Today we welcome author Mick Rooney to Catherine, Caffeinated, as he kicks off his blog tour for the release of his novel, The Memory of Trees…
Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Mick. Tell us about your new book, The Memory of Trees.
Thanks for having me along here, Catherine, and it’s great to be able to start out the blog tour for The Memory of Trees on Catherine, Caffeinated.
The Memory of Trees has been a part of my writing life for many years. The novel actually began as three short stories written between 1994 through 1998. Up until then I had been writing a lot of short experimental stuff, doing readings, and setting some of my work to music. The three short stories sat uneasily with the rest of my work at that time. I sensed my style of writing was changing, and while much of it retained a highly poetical element, the three short stories had strong spiritual and adventure themes, linking a single character. I remember showing the short stories to a couple of experienced writers and they encouraged me to rethink and rewrite the stories into a more substantial work.
Right then, because I was doing a lot of research into spiritualism and magic realism in literature, I felt unprepared to fully undertake a larger project like a novel based on a spiritual theme. In many ways I was still undergoing my own learning curve and I wasn’t quite ready for the kind of self-exploration writing the novel would entail. I think a lot of authors begin their writing journey with stories containing or based heavily on very personal experiences. For me, that didn’t really start until I’d written several books. So, after about a year of research, The Memory of Trees took hold of my life as a novel.
The Memory of Trees is the story of Carlos, a shepherd boy, who travels from his simple village in Cyprus, following in the footsteps of Saint Paul and his uncle, into the Middle East and along the road to Damascus. Carlos is a teenage island boy, bright, thoughtful and passionate, brought up on the traditions of his village elders. After experiencing personal loss in his life and exile from his village, he sets out on a journey of knowledge and adventure, embracing the spiritual wisdom of the trees and a quest to explore the path his mysterious uncle once took into the Middle East.
I wrote The Memory of Trees very much in the style of a parable. It’s deceptively simple. A parable about listening to the voices in our hearts, seeking our truths, no matter how lost we are. It’s about daring to allow ourselves to be guided along a path filled with pain, loss, love and passion and the inevitable choices we must all face.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
One of the central themes in The Memory of Trees is the idea that our most precious memories can be ‘remembered’ or ‘entrusted’ to the trees for safe-keeping. Initially, I thought this was a belief exclusive to the Druids, but as I researched the idea more, I began to find similar beliefs were held by the native American Indians, tribes of ancient South American, and even with cultures and religions in the Middle East and Far East. So, the tree as a very powerful symbol of growth, strength, knowledge and spiritual protection and preservation, permeates throughout the book. For Carlos, in The Memory of Trees, the forest becomes his ‘leafy cathedral’. The same idea can be developed in so many different ways; after all, the book itself, as a tool of learning and recording our experiences in life, is made from the pulp of the tree. The forests of the world are fundamental to the very air we breathe, and, I also think, an infinite source of ideas in literature, science and spiritualism.
Sometimes it is the most subtle ideas that can lead a writer into writing a book. For you, Catherine, it was a trip to Florida which led to Mousetrapped. I’ve fond memories of several holidays to the USA, Florida included, and I experienced all of the wonder of Disney World and witnessing the Space Shuttle launches. But unlike you, I’ve actually never been to specific locations where The Memories of Trees is set—Cyprus, Israel and Syria. That led to several years of writing and researching these places, and I’ve derived as much pleasure in doing the research as writing the novel itself.
Whenever those of us aspiring to publication hear of a book deal being signed, we all want to know: how did you do it? Tell us a bit about your path to publication.
My path to publication began many years ago, in 1990. I’d always been fascinated with writing, books and the publishing industry. All three went hand in hand, with equal passion. Back in 1990, there was no such thing as POD (print on demand), and self-publishing meant handing thousands of pounds over to a vanity publisher and having hundred of boxes piled up in your garage with no means or traditional channel of selling those books to readers. We didn’t have such things as ‘social media’, and your circle of family and friends was often the only means of getting your book out there. The world seemed a lot bigger a place back then!
I knew very early on when I began writing that what I wrote wouldn’t appeal to the general reader. Firstly, outside of Beckett and Yeats, all my reading and writing influence was primarily European. Where my fellow writers were reading and raving about Banville, McGahern, Atwood, Rushdie and others, I was reading a lot of translated European literature like Robbe-Grillet, Perec and Gustafsson, as well as the classics of Hemmingway, Hesse, Kafka and Poe.
