Sunday, October 17, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] From Self-Published to Traditionally-Published by Todd Newton

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

This week my guest is Todd Newton, author of The Ninth Avatar, which has gone through two prints already. First as a self-published novel and then as a traditionally published novel. It’s no secret that I didn’t receive the self-published edition very well [review], pointing out that there is potential in the book, but only after extensive editing. Now, I do have the edited and revised book, which I hope to review soon.

Bio: I was born in 1980, had an interesting upbringing (as I'm sure we all have), and rebelled as a teenager. I have since realized I was not the only person to do this (hence previous the parenthetical statement). After ten tumultuous years I barely remember, I moved to Denver, Colorado. Things have been different ever since.


When the slain march, prophecy will be fulfilled. The Ninth Avatar is coming. Wizards have wondered for generations when a human would ascend to become the Ninth Avatar, and what would happen when they did. Opinions differ, but the Ninth Pillar of Magic--that of Darkness--is feared by many whether they use magic or not. When Starka, an outcast priestess of the magic loathing Cathedrals of Myst, receives a prophecy heralding this ascension, a new force rises to threaten the entire known world. The Carrion army, a race of transformed humans bearing black horns and an unquenchable thirst for blood, destroys every city it comes across. Their leader, Zion, has only one goal: to become the living embodiment of magic that is the Ninth Avatar. Aiding Starka in her quest to halt this are DaVille, a mysterious warrior bent on killing the Carrion leader; Cairos, a wizard from the betrayed city of Illiadora; and Wan Du and Lady Mayrah, a man and woman from rival nations now decimated by the Carrion. Amidst all this turmoil, Wadam, a Cardinal of Starka's faith, seeks to seize control of Myst for himself and thereby subjugate the female leaders. With the world in peril Starka must find the means to prevent these things, or die trying.

The Task: I have asked Todd to tell me of his journey from the scorned self-published ‘author’ to a traditionally published one [and I put those quotation marks in jest]. What I received from Todd was his journey with The Ninth Avatar from its genesis to long path to publication.


The stigma of self-publishing may always exist, no matter how rational or logical of an argument you post on your blog. It is nigh on impossible to get attention (and, therefore, readers) for your self-published book. This is because the responsibility to create a quality product rests on the author’s shoulders, rather than someone with deeper pockets or a higher headcount. Frankly, if you’re not already well-known, no one has any reason to trust you.

The Ninth Avatar began as a plot for a “garage” video game project. Its first iteration was a meandering “story summary” lacking just about everything a real story needs. Many years and a lot of work later, I had a coherent and thoroughly-edited novel manuscript staring at me from the other side of the computer screen. I also had a stack of query rejections from agents and various publishers.

This is not a unique scenario, but neither is it one for which there are any easy answers. The obvious question was what to do next, and all the searching and reading I did led me nowhere. I knew I wanted to write more books, even had a second one well underway, but I had no idea what to do with this completed novel.

With the intention of “getting my name out there,” I self-published The Ninth Avatar through CreateSpace, Amazon’s Publish On Demand (POD) offering. This was a tremendous learning experience for me as far as book/cover design, manuscript formatting, and “copy” writing because I had to do it all myself. CreateSpace provided an Amazon page, which was advantageous, but my original goal still seemed beyond reach.

At the end of the day, the challenge of “how do I sell the book?” remained. Even blog-based book reviewers are loath to touch self-published books, and I know because I contacted many of them directly. Getting a reviewer to read a book (any book) is like asking someone to do a bit of overtime after working a double shift; it’s not that they don’t care, but rather that they already have a stack of titles begging for their attention. For readers it’s much the same, except that they carry no obligations toward books. Merely preferences.

So it went until my book had been available for about two months. A fellow writer informed me of Trapdoor Books, a new startup publisher based locally. I contacted the man in charge, sent him a copy of my book and, after some debate and discussion, Trapdoor acquired it to publish. Finally, I would have something larger than me to add credibility to my campaign.

The process The Ninth Avatar (and I) went through with Trapdoor could not have been more different than self-publishing. The contract and money, for starters, were new. I had no agent, so the process was quite streamlined. Of course, when the work truly began I was lucky enough to be involved in certain decisions such as the map, manuscript edits, cover art, etc. I’m told by many other authors, especially debut authors, that their hands are pried off the wheel at this point.

Regardless, the responsibility no longer sat fully on my shoulders. I was an employee now, rather than the owner & operator of The Ninth Avatar, Inc. I had someone to ask when I had questions or concerns, someone who knew the answers and solutions. I was no longer running the marathon with only a cheering section to back me up.

Of all the differences, the largest was working with others. An Editor, someone paid to read manuscripts and provide suggestions to improve them. A Book Designer, someone paid to know how to make the text look good on the page, and care about the resolution of cover images. A Publisher, someone as invested as I was, and who wanted to see my book succeed.

Eventually, the book was released with a new cover and design treatment as well as numerous edits to the text itself. Its success, of course, still relies upon all of you. It’s been a long journey, and The Ninth Avatar and I still have a quite a bit further to go.


T.D. Newton said...

Hey Harry, just wanted to say thanks again for the opportunity to tell my story here.

Harry Markov said...

It's my pleasure. :)

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