Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The first, shaky steps!

I decided to create another blog about my self-publishing efforts, apart from my regular Loneanimator blog, which is really about my other creative endeavours. I thought this would be fair, since I am devoting quite a while to making my own books and may have some info on the process that could be interesting for others.

The reason I got into self-publishing was strict necessity. In 1994 I started collecting folk-tales from Blekinge; the region in Sweden where I live. I had found that nothing had been published on the subject for over ten years and that the older books were rare and in various states of decay. So I spent about a year collecting stories from archives and people who could still remember a tale and tell it. I worked with my high school buddy Daniel Johannisson on the text and provided the illustrations myself. The original idea was that the book would be illustrated with photos depicting scenes from the stories. This proved to be more ambitious than I had predicted and almost a full year was spent working with props, puppets and costumes. Not to mention finding backgrounds that were fitting. My friends acted as photo models.

Eventually we abandoned the idea and I settled on doing ink drawings instead.

So after about a year and a half the book was finished and Daniel and I started looking for a sponsor for our project. Now; there are several institutions in Sweden, some local, that provide funding for book publishing, especially on subjects such as history, folklore and the like. They all laughed heartily at us and sent us home with the attitude "That's very nice boys, but you're not qualified to write a book on this subject". We spent ten gruelling and humiliating years trying to find someone to help us finance the printing. Eventually I blew a fuse, cursed all our backbiters and decided to publish the book print-on-demand. This was cheap enough to pull off, though I had to do it myself after Daniel had left the project. The company Books On Demand printed "Blekingesägner" ("Folk Tales From Blekinge") in 2004 and offered enough distribution through libraries and online sellers for the book to actually make quite a bit of money back.

The funny thing is, this book hasn't sold that well in Blekinge but is doing much better in the rest of the country.

A friend at the newspaper I was working at at the time helped me put the book together for printing. It had to be delivered to Books On Demand as a print-ready PDF. They can do it for you, at the tidy sum of about $500. The once-for-all fee for publishing the book through that company was $300. So getting your books printed in Sweden aint exactly cheap.

After this first book I decided to do another one, as a sort of extension from the first project. I put together a book about "oknytt"; a collective expression for supernatural beings like trolls, gnomes, fairies, goblins and the like. "Fältguide till Oknytt" ("A Field Guide to Oknytt") was published through Books On Demand the following year and made an even better profit. The book contains descriptions of over a hundred different creatures from the folklore of many countries. It has apparently appealed more to the fantasy crowd than the ones strictly interested in folkloric research. Both books were printed as paper backs with black and white interiors.

I have had no luck in interesting professional publishers in taking on my material. Apparently my art is "un-marketable" according to Swedish publishing firms. That's why I decided to get my books out of Sweden entirely and into the English-language market. More about that in a while.