Thursday, October 11, 2018

How I Met My Publisher: Guest Post by Christopher Huang

Christopher Huang:
How I Met My Publisher 

I think I first became aware of Inkshares in late 2014 or early 2015, when a writer of my acquaintance, one J.F. Dubeau, began researching possibilities and alternatives in publishing. Inkshares had an exciting new concept, he said, involving the sale of pre-orders to justify the publication of a book. No more slush piles, no more agents; these were people who really loved books, and he had high hopes for their platform. I hadn’t a very clear idea of how I hoped to deal with my writing yet, at the time, so I simply nodded and smiled.

To be honest, I didn’t really know anything about publishing, period. In my mind’s eye, one simply submitted a manuscript to a publisher and waited for them to accept or reject. I knew nothing about querying agents or even about who the publishers were. I knew only that I had no stomach for marketing a book myself, as would be the case if I self-published, and that therefore I needed a traditional publisher to handle that aspect for me.

I’d been dreaming of writing and publishing for a while. Working in an architecture office, I often felt as though every ounce of my creative energy was being spent on my day job, leaving me with nothing left over to fuel the novel I wanted to write. I counted my money and calculated my yearly expenditure and said to myself, “Self, you live cheaply enough that you could probably retire at fifty; then you could get into this writing lark full-time and it wouldn’t matter too much whether you succeeded or failed. Barring some major emergency, you’d be safe.”

I was laid off in late 2015. I wasn’t quite forty yet.

Well, then. It appeared that my retirement plans were going to get an early start, and that brings me back to J.F. Dubeau and Inkshares.

J.F. was, by now, nearing the end of his pre-order campaign for The Life Engineered. The system seemed simple enough: you set up a project page for your book on Inkshares’s website, including any excerpts or details as might make the book more attractive to buyers, and then you began selling pre-orders for the book. This was the campaign, and you were free to set its time limit; but you needed to accrue 750 pre-orders within that time before Inkshares would publish your work. These 750 pre-orders represented 750 votes to see your book in print, with money to back them up — after all, anyone could hit a “like” button, but when money’s on the line, people get unaccountably skittish. Further safeguards to the process involved limiting each person to pre-ordering a maximum of ten copies of any one book, and barring authors from pre-ordering their own book. It wasn’t that they wanted the money, in the end: rather, it was that they wanted proof of viability. Everyone got their money back if you failed, but if you succeeded ... what followed was everything you could expect from a traditional publisher. Including sales and marketing.

I pre-ordered a copy of The Life Engineered, of course, but I admit to being initially suspicious. 750 pre-orders ... that could be gamed, I thought. All it wanted was some dishonest person with seventy-five friends willing to put down a hundred dollars each for ten e-books, and you could publish any sort of rubbish. (I’d learn later that getting even ten friends on board for a single book each was enough of a challenge, never mind seventy-five friends for ten books each.) It was the fine print that reassured me: Inkshares reserved the right to reject a book if they deemed it to have made the campaign on bad faith. They were a business, after all, and they couldn’t afford to publish rubbish if they hoped to publish anything else.

The Life Engineered debuted in March 2016. That same month, I started the pre-order campaign for A Gentleman’s Murder, giving it nine months to make the required 750 pre-orders rather than the customary three months because I am a rank pessimist who doesn’t give a fig for his abilities as a salesman. Remember, for me, a big point of getting a traditional (or traditional-ish, as the case may be) publisher was to have someone else handle the marketing aspect.

2016 was definitely the year of “what on earth did I just sign up for” as I e-mailed and pitched and advertised and then did it all again.

As it so happened, winning a contest (Inkshares holds contests from time to time, to encourage new projects) meant I “only” needed more pre-orders than most of the other participating projects, rather than the full 750. But the simple outcome was that I made it. There is a certain thrill in having your first manuscript accepted for publication, however it happens, and if I had any champagne on hand, I’d pop the cork right then and there. (Then again, if I were the sort to keep champagne on hand, I probably wouldn’t also think I could retire at fifty.)

A Gentleman’s Murder was finally published back in July 2018 to the sort of media attention I could never have managed on my own. Score one for letting the professionals do the marketing. And now, here I am, a little over two months later ... running a pre-order campaign for my second book, a somewhat darker suspense novel I’m calling (for now) Cat’s Paw. Because Inkshares is running a contest for new mystery novels, and I swear I have no stomach for marketing. 

Christopher Huang is a Singaporean-born Canadian with a background in architecture and interactive fiction. His first novel, A Gentleman’s Murder, was released to critical acclaim in July and his second novel, Cat’s Paw, is now open for pre-orders at 

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