I have long been a crusader for the talented independently published authors we have in Australia. There are some very talented authors who are waiting to be ‘discovered’, and by independently publishing, these authors are getting their work and their name out there. Yes, there are certainly some self published books that really fall short of the mark, but if all commercially published books were good then there would never be a bad review. Ho hum!
Anyway, this week I had the opportunity to chat with a commercially published as well as independently published UK author, Colin Parsons, and compare notes. It is interesting for find the similarities in the publishing world, albeit across oceans.
Colin’s first published work was a short story called ‘Halfway home’ published online by Crystal Serenades Publications (CSP). His first break came when CSP brought out an anthology in 2004 on adult horror stories, titled When Darkness Comes, publishing one of his stories.
Since then Colin has self published a three part series called Wizards’ Kingdom with Athena Press. Then in 2009 his fourth book The Curious World of Shelley Vendor was published by North Staffordshire Press; launched in November 2009 at Borders Cardiff.
So grab a cup of tea and let’s find out about Colin’s writing journey, and how he ‘accidentally’ took the self publishing path.
Did you always want to be a writer?
The simple answer to that is no, I suppose. I’ve always dabbled in writing and I won a few writing competitions at primary school, I always wanted to be James Bond when I was a kid.
When did you start writing?
I was in my early thirties when I picked up a pen and started writing short stories. Time just melted away when I really got into it, and nothing before that or since has had the same effect.
What writers do you think have influenced you?
Definitely, Angie Sage (Magyk, Flyte etc), also of course JK Rowling. Richard Matheson (I am Legend), Neil Gaiman and Eoin Colfer.
What genres do you write in/or have written in?
I dabble in a few different genres. I’ve written mythical magical adventures, fantasy, science fiction and I’m writing a supernatural story at the moment.
Prior to self publishing your Wizards’ Kingdom series, you had commercial success with your short story, Always Just Behind published as part of an anthology of horror stories.
So why did you decide to self-publish/publish independently?
The anthology was published by a small press called CSP publishing and shortly afterwards went out of business. I enjoyed the book-signing at the launch so much…I got the bug.
I wrote a wizarding adventure and sent it to lots and lots of publishers. This was in 2004 when Harry Potter was at its height and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was also high in the book charts. Publishers were just not taking wizard stories.
How did you get started, i.e. how did you go about self-publishing or gathering information?
By accident really! I sent my ms to a publisher that I thought was a traditional one. When I realized it was ‘author funded’ or self-published, and by this time I’d sent to at least 100 publisher’s and been rejected by them all, I thought I would try it out.
How did you go about editing your work?
I was very naïve at the time, to be honest. I went over and over my writing until I was satisfied with it. The publisher then did a professional editing job on it and gave me a glowing reader’s report.
How long did the self-publishing process or independent publishing take place, ie. from the beginning to the printing of your books?
It took four months in all to complete the first book (the other two in the series took six months). Athena Press did it in four stages; from proof reading, editing, type setting and printing. They were very professional and sent my mss back to me at every stage to make sure I was happy.
What obstacles did you encounter during this process, if any?
I must admit I didn’t. I couldn’t have picked a better self-publishing company.
How did you go about organizing a printing company?
That was the magic of it all (excuse the pun), Athena Press did it all for me and gave me promotional material to advertise my book.
What was your print run?
There was no set print run as such, P.O.D. (print on demand) was making its mark at the time. However many books were ordered, that’s how many the printers would produce. My self-published books have sold approximately 9,000 copies to date.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing or publishing independently?
Disadvantages: were and still are aplenty. Being rejected all over again by bookstores, because you’re self published. You are never going to be taken seriously as a self-published writer unless you sell lots and lots of copies. To this day in the UK, self-published authors have to work, work, work to establish themselves enough to get into bookstores.
Advantages: are that once you get into stores and your work gets recognized then, you start getting treated like a traditionally published author. I have bookstores emailing and ringing me up now.
What was your biggest learning curve or is there anything that you would have done differently?
I was totally out of my depth in the beginning. I had to learn the ropes as it were. There were plenty of bad times. Once the promotional material had diminished from my publisher, I bought my own…a big mistake! – spending out lots of money on posters and flyers to send to bookstores, to get noticed. It all just gets dumped and forgotten about and all that money is wasted. I learned and used my personality to win over the book buying public. I had a book that was good and I was getting great feedback!
Did being a commercially published author make you feel more confident as a writer, thus more confident in taking the self publishing path?
