5 Questions for the 2nd Indie Author To Break the Sound Barrier*

On December 6, 2012, a review of Alan Sepinwall’s self-pubbed book, “The Revolution Was Televised“, garnered a two page review by The New York Times book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani.

We asked Mr. Sepinwall how it felt and how he managed it.

IndieReader: Did you try to find a traditional publisher for “The Revolution Was Televised”?  If the answer is was yes, what happened?  No interest?

Alan Sepinwall: Yes, I tried to go the traditional route about a year ago. There wasn’t much interest at the time. I got one offer, but it seemed like a half-hearted one where the publisher didn’t seem to believe there’d be much of an audience for the book, and where they wanted something other than what I was pitching. I should say, in fairness to them and the other people who just said no, that the book evolved a fair amount from that original pitch, which was for a much less interview-driven book than it became. But I considered the offer in front of me and decided I’d rather go out on my own.

IR: Or did you know all along that you wanted to self-pub?  If so, what was it about self-pubbing that made it right for you and this book?

AS: I have a friend, Ken Levine, who used to write for MASH and Cheers and now writes a blog about his experiences, who self-published a few books. He had told me how relatively easy it was, and he knew that he had a platform with his blog (and with his other job as a baseball play-by-play announcer) to promote it himself. I knew that I’d built up a very good social media platform over the years, that I had a lot of other contacts in the more traditional media, and that, in theory, I could act as my own publicist. So once I started thinking about that, and assembling a team (my friend Sarah Bunting edited it, and I hired a formatting company and cover artist on Ken’s recommendation), I realized I could write the exact book I wanted to do, and do it on my own schedule. (I was aiming for a Thanksgiving release, and the people at 52 Novels told me that so long as I got them the manuscript by late October, that was doable. Incredibly quick turnaround.)

IR: Did you think that you’d be able to generate the reviews that you have (more specifically, in mainstream media)?

AS: As I said, I know a lot of people at mainstream outlets, and I figured I could get them to at least mention the book on their blogs, or maybe interview me. But I’ve been really overwhelmed by the response, both in terms of how widespread it’s been and, for the most part, gushing. People wrote incredibly long and positive reviews of the book, and while at first it was people I know — and had specifically asked for some coverage — it’s gone well past that now. I’ve never met Michiko Kakutani in my life, nor did I have any idea she read my blog. I had asked a friend at the New York Times if he knew how I would go about getting the book reviewed, but it seemed like the longest of longshots — particularly after a few other newspaper people told me that their editors had a policy against reviewing self-published books — and my friend said he never heard back from the books editor. Then on Monday I got an email from a Times photo editor asking for a headshot to accompany a review. I still don’t entirely believe that that happened, under the circumstances.

IR: As far as I know, yours is only the second self-pubbed book to be reviewed in the NYTimes (kind of like being the second guy to break the sound barrier). Do you think that the positive review your book recv’d will make it more likely that the  will review other indies in the future?  Or was it a fluke (and knowing the right people)?

AS: If that’s true (and I know that the Times wrote about “50 Shades of Grey” in its early stages, even if it wasn’t a review), then I’m not sure what it means for the future. As others have said, I’m a part of the media establishment myself. I don’t know Kakutani, but she said in the review that she reads my blog. This wasn’t just a completely blind submission by an unknown. If the Times reviews a self-published novel, or a non-fiction book by an author with a lower profile than me, then you might be able to say that the barrier has been broken for good.

IR: I loved your quote at the end of the review…“As ‘the middle-class movie’—which couldn’t ‘be made on the cheap or guarantee an opening weekend of $50 million or more’—became increasingly difficult to get made, artists who might once have gravitated to the big screen moved to the little one”.  I thought that this situation was also remarkably true for today’s authors and the reason that so many writers are turning to self-publishing.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree?

AS: I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the publishing industry beyond my own experience to feel like I can make an informed judgment on that. Certainly, there are tools for self-publishing — in terms of production, distribution and promotion — that didn’t used to exist. (One of the most frequent comments I got from people right after the paperback came out was, “It looks like a real book” — by which they meant, it looked exactly like a book they would find on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.) And I suppose in that way, the rise of the cable networks — who, by the late ’90s, were able to make shows that looked like “real” TV shows — parallels what’s happening here.

Thanks Alan!


* “A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggars, published by his imprint McSweeney’s, was the first indie book reviewed in the Times (it was also recently names by the Times as one of the “10 Best Books of 2012”).

  • Great write up. Alan was a treat to work with and everyone here in the shop is proud to be attached to this game-changer.

    @Amy Edelman: The asterisk in the title implies there’s more info about that, but I’m not finding the follow-up. Who’s the first indie author to break the sound barrier?

    • Amy Edelman

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, I left that poor asterisk hanging and will correct momentarily, but it was Dave Eggars for “A Hologram for the King”, pubbed by his imprint McSweeney’s that was the first indie reviewed in the Times (it was also recently names by the Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2012).

      Sorry for the confusion!