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Fear and Loathing in Self-Publishing

Where I’m from it’s impolite to speak of those that have passed, but I’d like to apologize to Hunter Thompson for the title of today’s post.  And in other news…I’m cured!  The madness that has remorselessly held me in its grip the past month or so has suddenly subsided, and for once I’m focused on something that isn’t orange and bouncy. It’s a miracle!  No. It’s the fact that the Wildcats lost to UCONN in this past weekend’s Final Four. Oh well. There’s always next year. And besides, I feel more like my old self again and it’s back to the books and literature for this blogger. And if all goes well then more historical fiction and more writing about historical fiction to boot.

I had planned on posting a review of Ben Kane’s newest book, The Road to Rome, but fate or the postal service is to blame for best laid plans going awry. Either way, the book has not yet made it to my doorstep. Until The Road to Rome does arrive, how about taking a peek at an excerpt from a historical novel I recently finished (writing):

“Over two thousand years ago, in a vanished world in which gallant death and honor still holds sway, Gaius Julius Caesar is crushing Briton’s fierce, blue-painted warlords and exacting a heavy price in exchange for peace. News from Rome and word of rebellion in war-ravaged Gaul cut short Caesar’s invasion of Briton, leaving him little choice but to return to Gaul. Leaving for Gaul, Caesar entrusts a depleted legion to Cussius Caesar, and senior centurion, Marcus Rulus. With orders to further explore Briton and return to Gaul with the tribute, Marcus and Cussius find themselves in a remarkable quest to carve a future out of the land.  A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone follows the lives of those left behind whose fates become bound to the people of the fabled, fog-bound lands of ancient Briton. Filled with dramatic scenes and abounding in fictional and historical personalities, this first novel in a planned trilogy hooks with passionate storytelling and engulfs the reader in events of historical legend.”

And there it is. The proposed contents for the inside of my novel’s book jacket laid bare for all the world to see. Trust me on this. Condensing a 112,000 word novel into a catchy squib and synopsis is not as easy as it would seem. As a matter of fact, its nigh impossible. Perhaps if I were pursuing the traditional route of publishing, an in-house editor at xyz literary agency would come up with something catchier and squibbier than what my efforts have yielded to date. (xyz agency would likely tell me that “squibbier” is not a word and justly so) Or maybe not. That’s part and parcel of the beauty of self-publishing.

There are risks involved, even for something as seemingly minor as coming up with the jacket squib. On the plus side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. On the negative side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. Confusing? Not really.  Unless you’re Stephen King  and don’t give two twits about punctuation and sentence structure, most times it just makes sense to have other folks eyeballing your work.  Experienced readers, and proof readers and copy editors will notice things the writer’s mind skips over, or is just too stubborn to notice without the proper prompting.  No matter which route is taken there remains one unavoidable fact: a lot of hard work goes into producing a quality product.

Though I intend on self-publishing (insert horrified gasps here) I have been fortunate in that my manuscript’s odyssey started way back when I stumbled across a local book club whose members just so happened to have an appetite for historical fiction. Though I’m not a member of their book club they were  kind enough to read the manuscript in its infancy.  Suffice to say their reviews and feedback proved invaluable to the evolution of the novel. The novel continued to form as it made its rounds amongst interested family and valued friends. More feedback resulted and revisions quickly followed. Finally, a veteran copy-editor with an eye for details and historical context undertook the project after a chance encounter at a second-hand store.  Another round of rewrites ensued.  During this three year period the manuscript had also been accepted for review by a couple of literary agents who ultimately declined representation.  Boo hoo. How will I ever recover from the stigma of rejection?

By doing it myself that’s how. Gasp. Sniff. The horror of it all. Yes. All of that. I’m sure some of you must think this blogger to be quite mad and still mired in the last ebbing throes of Final Four fever. I assure you that’s not the case. I’m content and at peace with self-publishing.  Don’t get my meaning crossed. It’s not that self-publishing is any easier than having an agent and publishing house.  It’s not. It’s actually harder. Looming great is the proverbial mountain that must be scaled.  But it’s not as if I’m the first writer to go it alone. He of the wanton punctuation, Stephen King, and others like Virginia Woolf, Thomas Paine, John Grisham, Mark Twain, Hemingway, T.S. Elliot and Beatrix Potter are a mere handful of the literary giants who at one time or another took a rejected manuscript and published it themselves.  Self-publishing stories invariably make for good story telling as well.  It’s hard not to admire the pluck shown by John Grisham who wouldn’t give up and sold copies of his first novel from the trunk of his car.  Or how about the most recent self-publishing hero Amanda Hocking who endured rejection after rejection from agents and publishing houses, but still managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of her self-published novels.

My hat is off to all of them and from their examples I will take inspiration and be ever mindful to hone and polish my work before releasing the same for public consumption.  That day is not too far off.

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