After spending ten years writing it, self-publishing The Lords of Harambee was a difficult decision. I poured my heart and soul into the book, and I want people to read it and be changed by it. I believe it’s a good book, and the consistent 5-star ratings on Amazon seem to back that up, but even as I was writing it I knew that publishing it would be difficult. Publishers are driven by the market, and generally expect books to fit neatly into genres that will be familiar to prospective readers.
The Lords of Harambee did not fit that paradigm. It is a serious novel about contemporary issues, but is set three hundred years in the future. It is about war, but is less about military action than about how a diverse range of individuals respond to the incredible traumas and pressures of war. Although futuristic, much of the imagined world is deliberately low-tech. The result is a novel that contains elements of literary fiction, war fiction, postcolonial fiction, military SF, and social SF, but doesn’t fit well into any one of those genres. Selling it was never going to be easy. When I submitted a few early chapters to a SF contest, the reviewer questioned whether it was really SF and condescendingly called it “Blackhawk Down in space”–which is exactly what I was trying to achieve. I’ve since embraced that line, but even that misses the centrality of civilian families to the story and could potentially alienate readers who I think would love the book for its characters. The agents I queried showed no interest.
In the end, I decided to self-publish. It has been a rewarding experience, turning my manuscript into both digital and paperback books and releasing them out into the world. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and far more people have read the book than if I had left it to collect dust in a drawer. I have no regrets. At the same time, I am running up against the same obstacle that other self-published authors inevitably encounter: it is very, very difficult to get noticed in a saturated marketplace. To put it simply, nobody knows the book exists, and it is very hard to get the word out because nobody will review a self-published book. Times are changing, but self-published books still carry a stigma of being low-quality; unfortunately, too much self-published work justifies that generalization. There is only one one way to successfully promote a self-published book, and that is through word of mouth.
So with that, I’d like to list a variety of ways that you–my readers–can help spread the word about my writing. If you like the novel, or if you just like my blog and want to support my writing, consider supporting me in the following ways:
1. Read the Lords of Harambee. Do you like character-driven fiction, science fiction, or international relations? Give the novel a try, even if it’s outside your normal range of reading. You can buy it on Amazon, or read the first five chapters for free.
2. Tell friends. Spread the word verbally to your friends, family, or coworkers. Share the link to the book or my blog on Facebook or Twitter. Post a note on your blog or on message forums where you are active. Follow me on Twitter.
3. Recommend the book to those with an online voice. There are limits to how much I can recommend my own book; I’m not exactly neutral. It is my readers who have credibility. Do you know somebody who reviews books or has a website where a book mention might be appropriate? Are you friends with an author or editor who might like the book? Shoot them an e-mail. My single biggest break came when a colleague recommended the novel to Instapundit; he mentioned the book, and I sold 250 copies in 24 hours. These are the opportunities I am hoping to find, and the ones most likely to help the book break out.
4. Like the Facebook page. It’s quick and easy to do.
5. Like me on Goodreads. If you’re on Goodreads, you can view my author profile and identify me as a favorite author.
6. Write a review or recommend the book on Goodreads. The Lords of Harambee has its own page, where you can rate it, write a review, or recommend it to friends.
7. Write a review on Amazon. This is probably the single best way to help prospective readers decide if a self-published book is any good or not. Don’t exaggerate or inflate; just write a truthful review, and show Amazon customers that the book is being read and is stimulating conversation.
8. Distribute the free sample on my Fiction page. Copy it, email it out, link to it, post it on your blog, do virtually whatever you want with it (except sell it); the sample is meant to be shared as widely as possible.
9. Join my mailing list. You’ll receive updates any time I publish new work, and you can opt out any time.
10. Say hello. Did you read and enjoy the book? I’d love to hear about it. Hearing from enthusiastic readers is the single most rewarding aspect of publishing a book.
In closing, I am so grateful to all of you–my dear readers–who follow this blog and take an interest in my writing. Thanks for making it all worth it!