I’m self-publishing my new novel AND GOD SAID, “BILLY!” Where’s my advance? What will I live on? The New York Times won’t review a self-published book! Libraries won’t know about it! I’m screwed! This is my funniest, darkest and most spiritually reaffirming book. Have I wasted the 17 years I worked on it? If so, then why am I so happy with my insane plunge into the unknown? Why do I feel so bloody liberated in equal measure with my look-over-a-cliff panic?
AND GOD SAID, “BILLY!” is the closest I’ve come to being able to explore my journey from big time evangelical “Christianity” to the ancient mystical spiritual tradition of monastic Eastern Orthodoxy. Religion burnt me out. Billy! is my confession about experiencing undeserved grace. Is there any other kind?
Why would I risk my best book on a self-publishing experiment? I’m a successful author of fiction and nonfiction and have earned my living writing for the last 20-plus years and had more than a dozen books published.
Up until now I’ve been published by mainstream publishers. I’ve had many starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal. Wonderful writers including Jane Smiley, have reviewed my books in places like the Washington Post. Writing in the LA Times Richard Eder launched my writing career with a glowing review of my first novel Portofino. The New York Times published a profile about me calling me a “traitorous wayward prince.” Oprah and Terri Gross have interviewed me. I was one of the first bloggers on the Huffington Post and my writing there has made me a regular on MSNBC, CNN and now on Huffington LIVE.
So why on earth would I self-publish? Here’s why.
First, too many of my editors got bought, sold and moved with each grab by the 4 or 5 remaining publishing giants who gobbled up the imprints that used to publish me– from Macmillan to Avalon. My books no longer live in the homes where I took them. I don’t know the people there. Who do you call?
Second, publishers haven’t a clue how to use the new media. Marketing for the traditional publishers comes down to sending a few review copies to cronies at the dwindling newspapers, then sending out a few more to the media. Then they sit back and count on author ego to do the rest. Since books are writer’s babies we tend to try and save them from death-by-indifference. Publishers know we’ll finance our own tours and beg for attention… mostly at our expense. Since I’m doing the work anyway, why pay them a cut?
Third, even though my books are still in print, the publishers seem to have joined the print-on-demand craze too. They hold onto books as “in print” (entitling them to their big cut), but these days this only means that they’ll print a back list copy on demand, stock no books and still only send me a few cents on the dollar. I can do that for myself.
Fourth, Amazon is the only real game in town. Yes, I love going to small bookstores and talking to 15 to 50 or so wonderful readers who have most kindly come out to hear me read and answer questions. (NOTE to Indy Bookstores and libraries: Please stock And God Said, “Billy!” I’ll do anything to help you introduce it including paying you a visit free of course.)
Fifth, there’s the snail mail pace of old school publishing. Self-publishing I dictate the pace.
Here’s a summary of AND GOD SAID, “BILLY!”
It’s is a darkly comic coming-of-age saga. And it’s based on my life and experiences in big time religion, Hollywood, South Africa and my discovering the ancient mystical spiritual monastic traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy… The story is set in the 1980s (when I was working as a Hollywood director of 4 crappy feature films) and is about Billy, a young fundamentalist Christian who feels “called” to go to Hollywood to make “God’s Movie.” But everything goes off the rails when he accepts a job to direct a soft-porn slasher/exploitation film in apartheid-era South Africa. He makes this “It’s a deal not a movie” even though he has to bust the US entertainment industry’s anti-apartheid sanctions in hopes his “worldly movie” will be “used by God” as a “stepping stone” to making his own divinely sanctioned “End Times” picture. Billy loses his fundamentalist faith, his film career, his family and more but he finds a strange kind of peace in a most unexpected place…
You can watch me reading from the book HERE.
How I self-published
The self-publishing group I chose to help me — Outskirts Press — has worked out well, so far. Actually, they’ve been more responsive than some traditional publishers. Outskirts Press people actually get back to me when I have a question, and they’re setting up the online platforms (like Kindle) for a onetime fee, then directing all income direct to me from Amazon, iBook and Nook. They pay my share of the income from the print edition of the book quarterly. I’ll let you know if they follow through or not. I plan to publish updates on how this experiment is going and how Outskirts Press performs… or doesn’t. So far so good.
How I’m promoting Billy!– since no newspapers review self-published books…
The first thing I did is put a notice on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and in my blog here on Patheos that I’d send the book to anyone free as a file if they’d agree to review it on amazon, share it on their social media and whatever else. Over 200 people responded. When Amazon posted the book a bit sooner than i expected I emailed everyone who had responded and asked them to expedite putting up their reviews. Everyone who had read the book fast responded and the other reviews kept coming in. I was touched. Here’s an email exchange that speaks for itself.
To: Frank Schaeffer email@example.com Sent: Sun, Sep 8, 2013 9:07 pm Subject: Billy! review
Hi Frank – I’ll get my review of Billy up on Amazon over the next few days. I hadn’t used Amazon for a couple of years, so I’ve had to purchase a book (no prize for guessing which book!) to enable me to post a review. Even so, there’s a 48-hour delay. It’s great to see all the positive reviews of Billy posted already. I like to have books on hand to re-read and/or loan to friends, so Billy will be a welcome edition to my bookshelf. I’ll write a review for Patience With God as well, if you like (also on The Book Depository).Meantime, every good wish for booming sales of Billy and of course, to you and your family.Regards,Ray Watchman. (NZ)
Mon, Sep 9, 2013 5:01 aRay, this is so kind of you! I feel so alone when I write, then wake up as it were, stagger into the daylight and discover I actually have some friends! You are a true friend when it counted.
Love and Best,
Media and Publicity
I have two wonderful friends, Sarah Cunningham and Hal Fickett, who are handling media outreach and social media for Billy! They said they’d work on this project for free but I’m paying them what I would have spent on an agent. If the book does well I want them — my angels — to do well too!
For media questions, interview requests, and a press packet on Billy! (or me) contact Sarah at
For the best social media person I know, or to book me to do a book event, book club or to speak, contact Hal at
Please help to make Billy! fly. Suggestions?
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author. His new novel is AND GOD SAID, “BILLY!’ now in print and soon to be on ALL electronic media… Kindle, IBook etc. To Contact Frank Schaeffer please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find Frank on Facebook and Twitter. Media contact Frank at email@example.com.