More than five years ago Greg Fowler received a box on his doorstep. A box of books with his name on every cover. Those books are now headed to one of the largest book festivals in the world.
Jam Sandwiches follows the journey of an abandoned young boy with Down Syndrome and the lives he touches as he navigates his way through life.
The story hasn’t changed, but the book has been on a winding journey of its own, from the humble beginnings of being self-published online, to being picked up by a leading UK publishing house.
Like most success stories, the beginning was tough. Fowler opened rejection letters for months so decided to self-publish through Amazon’s Create Space.
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“I grew up reading Stephen King and he makes no secret of the fact that his writing room is wallpapered with declinature letters from early on in his days, when he sent his work to publishers and they said ‘go away, go away’,” he said.
The process was easy; he filled out a questionnaire, had a few phone discussions with a design consultant, and three months later bound copies of his first book arrived in the mail.
“It’s wonderful, exciting, opening the box. It’s sort of like a dream come true. It doesn’t make you successful, obviously, it just means you’ve got a book.”
The book is likely to be translated and will be formally launched this year at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August – one of the world’s leading arts festivals.
Fowler is also working with his agent on a second book.
Publishers’ Association New Zealand president Melanie Laville-Moore said self-publishing remains a bit of an unknown industry in New Zealand, but was a great channel for Kiwi authors to get past the gate keepers of the traditional publishing industry.
“It’s a difficult area to be successful in. Now we have these online platforms where anyone can become an author,” she said.
“But it does come with a bit of a caveat – for someone to be successful the book still as to be really, bloody good and for someone on their own that’s really hard.”
There’s still an air of snobbishness attached to self-publishing but that’s changing as more authors succeed with the DIY journey.
Titles such as, Hugh Howey’s Wool Trilogy, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and the Fifty Shades of Grey series by EL James were all originally self-published and have been, or are being made, into films.
“I know there are people out there who think it’s easy to scoff, but the reality is getting a great publishing deal is hard,” Laville-Moore said.
“And fiction does not get commissioned often – there are about two or three companies [in New Zealand] who would publish fiction.”
Jam Sandwiches was picked up by Vicky Marsden, a literary agent who works for Word Link in the US. Three months ago, Marsden struck gold when the book was picked up by the UK’s Black and White publishing.
“It’s been really exciting. Having a book made for you arrive on the doorstep, and now it’s going to be on every bookshelf around the world,” Fowler said.
But he maintains he just got lucky.
“You have to write something that people enjoy reading. but there will be a lot of self-published books that are like that too, that don’t get to experience what this story is going to experience.”