The fortieth birthday is a milestone indeed! But, eight months ago, when I uploaded my novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford, to Amazon Kindle, and watched it sit there day after day with zero reviews, I looked around at other books and it entered my head that to ever hit the fortieth review with an ebook would be a wonderful thing.
A landmark moment.

It took eight months to get there, but the 40th review for The Survival of Thomas Ford came in recently.
Thank-you Alexandra, for this:

FIVE STARS    A thrilling page-turner, a quite extraordinary book.
Outstanding. I lost two days of my holiday to this extraordinary book.
I bought it on the recommendation of someone who seems to have had an instinctive understanding of the sort of book I would enjoy. I'm so glad I listened because once I started reading The Survival of Thomas Ford I was drawn into something really quite extraordinary.
From the first paragraph I was mesmerised. Yet the clear bare prose of the opening pages had a haunting quality that lulled me into a world I had not - could not have from the gentle opening - anticipated. A compulsive read, a story that gripped and shocked with its unsparing clarity. Characters as wicked as they were believable, they became even more believable as the story progressed I think because, however wicked their thoughts (and we were not spared their dark thoughts) their vulnerabilities were also laid before us, like real people's thoughts justify actions even when those actions are terrible and the consequences of those actions more terrible still.
A thrilling page-turner, a literary fiction novel that swept me into the at times feral-like lives of ordinary folk. Set in the Highlands of Scotland, the dialogue was perfect and true. Yet it could equally have been set in any part of the world. Something about the unflinching way the author held up these people with their most basic human drives and motivations, their flawed reasoning, their loyalties and their desperate need to make something of their lives, guided - or haunted - by elements of mysticism made this feel almost like a ghost story at times.
Beautifully written, this is the first book where I was moved to 'highlight' a passage on my Kindle:
'Paper odds were for cowards, who wanted an excuse for not trying. If you were going to dare to try to shape the future you had to forget about such things. You had to try to change your mind into a machine that could create diamonds, then you had to use the diamonds as tools to cut your name, your family's name, into the glass surface that other people called the future. Then other people would read your name there.'
Through such insightful and beautiful descriptive passages I was able to feel an uncomfortable degree of empathy and understanding for Jack McCallum and the desperate measures he had been driven to throughout his life. The observation that earlier in history he might have been a great man. Society does that, doesn't it? It changes the goal posts. But the human spirit has its own path.
A brilliant book.”

As well as being a landmark review, I’m very aware that it is probably one of the kindest I will ever receive.

I’m conscious of the fact that, over the last eight months, my identity as a new ebook author has been cobbled and bolted together by things like, yes, reader reviews such as the one above, and also peer reviews like the one I had by Cally Phillips on the Indieebookreview site:

This concept of “identity” in epublishing would seem to be a crucial one.
I started off very much influenced by the forthrightness of J. A. Konrath:
And by perhaps the influence with the strongest identity of all, Dean Wesley Smith:

Whenever my confidence or sense of newly-developing identity faltered in the last eight months, a wee read from either of those sites would straighten me out again!

Dean Wesley Smith influenced me to “THINK LIKE A PUBLISHER!”

I want to illustrate what I mean by this, in a series of 4 true-story vignettes…

Vignette One (which takes place, or took place as these are true stories) in summer 2011:

I was sitting at an outdoor café in Inverness, Scotland, because, unlike this year, the sun was shining!
I met an old friend I hadn’t seen in eight years. He sat down and I told him my travails over my London literary agent not managing to sell my book...
”Yadda yadda yadda I went…blah blah blah…I told him the bit about the film consultant who had discovered SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE having read my novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford, and that she thought my novel was the best she had read in the last four years…but still, no sale anywhere she or my literary agent went with the book…boo hoo…the editors at publishing houses loved the book…‘I love books like this, that have the pace and excitement of a thriller, but the voice and emotional depth of a literary novel’ said one editor, but still no sale…the sales depts didn’t want the book…it was the sales depts you see…”
While I was giving him the spiel my friend removed his sunglasses. It wasn’t so much his eyes that were glazed over as I continued, but his whole face. I could feel portions of his soul begin to calcify as I lengthened the dirge, but I kept on talking…and talking…until finally I gave him a moment to get a word in…
“Ebooks,” he said.
Ebooks? Didn’t he hear me? I had a London literary agent and a film consultant. Ebooks?
“I just came back from Canada yesterday,” he said. “My sister’s in publishing. She says the future is ebooks. If I were you…how many books have you done now?”
“Seven? John, I would just get them up as ebooks. Forget all this London stuff. You might not need it anymore.”
He put his sunglasses back on, and made his retreat when another old friend I hadn’t seen in eight years sat at the table, and I began to treat this new guy to the exact same spiel about London agents and film consultants…

