There are indie musicians, indie bands, indie films, indie artists of various stripes and backgrounds, but until recent years, being an indie author carried a stigma that none of the other creative fields ever had. Indeed, to be an indie filmmaker has been a badge of honour. It has cred. It means you haven’t ‘sold out.’ Indie authors, on the other hand, are viewed with suspicion, and even derision. A book must not be any good if the author can’t find a ‘legitimate’ publisher. Everyone knows that publishers are the mavens of good taste, the vetters of fine literature, the filtre-outers of trash.
Around about 2009, just a few years after the release of the first Amazon Kindle eReader, things began to change. Self publishing began to come into its own. It still had the same stigma as before, but Amazon made it possible for indie authors to publish their books at no cost, and they began to get noticed. Now-famous author Hugh Howey turned the sci-fi world upside down with his Wool series by self publishing the first two novels in instalments. Andy Weir, author of The Martian, initially published his novel on his web site, and then later created a Kindle version to make it easier for readers to gain access to his book. The crowning achievement for Weir was the blockbuster release of the movie version of the novel in 2015, and staring Matt Damon in the titular role.
I watched these developments from afar — really afar, in fact, because I live all the way down under, in Sydney, Australia, though I was raised in the Midwestern USA. I’d spent my life writing in one form or another: articles, movie and book reviews, technical white papers, how-to guides, developers kits, and I kept a regular blog for about four years. On the blog, I wrote pieces about anything that tickled my fancy, including a short piece about an aspect of life in former Communist Slovakia, where I was an English teacher in the early 1990s. I longed to turn that little story into a longer piece, perhaps even a book-length memoir. Some years ago, my sister had encouraged me to do just that, but I reasoned to myself at the time that nobody would be interested in a book about a strange little Eastern Bloc country, so I did nothing. I didn’t think anyone would want to publish it, either.
When my dad died in 2013, I decided it was time to put my story to the page. Dad was a lifelong journalist, and had completed his memoir entitled Peanuts, Pogo and Hobbes before he passed away. I didn’t want to live out the rest of my days without writing at least one book, and I really believed in my story, despite my reservations about its readership. I also knew that I could self publish it on Amazon, following the lead of Howey, Weir, and countless others since then.
Over the course of a year, I sacrificed lunches with co-workers every day and sat in a cubicle in my office typing away for 45 minutes at a crack. I followed a rough outline, but also deviated from it as I saw fit. I had false starts, and the initial draft was more didactic than readable, but I soldiered on. In June of 2014, I had a 100,000-word manuscript, which I then set aside while my niece and her best friend visited me from Arizona. Come early spring (that is, spring in Australia), I sat down to revise the book — and revise, and revise, and revise. I rewrote chapters over and over. I deleted others that didn’t fit. I cleaned up purple prose, and honed every word, sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter. By May of 2015, I had a clean, and severely whittled down version of my memoir. I then sent the edited manuscript to a close friend for a beta read, and my mother to perform her editing magic. Both announced to me that they were mesmerised by the story, and that my writing was excellent. (I still don’t know if I completely agree with the latter bit.)
Luckily, I found a cover designer early in the process by the name of Jason Gurley. He’s another indie writer who has made a name for himself most recently with his novel Eleanor. Back in 2013-14, he was still designing covers for other indie writers, and so I hired him to work his magic on my book. And magic it was! He took a brief synopsis and an old photo and came up with a beautiful and evocative cover. He had understood the theme and tone of the book, without knowing much about it.
After my mother had finished her edits, I went to work applying the changes, and then doing some final fixes to it myself. I then sent off the book to the eBook formatter (conveniently located in Tasmania, so no time zone issues for me — yay), and sat down to do the internal print formatting myself. Fortunately, I’m a longtime Adobe InDesign user, so I knew the ins and outs of book production.
Finally, in August of 2015, I was ready to ‘hit publish,’ as they say. Banana Peels on the Tracks: Coming of Age in Post-Communist Slovakia was ready for the world. I set a publish date of September 1, and that was that. I was a published author. It felt exhilarating and strange at the same time. I didn’t have expectations of selling a lot of books, much less becoming a best selling author, but I’d finished, and I was proud of all the effort I’d put into the book. It was real.
Flash forward to today, and my book is doing okay. It sells in dribs and drabs, and I’ve got more than 25 mostly positive reviews on Amazon. Readers often tell me it was a subject matter that didn’t initially grab them, but they found themselves enthralled with my story of a young man teaching English to Slovak people, and living through a pivotal time in Slovakia’s recent historical transition from a repressive regime to a freer nation.
Without Banana Peels, I wouldn’t have felt encouraged to continue writing books, but that’s what I’m up to now. My next book is a novel entitled The Journalist’s Son, and it’s set partially in Slovakia, partially in the U.S., and partially in Australia. The experience of writing one book gave me the confidence to write another, which I intend to make bigger and better than the first. I owe it to Amazon for making this all possible, so this is my ode to the indie author’s life.
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