available to authors today.
I had entered the world of publishing around 2005, shortly after I completed my first book, Escaping Barcelona. Full of optimism that my work was surely to be desired by all publishers, I bought a copy of The Writers’ Market, and started typing query letters. I soon came to realize that there are not many agents and publishers that are interested in literary fiction, and of those that are, even fewer number are interested in the more serious stories.
Yes, I was too optimistic. As my query letters came back, one by one, I started compiling the rejections, first from the few publishers I could approach directly, then from an ever-growing list of agents and small presses. I spent about two years submitting my work, slowly making my way down from the most desirable publishing house, to the least desirable agent. 99.9% of them replied with a form letter without stating any reason for their rejection. Of those who cared enough to reject me with a personal note, one agent’s response stuck out: “The author seems unable to write a single cohesive sentence.” I had reached an all-time low.
To put things in perspective, I did not write my first book in one sitting; actually, it took me almost two years to get it to where I wanted it to be. From the initial draft through countless edits and rewrites, the story kept changing shape. And then, when it was finally done, I ran headfirst into a wall of gatekeepers.
To this day, I’m not even sure whether my query letters were actually read, or whether some underpaid intern just took a cursory glance at the first sentence and discarded them. Nevertheless, to be completely honest, I was never good at writing one paragraph synopsis and an enticing pitch. I had always struggled with distilling a multifaceted story into a one-liner.
Then, one day, I came across a small press whose owner was as excited about my book as I was. We signed some contracts, exchanged thousands of emails, edited the book yet again, and set to work. He—on the book itself. Me—on writing the next one. It was going to be great.
A year later, when I was just about done with the first draft of the entire trilogy, Escaping Barcelona was about to be released. I was excited. And then the bad news came. The press faced the possibility of closing its doors.
Being naive, I pushed on, working with the owner to release the book as scheduled. In retrospect, this was a mistake.
Shortly after Escaping Barcelona’s release, the press closed its doors. In the mean time, however, the reviews started coming in, and they were rather good. The reviewers received the book better than I had anticipated. Yet all that meant nothing if my work was not available for purchase.
Well, I eventually got my rights back, and, in the mean time, I continued working on the rest of the trilogy, simultaneously querying agents and publishers again. “This time it’s going to easier,” I said to myself. Why did I think that? Well, for one, a publisher was already willing to put his name on it; two, there were now several amazing reviews from established reviewers. And that’s when I slammed into the wall again.
The first ‘personal’ response I received back clearly stated that, unless the first edition sold a million copies, the publisher was not interested in a second edition of the same work. It did not take long to receive a bunch of responses stating pretty much the same. Being naive—or, perhaps, refusing to recognize the truth—I submitted a few queries for my second book, Finding Eivissa. Once again the ‘personal’ responses stated that there was no interest in a second book of a trilogy unless the first one was a bestseller.
Discouraged and pretty much annoyed with the publishing industry in general, I stopped querying altogether. Instead, I set back to work, determined to finish the third book.
Working on the third book, I finally found a voice for the protagonist, Rudy, that I was happy with. I mean, absolutely happy. Over the course of the three books his voice had matured, and materialized in a way I could be proud of. So, full of newly found confidence, I decided to revisit the first two books, and I embarked on a fairly significant rewrite.
All in all, almost six years had passed from the initial draft of the first story, to the final completion of the entire trilogy. I had some great help along the way, whether it was a very special lady who gave me a kick in the butt when I started slacking, or the beta readers who read my books and provided me with their honest feedback—I must say that, through my writing, I was fortunate to meet many great people.
Of course, by the time it was all ready for a new round of submissions, the market was completely different than what it was the first time around. Publishers were cutting budgets, betting on their established moneymakers instead of new authors, and the entire publishing industry was trying to make some sense of the ebook revolution. Companies such as Amazon, B&N, and Apple were suddenly allowing authors to upload their content directly to their sales channels.
Here, I must admit that I was quite hesitant to enter the world of self-publishing. It might have never happened were it not for the special lady I mentioned earlier, who gave me yet another kick in the butt and sent me on my way. I uploaded my files to a distribution site and to Amazon, and the rest is history.
I realize that a lot of readers sneer at self-published titles. Trust me, over the years I came across my fair share of unedited, poorly written examples of what should not be published. There are, nevertheless, many self-published authors who take their work seriously. Two of my recent reads were self-published novels, and I must say that I was impressed by the quality of the writing.
As for me, I’m thankful for the readers who gave me a chance. I realize that literary fiction is a tough sale—most commercially successful books are genre works—and my expectations are well grounded. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to share my words.
In my experience, the two best aspects of self-publishing are the total control over the finished product, and the ability to remain “approachable” to readers who wish to reach out to authors. While many authors choose not to interact with readers for fear of being looked upon as self-promoting, I have had many meaningful exchanges with readers who decided to contact me on their own.
Thanks Henry for writing that great post about your experiences with self-publishing and for allowing me to read your amazing book. I’m looking forward to delving into your other works too.
You can get in touch with Henry or check out his work on the below links:
Twitter : https://twitter.com/MadDaysofMe