Category Archives: Sinead MacDughlas

Sifting Out The Truth – Famous Self-Published Authors

I’m late.

This post was due a few days ago, but I ran into some trouble, researching the piece. As an Indie author, sometimes overwhelmed by the three P’s of authorship (Production, Publication and Promotion),  I intended to offer my fellow Indies a motivational article validating their choice to self-publish. However, researching via internet tends to be a bit like panning for gold. You pick a random plot of land, go to work, and pray you don’t come up with Iron Pyrite.

This article was more like trying to separate sugar from salt, with a flour sifter. I’m still not sure whether it was more difficult to verify the real self-published authors, or debunk the myths.  Half of the sites I found seemed to be bent on burying any hint of self-publication, the other half were screaming it to the world, and declaring each author a self-publishing genius.  I tend to follow the Joseph Addison school of thought, “There are three sides to every story — your side, my side, and the right side.” (as printed in The London Spectator, 1711)  Two more days of digging brought me to a more balanced conclusion…

True or False?

James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophecy

True – Redfield did self-publish in 1992. He gave away nearly 1500 copies of his book, sparking a word-of-mouth campaign, which eventually brought the novel to the attention of Warner Books. Published by Warner in March of 1994, the book quickly climbed to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Beatrix Potter self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Well… – Potter submitted to six traditional publishers, all of which rejected her. The rejections were, apparently, based on the lack of colour illustrations, so Potter added illustrations and self-published 250 copies of the book. She then resubmitted the illustrated manuscript to a commercial publisher. I could find no evidence to suggest what Potter did with the original 250 copies.  I leave it to you to decide whether this should be counted as a self-publishing success story.

Mark Twain self-published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

True, but – Twain had already established his literary legacy with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County, his fiction-debut short story that just missed a deadline for inclusion in an anthology. The story was published in The Saturday Press instead, gaining him national attention. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Prince and The Pauper also preceded Huckleberry Finn. So Twain’s success with the book can be largely attributed to the fact that he already had a broad reader base.

Christopher Paolini self-published Eragon

True – Paolini’s debut novel was published by Paolini International. Now, that would lead you to believe Christopher created his own publishing company in order to lend his self-published novel an air of traditional legitimacy. No, the traditional enthusiasts insist, Paolini International was founded by Christopher’s parents, Kenneth and Talita, in 1997, and had been in business for five years before Eragon made print. Their son began writing in 1998 and Eragon was published in 2002. On the other hand, Paolini International had only published two books, (that I could find), prior to Eragon. Both of these books were non-fiction treatises on modern cults. Kenneth and Talita authored one of the books, and wrote the foreward and afterward for the other. With only these three books available from Paolini International, I think we can conclude that Eragon really was, essentially, a self-published debut that became a resounding success.

Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol

True, but – Like Mark Twain, Dickens had already established a readership, as a traditionally published author, before he chose to self-publish A Christmas Carol. As far as how successful the venture was: financially it ended up being a dud for Dickens. Part of that was his own fault. Dickens insisted the book be produced with a gold stamped cover, and full colour illustrations. He set the price low, so it could be affordable to nearly everyone. Though the book was popular, and sold well, the costs nearly outweighed any profits. After the book was published it was pirated mercilessly. Dickens ended up spending more money fighting the piracy, than he made from the book.

L. Frank Baum self-published

Misleading – L. Frank Baum’s Oz books were published by the George M. Hill company. The only books of Baum’s I could confirm as self-published are Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealer’s Directory (1873) and The Book of the Hamburgs (poultry guide, 1886).  I highly doubt either of those had anything to do with his success as an author of fiction, but again, I leave it to you to decide.

J.K. Rowling self-published

False, but true now – Rowling was turned down by twelve large publishers. Her manuscript was finally accepted by Bloomsbury Publishing. Yes, Bloomsbury calls itself an independent publisher. However, the process seems remarkably similar to traditional publishing, and its site offers no explanation of what it means by “independent”.
Rowling did reclaim control of her publications in 2011, and now produces them herself. Her publisher has become more like her printer, and she continues to use the marketing and promotions services of the major publishing companies, for which she pays them.

Stephen King self-published

Technically true, but also misleading – Stephen King, his brother, David, and best friend, Chris Chesley established a small press called Triad and Gaslight Books, in 1963. This small press published a collection of King’s short stories, and a two part book. However, King did not find success as an author until Carrie was purchased by Doubleday in 1973. King says, in an interview, that he followed the traditional publishing process and “got the usual rejection slips”, until Carrie was picked up. There is no indication that King’s self-published work had anything to do with his later success, as a novelist.

James Joyce self-published Ulysses

True, but  – Joyce was an established, traditionally published poet, and author, when he self-published Ulysses. He’d begun serializing the story in Ezra Pound’s The Little Review, but obscenity laws put a stop to it. To get around the laws, he self-published the book and sold it privately. The real success of Ulysses didn’t come until much later.

John Grisham self-published A Time To Kill

False – Grisham’s words on the subject: ““Wynwood Press was a new, small unknown publishing company in New York in 1989. “Everybody else had passed on A Time to Kill, Wynwood Press took the gamble. Printed 5,000 hardback copies, and we couldn’t give them away. Wynwood later went bankrupt, or out of business.” Grisham ended up buying the unsold stock, which he then sold on his own. It wasn’t until The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client made the best seller lists, that Doubleday picked up the rights to A Time To Kill, and began producing the next run.

Edgar Allan Poe self-published

True – Poe certainly did self-publish much of his early work. He is often held up as a shining example, by vanity publishers, as a self-publishing success story. However, Poe didn’t receive literary recognition until The Raven was published in The New York Evening Mirror, in 1945. He never achieved financial success, though he did scrape out a living strictly as a writer, and is cited as one of the first popular American writers to do so.

