Smithman saga is also the More saga
Finding an agent, let alone a publisher, for a first book is a tall task nowadays. So more and more fledgling writers – and even some who are well-established – are successfully self-publishing their books. Historical novelist David More tried it, and he’s happy he did.
David More, MPA’94, is one of those larger-than-life people, someone akin to the swashbuckling, high-adventuring characters in his books. More’s “Smithyman saga” novels, a military-historical fiction series set in the 18th century, follow the settler-to-squire life and loves of Billy Smithyman, a feisty Irishman who winds up being knighted for fighting the French, marries a Mohawk healer, and earns a Mohawk warrior’s name.
More’s writing for newspapers and technical journals had been widely published, but he started his first book at the urging of his wife, Donna, who thought it might be a good idea if he turned his hand to something other than building another boat. More, a history buff and mad keen sailor, wrote his first book, The Eastern Door, while he was working full-time as the medical laboratory manager at Kingston General Hospital. He spent his evenings in the book-crammed basement office of his historic Portsmouth Village house, tapping away on his computer and reading great piles of reference materials from the Stauffer Library.
Even though he knew exactly the story he wanted to tell, the first book took him six years to complete. Half of that time he was researching and the other half he was writing. He stuck with it. He knew a little about sticking with things. More started his undergraduate degree at McGill in 1967 and finished it at Waterloo in 1991, 25 long years after his freshman days. He did two-thirds of his degree by correspondence, working evenings while he worked full-time days. Royce McGillivray, Arts’59, a history professor at U of W, gave More a rare A+. That mark motivated him. History became even more of a passion. That passion and knowledge he applied to his writing.
Endorsed by his mentors at the Humber School for Writers, he sent The Eastern Door to agents who were encouraging, but made no commitment. Disheartened, but undaunted, David did his own market research, giving his manuscript to readers who loved it and wanted more. That was enough for him. He was 56. He didn’t have years to invest in what many call “the agent dance.” He decided to go the self-publishing route with Eastern Door and started working right away on his second book, The Lily and the Rose. The first two books in the series take place in the 1740s and 1750s along the corridor of the Mohawk River Valley in upstate New York and the St. Lawrence in Canada. Both won medals for historical fiction and rave reviews from the UK-based Historical Novel Society. Five historic sites in Ontario and New York offered him book-signings. Sales are in the thousands now, and royalty cheques are coming.
More has now published the third book in his series. “In Liberty's Children, the next generation of the Smithyman settlers are coming of age during a period of enormous turbulence and societal change, ending with the brutal American Revolution that made enemies of fathers and sons," he says.
He retired this spring and is back in his basement writing full-time, emerging to sail now and then. The next Loyalist instalment in the Smithyman Saga, entitled The King’s Salt, is timed for the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebrations. .
“Self-publishing gives you a lot of control over everything from the art on the cover, to the graphics and maps, to the marketing of your book,” says David, “and you don’t give up your copyright. Indie films and music are now competitive with anything that comes from the more traditional sources; books are logically next,” he adds. “Judging by Internet book sales, a lot of writers and readers are thinking the same way. Self-publishing doesn’t carry the ‘vanity press’ stigma it used to.”
The Smithyman books are available through iUniverse, Amazon.ca, XLibris, Chapters/Indigo on-line, Barnes and Noble, Fort Henry, Kingston bookstores, and bookstores everywhere by special order. David could also be spotted all summer selling his books and chatting to readers at the Kingston Market. “It’s not mass marketing,” he says with a laugh, “but meeting your readers -- that’s the true reward of writing.