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Why I Chose to Self-Publish

Q&A with Science-Fiction author William Belle

Like the other authors I’ve featured this summer, William Quincy Belle choose to self-publish to remain in control of his creative career.

Although he has found the marketing aspect a little more challenging, above all he is dedicated to improving his craft—which definitely shows in how well-received his titles are by readers.

William Quincy Belle, author of  Metrofloat New York  and other sci-fi works.

William Quincy Belle, author of Metrofloat New York and other sci-fi works.

But that doesn’t mean William manages his career without a plan. Below he shares why he believes writers must treat their career as a business, how he goes about finding his professional team, and why you must never hire friends! (And I promise you’re going to want to stick around for a great tech tip at the end!)

Jennifer Dinsmore: What made you choose to self-publish? Did you try the traditional route at all?

William Belle: I knew nothing about publishing, but my research led me to the website of science-fiction author Dean Wesley Smith, known for his adaptations of the Star Trek franchise. He provides help to other authors, and explains the various steps of self-publishing. This seemed like the logical choice, and the easiest to implement. I’m in charge!

Since I started I have investigated traditional publishing, but it seems difficult—if not impossible. So far, my numbers are too low to generate any interest but I note that a few indie authors, such as Amanda Hawking, generate enough of a following to get noticed by a publishing house. 

JD: What platform did you choose to publish, and why?

My research showed, at the time, Amazon owned 75% of the ebook market, so that was the obvious place to start. For ebooks I’ve also looked at Smashwords, and for paperbacks CreateSpace and IngramSpark. However, until I have significant sales and make more of a name for myself, I’m not putting time into paperbacks.

CreateSpace started as an Amazon subsidiary (now merged), so I’ve always used it to offer any paperback versions of my books.

JD: Where did you find your publishing team of editors, designers, and so on?

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WB: started with friends. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I would say they didn’t know exactly what they were doing either. I ended up on the Editors Association of Canada website, choosing professionals.

However, I realized from the outset my own editing skills were so poor I had difficulty in judging whether any editing was good or bad. Even so-called professionals have varying skill-sets. I’ve tried to ensure the best quality of the final product by hiring more than one person to examine my work, from beta readers to editors. I work with multiple people in the hope that I present the most polished product possible.

JD: Self-publishing comes with a lof of self-promotion. Tell us a little about your author platform.

WB: I knew nothing about marketing, and feel I still know nothing about marketing. I’ve tried to educate myself, but in experimenting with different methods I’ve come to realize that even the experts don’t know what works with 100% certainty. 

For better or worse I’m a numbers guy, and according to Wikipedia there are 2.2 million new books published each year; 300,000 in the U.S., 150,000 in the U.K., and 20,000 in Canada. The book review section of The Washington Post states they get 150 new titles each day—each day! What are the chances of getting noticed? Even if somebody has written the next classic, there’s the harsh reality of statistics.

So, like 99% of those publishing a book, I face the same uphill battle. The statistics are against me, so any success I chalk up to being a fluke. Will I win the literary lottery? The truth is, I’ve tried many things—ads, social media, book tours, ARCs—with little or no real success. In the end, there’s still the question of luck.

JD: What do you find most rewarding about this route? The most challenging?

WB: In On Writing, Stephen King says an author shouldn’t write with the expectation of fame and fortune. One does it for the love of writing.

Is it hard? Is it a challenge? The words of Frank Norris, American journalist and novelist, come to mind: “Don’t like to write, but like having written.” Some of my short stories have been published by the webzine Spank the Carp. They also sometimes publish author profiles, and asked me to pen something about my creative process. For me, this is the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect.

To quote from that article: “I … pace back and forth in front of my computer desk, shaking my fist at the sky and cursing my existence. I’m convinced the gods of inspiration are toying with me and my literary muse is really an evil siren luring me onto the rocks of distraction.”

JD: Are these different than you first anticipated? What do you wish you knew when you started?

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Writing is a solitary occupation. You’re alone, but you’re not lonely; you have your characters. But being alone means discipline completely rests on your shoulders.

I’ve now published two novels and five collections of short stories. I jokingly say that if I knew back then what I know now, I would have opted for taking French classes. Or knitting. I love writing, but still think often of this quote from American poet, writer, critic, and satirist Dorothy Parker:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

JD: What piece of advice would you give to those considering self-publishing?

I would point anyone to Dean Wesley Smith, as he offers what I consider to be very practical advice about writing and publishing: It’s a business.

Yes, literature is considered art, but making money from art is a business. We must lose our pretentiousness about being an “artist” and development our expertise as a businessperson.  

I have a spreadsheet where I track all my expenses and income from writing. I know exactly what I’ve spent by book, by editor, and by marketing promotion.

Being Canadian, I went through Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, and IngramSpark to register myself as a business and declare tax exemption in the United States. On each platform, I registered for direct deposit to my business account.

For all my books, I get my own ISBN. I never use one from the platform I’m using because having my own ISBN allows me to move my book between platforms; it’s mine, not that of the platform. (Note: In Canada, getting an ISBN is free from the federal government’s website, while in the States you have to pay a fee to a commercial service.)

For my paperbacks, I make my own barcode using an online service. I then send that image to my cover designer—and I always hire a cover designer. They are not expensive, and I’ll argue my time is better spent elsewhere. They know exactly what to do in Photoshop to format covers for the different dimensions required by various platforms.

Take charge, be responsible. We must be responsible. We must get involved. We must educate ourselves and become familiar with the entire process: writing and editing, formatting Word documents, uploading to online platforms, working with cover artists, and filling out forms with all necessary information before clicking the Publish button.

A final tip? For formatting, study the requirements of all platforms on which you are publishing, then create your own Microsoft Word “styles” to facilitate the copying of text from one platform to another. If I modify a manuscript, I can have my eBooks and paperbacks uploaded, previewed for any last-minute mistakes, and online in minutes. 🖉

Thank you, William. Told you that was a fantastic final tip!

I think this interview goes to show “success” takes so many forms, and you have to define what it means for you. William could chose to focus more on his platform (as we are often told we must do), but rather pours the most time into developing his craft. I’ve loved working with William as one of his editors. I am truly proud to have witnessed his growth over the past four years, and can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

Any aha moments? Would you perhaps choose to add a social media manger to your team? Share your own journey below.

Until next time, keep creating!

Jennifer