Selso Xisto is one of my favourite authors of the year, in no small part because his debut novel Particle Horizon totally wowed me with it’s exploration of some traditional science-fiction themes as androids and identity, the future of the human race, galactic civilisations, destinies, and so on. When I asked him about contributing to our self-published author spotlight here on The Founding Fields, he readily agree and this is what he had to say about his experiences with the process. This is part three of our spotlight. Previous guest posts by Dan Johnson and John C. Scott can be found here and here.
Shouting For Attention In A Crowded Room
by Selso Xisto
Particle Horizon’s journey was a long and tortuous one! Seven years of hard work; bursts of creativity interrupted by crises of self-confidence and the ever-present writing-killer of ‘real life’. It was only in the last few years that I grew in confidence with my writing and managed to revise and re-work that pesky manuscript into a shape I’d be happy to put my name to. At many stages during it’s gestation, I felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew; too many characters, too complex a plot. I’d like to say that there was a simple, sure-fire technique in shaping the story. There wasn’t. I just worked really hard on it. Read and re-read a million times, took a thousand notes, and had a million conversations with myself, trying to get into the heads of my characters. I’m quite a solitary creative-type. In hindsight, I think being involved with a closely-knit writing group would have helped immensely in ironing out plot-holes and narrative threads. I’ve heard from a few authors about how their writing groups help them with everything from creating characters to getting feedback on their prose. Maybe one day I’ll emerge from my cave and let others play with my toys!
So, after all the hard work, why self-publish? That is the golden question isn’t it? I can’t speak for other Indie authors out there, but I did a lot of research and read a lot of author’s blogs and accounts of their own experiences before I made my decision. The main issue with the Indie/Traditionally published routes are the old and often misdirected notion of the ‘stamp of approval’. A reader generally accepts that a published book has passed a certain minimum standard of quality to get to where it is; it’s been vetted, checked. Someone, somewhere, who knows what they’re doing has decided that this book is ‘good enough’. From a lifetime of being a reader myself, this is for the most part, true to some extent. Trawling through a lot of self-published samples, I’ve found countless examples of poorly-written, unedited prose. I get it. The trouble is, the realities of publishing as far as I can tell can be a barrier to readers discovering the kind of writing they want to read. Publishers are often as in the dark as to what will sell and what won’t as anyone else. They’re also often less willing to gamble on new, unproven names. If you read a lot of author blogs, you’ll read countless stories of endless rejection letters and years of waiting. I think a lot of readers are missing out on some excellent writing that didn’t quite fit into a given publisher’s schedule or marketing plan. There are many excellent, well-edited books out there that are easily on a quality par with published works (and in many cases superior).
In my case, I’d worked on Particle Horizon for so long that I couldn’t bare the thought of slush pile purgatory or even worse, drastic re-writes to fit a publisher’s agenda. This book was too personal, too much of a labour of love for compromise. I wasn’t going to change the main character into a vampire. I wasn’t intending to shoehorn in any love triangles or S&M scenes. That wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. Somewhat naively, I decided that I could get it out there without any help and that someone would notice it on the quality of writing alone. I’m actually laughing as I type this. To be honest, I didn’t have any unrealistic expectations of blowing up the bestseller charts without any proper publicity, I just wanted to share my story with fellow scifi fans. I hoped to get a few good reviews and that would be enough for me. The trouble is, as the fantastic reviews started rolling in, I realised that I really wanted as many people as possible to read my book. I really felt it was good enough and validated my faith in it for all those years.
Here lies the big problem. Marketing. Getting those readers to know about you and why they should read your book. This was the greatest obstacle in getting Particle Horizon out there and easily the aspect I most underestimated. If you’re going to self-publish, unless you’ve got a large advertising budget, you’d better get familiar with Twitter. I was a real Twitter noob before I started all this, now I have over 5000 followers! I can confidently say I wouldn’t have gotten so high on amazon bestseller lists without their help! Apart from the marketing side, I made some great friends on Twitter and got really lucky with some; I met some fantastic bloggers, in particular Rainy from Rainyofthedark.com who took me under her wing and did some fantastic promotional work to increase my profile. I sold about 20 copies in the first two months without Rainy’s promotional help! I contacted hundreds of book bloggers offering them a review copy for an impartial review and luckily, a few of them were interested and to my great relief, loved it. KDP select helped a lot too. During my first promotional two-day giveaway, Particle Horizon was downloaded over 4,600 times and reached number 2 in the Kindle science fiction bestseller chart! The exposure this gave me helped me hold steady in that all-important bestseller chart for almost a month.
Twitter is tricky. One of my twitter pals defined it as ‘shouting for attention in a really crowded room full of other people shouting’. I think the thing to remember is that people on Twitter are just that; people. No one wants to read a flood of promotional tweets every day. Talk to people like real people, engage, ask questions, be yourself. Apart from the occasional burst of promo stuff when I’m doing a giveaway, I try to treat it like an ongoing conversation with lots of people I like and have things in common with. I’m no social media expert, but I think this has served me pretty well so far. I genuinely like the tweeps I interact with.
I’m lucky in that I work in a creative industry for my day job. I create, edit, copy-write and art-direct promos for Cartoon Network in Europe so I’m always interacting with creatives and designers. I was able to apply a few basic tenets of advertising and design to my promotional work as well as create my own cover art in photoshop. A lot of indie authors have to pay someone to create cover art for their work (at least if they want anyone at all to buy their book) and I was lucky enough to be able to create the cover exactly the way I wanted it by myself. The cover design alone took me months. I met my editor through a friend of a friend. I spent a great deal of time and effort with the editing and revision of that manuscript; I’d say this is one area where far too many Indie authors fall down. I know that the odd mistake can still be found here and there, but no more than in the average traditionally published novel (I’m always shocked to see how many mistakes I still spot when I read books from some of the mega-publishers). I think that as an Indie you have to remind yourself that you’re competing with huge publishers with copy editors, artists, marketing departments… If you want to get noticed you have to at least try to compete on some level in all of those departments! I’m especially proud of my reviews and bestseller placings considering this. I think there’s a real shift in publishing. I don’t personally see it as a war between Indie and Traditional Publishing; I think of it like music. You have big publishers and you have Indies. There is no need for some of the conflict you see on the blogs! I wanted to try and make it on my own for my first book, just to see if I could do it.
Having said all of that, if you ask me if I’ll self-publish my next book (which I’ll be starting very soon! And no, it’s not a Particle Horizon sequel yet, sorry!), I’d have to think about it. I don’t think people really realise how much work is involved in publishing your own work, in emulating the various functions of a big publishing house. Taking the Indie route is by no means the ‘easy option’. It was a valuable learning experience for me, and I met some great friends along the way, but I’d really love some more help next time. From what I’ve heard from various authors, being picked up by a traditional publisher still means you doing a lot of your own promotion nowadays, but it’s certainly an option I’ll explore more fully in future now that I’ve got my first ‘baby’ out the door!
You can find my review of Particle Horizon here
You can follow Selso on Twitter – @selsox – or through his blog – Selso Xisto