Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest post by author Zachary Rawlins

My favorite, entirely accidental discovery in 2011 was The Academy by Zachary Rawlins. It was the second book that made me realize how much the self-publishing industry has to offer, if given a chance. I asked Zach to write a guest post for us not because I was part of a blog tour or because I had to for some other reason, but because I love his books so much and I want to do everything I can to get you guys interested as well. He was kind enough to agree and here's the result: 

Hello! My name is Zachary Rawlins, and I am a self-published novelist. You may have heard of my kind – depending on who you ask, we are either the future of publishing, or the end of it. Rather than attempt to sell you my books (The Academy, The Anathema, & Paranoid Magical Thinking), I would like to tell you the story of how and why I decided to do it alone, and at the same time try and convince you to take a chance on a self-published e-book.

Opportunity Knocking, or A Reoccurring Nightmare

I won’t bother with the circumstances that encouraged  me to write my first novel. Suffice it to say that I didn’t expect much when I started. I’d been writing my entire life (mostly poetry), so it seemed like a natural progression. The Academy was an experiment in producing the sort of fiction I enjoyed reading. But when I finished, the early responses were surprisingly positive. Based on their encouragement, I began to explore the possibility of publishing, and to my utter shock, received some interest.

Which lead to a meeting with an editor, one that I was pathetically unprepared for. I was sweating like a fountain and scorching hot, but refused to take off my hoodie, for fear that she would see how damp I was. I brought copies of my manuscript, along with a pitch and a synopsis. To my horror, she didn’t touch them. Instead, she told me that I had ninety-seconds to pitch my novel to her, out loud.

Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to know a bit about me. I think it is fair to say that I have never sold anyone anything, partly because I am pathologically afraid of talking to strangers, and partly because I am unfailingly honest. Neither of these qualities interferes with being a writer. But a salesman? Not so much.
Twenty seconds in, I knew I had blown the pitch. After thirty, I realized I was doing such a bad job that even I wouldn’t read the book I was describing. Shortly before the minute mark, I trailed off in confusion, and considered leaping out of the window rather than finishing the meeting.
We talked for almost an hour. At the end of the experience, I was convinced that I not only did not want to publish a book, I didn’t even want to write one anymore.

If There is Kissing in a Book, Does That Make it a Romance Novel?

Eventually I recovered, rewrote my pitch with the help of the editor, and then got up enough courage to send it elsewhere. And that’s when things turned bizarre. Here are some of my favorite responses:
“Unfortunately, we already have a vampire novel in our lineup this year.”
Understandable, except that The Academy is not a vampire novel – it is a novel with a minor character who happens to be a vampire.

“We don’t publish Young Adult novels.”
That’s fine – because I don’t generally write them. Some of the characters are young adults, not the prospective audience.

“There are problems with the female characters.”
Sometimes, the complaint was too many ‘strong’ female characters. At other times, they worried that the potential romantic interest in the book was not a ‘damsel in distress’, and that readers would fail to connect with her if she didn’t need more rescuing.

“Your main character isn’t likable/heroic.”
Well, yeah. Alex Warner is a seventeen-year old boy. Not too many teenage males are particularly likable. I know I wasn’t. Also, it is a five-book series – there isn’t much opportunity for character growth if the protagonist starts off noble.

“There is too much swearing/drug use/violence/sex.”
Okay, this may be true. I base my work on what I know. And my teenage years were devoted to swearing, drinking, smoking, and trying to convince any girl at all to go out with me. Perhaps my experience was atypical.
But I object to the lack of realistic violence, and meaningful consequences stemming from it, in titles devoted to children. I don’t like fantasy novels that are reserved for characters with squeaky clean morals. And I hate romantic teasing, when a relationship is built up for the entirety of a series, only to be settled in a brief ‘Years later…’ epilogue (I’m looking at you for that one, Hunger Games).

