Tony LaRocca is a carbon-based life form, animator, occasional actor, U.S. Army veteran, blogger, karaoke crooner, electrician, and chronic doodler. Originally from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, he currently resides with his family in Queens, New York. So far, he has self-published a science fiction collection, titled False Idols and Other Short Stories, both in eBook and print formats, and is currently working on a novel that will be published by the end of the year. He’s indecisive too, with his favorite book a three-way tie between Clive Barker’s Imagica, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy. By day, he is an electrician in the New York City area, and a member of Local 3 IBEW.
Read on for his insights into publishing science fiction, and balancing writing with a career.
When you began the process of writing your book, had you ever heard of self-publishing? If not, at what point in the writing process, or thereafter, did you become interested in self-publishing?
These are short stories I’ve worked on for over twenty years. Self-publishing used to be synonymous with vanity publishing, meaning authors paid the publisher to print copies of their book, which they had to sell themselves. It was pretty much a scam, and self-published writers were not taken seriously. Self publishing today doesn’t involve a monetary investment-save for an ISBN number if you want one-but some of the stigma still remains.
There used to be a large market for science fiction short stories, but that’s going back to the forties, fifties, and sixties. There are very few paying short-fiction magazines anymore, so self-publishing seemed a viable alternative.
What are the benefits of self-publishing in your life?
The biggest benefit is that I’m my own boss, at least as far as writing is concerned. I can work it around my day job, or spending time with the kids. I’m very lucky to have so many technological tools at my disposal. I write and edit on my Android while riding the subway to and from work. When I’m editing, I can listen to the latest version while walking or driving, using text-to-speech. Amazon, CreateSpace and Smashwords are very indie-friendly marketplaces, so I have full control over such things as pricing, sales, and distribution.
What is the greatest struggle you find as a self-published author?
As mentioned before, there is still some stigma attached to self-publishing, though it’s become much more accepted than it was in the past. If my book comes up, someone inevitably asks who my publisher is, and when I tell them it’s an indie, their eyes glaze over a little. But more than that, the biggest struggle seems to be getting noticed in a vast ocean of work, both traditional and self-published.
How do you overcome the struggle?
The only way that I can see is to keep working, and create stories of the highest quality that I can. Word of mouth can be one of the greatest advertising tools out there, all I have to do is create something that earns it-like when a video on YouTube goes viral. It’s a form of eBook-Darwinism, I suppose, I just have to work my hardest at it, and hope, if my work deserves to, that it will rise to the top.
Did you work with a paid editor? If not, what were the most successful techniques you found to edit something so personal to you?
No, I edit myself, or as I like to call it, scouring. I don’t have anything against professional editors, I guess I’m just too cheap, and too much of a control freak. MS Word’s spell and grammar checkers are the basic tools, but there are things they don’t catch-such as if ending quotation marks are missing. Editminion.com is a great free resource, it highlights adverbs, passive verbs, “said” replacements, repeated words, and many other problems.
My scouring process works like this: I’ll run a story or a chapter through Word’s checkers. Then I’ll scan it with Edit Minion. Next, I code the manuscript into a Kindle eBook. (A fantastic tutorial can be found here: http://rhystate.com/so-i-hear-you-want-to-publish-a-kindle-edition-eBook/) Now the fun begins. Did you ever have an English teacher you feared, one whom you felt was personally out to get you? Well, I pretend that I’m that teacher, and that I’m out to get me. I put my eBook on my phone, and I read it out loud, very slowly, looking at every punctuation mark, listening closely to every phrase. When I read something I don’t like, I make a notation. After I’m done, I load my notations on my laptop, change the manuscript, Word-check my changes, re-encode it into a new eBook, and start the process all over again. I do this story by story or chapter by chapter, until I can read it through without finding anything I need to change. Sometimes it takes four or five passes. It’s a torturous process, but the results are satisfying.
What about the book cover? Did you take the picture yourself or work with a graphic designer?
I made my cover myself. The story it’s based on, “False Idols,” originally started out as an animation. I had already modeled the astronaut, and had planned out the “shot.” I modeled the alien statue, and used the rendering, along with various other digital paint effects, as the cover picture. My sister is a graphic designer, so she gave me useful input-especially about kerning the typography. When readers look for new Kindle titles, they browse through small thumbnails-so the objective, in album cover terms, is to be more “Dark Side of the Moon” and less “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Did you purchase your own ISBN, or work with a company to purchase rights and an ISBN?
I purchased my own ISBN from Bowker, because they only recognize the original purchaser as the publisher. To be honest, it is much more expensive than it should be, though it’s cheaper if you buy in bulk. I bought a block of ten, so I could use the others for future titles. The print copy needed one, as did the Smashwords version (for certain markets in their premium catalog) Kindle does not require them, which is a huge help to independent writers.
Do you have more e-Book or hard copy sales?
For a while they were neck and neck, but eBooks are now in the lead.
Did you consider traditional publishing, or did you know that self-publishing was the route that you wanted to pursue?
It’s certainly the easier route. Traditional publishing is primarily concerned with what would be the most marketable, so many quality books get rejected. This way, I can get my stories to an audience as quickly as possible.
What is the most rewarding element of self-publishing?
Sales and reviews! There is an amazing feeling of validation in a positive review from a stranger. One of my favorite compliments came from a friend: “Your book was a lot better than I expected.” It seems back-handed, until you realize that honestly, your friends will just buy your book to support you. My home-town library in New Jersey was kind enough to add a copy to their collection-that was an achievement I had always wanted.
How do you market and brand your stories?
I have a Facebook page for the book and myself, and I’ve received a lot of support there. That got me a huge boost in initial sales and reviews, as has my blog. Later, some book bloggers gave me positive reviews and interviews, which helped me get exposure in wider circles. I have tried running an ad or two, but with lackluster success. I would say word-of-mouth has been my best ally. One cousin is even kind enough to carry a copy in her purse. Always be thankful for that initial friends-and-family push. My job is to make sure my book deserves it.
Did you publish through Amazon?
Amazon and their print-on-demand service CreateSpace (and Smashwords, to be fair) are perfect for independent authors, because all they do is take their cut for about 1/3 of your net (depending on pricing.) That’s it.
How did you decide to price your book?
Since authors sell their short stories on Kindle for ninety-nine cents, I figured a collection of nine for $2.99 would be a bargain. It also seems to be the average price for an independently published eBook.
Did you work with a company to self-publish your book?
No, I did it by myself. I do have friends and family who were very encouraging, and provided helpful input and suggestions.
What kind of support would be most helpful to self-published authors?
Since my book is highly rated in its primary category (Kindle eBooks> Science Fiction & Fantasy> Science Fiction> Anthologies & Short Stories), I would love if Amazon’s primary search system were based on average customer review, rather than highest sales. A current database of book bloggers willing to review independent eBooks would be a great help as well. There are some out there, but they’re not updated regularly.
Tony’s story is purely independent. He writes, edits, and advertises and markets on his own. His key lies in the technology that he makes work for him. Just like self-publishing is a relatively new field, the technologies that are becoming more and more widely available are the perfect tools to aid in self-publication, and make the process more bearable. It takes strong commitment to a manuscript to successfully publish a book, but doing research to find the right tools can be invaluable in the process.
To learn more about Tony’s books, head to http://www.egotisticalproductions.com/, and be sure to check out his short story collection on Amazon, here: