Martin Lastrapes couldn’t find a publisher willing to take chance on his literary horror novel, Inside the Outside, so he decided to publish it himself. Like indie author Robert Bidinotto, he hit the best-seller lists — passing Stephen King on the horror list at one point. He joins us today to talk about why he decided to go indie and what that means for writers going forward.
Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work.
My first (and, as of yet, only) indie book is called Inside the Outside. It’s a literary horror novel about a teenage girl, named Timber Marlow, who grows up as a cannibal within a cult in the San Bernardino Mountains. Beneath the violent and occasionally grotesque content within the novel, Inside the Outside is, at it’s best, a coming-of-age-story.
Will Entrekin describes Inside the Outside as the best book he read in all of 2011, indie or traditional, and you had some immediate success when it was released, beating out Stephen King at one point on the Amazon Horror bestseller list. What was it like to have such a warm reception for your debut novel?
It was a relief to be honest with you. As any author can tell you, your books are like your children and Inside the Outside is no exception. I knew it was a strange book when I wrote and I worried that it would get bullied in the playground. So when readers, like Will Entrekin, offered generous praise for the book, I felt equal parts relief and gratitude. And then, of course, when people actually started buying the book and I saw Inside the Outside move ahead of Stephen King, I felt like I was living somebody else’s life.
What prompted you to decide to publish your book instead of go the traditional route?
I was prompted, ultimately, by the continued rejection I’d received from traditional publishers and literary agents. I spent a lot of years honing my craft and more years after that writing the best book I could. I knew there was an audience out there who would enjoy my writing if I could just get my book to them. Once I became frustrated enough with my fruitless attempts to publish traditionally, I decided to publish it independently.
What steps did you take before publishing to get feedback on the quality of the story?
I know that there are very talented content editors and beta readers for hire to help monitor the quality of one’s book, but, honestly, I didn’t know much about that when I decided to publish. So all I did was ask a couple of my writer friends, whose opinions I both trusted and valued, to take a look at my manuscript.
How did you find an editor to work with for the project? What tips would you offer for others who are looking for an editor?
As far as content editing, I primarily did that myself using the feedback I got from my writer friends. I’ve always felt confident in my ability to look at my work objectively in order to make the best editorial decisions. That said, I would encourage anybody who takes their writing seriously to request the eyes of other writers (as opposed to friends and family members who like reading, but aren’t writers themselves) to help with the editing. And, if you can afford it, consider hiring a freelance editor; just be sure to do the appropriate research before investing your money in an editor.
What were the biggest surprises you had before publication? After?
Before publication, the biggest surprise I had was probably how much work goes into indie publishing. My biggest surprise afterward was probably how welcoming and supportive the indie publishing community is.
What’s been the most challenging part of the process? Is that different from your experience with traditional publishing?
The most challenging part of the indie publishing process for me has been getting acquainted with the business end of it all. All I really care to do is write stories, but part of being an indie publisher means becoming something of a businessman. It’s the least enjoyable part for me, but it’s worth the effort.
You spoke to James Brown’s writing class at California State University, San Bernardino, in November about being an indie author, and you said on your blog one of the things you wanted to convey to the students was hope. How do you think the indie option is changing opportunities for writers—and what hazards, if any, do you see on this new path?
The increasing availability of options and opportunities for authors to publish independently is the most exciting thing to happen in the writing community in my lifetime. There was always the option of self-publishing before, but it was both expensive and frowned upon. But now, if you have a great book and a little ambition, there’s no good reason that you can’t see your work published. I see no hazards at all. I know some folks lament the fact that “bad” indie books are being published along side “good” indie books, but I don’t see that as a problem.
If indie publishing had been a legitimate option when you were working on your first (unpublished) novel, do you think you would have chosen to publish it? How do think that would have changed your career thus far?
It’s hard to say. My gut says no. I was still relatively young when I wrote it and would probably have been too intimidated to try and publish it myself. If I had published it myself, I feel like I would’ve missed out on all the necessary heartache and disappointment that has served to fuel my efforts in publishing Inside the Outside.
Do you plan to continue to publish your own work, or are you looking to get a traditional publishing deal?
I absolutely plan to continue publishing my own work. Any effort on my end to seek out a traditional publishing deal is time wasted. I’d rather focus that energy on writing and publishing great books. If, however, a traditional publishing deal came along that made good business sense, then I’d have to give it some serious consideration.
What advice would you offer for currently unpublished writers considering the indie route?
My advice would be to hurry up and join the rest of us indie authors! Before I did it, it seemed liked the biggest, most difficult decision in the world. Now that I’m here, I can’t believe I ever had my doubts.
Is there any indie “conventional wisdom” you disagree with? Why?
I’m pretty new to the game, so I’m still learning the ins and outs of it all. I guess, if anything, there seems to be a sentiment that paperback books are going the way of the dinosaur and indie authors should just focus on publishing ebooks. Ebooks are easier and less expensive to publish, but I’ll always publish my books in paperback, as well as ebook.
The big discussion point lately has been KDP Select and Amazon’s demand for exclusivity in exchange for participation. What are your thoughts on the tradeoffs?
Initially, I was put off by the idea of making Inside the Outside exclusive to Kindle in exchange for entering the KDP Select program. But, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to give it a go. I’ve only recently joined in, so, for now, my opinion of the whole thing is yet to be determined. But, that said, I have high hopes for what it can do for me and other indie authors.
One of the challenges for indie authors has been the large volume of work out there that isn’t ready for publication,
especially since readers have limited tools to search through the pile for the quality books. Do you think this will always be a problem, or is it just a phase in the evolution of epublishing?
Well, it certainly makes it more difficult for a book to find and audience (and vice versa), but I don’t see it as a problem. For every book that is published, there is an audience out there who is excited to read it—regardless of how polished it may or not be. The fact that there are millions and millions of new books being published every day simply points to the fact that there are millions and millions of people who still love books every day. And, so far as I’m concerned, that’s not a bad thing.
Martin Lastrapes grew up in the Inland Empire, studied at Cal State San Bernardino, has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree inComposition, loves good pizza, watches his favorite movies over and over again, learned many a lesson from professional wrestling, doesn’t think there is such a thing as overpaid, wonders if he’ll ever be famous enough to be on “Dancing With the Stars,” thinks good stand-up comedy is rare and under appreciated, is scared of Vladimir Putin, wonders if it’s too late to learn how to play the guitar, gets depressed when he hears the theme song from “M*A*S*H,” wishes he knew more history, isn’t sure if he’s having enough fun, wonders why Teen Wolf never made it to the NBA, and wants Morgan Freeman to narrate his life.