Trying to work out a way forward in the world of self-publishing



Join the crowd. We’re about eight million and growing fast. Do you enjoy being a needle in a haystack? If so, get scribbling. Get publishing. I did. And look where it’s got me. But I jump the gun.     

      Many years ago a poetry magazine from the north of Ireland published one of my poems. It, my poem, was called “This Wrinkled Wretch”, and the magazine was called “Caret”. Its editors became successful, or semi-successful, writers, and many decades later one of these names I remembered turned up in Pattaya, Thailand, where I happen to live. Where he happens to live. Where we happen to live. Where he happens to write. Where he happens to publish! I was bowled over by the coincidence which then got even more coincidental when I learnt he lived just down the road from me on the dark side of Pattaya.     

      Pattaya is a place with a place-name that gets you stern looks and bad names when you mention you live here. We’re all misfits here. At least, that’s what I think. And as for the availability of girls…that’s what you think, and you’re right! To quote :  “Bevvies of marvellous, dark- or light-skinned girls call for our attention. It is all false, amazing, ambiguous, whatever. It all gets you and to you and gets you going. This is all a very big dream come true. This is a ranting Drug-High fuelled by Dream-Fantasy and Lust.”  Well, that’s one way of describing Walking Street and us, its punters, and I shamelessly quote its source : “Collected Selected Words” by Jonathan Finch on    

     I did meet my editor who had invested his interest in “This Wrinkled Wretch”, and that afternoon changed my writing life. I was informed that self-publishing wasn’t vanity-press publishing. I was informed that it was relatively easy. I was informed that it avoided the rejection-slip. I was informed lots, and I went away from that meeting like the wedding guest in “The Ancient Mariner” — “A sadder and a wiser man / He rose the morrow morn.”      

      Just over six months later I am proud to be a needle in the haystack. As you know, my needle is called “Collected Selected Words” and it is a novel. Of course, I didn’t think Kindle Direct Publishing was a haystack and I certainly could never in a month of wet Sundays have believed my autobiographical, memoirish novel was a needle.

      It just happened that way.

      What way?

      I didn’t want it to be rejected by a conventional editing and publishing house; I thought it might be, and so – despite a nice guy from a reputable publishing house being somewhat interested in reading it — I opted for self-publishing.

      Thereafter and to date, I have spent colossally copious and copiously colossal amounts of time trying to get it reviewed and noticed, listening to successful authors on You Tube telling me what to do to get it noticed, joining and trying to understand social media, researching, and so on. It’s a five-starrer, reviewed and liked, but it is dragging its heels. I am not a well-known guy for anything except maybe for not being well known, indeed I am oxymoronic, and I am ever so worried I will become a smaller needle in a larger haystack in the near future, the very near future. I just can’t get enough people interested, and yet a novel about five countries, about a first-person narrator accused of parricide, a narrator who is never tried, and lives in Fun City, Sin City, the Extreme City, that’s Pattaya to most, among bar girls and pimps, who buries his head in girly sand, why the novel should be of interest. It should at least be risible. But its climb to stardom is far from breath-taking and I fear its last “rise” or laugh may be on me. Yes, it’s out there, it has an original cover, it’s written without too many intentional and unintentional mistakes, and as I say it’s getting reviewed and five-star laid…but…but…

      I did, however, run into trouble with one request for a review. Indeed, with more than one request. But one request sticks in my mind. I got embroiled with a writer of horror stories who never got round to telling me if he / she could review. We got stuck on honesty. It seemed the issue was honesty in reviewing, and I couldn’t get him or her beyond that to getting a firm ‘yes, I can review’ and a firm ‘you can do the same for me’. It became a bit creepy as well, embroiled as I seemed to be in Gothic communication of a surreal sort. I had to give up there and crept away with a creepy sensation I had sort of escaped something worse. (None the less, that emailery served to remind me that someone thinks reviewers are dishonest, or did I just pick it up wrong and get on the end of horror and eccentricity and torment and torture of the sado-masochistic kind, de Sade re-erecting himself and having a bash at this author?)

      But of course I hadn’t escaped. I never escape from anything. I’d been put on the spot and made to realise yet again that the mighty Amazon and its publishing haystack is in jeopardy. In jeopardy of what?     

      Well, let me take a guess. The horror who writes horror (not that surprising, really : Every man, woman to his / her own) was sort of indicating something about reviews and reviewers. You ask for one and you give one back. Your back is scratched and you scratch your scratcher’s back. It’s also not really that nice to get five stars and to give one star back. You’re in a bit of a quandary.

     That got me thinking.      