Ruining it For Everyone

Around this time, I discovered e-books. I knew they existed, but I never considered them ‘real’ books, or had much interest in reading or writing them. Then I made some friends in Japan, where e-books are hardly a new idea, expanded my reading to include electronic and indie novels, and found a whole new world of literature that I had been missing.
I started writing an e-book to occupy my time while The Academy was in publication hell. I finished that book (Paranoid Magical Thinking), and then wrote the sequel to The Academy, still waiting for a definitive response to my first novel. Instead, I received another request to rework the concept – demanding that I replace my original take on vampires and faeries with a conventional interpretation, while purging the text of any mention of sexuality or drug use.
Two and a half months later, I had completed edits on The Academy, and self-published it on the Kindle Store, expecting no response at all.
I was wrong about that. As it turned out, I was about to achieve modest success and be introduced to an amazingly supportive community of readers and fans. Also, I was about to become part of the problem.

Credibility, Artistic Integrity, and Groupies

If you have the opportunity to join an indie band, I suggest doing it. Even terrible bands can attract at least one or two devoted groupies.
Or how about making an independent movie? With Sundance and Cannes, the industry is falling all over itself to get a piece of the action. Some of the most profitable films, and the most famous directors in the medium, started with indie projects.
Independent artists? Well, Folk Art is quite the lucrative field these days.

But independent authors? As it turns out, we are destroying the industry we work in. Publishers hate us for obvious reasons. Authors hate us for flooding the market with cheap competition. And a number of readers avoid independent work, because it lacks the professional copy proofing and editorial fine-tuning of a traditional novel. Self-published novels are derided as overly long, an exercise in vanity, and most of all, containing typos.
And I’m the first to admit it – I would love to have the services of a professional editing team. My book would benefit tremendously from a good editor (Maja said as much in her kind review of The Academy on this very site). But I don’t think the standard is being uniformly applied to all media.
Several times in the film Reservoir Dogs, the boom mike drifts into the shot. Folk Art is frequently executed with the skill of a grade-school art project. Kurt Cobain failed to hit notes and forgot lyrics. Not one cast member of The Blair Witch Project could act. And yet…

They are described as authentic. Honest. Raw.

How often do you hear, ‘I only listen to major labels?’ Or, ‘I only like Hollywood blockbusters?’ Probably not frequently. But many readers avoid self-published authors based on the exact same rationale – the lack of polish makes the work uninteresting. It’s like changing a radio station because the artist failed to use enough auto-tune.
This is why I encourage you to give one of the many self-published novels available online a chance. If you love books the way that I do, then you already know that the story is the important thing. Typos are awful distraction, I agree. Indies often lack slick covers or good copy-editing. Semi-colons are rarely used, and generally incorrectly.
But if you are willing to do without Oxford commas and seamless formatting, there is amazing stuff being produced by writers who are doing it for no other reason than love of the work. Writers who are so passionate about their stories that they are compelled to show them to the world, without safeguards or support, like a tight-rope walker performing without a net. Indie authors can take risks, explore controversial topics, and follow their stories in original and unusual directions that might not otherwise be possible. 

That is what I love about self-publishing – the freedom it offers the writer. The joy of creating for the sake of creation. The individual nature of the accomplishment. Behind every self-published novel, there is an author like myself, who simply wanted to write, and share what they had written.

Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover. Why judge a book by its publisher’s imprint?

Thank you so much, Zach!
It's thanks to authors like Zachary Rawlins that the way people see the self-publishing industry is finally changing. If you want to know more about him and his novels, visit his GoodReads author's page. You can read my review of The Academy HERE.

All three books are available on Amazon. You can buy The Academy or The Anathema for $0.99 or $2.99, depending on your location. Both these books are very good and definitely worth your time. 

As always, thanks for stopping by, guys! You're the best.


  1. I'll be honest, when I saw the title of this post in my Google Reader, I wasn't planning to read it, but Zachary here made a great case for himself, and self-publishing as a whole too.

  2. Do they really need a female character to be a damsel in distress? How boring.

    This is definitely one of the best guest posts I have read in a long time. I wanted to read The Academy after your review, Maja, and now I am even more convinced. Awesome post!

