You may have noticed that I have been rather out of circulation for more than a year now and was obliged to put my Damselfly Project one side. But now again. after a lot of thought, I have regained the energy and the motivation to relaunch Damselfly in the form of a Private Enterprise to publish my own books and perhaps one or two books by people whom I admire.
You will see from my Publications Tab above that I’ve had many books published by mainstream publishers in the last 20 years or so – as well as several short story collections. So with these credentials I have finally realised that I could and should identify Damselfly as a private publishing enterprise. I feel that I have in my knapsack the aesthetic criteria and literary standards that can facilitate the making of a good book.
As a kind of practice run latterly I have been publishing my own novels and some short story collections using the medium of Amazon Createspace. I discovered and have experimented with Createspace and found that it suited my approach – although I am aware that there are other online ways of making your own books.
I’ve now come to call this process Making Books. It is the whole process. Whereas during my early experience with large mainstream publishers I only(?) had to write the books, with this process I have to do more everything more or less myself including commissioning proof-reader’s first editorial readers and designers to make sure that the books emerge to my own satisfaction. And I truly hope to the satisfaction of my readers. It has to be said, though, that my notion of Book Making should not be confused with bookmaking although aspects of gambling can be to be involved. It’s certainly not all plain sailing.
Whereas in my literary salad days I had the benefit of a large publisher with a competent editorial department and at least one very inspiring editor, in this Book Making enterprise I have to go it alone. Certainly becoming familiar with the Createspace process was discovery-learning for me. But I do like a challenge!
Going it alone, however, does not mean assuming the garb of an amateur or treating writing and publishing like a hobby. As with a few people who have gone down this path I wholly resent the term Vanity Publishing. Private Publishing has a long history in the field of publishing. The creative freedom and excitement of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, when they set up the Hogarth press, reflect something of the relish I feel in Making Books in this modern way. This is surely the very opposite of the giant conglomerates of modern publishing. In our day Susan Hill with her Long Barn Books also continues to take this independent initiative.
So far, so good and exciting! But I have discovered the stumbling block of the next stage, which is to do with the marketing and distribution of your books. There is a plethora of advice about this on the Internet, talking about the importance of having a platform on the very same Internet. I suppose, in a way, my own Damselfly Project, my Blog Lifetwicetasted and my Twitter have been my way of tackling this obligation. It is a fact that each of them has been rather quiet in the last year or so for the above reasons.
There is some useful support for writers by writers on the Internet – such as The Alliance of Independent Authors. But I wonder if this is to do with the inevitable isolation of writers working on their own. Here we have writers talking to other writers about their writing and probably authors selling their work to other authors. This is supportive and very admirable but I can’t see a breakout in sales from this process or – more importantly – actual readers coming from such ventures
In my life as a writer I have found that writing the books and the stories has been both a great intellectual challenge and an organisational enterprise. This engenders a deep creative, even a sensual pleasure – as I have found over three intense decades of writing. This makes a good foundation for these later pleasures of the Making of Books emerging from my own writing. But it nevertheless intensifies my determination to make the best book ever to honour my own writing. It’s a bit like sending your child out in her very best clothes so that people will see what a really sweet child she is. This is how I feel about Alice in my forthcoming novel Becoming Alice. More about Alice soon…
However the challenge of promotion and distribution of books is quite another kettle of fish. There is no guarantee that however good your efforts, however sound the judgement of your first editorial readers, that your book will make it out to more than a few hundred readers. Well, even more than a few dozen readers! To enter fully into the process of promotion and distribution can be time consuming and occasionally embarrassing. It can rob precious time from the writing and creating process itself. And it is almost impossible to mesh the hard-nosed selling self – if there ever was one – with the isolated self-sufficient, creative self that spins up the poems and stories.
It’s true that you can pay companies to promote your book, using online media in a commercial sense. I tried it once. I’m sure it has some successes, but it’s odd to be on the receiving end of such a process. Encountering my Twitter feed shouting about other writers, with loud titles and bright colours is not quite my cup of tea. Even so, good luck to them I say!
Amazon, as well,offers marking support which seems to involve interest and investment but again has no guarantees. Indeed, how can success be guaranteed in any of these processes?
But in my view the magical; process of Book Making is creative and satisfying in itself. It is a wonderful endgame in the process of writing. So, currently I am working on Making a Book for Hugh Cross – an intriguing collection of literary cameos, called Scenes from a Life, as well as putting the final touches to my own novel, Becoming Alice . As the weeks go by you will find much more about both of these books in various places on Damselfly Books.
I am publishing them on Damselfly in the knowledge that they may not ride high on the arcane fields of promotion and distribution. But I feel sure that, like pennies thrown into a pool, they will reach a growing circle of readers drawn by the magical process of word-of-mouth. So whereas my early mass-market publications reached and were read by, tens of thousands of people and even more through the wonderful library system – these new books will be just as much appreciated by the people actually get to read them. My only true marketing ploy will be to keep my Damselfly Books website alive and kicking, to chat a little just a little bit about the books in my Life Twice Tasted blog and my Twitter, where talking about reading and writing and readers and writers are at the core of living, as they have always been in my own life.