First-time novelist Patrick Taylor considers his publishing options. Should he take the traditional route via agents and publishers. Or should he try a new road: self-publishing and engaging with readers in new ways and formats?-> Read more
There were two main choices for me when I finished writing my first novel, Russian Resolution. The first choice was the traditional publishing route: keep sending my manuscript to literary agents, where the chances of being accepted are statistically very low. Even if my book were taken on by an agent, as a new and unknown author, the likelihood of being picked up by a publisher is poor. If I took this publishing route, the probability that any of my books would be read by anyone seemed to me to be miniscule.
The second choice was self-publishing as an e-book – because agents and publishers are no longer the gatekeepers: anyone with internet access and a little editorial help can publish and have the opportunity of becoming a bestseller. I’ve had to put more effort and money into getting my manuscript copyedited, designed and uploaded as a Kindle (or other e-book format). I’m rapidly learning how to do self-marketing on the internet, but already, within days of being published, I have readers and good reviews, which gives me an incentive to continue writing further novels in the series. If I attract a lot of readers, those same publishers might even approach me direct, bypassing the need for an agent. So I chose the e-route, and my book is now available via Kindle Select.
But e-formats potentially offer me much more than readers and the possibility of publisher interest. They present me with new ways of thinking about my novel – creating something with direct appeal for my readers. By building a relationship with readers online, I can offer them more of what they want – which might be more than the stories themselves.
In the Observer article ‘Top novelists look to eBooks to challenge the rules of fiction’, Faber’s Chief Executive Stephen Page envisages e-books breaking away from the traditional linear book format and incorporating other experiences. Indeed, enhanced e-books may look more like the earliest books. Before the invention of the printing press, creating books involved monks copying text by hand and adding illustrations. These colourful pictures were not necessarily dependent on the text; they were the creation of the illustrator’s imagination. Their art embellished the quality of the story and readers appreciated books not just for the stories, but the penmanship, fonts, artistry and quality of the parchment. Every book was unique, involving the skills of several craftsmen.
My first novel is set in Russia, from Communism to Capitalism. If readers enjoy the novel and want to know more about the facts, characters or side stories, I could create embedded hyperlinks to articles, blogs, videos or even games, all of which would shed light on the real events that inspired my story. My book would then start to resemble early books, with the central story surrounded by e-additives: video, audio, quizzes, photos, reading recommendations and background mood music. My novel needs to be a good read in its own right, of course, but I’m excited about the media possibilities of enhanced e-books and the ways in which they will offer readers new ways to enjoy and experience my story world. Meanwhile, I’ve started by exploring the numerous cultural, historical, and political aspects relevant to the story, gradually releasing the background to my book on my blog www.russianresolution.info
Now reader democracy decides what will be read widely, the gatekeepers are those who own tablets, smart phones and computers, and their reading preferences will change the format of future ‘books’ – or should that be ‘experiences’. As a first-time author, that makes me very excited.
Patrick Taylor began his novel Russian Resolution on the Faber Academy Writing a Novel online course. The next course starts on 24 September.
Patrick has 35 years experience in Russia, including as Assistant Air Attache and Russian Small Businesses consultant. He was a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow. Patrick divides his year between South Africa and the UK.