Kevin Bohacz’s Immortality received a starred review (coming out on 10/14) from PW Select, with our reviewer saying, “His vision of a humanity that faces the need to evolve profoundly or face certain destruction is as timely as today’s news and as chilling a doomsday scenario as any ecological catastrophe can suggest.” We caught up with Bohacz recently to chat over e-mail about self-publishing and Immortality’s success.
Why did you decide to self-publish Immortality?
My decision-making process was a curious cocktail of one part frustration and one part business sense. My first novel, Dream Dancers, was conventionally published in 1993 in a deal closed by my then agent. By the time Immortality was ready to be published in 2003, the world had completely changed, only I did not know it yet. I went about blithely seeking a new agent and conventional publishing as I had before. I was in for a big surprise and immediately hit my first of many brick walls. I was unable to entice an agent into even reading Immortality. In frustration I started submitting Immortality directly to the few publishers that still ran slush piles and doggedly continued submitting to agents.
Skip forward several years and many hundreds of submissions later. By this point I had amassed quite a pile of rejections from publishers and agents, which if distilled basically said, “Though we are sure this is a wonderful book, we don’t have the time to read a long manuscript by an obscure author.”
I knew Immortality was a good, marketable novel. Extremely successful literary professionals including a famous writer had read it and told me they loved it. So, here I was, a published author unable to get any of the gatekeepers to read my new book. I tried everything to avoid self-publishing given the stigma of failure that went with it back in 2006, but I had no choice.
So, by the time I decided to self-publish in 2007, it seemed that self-publishing was not necessarily the right choice, but my only choice, my last best chance to get noticed by the gatekeepers. After becoming an indie publisher of my own work, I continued to try for a conventional publishing deal and watched with a smile as the sales of Immortality took off.
Once you decided to self-publish, what was the process like?
Immortality was pretty much 100% percent self-made with my wife, Mazelle, acting as editor and muse in addition to her very full-time job as founder of a successful cheesecake company. I did have one big advantage and squeezed it for everything I could. In 1989, I had founded an e-business consulting and development firm named CPrompt. By 2006 CPrompt had evolved into a very small but successful firm. Translation: I knew how to make, sell, and market stuff online. Additionally, in CPrompt I wore many hats including: graphics artist, professional photographer, Web designer, and programmer. As a result I designed the books, shot the photos, created the cover art myself, and even coded up an e-commerce app to sell the books online. This was a very fortunate thing because in 2006 I found no companies with any real e-book experience or self-pub print experience. In 2006 self-publishing was still called vanity publishing—and the companies in that business were not a good match for me and carried a huge stigma within the publishing community.
For the print edition I did not use POD and instead went with offset printing for both a hard cover and a 6✕9 trade paperback. I used offset printing because I wanted the very best book quality possible to differentiate it from the typical self-published book of that time. I also needed to keep the unit costs as low as possible in order to turn a profit. So my per-book costs were a fraction of that of POD, but I had to invest a small fortune in book inventory, and I needed a place to store the books, which turned out to be our home. I had boxes of books squirrelled away in every free space I could find. UPS and FedeEx delivery men and women became our friends.
What were the biggest challenges with self-publishing?
Marketing,… marketing,…and, did I mention, marketing? What is the single most important thing a big publisher bestows on an author? It’s probably not “conventional” marketing; from what I understand they do very little of that for a newbie. It would be nice to have access to a publisher’s distribution channels, but every year indie authors are getting more and more access to those channels. In my opinion, one of the priceless things a big publisher gives you is a very visible, well-respected stamp of approval, which is marketing in its most quintessential form. Almost every customer believes if a big publisher has invested its cold hard cash in the book, then it must be good.
So as an indie author, what I needed to do was prove my book was as good as anything the publishers were putting out and to blur the self-pub line as much as possible. I then needed to broadcast this proof as far and wide as possible. I learned the hard way that as an Iindie author you have to do more and try harder than the [traditionally] published author.
With more people self-publishing, do you see the lines between traditional publishing and self-publishing beginning to blur?
Yes, I think the lines are already quite blurred, and a lot of people in the industry are perplexed as a result. I have had agents (not my current agent) tell me in frustration that they feel like they need to reinvent themselves every year. I have also watched as agencies try to get into the self-pub business, which I feel is a risky obstacle course to cross. Once in self-pub, the agency is now in competition with the publishers to whom they are trying to close book deals, and there is also the prickly question of conflict of interest between agency and author. It gets even messier because a certain subset of authors can initially make more by self-publishing than going through a publisher, but is this short-term benefit in their best long-term interest? I also think this chaos hits the publishers who now have publishing competition from their own vendors, the bookstores, as well as their authors. It sometimes seems like the old-fashioned book business that I love just got caught in an Animal House food fight.
As for the stigma placed on a self-published book, I do not think the blurring of the lines has made a significant difference yet. However, I suspect in the future that will change as more of the big writers start publishing directly. I also strongly believe that will change as more of the respected publications start professionally reviewing self-published books without bias. I am not a big believer in crowd-sourcing reviews and hold that professional educated opinions and reviews are far more valuable than that of the anonymous crowd and always will be. As a result, more of these unbiased voices are desperately needed in the self-pub zone.