Self-publishing — it fits Seattle like a glove. It’s alternative, it’s independent and, until very recently, it was considered the Wild West of publishing. These days, however, self-publishing is maturing into a significant and permanent part of the publishing landscape. With a 437-percent growth in self-published books between 2008 and 2013 (Bowker, 2014) and an explosion in the self-publishing services industry, it has become a legitimate option for any author, established or not.
Recently, the Seattle Public Library/Seattle Writes program partnered with Smashwords, an independent publisher and distributor of e-books, to offer a self-publishing contest and platform for both aspiring and established Seattle writers. The winning books would be made available through the library’s catalog and through Smashwords’ website. Ultimately, the judging committee chose three winners, one of whom is Queen Anne’s Jerome Richard, author of “The Architect.”
In “The Architect” we meet Templeton Jones, an East Coast architect who relocates to Seattle and dreams of making the dingy, design-less downtown into a beautiful, usable, urban center, complete with a grand boulevard and civic oval. We also meet the Seattle Stall, a phenomenon that frustrates the forward progress of the city and anyone who dares to improve it. The mix of these two make for an enjoyable, thought-provoking novella that takes a look at Templeton’s classic design sensibilities, classic womanizing and classic dysfunction and continually asks the question: Is there a place for the classic in Seattle?
How did this book come about?
Jerome Richard (JR): I wanted to write a mystery — I think all writers want to write mysteries — and I had, in the back of my head, this story about an architect who disappears. But as I wrote it, Seattle kept getting in the way, distracting me from the mystery. I couldn’t resist commenting on the Seattle process, so that became the book.
What about Seattle made you want to write this particular story?
JR: I looked around Seattle and found myself commenting on the buildings and realizing that’s where the story was. Someone who wanted to remake the city was a very appealing thing to write about.
There were 14 studies done on what to do with Mercer Street! Because of our [city] process, we have a lot to missed opportunities here in Seattle.
In 2004, you published a book (“The Kiss of the Prison Dancer”) through a traditional publishing house. What made you decide to self-publish this one?
JR: I finished it last spring/summer, but it was an awkward length — 100 to 120 pages, more of a novella. I did not intend to self-publish this book. I initially submitted it to Coffee House Press and didn’t hear anything for a long time, then heard about the contest at the Seattle Public Library.
The deadline was approaching, so I decided to submit my novella. About a month later, I received a call saying I was one of the winners. Of course, there were three winners — this is Seattle after all. I still plan to send it to traditional publishers and see what happens.
What differences did you find between traditional publishing and Smashwords?
JR: Well, I had to learn a lot about publishing on a website. Smashwords does nothing. I mean they don’t charge you for publishing your book and they do send you formatting instructions, but you’re on your own. I learned as much as I could from the directions and hoped I had formatted it correctly. They have a list of recommended formatters for hire, but I was running out of time. I had a friend come over and help me out. If I had it to do over again, I would hand it off to a formatter to do.
Any other differences or challenges?
JR: Marketing and cover art. The marketing is the hardest part. I wish the library had done more to promote the contest and the results…it was all pretty low-key. First, there’s still a lot of skepticism about self-published novels and, secondly, I’m just not very good at saying, “Hey, read my book.” Even the larger publishers don’t do much for you except for a few press releases.
As for the cover, it turns out my book wasn’t listed in the catalog with the other winners because I needed cover art. I had no idea. So I ran downtown, took a picture and sent it to a graphic artist in Oregon. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done, and I got another lesson on formatting. She had other ideas for the cover, and it ended up being very good.
What are you reading right now?
JR: Well, my son gave me a mystery, “The Fallen Angel,” by Daniel Silva; I hadn’t read anything by him before. Also, I’m just finishing “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. It’s the most original novel I’ve ever read. It’s provocative, funny and brilliant.
“The Architect” is only available as an e-book; it’s free at the Seattle Public Library and available for purchase through smashwords.com.
JOANNE MORENO is a community bookseller. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.