In the seven-plus years since my first book came out, it has sold dozens of copies!
I published it myself, getting a referral from a colleague who had recently done the same — editing the final manuscript myself, hiring a designer for the cover and interior, acquiring reviews, entering contests, placing ads, taming social media, blasting emails, etc. In a nutshell — I made many decisions, all by myself, as a complete rookie.
The results were mixed. That first book, called Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil, consists of 18 true stories of my work and travels on six continents, during my decades as a professional cinematographer. Some of the stories had been published before, won travel writing awards, and garnered praise from reviewers, family, and friends. I sold copies to everyone I knew — and I knew a lot of people — but that wasn’t enough to get Showdown noticed, on any scale larger than a thimble.
I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do that again with my second book, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale — my debut novel, a fine sci-fi blend with notes of history, baseball saga, and action thriller. Wouldn’t fiction be easier to market than the memoir of a traveling camera guy?
My dad was the author of over 30 published books on the outdoors, hobbies, and crafts, all published by mainstream imprints back in the day. When my mom heard I was writing a book, she admonished me to get an agent. “Pop just accepted whatever deal the publishers offered him,” she said. “I’m sure he would have done much better if he’d had an agent.”
Her words rang in my ears as I worked on Finding George. When I had a “final” draft (the first of many), I began looking for literary representation, sending query letters and sample pages to two dozen agents I had found in online listings. Only a couple wrote back with polite, standard rejection language (“not quite right for us …”). From the rest — crickets.
I went back to work on another draft and later queried another 20-30 agents. After several years of this, several more final drafts, and lots more crickets, the pandemic hit, and life, including my work on George, seemed to grind to a halt. Months later, while casting about for a creative outlet, I consulted a good friend who works in the publishing business, to find out if anyone was still publishing books. The conversation went something like this:
“I’m fed up with querying agents, who rarely write back and don’t seem at all interested. Would it make sense for me to abandon that approach and, instead, start approaching independent publishing houses directly?”
“Why? How many agents have you written to?”
“Over 100. Actually, over 120.”
“And how many have asked to see the full manuscript?”
“Oh. Well, Bill, there’s a fine line between persistence and delusion.”
Persistence and Delusion
“Have you considered self publishing? I know you did it with your first book, but it’s even easier now. Even if you find an agent or a publisher and sign a deal tomorrow, it will be at least a year or two before you’ll actually see the book. If you self-pub, you can have a book in your hand in a month.”
It turned out to be good advice, though it took about two months from that moment for me to hold a proof copy of my novel. One thing I was sure of: I didn’t want to embark on this new journey alone.
The day after learning of the persistence-delusion continuum, I saw a post on social media from a multi-talented friend, an author named Matthew Félix, detailing his work with other writers, helping them get their books published.
I hired him immediately. For a fee based on my page count, he did a careful, nitpicky line edit of my manuscript, checking punctuation, grammar, spelling, usage, understandability, characterization, and plot flow. For a separate flat fee, he designed the cover and interior of the book and handled all the details of getting Finding Georgefinished, published in paperback and e-book versions, and available from Amazon and all independent booksellers. For an hourly rate, he has been advising me on marketing, including setting up and moderating author events on Zoom, advertising, social media, promotions, contests, and email blasts.
Slow But Steady
It’s been a great ride. My book is selling slowly but steadily, though it’s not (yet) a New York Times bestseller. I shudder to think of all the time I wasted over the past few years in my search for an agent and legitimacy in the world of traditional publishing. I am fortunate to have the resources to be able to do this.
My advice to other authors: think about where you fall on the scale between persistence and delusion. Open your eyes to the possibility of independent (self) publishing. If you can afford to do so, hire someone to help, someone who has been through it numerous times and can give you sage advice, based on real experience. Holding my own book in my hands for the first time was richly rewarding, and getting it out in the world has been a source of great joy for me over the past few months, as we have continued to shelter in place.
One reader on Amazon called Finding George Washington “a great anti-Covid mental vaccine.” Music to my ears!