You know how I was gonna self-publish my novel?

Well, if ever I felt like a liar . . .

Earlier this year I excitedly announced that I would be self-publishing my debut novel, Leaving Sadie, in June. Then, as the month approached like a freight train bombing along the tracks towards our tied-up hero in an action movie, I realised that I needed more time to free myself from those restrictive ropes; i.e. I needed to make additional changes to the story, let alone finalise the book-cover design (wonderfully executed by Chloë Keogan), get an ISBN, and prepare the final manuscript for digital and physical publication.

To be crude about it all: I’d blown my load.

So I said I’d aim for an autumn publication date, with October being the definite deadline. I’d even contacted Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin over at writing.ie about promoting the work on the site, as I had promoted my old blog Sounds From a Dublin Cafe. And Vanessa — wonderfully supportive of emerging writers as she is — was happy to offer me a slot on the site. That was that: I was certain I’d self-publish the novel by October at the latest.

But.

I had some thinking to do: Had I truly exhausted the traditional road to getting a novel published? Definitely not: Off the top of my head I would guess I’ve approached around six or seven literary agents — 10 max. Now, most people interested in literature know the famous J.K Rowling story, and how her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected time after time: The road to publication or landing an agent is a long one, and for that you need patience — like waiting at a railroad crossing for that freight train to pass by.

Now, I’m someone who has plenty of patience when it comes to writing a novel; I know it takes a lot of time and isn’t something that should be rushed. I know that landing a publishing deal is incredibly difficult and that these things take luck and time; and the world of literature can be kind to the aging process.

Despite my patience for the writing and publishing process, I had decided that Sadie was what it was: my first effort writing a novel. Completing the first novel is the real achievement, I’ve read umpteen times; it means you’ve got what it takes . . . when it comes to the next novels. Many authors don’t see their first completed novel published, and many of those who do wince and shudder when asked about that usually inexpert-though-rich-with-potential first novel (think Haruki Murakami and Hear The Wind Sing).

Sadie was sitting on my computer; a learning process that instilled in me the confidence to go and write my next novel. There it would stay, in the dark, left untouched, without a reader to heap praise upon it or tear it to shreds. And that to me felt . . . wrong. I’d poured a lot of energy into that work. And more importantly I loved my characters, for their talents and their flaws, for their courage and their cowardice, for their demand to be brought to life on paper — to be heard by someone.

It was the characters screaming from the laptop or the cold, dark desk drawer, who prompted me to decide to self-publish. If the work wasn’t up to scratch — if it was clearly the work of a novice; a writer experienced in film and advertising but not experienced enough in long-form fiction writing — then I’d learn that through the feedback of readers, the most honest critics. Why not put it out there? It would be a valuable learning experience.

And as explained above, I made that decision and had planned on publishing the work by next month, following that premature release date.

But then something else happened.

An early draft of Sadie was given the editing treatment by a young, recently graduated editor in the U.S. back in 2016. The feedback was mostly helpful and informed the future rewrites of the manuscript. But the story had changed so much since that first edit that I had to consider whether or not to have another editor take the story apart and find the flaws and inconsistencies.

Originally I’d said, ‘No, no, this is what it is. I’ve rewritten and rewritten and it will go out in its current state.’ That was a tad naive of me, but I knew that: I knew it would be a risk to self-publish without the final draft getting the editor’s touch. But then I was contacted by a fellow writer and copywriter, who informed me that their published-author sibling was now editing as well, and would possibly be interested in looking at Sadie before I put it out there, at a very reasonable fee.

At first I said it was okay; I had made the bed, tucked in my plot and characters and kissed them on their way into the unknown. I could no longer protect them, they were ready to be unleashed and whatever was to come their way would come; I could only hope that I’d equipped them well enough to deal with it. Then panic sat in: what if the work is awful? I mean, I knew the work wasn’t awful: I’d had plenty of feedback (no, not just from the mother and girlfriend!), and when I compared my work to other emerging writers on workshop sites I knew there was real strength in my writing. But the structure, the character growth, the conclusion — these aspects of the story could benefit greatly from the eye of a published author and editor.

I had to pause the self-publishing plan and send it over to that editor.

And now?

Now I have the editor’s invaluable notes.

Now I see where the story needs work: it needs more work.

And now I have the belief that Leaving Sadie could very well find itself a home by going down the traditional publishing road; the feedback definitely suggests that.

So now I have to get back to work.

The novel wasn’t ready for self-publication, I have to accept that.

But it could be ready for a traditional publisher very soon.

