Writing a novel is hard work. Hundreds of hours are spend staring at a computer screen trying to write the next sentence and the next chapter, determining the point of view and the most effective tense to use, crafting the plot and more. And when the last period is typed and the novel is completed, the work is not done, especially for the thousands of authors who choose to self publish, an option made more accessible by computers, the internet and e-books.

Although there is no definitive total number of author-published books, since Amazon and the other self-publishing platforms don’t release data about their book sales, the Alliance of Independent Authors estimates that 30% to 35% of the nearly 1 billion books printed in the U.S. are self-published.

Brian Wightman, of Barre, a member of the growing community of independent authors, has just self-published his fourth novel, “The Inka Argus.” Set in 1910, the novel is about a thirteen-year-old girl, Inka Pasternak, a reporter and publisher of her own newspaper for the homeless, who discovers that beloved street musician “The Clarinet Man” is missing. As she investigates, she learns that many others, “people on the edge who no one would miss,” have also vanished.

Wightman, who writes under the pen name Eugene Fairfield (his maternal great-grandfather), said self-publishing was the best option for him.

“Breaking into novels is extraordinarily difficult and lately it’s just getting harder. With the rise of the internet, many publishers want new authors to come with a fan base already established. At the same time, self-publishing has become much easier. I decided I wanted to get my stories out so people could read them. Maybe someday it will grow into something that will interest big publishers, but for now, at least the stories are out there,” Wightman said.

Wightman did everything needed to publish “Inka Argus” including writing, editing, layout, type setting, and cover art.

“I did everything for this book which I don’t necessarily recommend. For one of my books I got a local high school artist to draw the cover, which worked pretty well. Professional editing is a really good idea, but it’s unfortunately very expensive,” he said.

Wightman does use “Beta Readers,” nonprofessional test readers who give him feedback from the point of view of an average reader.

“What’s the old line: A writer who is his own Beta Reader has a fool for a client. It’s essential to have someone who isn’t you, read what you’ve written, and see your work through their eyes. Fortunately, because all writers need Beta Readers, we all volunteer to do it for each other. I’ve connected with a number of good people who understand my work and give me honest appraisals,” Wightman said.

The cost to self publish ranges greatly, Wightman said. It can be fairly high, several thousand dollars or low, just a few hundred dollars, depending on how much work the author does.

“By doing most things myself, or with volunteers, I keep my costs very low. I’ll probably drop $100-200 or more on various expenses, mostly sample copies. Those who hire artists and copy editors can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand or more. I don’t expect to earn it back, although one advantage of self-publishing is my royalty is much higher. That is, I make more from each book sold, as much as ten times more. It’s just much harder to sell each book,” he said.

“In the old days, independent publishing was very difficult. The author would have to arrange for a printer to print, say 500-1,000 copies, and pay for them all. Then he’d have to warehouse them, promote them to booksellers, fulfill orders, and so on. Odds are good he’d lose thousands of dollars. Modern technology allows books to be efficiently printed as needed, so I don’t have to invest in hundreds of unsold books. The simplest way to do it, now, is through a service right on Amazon. They handle all the printing, sales, and fulfillment, very easily,” Wightman said.

Wightman’s books are printed by Amazon and available on various internet sales sites and directly from him and at some bookstores. His books are also available on the Ebooks format.

Wightman has been writing stories since before he could read.

“I’ve always been writing stories. Even before I could read I drew them and narrated what happened. I just never stopped,” he said. He studied creative writing at Oberlin College, although he majored in East Asian Studies.

Wightman advice to first-time writers: Start with a short story. “A novel can take years of work, and if you aren’t yet good enough to do it, you spend years writing something not good. You can write a short story in a month or two, see what you’ve done, learn from your mistakes, build your craft.”

Wightman teaches at the New School of Montpelier. He grew up in suburban New Jersey, “spitting distance from the Lincoln Tunnel” and has lived in rural Michigan and Boston, before settling down in Barre in 1995.

He is married to Carrie Rouillard, a mask and animal costume artist. Their daughter Isabelle is creating and illustrating her own girl heroes.

“I look forward to see where she goes,” Wightman said.

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