Considering indie publishing? Online: Self-Publish Your Book with Joel Naoum offers professional guidance.
Every month, we shine the spotlight on one of our accomplished members to celebrate their success and give readers a glimpse into their creative process. This month’s Spotlight On features Barrie Seppings, debut author of ShelfLife, a ‘fast, fun, slick’ satire of start-up culture and digital nomads.
Barrie Seppings spent his early career in advertising, moving between Australia and South East Asia. He now lives in Sydney with his family, surfing when he can and riding his dirt bike where he shouldn’t. His second novel, The Stacking Plan, is currently under construction.
Speaking to our Membership Intern, Mia Do, Barrie led us through the unprecedented ideas and inspirations behind his novel and the titular (fictional) start-up and his experience in self-publishing.
Congratulations on the release of your new novel (or should we say app?), ShelfLife. Tell us more about this Airbnb-like start-up and the services it provides.
The ShelfLife service is modelled on popular ‘sharing economy’ apps like Airbnb. It allows users to browse dozens of ‘life rentals’ on the site, complete a booking and then spend the week living, working and socialising as if they were, quite literally, someone else. Users can also offer their own lives for rent, essentially ‘taking a break from themselves’ and earning cash while they do it. The ‘life rentals’ on the site come pre-packaged with supportive partners, friends and colleagues to ease renters into their temporary new life for the week and ensure a safe, enjoyable experience.
Were it real, would you use the ShelfLife service? Whose shoes would you like to be in for a week?
Absolutely, I would. It’s tempting to say Rock Star or Surf Guide or something similar, but I’d probably rent ‘Henri The Shooter’ for a week and experience the life of a war photographer. It’s so far removed from anything I could realistically expect to experience in my own life, and that’s the real appeal of storytelling – to transport you to somewhere otherwise unreachable.
You’ve taken a bold and unique approach to marketing, with a whole website designed to make ShelfLife look and feel like a real company. What are the benefits of this approach?
It’s working in a couple of different ways. For potential readers, the website is doing the same job a trailer does for a movie, offering a preview of the story experience. They get a sense of the genre, the tone and even the characters in a fairly condensed package and in a familiar format, right there on a screen they’re probably spending a lot of time with. It’s a logical use of digital marketing for an entertainment product.
The more interesting benefit has been the attention it is attracting the from the tech and start-up communities, who come at the website thinking ‘ShelfLife’ is a real service. These viewers are captivated by the idea and a lot of them go a long way down the rabbit hole before they realise it’s fiction. I’ve had job applications, people offering their lives to rent, potential investors and a slew of interview requests from the tech and lifestyle media. The company was invited to apply for a month-long tech incubator program in Portugal. I went through the process and got through to the final round, which involved a live pitch via Skype. I presented the pitch deck while in character as one of the start-up founders in the book and ‘ShelfLife, the company’ got accepted to the program. I’m technically supposed to be in Lisbon right now.
And the challenges?
I’m fortunate in that I have a background in digital marketing, but it still feels like there’s never enough time. I’ve been managing social media, updating the blog, writing pitch decks, responding to media enquiries and keeping the site updated so ‘ShelfLife’ feels real. The bigger challenge now is to convert interest in ‘ShelfLife, the idea’ into readership of ‘ShelfLife, the novel’. The tech audience and the book audience don’t automatically overlap but I’m starting to see some crossover. The people who like the story of the digital marketing stunt also seem to find the premise of the book appealing and the early reviews suggest the novel is delivering for them as well.
According to Trent Carlise, the CEO of ShelfLife, the idea for the company arose when he was mistaken for a doctor while walking through an ER. What was your inspiration for the novel?
We were travelling a lot around Asia as a family with young kids and using Airbnb rentals, many of which were family homes. I’d always be curious about our hosts’ lives, checking out their bookshelves, their kitchen cupboards, their art, their photos. They’d often leave a list of their favourite restaurants or museums or shops and we’d follow those suggestions. If it was cold and raining, we might even borrow their coats and boots from behind the door. It struck me that we were virtually living these people’s lives for a week, while we rented their house. The story just took off from there.
Earlier this year, you participated in Writing NSW’s Self Publishing Program with Joel Naoum. How did that help with the publication of your book?
I’d had an agent for about 9 months and she was doing a great job, getting the manuscript in front of the right people at the major publishing houses. The feedback on the story was generally positive, but I didn’t have a profile and the book didn’t sit neatly in a genre so it was seen as a commercial risk. That’s just how the traditional publishing business model generally works. I took the manuscript back from my agent and went straight into the course, which was exceptionally practical and a lot of fun. Joel is a real pro and walked us through every step over a seven-week period. In the final week, we hit ‘click’ and ShelfLife went on sale absolutely everywhere except bricks-and-mortar bookshops. It felt like a real achievement
Do you have any advice for aspiring self-publishing authors?
Marketing your book can be daunting, but if you approach it as an extension of your written story, it can feel creative, even fun. And it doesn’t have to always be digital. I have writer friends who have taken out newspaper ads for their superhero detectives or thrown dinner parties using accurate recipes from their historical fictions. Anything that brings your stories to life and off the page will help you reach more readers. As an author, getting read is as important as writing it in the first place.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve been on planes a lot recently which is great for catching up on reading. On the last few flights I enjoyed Jane Harper’s The Dry more that I expected, struggled with David Eggers’ The Circle and was impressed by Jennifer Egans’ A Visit From The Goon Squad. I also read a lot of in-flight safety cards. They were pretty dull.
In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring…
Writer/Poet? Italo Calvino. His short stories are made of free-range imagination.
Weather? Sunny with a crisp, offshore breeze.
Time of day? Dawn. It feels like you’re getting a head start on the world.
Music? Pop music with a string section.
Location? – The departure hall (provided you are holding a boarding pass).
To see more about Barrie’s works, find him on Twitter.
The opening page of ShelfLife:
Trent knew if he hesitated any longer the blood-spattered man on the gurney would become a blood-spattered corpse. And it would all be his fault.
‘I could just leave him here,’ Trent thought. ‘The nurses will probably handle it.’ A sharp, rattling intake of breath focused his attention. He lifted the plastic oxygen mask from the man’s face. Glistening and pulpy, the face made a noise somewhere between a gurgle and a cough. ‘OK, let’s think this through,’ he spoke to himself, a calming technique he’d learned from a yoga teacher he dated briefly.
‘That didn’t sound too good. Probably blood pooling in the trachea. Time to go, buddy.’
He took a deep breath and pushed the gurney through the doors.
‘What is that man doing here?’
‘Sir, you cannot go that way!’
‘The bleeding’s internal, we need to address that first.’
‘What’s her insurance status? Does she have a next of kin listed?’
Some of the faces in the emergency room turned to look as Trent surged into the searing fluorescent light. Snatches of shouted instruction whizzed past his ears like tracer fire. Coats flapped as they trailed behind nurses and orderlies. Trent could barely focus. His heart snapped at his ribcage.
‘I asked you,’ said a female voice, ‘what have we got?’
The face loomed closer and came into focus. Her skin was lightly freckled, blonde hair pulled into a severe ponytail, as if sailing into a headwind. ‘Please don’t make me ask you again.’
Trent blinked, struggling to reconcile the aggressive tone with the child-like face.
Since when did they let teenagers run emergency rooms?