I’m going to go down the road of finding an agent, because while there was great appeal in self-publishing the work, and while I spent money and time on preparing for self-publication (cover design, ISBN, etc,), and while I know I had input from people on WordPress and Facebook on the book cover (for which I’m forever grateful), I shouldn’t self-publish until I’ve fully exhausted every option available to me when it comes to finding an agent and a publisher.

And if I fail to find one after all this?

Well, I guess I’ll self-publish; only this time I’ll be driving the freight train knowing the cargo is in the best possible condition.

Anyway, the call for last orders has sounded. I’m off .

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

ATTN, ISBN, and Other Abbreviations — Thoughts on an Author’s Road to Self-Publication

Earlier this year I set my sights on June for the release of my debut novel Leaving Sadie. That, it turns out, was a tad ambitious.

From last-minute rewrites and cover alterations, to figuring out where to publish and getting an ISBN (a barcode) – there’s a lot more to self-publishing than I had initially thought. And, apart from all these boxes that need to be ticked before publication, I’m learning that most of the hard work comes after the novel is launched.

Self-promotion nightmares

Anyone who knows me personally knows that a) I’m quite modest, b) I can’t dance, and c) the idea of self-promotion makes me shudder and wake up screaming in the middle of the night covered in sweat and clenching the bed sheets. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but other than writing “ATTN Readers” on my book or website, I’m not crazy about discussing myself or my work.

But self-promotion is an unavoidable necessity in the age of the internet (that’s why I’m keeping this blog). People do it on a daily basis with the likes of Facebook and Instagram, and they may not be pushing a novel, releasing an album, or even selling a product. For some – as you definitely know – they are the product. Many of these types are known as influencers – but I won’t get into that.

I read a comment from an aspiring writer on how Dickens would handle social media – they suggested that he would be all over it; he’d be a self-promoting machine. I do wonder how some of the greats would get on today, when the entire nature of the publishing industry has changed with the advent of eBooks, Kindles and the beast that is Amazon. Or is it more of same-same, but different? Bret Easton Ellis and others have in the past talked about grueling book tours – so yes, self-promotion has always been a part of the deal. However, in the age of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, and Tumblr (to name a few), aspiring authors are now expected to have a presence on each platform. For some readers, they care as much about the life of the writer as they do the writer’s work. And again, maybe that’s a case of same-same, but different: before the prevalence of social media, public appearances during those book tours gave fans a chance to get to know the name behind the novel; it offered them a glimpse into the life of the person who’s words wooed and wowed readers.

Jonathan Franzen despises social media

In a piece I wrote for writing.ie a couple of years back, I described myself as someone who had a Franzen-esque aversion to social media. For those of you who don’t know who Jonathan Franzen is, he’s an American novelist who has written five novels, three of them being well-known and widely celebrated (and hotly debated) — The Corrections, Freedom, and Purity.

Mr. Franzen is someone who has been severe in his criticisms of social media, to say the least, and has thus been ridiculed across the web for his failure to embrace the likes of Twitter (his true bête noire), and see the positives in social media, not just the clear – and sometimes not so clear – negatives. One could argue that Franzen – who has produced exquisitely written and enjoyable articles on climate change – could use his status to help promote the causes about which he cares so deeply. How many of his readers – devout or casual – may be open to discussions on climate change following a 140-character tweet by Mr. Franzen, as opposed to being presented with a four-thousand word essay to fit into their already hectic schedules?

Anyhow, I digress…

My nod to Mr. Franzen is because, yes – as I’ve already suggested – I did have a strong disliking for social media. In all honesty, I’m still not crazy about it. But it’s part of the industry today. Until I become successful enough to not need it, I need it. Although that’s not to say my Instagram or Twitter pages are overflowing with followers. Quite the opposite, in fact. But a presence at the party is necessary, even if you find these gatherings a little awkward (although was I even invited?).

What’s Leaving Sadie about anyway?

For all my talk of putting out a novel (let’s be honest, I’ve probably mentioned it less than a dozen times on social media), I haven’t really gone into detail on what the story is about. If I’m on a night out and it happens to come up that I write, and that I’ve recently completed a novel, the question “So, what’s it about?” is almost unavoidable. I’ve heard that many writers hate this question; what, exactly, are you supposed to say in response? “Oh, you know, it’s about the crippling and depressing realities of life… the unbearable company of certain types… the unavoidable failures and suffering we all face… the subtleties of relationships and how they impact on us day after day… a postmodern critique of corporate capitalism told through the eyes of an earthworm… the depressing knowledge that we are – all of us – doomed to death, and we know it, and how the hell do you cope with that, man?!… And yes, you can order a copy here… It’s really, really good. Trust me…”

For the record, that’s not me talking about Leaving Sadie.

