It’s a well-known fact that the situation of a new writer in the publishing market isn’t easy and that talent and skills are not always relevant when it comes to ending up on the bestseller list. It’s not easy to even be considered by a publisher, and sometimes even impossible, without investing good money in a literary agent. Not to mention the sponsors and patrons that need to be found to help with the promotion, which requires an investment of thousands of dollars for one publication. There are more and more authors that decide to stay independent. And then there are those who decide to become a bit of each. Sergio Pereira is an example of this new wave known as the hybrid author.
Ula, OpenBooks.com: You described yourself in five words: "Determined, resilient, stubborn, funny, Batman." Batman? Is this because you’re a quiet editor by day and a dangerous writer by night: "I have killed off tons of characters. In one of my stories, I killed off the two main protagonists and it was fantastic"?
Sergio Pereira: Ha! There’s absolutely nothing quiet about me. I’d make a terrible Batman because I couldn’t lurk around in the dark without making a peep. To be frank, the only reason I referred to myself in that manner is because it makes people laugh. I’m a firm believer in not taking myself too seriously. One of my recent bios for a published story included a quote from my dog that said the following, “Woof, woof!”
Ula: At the beginning I should admit that this interview has an ulterior motive. My goal is simple: I really want to find out if our startup is meeting the needs of contemporary writers, and since you’ve been very supportive since our launch 9 months ago, I hope that you’ll help us to improve and persevere by telling us a little more about your publishing struggle - or is it not a struggle at all?
Sergio Pereira: Sneaky, Ula! I think OpenBooks has made incredible strides in the past few months and provided an additional, useful platform for writers to get their work out there. The true measure of its success, however, will be in its longevity. That said, seeing icons like Graham Masteron endorsing the site leaves me with no doubt that OpenBooks will play a pivotal role in the future of publishing.
To answer your second question, I don’t see anything as a struggle, but a challenge. I’ve been represented by an agent. I’ve been published traditionally before. I’ve self-published as well. I’m not going to sit here and preach about why traditional publishing is better than self-publishing or vice versa. I believe there’s value in everything and authors must analyse their needs and resources before taking a leap. For me, different things have worked, but it might not be the same for you. The best advice I can impart is the following: the story is all that matters for all parties involved.
Ula: You’re definitely enjoying the writing process but you also don’t refrain from putting effort into marketing, which is difficult for many authors. You even said, “The most important part is how you market your work. If you’re enthusiastic, professional, and a go-getter, you’ll do fine. If you expect things to just happen, then you’ll be disappointed." I think many writers are afraid that they’ll end up spending most of their time on marketing instead of writing. Aren’t you?
Sergio Pereira: Not at all. I’ve had a bit of an unfair advantage since I did work for a marketing and advertising agency and also helped build up a successful music website, so I do have some prior knowledge. Marketing shouldn’t be daunting; it’s a huge part of every business, but it can also be fun without being intrusive or spammy. If you think out of the box and provide something that adds value, people will take notice. I believe marketing works on this basic principle: think about what would appeal to you. Would you like to receive a hundred links a day to buy a book? I wouldn’t. Would you like to receive messages guilting you into buying something? Nope. Authors need to think beyond their emotions and apply some common and business sense to their promotions.
Ula: I read an international bestseller (over 3 million copies sold in the US) that I found really disappointing. Just when I finished, I thought of all the independent authors that have much more skill and talent but don’t reach that level of popularity. What do you think is the main problem for new, self-publishing authors that’s hard to overcome when trying to gain a lot of publicity? What have you tried so far to make it happen for you and what was most problematic?
Sergio Pereira: Naturally, it’s the significant reach and overall quality and presentation of the bestsellers. Big publishers have accumulated the research, industry and media contacts, quality editors, beta readers and knowhow to promote their books - there’s a reason they are successful, after all.
For me, I treat my writing as a business. It’s important to hold self-published work to the same standard a traditional publisher would. I’ve joined a fantastic writing group called The Dragon Writers, which has helped with this. Through this group, I’ve met wonderful and encouraging individuals who are supportive and have extraordinary skillsets. This has helped me make contact with editors, proofreaders and people who understand the industry. Not only does it push me to do better, but it’s great to have a support group, too.
