Monday, 1 October 2012

Doing it on your own - self publish?

So in this post I interview two self-published authors with a view to gaining some insights into the whole self-publishing ... thing. I plan to do a couple more such interviews with some small-press authors and some who straddle self-pub/small press/large press. (Interviewees already selected).

I noticed both these guys along the way as I've been delving into goodreads, twitter, facebook and the like over the past two years or so. With Ben Galley it was his book cover that first caught my eye - a really eye-catching piece of art that any big publisher would be happy to put on one of their works I should think. Ben seems to be doing well for himself and when Peter Brett, Myke Cole and I were hunting our own books in one of London's flagship Waterstones recently it was a copy of Ben's first book that I spotted on the shelf first before I found mine! With Terry Simpson I can't quite pin down how I became aware of his existence, somehow he permeated into my awareness and I've kept an eye on him since ... hopefully that doesn't sound as creepy as it looks.

Anyhow - the 'how I know of them' precis above is fairly crucial to the whole blog post since when you're self-published you live and die by 'how people know of you'. This is also true of authors with big international publishers, but the crucial difference is that with the self-published author it's _all_ down to them. Somehow they have to get noticed, get their books out there, get their name out there, and all without coming off as obnoxiously self-promoting. It's a fine balance to strike and for me Ben and Terry seem to have hit it just right. It's also a hell of a lot of work!

I should point out here that I've not read Ben or Terry's books. They could be great. They could be awful. That's not the point here. I'm really just trying to shine a light across the whole business of self-publishing and to get a feel for what takes people there.

In addition, I just felt like giving the guys a chance to dance on the very small stage that is my blog. They're both nice fellows who work hard and if I get them an additional reader each ... great! I've watched them battle through a whole bunch of crap I don't have to deal with and this is my round of applause.

I've given them both the same interview and it's interesting to see the similarities and the differences between their answers.

Ben Galley
Ben's a British author, 25 years old, most recently described as a 'bar lackey' but now writing for food (see sign!) Check him out at

Terry Simpson
Hey, Mark. Thanks for having me. I’m 40. Why does that sound so old when I read it? I’m originally from the beautiful island of Barbados in the Caribbean, and currently live in New York. When it comes to a job, writing is all I do. I retired from my old job as a telephone technician a few years ago to chase this dream. You can find pretty much everything about me and my books as well as my other ramblings over at

1. Score out of ten the following reason you write (10 = nail on head, 1 = no part of me has ever even thought this). You may qualify your numerical response with a tweet length text addition if you so desire.

-I hope to become rich

[BEN] (5) - Not the reason I write, but I suppose a great way to quantify a certain level of success.

[TERRY] (3) - Hoping to become rich off my writing is like wishing I could win the lotto. Possible but not likely.

-I would not be happy knowing only a couple of people ever read my stories

[BEN] (10) -

[TERRY] (10) – I want the world to read my stories. I want everyone to experience this dream, this madness that resides in my head.

-To stay sane

[BEN] (8) - My ideas hold me hostage. I can’t concentrate if I don’t get them out of my head and onto a keyboard. The doctors tell me it’s not a real condition…

[TERRY] (10) – I have nightmares about most of the stuff I write. I talk to myself. I act out my characters. If you see me running down the street with a sword, don’t be scared, I’m imagining what it’s like to be some great warrior. If the sword is red? Be afraid, very afraid.

-To have people tell me how well I do it and how wonderful I am

 [BEN] (2) -

 [TERRY] (1) - Do reviews matter? Yes. They make me feel good, but they don’t drive what I do.


[BEN] (5) - Not the primary reason, but a good one nonetheless. After all, I write fantasy. Fantasy means conventions. Conventions mean cosplay. I rest my case.

[TERRY] (1) - Lol. Riches and hot girls too. Every man’s dream. And then I woke up.

