Recently I posted about whether to self-publish or hold out for the traditional option. As I have no experience of self-publishing I thought I'd interview somebody who has! Step forward Derek Thompson, whose novel Covenant has come through dodgy working titles and many drafts to be self-published this month. Derek is a very nice man and a professional copy-writer whose services are listed here.
1. Is Covenant your first novel?
Yes, Covenant is my firstborn! I had the original ideas back in the mists of time, and developed Covenant (originally entitled, gulp, The Promise of a Rainbow) over a number of years. And by developed I mean that I picked at it occasionally and then left it for a year or three. In truth, it took time for me to see the emerging patterns within Covenant. I've also written a few thousands words of the sequel, Restitution.
2. Have you been traditionally published in the past?
I have quite a varied footprint...
Articles: Last of the Line for The Guardian and in Canadian mag Thrive in Life, green living pieces for Discover magazine and chicken pieces (!) for Country Smallholding magazine. You can also find examples of my short fiction in three anthologies: Coffee Shop Chronicles, Beyond the Horizon (where there's also a piece by a certain Chloe Banks...) and Flash Fiction South West.
3. What is Covenant about?
The book takes place on a colonised world. Successive wars have split humanity into three factions - those who live in walled city states; the settlers, who live in isolated communities in the forests, desert and mountains; and a nomadic religious group known as the Thaylin Sarra who wander amongst them. Their faith is a mixture of Old Earth established religious traditions, along with Western mysticism.
The Thaylin Sarra believe that a martyred teacher will return with her disciples to liberate them and reveal their spiritual homeland. Her four disciples reincarnate about 500 years after her death, without knowing either their connection or their obligation. One is a priestess, one an outsider, one a heretic and one has been indoctrinated by the Appren - the enemy of the Thaylin Sarra faith.
Individual and collective destinies are interwoven in a classic fantasy quest. However, there aren't always comfortable answers or convenient solutions. The book also looks at the nature of loss, honour and personal sacrifice. That's the intention, anyway.
4. What made you decide to self-publish
In a sense, self-publishing Covenant is like a gift to myself. A way of thanking the younger me who stuck with it and produced a completed book that I could work with. It's also a way of honouring the many people who have read part or all of the manuscript over the long years. The decision to finally opt for self-publication came after a conventional publisher surprised me with a 'writer contribution' where I'd contribute over £5000. That was the last bridge, so to speak, and made me realise that the remedy was in my own hands.
5. What were the hardest things about self-publishing?
Firstly, knowing exactly what to do and when. I was fortunate because a friend had written a self-publishing guide. And, if I'd read it carefully first instead of diving in, I could have saved myself time and stress! Secondly, the 'm' word - marketing. Having a book out there is great for about two days. And then you realise that a book needs readers and you have to go and find them. Not once, but often! Thirdly, whether you have employed an editor and a cover artist or done everything yourself, you are responsible for all the key decisions.
6. What is/are the best thing(s) about self-publishing?
It's the flip side of all the hard things. You get to format your book to meet your requirements, at your own pace, and then you're free to market it however you see fit. You can take risks, experiment and play with concepts.
7. Do you have a strategy for selling?
Not really, but I have given it some thought.
Covenant should appeal to three distinct groups of readers:
a) Lovers of fantasy fiction.
b) Those with an interest in the esoteric subjects touched upon in the book - the tarot, meditation, reincarnation and the Tree of Life.
c) People who enjoy allegorical fiction that contains spiritual or philosophial ideas - readers of Paulo Coelho or Dan Millman perhaps.
8. How long did it take you to go from finished book to published book?
In terms of making the decision to self-publish, about four months for the ebook. Most of that time was spent on the final, deep tissue edit. As hinted at above, the paperback will soon follow.
9. What would be your top pieces of advice to someone thinking about self-publishing?
a) Recognise your comfort zones, limitations and resources, so you know when to outsource key aspects.
b) Plan what you're going to do, and when, and do your research. Again, I recommend the guide I used - I was so pleased with it that I included a link in my ebook.
10. Would you self-publish again?
That is a difficult question to answer. Yes, under certain circumstances. Covenant is the first novel of a two-parter (duology isn't a word that comes naturally to me!), but I'd only self-publish if I knew there was sufficient demand. I would definitely consider self-pubbing smaller pieces of work.
11. What are you doing next?
Apart from wearing my bookseller sandwich board, you mean? I'm doing my darnedest to promote my ebook of Covenant and ebook Superhero Club, which has just been launched by Musa Publishing. And I plan to celebrate when the paperback version of Covenant is finally out (around 22nd November).
Meantime, I have a couple of other novels on submission, a monthly magazine column to keep me busy, and I'm itching to start work on a new Thomas Bladen novel (Following on from Standpoint and Line of Sight).
12. You've described your book as a mystical fantasy and mentioned some of the esoteric topics within it. Would you say that there's a religious aspect to your book as well?
Yes. I thought long and hard about whether to refer to Covenant as a work of religious fiction, but decided not to as the esoteric / magical side of it is key to the plot and the structure. All that said, the book is about faith. Although at first glance a book that deals with the tarot, mysticism and magic could be considered irreligious there is also another side to Covenant that relates to Judaeo-Christian ideas. Irrespective of people's individual beliefs, I would hope that readers see some spiritual elements within the book.
So there we go - a little insight into the mind of a self-publisher. Thanks, Derek! You can learn more about Covenant and buy the Kindle edition here (or here if you are in the USA).
Do you have any other questions about self-publishing? What puts you off or encourages you?