Lee Barrett believes in the inevitability of self-publishing, embracing the new power that authors have to shape their own destinies. Learn more about his novel, how he embraces social networking, and the sort of marketing you should be doing as you write.
1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.
Barge Pilot is a novel exploring modern fatherhood (at least, modern fatherhood prior to the Great Recession). Jack Webber is a mostly retired lawyer grappling with the dual burdens of chronic disease and a strained, almost non-existent relationship with his sons. Faced with the apparent suicide of Jack’s friend, who also happens to be the town drunk, Jack and a well-developed cast of characters try to find their way through the pitfalls of modern manhood.
2. Why did you become an indie writer?
With the exception of a few wild cards like J.K. Rowling and the like, there seems to be a real “career track” for becoming a professional, traditionally published author. Although writing has always been vital to my personal sanity, that was not a career track that spoke to me. In fact, I have sort of instinctively believed that I needed to reach a point in life where I finally had something to write about and that required that I have a career, a family, and engage in some of the great adventures that make up life.
Barge Pilot took me eight years to write, and there were lots of stops and starts along the way, including career disruptions, the birth of two children and the death of my younger brother. That time frame probably doesn’t work for most first time authors and that was really my perspective when I started going through the motions of learning about the traditional publishing industry. With this context, I don’t know that Barge Pilot necessarily fits very easily into any one genre. But it was the story that I wanted to be told, and it is written the way I wanted to write it. It isn’t a best seller, it isn’t trendy. But it is true and it is honest and it is a story that couldn’t have been told by a traditional publisher.
3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?
Barge Pilot is my first novel, so no. I have had several professional articles published by established players in the legal industry, and served on several editorial boards in order to have access to do so. I also used to publish a blog for bankruptcy attorneys. Between the two, maintaining the blog was far more pleasurable, and often more challenging, than writing for others.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
I always bristle a little bit when I read the criticisms of self-publishing and the authors that choose to go that route. There are too many books, too little quality, no way to separate the wheat from the chaff. If today’s critics had been around in 1440, Gutenberg would have slinked back to his workshop to keep making polished mirrors, and we never would have had that little social movement known as the Renaissance. We have been creeping towards self-publishing ever since Gutenberg’s time, and no one should be surprised that this development might cause some disruptions in how the publishing industry does business. This is an exciting time for those of us taking part in the changing environment. And if some feel like this is more the “wild, wild west” of the publishing era, then so be it because it promises to be one heck of a ride.
With that being said, with a self-published work comes a great deal of work and even more responsibility to the reader. As a self-published author, it isn’t enough that I wrote, re-wrote, edited, formatted and published Barge Pilot. I have had to learn about marketing, public relations, social networking, and the universe of Amazon when rather than doing all these things I would have been just as happy spending my time watching drag racing and smoking cigars. I understand now why writers with a few books under their belts advise to focus on more writing and less tweeting. Since we control every aspect of the book, as self-published writers I think we do have a greater responsibility to our readers though. If we are going to skip the expense of obtaining a professional editor, then it is incumbent that we re-read that manuscript one more time just to be certain. Barge Pilot is by no means perfect, and it is certainly possible that I have made some ham-fisted attempts to tell portions of the story. But every step of the way, as long as I self-publish, that is the relationship with the reader that I am responsible for.
5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been the most successful?
I guess the honest answer would have to be social networking, although I am quickly becoming a fan of sites like Indie Reader. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with many of the people that came and went from my life, but of course Facebook has changed that dynamic. Although I have to be a little careful how I use Facebook, it is a good general forum to keep up with friends, family members, colleagues, some former clients, and even other writers. LinkedIn can be used much the same way, but with the sub-set of contacts that might not necessarily connect on Facebook. The State Bar of Texas has its equivalent of Facebook and LinkedIn, and I have also been able to use that to some degree.
I am not sure I have fully accepted it yet, but Twitter intrigues me. I have been able to reach out to people and groups that really didn’t fit into the Facebook or LinkedIn profile. Some Twitter users understand and encourage cross-promotion. Thanks to Twitter, I have had groups as varied as Don Shumacher Racing and Famous Smoke Shop introduce Barge Pilot to their followers. I am also starting to figure out how I can target certain campaigns on Twitter.
Using the promotional days through Amazon has placed more copies of Barge Pilot in the hands of strangers than anything else. The problem is, you can never really be sure that anyone reads it unless they post a review, and that is a whole new set of challenges. In the end, I still believe that good writing is the best marketing.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I have not tried to market to indie book stores. The market position in Dallas/Ft Worth seems sketchy, and I just don’t have a pre-existing relationship with any decision-makers in that niche.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Aside from being more work than I ever imagined, self-publishing can be scary as hell. At the end of the day, the self-published author is making all the choices, all the decisions. The potential rewards are limitless, but the ownership of all the mistakes rests squarely with the writer.
8. Indie authors face the challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie just starting out?
Be the best possible writer that your talents will allow. While you are writing the manuscript, start building excitement about your project early and often. Locate those people in your life that will promote your efforts while you are still writing, and then find ways to make them part of your success once you push the “Publish” button.
9. What are you currently working on?
I am in the early stages of a novel tentatively called Center of it All, which will be set in Lebanon, Kansas, the geographical center of the continental United States. In this book, I am hoping to refine the current cultural and political debate in this country by juxtaposing a local land dispute which gets blown out of proportion by the media with the largely ignored kidnapping of a child.
I am also trying to convince fellow attorney and self-published author Michael Weems to co-author an international tale of intrigue based on a short story that I wrote years ago titled Counsel for the Debtor. Weems has written and published The Ghosts of Varner Creek and also Border Crossings. Not only would it be a lot of fun to work with someone who gets beat up the same way that I do each day, but I have promised Weems that we can make bankruptcy sexy once again.
10. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
I don’t write genre; I write life.
11. How can readers learn more about your books?
I have a blog about parenting where I sometimes give updates on the more serious writing, which can be viewed at awfulsandpannycakes.blogspot.com. I can always be reached through email at email@example.com. Of course I am on Facebook, and Barge Pilot has its own Facebook page. I am also known to prowl Twitter @BargePilot. It’s not up yet, but in time I will have an author web site at http://www.rleebarrett.com.
Thanks for sharing your time with me!