Editor’s Note: Francis Hamit, who self-published his Civil War espionage novels The Shenandoah Spy and The Queen of Washington, contributes insight pieces about the strategies and emerging technologies he uses to market his books.
By Francis Hamit: We are about to roll out the audiobook edition of The Queen of Washington, wonderfully narrated by Melanie Mason and David Wilson Brown. It will run about nine and a half hours and we will have links for a limited number of free review copies. Out of respect for the narrators, we only want to give these to people who will listen to the entire narration and not cheat by skimming the e-book. They worked very hard for several months and deserve no less. I had very little to do with it, aside from approving the final version. ACX.com is the distributor and it will be exclusively available on Audible.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. They set the price, not us. So is this still “self published”? Melanie and David are the real stars in this genre, not me. ACX.com does the final technical execution,not me. I just sit back and collect my share of the money.
This book is my second American Civil War spy thriller. Originally published in 2011 just as I became desperately ill and almost died, it did not get the usual publicity push. Leigh Strother-Vien* was pretty sick, too and we are just now recovered. In the interval we escaped from Pine Mountain Club to Sherman Oaks, which took a great of effort and money. So this, in a way, is a stealth re-launch of the print and e-book editions on the theory that fresh attention generates collateral sales. We have set up a new Facebook page,(https://www.facebook.com/QOWaudiobook) bought an ad in Audiofile Magazine and will put out press release on PR Newswire. We also have the Christopher Marlowe film project underway.
I called this “Alternative History” rather than “Historical Fiction” but is it? Where does one begin and the other stop? In The Queen of Washington Rose Greenhow’s husband, unhappy and frustrated by a fading career and a bad marriage where he had been made a cuckold fakes his death in 1853 and runs off to China with his two beautiful Chinese mistresses. This is the culmination of a long campaign of seduction orchestrated by Judah P. Benjamin, revealed as a long-term agent of the British, working with British Chinese agents from Hong Kong. It’s a very complicated dance and entirely my own invention. Greenhow died in 1853 after being attacked. That’s the fact rather than the fiction.
There are no whiz-band deus e-machina. elements here. No time travel, no advanced weapons imported from another time. It didn’t happen. I made it up. But what is it? Fish or Foul? What is needed for that “Alternative history” designation? The basis here is social science not technology. .
“Self-publishing” is a negative term because you don’t have the imprimatur of a big publishing house behind you, or even a small one. Your work is either automatically denied a review or given special scrutiny. A recent review of the hardbound edition of this book criticized the quality of the jacket paper.as being too thin and tending to curl. Using that paper was a decision of the printer, not us, so I thought it very unfair; just looking for something to complain about. It doesn’t really matter because most people are now buying the e-book edition, which is only $3.99 but actually provides more net profit .We are now doing all print edition as very short print-on-demand runs, as a convenience for the customer, not because there is any money to be made. The audiobook edition is where we expect to make the real money. Why? Because we’re also in the film business and that’s where the big bucks really are. The audiobook is also a demonstration of how a film can be made from the same story. Every novel I write is also a treatment for film or television.
I invite comments on the above. I also hope that, before weighing in on the merits of this book, people will actually bother to read it first.
(*) Congratulations to Leigh Strother-Vien and Francis who celebrated 26 years together as roomates, business partners and best friends on July 1.