04 MarRichard Seymour on Self Publishing.
Richard Seymour is an English screenwriter, journalist and author and a lovely fellow. His first novel, Members Only, was an innovative philosophical comedy based in the afterlife. I met him first on the internet on various philosophy discussion forums, then in real life when I lived in Cornwall. He was kind enough to answer some questions on the subject of self-publishing.
With your background in freelance journalism, what motivated you to take the leap into fiction?
I became a freelance journalist because it gave me the flexibility to write fiction. As for what motivated me to leap into fiction, I really don’t know. I do remember one night not being able to sleep. My head was a jumble of noise. I gave up and decided the only way I’d get any sleep would be to write some of it down. I had a little, hand-held computer and wrote about a thousand words without pausing to think. The next morning I assumed it would all be rubbish; but when I read it back I thought it was quite good. It became the beginning of Members Only, almost word-for-word unchanged from that night.
Did you shop your work around to traditional publishing houses or agents before you decided to self-publish?
I did. I am not sure I gave it a good enough go, though. I was probably wasting my time with publishers anyway. I should have gone for agents. I spent a lot of time on each submission and if I got replies they were polite rejections. I had already self-published by then though. I just wanted to get my book out there. What happened then was that it was read by someone with a connection to the film industry. She said she wanted to turn it into a film; so I dropped everything and wrote a script. My idea was that it would be easier to get a book published if it were being adapted for the big screen. I probably should have tried pushing for both.
Why did you finally decide to self-publish your book?
I met someone who had some success being self published. He was making more money per sale than he would have done had he been published the conventional way. It was true he had to do all his own marketing, but then a big publisher won’t necessarily do much promotion for you either. I also liked the control I’d have over the process. But more than anything else, when you have a baby you just want to show it off to the world one way or another.
How did it feel to get it onto the market?
It was an immense relief. It was also interesting. You see, when a person reads your book it becomes something slightly different. The creative process doesn’t end with the author. It begins with the author but continues with the reader. I know what my characters and their surroundings look like, but I have no idea what they look like to someone else; and what they get from the story never ceases to surprise me. A good author is nothing without readers with imagination.
How did it feel a year later?
It’s one thing having your own mother tell you your book is good, but quite another for a complete stranger on the other side of the world to send you an email telling you how much they liked it. I remember writing Members Only and so often wondering if there was any point; if anyone would ever read it. Well, they did. Ordinarily you cannot just produce something out of thin air. You have to take a material and turn it into something. But that’s not true with stories. A story that existed nowhere in the universe can suddenly be made to exist. It is pure creativity. You’re genuinely adding something that was not there before. And that continues to happen with every reading. I’d have liked to have made more money from it but I’ll settle for that right now.
Last year, I got an email from someone who had found Members Only through Book Crossing. It had been left in a crack in a wall at a bus stop. That made my day. And just recently someone picked it up at a second-hand book shop and said he loved it. You never get tired of that. What sort of a person would I have to have been to have just thought: all those readers, but I only got paid for the one!
Once Members Only was published, what steps did you take to promote it?
I should have done more. I think I was exhausted by it all. I had spent years writing Members Only and I just wanted to move on to something else. I created a website, I had a Facebook page . . . but it was a pretty poor effort really.
On your website, you write that Members Only will be published as a serial under a Creative Commons license. What made you decide to release it for free?
Theopen source advocate Tim O’ Reilly (I think it was) says that a new author’s problem is not piracy but obscurity. He’s right. You need to build a readership. One of my favourite authors right now is Jasper Fforde who wrote the Thursday Next series. A friend of mine gave me one of his books and I loved it. Do you know what I did? The moment his next book was released I bought it. Without hesitation. The Creative Commons license I chose allows others to develop Members Only in other formats, just not for money. Perhaps it goes back to the sense I have that you can’t really own a story. All you can do is begin one.
Having said that I dropped the serialisation idea and just published the whole lot as a PDF. I will release it as an eBook and charge a nominal amount. What I think I will do is offer a free version,either the whole lot or perhaps as a short story, a cartoon strip or something like that. I haven’t decided yet.
If you could do it all again from the very beginning, would you do anything differently?
It’s possible to self publish without having to go through a company. There is nothing stopping you going directly to the printers, for instance. You need to know what you’re doing, and I know someone who does. Members Only is currently no longer being published as the company I went with is not longer operating. When I re-releases it it will probably be that way.
What’s next for you as a writer? Is there another novel in the cards?
I had planned to write a sequel to Members Only, but I really wanted a break from it. I have an idea I am very excited about for a novel called Ace & H: An Epistemological Adventure. I have already started sketching out ideas for it. I am turning a short story I wrote years ago into a radio script. (One of my ambitions is to have a play on BBC radio.) I am also moving into screen writing.
Anything you’d like to add?
We all dream I suppose of writing a novel and it becoming a best seller and of making lots of money from it. I think if you’re still unpublished that thought can really get in the way. When people start businesses they accept they will lose money in the first few years; and they don’t expect to be WalMArt. It’s the same with writing. I think it helps to just want to tell a story and then to let go of it. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a living from writing. You can. But it is easier to fall in love with someone if they’re not holding out a collecting tin. And you want people to fall in love with you. Think about your favourite authors. You don’t just read their books; you have affairs with them; you get involved in relationships with them; they get inside you for heaven’s sake!
Ed: Funny Richard would mention the last bit. I had a very realistic naughty dream about Kurt Vonnegut shortly before his death. I still feel kind of conflicted about it. There was a bit of an age gap, to put it mildly. Not only that, but the whole event took place in a hospital with nurses and concerned family members milling around. He was in a hospital gown and everything. Still makes me shudder, and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s from pleasure or horror. I feel much more relaxed about my dream of having dinner with Terry Pratchett and his lovely wife in a roofless house under a brilliant, starry sky. I woke up wanting to send them a thank you card. Can’t say the same for the Vonnegut dream. In fact, I never even told anybody about it until now. Anyway…. PUBLISH