Tag Archives: Self-Publishing

The Martian v. The Martian

The Martian novel, written by Andy Weir, is a self-publishing success. In 2011, he self-published the book and it got enough attention to garner him a contract with Crown Books. In 2014, The Martian was re-released with the help of Crown and became one of the top selling books on Amazon.Com. And then it became a movie.

I started reading The Martian last year and, between applying to graduate programs, moving (twice!), picking up a few side jobs (on top of my main jobs), and all the rest of life stuff that gets in the way of fun stuff, it took me a while to finish the book. Mind you, I really enjoyed the book as I was reading it and I even got students of mine to read it as well.

Now that I’ve finally finished reading and watching The Martian, I can compare and contrast the two different media used to tell Andy Weir’s story of an astronaut left behind on Mars for your (and more likely my) amusement and declare one better than the other (because all things must be ranked!).

If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, this post contains spoilers. Though, if you’ve clicked on this blog because of the title, I’m assuming you kind of already knew that, but I thought I’d be nice and post a warning anyway.

Self-Publishing: No Degree Necessary

Self-publishing has taken off, that’s no secret. Bestsellers, from Fifty Shades of Grey to Wool, began as self-published books. Recently, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in the UK, even began its own masters program in self-publishing. A full-time student can complete the program in one year; when he or she graduates, they will have all the skills needed to edit, design, publish, and market their own book. At least, that’s the idea.

I’ll admit, I’ve read very few self-published books. So few, that as I write this, I can’t recall their titles. But by no means do I “hate on” self-published books. Sure, I have, on occasion, expressed the belief that self-published titles are generally lacking in editing, design, and marketing—all those aspects of publishing that UCLan hopes to teach—but that isn’t always the case. If I’m being honest, those nameless self-published titles were bad apples that spoiled the rest.

What do I mean by spoiled? The great thing about self-published titles are that you can often get them for cheap (sometimes even free if they’re e-books). Low prices are great; that means more books for me. Yet, in my experience, this leads to reading a lot of bad writing, and in the end, I’d rather pay more for the good stuff.

(Credit: IndieBound)

For a long time, most readers have felt this way. Publishers may be the “gate keepers,” but, as a reader, I appreciate knowing that I can trust a book stamped with HarperCollins’ or Penguins’ logo will be a good read. However, I think it’s important to remember the exceptions, because, surely, not every reader will love every book published by the “Big Five.” So why shouldn’t that same logic apply to self-publishing?

Self-publishing has many positives. None too small to overlook. Wool, as I mentioned earlier, was a great success story. Hugh Howey originally self-published the book as a stand-alone, short story on Amazon. When it began to develop a following, he continued the plot with additional stories, all of which he eventually sold to Simon & Schuster for six figures.

How One Man Successfully Funded His Book With Kickstarter

I’ve always been curious about Kickstarter projects when it comes to literature. I think new approaches to literature in general, particularly ones spurred by the digital age, like online fundraising, self-publishing, and e-readers are all worthy of exploration. Books may be hundreds of years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to change things up.

Not all bookish fundraisers thrive on Kickstarter. That Globe to Globe Hamlet Tour you may have heard about? The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of backers. To be fair, that particular fundraiser was for a hefty amount for a tour that had never been done before. It was risky to begin with. But other fundraisers are quite successful. Doodler and poet Alan J. Hart created a Kickstarter fundraiser back in April for a children’s book called Everything’s Better With Monkeys. Here’s a video about the project:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/772637894/everythings-better-with-monkeys-illustrated-poetry/widget/video.html

Alan wrote the first poem in the book back in 2006, but he has expanded on it since with the encouragement of others. The poems come with illustrations depicting famous paintings, like Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory—with monkeys, of course. Here’s example of the type of poetry in the book:

Whistler’s Mother looks so bored
Just sitting in her chair
I think that a baboon or two
Would add the needed flair

That old couple with the pitchfork
Looks quite unhappy too
Adding an orangutan
Is just the thing to do”

I reached out to Alan to conduct an interview about Everything’s Better With Monkeys, which you can read below:

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The Poetics Project: First off, I watched the video you posted on your Kickstarter page and thought it was hilarious. Why did you choose to create a video for the project? Do you think the effect of the video would have been different had it been less comedic?

Alan J. Hart: Thanks! Kickstarter offers a really good tutorial for people that want to use the site, and they highly recommend including a video. Projects with videos have a much higher success rate than those without (50% vs. 30%), so I definitely wanted to include one. I think the concept of the video made it more effective. I wanted it to be something that people would not just notice, but get a kick out of and want to show to other people. I heard from a couple of people specifically that they backed the project because they enjoyed the video.

TPP: Were there any other methods you employed to get the word out there?

AJH: Facebook was my main marketing tool. I gave the book it’s own facebook page, and I put up new posts every day on the book’s page, which I also shared on my personal page. I started with a simple announcement of the project, then tried to have a new gimmick every day, teasing some of the art from the book or posting pictures of the monkeys featured in the book. I always included a link to the kickstarter page and encouraged people to share it on their own walls.

I also put all of the relevant information into an e-mail and sent it to everyone I knew who isn’t on facebook or doesn’t use it very often, and encouraged them to back the project and to spread the word to their friends.

Dear Self-Published on Amazon

I love that Kindle and Amazon allow people to publish their own digital books and set their own prices. It’s really a revolutionary thing–to have a wide audience appeal for the story you want to share with the world. The one that you have painstakingly worked on and, of course, love. You are sharing a part of yourself with the world.

There are many best-selling self-published books on Kindle and, indeed, there are a lot of successful self-published books out there.

(Image Source: NPR)
We’re going to pretend that this book doesn’t top the best-seller list.

Now I’m going to share the dark side with you, reader–the grammar. Nothing upsets me more when I’m reading an interesting self-published book and simple grammatical errors get in the way of my enjoyment. I don’t think this is reflective of the author not knowing how to use grammar but rather a reflection that the author didn’t edit as well as they should have or didn’t get outside help for editing.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of science fiction and fantasy and I love to find new, unfamiliar books and immerse myself in their landscape and story. While flipping through the free books on Kindle a few years ago, I found an interesting book called The Book of Deacon. I liked it. I read it while I was traveling abroad in China and I reread it once I was back stateside and I still enjoyed it. There are two books that follow The Book of Deacon and, since I enjoyed the first, I decided to purchase the other two.

I wish I hadn’t of done that. The last two books in the series lacked something significant the first had–editing. I don’t know if he spent extra time self-editing, hired an editor or a person to proof, or had friends or a peer mentoring group help him with the first book, but he lacked whatever he did for the other two books in his series, and I’m not the only reader who was upset by this difference.