Originally posted by Charles Hamilton,
The StarPhoenix August 4, 2011 4:40 AM
One afternoon seven years ago, Wes Funk sat down at his computer and typed three words: dead rock stars.
He had no idea that those words would one day be the title of first novel.
“I had this epiphany, like I was onto something. I just started typing,” he says.
Two years later he had a manuscript for his first novel. He sent copies of Dead Rock Stars to 17 different publishing houses. Over the course of several months he received 17 rejection letters.
“Every letter I got was quite praising of the book,” he says. “But they told me they couldn’t afford to take on an unknown (author).”
That’s when he decided to publish Dead Rock Stars all by himself.
Any given year, a traditional publishing house, like Random House or Penguin, could receive as many as 3,000 manuscript submissions a year. Of those, it’s likely only 15 will actually make it onto bookstore shelves. And for first-time authors like Funk, it’s virtually impossible to break in. That is why more and more authors like him are turning to self-publishing.
Funk admits he was a late bloomer when it came to writing. He grew up in the small northern community of Mayfair, Saskatchewan. His family was poor and he spent his first decade living in Saskatoon working and saving money.
“I always did write. I had a little sketchbook that I carried around in my man purse and sketched little pictures and wrote things down, but I didn’t take it seriously,” he says.
While at times humorous, Dead Rock Stars is a serious piece of writing. The book is a semi-autobiographical story of a Saskatoon record store owner travelling back to his small Saskatchewan hometown. Many of the conflicts that make up Dead Rock Stars mirror Funk’s struggles: the isolation of living in a small town, family feuding and wrestling with homosexuality and identity.
And yes, Dead Rock Stars is also about rock musicians. The Nirvana tattoo on Funk’s right arm serves as an ever-present reminder of the rebellion of his early twenties.
The 42-year-old didn’t start writing seriously until the age of 30, and Dead Rock Stars was his first major attempt to sit down and write. The book had its first printing in 2008. He printed 50 copies and spent months getting onto store shelves. Funk did everything from cover design to layout to booking media releases and dealing with distribution. Dead Rock Stars is the definition of self-published – Funk did it all without the help of a traditional publishing house.
The book is now into its third printing and has sold well over 1,000 copies. It’s available in over 40 stores across Canada. He’s made it into an electronic eBook, which has been downloaded 3,200 times. And there are plans to make it into an audiobook.
“I think the digital age has dramatically altered the way we read and the way we take in information and as a result a lot of publishing houses are suffering,” he says. “Even a lot of renowned writers and authors are now turning to self publishing.”
The trend toward self-publishing can be seen on bookstore shelves. McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon estimates there are at least 300 self-published titles at the store right now.
Self-publishing has a long history. Everyone from legendary poet E.E. Cummings to self-help guru Deepak Chopra have, at one time or another, taken publishing into their own hands. But today, in the ever-changing world of publishing, the ground is constantly shifting. And more and more people are looking for alternatives.
“Frankly a traditional publisher who hasn’t figured out that the world is changing is on borrowed time,” says Jeff Smith, a local author and cofounder of Saskatoon’s newest independent publishing company, Indie Ink.
His company is less than a year old, but already they are responsible for publishing a national bestseller, John Gormley’s Left Out. Indie Ink has published two other books, and Smith says there are at least nine projects in development. They include everything from children’s books, to nonfiction to poetry collections. And they will all be self-published. That’s because Indie Ink has one rule: in order to work on an Indie project you have to be a practicing artist.
“This is about creating a marketplace where artists control more of the process; where they can at least dream of making a living – without MBAs and marketing specialist, all these people who aren’t contributing to the process coming in and scooping off profits essentially for the privilege of having a Rolodex and introducing us to each other,” he says.
This business model allows his company to offer a more favourable royalty split than traditional publishing house. Smith says he is essentially in the business of pairing artists together and making self-publishing a book a more realistic goal. Self-publishing is, after all, an arduous task.
“Not only is (the self-publisher) a first time writer, but he’s got to be a first time graphic designer, and a first time layout artist, a first time illustrator, marketer, producer, promoter and shipper,” he says. “All of these job functions that used to be done for the writer by a publishing company, they now have to do it all on their own.”
Smith may seem an unlikely candidate to make it foray into the publishing world. He has worked as a computer graphics designer in Hollywood, doing special effects for Disney’s Lion King and Aladdin. A computer science graduate from Waterloo, he lived the tech bubble of the late 1990s. He helped create an email software company in Toronto that eventually went bust.
Smith is taking what he learned from the tech industry and applying it to the publishing books. This past year Amazon reported higher eBook sales than regular physical book sales online. To understand the publishing industry these days, it’s essential you understand technology.
“It’s impacting marketing, it’s impacting the consumer and the reader, and it impacts the way you work with an author, the kinds of products you can sell, where you can sell them. Everything changes in technology,” he says.
And that seems to be the mantra of the selfpublishing industry: everything changes and the smaller you are the more adaptable you are. Wes Funk has gone out a limb to publish his book – he put up the money, the time, the resources. But in the end, he’s the one that get’s the reward.
“It’s not as easy as it looks, and I warn (people) against shunning the traditional publishing houses because they can do great things for you,” he says. “But for me this particular path was somewhere I had to go down.”
Funk is in the process of writing his second novel. And he even admits he will likely feel out some traditional publishing houses. But if that fails, he at least knows he has the resources to do it himself.