Troy Kechely shares 7 vital insights about revision, self-publishing, and marketing as a new author
ANIKA HANISCH: How long did it take to write your novel? What was the revision process like? Any surprises?
TROY KECHELY: I started research and interviews in 2009 but didn’t really get started on serious writing until the summer of 2011. From that point it took almost three years to get a marketable manuscript complete which occurred in April 2014. The revision process was, shall we say, enlightening and humbling. When I finished the complete first draft, which in reality was draft 1.3, as I broke it into thirds, you said “Congratulations! You’re 10% done.” The surprise was how right you were. The vast majority of the work was on the subsequent revisions and editing.
AH: What did you learn from the process of looking for a publisher or agent?
TK: Be patient and don’t take rejections personally. Get used to form responses or no responses at all but if you get a personal one, even if negative, learn from it because it means they took the time to read it and thought it worth commenting on.
AH: You had an offer from a publisher, why did you refuse it?
TK: By the time I got that offer I was already starting down the road of self-publishing. Normally a first time author would be jumping for joy with a contract offer. But after looking at this publisher’s current list of books, I wasn’t sure they could represent me well. They were a smaller publisher and I had some concerns about their contract arrangements too. An editor in the industry confirmed that my concerns were valid. I took the offer as a solid compliment, but refused it, then pushed forward on self-publishing. No regrets on that; I’m sure I made the right choice for my book.
AH: What was the self-publishing process like? What are the challenges?
TK: It was difficult sorting through all the different self-publishing companies and all the packages they offered. Because I was already contracting the editing and cover design I didn’t need all the bells and whistles that some places offered. After extensive research and talking to a friend who was working with a self-publisher already, I settled on CreateSpace. Overall my experience with them was really good. Though you want to make sure that the final document you send them is as clean as possible editing wise because after a certain point, any changes cost you more money.
I do recommend their “Marketing Essentials” package, in which they write the back cover text and other marketing verbiage. Both you and I agreed that having a fresh set of eyes work on that material was invaluable. The marketing text they crafted was better than what either of us would have produced. By the end of a multi-year project, you don’t really have the objectivity to write marketing copy about your book.
AH: What happens after you self-publish? What are you doing to market your book?
TK: Once Stranger’s Dance was actually out there for purchase that was when I got nervous. You never know how people will react to it. If you’re worried about negative feedback, then don’t bother publishing your book. But if you do get to this point, then marketing is everything. Because I don’t have a massive advertising budget, I built a basic author website (www.trokechely.com), and I am using social media (Facebook and Goodreads) to get word out. I post regularly, and I’ve offered free paperback copies through a GoodReads contest to get the book out to people completely outside my friends and family circle. I’m learning slowly what works and what doesn’t.
Aside from social media efforts, I’m actively talking to local book stores in the region, as well as sending press releases to regional news outlets and providing free review copies to news and magazine writers. I’ve gotten the book out to organizations that would be interested in it. It’s a historical fiction dog story, so I’ve shared the book with dog training and rescue groups where I have contacts. I’m hoping to hold some author events with these groups as well.
It is all about exposure and persistence. Somehow you need to make your book stand out among the 130,000 books that are published every year. Realize that local media and bookstores get a lot of solicitations about self-published and small press books. Reporters can’t cover and bookstores can’t sell every book they hear about. Be courteous but persistent. Show them that you have a readership and people are already buying the book. Chart your activities and always follow-up when you email or send materials.
AH: Are you getting feedback from readers already? What are they saying?
TK: I’ve been getting very positive feedback, which is encouraging. To hear from people part way through the book saying how much they hate a character but find him irresistibly interesting, means I did my job right. By the end of the book, they have totally different feelings about this character. One of the biggest compliments is from people who don’t want to stop reading and wished the story went longer. There’s nothing worse than a reader getting bored with a book. So far that hasn’t been a problem.
AH: Any other tips/cautions/encouragement you’d like to share with other authors considering self-publishing?
TK: Get professional help! No, I don’t mean the psychiatric kind—though during the revision process you might think you need some. I mean a professional editor to guide you through the process, to look at your work and provide honest critique. Don’t have people review it who aren’t going to be honest with you. Sugarcoated compliments will do nothing to improve your writing. If you can’t take critique, then you aren’t ready to publish. Those brutally honest reviews were what helped make the book as good as it is.
Kechely’s book, Stranger’s Dance, is now available at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana, Browsing Bison Books in Deer Lodge, by order through any other bookstore, and online at Amazon. Kechely is also the author of The Management of Aggressive Canines for Law Enforcement and has published numerous magazine articles and short stories. Learn more about him at www.troykechely.com.