-To prove wrong somebody/bodies who said I wouldn't succeed

[BEN] (8) - I’ve been raised to think writing is a “nice hobby” and nothing more. There’s nothing like a bit of rebellion to spur you on. This also relates to the first point; hobbies apparently don’t pay the bills…

[TERRY] (1) - I’ve long outgrown the need to prove myself.

2. You've opted to self-publish. Did you ever try to have a publisher do it for you? Are you still trying? How much success are you finding?

[BEN] I considered following the traditional path very briefly when starting my debut The Written, but the more I researched the self-publishing path, and compared the pros and cons of both, the more I realised it suited me and my goals. It still does. I like the agility, control, and freedom it gave me, as well as the long-tail format. I’m not one of these authors that call for the downfall of the publishing house; I respect and admire what they do, and would always explore any offer that they made to me, I’m just not actively searching for one. Nor do I see myself in the near future.

[TERRY] No, I never tried. I considered it at first but being a geek, I followed the potential of the digital age. After reading Konrath and hanging around on Andrew Burt’s, I decided remaining independent was the way to go. Will I one day try a traditional publisher? I won’t rule it out, but somewhere in that deal would have to include my ability to publish independently as well. I like freedom. As for success, it’s been a tough road. In this business, you must persevere and if you come into it expecting to be a bestseller, then expect to be disappointed.

3. How much hard work is self publishing? What fraction or multiple of the time you spend writing do you spend on the business of self publishing and self promotion (beyond what a traditionally published author might)?

[BEN] Much indeed. At the moment, I split my time about 60% writing to 40% of marketing, business, and what I lovingly refer to as “admin.” Surprisingly, the 40% isn’t a pain, or a distraction, as it’s taught me a lot and can at times be equally rewarding.

[TERRY] Anything you do is hard work. You get out as much effort as you put in. I spend several hours a day (anywhere from 6 to 8 or more) on writing. I spend two to three hours on business and self promotion. I teach myself much of what I need, from formatting to publishing to print etc. I would say in the last few years, I have learned quite a bit. Website building, cartography, creating ebooks using html, Indesign, Photoshop, and a host of other things. I hire a freelance editor and cover artists for my books to make sure I put out a quality product. That to me is of the utmost importance.

4. It seems signal-to-noise is the big hurdle for self-published authors. There's an incredible amount of stuff out there and readers have few signposts to the best of it. Potential readers and book bloggers who may never have read a self-published book will read this - you can write two short paragraphs to convince them your book's the self-published work they should experiment with _or_ you can have three paragraphs from your book here to do the talking for you. Which do you choose? Please supply the material.

[BEN] I choose the latter :)

“Had Krauslung been a colour, it would have been red. A deep, blood-crimson, thick with rusty iron and steel and cobblestone. Red, though not by choice. The city seethed with it, dripped with it, swirled and mixed it with the briny bilge sloshing around the inside of the ship that squatted low in the harbour.

For now, the city was silent. Night had fallen. Everybody waited. The bells had been silenced with cloth. Rats gnawed at the corpses that had been cast aside or left behind. Only the seagulls dared make a noise. They gathered on the rooftops, cackling like the witches of a fairytale.

Beneath the streets, in the cellars and sewers, fists clenched and hot tears met cold cobble. Everybody waited, and the city teetered and hovered on a knife’s edge. It would be a day Emaneska would never forget.”

From Pale Kings - Book 2 of the Emaneska Series.

[TERRY]  From Book 2 of Aegis of The Gods series, entitled Ashes and Blood.

Cloak hanging limp from his shoulders, Ancel Dorn stopped where crimson tinged the white fluff near the trap. A drop here, a drop there, before they increased in regularity. The spots became spatters and then lines of red meandering to the distant tree line where snow dressed the forest in white as if preparing it for the long slumber. A satisfied smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

For him, the hunt always brought a certain sensation, a soothing calm to go along with the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. The promise of a kill, however, now that offered a different story and sang the opposite song; a song that sent a tingle through his body.

