This past week I’ve been busy adding On Swift Wings to libraries and archives. I discovered that the Calgary Public Library had accepted my request and picked up two copies of the book. Even cooler than that, both copies had been checked out and a hold was waiting on one of them!
I was already in touch with the Calgary Public Library to donate a few more copies to their collection. They requested an additional three copies which I sent off yesterday. I’m very excited to have more people read the book. (It isn’t about the money, it is about the story and ideas. I really hope people get something out of the book.
At the same time, I’ve been in touch with Library and Archives Canada about including my book available to the fourth largest library in the world tasked with keeping a record of Canadian history. They too have been extremely friendly and helpful, and I’ve donated a hardcover and paperback version to them as well.
I could really use a little help from my readers on this subject. I had the book added to my own public library, but for those of you outside of Calgary, would you be willing to check your own library to see if they have any copies, and assuming they don’t, could you put in a request to add the book to their collection? Libraries are able to order the book at a 55% discount to the retail rate from IngramSpark.
One great thing about being Canadian (and there are many) is that registering for an ISBN ( International Standard Book Number) – think serial number for books, required to sell in bookstores or online, is free. As long as you’re a Canadian citizen, getting an ISBN is totally free. If you’re an American, you have to pay Bowker $125/ISBN for the same service.
A unique ISBN is required for each book format, Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook. That means that my book would have cost an extra $300US if I wasn’t Canadian. Sweet deal. Pretty happy to donate a couple copies of my book to LAC instead.
Once I had decided that I was going to self-publish, a whole new world opened up. Without a traditional publisher, and keeping away from vanity publishers, I would need to research, find, hire, manage, and pay each of my various contracted freelancers myself. I have mentioned before that I really didn’t know anything about publishing at the start, and totally overestimated my own abilities. I’m OK with that, I’d rather think I can do more than I can and pull back when I realize my own limitations than to underestimate myself and achieve less than my potential. At basically every stage where I ultimately hired a service provider, I experienced the same or a similar process.
Stage 1 – I will do it myself!
Original plans called for me to do everything. I was going to plan, write, edit, and format the book. I was going to draw my own cover art and market the book on my own. Tag me as arrogant, but I wanted to try all of these, and I felt like I could do a good enough job if I tried hard enough. I am ok at all of them, but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Stage 2 – Research requirements
Unlike a school project where a teacher tells you all the things that need to be included, there is no definitive requirements document explaining what you need to do to properly edit a book, format the interior, and design a cover. Even now that I’m done, and properly understand the end requirements from experience, I’m not sure that I could properly do any of these myself. Anyway, I researched each one before I gave them all a first try. A blessing and a curse of writing is that the other people who are experts are also writers. They like to write, a lot. There are a lot of resources out there (like this blog is turning into) of people who are eager to tell you everything about their experience. Many of them have written books about how to write books and have them published, I’m not planning on doing that, but rather than a calm stream of helpful advice it is a bit more like a tidal wave of information. Once I had found her, my editor helped to filter some of the more important things. I can’t emphasize how valuable it is to have a guide on this travel.
Stage 3 – Try and try again
I edited my book several times myself, checking for grammar, consistency, idiocy, structure, content, etc. I made several book covers, sought feedback on my Facebook page, edited, and refined them. I formatted my own document using a template I bought online. I took each part as far as I could manage. I did my best, and I felt I did OK, but not good enough. I resolved early on that I would not let myself say, “imagine if I had actually…” like an athlete who sabotages himself before a big race. I wanted to run right through the finish line. The right way to do that is to get the correct people on my side.
Stage 4 – I shouldn’t do it myself!
I concluded that I couldn’t get it sufficiently edited for a professional product. I came to the same conclusion that for a good book, a properly created cover was necessary. With the formatting, I felt confident that I could put a reasonable product together on my own experience, and I think I did come up with something passable. I trusted my editor at this point, who suggested that proper formatting would be a worthwhile investment.
