‘A Bold Step’ — My First Venture Into Self-Publishing

After years of procrastination, one writer dips a toe into the waters of publishing his own work

I’ve gone and done it. I’ve self-published. Not for the thrill of seeing my name in print, because I’m acquainted with that happy occurrence, but because I simply had to.

Over several decades, I’ve had short plays produced, written hundreds of theatre reviews, as well as a score of film articles and conducted several interviews with famous actors. Over the past six years, fifteen short stories and two meditations on the art of writing have appeared in print and online. I’ve even been flown to New York from England to collect first prize in a short story competition.

But I just haven’t snagged an agent or publisher for my novels — yet.

Longer ago than I care to remember, I transformed a screenplay written in graduate school at the University of Southern California into a novel. The story was called ‘Tales of Freedom’, and my protagonist was Rivka Langerová, a woman living in Prague with her family during World War Two. A storyteller, Rivka is forced to flee the city when her husband is murdered, and after seeing her two children escape ahead of a German search party, Rivka eventually joins a group of Jewish partisans in the Polish forests.

I had been living in Los Angeles for ten years and was returning to England, so I started making contacts for ‘Tales of Freedom’ in the UK. An encouraging young agent — now a long-standing and successful mover in the literary world — wrote to me that he thought my novel was ‘beautiful’ but ‘just not quite for him’. Although I was disappointed, I took this as a good start in my search for representation.

The years passed. I wrote several more novels, branched into short fiction, and still could not get signed up for my literary fiction. Intermittently, people suggested I self-publish, but I lacked the confidence and (dare I say it) the drive to concur.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the great-nephew of a venerable American novelist, still alive at over 100 years of age. We got talking, and given Ed’s unusual and distinct last name, I asked him if he was related to a woman who had played Rivka in ‘Freedom’ when a friend in USC’s film school filmed a sequence from the screenplay. Turns out she was his aunt. Ed connected us via email, and it was great to be in touch with Suzanne after so long. I even sent her photos of the shoot from the early 1990s.

Suzanne intuited that I was passionate about ‘Tales of Freedom’ — I value it above all other stories I’ve written — and suggested I self-publish. For some reason, her prompt led me finally to go ahead. But how? I knew I needed some professional help, but within a moderate budget. Having used Fiverr.com before, I researched freelancers on that site and commissioned a book designer for the cover. I wasn’t that happy with the result and so employed another designer. The outcome was much better this time. Next, I paid for another freelancer to format my book as an eBook and for print.

The next step was to spread the word on social media. In January 2018, I took an online course and remain part of a group of writers from the course on Facebook. When one of my fellow participants read that I was going to self-publish, he called my decision a ‘bold step’. I think there was a note of doubt below the surface of the comment. After all, the course was offered by a famous London literary agency, and I’m pretty sure most of the writers who enrolled hoped it would open doors to representation by that agency. That didn’t happen to any of us, although one colleague has recently been signed up by an agent. I understood what he meant, but went ahead, anyway.

Last week, my book went live. I put a blurb about the novel on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I created an author page on Goodreads…and have sold a handful of copies so far.

So, what now?

Now comes networking, marketing, and persistence. I’m researching how to approach libraries, am talking to a friend at my synagogue about holding an afternoon book reading and signing session, and am working on being as pro-active and creative as I can.

Yes, I would like to make money on book sales, but more than that I am fervent about getting Rivka’s story further out in the world. There were many acts of Jewish resistance against the Germans and their allies in the Second World War, and if ‘Tales of Freedom’ can illuminate that historical fact, then I will feel rewarded.

My bold step is nothing compared to the heroism of the people I’ve written about in ‘Freedom’, but it’s a sincere tribute to their deeds, and I long for Rivka’s story to be read.

Paul B. Cohen is a writer living in England. His website is paulbcohen.com, and ‘Tales of Freedom’ is available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon