My journey to The Golden Ring started back in August, 1996, the day I landed at the airport in Moscow. I was arriving to begin a two-year stint as an English teacher in Vladimir and at the time had no idea that my experience would inspire me to write a book. And yet post-Soviet Russia has all the makings of a great novel. The characters are intelligent and sociable. They have a keen sense of humor. The setting is rich in history and art. The story plays out amidst never-ending economic upheaval and social scrambling.
Most importantly, the Russia I experienced was a lot more nuanced than what western media were leading us to believe in the late nineties. When I returned to the west, I read about prostitution in an American paper, but remembered only women being supported by their married boyfriends in order to make ends meet when their salaries were four months late. Were they prostitutes? I heard French news programs about the mafia, but remembered unemployed engineers forced to become “biznismeni”. Were they criminals? The truth, in fact, was a lot more interesting than the cookie-cutter portraits we were being fed, and I thought they would offer excellent counterpoints to my two American protagonists.
By the time I had the outline of my story, I was teaching English in France and it took me another three years to write my manuscript between classes. In 2006 I typed my last words. The End. It was, however, only the beginning. What I had accomplished was actually the easy part.
I then spent two years trying to contact American agents and independent publishers from half-way around the world. Hundreds of euros later, I was no further than when I had started. Time and again, my SASE informed me that my novel was interesting and well-written, and yet my project did not seem to be “right” for anyone. My editors and proof-readers, however, insisted that I had a publishable story. I was about ready to give up when a friend of mine told me about booksurge.com, now createspace.com, a self-publishing venue. Their staff sounded professional and friendly on the phone, and I realized that I would be spending less having them design the cover, do the lay-out and print the book than I had forked over trying to find an agent. Within three months I was holding my baby in my arms. It was beautiful, I was proud and I had to admit that the care and attention I had received in the booksurge maternity ward was what had made it so easy and fun.
Granted, the difficult part of self-publishing is the post-partum depression when you realize you now have all that marketing to do. I am a writer, not a salesperson, and my technophobia and ex-pat status were not helping at all. Thanks to word of mouth and a loyal fan club, though, within five months I had paid off all the costs incurred from self-publishing, and orders keep coming in. And when I spoke with a friend who had gone through a traditional publisher, I discovered that this did not always mean having a reliable marketing team at your disposal. Though I would not, of course, turn down an offer from an agent or publisher, I would certainly not hesitate to self-publish again.