Margaret Atwood self-published

True – Margaret Atwood self-published her first book at the age of 22. The book, Double Persephone, was hand set on a flatbed press and went on to win the E.J. Pratt medal for poetry, a Canadian honour awarded by the University of Toronto. Her second self-published book of poetry The Circle Game, earned her the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1966, a national honour. Since then Atwood has written 35 books, (20 of them novels), and has been given 55 awards, and 12 honorary degrees.

I chose to finish with Margaret Atwood for three reasons: 1) Her’s is one of the few true success stories I found, other than Amanda Hawking’s.  Hawking’s success is well-known, and well-documented, so I chose to leave it out.  2) I’m a fan, and she makes me proud to call myself a Canadian author. And 3) Atwood said something, during a keynote-speech question-and-answer session, that sums up what I’ve concluded from my research for this post…

When asked how she felt about “a world that allows for self-publishing”, and if she worried if the quality of literary output would become “questionable”, Ms. Atwood responded, “The quality of literary output has always been questionable. People forget that.”  Later she said, “The problem always is, and… it’s a huge problem for a self-published author, how do you get anybody to even know about your book, let alone read it.”

The publishing world is changing daily. The old ways are no longer the only ways. Success, however, is going to require more than dreams, hopes and luck.  To succeed as an Indie author today, you need to be tenacious, hardworking, studious, and flexible. And you need to find, and connect with, your readers.

There are many more examples of writers who are proclaimed self-publishing successes, and are not. There are also many successful Indie authors we haven’t covered here. I won’t try to claim this as a complete list, by any means, but I think it is a realistic sampling of the history of self-publication. Let’s see what we can make of the future.

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The Unscheduled Stops – Release Day

I’ve made it to Release Day!  The Unscheduled Stops anthology is now available for download on Smashwords.  The e-book is free until Dec. 31, 2011.

View the video trailer on Youtube – The Unscheduled Stops – Trailer.

Take a look at the webpage

How would you like to win an 11X17 photographic print of the original, untitled, wrap-around cover design, signed by artist Dave J. Ford and myself?  Here’s how you do it…

This is a writing challenge.  In less than 350 words, introduce a character to me by describing ONLY their hands.  Writers will often give descriptions of a character’s body or facial structure.  We nearly always describe their eyes, but rarely have I seen a characters hands mentioned or decribed.  Place your entry in the comments below until December 5, 2011.  I will then post the entries on my fanpage for two days.  My fans will chose the winner by “liking” the entries. The entry with the most likes by midnight on December 7th (E.S.T.), will win the print.  Good Luck!! (If you’d like to see a copy of the print, you can view it HERE.

Now, back to the book.  The anthology is 5 pieces of poetry/prose and six short stories. Here is a breakdown of the short stories:

Daisy’s Love at War – 2892 words
An 84 year old widow living with dementia, Daisy Patterson struggles with reality, fantasy and memory.  She was a war-bride and a writer in her youth.  One of her caregivers is about to discover there’s more to Daisy than anyone thought.

No Cookies Today – 720 words
An errand, a bag of cookies and a temper tantrum; the things that can change our perspective can be so unusual.

Thief’s Moon – 2608 words (erotic-romance)
A cat burglar and a lawyer with a shared past.  Love and passion can change everything.

Chance – 1300 words
Even when your heart is brittle, sometimes love is worth the risk.

A Startling Character – 981 words
A writer goes to a cafe to find a subject for a character study, but who is studying who?

Moving On – 1224 words
The end of a marriage is painful. What comes after is even harder.

I hope you enjoy your journey to The Unscheduled Stops with me.

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On The Edge

My anthology, The Unscheduled Stops, is complete. I’ve proofread, edited, formatted and prepared the manuscript. The copyright has been granted and an ISBN number and cover are in process.  Sitting on the edge of self-publication feels a bit like my experiences with sledding as a child.

I’m excited and scared half to death.  The sled is safe…I think.  I really don’t know anything about the structural composition of toboggans, but I’ve checked to make sure it’s sturdy.  The hill is safe…I think.  There are lots of tracks, proof of the others who’ve made it down the hill before me. Even though I’ve lugged my sled all the way up the hill, there’s no way I could have spotted every possible glitch in the path I’ll take.  I have no idea how I’m going to steer this thing or stay the course. There’s only one thing I am sure of; sooner or later, I have to decide whether to throw caution to the wind and push off.

The analogy may be a little off.  As a child, I still had some sense of near-invincibility.  When I was young I didn’t worry about swerving off the trail and slamming into a tree.  I was gloriously unconcerned at the possibility of flipping over, or crashing into something.  The idea of wrecking my sled or breaking a bone never occurred to me.

Now I’m old enough to know I’m far from invincible. Just publishing my work does not make me a successful author.  The pitfalls loom before me.  Readers may not find my writing appealing.  Bad reviews could send me spinning out of control. My marketing plan may not be sound. There are so many things that could bring my potential writing career to a tragic end.  I’ll never know if I don’t try.

My novel manuscript sits on my desktop; complete and ready for beta-reading.  It waits, on queue, for the same plunge into the world of publication.  It’s a bit like the kid who hangs back on the toboggan hill, waiting to see if everyone else makes it down in one piece.

I’m still nervous, but I know I’m holding up the line. So many people have supported me, encouraged me and assisted me in my projects. If I don’t go for it, I’m letting them all down. Worse, I’d be letting myself down. Can I really come this far and then let all these little fears stop me from finishing the journey?

It’s time to make the decision: either push off, or turn around and run away. Hang on tight.  It’s going to be a hell of a ride.  One, two…two and a half…two and three quarters…GO!

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