Some reflections on experiences of my publishing journey as a first-time author
By Derek Botha
[Note: Derek is a client of Moonshine Media. Hearing him enthuse about the journey of publishing his first book, I asked him to note his thoughts down. After all, he will never publish a first book again, but it’s a path many others might stumble or skip down. – Dominique]
Some years ago, after having retired for a short while, I immersed myself in research on an issue that had been a big part of my life’s experiences. The research activities eventually formed the bases of considerations of becoming some form of larger publication as the writings were becoming too long and complex to be presented in a journal article.
I was not sure how the writings would reach the public domain, but, as time went on, I decided that I would publish them as a book. This decision meant restructuring and reformatting the work into chapters, and rewriting a substantial portion of the work that had already been drafted. A coherent story-line was also necessary, although a work of non-fiction. It was my main aim to get what I had written ‘out there’ – to be available to be read by those who may be interested. It was not my intention to publish for financial gain – I felt that what I had to say had not been said at all, that I needed to say it, and that it was important information. In other words, I wanted my story to be available to be read as it would be of value to my readership.
I was proud of my efforts at research and writing on a topic in a field in which I had trained and worked – mental health. As the topic had been significantly ignored, dishonoured, dismissed and neglected, it was my belief that my writings would make an important contribution to this aspect in the mental health field. At that stage I had spent just over five years involved in intense researching, writing and publishing a few related academic articles. As the writing of a draft manuscript was drawing to a close, I mulled over these aspects. I was under the impression (as a first-time author), that all I needed to do was to ‘phone a publishing house or two, advise them of the focus and content of my writings, and they would be enthusiastic to publish my writings which I considered were of merit. I eventually decided to contact a large national publisher, as well as reputable international publishers who published works in the mental health field, and email to them my book proposal. This process was met with varied responses – from no replies, to indicating that the nature of my book did not form part of their publishing plans for that year. The large national publisher attempted to find overseas publishers because local publication alone was seen to be not financially viable. All such efforts were not successful as the book was not the equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey in the non-fiction field, that is, it would not add significant and immediate value to the financial wealth of a publication house. I was getting quite despondent, and was concerned about whether or not my committed efforts would ever be published.
The national publisher suggested that I consider following the self-publishing route by ‘putting’ the book on Amazon.com. I had no idea what self-publishing meant, nor entailed, so I looked it up on the internet and found numerous overseas (USA and UK) places (institutions, companies, persons, etc.) who were offering a multitude of publishing related menu-like services for prices that, for a South African, were extremely high. In addition, I did not feel comfortable making payments upfront, given the geographic distances, and the fact that browsing the internet had indicated that some of these overseas ‘publishers’ were being investigated by USA police authorities for various criminal activities, such as money laundering. I felt that I could not allow my works, my writings, my creation to be exposed to such institutions. I had a sense that I would be offering my creation to untrustworthy and possible criminal elements who would have little or no appreciation of the intrinsic value of my efforts, commitment and writings. In addition, if I had to submit my creation to remote, far-away, unknown persons and processes, I would be not be an integral part of the activities of preparing my writings for presentation to potential readership.
Consequently I started browsing the internet to find a source of assistance in South Africa, and ‘phoning persons in South Africa whom I thought could help me. I had researched and written all the work to date and wanted assistance with the publishing, marketing, distribution and sales of my book. I did not want to merely hand over to another all that I had done, and then be removed from my writings so that another would be responsible for creating yet another book in a string of their publications. In other words, I had conceived the idea, had undertaken all the research and the writing, and now wanted to be an integral part of the processes that were needed to bring about the ‘birth’ of my creation.
After some weeks of ‘phoning around and browsing the internet, another first-time author suggested that I contact a small publishing organisation called Moonshine Media. I did so, and then consulted with the owner of this organisation, Dominique le Roux. She undertook to manage the publication process, during which she would commission reputable local service providers for each specific activity in the process, and I would still be involved with such matters as various decisions, working on amendments to the script, and so on. I was satisfied that her organisation could offer me what I wanted and needed. And so I apprehensively began my journey into the unknown – but a journey that I looked forward to and undertook with excitement and enthusiasm as I was to be an integral part of the processes, and would be involved with all the activities that then followed.
Part of the requirements of my previous employment involved research, writing and publishing articles in scholarly journals. As I had been exposed to editing processes that came with that activity, I thought that that rather limited process would be repeated, but over a longer period. In spite of my excitement and enthusiasm, I was not prepared for the level of commitment and amount of work that was needed from me in this new venture. Fortunately I had retired and had much of the day as discretionary time to attend to my responses to the copy editor. However, the committed, thorough and professional copy editing undertaken by the copy editor resulted in all this discretionary time, and substantially more, been used to keep up with her suggestions and questions. This process continued every day for about a month, and involved the exchange of over seven hundred emails between the copy editor and me – it was exhausting. However, I felt totally included and that I was being held partially responsible for preparing the writings for publication. I would not have been satisfied with any lesser commitment and involvement in the editing process.
I was then consulted in regard to the cover design and it’s colour. Again I felt included in this process and experienced the ways of thinking and working of these professionals.
The time-consuming and highly focused activity of type-setting was undertaken by Dominique and an assistant. I was again consulted during this process, and was amazed at the care, thoroughness and preciseness that was needed to accomplish this task successfully.
I had some thoughts on how the indexing task might be undertaken, although I did not know exactly what was required. I was aware that it could be a time-consuming process, involving a lot of thorough work with minute accuracy. In a short time I was presented with a very comprehensive, appropriate and easily accessible index, as well as supportive comments from the well-renowned indexer who was commissioned by Moonshine Media.
At that stage I thought that all the preparation for the book had been completed, and it was in a state to be presented to a printer. However, I was informed that proofreading was still required. I was not sure what to expect, but was again a party to the proofreading activities. This allowed me to experience the final responses from a professional who had not been involved with any stages of the preparation of the book so far. The high level of professionalism to which I was exposed by the proof-reading process really brought home to me the amount of commitment and thoroughness that is required to prepare the final draft of a book. Again, I was required to respond to a ‘barrage’ of questions and suggestions. I found it very rewarding to feel that an ‘outsider’ could be so committed to working with my writings in such a professional way – and again bring me into the process of preparing my book for publication.
My book was eventually e-published in about six months from the time of the first consultation with Dominique when she indicated an interest in the book, and a willingness to undertake the management of its publication, both in South Africa (hard copy) and on the internet (Amazon.com).
My involvement in every activity of publication made me feel that I was part of the whole process, and that my work and writing was being honoured by all those who assisted and contributed to its publication.
– Derek Botha, author of No Labels – Men in Relationship with Anorexia