Writing that guest post for Author! Author! on my thoughts about self-publishing got me thinking about the experience and something I didn’t address in that post: how I came to the decision to go the self-publishing route with my first novel, A Place Without a Postcard.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s how I got there.
I’ve been asked many times why I self-published Postcard back in 2003. Rejected by every agent and publisher in the land? Nope.
It had more to do with my own entrepreneurial streak and maybe some inspiration from the indie films and punk rock albums I’ve always loved. A Place Without a Postcard is about neither of those things, but its journey is related.
It started as a screenplay for an indie film I imagined I’d someday make with a bunch of friends and a stack of credit cards. I never did that, but a few years crewing films taught me my talents, temperament and passions lay with the pen. Well, okay, the word processor, but that doesn’t quite have the proper poetic ring to it, does it?
I submitted it as my writing sample to the graduate screenwriting program at The University of Texas at Austin. I got in and it even won me a James Michener Fellowship from the Texas Center for Writers.
Not bad for a quirky story that straddles the worlds of science fiction, mystery and modern myth.
In grad school, I wrote a number of scripts and work-shopped Postcard in a revisions class. Somewhere in grad school, though, A Place Without a Postcard became a story that needed to be a novel and so after I graduated, the screenplay became notes. Because the protagonist is blind through much of the story, I wrote most of it without any visual descriptions. The experience taught me a lot about how we hear and smell the world, and in the end I had a solid manuscript.
By 2002, and after many rounds of revisions, I noticed new things in the publishing world. Print on demand (POD) technology was going to change everything (and I suspect it still will change a lot by reducing the inherent risks of large print runs) by democratizing publishing. POD only required minimal resources and a firm belief in one’s vision. My friends in bands were recording their own CDs. Filmmakers were making and releasing their own films. All without anyone’s permission. Could POD be the key to allowing publishing to go DIY like music and film?
I learned about xlibris and iUniverse, the two main self-publishing POD companies at the time*, and liked what I saw. Their services weren’t bankrupt-you expensive—they were much cheaper then—because only books purchased would be printed, a fact that also appealed to the tree-hugger in me.
In December of 2002, I made my decision and decided to trust myself. In January, my book was available on the iUniverse website and within a month, it was available through Barnes & Noble online, Amazon, Book People and Powell’s (though with weirdly mis-colored cover art on those 2 sites) as well as most other online booksellers.
Then the selling work commenced. I got interviews in a couple of local papers, a review here and there, did a radio interview, a reading and signing, and even got a small indie bookseller to stock it. I sold more copies that I expected and even made my money back, which they say is hard for a self-pubbed author to do. I met a lot of people and learned more than I could have imagined.
In all, it’s a decision I’ve been happy with.
*If I were to do it again, I’d look at createspace and lulu and the many other options out there now.