Stage 5 – Research the freelance market
There are a lot of freelancers out there in every field. Whether for editing, cover design, formatting, etc. I wanted to find people compatible with my communication style, who were interested in my book. I did a lot of research, I searched on Editors Canada for Calgary-based editors and found a few people to talk to, I polled my network to see if they knew anybody and drummed up a couple names from there. For the cover design, I considered doing a design competition, but pulled back on that idea when it became clear that experiences there varied dramatically, with all parties generally being dissatisfied with the result, both the artist who feels undervalued and the buyer who doesn’t feel like they got what they wanted. It also hardly feels fair to ask hundreds of people to do the work and only have one or two get paid anything for their troubles. Ultimately I found a few people online who had done a number of covers that I quite liked. Formatting was easier, my editor recommended someone she had worked with and I trusted her judgement.
Stage 6 – Contact
With the exception of the formatting, which was done on my editor’s advice, I had the same thing happen with both the my choice of editor and book cover design. I contacted several people about doing my editing and my cover design. In both cases, the person who I had thought would be my likely first choice rejected the contract.
The first editor to whom I spoke said that I had done a great job of staying very true to the original in terms of tone and voice, and that her editing style was better suited to a close narrative distance. The second editor, who I ultimately picked, was Bobbi Beatty of Silver Scroll Services. When I got in touch with her she wrote me a novel of advice even before I hired her. I felt like she was thoroughly engaged immediately, and I liked her communication style. She seemed interested and excited. I told my wife that I think I had found my editor.
A similar thing happened with the cover design. I found a group that I thought had done some really great covers, but when I contacted them with my book and idea they told me that because my book included ‘fantasy’ worlds and characters, they would be unable to source appropriate images. I don’t hold any malice about this, they didn’t understand my book, and obviously weren’t familiar with Gulliver’s Travels. I pushed on and found a great team at JD&J Book Cover Design. They responded virtually immediately, gave me a timeline and details, took my information and ideas. As with Bobbi, I felt confident with these guys that I had the right people for me.
Stage 7 – Contract
This was pretty easy in every case. Each of my team requested some percentage of the contract up-front. I wanted some details like non-disclosure agreements to protect my own work. (As with most first-time authors, I was unreasonably afraid that somebody was going to steal my ideas.) Each of them provided me with the cost up-front, the timeline within which they would get the work done (and all of them succeeded in completing on schedule) and communicated with me any issues or concerns.
Stage 8 – The Waiting Game
Oh man this is a hard part. Sending something I’d worked on for so long to the editor, formatting, and even book cover designer was like sending my kid to their first summer camp… which I haven’t done yet, so I can only imagine. I told each of my team that I wanted to be the model client. I promised to pay them immediately upon receiving the invoice, to respond promptly to any questions, and to not pester them. I asked them to take their time and do a great job, rather than worry excessively about hitting deadlines. I meant it! I even said that if the book was bad, to just tell me that. I meant that too!
Once the manuscript was out of my hands, I couldn’t do anything about it until it was returned. Every day felt interminable. I waited with bated breath, unsure, and lacking confidence that somebody wouldn’t come back and say, “your book is awful.” Even though I had told them not to worry about deadlines, I still had them circled on my calendar hoping that they would meet them anyway. (they did)
Stage 9 – Final refinements
At each stage, there is always a little back and forth as some details are touched up. A little font change here, a couple last questions about the edits, a few details on the cover, etc. As I had chosen people with whom communication was easy, these refinements went smoothly and quickly. As well as I could have hoped. Ultimately, I was very pleased by the results.
Stage 10 – Payment
promised I would, and I believe that I did pay each of them within a couple hours of receiving their invoice. I know it is important to be paid promptly. One way to show respect and appreciation is to pay quickly.
Stage 11 – Thanks
I can hardly emphasize how valuable it is to find the right people for your team. I wouldn’t have nearly the final product today that I’m proud to say is mine without all their help. They were worth their weights in gold.
Bobbi, my editor, was my MVP. Beyond cleaning up my rambling, comma-soaked, first-timer manuscript, she provided the guidance and feedback that I increasingly realized I desperately needed. Her ability to match her edits to the tone and voice that I desired was fantastic, her comments and direction were right on point, and her attitude was brilliant. I would strongly recommend her, and when my second book is complete, I will certainly get in touch with her again.
