The Self-Publishing Journey of an Unsuspecting Fantasy Author

By Ian RobertS


I never set out to be a published author.

Looking back, I’d always made up stories in my head and as a child drew extensively, creating comic strips and roleplaying games with my brother, yet being a writer was never a particular aim. In the back of my mind I can remember imagining that I’d probably write a novel when I was “old enough” (whatever that looked like), but it was not until I’d finished my first degree that I decided to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), fuelled by teenage years reading Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser and Wilbur Smith. I wrote an historical novel set during Republican Rome, and though the project quickly stalled, I was bitten by the writing bug and began working on other projects.

As an historian (and tutor of Medieval History) I always wanted to write Historical Fiction, and following my Masters at Nottingham managed to get an epic story about chariot racing in ancient Rome considered, but not accepted, by London literary agents Cornville & Walsh. As family commitments changed,  my goal of publication was back-burnered, though I kept on writing, toying with a number of stories set in both the past and the present, which explored history through archaeology (also still unpublished – note the developing theme here). But all was not lost.

I also illustrate, and through producing some picture book art for a friend of my wife, I was able to share a crazy idea I’d had: to write historically accurate fiction via means of a story about a museum intern who’d discovered a portal to the past.  She loved the idea, and as she was in the process of starting her own micro-publishing imprint in Wales, encouraged me to work on the project. Her remit was children’s and young adult fiction, and so I slipped into writing hybrid fantasy/young adult/historical fusion stories via a very circuitous route (which you can read about on my blog), creating a world of time travel adventures.

With hindsight, this is just what my writing had needed – though it was certainly not a transition I had ever envisaged pursuing! After all, I’d come from the standpoint of a ‘serious’ historian with a passion for accurate historical fiction; yet I’d always been fascinated by sci-fi/fantasy (and looking back I realise that most of my family viewing hinged around this genre in my formative years). I’d also found myself increasingly wanting to express the ideas of contemporary characters about history – particularly witty/comedic observations about the contrast between present and past, as I was working on full-on historical stories – and after a bit of experimentation and research found myself slipping naturally into this other-worldly genre.

Ultimately, both my historical and fantasy writing come from the same starting points: firstly, finding my inspiration in real-life unusual events (largely historical: e.g Pliny’s description of a flying horse floating in a subterranean chamber under Ancient Rome by the power of magnetism) and secondly, exploring the (often) visceral reaction of my characters to such vivid and unbelievable events. I’m often struck quite vividly by a scene and how it feels and use this as a springboard to build my stories. How, for example, would it really feel to be faced with a reanimated museum exhibit, or walk through a wood where you know a phantom big cat is stalking? How would you hold yourself together – what would your physical reactions be? To be honest, it’s a lot of fun, and though building a rounded story can be difficult, writing fantasy with a YA edge has allowed me to really go to town on the stuff that makes me, as a writer, tick.

But getting a contract and getting published are two very different things, and while this project is still in the pipeline – and because a writer keeps on writing – I began to work on a group of allied stories, (two of which are now under consideration by small American publishing houses… but that’s another story, involving twitter pitching), with the intention of getting my writing persona out there. To be frank, I’d always considered self-publishing a bit of a cop-out, confusing it with vanity publishing, but I was encouraged by a friend to publish some short stories as e-books and test the waters whilst awaiting the publication of my initial book.

DeeperRealms-front-lowTaking a short competition entry I’d written as a starting point, I began to write the continuing adventures of my leading characters, and the Deeper Realms series of legend-hunting novellas was born with, ‘A Most Extraordinary Form of Animal’ (available on Amazon). Having the sneaky advantage of being able to paint my own cover, and two quite capable proofreading friends, I set to, and by following a host of online tutorials got my story online in two months.

One thing led to another and I soon had four completed novellas which I compiled into a full-length novel, ‘Deeper Realms, Volume 1,’ following the adventures of anxious palaeontologist Dr. Eve Wells, reluctant prehistory consultant to the mysterious and supremely skilled time traveller Ravenna Friere. The novella format suited me as it was more manageable to edit (while maintain morale) than a full 75–100,000 word novel. It also had the Conan Doyle, Strand Magazine vibe I love, allowing me to explore the backstory of Ravenna Friere outside of my full-length novels and develop the endless crazy historical scenarios I come up with indefinitely! So watch this space – and keep writing. Stay open to new ways of working and keep a firm grip on your dream. Success, for you, will most likely look nothing like what you currently imagine it to be, but it will – with effort – come!

My writing hero, C.S. Lewis, always wanted to be a poet (an aim he didn’t achieve), and is not remembered for his ground-breaking works of literary criticism, nor is the novel ‘When We Have Faces’ particularly well-known, despite his belief that it was his best work. But when he daydreamed the image of a faun with an umbrella walking through a wood, his immortality as the writer of the Chronicles of Narnia was secured for all time.

So the moral of the story? Every unpublished word, every soulless rejection, every minor publication is just another stepping stone towards the fulfilment of your writing dream, a tool to make you better. Nothing is wasted, so just keep exercising your imagination and WRITE!

Easy as that, right? Well, maybe?


A former student of The University of Nottingham, Ian RobertS is a self-published author of adventure fiction who has also written many historical and sporting articles for publications like ‘History Today’ and ‘Singletrack’ Magazine. Often writing with a strong female lead, he uses the medium of time travel as a way of exploring the past, creating worlds where the miraculous is possible – and his quirky historical fiction is sure to delight lovers of both fantasy adventure and classic science fiction. You can follow him on Twitter at @IRobertS_author

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