To Self Publish? Steering Clear of the Slush Pile

By Tom Wood

When Clay Stafford asked me to write about self-publishing for his new Killer Nashville Magazine, my first thought was:

“Really? Why me?” They probably ought to be talking to English author Sheila Rodgers, who writes under the pen name Rachel Abbott. Her three self-published eBooks—“Only the Innocent” and two sequels—have a combined one million sales, according to a story recently published in the Sunday Times

Vendetta Stone, Tom WoodI’m guesstimating that I am about three zeroes behind in total sales across all platforms for my self-published debut novel Vendetta Stone, a fictional, true-crime thriller.

It has been a whirlwind 18 months since Vendetta Stone was published in August 2013 and I still consider myself a novice at all this. There have been a lot of successes, a few failures—and one very big learning curve.

And that’s why I agreed to write this. It has indeed been a non-stop adventure, one I love—even though I probably work harder at it than I ever did in my 36 years as a sports writer and copy editor at The Tennessean, Nashville’s morning newspaper.

Maybe the journey I’ve embarked on will inspire you, or at least warn you, for what lies ahead.

I’ll explore each of these in detail in upcoming Killer Nashville blogs, but here’s kind of an overview about why I chose to self-publish instead of choosing the traditional route.

After getting the idea for my novel in 2008, I wrote a first draft over the next year, began attending Killer Nashville in 2009 and pitched it over the next three years, as it underwent multiple rewrites—and rejections.

At the 2012 conference, it was suggested to me that I connect with a local editor and give it a hard edit before submitting for consideration. I took that advice and was so happy with the results that I decided it was time to get it on shelves, five years after starting this project. I’d taken an early retirement offer at the newspaper, allowing me the necessary time to devote to complete the project.

The final editing process took about three months, then I spent several months doing all the formatting—I chose to publish through CreateSpace—and hiring someone to do the cover. I saved a lot of money going this route and it allowed me creative control over the process.

And much like Jackson Stone, the protagonist of Vendetta Stone, it put the target squarely on my back. If I was going to succeed—or fail—as an author, it was all on my shoulders.

When I decided to go down this road, I decided that I wanted to be taken seriously as any high-profile author in the genre. I wanted Vendetta Stone to stand up to the same scrutiny, to be of the same high quality, to be considered as much a work of art as anything written by Michael Connelly, Robert Dugoni, Lee Childs, John Grisham, Stephen King or any other author you can name. After all, I am on the same shelves with all of them, competing for the same sales. 

If you’re going to aim, aim high. So that was the goal. I think I have succeeded in many ways, not so much in others.

John Seigenthaler
John Seigenthaler

Whatever success I have enjoyed has been the result of my own determined publicity efforts. One of the great highlights of 2014 was being able to discuss my book on A Word on Words With John Seigenthaler before he died last July. John was publisher and editor at The Tennessean when I started there in 1976 and he did the public television show for four decades, interviewing local and national authors and promoting literature. To honor him, in 2014, Killer Nashville created the John Seigenthaler Legends Award. I will forever treasure that opportunity.

I have spoken to library groups and book clubs, participated in and hosted festival appearances and minor events across the South, traveled across three states, talked to numerous bookstore operators and owners of non-traditional venues about carrying my book. I’ve tried to think outside the box and my book is available in several restaurants and even a grocery store.

My approach is that all anybody can say is ‘no thanks.’ I have a pretty thick skin. 

One thing surprising to me is that a lot of the ‘no thanks’ responses came from some independent bookstores. I expected that from chains, but not Indies. They hate Amazon and will not carry anything published by CreateSpace. I understand and sympathize with that point of view, but totally disagree.

Not carrying my book is hurting me. And readers. Not Amazon, certainly not them. Sigh. But I’ll press onward and continue to swim against the current.

The Sheila Rodgers Success Story inspires me.

Tom WoodA veteran sports writer and copy editor, Tom Wood has covered a variety of events ranging from the Iroquois Memorial Steeplechase to the Atlanta Olympic Games for The Tennessean in Nashville. After retirement, he continues his passion for writing, contributing to the Civil War-based anthology, Filtered through Time and conducting an interview with Stephen King for Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King. He is also an actor and can be seen in several episodes of the ABC series Nashville. He also coordinates the Killer Nashville guest blog series. Vendetta Stone is his first novel.