There ends “Vignette One”. Before I move to Vignette Two let me share a paragraph of comment I saw recently beneath a DAILY MAIL article about a successful epublished author:
It went along the lines of,
‘You go to a party and when asked what you do you say author.
"Who is your publisher?" you are asked.
"I’m self-published…I publish myself"
(This “Oh”is supposed to be an embarrassing, humiliating, conversation-stopping “Oh”…)

But, I think this is a function of the language we are using when we say “self-published”.
In some way, we are failing to follow Dean Wesley Smith’s aphorism to THINK LIKE A PUBLISHER.

Anyway, by the time Vignette Two occurs much has changed.
I have named my publishing company, WHITE BUTTERFLY PRESS
I have hundreds of business cards printed, I have my book uploaded, I have my reader and peer reviews.
I’ve done 7 books in 22 years with nothing but quality in mind, but now I am also THINKING LIKE A PUBLISHER, and I notice what a difference it makes compared to the depressive tales of woe I was telling the summer before.
I hope these next three vignettes illustrate that difference clearly:

Vignette Two (location, a house where I am taken by a friend covered in sheep-dirt and mud, after an afternoon digging up earth and broken glass on a remote Scottish farm):
“Sorry about all this mud,” I say to the host as I enter, removing boots.
“That’s alright. Would you like some tea?”
“What do you do?”
“I write ebooks.”
“What’s that?”
“I write books and sell them on the internet. Americans buy them, and they sell in the UK, Australia too. People read them on computers or phones, or on those Kindle ereaders, you ever see them advertised on TV?”
“Oh! I’ve met someone famous!”

Vignette Three (a friend’s house, where I’m meeting someone new)
“What do you do?”
“I write ebooks.”
“Aye? My daughter’s got one of those Kindle things. Couple of people at my office have as well. Write down the book’s name and I’ll…”
“Let me give you some business cards!” 

Vignette Four (the bank, last month, paying in my first Amazon cheque for $625, which came in the same week an Amazon UK transfer of £627 was paid into the bank…strange how close those figures in different currencies were)
“How can I help you?”
“I need to pay this American dollars cheque in please.”
“Oh, I haven’t done one of those for a long time…have you?”
“Not for a long time.”
“I’ll get the paperwork. What do you do?”
“I write ebooks. That’s my first cheque from sales to American and Australian readers.”
“Oh, that’s exciting, isn’t it?”
“Aye!”© Abacusmage | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos© Kdrgreen | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos© Aleksandrl | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

Finally, I’d like to thank Ewan Morrison for his article in The Guardian recently, entitled,
“Why Social Media isn’t the Magic Bullet for Self-epublished Authors”
Ewan had been saying some things about “self-epublishing” being a bubble due to burst in 18 months, and social media being no use for selling ebooks etc.

A few days before Ewan published the article, a reader had sent a joint tweet to myself and to Ewan Morrison, telling us she had bought both our books after discovering us on Twitter, and that she preferred this way to discover new authors. "Less hype," she said. "I can discover the author or the book for myself and make my own mind up."

I went over to The Guardian article to leave a comment pointing this out, also taking the opportunity to try to Use Social Media as a Magic Bullet by mentioning my book, and had an immediate response from another Guardian commenter:

“Alright, pal, I've put my money where your mouth is and bought your book. If it's shxxx I'm going to come round and kick you in the knackers.”

So, thank-you Ewan for helping me make that sale through social media etc!

