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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Friday, February 11, 2011

Interview with author, Karl Kokensparger, pen name: A.M. Brosius

1. Tell us a bit about yourself--I take it you are a full time writer?

   Far from it. I run a one-man landscape gardening business in Eugene. I practice swordplay one to three times a week and fight tournaments one to two times per month. I build and maintain my own armor and rattan weapons for that. I cross over into fencing: more stuff to build and maintain. I crochet a lot of my own clothes and also use the output for gifts. I spend a fair amount of time reading and studying history, anthropology and philosophy with an emphasis on ethics. All this, and then 2½ years ago (at age 54!) I got struck by the Muse and added fiction writing to the above activities.
   I  think I could easily make writing into a full-time job, between the composition, editing, formatting, promotion, etc. I haven’t even considered many of the aspects of a full-time writing career: book tours, readings, publicity and all that. The question is: can I make a living at it? The answer is: “Not yet”.
   BTW, I would love to correspond with other writers, self-published or not, about writing in general and sci-fi/ alternate history in particular. <ambrosius@efn.org>   

2. What made you choose LuLu for your publisher? Will you use LuLu for Book 2 and 3?
   It was an accident. I bought a translation of Fiore dei Liberi’s 14th Century swordsmanship manual from Lulu and liked the way the book looked, and how quickly I received it. At that point I was ‘Lulu member’ so instead of shopping around I went with flow. I will probably use Lulu for Book 2 and 3; after all I know their system now, and if I move I will probably have to learn a whole new bag of tricks 
3. Has the POD format worked for you? If not, why not?
   Regardless of Lulu’s good and bad points, POD is an excellent thing: see, my first novel is ‘out there’ now, available for purchase, and I don’t have to keep track of any of that stuff: I don’t have stacks of books in my living room, I don’t have to schlepp them around to bookstores and keep tabs on sales… and I didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to a printer, bindery, etc. in order to get it into print, like in the bad old days of self-publishing. 
4. How have you managed the marketing of your book?
Have your sales been optimum as far as you're concerned?
   Depends on what you mean by ‘optimum’. I’d love it if millions of people read my book, enjoyed it as a story; and also understood the underlying political and economic argument, took that to heart and began a worldwide transformation to some version of rationality and fairness.
   Knowing how ridiculously unlikely that is, I’d have to say I am lousy (so far) at promotion. I’m getting more ideas all the time; the trick is prying out time to execute them. I went to Orycon, spent the weekend Shmoozing like a maniac, and sold, I think, seven books. Yeah, but it’s a start right? At this point maybe thirty people have read ‘Leontari’. That is a ‘profit’ as far as I am concerned.

5. What pitfalls would you mention to others who are deciding to self-publish?
   It’s a long, hard uphill slog just to get noticed, I know that and I’m hardly started up the hill. On the other hand, I could spend twenty years looking for an agent, negotiating with publishers, having my book edited into a mishmash that I didn’t even recognize, and still no one would have read it except agents and editors. 
   The biggest danger in self-publishing is, I think, the apparent tendency of a lot of people to publish before they have really edited the book. Sturgeon’s Law states that: “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” On Lulu anyway, make that ninety-five percent. I had a good beta-reader and I slogged through ‘Leontari’ frontwards and backwards for a year after the book was ‘finished’. Some of the stuff I’ve previewed looks like it wasn’t even spell-checked.
   BUT! Be careful about hiring a professional editor. The ones who work or worked for the big publishing houses have a distinct template that they think every book has to fit into. One of them sent me an (unsolicited) critique of my first couple pages. It sent shivers down my spine, made me so happy I had found Lulu and self published. I tried to imagine what ‘Lord of the Rings’ or the Gormenghast trilogy would look like edited by one of those people. A horrifying idea.
   I think maybe the best editor would be a retired English teacher who was unfamiliar with the genre of your book. Perhaps s/he would edit for spelling, typos and grammar without trying to shoehorn your work into a category.

6. Overall, are you satisfied with your decision to self-publish?

   Absolutely! In addition to the above discussion of publisher’s  templates, keep in mind that the apparent plethora of labels and imprints out there are mostly owned by three or four international corporations. There is a hidden agenda there, layers of censorship that you or I can barely see. Then there’s the Wal-mart phenomenon: if one racist, homophobic, religious loonie in Kansas complains about the content of your book--- Boom!--- off the shelves it goes. This has actually caused a whole new layer of self-censorship to occur among agents, editors and publishers. One reason that POD and other forms of self-publishing are becoming so widespread is that lots of people are bored with the results of all that top-down control. Walk down the aisles at a bookstore and read the first ten pages of some random new novel. I bet you’ll know the rest of what’s going to happen in the story, and you will be able to anticipate the ending, nearly certain to be a happy one.
   If you write something outside the mainstream and you don’t want it    ‘edited’ into conformity with the current paradigm, self-publishing is the only way to go. 

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