      Last night, I decided to give my aching shoulders a semi-rest and I took to my feet for the first half-hour of my daily one hour of exercise. I would only swim for 30 minutes not 60. (In the event I walked for 30 and swam for 60. Oh, yes, the spirit was strong but the flesh was weak. Or the flesh was strong but the spirit was weak.) As I walked around, doing my 30 minutes, I reflected on Amazon, Kindle and self-publishing, and formulated what I am setting down here.

      Woeful were my reflections. Pessimistic, to boot. And as everyone knows, a pessimist is the same as an optimist, only better informed.      

      For two decades I worked as a lector at the University of Rome and we had thousands of students whom the schools passed on to us, who entered our courses but were not good at English. For twenty years I suggested an entrance test of a severe sort – to sort out the sheep from the goats academically not agriculturally — but my suggestion was politically incorrect despite the university professors acknowledging that the schools were too lenient in their testing (because of political correctness – same problem, different age group, same politics, different assessors). The result is that quite a few graduates from Rome Univesity, “La Sapienza”, aren’t able to compete at a global level and the university finds itself judged lacking.

      Now, my novel “Collected Selected Words” is forever knocking the specialists and meritocracy, only acknowledging in illness the need for good doctors. I can even quote one of its most satiric moments when it suggests a committee of awards experts, the best of the best, who decide on OAH procedure, OAH being Order of the Arse Hole: “…shouldn’t we begin to reorder the priority in which the awards need to be handed out, a re-ordering to be formulated by an OAH awards committee of OAH experts, meritocratic geniuses chosen by the best brains in the developed world who themselves have been chosen by themselves, being the best of the best, ‘better than all the rest’?” All ever so fine and funny, you’ll have to admit, that is I hope you’ll have to admit. But just as “La Sapienza” doesn’t get the best results so too do needles in haystacks get overlooked in independent publishing.

      So, how about a simple selective procedure beyond the one of getting your file right? How about declining works with more than fifty conventional mistakes? How about declining books which can’t get ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ right? ‘There’, ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’re’ right? I feel ever so bad about trying to decline the incline but surely no one for the moment can see the wood for the trees.

      But of course I know that great literature is not about basic literacy and the difference between an abbreviation and the possessive ‘its’.     

      Last night I ruefully reflected that my previous piece on self-publishing called “That’s just another of the delights of independent publishing : you can make up the rules as you go along” laughingly made the point that we independent writers can make up the rules. Well, we can, can’t we? That got my goat and tonight it is being got even more. I am sad that maybe I can publish again. And again. And again. My novel can be republished as a new experimental work and as an epic on the scale (page wise) of “War and Peace” or “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu”. I won’t be a tiresome genius like Tolstoy or Proust. (Tolstoy was tiresome because moralistic, Proust because he used the First World War as an excuse and a pretext for adding additions to his original work that make it just about as long, woeful, added and excruciating as any genius-fired, academic, literary text can be.) I will make my novel “Collected Selected Words” experimental. One word per page. The reader will be invited to comment, to write and to add to his or her heart’s content, basing his writing on that one word on that particular page. My novel can be called “Collected Selected Extended”. I can go on shortly afterwards to publish it as chapters, making sure each chapter is more than the minimum number of pages necessary for a self-published book (pamphlet really). That gives me another twenty books out there (sixteen if I can’t string out two glossaries, quotes and references, and a bit “About the author”). And so on. Talk about building up the haystack.     

      The first guy who helped me with MOBI files, PDFs, DOC versus DOCX, and EPUBS was and still is an embedded  inspiration. His patience is massive, his prices are excellent, and he is an independent author himself. He said early on there is a lot of terrible stuff out there (used plainer language than I’m using here!) but he praised my work for not being terrible. Damning with faint praise? Not at all.

      But last night and indeed this morning and indeed for many a morning to come I’m going to be scratching my head, trying to find a way out of the haystack in which I live, move and breathe as an independent author with Amazon. Worse. I think as I live on I will see the number of books being self-published growing and I will feel even more despondent. Worse. I will notice Amazon itself hinting that it is finding the pressure immense. Why else would it thank me for reviewing one of its products and telling me I am helping millions of potential buyers understand a product, in this case, a book (among millions), better? Why else? Why else?

     But I’m a very busy man and so this morning I will rearrange my already published novel of 200 odd pages into an EPUB, MOBI and PDF of 1100 pages, give it a different name and publish it. With my original novel and a small collection of poems already out there, it will become my third self-published title, and tonight if my insomnia and worry about needles and haystacks get the better of me I’ll publish my fourth title, call it “Reshuffled”, and just put the novel I like so much back to front. There we are. My fourth self-published book will be out!
      I will increase the mountain of self-published work until people will see me for what I am – a neglected genius.

N.B. No book to be rejected for beginning sentences and paragraphs with conjunctions!

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