I have personal experience of self-publishing and know just how satisfying it can be to have readers respond to a book. My second self-published novel, Phase, has recently been acquired by Endeavour Press and will be republished later this year under its new title, Out of Reach. Self-publishing is increasingly proving to be an effective way of building a fan base, garnering critical reactions and attracting the attention of larger publishers. I caught up with self-published Author Adam Sydney to learn about his experiences as the writer and publisher of three novels.

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Self-published Author Adam Sydney
Photo: Adam Sydney

Adam is a prize-winning writer. He won his first competition as a child and was awarded a certificate signed by Bill Cosby for his efforts. After winning many more prizes, Adam trained as a screenwriter but has focused on prose in recent years and specialises in literary fiction.

Having trained as a screenwriter, story structure is always paramount in scripts, and I’m grateful for this education, especially as I write literary fiction–a category that sometimes seems as if it doesn’t prioritize narrative development.

Adam’s most recent book, Welcome Home, is probably the closest he’s come to a genre piece:

Welcome Home is the story of three co-dependent roommates who move to a huge, isolated farmhouse on the coast of Oregon and find that not only their relationships but their very identities are mutating in ways that may prove fatal if they don’t soon confront the cause. Even in describing the book, the screenwriter in me rears his head: I’ve written a logline. I can’t help it.

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Adam Sydney’s First Three Novels
Photo: Newcraft Press

After writing his first novel, My Heart is a Drummer, Adam tried to find a publisher for the book.

Over the course of several months, I researched two literary agents a night and wrote each a personalized letter of inquiry. The concept for my book at least seemed intriguing to me–it’s about a man who falls in love with everyone he sees and never falls out of love with any of them–so I assumed I’d get some initial interest, even if no one liked the writing. But after 150 letters, I received responses from only two agents! One of them really liked the book, but she felt that a new literary-fiction writer had a snowball’s chance in hell of being traditionally published.

The lack of responses didn’t put Adam off.

I write to be read. Once upon a time, a writer like me had a small chance of being published. Now, I have a miniscule chance of being published but an excellent chance of publishing my own work. I may not reach the sheer number of readers I might have with a traditional publisher, but I’m reaching readers and I’m thankful for that.

Adam’s books have attracted some strong positive reviews as well as some harsh ones, but he’s not sure that either helps or hinders the sales of his books.

My second novel, Yolanda Polanski and the Bus to Sheboygan, has received a wide range of reviews, yet it continues to be my best seller. I think today’s online reviewing system reflects the challenge of self-publishing literary fiction. With genre fiction, readers know what they want, and authors aim to deliver this. So you could say that a review reflects a book’s ability to tick the boxes that its genre demands. Literary fiction has many fewer boxes, and different readers like different ones ticked. Once upon a time, a publisher championed literary fiction, and readers just had to trust them. But now, a self-published comedic lit-fic novel like Yolanda Polanski receives rave reviews from people who enjoy doing a bit of work to extract the most from the story, and scathing thumbs-down from people who are expecting the light, ‘chick-lit’ read they’re used to getting from other self-publishers on Amazon.

Adam believes his biggest challenge is marketing his books.

Writers focused on selling books will probably write something more traditionally saleable than I do: self-help, non-fiction or genre fiction. But they still face mostly internet-based marketing strategies that are becoming increasingly saturated with competition as more and more authors self-publish. How do you stand out? I believe one answer for someone without a lot of marketing cash is to develop unique angles on existing selling strategies. That way, your work stands out because your marketing stands out.

According to Adam, these are the five things every self-published author should know:

1. Don’t be afraid. It can be a lot of work to do right, but a complete stranger thanking you for writing a book goes a long, long way.
2. Do it right. I paid for my ISB numbers and registered my books with the Library of Congress. I even went to a bit more trouble to have soft covers available for all my titles.
3. Do it right, part two. Self-publishers have a bad rep for poor spelling, punctuation, grammar and editing. This is largely justified. Take the time to ensure that your final product is professional.
4. Invest in good cover art. Self-published work is also famous for horrendous book-cover design. Although it’s unfair, your cover will make up most people’s minds; nudge them in the right direction.
5. Do something original! Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity, but it’s a responsibility, too. This is your chance to change the world a little.

Adam would love to hear what people think about self-publishing, so if you’re interested in continuing the conversation, hit him up on Twitter (twitter.com/adamsydney1). For details of Adam’s books, visit his publishing imprint newcraftpress.com

My Heart Is A Drummer book trailer