In A Flash: Self-Publishing ‘Marrow’ by Simon Sylvester

MarrowAs 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.

Image: Neil Thomas Douglas Photography
Image: Neil Thomas Douglas Photography

You can find Simon at his website and follow him on Twitter. Marrow is available to buy directly from Simon. The Visitors was published by Quercus Books in June 2014 and is available from Amazon.

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