I am pleased to announce that today’s post will feature my interview with the witty and funny author, Stephen Clarke. If you’re not yet familiar with Stephen and his books, this is the time to get to know him. I promise you that by the end of this interview, you will probably find yourself reading his website and purchasing his books.
I met Stephen briefly at the Paris Writers Workshop I attended last month. He spoke during the lecture on Literary Trends: Self-publishing and E-books. The panel consisted of a few self-published authors who shared their stories of how they got published. Each story was unique and eye-opening. Stephen’s in particular, amused me, made me laugh, and of course—inspired me.
What’s so inspiring about Stephen’s story was how he used his determination, his creativity and his sense of humor to reach his goals. He went from being self-published to selling his books to a publisher. It goes to show that as long as you keep going, keep believing and keep writing—you too, can get there.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is my interview with author, Stephen Clarke.
During the Paris Writers Workshop, you mentioned how you initially self-published and sold your books in a trolley around town. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
SC: It was very liberating. I was told by several professionals in the book trade that my novel, A Year in the Merde wasn’t worth publishing. So I did it myself, the old way, that is, by finding a printer, a cover designer, and getting the software to lay out the pages. I was then free to do whatever I wanted, so I had fun with the blurbs, doing collages for the cover, adding fake endorsements, even the copyright disclaimer had jokes in it. I got 200 copies printed up, but I decided not to let anyone know I was self-publishing, so I invented a fake publisher called Red Garage Books and claimed that “we” (it was never clear who “we” were) had discovered this great unknown called Paul West, who’d written the all-true exposé of life in a big French company and couldn’t reveal his identity for fear of being fired or assaulted. I then started trying to sell the books door to door in English-language bookshops, and sold almost no copies at all until I got a mention in a freebie newspaper, after which suddenly I was getting 100 orders a day. I then sold the rights to a “real” publisher, who clearly thought the book was worth publishing after all. That’s a very brief resumé. What I remember most is six months or so of solid work (that’s after the novel was finished), a lot of panic, several troughs of despair, and a hell of a lot of fun.
With the recent success of e-books, should writers still consider traditional publishing first?
SC: It’s entirely up to the writer. Obviously e-books are a lot less difficult to publish and ship, but you miss out on being able to hawk them to bookshops, so I don’t know. If you want an instant world market and know how to use the social networks, I’d say go for e-books. In any case, Americans seem to have forgotten how to turn the pages of actual paper novels, and the rest of us won’t be far behind because we always end up following the American lead in technology. I’m sure my iphone will soon have a real-book detector fitted, and if it smells paper pages nearby it will refuse to turn itself on.
What advice can you give writers who have been rejected by Literary Agents?
SC: Either find another one, or don’t – it’s a very personal relationship, a bit like finding a sexual partner. Someone might think you’re cute but hate your smell. The same goes for agents, except your idea is the cuteness and your style the smell. Just because one or more says no, it doesn’t mean they all will. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to do without…
What advice can you give writers who have self-published but are struggling with book sales?
SC: Look for niche markets. If your book is about French blue cheese, make sure you’ve sent emails to every magazine, website, club and trade union dealing with France, cheese and blue things. You have to plug yourself non-stop. I still do this. Any time there is any friction at all between France and the Anglos, I will tweet about it, and any journalists interested in my opinion on the subject will get an interview. You have to be a blatant self-publicist, even if you’re doing OK.
What do you think makes a good story?
SC: Absolutely anything that grabs readers’ attention. The same story told by two different people will be as different as Shakespeare and Barbara Cartland. You have to make sure that your version is gripping.
What do you think makes a good writer?
SC: The ability to finish writing their book. And the voice. You have to find your own voice, your very own, personal way of narrating.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
SC: I am re-reading an excellent comedy novel called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, by David Nobbs, and have just finished Robert Harris’s latest, The Fear Index. Though I prefer his historical stuff.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
SC: Giving readings and seeing people laugh.
Thank you Stephen for letting me interview you. It was a lot of fun.
Stephen’s book, 1,000 Years of Annoying the French is #1 at the Amazon.co.uk’s French History chart.
Look for Stephen on Twitter: sclarkewriter