  3. Wow! Thanks for sharing all the difficulties. I know how hard it is for a self pubbed author to get their book noticed, While it is a a great thing for the reader to have access to so many great reads for pennies, like you said many of them need some polish. For the reader often it is difficult hunting for the gems, but when you do finally find that diamond, it makes it all worth while. Thanks for sharing today, Zach and Maja.

  4. Sam - Super disappointing, no? It was a disheartening experience, having largely female agents and editors tell me to dumb down my female characters.

    I wanted to thank Maja for the opportunity to write a post for a blog that I enjoy - actually, I owe Maja a great deal. She was the first person to give me a really useful critique of my novel, which not only aided me in improving the text (third revision will be live on Friday!), but also encouraged me immensely. And, sincerely, I hope that you all can enjoy the world of self-published literature as much as I have. Thank you for reading!

    1. While we're handing out brownie points, you are the only author in the known universe who's made me care deeply about a sociopath. Alice Gallow (Mitsuru and Anastasia too, but I'll stick with Alice here) is the most fascinating character I've come across in a very long time. It's no wonder I want to share that with my friends. :)

  5. One of the best author interviews I have read. Thanks for sharing Zachary's writing with us. You made a believer out of me. I'm going to have to pick up a copy of The Academy. It also gives me a lot to think about as I complete work on my manuscripts.

  6. I haven't read many self-published novels, but there are so many great ones around. I'm not usually fussed with typos, as long as the book keeps my attention then great! Also Maja has the best taste in books, so anything she recommends I know I will check out! Great Post!

  7. Excellent article! Very inspiring!!

  8. Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed this guest post. As a lover of indie music, I have often pondered the same question - why don't unknown/self-published authors get any of the same cachet? I've only read two or three self-published novels but you've convinced me that I should try more (as these two ladies keep urging me to). Thanks so much for sharing your story!

    Also, as a similarly shy/honest person I am likewise horrible at selling anything to anyone ever. I probably would have failed utterly in that scenario too.

  9. Really interesting and good insight into the publishing industry. Definitely some food for thought, there.

  10. WOW! What an absolutely wonderful post! <3 I have to admit that I've only read a few self-published books in my time, but your insight makes me want to appreciate them more! It's not fair to hate all indie authors as a collective just for self-publishing because there are some really great ones out there! And even if Maja didn't put her stamp of her approval on your book (which she totally did!), I think I could still tell how great of an author you would be just by the way you set up your post! ;)

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Zachary! Your book has just officially been added to my TBR pile! :)

  11. Such an inspirational post! Journeys like yours really make you cheer for those that dare to take a chance. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. Maja! Yes, I read the Reyes story yesterday and melted in my seat!!! I love that little devil. LOL

  12. What a thoughtful post! I will admit that I'm usually a little wary of self-published books, because they can be very...sloppy...but I've also read some really great indies. You make a lot of great points in this article and bring up some things I'll definitely consider. Thanks!

  13. I simply LOVE this guest post. It is so true that self-published novels are lack of polish, and I personally think that it can be benefit or detriment. On the bright side, self-published novels are original and I adore the awesome and creative ideas they bring. On not-so-bright side... some self-published authors have some really great premise and raw talent, but they need some editors and proofreaders to correct their work. I dislike typos, and it's such a shame to read something that can be done much better.

    This is such an insightful post and I really enjoyed reading this! I'll definitely check out The Academy. :)

  14. This post was amazing. Just reading this makes me want to read Zachary's novels, even though The Academy is not my usual type of book, his writing in this post alone is interesting. I'm not bothered by typos or misplaced/absent semi-colons. I want a story to make me care about it's characters, feel emotionally invested, and I want to care about the plot. I also dislike romantic teasing, dragging things out for ages just frustrates me to no end. I have tried several self-published books, and I've only been disappointed a few times. I could say the same about books from major publishing houses! Thanks Zachary for writing this entertaining, and informative post, I wish you the best of luck! I think I'm going to give your series a try.

    Thanks ladies for hosting this brilliant post! :)


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