Client Interview: JS Hollis on Deciding to Self-Publish

Sophie Playle

A few weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox.

It was a past client, letting me know the manuscript I had line and copy-edited for him around eighteen months ago was now a fully published novel.

It’s always exciting to see a client’s book launch into the world, and I was especially excited for JS Hollis because I knew how experimental (in content and form) his novel was and what a long creative journey it had been for him.

SP: You first had the idea for A Rational Man while making a short film about the Velvet Underground song ‘The Gift’. Can you elaborate on how the song inspired you?

JSH: I don’t think it was the song that inspired me. Rather something about the process of film making and trying to control our actors started a train of thought that led to me thinking about what would happen if cameras were everywhere.

SP: Ah, I see – so it was the creative act of making the film that kicked off your thoughts. I’ve heard that we change our behaviour if we think we’re being observed, and this is obviously a concept at the core of your novel. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

JSH: While writing the first draft of A Rational Man, I was very disciplined. I treated writing like a job. I woke up early and started writing after breakfast. I’ve always found that I am most productive in the morning and so I worked hard not to let anything else interfere with that time. I used to write until 2/3pm (with a short break for lunch). By then my brain was a mess and I couldn’t produce anything worthwhile. If I got stuck on a particular passage for a while, I would take a break and hope that I could conquer the issue when I returned to my desk. When I went back to my day job, I wrote before I went to work because I knew if I left it until the evening nothing would happen. 

My inclination is to just start writing and see where it takes me. If I plan from the off, the planning can become a distraction. But after I have written a bit and have some belief in the story and the characters, I start to plan. The planning and the writing become almost symbiotic after that. Sometimes I can only develop a thought by writing about it and other times I need to see where I am going first.

SP: That makes a lot of sense. So, what made you decide to self-publish your novel? Did you always plan to, or did you decide once you’d finished writing?

JSH: I didn’t plan to self-publish from the start. I wrote the first draft and sent it to agents and publishers. I had some good feedback but no one was offering me a deal. One agent suggested I go to a specific editor and then come back to them. I looked the editor up and she had no particular experience with the type of novel I had written, which I found odd. I realised I would potentially end up paying someone I had no basis to have faith in to help me re-write my novel (which I was largely happy with) with no guarantee at all of a deal at the end of it.

At that stage, I decided that the most important thing to me was to write the book I wanted to write. It was not to become a successful author as such (although if that came along with the former, great). I had little faith that the publishing industry would give me the freedom I needed. Of course I worried that I was being arrogant. That I was using artistic integrity to cover-up my limitations as a writer. Whatever the psychological truth, the end result is that I am very happy with the book I have published and I can take full responsibility for it.

SP: Honestly, I couldn’t respect you more for thinking all that.

JSH: I should add that I used Troubador to self-publish my book because it was difficult to find anyone else who could translate the design of A Rational Man into a paperback (as it uses various fonts and formats). In my view, they did a great job, were very professional and were very patient with me throughout the process.

SP: That’s good to hear. At what point did you decide to enlist the help of a (different) editor, and what made you choose me?

JSH: Despite taking the decision to go down the self-publishing route, I wanted my book to appear professional. Friends and family were kind enough to read A Rational Man in its earlier drafts but they did not have the time to pick it apart. I could see that I needed someone with the right skills to go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

I looked at a number of editors online and whittled them down based on their experiences. I then wrote to a few, including you, asking for more details. I had sample edits back from a few editors and yours was the best. It was the most thoughtful and thorough. As you know, my book presents a few challenges to editors given its unique approach to grammar but I could see you had taken the time to really think about what I was trying to achieve so that you could contribute to that.

SP: From my perspective, I rarely get to hear about that decision-making process, so that’s really nice to know – thank you. What did it feel like being edited? Was the experience what you expected?

JSH: I enjoyed it. I don’t think I realised how much work it would create for me. But I was glad to have someone really getting under the surface of my book.

SP: Yes, it’s quite a process! What plans do you have for marketing your book?

JSH: Ha. Good question. Obviously there is social media. But there is something uncomfortable about using social media to advertise a book that, among other things, is deals with the negative impacts on social media (and unsurprisingly as someone suspicious of social media I have not built up an online profile).

I managed to convince my local newspapers to write about the book, which was great. And I have used every alumni network I can (with a strong feeling of embarrassment). I’m now at the stage of trying to get a few reviews to build up the profile and running around book shops. And grateful for any ideas!

SP: Well, I think Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Time Grahl contains some useful advice. Other than that, making sure your book is in the right categories on Amazon and the description contains the right keywords is critical. Are you planning on writing another novel?

JSH: Yes. One day. I have plenty of ideas. But with a young baby and a full time job, I don’t have a lot of time. So it might have to wait.

SP: That’s understandable! Tell us where we can find out more about you and buy your book.

JSH: A Rational Man is available in paperback and ebook. You can purchase a copy through Troubador, Amazon UK and Amazon US (and other countries).

Sebastian Stanhope is playing chess at school while millions watch his father cut his mother’s throat. Why would Cecil Stanhope, who aspires to be Prime Minister and is a loving husband and father, kill his wife? In a near-future society without privacy, where everyone can watch everything through the omnipresent “W”, Sebastian seeks resolution for his father’s crime.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

Sign up to Liminal Letters

Insights into the world of fiction, from the desk of an editor

Editorial considerations, creative revelations and the occasional existential lamentation – sharing my experiences and personal recommendations exclusively with you.