I’ve written before that when I started writing On Swift Wings, it was purely for the fun and challenge of writing a story. As it progressed, I started thinking more about publishing the book. This was my first foray into the writing space, but I had done a few things that required a little special attention:
Voice: I wrote the story in a very formal and classic voice, in as close a style to Jonathan Swift as I could. I borrowed some of his conventions and styles. This also meant that it has a very distant flavour. Most modern novels are written with a very close, in-the-action, sort of voice.
Language: I wanted to write a book that was challenging and deep. This definitely won’t appeal to the broadest audience, but it was more important to me to write something of which I would be proud than something that would sell a billion copies and make me fabulously wealthy… that would be cool though.
Message: As I laboured on the book, I realized how important it was that I use the platform effectively and actually say what I wanted to say. It was critical to me that the message not overwhelm the narrative, but I wanted to say what I wanted to say.
Originally I wanted to get the book published by a big 5 publisher (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster), get the book as widely distributed as possible, and get it out to the widest audience possible. While writing the book, I was researching agents, publishers, subjects, page limits, suggestions, advice, and everything else I could imagine. Obviously, the chances of being a first-time, unknown author getting picked up by a giant publisher is extremely low, virtually impossible.
I explored everything openly, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I would divide publishers into three distinct groups:
Classic/Traditional Publishers: Wide, classic, distribution. Unlikely to read a book directly from an author, requires an agent to read the book and sign on first, and then the agent shops around the book to publishers. There are a number of big benefits to classic publishing houses, probably the biggest being the highest potential for sales, and being guided by an expert team through editing and marketing. The drawbacks are significant as well: loss of creative control, huge delays in getting published, smaller share of royalties. Considering my message and voice were important to me, I believe the work and compromises required to work with a traditional publisher would not be in my best interests.
Vanity Publishers: I didn’t know anything about this space before I nearly fell into what I now consider to be a bit of a trap. At first glance, these look like traditional publishers except that vanity publishers are like full-service self-publishers. They offer a-la-carte services like editing, marketing, cover design, etc. They will print your book and help you put your book in stores, as I understand anyway. The services are expensive and while it would be helpful to have somebody who knows what they are doing guide me through the process, I felt that in today’s world, I could try and to the job myself.
Self-Publishing: As I stumbled on this, led in part by my editor, I felt most comfortable with this option. Self-publishing for me involved publishing on IngramSpark and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP is really simple to set up and gets your book up to Amazon almost instantly. IngramSpark is a little more complicated, but it goes out to book sellers, libraries, and online and produces Hardcover books. Choosing self-publishing meant that I would be responsible for editing, covers, formatting, marketing, and all pricing and distribution decisions. While I wasn’t really prepared of this, the internet is an incredible resource, and as I joining a community of people who like to write… well, they all write about everything. A secondary benefit of both of the self-publishing platforms I chose are that they are on-demand. When you put an order in with them, they print a copy of the book at that time. I don’t have to order 500 books and live in a house full of books that I haven’t figured out how to sell.
I chose to go with self-publishing. When you order a copy of my book it is printed on-demand, if you order a paperback from Amazon, it is coming from KDP. If you order either a hardcover or a paperback from somewhere else, it is being printed by IngramSpark.
I chose to go with self-publishing. When you order a copy of my book it is printed on-demand, if you order a paperback from Amazon, it is coming from KDP. If you order either a hardcover or a paperback from somewhere else, it is being printed by IngramSpark. In both cases, printing can occur anywhere in the world. In fact, Amazon apparently uses IngramSpark for their overflow anyway. That way, you can be sure that your copy will arrive as quickly as possible.
It certainly wasn’t the easiest path, I’ve had to learn a lot about things that I didn’t even know existed before I started. Pricing, marketing, editing, book cover design and requirements, page layout, fonts and formatting, publishing, ordering, taxes, ISBN information, exclusivity, etc. It is pretty amazing the work that goes into every book you’ve ever read. It does play into my own brand of crazy. (I want to understand everything) Learning a plethora of things about diverse subjects was a pretty awesome experience.
