Originally published Jan. 9, 2014.
Former Huntington resident Bill Stamper authored a novel that can be pulled off one of the shelves at the Huntington City-Township Public Library and checked out with the simple swipe of a library card.
For Stamper, though, getting the book there was anything but simple.
Self-publishing is a method of making a book available to the public when traditional publishing means have been unsuccessful. In this situation, an author will pay a publisher to print their book, versus a publisher paying them, as is the case for traditional publishing.
Stamper, along with many other current and former Huntington County residents, opted to go the self-publishing route.
The author of "Reality Checks," an action-adventure crime novel about a suburban family man who discovers that his neighbor is a drug lord, Stamper admits that publishing a book never entered his mind - he simply wanted to fulfill a longtime ambition and write one.
"I had always wanted to write a book, since I was in high school," he says, now a resident of Burke, VA. "But I went into another career field. I got very busy. I don't know, at some point I just decided that if I was ever going to get this thing written, I was going to have to start it."
Juggling his job as a civil engineer and his duties as a father and husband made that difficult, but Stamper carved out time to write here and there - on vacations, during airport layovers, etc.
"It took a long period of time to write," he says. "Once that was done, I said, ‘OK, now what do I do?' I was pretty happy with the outcome of it."
Before he approached publishers, Stamper hired a professional editor to read what he'd written and make corrections. Once he had a manuscript in hand, it was time to copyright it.
"It so happened that I, at the time, I was working three blocks away from the Library of Congress," Stamper says.
"So, it was pretty easy for me to just walk up the hill and drop off the copy of the manuscript and a copyright request form, so that's what I did."
From there, Stamper talked to publishers. In all, he estimates that he spoke to between 20 and 30.
"It's a tough business, that's all I will say," he muses. "Most successful authors have been rejected a whole lot of times. So, I tried that process."
Though most publishers said they were interested in the idea behind the book, that's where their interest dried up.
This left Stamper in a tough place. His prospects for publishing his book traditionally had dimmed, but he was still enthusiastic about what he'd written.
"At some point, I just said, ‘I'm just going to do this myself,'" he says. "And I knew that that's a pretty tough route."
Stamper credits "The Fine Print of Self-Publishing" by Mark Levine and Internet reviews of companies that help authors self-publish with helping him out in his early exploration of self-publishing.
"The first thing I would say is that for anybody who's interested in following the self-publishing route, you have to understand what you want," Stamper says. "For example, if you want a coffee table book that sits in your house and you share with a few friends, that's a whole different thing than trying to get a widely-circulated book that would be available to a book store or something like that.
"You really have to work through that process because for every level of service you want, you're going to pay more and you're going to probably do a little more work."
Among the services Stamper desired for his book were a barcode, which enabled it to be distributed, and e-reader availability.
Royalties were also something he needed to sort out.
"Some of these publishers take a lot more than other ones do," Stamper cautions. "So, you have to understand what that arrangement is going to be before you hire one of them. The rights are important. You don't want to give up your rights as an author."
In time, he selected a publisher and turned his manuscript over to them.
That didn't mean his involvement was over, however.
"The formatting will change things," Stamper says of the physical publishing process. "For me, the first time they did it, they had the chapter breaks wrong somehow ... It was my responsibility to catch that."
It also fell to Stamper to proofread the book, which proved more difficult than he imagined.
"You see things every time through that you want to change," he admits. "It doesn't matter how many times you've been through the manuscript, you're going to see things you want to change."
When all was said and done, the self-publishing process took three to four months, Stamper says.
"It wasn't a huge amount of time, but that depends on whether you're ready," he notes.
With upwards of 40 copies of "Reality Checks" on hand, it was time, at long last, for Stamper to enjoy the fruits of his labor and promote his work.
Only he didn't.
"That's where I made a mistake," he confesses. "I was really busy when it came out, which was in 2011. I didn't have time to promote it. I was doing consulting work and I was busy.
"So, it just kind of sat there."
Last summer, however, with a lighter schedule, he finally started promoting the book, even coming to the Huntington City-Township Public Library.
In retrospect, he wishes he had waited to publish the book until then.
"It would be easier for me to go out and say, ‘Hey, this just came out this summer. It's brand new,' rather than try to explain why it's over two years later I'm trying to now do book clubs and things to promote it," he says.
Despite his regrets over when the book came out, he's been thrilled by the response it's generated from readers.
"I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from people, especially the last six months," Stamper says.
He's currently working on another novel, a fantasy epic titled "The Sorcerer." When he completes it, he says he would "absolutely" go the self-publishing route again.
"I don't know that I would do everything exactly the same, but some things I would do the same," he says.
Before he does that, however, he might first pay a visit to the publishers who rejected him - this time with an ace in the hole.
"I'll try to go the conventional publishing route again," he says, "and maybe I'll bring this first novel along with me and say, ‘Hey, I can do this is.'"