DIY from Down Under: PW Talks with Walter Renfrey
"Learn the business side of books. Writing is fine, but you also have to take on every other role of the book industry."Australian author Walter Renfrey self-published his first YA novel, Five Nights to the Crimson Moon, through CreateSpace in November. In a starred review in PW Select, our reviewer called the book a “spellbinding fantasy adventure.” We chatted with Renfrey—via e-mail—about his decision to go the DIY route, the process he went through, and the state of self-publishing.
Your book was a semifinalist in the ABNA contest and received a very positive review in PW Select. How did participating in the ABNA contest benefit you? And do you see contests and such programs as PW Select as key opportunities for self-published authors?
ABNA helped boost my confidence. It encouraged me to write another draft of my book, which I passionately believed in. It was the spur I needed. PW Select is an incredible opportunity for self-published authors to get themselves known, especially if they’re outside the States, as I am.
Why did you decide to self-publish? And did living and working in Australia influence that decision at all?
I had almost given up on getting my book published. Then my wife, Heather, went to a seminar and came back excited about self-publishing. I only decided to self-publish a couple of months ago, so it’s been a steep learning curve. With the Internet, being in Australia wasn’t a drawback, because the world’s information is at your fingertips. That is a big factor in self-publishing. After all, you’re only limited by your imagination. So self-publishing has been a good option for me.
Prior to self-publication, did you try selling your books to publishing houses?Yes. However, even when I had made the ABNA semifinals, no Australian publishers or agents were interested. After that, I wrote another draft of the manuscript. It wasn’t sent out because I had decided on self-publishing. I had an agent for the film script the book is based on. Three U.S. studios were interested in that script but ultimately passed.
Once you decided to self-publish, what was the process like?
Being an advertising art director made it easy to design, illustrate, and set up the book, using [Adobe] InDesign and Illustrator. So every page of Five Nights to the Crimson Moon is my creation, not just the writing. I did use a manuscript editor, who helped a lot, and a number of school children read the final manuscript. Their feedback was so encouraging, and a recurring, exciting comment was, “When’s the next one coming out?” For my self-publishing, I’ve only used Amazon and CreateSpace (a great professional outfit), and neither cost anything, except for the print-on-demand for my personal orders.
What has the reaction been to your book now that you have self-published? And what have you done to publicize the book? How has social media played a role?
Of course my wife and friends were over the moon. To finally hold a real book in your hand is a buzz. The reactions from bookshops range from “we’ll take it on consignment” to “self-published? We don’t stock that sort of book.” I’m now looking at social media, which has been a bit of a mystery to me. My wife promoted the book through her Facebook connections, and, yes, I know that publicity and promotions hould have started months ago, but a newbie can only live and learn.
Looking back on your own experience, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
I’m very grateful for the Internet. Getting my book into a printed and e-book form was relatively easy. Putting the book into Amazon was a dream compared to the other options I’d tried. My biggest difficulty was not having had any experience with how the book industry worked. I found it challenging to work with the Internet, set prices, and find out how bookshops and distributors worked.
What advice would you give to people considering self-publishing?
Learn the business side of books. Writing is fine, but you also have to take on every other role of the book industry. You can hire a book designer, editor, and proofreader, but you have to wear the hats of a publisher, distributor, PR, promoter, etc. The more I learn, the more I’m in awe of these professionals in the book industry.
There has traditionally been a stigma attached to self-publishing. Do you ever regret the decision?
There are no regrets, but some fellow authors and bookshops tend to look at you oddly and think that if it’s self-published, it’s not a “real” book. There’s still the lurking view that if no publisher wants you, then you can’t be any good. I see signs of that changing.