In Newfoundland and Labrador’s rich literary culture, many authors have found their niche in the realm of self-publishing.
Tilting-based author Roy Dwyer’s writings are a collection of essays, poems and short stories detailing the lives and traditions of Fogo Island. He brought his first book “A Strange Twilight” to a publisher in 2007, but soon became disillusioned when he began to understand the delays and revisions that go along with publishing.
“It seemed like there was too much editorializing content in some stories,” Dwyer said. “It has to go through an editorial board, and they make corrections and go through it again. All of that would take a lot of time.
“The book was ready to go so I decided to self-publish.”
It was then Dwyer got in contact with Katja Moehl in Grand Falls-Windsor. Dwyer saw that her company KM Designs had done work for the Fogo Academy yearbook, and he asked her to help format and design his book.
Since then the two have collaborated on all four of Dwyer’s books.
Moehl has worked with several self-published authors across Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Atlantic Canada. She says coming to know these writers and learn their stories has been an enriching experience.
“Everyone’s been pleased with how quickly the final product (is produced) and how quickly the books have sold thus far,” Moehl said. “It’s good to bump into them to ask about how their books have done.”
From her work with various authors, Moehl says most writers tend to prefer self-publishing for its more simplified and personal approach.
“They have more control over how the book is distributed and I think they feel more connected to the end product,” she said. “When you give it to a publisher, it’s almost taken out of your hands.”
This element of creative control is also deeply important to Dwyer.
“The only difference between a writer and an artist with oil and paint is we paint with words,” he said. “And with self-publishing, every word is your word. You get total freedom with what you do.”
Change Islands-based author David J. Clarke has written eight books, largely dealing with the history of the Notre Dame Bay area. In 2011, he began shopping around his first book “A History of the Isles” to a few provincial publishers.
“It got some interest but they didn’t seem to want to pick it up right then and as I wanted it,” Clarke said.
It was then that Clarke discovered CreateSpace, an Amazon affiliate that makes books available across Amazon’s markets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
The service provides templates and formatting options that writers plug their work into and design the book from there. It requires very little up-front investment, because the books are only printed when they are sold.
“Working with [CreateSpace] is a little bit of a combination between being totally self-published and having a regular publisher,” Clarke said. “Any books sold online, they handle it and I get the royalty cheques. With copies sold in the store, I order in the books and put them into the stores myself. On that score, it’s more like traditional self-publishing.”
While this gives him considerable independence and freedom, Clarke emphasizes that it also means taking on a heavier workload as both writer and editor.
“There’s a double edged sword to the whole thing,” he said. “You get the freedom to do things your way, but you have to put in the extra work.”
But one major advantage Clarke sees is how instantaneous the book becomes available through this service. After personalizing the cover art, fonts, and other formatting aspects, the book immediately becomes available for purchase on Amazon.
“With traditional publishers you may have to wait months before they feel it’s time within their rotation to put the book on the shelves,” he said. “With this, when you feel the book is ready, it’s almost instant. You can have it out there and announce that it’s for sale.”
But the advantages to self-publishing also come along with their share of obstacles.
Along with having to promote and distribute the books independently, Dwyer says many of the book signings, awards and funding opportunities are not as readily available for self-publishers.
“It’s a fairly small market, you’re not going to Chapters or Costco in the way that a publisher will get you there,” said Dwyer. “Many things are only available to professional publishers, and they of course lobby for that. But the book should stand on its own merit, not by who publishes it.”
Dwyer hopes that if the self-published authors of the province can get together and meet with the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, some of these disadvantages may be better dealt with.
Both Dwyer and Clarke mainly distribute their books within the central area, from Fogo Island, Twillingate, Gander and beyond. Despite dealing in this more localized area of distribution, both authors say they’ve managed to break even and make a bit of money with their work.
“Some of the books have sold better than others, but usually you get enough to pay off any expenses in doing the book and a make a bit of profit as well,” Clarke said. “It wouldn’t be something to do exclusively as a source of income, but it certainly could supplement an income.”
Dwyer’s books have been picked up by visitors to Fogo Island from around the world. He says he has received emails from people in Australia, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and elsewhere who have enjoyed his writings.
He has even seen used copies of his books online that are still being sold for a considerable price.
“In fact, the second-hand copies are making more money than I’m making,” Dwyer said with a laugh. “But it shows the books are going to a lot of different places and still holding value.”
Despite the disadvantages that can come from taking this route, for Clarke his homegrown style of literature fits well with self-publishing.
“Newfoundland is probably one of the biggest producers of the written word and accounts of our lives and heritage,” Clarke said. “To tie that in with self-publishing, it all works really well together.
“There’s a real art to being a writer, and when you can produce something that is meaningful to you – that’s half the battle there.”
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February is Love Our Local Authors Month (probably fine to do it all year round, though)