The Q & A of Doing It Yourself: Indie author Robert MacBain on his new novel, Two Lives Crossing

The phenomenon of online books means that writers can control their publishing fate. But is it worth it? American authors like Allison Win Scotch say it is. She is self-publishing her novel THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES. “After a terribly discouraging experience with my fourth book, based not on the book (which I loved) or the reviews (which were the strongest of my career) but things totally outside of my control, I knew I had to change something,” Scotch says in her blog.

Through her agent Elizabeth Weed, Scotch has sold a film option to Jennifer Garner’s Vandalia Film; audio rights to Brilliance; and large print rights to Thorndike in advance of publication.

Like Scotch, Canadian author Robert MacBain did it himself and he loved the experience. Unlike Scotch, he hasn’t yet published with traditional publishing houses. (Scotch published with Random House and Penguin in the US.) Here’s Robert talking about what it’s like to go out on your own in the digital marketplace.



Q: Why did you decide to self-publish your novel online? I know many writers are doing it these days but what was it about going indie that most appealed to you?

A: Actually, it wasn’t my choice.  More than 30 agents turned me down. Without an agent, you can’t get a publisher. So, I decided to go it alone. If it works out the way I hope that it does, I’ll do much better financially than I would with a publisher – 70% on the eBook sales and 47% on the paperback.

Q: Can you briefly describe the story in Two Lives Crossing?

A:Two University of Toronto professors in their mid-thirties find out in 1974 that, not only are they adopted, but that they are brothers.  One was raised as a Blackfoot at an Indian reserve near Calgary and has a PhD from Berkeley.  The other was raised white in a middle-class home in Toronto and is going to be the Conservative candidate in an upcoming federal election.  When they discover the secret of their births, their lives are changed dramatically.

Q: What is the most surprising thing you discovered about doing it yourself?

A:The scope of the distribution. The eBook is available through Kobo in 70 countries and the paperback is available in North America, the U.K, Italy, India, you name it.  While the book is not on the shelves at Indigo, Chapters or Coles, customers can order it at their counters and pick it up a week later. The paperback is also available online at Amazon and ChaptersIndigo.

Q: Can you walk us through your process with the eBook?

A: When I decided to start with an eBook, I asked Pieter Swinkels of Kobo for the names of people who could convert the Microsoft Word manuscript into an ePub. Among the five names recommended was Lynda Kanelakos of Wild Element – in Perth, Ontario, a very creative shop that specializes in digital design and service.

After we got the novel on Kobo, we started on the print edition. Lynda and her people got the manuscript ready to be uploaded to Lightning Source, the company that prints the books on demand and arranges for them to be available through Amazon, ChaptersIndigo et al.

I designed the cover – showing Highland dancers and fancy shawl dancers in a circle – and Lynda gave it the final touch. It was Lynda who suggested that we go with a velvet-like matte cover rather than glossy. She’s been fabulous from beginning to end and will start on my next book in February.

Q: What is the hardest thing an author encounters in this kind of publishing format?

A: Really haven’t run into anything that I would describe as hard.  The cover is beautiful and the printing quality is first-rate.  My designer/distributor in Perth, Ontario handles all of the administration. It’s all really quite simple. One thing discourages me, though: Going to the magazine/book section at Loblaw’s or Shoppers and not seeing any Canadian titles.  When I do find one, that’s the exception that proves the rule.  And, more often than not, the Canadian author’s book is set in the U.S.  My new novel, Two Lives Crossing, like your novel, The Western Light, is 100% Canadian.  You don’t find American authors saying; “Gee, I think I’ll set my book in Moose Jaw.”

 Q: And what is the best thing about going indie?

A: Relatively speaking, the fact that I’m in complete control.  Don’t have to rely on anyone else to come through for me. It’s my show – all the way. On top of that, I’m going to make significantly more money than I would with a publisher.

Q: Publishers say that we can all put a book out there but it’s like sticking it in a vast online parking lot. Without them, it’s hard to get attention for a book. Is this true?

A: If you’re a successful author, a publisher can do a lot for you – and take a big chunk of the net profit for having done so.  If you’re a first-time author, they’re unlikely to invest a significant amount on marketing etc.  Might as well be in that vast online parking lot that you referred to.

Q: How are you getting attention for your book?

A: It’s slow going but I’m generating a lot of word-of-mouth. Seeds I’ve planted will bear fruit between now and next spring. I’m in this for the long haul.  No “overnight success” expected or required.  I’ve been at the top of the class in everything else that I’ve done – journalism, politics and public relations – and I don’t see any reason why it should be different this time. I’ll get there.

Author Robert MacBain

Robert MacBain’s website is

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