17 September, 2015

Independent Publishing: An Interview with Matt Vancil

In order for people to be able to see that distributism can actually work, to see that it is actually something practical instead of  some Utopian fantasy, we need to be able to provide practical alternatives for doing things in ways that are more in line with the distributist ideal than the currently prevailing methods. Fortunately, there are people out there who are already doing this. Many who would not call themselves distributists, who may have never heard of distributism, are already trying to accomplish things in ways that happen to be more in line with distributism. One person who is in this category is Matt Vancil. Mr. Vancil has written independent films like JourneyQuest and The Gamers, and is involved with the production team at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. He recently published his first novel, PWNED, which is available through the Fan Supported Network and Amazon, and agreed to sit with me to discuss his experience as an independent publisher.

This article is not intended to be a “how to” guide which walks you through the steps. Instead, Mr. Vancil agreed to share what he learned about the types of things to keep in mind as you go through the process of publishing your own work. Prior to writing PWNED, his writing has been for the film format. Writing a novel required a new style and process with which he was not very familiar. As he quickly learned, there are various aspects to publishing a novel which should be carefully planned.

One aspect is the financing of the project. Having already been involved in "crowd sourcing" campaigns for his films, he chose to finance PWNED through Kickstarter. “I had an advantage going in. Because of the movies there was an interested fan base, someone I could immediately market to. But the best advice that I got was from the editor that I hired, who was a friend that I met through the convention circuit named Rachel Edidin. What she said was that you have to write a sample chapter that is available to people, that anyone can take a look at and see so they can get a sense of it. The thing about crowd sourcing is that you're basically asking hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers to trust you. This was great advice because I had never written a novel before and this was a great way of testing the waters and seeing if there was enough interest to justify actually doing a print run. That was very helpful." He also made a promotional video on his Kickstarter campaign where he presented why he was choosing to do the novel and revealed some aspects of his style of humor. “If I'm pitching a comedy novel, I better make you laugh.”

"Part of the reason I picked the project I did was, because it tied into The Gamers franchise, I figured there would be built in interest, and there was.” By having this sample chapter and video, he was better able to reach those who were not already familiar with his film work. “One of the things that you see when you run a Kickstarter campaign is a pie chart of where your pledges are coming from. Two overarching categories are what comes from outside of Kickstarter and what comes from within. When I started, pretty much everything was coming from Twitter and Facebook and the existing fan base. By the end of the campaign, at least half the interest was coming from within Kickstarter. It was being recommended by 'here's what's happening in books' or 'here's what's happening in Tacoma.' By the end, half the people who were pledging to it were people who had not seen the movies.”

When he first started the campaign, his work situation was such that he would have a lot of time to write and to fill the orders and mail them out when done. “I planned to print out all the packages and take them to the post office, but right after I started the campaign I got my current job. I was originally looking at having twenty to thirty hours a week to write, and then with a full time job and a commute to Seattle, that changed to being able to write on evenings and weekends.” His reduction in available time would make it hard just to complete the writing and editing process on time. It would also impact his ability to do the work required to fill the orders and mail them out. He was lucky enough to be over funded for his campaign and was able to hire the Fan Supported Network to handle the fulfillment aspects campaign. In a typical campaign, there are different reward offers for funding at higher levels. This company essentially became the project manager to make sure that all of the aspects he had originally intended to handle himself were covered. “So careful budgeting is another thing I would stress most importantly.”

Another aspect for which you need to budget is editing. Anyone who writes likes to think he writes well. Experienced writers rely on editors to look things over and point out things that might have been missed. “You really want to hire a professional editor, and you should hire that person to edit your initial chapter as well. When I started this, I e-mailed Matt Forbeck, who I had met through the convention circuit and had pulled off his 12 for '12 campaign where he was going to write twelve novels in 2012. He and his wife were doing the editing themselves because they had done it before, but he recommended getting a professional editor. A professional or freelance editor can cost $80 to $100 an hour, but their time is worth it.

"You should have a content editor to check the flow, consistency and accuracy of your work. I had never written in the novel form before and while I had a lot of people who had seen my work, no one had read it. I overwrote a lot and was over descriptive. Rachel would boil that down and say, 'You don't need all this. This is the gist of it,' She helped me get it to read more like a professional book. Also hire a copy editor specifically for proofreading. It's usually best not to have that person also be the regular content editor. While the content editor will fix typos and punctuation errors they happen to find, that's not what they are looking for. You want to approximate a professional production as closely as you can. There is still a self-publishing stigma for printed books and, while that doesn't seem to extend to e-books, you also don't want to have a bad e-book with a poorly Photo Shopped cover by someone's nephew and filled with typos and bad formatting. Hire the people who can help you deliver the professional look and quality, so those who fund you or buy your book won't be disappointed.” Mr. Vancil also recommends that you get a Library of Congress number and ISBN number as part of the process so that, if you get published and your book gets sold in stores or donated to libraries, the information they need is already there.

If you want to write a professional quality book, there is a lot more to consider than finding a local publishing house or signing up with an on demand publisher like TheBookPatch, Lightening Source or even Amazon. We thank Mr. Vancil for taking the time to share his experience with us. Hopefully, this information will help anyone who is thinking about independent publishing avoid unnecessary pitfalls. However, we can see that independent publishing is not an unrealistic goal. Seek advice from those who have already done it. If you budget for the proper resources for editing, laying out the text, getting a good cover, and printing the book, you can successfully produce a quality product. If you're thinking of running a “crowd funding” campaign through a site like Kickstarter, make sure you understand the additional costs. Plan out your reward structure and everything that is needed to produce and deliver the rewards along with your book. Also consider how you're going to market your work. We don't all have the advantage of an existing fan base. Even with one, it is important to reach out and “network” with many people in order to get the word out.

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