A second part of who I am is that I love to tell anybody who will listen everything I know. I swear this isn’t arrogance, but a sincere wish to help everybody be the best they can be. I would be more than happy to answer any more questions about this. Let me know about what you’d like to learn more and I’ll answer as honestly and thoroughly as I can.
After deciding that I wanted to write a book based on Gulliver’s Travels. The next thought was, about what do I want to write. I have decided that my books are meant to have a purpose beyond straight entertainment. Much as Jonathan Swift used his book to criticize and vex society, I want my book to make people think and question the world. I took a notepad that I got from a local school (SAIT) for speaking to their students about finding jobs and started jotting down things that I would like to criticize or poke some fun at. This in itself proved a pretty cathartic exercise. Just writing down things about the world that could do with some changing.
Research (Part 1 – Book)
Next, I had to research the original book. It is one thing to have read the book once or twice, but it is a second to make sure that I thoroughly understood everything therein. This meant making notes of all the details of each island. My first rule in writing the book is that I couldn’t violate any immutable rules of the original. For example, if the natives of one island were black in the original work, they can’t suddenly be white in my novel. Names can change, and an 18th century Englishman would surely write a word differently from a 21st century Canadian, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t violate this first rule. I read the book, and I read analyses of the book to make sure I didn’t misunderstand something, or simply by virtue of time, not grasp the significance of certain details. The islands couldn’t be enormous in the first and tiny in mine, they couldn’t be arctic and then tropical, etc.
The next step was boxing the story into the various islands, and figuring out the path that Cygnus would take to visit them. I decided to lay out the islands in reverse order to the original and then proceeded to plan what the major events would be on each of them. Generally I planned each island backwards. At the end of this island, he needs to get be at point X, so therefore he needs to do something to get there, and something before that allows or forces him to do that, until I traced back to his arrival. No great details at this point, just big events.
In several stages, I added more details to the broad plan from before. I would fill in the gaps with smaller events, details, and hidden meanings that I wanted to brush over when I got to the writing. Each time I would effectively re-write the entire plan, using the previous iteration as the slalom gates I had to pass.
Research (Part 2 – Detail about Flight Attendants, Horses, History)
I have never been a flight attendant, nor have I a great deal of experience with horses. The first two parts of the book. The sequence that leads up to his arrival on the island of the Huhuneem, and that same island both required some significant knowledge acquisition on my part. I researched flight attendants and stewards, looked into their biggest complaints, considered what part of their occupations might be useful to add colour to the story, etc.
Similarly, I had to learn about the physiology of horses. While Swift provided some helpful pointers and rules I had to follow, like how they pick up things, many parts of the equine form are not things about which I know very much. Further, unlike 1726 England, where horses would have been quite common. I interact with horses less often than annually. I didn’t even include words like “sorrel, bay, nag, etc.” in my general lexicon before this research. I know I’m from the Stampede city in Calgary, but this is just not a part of my world. I asked people I knew who do love horses about behaviours and typical stereotypes of horses to try to derive a ground-level understanding.
The last part that required greater knowledge was in the interaction with the necromancers of Glubdubdrib. I looked for interesting historical facts, and common misconceptions. As far as I know, everything that I wrote in this section is truthful. It wouldn’t do to call a historical figure from ancient Egypt and have them knowledgeable about the New World.
The next stage, and the longest, was the writing. It took about three years of work, mostly in my spare time, to actually cobble together the actual words of the story. Having a detailed outline made it easier, but it takes a lot of time and thought to write 100,000+ words. This certain did. I granted myself license to stray a little from the rigid confines of the outline, particularly as I got to know my own characters and realized that they wouldn’t behave the way I had originally intended them to. I won’t spoil anything, but my original outline called for a very different ending to the story, which I decided in the end wouldn’t fit the rest of the work. In bits and pieces I wrote the book, and finally pushed to the end in January 2019.
Also, I wrote most of the story on my phone using a little fold-out keyboard. I bet that is a pretty unique tidbit…
Please comment if this post was interesting or valuable.
The question that is asked most frequently of me is why I chose to write a book.