I don’t feel there is much difference in the way you promote yourself and your books, independently published or self! I’ve talked to lots of high level authors since being in this game. I thought once you have a big publisher behind you then it’s all plain sailing…no,no,no! They give your book a launch and then it’s up to you to get school talks and festival’s etc.
You love to write Fantasy fiction. What is the inspiration behind your Wizards’ Kingdom series?
My youngest son Ryan was falling behind in his English in primary school (10 years old at the time). His teacher told us he was a good reader, but being a boy he was a lazy reader. She had read all of my short stories and said, why don’t you write him a book? She continued that; he loves wizards and magic and so write him a wizard’s adventure…that was the start of the series. All I did was write ten short stories with the same theme and plot and they turned into chapters.
How do you market your books? Have you come across any obstacles when dealing with bookstores, etc?
I used to and still do, ring up bookstores and send them my information by email. They then get back to me and we set a book-signing date. There are plenty of obstacles – if a manager doesn’t like you for some reason, they’ll just ‘fob you off’ and won’t allow a signing. Some stores forget you’re signing there that Saturday and so I always ring up with a courtesy call a week before. Sometimes the books don’t turn up and that is frustrating. I advertise on my website, facebook, myspace, twitter, linkedin and anywhere else I can get them noticed.
What does successful self-publishing or successful independent publishing mean to you?
Getting my work out there that otherwise would be sitting in a cupboard somewhere. It means a lot when I get emails from parents and children praising me on my books. I work a full-time job still and so I have two jobs. My publisher is only a small concern and struggling. One day I’ll get a major one.
What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing/publishing independently or setting up their own company?
Just be prepared to work really hard and hope you have an understanding partner or wife/husband. Take advice from people who are in the business and know what they are talking about. Talk to other authors; believe me they’ve probably gone through the same thing at one time or another.
Get independent criticism of your work (you may think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but an outsider will tell you the truth).
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self-publisher, eg. determination, patience, organization, sales and marketing experience, self-belief …
All of the above. I started off selling my books in supermarkets and newsagents (newspaper stores). My break came when they were opening up a new Borders bookstore in my area (now gone like the rest). I was working for a company and the guy in IT bought my first book and gave it to his wife. She had just got a job in Borders and showed it to her boss. They then asked me to launch the ‘Children’s Department.’ That went really well and I sold 100 books that weekend. I joined the dots and went from store to store throughout the UK.
Since Wizards’ Kingdom you have had more commercial success with the publication of The Curious World of Shelley Vendor published by North Staffordshire Press.
Are you involved in the marketing of this book? If yes, how do you promote your book? And do the commercial publishers assist you greatly in book promotion?
NSP are small publisher and so I promote my own work. I do get the odd invite from the publisher to the London Book Fair and a festival now and again. My wife and I market our way from top to bottom. She is really helpful in bookstores when I’m walking around the store introducing myself. She will explain to customers about me and my work when they approach the table.
Would you ever consider self-publishing again?
Yes. The world has changed greatly since I first started. Everything is digital books now. I’m in the process of changing all my work to e-books. Projects I have floating around publishers, if still rejected then I’ll digitize them without a publisher.
Is there one person you can think of who played a significant part in your writing career?
My wife; She has been fantastic. Every Saturday she’s there by my side. There are plenty of others along the way that have helped, but she’s the one. Thank you Jan.
Where would you like to be in five year’s time, writing wise?
To have sold a million copies of my work and to be doing it full-time.
What projects are you working on now?
I have just finished, The Curious World of Katie Hinge, the sequel to Shelley Vendor. I have written a mss in between called; Crank Tech One: Destination – Cardiff. I am writing a supernatural series at the moment, but I’m keeping that ‘under wrap’s.’
What words best describe you?
Hard working, determined even when all the odds are against me. Happy go Lucky and that shines when I’m dealing with fans of my work.
Have you any other words of advice?
Enjoy what you are doing…if you’re not then you’re in the wrong game.
And Colin, just to finish up, could you please complete the following:
At school I was … pleasant and very nervous.
When I was a child I wanted to be …James Bond.
I relax by …reading, walking and stepping away from work.
For more information about Colin:
Website address: http://www.colinrparsons.com
His blog: http://www.myspace.com/colin.r.parsons
Wizards’ Kingdom published June 2005
The Obelisk of Ashmar published November 2006
Jarrak’s Darkness published September 2007
The Curious World of Shelley Vendor published November 2009
North Staffordshire Press
Thanks Colin for sharing your interesting journey, and we wish you every success.
Helen Ross interviews Colin Parsons. Copyright Helen Ross 11 July 2011