In terms of challenges, obviously the money to pay for everything can run a little short, but I’m not going to whine about it too much. I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge; I’m luckier than most.
Ula: Do you think using outside help, like getting an editor or beta readers before publishing a book, is necessary or do you think that if you’re confident enough, you shouldn’t bother?
Sergio Pereira: Absolutely. There should be a rule that no book should be published (traditionally or self-published) without going through a beta reader and editor first. I’ve been guilty of breaking this rule before, but I truly believe having another set of eyes look over your story will always improve it.
Ula: I’ve also noticed that many indie authors get few reviews and ratings. Most of us have friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, and could ask them for feedback. Are we afraid to ask for their opinion? Or maybe we believe that they’ll never be objective?
Sergio Pereira: Possibly. I guess it’s kind of like the young band playing a show and they’re embarrassed the only people there are their moms and dads. I can’t complain, though. I have a great group of close friends and family who support my endeavours; however, I’d never ask them for a review or to tell me how great I am. This is why I think it’s important to market and grow your fan base to more than your inner circle. But then you’ll have haters, too - a sure sign that you’ve made it.
Ula: I really liked your “Destination Unknown” short story. It was a bit weird, deeply ironic and funny. I very much enjoyed the sarcastic narration but I wasn’t sure if it would be easy to grasp for the average reader. Do you have one particular type of audience, where you’ve noticed your short stories are mostly appreciated?
Sergio Pereira: Thanks! You absolutely nailed the description of it. I guess a couple more people enjoyed it, too, considering it finished...drum roll, please...second in a Star Wars contest. I’ve experimented a bit with my genres, such as horror, sci-fi and suspense, and the stories seem to do okay in their categories. I suppose the people who get my snarky sense of humour will appreciate the stories and tone. I tend to infuse a lot of humour and societal observations in my writing - that psychology degree of mine is finally being useful for a change.
Ula: You once wrote, "With the digital era and ability to self-publish in full swing, I believe it gives authors a real chance of getting their work out there into the market. The process is incredibly easy, and you can cut out so many middle men.” Where do you expect this new opportunity to take you? Do you treat self-publishing as the first step in putting your work out there, or is it a long-term solution that you can recommend to other authors?
Sergio Pereira: It’s a solution, but not the only solution. Self-publishing works for certain things, but so does traditional publishing. With self-publishing, we do run the risk of oversaturation and no quality control. This is why content moderators will be crucial in the future. We need to hold books to one universal standard, not a “oh, it’s okay for a self-published book”.
Ula: While working with authors I’ve noticed a strange pattern. When we introduced OpenBooks.com to very respected authors like Peter Singer or Graham Masterton, we often got positive feedback, even if the author couldn’t publish with us due to his previous or future arrangements. When introducing the idea to new writers, we sometimes get arrogant responses and are expected to pay authors in advance. Do you think they’re afraid to take the risk? What made you take it?
Sergio Pereira: It’s the fear of being suckered. There are way too many shady individuals in this world who’ll take your work, profit from it, and then gut you in the end. Writers are terribly self-conscious and always wonder what’s the catch. We are broken creatures, haha!
For me, I saw OpenBooks as another opportunity to get my work out there. Look, I didn’t rush to write a novel and put it up on the platform, hoping for a million dollars and chocolate rainbows. I tested the waters and scrutinised it a bit. Once I realised it wasn’t a scam, I loaded more stories. Maybe writers should test out OpenBooks with short stories first? Or maybe offer them a t-shirt? Everyone loves a free t-shirt.
Ula: At OpenBooks.com we firmly believe that the only way to change the publishing industry is by creating a community where rules are based on readers’ and authors’ needs. Where we all can support each other in pursuing our plans and dreams. Do you think this attitude would be appealing to more and more authors or should we just shoot ourselves right now?:)
Sergio Pereira: BANG! Just kidding… This sort of attitude is exactly what’s needed right now. Look at the current state of the music industry for a glimpse of the future. There are tons of successful bands that are no longer signing with big labels. Most are releasing albums independently and using the crowdfunding model to continue doing what they love. It appears as if the whole creative industry is moving in this direction. However, the onus now falls on the creators to create art that inspires people to be part of this community as well.