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The Pursuit of Perfection
Michael J. Ward is the author of the DestinyQuest series of fantasy gamebooks. In this blog he talks about how he circled back to self-publishing after his mainstream deal.
Back in 2011, I made the crazy decision to self-publish a book. It was a fantasy gamebook, a sort of 80s-inspired ‘choose your own adventure’ but written with modern millennials in mind. My agent at the time, Lindsay Fraser, had the unenviable task of taking it around to countless publishers in an effort to convince them it was the ‘next big thing’. We both believed in the book, but turns out the publishers didn’t – at least, they liked the concept but didn’t know what to do with it.
I’ll always remember the pivotal discussion I had with Lindsay on the phone following yet another ‘we love it, but sorry’ rejection, when I rather timidly mentioned the idea of self-publishing. I was expecting to hear a sharp intake of breath followed by a tirade of expletives, but instead, Lindsay sounded ecstatic at the idea. ‘If anyone could make a success of it, you can. You know your market – you should go for it!’ It was those kind words that set in motion my publishing adventure. I chose Matador because it was clear that they put quality first. I’m a perfectionist, both a curse and a boon and I was driven by a frothing-at-the-mouth desire to produce the best book I could - one that could sit proudly ‘spine by spine’ with a trade paperback and not get laughed out of the store. I was lucky to have worked in publishing, so had designers and illustrators that I could call on to help out with my cover design and internal illustrations, as well as developing the website.
A few friendships almost became ex-friendships due to my obsessive pursuit, but I never lost sight of my end goal. After all, once that book hits the printers… there is no going back. Troubador were fantastic in all aspects of the production as well as their post-production marketing and distribution. I’ll never forget the proud moment I finally held the book in my hands – and saw my book on Amazon for the first time. Even better that it was accepted by Waterstones and W H Smiths, and found itself on the shelves with the ‘big boys’. It helps to be OCD about perfection. Sometimes, during the stresses of getting a book finished, there is the temptation to let small niggles through – to turn a blind eye to the odd imperfection or go for the cheaper option. But by sticking to my guns on everything, I knew I had done my absolute best – and that was recognised by the fans and my burgeoning market. The book sold well, better than I could have imagined. That success brought me to the attention of Gollancz/Orion Books who miraculously offered me a three-book deal.
Thanks to self-publishing with Troubador, I’d finally realised my dream! I won’t lie, it was odd to go from the “self-publishing” mindset to one where, I as the author, wouldn’t have complete control over everything – or even the final say. For someone who was OCD, it was somewhat disconcerting and I wasn’t sure how the working relationship would turn out. Thankfully, my editor was more than happy for me to chime in with suggestions and I got to see the book at every stage of its production. I even got to sketch out and submit my cover ideas – all of which were used as inspiration by the talented cover artist, Dominic Harmon. I was pleased with all three books that were produced – although, perhaps my one criticism of joining the big league is that I never felt my book got the attention it deserved from the marketing and promotions team.
With a limited budget to work with and bigger authors (and egos!) to push, I did feel very side-lined and missed the close one-to-one relationship that I had built with Troubador. Fast forward to 2018 and my fourth book in the series finally hitting the printers, with a new publisher based in France. This one has been a rocky road – one where I’ve often had to ‘take over’ aspects of the production myself to ensure my vision of excellence. Throughout everything, I’ve never lost my desire or drive to produce the best product I possibly can. So, when it came to (re)typesetting the book a few months ago, Troubador were of course my first port of call. And once again, it was wonderful to rekindle that relationship of old and work closely together on getting the book produced to print-ready quality.
Jeremy and the Troubador team have always been kind, patient and professional – and have got me out of more than a few pickles. My fourth book, The Raiders of Dune Sea, has essentially brought me full circle – from the ‘big league’ back to my self-publishing roots – where I finally feel I have complete control over my destiny once more, and the final buck ends with my own decisions. Kind of like a gamebook really. Michael J. Ward is the author of the DestinyQuest series of fantasy gamebooks. The fourth book in the series is now available in softback and hardback. For more information on the DestinyQuest series, visit http://www.destiny-quest.com/