Finally, on the USA side of things, I was very honoured to see The Survival of Thomas Ford mentioned here this month:

And, back over here, the UK Amazon Kindle Group on Goodreads has chosen The Survival of Thomas Ford as a group discussion read for August (alongside The Stand by Stephen King!):



Unknown said…
Great post, which I enjoyed immensely. Now, I'm going to check out Survival. See that social media stuff really does work.
John, well said! Like you, I felt I constantly had to explain why my novel was stuck in the rave rejections limbo - too much like a thriller for a literary novel, too literary and unexpected for a genre novel. It was with some trepidation that I put it out on Kindle (and in print) this time last year, but it was utterly the best thing I ever did.
I began to get reviews - serious, thoughtful reviews - from strangers who had not only enjoyed my book, they'd been haunted by it, said it was their favourite read of the year, life had stopped while they read it etc. And emails too, from shyer folk who just wanted to let me know it had been special for them. At a stroke, I felt like I'd been released from jail. Before I published it, I'd begun to feel I must be delusional, continuing to believe in my own peculiar brand of fiction - but now real people who'd put down their money were saying 'when can I read another'?

I love your phrase about writing with only quality in mind. For that, let me buy you a big birthday drink. This is the only way to write that's worthwhile, and when we get feedback like we've both had on our novels, from people who like our books written our way, it confirms we were right to plough our lonely furrow. Thank heavens for the developments in the epublishing world that mean we don't have to wait for someone else to think like a publisher. And thank heavens for writers like you, who are tirelessly showing the world that the people who innovate in any artform are the artistes themselves. I wish you many more happy returns.
julia jones said…
Really like the concept of 'thinking like a publisher' - because actually when a book is done it does somehow remove itself from the author and become almost an independedt entity. So it isn't as hard as one mught think to stand apart and think what best to do with it next, as a publisher should.
CallyPhillips said…
Yes, but perhaps think like an 'indie' publisher!!! Or maybe it's just THINK PROFESSIONALLY (can't do think professional - too eat fresh!)And then act professionally. The words indie and professional ARE actually allowed together in the same sentence

For more about indie publishing and what we may/may not stand for check out the 5pm slot (@theFestival) at the Edinburgh Ebook festival today
Great post, John. And yes - what has been fascinating for me has been the contrast between trying to explain about the collapse of the mid-list and the 'rave rejections' to people outside the business - and the overwhelmingly positive response to my eBooks from readers - most of whom I don't know personally - but who don't care who has published them, just that they have read them and liked them. I've had a few friends who knew my history saying 'why on earth couldn't this find a traditional publisher' (although The Curiosity Cabinet WAS traditionally published, so in that case it was 'why wouldn't your trad publisher reprint?') - but much more commonplace has been that 'oh, great, when are you going to get the next book out then?'response. The only thing readers care about is if they have enjoyed the book, and how soon they can get hold of the next one. Which can present some problems, but on the whole, they are good problems!
Ann Evans said…
Great post John, I really enjoyed reading it - and what a lovely review! Congrats on getting your 40th review, that's wonderful.
I have The Survival of Thomas Ford on my Kindle, can't wait to start reading it.
Susan Price said…
You won't be disappointed, Ann! - It's great.
Tahlia Newland said…
I have 'design business cards' on my to do list, along with 'print book marks'. I think it's time I did that, so when someone asks who my publisher is, I can give them a business card.

As for the bubble bursting, I think it's true in that there won't be so many new self publishers. With more balanced info out there about what SP actually entails many authors will realise that self-publishing isn't for them, and some who have tried and not got the results they wanted will pull out. Not everyone has the skills, the money or the desire to run their own business and that's what this is.

However, as sites that list indie books based on quality become better known, readers will read more SP books. The excitement will die down, but the business will continue for those willing to put in the hard yards.
khusbhu said…
Cheap Business card and cheap flyers printing-how do you visualise and what do you anticipate from companies offering such services?

Cheap Business Cards & cheap flyers

khusbhu said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Korczak said…
What a terrific post. Ebook publishing is fascinating, yet frustrating, agonizing yet exciting. It's a Brave New World, that's for sure.

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