After another bout with nightmares that seemed all too real, dawn found him here in the Greenleaf Woods where winter’s chill strengthened its grip. Although no gusts yet howled through the trees whose skeletal limbs reached to the curdled sky, the temperature made him glad he’d chosen to don furs over his leather armor. He listened, hoping for the tell tale crunch of feet through snow, but he heard nothing, not even the twittering of birds. The air was expectant, an indrawn breath waiting for release or for the last gasp of a dying man.

5. The first great book, poem, and album that pop into your head?
[BEN] American Gods (Neil Gaiman). Paradise Lost (John Milton). Every Kingdom (Ben Howard)

[TERRY] Lord of the Rings. Camps of Green by Walt Whitman. The Planets Op. 32 by Holst.

6. Any last thoughts?

[BEN] People self-publish a lot of rubbish, I completely agree. It’s given us a stigma, one that means low quality, one that means we’ve simply taken the last resort. For the hard-workers amongst our ranks, this opinion damages our efforts and our books. Now we’re working even harder to shrug said stigma off. We’re actively promoting quality and professionalism, and that’s why I started my advice website Shelf Help, that helps other authors avoid the common pitfalls. So, while we turn this stigma around, all we need is a little faith and a little experimentation to keep the hard-workers going. There are some amazing self-published books out there. All you have to do is find them. After all, just because a book hasn’t been through a publishing house doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve publishing. Now it has a chance to be, no matter what. That for me is the pure beauty of self-publishing.
[TERRY] I want to thank you for being so kind in hosting me on your blog. As an admirer, no, as an avid fan of your work, this made my day.

For any aspiring authors out there, perseverance is your best friend. Find something that keeps you disciplined and apply it to your writing. For me, that was my workout regimen. Treat writing as a job that you need to dedicate gobs of time to. Any other way and you will fail before you start.

For any readers, I hope you enjoyed this interview and hopefully decide to pick up one of my books and give it a read.

With that, I bid you all adieu as the chair calls me to plant my butt down and write another story.


  1. Very encouraging and inspiring interview! It is good to hear about authors who have pulled through and published their books by themselves. Any advice to us aspiring writers is wonderful! :) I believe both excerpts have caught my attention. I'll see if I can find these books soon.

  2. Fantastic feature - and as Libby said above, both authors (and their books) have now caught my eye, and that's down to you Mark. It's easy to forget, but traditionally or self published, authors are still authors. It's nice to see the community promoting each other.

    That, and it's given me a little extra hope on self publishing my own day, dag nabbit!

  3. Very cool little interview, I'll have to check out the two author's books

  4. Hey Mark,
    Glad to see you are highlighting self-published authors. Having had roots there I know full well that a great number of people are producing some really quality work through self-publishing. I'm also very impressed with the numbers that the successful self-published authors pull. A big myth is that people self-publish only when they fail getting through the standard publishing route. Fact is many authors, choose to self-publish for a variety of reasons: better money, more control, retained rights. It's great having options and self-publishing is a very viable one. Neither is universally the "right choice" just "right" for an individual author based on their skills and goals.

  5. Hi Mark, Thank you for the interesting article, it is an eye-opener. I have heard of self-publishing but never really got into the details of it. And good luck to Ben and Terry, I'll check out their books.

  6. Thanks for the interviews! I really enjoyed it :D

  7. You're right - The Written's cover is gorgeous. And now I'm going to have a look at the text!

  8. Very encouraging interview. For me the writing part is the enjoyable part. The grotty part is making others aware of your work. Networking and self promoting is always something I've abhorred in my day job and then to have to do it to get your book noticed as well makes me uncomfortable.

    I think treading that fine line between sincerity and blatant self-promotion when visiting forums etc is one many people struggled with. The best advice I have (that I don't see mentioned too often) is to have patience and not lose sight of why you published your book in the first place.