Mike Stoner was born in the UK, but currently lives in Prague with his family. He spent a year in Indonesia, which provided a lot of the inspiration for his first novel, Jalan Jalan. He was chosen for the Guardian’s self-published book of the month before finding a traditional publisher. He currently teaches English, trains teachers and does freelance writing. He’s planning to finish his next novel by the end of the year.
You self-published your book Jalan Jalan, which depicts a man known to his peers as Newbie moving to Indonesia to teach after a traumatic experience back home. What inspired you to write Newbie’s story?
During my year in Indonesia, I realised that when you go somewhere on your own, and know no one, you can behave as differently and as madly as you want. I thought this was an interesting idea for a book. Although I went to Indonesia for different reasons to Newbie, I was doing a runner from less traumatic issues. I took experiences from other parts of my life to give Newbie the reason for creating a new self. I wanted to explore the themes of escape, time, reinvention and dealing with grief. I’d had many interesting and unusual experiences during my year there and mixed those in with fiction to explore Newbie’s motivations for both his old and new selves.
How did being selected as the Guardian’s self-published book of the month affect your sales and overall career as a self-publisher?
Initially, as exciting as it was, it didn’t really improve sales. I sold only eight of the self-published copies after the Guardian award. However, thanks to the article I was contacted by another writer, Tim Hannigan. He really liked my book and put me in touch with Tuttle in Asia, who then took me on. I had never considered trying Asian publishers. Although I’m still waiting on sales figures, I’ve definitely sold more with Tuttle than as a self-published writer. But if I hadn’t started out as a self-published author and been selected by the Guardian, I would never have met Tim, and may never have been traditionally published.
What was behind your decision to self-publish Jalan Jalan? How much did you know about the publishing process before embarking upon it yourself?
I finally went down the self-publishing route after trying all the traditional routes in the UK. I came quite close to getting one agent to take me on, but when that failed, I started looking at other options. I knew nothing of the self-publishing process and I must say I enjoyed learning about it and preparing my book for publication. I self-taught myself everything. It gave me a lot of satisfaction knowing I had done everything from writing the book and editing it to the design and then to actually getting it online. When my hard copy arrived, it was a great feeling knowing it was 100% me.
Your book was taken on by Tuttle Publishing early last year. How has the process of entering traditional publishing been?
Being traditionally published was always my dream, so when the process started I was a little awestruck. Of course, when editing began again, and the book started changing, and contracts turned up, it all started to get a little stressful. Because I didn’t have an agent and this was my first book, I wasn’t sure what and how to negotiate, and in retrospect, perhaps I should have bargained a little harder. The book stopped being mine to a degree and I felt a little sad taking my self-published version off the internet. It was like I’d lost control of it. However, being published has put my book in places I could never have managed before, and although I liked my cover, the new one is more eye-catching. The whole thing looks more professional. I don’t regret having gone to Tuttle and am fully appreciative of them taking me on. Then of course there’s the money aspect; with self-publishing I knew exactly how many copies I’d sold and that the money would come quickly. I’m still waiting on my first year’s sales figures from Tuttle and really have no idea how the book has done globally, although I’m sure it’s doing better than it would have done had I stayed on my own. Only three months to go before I find out.
What are your main takeaways from the experience of writing and publishing Jalan Jalan?
Number one, I want to do it all again. It would be great if Tuttle published my next book, but if for any reason they didn’t, I’d still look forward to starting at the beginning. I would try the traditional path first, but I know that if that didn’t work, I’d self-publish again. I’d also put more effort into marketing. Publishers seem to be afraid to spend on marketing as it’s a risk they’ll spend more than they get back. The biggest thing I learned is that you should look beyond your national boundaries. I’d never considered trying outside of Europe, but once I’d learned about Tuttle and Asian publishers, it made perfect sense as, although my book is about an English protagonist, it is also about Asia.
Any other projects of yours we can look forward to in the future?
It’s been a busy year with moving jobs and countries, but I’m finally getting stuck into my next one. It’s going to be different to Jalan Jalan, but one of the themes will again be how people cope with being thrown into unusual situations. I’m not sure if Tuttle will be interested in it or not, as it’s going to be a UK-based story and they focus on Asian-themed books. I hope they will, but if not, then I’ll start the whole process again and probably in pretty much the same way as I did with Jalan Jalan.