The most honest answer to this question is because I always wanted to. There is a fascinating permanence to the written word. Long after an author has departed this plane their works are remembered and discussed. I possess a curiosity and interest in many things, and thoroughly enjoy civil discussion on a wide range of topics. Writing a novel presented me with a platform to share ideas and thoughts with people who might never otherwise know anything of me. This drive has only been amplified now that I am a father to two wonderful children. I want them to have something of me that they can keep and pass down for generations. I hope that they will be proud of their father for his work. This leads into the second most common question that I’m asked:
Why Gulliver’s Travels?
Why Gulliver’s Travels? I read the original story to my son before he could speak. I used to read classic stories to him while he lay in the crib. Mostly, I’m certain, he was listening to the sound of my voice, so I wanted to read something that I would enjoy. I read a number of great stories, but Gulliver’s Travels spoke to me differently. First, as a satire, I enjoyed some of the subtle humour, but as importantly, I saw that much of the satire, once edgy and vexing, was now seriously outdated.
A few may be familiar with the Tory and Whig parties in England in the 1700s, more are aware of the protestant/catholic split, but frankly, much of the satire of the original novel is lost on modern readers without significant additional work. I saw an opportunity there to update the satire with modern reflections. The themes remain valuable, and I hope to reinvigorate some of their content.
While a classic novel, beautifully written, it also contains some super-racist parts. The most memorable to me was:
My horror and astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abominable animal, a perfect human figure: the face of it indeed was flat and broad, the nose depressed, the lips large, and the mouth wide; but these differences are common to all savage nations, where the lineaments of the countenance are distorted, by the natives suffering their infants to lie grovelling on the earth…
I remember reading those words to my infant son and thinking, “holy crap, I just said those words out loud.” The Yahoos are black, and he compares them to monkeys, with a patronizing tone. I wouldn’t suggest to know Mr. Swift’s true thoughts. He does write satire after-all, but while much of the book is progressive, this appears to betray an 18th century European attitude towards the “savage nations.”
Gulliver’s Travels also appeals to me because it consistently asks “What if?” questions. What if you landed alone on an island of giants, tiny people, civilized horses, immortals, or necromancers? One of the neat things about this story is that anybody can think of what they would do in a similar situation, which is the place from which I took off.
Why use a formal, antique, writing style?
Those who know me best know that this is generally how I write anyway. Good friends have been tickled by reading the preface of the story and responded that they thought it very typical of my style. Additionally, I wanted to pay respect to the original author, Jonathan Swift. I find his writing to be excellent, and a nod to his talent I felt was more than merited.
To what end?
This question goes back to the first. I’ve joked that I want to be a famous author, and to become rich and wealthy… That would be nice, but it really isn’t the intention. The odds of any one story reaching the necessary sort of acclaim are puny. More than anything else, I hope that people read my story with an open mind, smooth over any clumsiness of my pen, think about the ideas that are either openly presented or hidden behind metaphors, similes, and satire, and talk about them. I’m am as excited by somebody disagreeing with my ideas as someone who agrees, as long as arguments are presented respectfully. I hope that On Swift Wings generates discussion, and in some way makes the world a better place.
One more thing that has inspired me was a story that I heard during the London Olympics in 2012. There was a small tribute to Peter Pan. The author, JM Barrie, donated the copyright to the Great Ormond Street Hospital eighteen years after it was published. This has provided funds for the hospital ever since, and by special clause inserted into British copyright law, the hospital retains that property outside of public domain in perpetuity. I think this is a beautiful and generous act. As a result, I have decided to donate 20% of my royalties to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, while raising funds through promotions and other activities. Should I be in a similar position in 18 years, I should like to do the same, and donate all future royalty to the ACH.
July 1, 2019 – On Swift Wings is available for purchase from many online retailers including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many more! You can get your copy Hardcover, Paperback or eBook fromhttps://tinyurl.com/OnSwiftWings
The book is a modernization of Jonathan Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels. The islands are evolved 300 years, the satire is updated, and the character is modern. The tone and writing style remains the same as the original.
For each of the first 500 shares of this post (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn) I will donate a dollar to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. 20% of author royalties will be donated as well.