In the late eighties I began sending out manuscripts to magazine editors and publishing houses, but already by then the industry landscape was quickly changing and once prolific independent publishing houses were being snapped up by large media conglomerates and the competition to attract editors was increasing, while the avenues to those same editors was quickly decreasing. By the early 1990’s, you were pretty much barred from access to the big houses unless you had a literary agent, a writing friend who was a published author and could bend the ear of an editor on your behalf, attract an editor from the shrinking number of smaller publishing houses with a strong submission, or had built up a body of accepted short submissions with magazine editors.
I collected my fair share of rejection slips, but also some encouragement that my work showed a lot of promise, but that the ‘climate and market’ just wasn’t there for work like mine. I think it is important to empathise that when I decided to start self-publishing with my own publishing imprint, it wasn’t because I was rejecting the mainstream publishing industry, but rather, it wasn’t my time and I could achieve something else through self-publishing – not better, or as some form of personal fingers up to the industry. The best way I can describe my decision is something akin to working for nothing for a company – much as an intern would do. Except, this would be my publishing imprint I was working for, and all my experience would have to be self-taught through a process of trial and error.
I know back then why I didn’t go down the vanity route. I simply couldn’t afford it, and my research, instinct and growing business mind told me that someone was making money in vanity publishing, but it wasn’t authors. Even today, with unscrupulous companies offering self-publishing services, I’m still staggered by how little research authors do before embarking into this field of publishing.
I set up my own imprint in 1990, bought a guillotine, an electronic word-processing typewriter, cloth, print paper and boards from a wholesale book packager, and some books about typographical layout, bookbinding and self-publishing. I found books on self-publishing by Michael Legat and Peter Finch invaluable. Finch’s How To Self-Publish Yourself was originally published by Allison & Busby in the late 1970’s and was way ahead of its time – even now with the advances in print technology aside – it contains absolute nuggets of advice renowned self-publishing experts like Shepard, Rosenthal and Poynter are only just getting their heads around!
I did self-publishing for my first few books the old fashioned way – hawking books around bookshops and cutting deals with buyers. I tried everything, from ‘buy one to get one free’ (better than giving a buyer a huge discount) to even on a few occasions sneaking in and ‘depositing’ my book on the shelves of a bookshop or library if I initially got the door slammed in my face. I figured if a customer picked the book up and brought it to the till point, it was a sure way of a sale. The bookseller was hardly going to say, ‘Oh, that shouldn’t be out there, you can’t have it.’ Of all those first few books I self-published, I probably gave away half the books free, just to get the book into the hands of readers and buyers. If a modern day publisher or self-publishing author is not prepared to ‘give away’ at least 25% of that first print run, then frankly, they’re wasting their time. Book publishing at a small and cottage level of business is about long-term, long-haul investment and very small profits. If you do the simple things well, and take pride in what you do, and persist, persist, persist, the benefits come in the long-tale, and you have to accept that might be in name, prestige and industry or peer respect, and not always in profit margin.
With the advent of POD and social networking, I progressed to using Lulu to self-publish my books. Again, it was a second stage of the learning curve, and I also continued to operate my self-publishing imprint to do reprint and editions of some of my older books.
I’d long made my mind up when I completed The Memory of Trees in 2006 that it was the best novel I had ever written, and for the first time in many years, I began to research and reconsider mainstream publishing, believing that the book deserved the best I could do for it. The industry, while still in a process of considerable change, started to show a great deal of innovation and the rise of new dynamic independent publishing presses. I began to send The Memory of Trees out on submission, focusing mainly on those kinds of publishers operating with new models of publishing as well as embracing ebook publishing and social media, and not implementing a ‘lock and gun barrel’ gatekeeper mentality.
Around this time, I began to prepare a book on what I had learned by self-publishing over the years, and based on articles and reviews I did for The Independent Publishing Magazine, or as it was then called, POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing. Over about a year or so, my online presence and visits to writing forums brought me in contact with Jeremy Thompson, MD with Troubador Publishing in the UK, an independent mainstream publisher which started out publishing academic Italian work, and also ran a self-publishing service wing, Matador. Troubador had done what major US publishers Harlequin, Hay House and Thomas Nelson took until 2009 to do – acknowledge that self-publishing, whatever opinion you hold about it, had truly arrived under the umbrella of the publishing industry. It was here to stay and much of the stigma was starting to fall away. The deal with Troubador was my first commercial publishing contract and it meant a great deal to me that I had published a book about self-publishing through a mainstream publisher.
