Andrew is a local writer who has self-published his first book for children, The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black. I met him on Twitter (Yay Twitter!) and I recently asked if I could do an interview with him as I had been researching self-publishing for an essay I’m writing up at the minute. He very kindly agreed to the chat, and here it is:
The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black is a book that you self-published. Could you say a few words about the book?
Basically it’s an adventure story, in the spirit of classic stories and films I grew up with like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz/Return to Oz, Labyrinth, and countless other Disney films etc. with a bit of a steampunk, comic book hero twist to it.
Right up my street then! There’s a big debate about traditional publishing Vs self-publishing these days. Why did you choose to self-publish?
I didn’t originally set out to do it that way, but at the time I finished the story and was researching different avenues, ones which were readily accessible to me and ones which were simply worlds away, I took the decision to self-publish the book; partly because I wanted to get it out there and partly, for better or worse, just to see what would happened. So far the results have been really positive.
I come from a bit of a DIY background anyway from my days in and out of underground bands from heavy metal to an ambient post rock project, so I’ve always appreciated the independent sensibility and the amount of work, getting yourself noticed and out there, which comes along with it.
I was so delighted to find you on twitter because I know so few writers for children in N Ireland and I don’t know anyone else who has self-published apart from those on the local comic book writing scene. Were you aware of any local services (eg editing services or book cover design) when you were getting ready to self-publish, and did you use any? Why/why not?
I didn’t use any actually. I mainly relied on the kindness of friends who believed in what I was doing to help me out. I honestly wouldn’t be on this road if it weren’t for my dearest friend and illustrator of the book, Gillian Reid. Way before Amelia Black was even just a simple idea on paper, Gillian saw a passion for writing in me that I didn’t really think about and encouraged me to write something, anything and if I ever finished it she would illustrate it, and the rest is pretty much history on that one. And I’m glad she did, and I can only hope one day I can return such faith.
If you didn’t use any editing services then how did you go about editing? Did you ask friends for help? Did anyone read through your book before you published it? What was that experience like?
When it came to editing, Laura Gray was an immense help as I’d never ever trust myself to release a book that only my eyes had seen. Although Laura is a good friend she was also qualified in that field, which was extremely handy and I’m eternally grateful for it. Though truthfully even if she wasn’t I’d still trust her judgement.
I think about three or four people read the book before I published it and it was always an anxious experience just waiting around to hear their thoughts. Even if they were just massaging my, somewhat fragile, ego, it was all kind words, but ultimately I wouldn’t have released it if I personally didn’t enjoy it and believe in the characters I was writing about.
I was really drawn to the cover of Amelia Black and one of the reasons I knew that Catherine Ryan Howard was right about getting the cover right was that when I looked at your book cover I knew I wanted to read it. Do you think self-published writers need to work a bit harder on book cover design because they have a bit more convincing to do than traditionally published writers?
I know there’s the universal cliché that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and truthfully you shouldn’t. But be it self-published or traditionally published there are some horrendous examples out there which can sometimes be off putting. Trying to be taken seriously by people when you’re a self-published writer can be very hard no matter how good the source material is, but it can it can be made a lot harder if your product isn’t as professional looking as it should be, and sometimes you do have to put your faith in someone else to achieve that.
With Amelia Black’s cover, again, that was all Gillian’s idea. I had a couple of basic ideas I put forward but no matter what I think of, she would conceive something so much better. I’m very lucky to have that kind of working relationship with someone who is so artistically talented, but you only need to go on twitter and you’ll find countless others who would readily help independent writers in that department, because they’ll be wanting the exposure also.
How are you finding the local scene regarding self-publishers? I really don’t know anyone else who does it except for the comic book writers. Do you think it’s a bit more isolating to self-publish, or has the internet opened things up a bit?
Locally it has been few and far between in meeting fellow self-published writers. It can still be a little isolating, as there is that certain level of stigma still attached to self-publishing books that you strangely don’t get from the independent music or art scene.
I’ve noticed! Part of me thinks it’s OK that it’s very hard work to convince people that self-published writing can be great, because I genuinely want my writing to be able to compete with anyone else’s and I want it to be able to stand on its own (so to speak) regardless of how it has been published. But that does leave the question of how to get people past the cover to look at the first couple of pages so you can prove yourself.
If it wasn’t for the internet providing an international platform it would be extremely hard. That said it still is hard even with the internet but if you take the time to connect with people, rather than network yourself, and your social media isn’t just a glorified marketing stream then you can conjure support quite rapidly and the results, be it just selling one copy or one hundred, can be genuinely rewarding.
I think you’re going to self-publish again, is that right? So I’m assuming it must have been a worthwhile experience for you. Is there anything you’re going to do or not-do the next time? Why/why not?
Yes, my second book titled A Boy Named Hogg will be self-published and all being well out by the end of September, or start of October. I think knowing what I have achieved since Amelia Black has made me want to build on that. Yes, it’s hard work and can sometimes be frustrating but there’s something very rewarding in doing it this way, and being able to connect with fellow writers and new readers is one of the most humbling experiences I can think of.
I don’t think I’ll be doing anything too different in terms of preparation this time round, but things will be made slightly easier by knowing what avenues I can use and also not bother with in terms of helping the book gain more exposure.
Thanks so much, Andrew. It’s been really helpful for me to talk to you about self-publishing and so much of your experience here mirrors my own. I hope we can talk again in the future and maybe even meet in real life at some point!
The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black is available on Amazon.