It’s hard to summarise your novel in a quick sentence, let alone in a blurb on the back page. I even found it difficult when people would ask me what my debut feature film, A Day Like Today, was about… (Well, it’s about life… It’s about relationships… It’s about domestic abuse… It’s about hope… Just go see it!).

Damn it, Shane, what’s Leaving Sadie about?!

Okay, I’ve got to do better than “just read it”. As someone who’s paying the bills by working in advertising and marketing, that’s a pretty tame effort at getting people to read your work.

To put it simply, Leaving Sadie is about relationships, and in particular a couple who are questioning theirs. What happens around these doubts are the events that shape the novel: Henry, a writer, is hoping his next play will be his seal of success, and he’s even met a washed-up, alcoholic Oscar-winning actor who’s agreed to star in it – what could go wrong? Sadie is a musician who’s focus at the minute isn’t her art, but her family; a critical mother, a successful sister, and a cardiologist brother all come together to address the central issue in all their lives: their ill father. But a serendipitous meeting may present to Sadie a career opportunity that’s too good to turn down, and which could take her away from her family, and Henry.

Is this truly a work of fiction?

So, like Henry, I’m a writer. And I happen to have a girlfriend who’s a musician. Those close to me will see other similarities between the story and my life find their way into the novel — that’s guaranteed with this one. Hmm… Am I writing a roman à clef here?

No, I’m not. Unlike my previous work, Leaving Sadie is inspired by a number of real-life events that are quite close to me, but that’s about as far as it goes. There are real-life inspirations, but beyond that, the rest is fiction. Characteristics may be borrowed, but characters are fictitious. Scenarios may mirror reality, but when stepping through the looking glass you’ll find yourself a different world.

Isn’t focusing your debut novel on a writer an absolute no-no? Doesn’t that make you an idiot, Shane?

Maybe. It’s often said that publishers will automatically reject any story who’s protagonist is a writer — if the work is by an unpublished author. I’ve read this, I’ve been told this, but I also read enough books and watch enough films to know that it’s not necessarily true. Countless debut novels have focused on a writer, and too many films to mention do the same. Anyway, Leaving Sadie is as much about Sadie as it is Henry; it’s as much about relationships as it is the arts. In fact, I’m a big fan of Ivan Turgenev, who would devote plenty of pages to his supporting characters – maybe that’s something that’s rubbed off on me (I can only hope a degree of his talent has!).

Also, after submitting Sadie to a mere five or six agents, I decided to self-publish. So I need readers, not publishers, to get on board with a story who’s protagonist happens to write.

What has inspired the work?

Real life always inspires my work, whether it’s something close to me, or something I observe or read about. To be honest, when I wrote the first lines of Sadie I was setting out to write a short story inspired by short fiction masters like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford. The former in particular has been a huge influence on me, and is someone whose mastery is often mistakenly labelled with the misnomer “minimalism” — there was nothing minimal about Carver’s work. It was what is was. It was exactly as it needed to me. It was enough. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest).

Eventually the story developed into something longer – something more adventurous than I had initially imagined – and so it became a completely different project that I would work on on-and-off for a few years.

Carver’s hero – and greatest influence – was Anton Chekhov, another writer I’m a big fan of, although rather than embracing his short fiction, I was first drawn to his major plays which had a profound impact on western theatre. Other writers who I regularly revisit and whose style I suppose I use as inspiration, for I am attempting to craft my own style (I hope I’ve achieved that with this novel, after many years of writing badly, then writing not-so-badly – I hope), include J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Hornby, Hunter S. Thompson, Haruki Murakami, Françoise Sagan, Woody Allen, Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, Charles Bukowski, and Christopher Isherwood, to name a few. There are many, many more.

So, when’s it coming out?

I recently moved back to Dublin, Ireland from Vancouver, BC, and there’s a strong chance I’ll be on my travels again sooner rather than later, so it’s a bit of a crazy time right now. However, I’m hoping that Leaving Sadie will be ready to go by late August. If not, it should certainly be released this autumn.

I’ll post further updates here and on my Twitter and Instagram pages, and I may even post another extract soon.

Thanks for reading, and for allowing me to partake in a bout of online self-promotion — perhaps Dickens would give me his blessings, but don’t tell Franzen.

For now, last orders have been called. I’m off.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Book Cover – Opinions Wanted!

As I contemplated the idea of self-publishing my novel, I asked myself: how would the book cover look? Well, I decided to hire a talented designer named Chloë Keogan to work her magic and create some covers for me, and here are three I’m considering using. But which is best? Which one stands out more? If you have a moment, take a look and let me know the cover you like best.

Merci beaucoup!