As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to share my work with the world, so when the opportunity arose to pick Simon Sylvester’s brains about why he chose to self-publish Marrow, his flash-fiction collection (reviewed here), I couldn’t resist. I hope you find Simon’s story as fascinating and inspiring as I do. Over to you, Simon …
In A Flash: Marrow
In May 2013, I was lucky enough to have Quercus take on my Scottish-island-murder-mystery The Visitors. For the next year, I lived in a twilight world of redrafts, rewrites and revisions, and although I had ideas in mind for my next few novels, I didn’t want to start anything big while I was still so engrossed in The Visitors. I had a lot of time between revisions, though, and I was itching to fill it with stories. I started writing lots of flash fiction – two or three pieces a week. These shorter stories satisfied my hunger, but kept me from committing to a distracting bigger project.
As The Visitors progressed along the traditional route, I found myself more and more curious about the mechanics of publishing. I needed a sense of how it worked. Self-publishing a collection of my flash pieces was the obvious choice.
The first step was collecting the stories. At the first pass, I had about 35 in mind. As I began redrafting, however, it became plain that some didn’t fit the overall tone – they were too whimsical, or too explicit, or too long. I cut until the collection felt cohesive, then bounced them off half-a-dozen friends as editors/proofreaders/punchbags.
I used the basics of InDesign to put the book together. It started out ugly and inefficient, but came together in a slow whirl of late nights, colour swatches, beer, gutters, bleed and trim. The cover is a walrus skull, taken from the British Library Flickr stream – more than a million historical pictures under Creative Commons licensing. I put my original cover on Facebook and took advice from dozens of people on how to improve it. I loved sharing that part of the process.
I had 100 copies printed, and I’ve been selling them at readings and through my blog. I think I have about 30 left. I’ve never made any massive effort to sell it or promote it. I enjoyed making it, and I’ll definitely do it again. I have the next two collections lined up. One of them is an expanded collection of my old Twitter Road Trip micro stories, and the other will be similar to Marrow.
I never considered seeking a publisher for the stories. With wonderful exceptions like J. Robert Lennon, Dan Rhodes and David Gaffney, I’ve never sensed any real hunger in the wider industry for flash fiction. I enjoy writing it, and I especially enjoying performing it, but I don’t think it’s taken seriously by mainstream publishers. Open mics and communities are where it really comes to life. That’s one of the reasons I love Flashtag and the Manchester scene – they make flash fiction really accessible. Gumbo Press are now looking for collections, which is great, and if I hadn’t already self-published, I would have probably submitted the collection for their consideration. But then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of all those late-night hours of typesetting and kerning – the cursing, and the howling, and then the getting it right – the crowd-sourced cover. I made something, and I’m proud of that.
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