In early 2011, I submitted The Memory of Trees to Book Republic, a boutique press imprint of Maverick House Publishing. Without sounding clichéd, it was a case of right publisher, editor and book manuscript at exactly the right time. When I first looked at Book Republic as a publisher to submit to, I saw an awful lot of similarities to Bob Miller’s HarperStudio, an imprint of HarperCollins. Here was a publisher prepared to adopt a multiple of different methods of publishing a book – hardback, ebook, POD paperback, and using social media, the author’s own generated readership following, short print runs, full trade distribution, but without the trappings of very huge overheads and retail discounts and not shackled with 100% non-return on books.
The whole experience has been terrific and I got to work with a professional publisher and their team closer than an author normally gets to work with a mainstream publisher, right through from editing, design, production and marketing.
Your “other job” is being the man behind The Independent Publishing Magazine. Tell us a bit about how that came about?
It’s one of many other jobs, Catherine! Life is pretty hectic with research, publishing consultancy, and trying to grapple with the next novel. Though, more recently this year, I’ve had to put the consultancy work on hold for the publication of The Memory of Trees – not to mention I still have to find time to hold down a full-time job like most other authors.
I started The Independent Publishing Magazine way back in late 2007, and really, it was just initially an online portal where I could record some of the research I had carried out on the publishing industry, and in particular, the explosive rise of self-publishing services on offer to authors. Timing played a great factor in the success of TIPM (or POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing as it was then) and back then there were few online resources for self-published authors, and many just didn’t deal with the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and truthfully, I felt a lot of them tended to accept everything a self-publishing service fed them, without asking the right questions or looking deeper into the whole vanity press history.
I knew instinctively the self-publishing service industry was a microcosm of the whole publishing industry, and the questions authors were starting to comment and email me where going to be the questions the industry itself would soon be asking. How do we negotiate different retail discounts? Can we sell out books and still survive without Amazon? Self-published authors were already grappling with ebooks and the relevance of them long before large publishing houses even took digital publishing seriously as a necessary part of their future business. Where heavy retail discounting and the issue of returns was crippling the trade, self-publishers had long accepted that those models needed to be changed and were busy embracing social media, direct marketing and innovation, when the publishing industry as a whole was sitting back and allowing large high street retailers and Amazon to take control and ownership of the industry.
There is of course the seedier side of self-publishing services and the exploitation of the naivety of authors new to the publishing world. It’s why I began doing extensive reviews of self-publishing services to a depth and extent no one else was doing in print magazines, books or the Internet.
There is a lot more now on The Independent Publishing Magazine and I have widened the scope of content to include digital publishing, industry news, innovation and publishing successes. I don’t see the magazine any longer as the sole home and resource for just self-published authors, but rather as a portal directly to the changes happening in the industry today. That’s relevant to all authors no matter what the means and path to publication is. I’ve also linked the magazine heavily to my Facebook page, and really the two now interact perfectly together through debate and comment.
Like the industry itself, I’d like to think TIPM is a constantly developing resource, never happy to sit still and be one thing for one reason all the time.
What are you working on now? What’s next?
Something completely different as they say! I treat all my book projects individually and each one takes its own shape over a lengthy period of time. I can work on more than one book project at a time, and I tend to switch back and forth from research to fiction depending on what I am working on. I’m half-way through with the next book, a dark and poetic suspense book about a serial killer, an alchemist and a great deal more! I’m also tentatively looking at a possible follow-up to The Memory of Trees, maybe based in Cuba, but I’m hoping to get to Cyprus first before the next great adventure begins!
Mick Rooney is an author, editor and publishing consultant from the Republic of Ireland. He has published eight books since 1990, through his own imprint, using author solutions services, and he has also published through mainstream publishers. Several years ago he began researching the publishing industry, and in particular Independent, POD (print-on-demand) and subsidy/self-publishers. Many of the findings of his research can be found at his site, The Independent Publishing Magazine together with his own experiences in the world of writing and publishing. He is the author of To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish? A Seriously Useful Author’s Guide. He is also a contributor to many magazines and online resources including, Writers’ Forum, Publishing Basics Magazine, Publetariat, Carnival of the Indies, selfpublishingreview.com, Irish Publishing News, as well as many writing and publishing forums. In September 2011, he published his latest novel with Book Republic, The Memory of Trees, available in hardback and ebook.