"At the time, it seemed like a foreign thing to me, to go through self-publishing. But really not so foreign, once I started thinking about it—I was doing a blog and doing online articles, so I started giving it another look."
So says Jane Ward about the decision to self-publish her second novel, The Mosaic Artist, which she released this March via Amazon's CreateSpace.
Ward's book—which charts the struggles of a fractured, atypical American family forced to deal with the death of its patriarch—is an exploration of divorce, loss, and forgiveness that won an honorable mention at this year's New York Book Festival and has been hailed as "an exceptionally well-crafted novel" by PW Select.
And while Ward's self-publishing experience has been a positive one, the story of how she—and The Mosaic Artist—got there is in some ways surprising.
In 2001, Ward's first novel, Hunger, was published by Forge Books—then an imprint of St. Martin's Press, now a part of Macmillan—and reviewed by Kirkus, PW, Booklist, and the Dallas Morning News. So when Ward completed her follow-up, The Mosaic Artist, in 2009, agent Carolyn Jenks of the Carolyn Jenks Agency "very diligently went to work on trying to sell it," says Ward, who notes that their efforts to publish The Mosaic Artist unfortunately coincided with the economic downturn and significant changes within the publishing industry. "When Jenks started putting it out there, I tried to keep what she was doing in the back of my mind. I let her do her thing, and I did my thing."
A year later, The Mosaic Artist remained unpublished, and Ward—who was busy writing for the online food magazine, Local in Season, and with her blog, "Food & Fiction"—met with Jenks to discuss the publishing landscape and their next move.
Shortly thereafter, Ward had a conversation with Joel Brown, a friend and writer at the Boston Globe, who had decided to self-publish a book with CreateSpace and suggested she do the same. At first, Ward was hesitant. But soon she found herself pondering a nagging question: why not?
"I didn't have an answer to it," Ward says. "There was no good reason not to. It was that or have a book sitting in my desk unpublished, which didn't really make sense to me. So I took the plunge and here I am today."
Ward, like Brown, went with CreateSpace, which offers a variety of services—everything from editing to design and marketing—at various price points.
"What I found the most helpful part of CreateSpace was they could do the things I wasn't all that sure I could do," says Ward, who had no trouble finding people to edit and proofread her book, but needed help creating cover art and converting her manuscript into both a book and an e-book.
Three months and about $1,000 later, The Mosaic Artist was ready for release, and Ward was very pleased with both the control she had over the process and the final product. She says she only had one concern about signing on with CreateSpace: the stigma of self-publishing.
That stigma—and the risks of self-publishing—is something Ward had discussed with Jenks early on. In the end, Jenks says they determined that self-publishing was worth the gamble.
"I believe in this book," Jenks says. "I believed in this book from the beginning. This is typical today—it's very hard for novels to break through. Here we have a literary commercial novel from a really talented writer, and I wasn't willing to give up on it."
To allay her concerns, Ward entered The Mosaic Artist into competitions, sent it out for review, and approached book groups and bookstores.
"I wanted to have a good solid foundation so that I wasn't just sending out a vanity project," she says, adding that she used social networking sites like Twitter to help market the book. "I knew I was going to have a bit of an uphill climb, but I also knew that I trust readers, and readers are going to find good books to read."
Ward's efforts have paid off, and Jenks credits self-publishing with giving the project new life. The Mosaic Artist attracted the attention of a screenwriter; a film treatment based on the book is being shopped around to movie producers.
And while Ward thinks the stigma around self-publishing is slowly changing, she stresses that—regardless of how a book is published—quality writing remains the key to success.
"Self-publishing just requires a leap of faith and a little risk taking," she says. "We [hope] that someone's going to find something in what we write and carry it with them, and [self-publishing] is kind of a good offshoot of what we do as fiction writers. And it's nothing to be afraid of—so go ahead and take that risk."