Saturday, June 8, 2013

Indie Publishing and Historical Fiction

This post was sparked by an article I read on by Dr. Alison Baverstock who praises indie authors for their ability to see things through to their end, to take responsibility, to be resourceful, to identify new markets and opportunities and to be supportive of each other.

This is a great little article for those who don’t quite get indie publishing, or folks who are thinking about looking into it. You can read the full article HERE.

It’s true that the indie publishing community is producing work that is equal in quality and artistic value to anything put out by the big publishing houses. In countries like the US, indie author/publishers have gained wide acceptance. At the London Book Fair this Spring, indie authors had some of the spotlight too! These are very exciting times.

I have to admit that, in the past, I saw indie, or rather ‘self-publishing’ as something of a cop-out, the realm of the failed. It is obvious now that that is an out-dated point of view. For several years I was going the recommended route of querying literary agents whom I was told I needed because they were the only way I could get published.

I sent loads of queries out to agents who said that they represented historical fiction, including agents who represented authors I read and respected.

Many agents got back to me with great feedback. I was told by numerous folks that they “loved the story and the characters”, that my “research and historical detail were fantastic”. I was told that they loved “my voice and writing style”. It was all great stuff but at the end of the day, the same answers always came back.

“Times are tough,” and “no publisher is going to take a chance on a debut historical novelist in this economy.” I was told that they liked the book but didn’t “know how to place it.”

My personal favourite was “The story sounds fantastic but you don’t have a marquee character. People would rather read the thousandth novel about Julius Caesar than the first book about an emperor they know nothing about.”

I was left scratching my head. I may not have had a so-called ‘marquee character’ but I certainly have a marquee period.

The Roman Empire and so many other periods in history all make for exciting settings for fiction. And oftentimes, stories about average people in any age are among the most poignant.

This is where indie publishing becomes the historical novelist’s best strategy.

Never mind all the stuff about maintaining artistic control and keeping up to 85% of your profits, releasing whenever you like and as often as you like. That stuff is great.

What I love about indie publishing is that you can write the story you want in the period you want and if you know what you are doing, you will find readers.

The indie author of historical fiction has the power to bring to light people and places that are often overlooked by the mainstream, and if their research is careful and accurate, they can add to our knowledge.

You can explore religious practices that big publishers would not want their names associated with, or you could write alternate history to explore various theories. How about a book in which Carthage won the Punic war and salted the earth about the Seven Hills of Rome? Or how about further exploring the idea of empire by imagining that Alexander the Great did not die in Babylon but moved west all the way to the Pillars of Hercules?

If you are indie, you can do it.

Yes, you have to know your market and be smart about it. You need to write for you, but also for your readership.

The point is that you can if you have a will to. I find it hard to believe that people interested in historical fiction only want to read about Julius Caesar or Henry Tudor. Sure, they are magnificent characters of history but so are many other people and places.

This is indeed an exciting time for indie authors and publishers, but it is also an exciting time for readers.

In these days of freedom of artistic expression, there is more choice than ever.

So, thanks for reading and whichever book you pick up next, may it be full of adventure, inspiration and all the other things that make historical fiction a wonderful journey. 

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