Welcome, as always.
The Kindle version of our first novel, Across the Doubtful Sea , has just appeared, and the paper version will be available, we believe, in just a couple of days.
The whole experience, from beginning work in early June to now has been a wonderful one. Neither of us had ever collaborated on such a project before and it was a learning experience every day of our work together. We thought that, in this blog, we would discuss what appear to be the biggest areas of our project: creating together, research, cover design, expenses, making the actual (or virtual) book, and facing the reality that, at least at first, all of this was going to be, in the immortal words of MGM, Ars Gratia Artis. (Cue the lion.)
First, we had to figure out how we were going to write together. There were models, of course—you could think immediately of people from the musical theatre tradition, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rodgers and Hammerstein, for example. Or, in terms of novels, you might look to older authors from Erckmann-Chatrian to Nordhoff/Hall, or to all of those fantasy/science fiction couplings you can find on the shelves of your local bookstores.
In our case, however, we didn’t model ourselves on anyone. Instead, as the plot progressed, one of us might do more of the actual writing, but every line was, ultimately, the work of both: ideas, editing, changes, inspiration—there was nothing the two of us didn’t do at some time and in some way together.
This changed, however, when it came to the actual self-publishing. One of us, it turns out, has a wonderful (and newly- discovered) talent for the technical side—creating covers, the complex process of formatting the text—and has produced what we feel to be a beautiful and absolutely professional outside for our first book. (Perhaps books can be judged by their covers?) For this later stage of the process, that one of us was completely in charge—and the other looked on, admiringly.
Research was an important element in our work and one of us kept busy figuring out just what we needed to know and acquiring it, from books on naval warfare to work on Inuit and Polynesian languages and cultures. We’ve discussed some of this in earlier blog postings, but there was much more and it created its own puzzle: this was to be a series of fantasy/adventure novels, after all, so how much would we actually depend upon actual history and how much would we create? As well, we wanted to avoid magic per se, which has always struck us as an easy out—and can look very much like an easy out, too! (JRRT was so right to allow Gandalf to show off his real powers so infrequently.)
Once we were into a good working routine, we began to consider what our cover should look like. In our research, we had discovered the work of William Hodges, who was the main artist for Captain Cook’s second expedition (1772-1775). Considering elements in the plot (if you read Across, you’ll know at once what we mean), Hodges’ painting, commonly called “The Waterspout”, but actually entitled “A View of Cape Stephens in Cook’s Straits (New Zealand) with Waterspout”, fit perfectly.
A quick internet search showed us that this painting was not in the public domain, but was the property of the National Maritime Museum, in London. This meant that we had to request permission to use it. We e-mailed the NMM, and with the friendly help of the Image Librarian there, Emma Lefley, we obtained permission.
There was a contract, however, and a fee, which we gladly paid, but this brings up another step in the process: expenses. As new to all of this as we were, we hadn’t expected that publishing our first book would be free, but it was another step in our education to watch how the expenses could mount. Our internet research cost us nothing, of course. A certain number of the books—mostly on naval warfare—were already in one of our personal libraries, and we could have gradually acquired more through academic and public libraries, although some of the titles we used would have required ILL searching, but we decided to buy some, as we knew that we would need them for the entire series. (And we like building up our libraries anyhow.) The Hodges’ image was our first big expense, however.
When we began to think about how we might encourage interest in our work, we decided upon a blog and a Facebook page, for starters. The Facebook page was free, but we needed a domain name (that’s “dot.com” )for our blog and there was another expense. (There are lots of other potential expenses with a blog—but we’ll save those for another post.)
Our last big expense came when we had finished the book and we planning its on-line publication. To sell it effectively, it was necessary to have an ISBN—in fact, we needed two: one for the paper book and a second for the Kindle version. An ISBN is not cheap, but two obviously have been double if Bowker (the chief supplier of ISBNs) wasn’t running a deal: buy a ten-pack and the price for the individual ISBN goes down significantly. So we bought the pack—and have used two already.
Then, when we felt that we were ready, we went to Create Space and began the process of turning hundreds of pages of manuscript of what we had decided was the final draft into a self-published book—and in two forms. One of us has already written an informative post on our Facebook page (The Doubtful Sea Series) about the challenges in doing this (a euphemism—but that collaborator was very patient—to say the least!—about the various problems which arose), so, perhaps it’s best just to say here to our readers: be prepared for snags!
And there came at last the moment of truth: how much should we charge for this? And how much would we get in return? (That really was a secondary concern—honest!—but no novelist, at least since Nash turned out The Unfortunate Traveler, has written in the belief that there was no profit motive, at all, no, truly! in the process.) We were torn, of course: a lower price might mean more buyers; a higher price might bring higher profits. Then we hit those buttons at Create Space and received an education in expenses and royalties and realized that we were fortunate to be doing this as an experiment, and not as a new career. This is worth its own post, but, trust us for now when we say that, even if we sell 10,000 copies of Across the Doubtful Sea and even more of its sequels, we will not be banking in the Cayman Islands and thinking about that summer home in New Hampshire. (And now we understand why some of our favorite fantasy/sf novelists are so prolific: volume and more volume is the only way to make enough money to feel that you’re really earning something.)
We said that every moment was a learning experience, however, and, truly, it has been—and every moment has been beyond price. Like people who teach themselves to repair their own cars, we’ve climbed into the engine of writing and publishing a book and have so much more appreciation not only for the creative process and the editing/publishing process, but for all the talent and heart which each of us has shown the other in producing the first in what we hope to be a long line of novels full of fantasy and adventure.
Thanks, as always, for reading.