What’s my indie publishing plan? Go all in.

not sure meme

Either way is a good move, Fry.

The publisher who signed me last week is a demanding asshole. He not only wants perfect manuscripts for my series Tales From A Warming Planet, he wants me to manage production and marketing for the entire project. I’m the guy who has to make everything happen, from hiring the cover artist to creating content for the social media accounts.

“Remember what that architect Daniel Burnham said back in 1907: ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.'”

Okay, boss.

Who is this heartless overlord? Me.

What’s the first thing he demanded? A strategic plan.

Here it is, in truncated form to avoid boring you with too much detail. The list is in launch order, first book to last.

The Mother Earth Insurgency – I wrote this 16,000 word novella for submission to magazines and contests to gain visibility for myself and my three novels in the Tales series. I’m still hoping for traditional publication, but it might be a great vanguard for the rest of the series. The story concerns Nick Sorrows, a near-future investigator with the Bureau of Environmental Security, who infiltrates a terrorist cell bent on destroying wind farms and other green energy facilities. The cell’s real target hits Sorrows close to home. I think it’s a good introduction to my imaginary future Earth, which is ravaged by climate change.

What was the first thing demanded by my asshat boss? A strategic plan.

Carbon Run – The first full-length novel in the series is the first novel I completed, and I think it’s the strongest of the three. In the 22nd century, Bill Penn and his daughter Anne run afoul of the BES when an accidental fire at their ranch destroys an endangered species. Bill, now a fugitive accused of a capital crime, is pursued by BES Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel, who takes Anne halfway across the world as bait to draw out her father from hiding.

City of Ice and Dreams – Next in the series is City of Ice and Dreams. Sento, a beautiful, intelligent, tormented young woman with a fragmentary memory of her past, is obsessed by Isorropia, a city in Antarctica half-myth, half-legend, believing it is the key to her identity. Surviving a shipwreck on Antarctica’s shore, Sento resolves to trek south with a group of immigrants on a suicidal one-way journey across the desert left by the melting of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. Is Isorropia real? Or an illusion? And who is trying to stop her?

Restoration – The final novel in the series is Restoration. Urbane young Junie Wye faces adjustment to rural life in a divided small town as her father, Ed Wye, demolishes the last great dam on the Columbia River. Junie falls in love with the son of a man who opposes the dam’s deconstruction, but a greater, deadly opposition emerges that threatens everything Junie loves.

The Mother Earth Insurgency: More Tales From A Warming Planet – In the final volume of the series, The Mother Earth Insurgency makes another appearance, but as one of a collection of short stories set in the world of Carbon Run and the other novels. Like the novella, I wrote these stories for submission to magazines, and one, Zillah Harmonia, will appear in the January 2018 edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly.

After the ebooks and print volumes are published, I’ll add audiobook versions. More about that later.

At the end of this process, I’ll have fourteen products in inventory: four print books, five ebooks, and five audiobooks. That doesn’t count potential for box sets of each type. With any luck, one or two of these products will perform well and perhaps bring the others along in terms of sales.

Or it could all flop. At least my jerk of a boss can’t accuse me of being timid.

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Just signed a four-book publishing deal. With myself.

publishing meme

Batman set me straight on the whole legacy publishing thing.

I’ve made a decision. Screw traditional publishing. I’ll sink or swim on my own.

I feel I’m pretty good with quick decision-making, but this one took a while, more than three years. That’s how long I’ve been pitching my climate-themed science fiction novel Carbon Run to agents and publishers, starting in December 2013 and ending in August 2016. I’ve sent 163 queries, and got back 72 rejections. The balance of my pitch letters disappeared into the publishing world ether.

That’s just Carbon Run. My two other novels in the series, City of Ice and Dreams, and Restoration, had pretty much the same fate.

A few agents and publishers asked for excerpts of Carbon Run. A few asked for full manuscripts. One agent asked for rewrites after a professional editor—whom I hired—suggested improvements. The agent still rejected the manuscript. (I’m forever grateful to the editor, John Paine, for his work. It was worth every penny. My experience with agents and publishers had nothing to do with him.)

I don’t have enough years left in my life to wait for the publishing industry to say Yes to me.

This week, after having Carbon Run in its hands for nearly eight months, the final publisher on my list of “possibles” sent its rejection. Then it sent a second rejection for City of Ice and Dreams two minutes—and I mean 120 seconds—later. I have never felt so small and dissed as a writer.

I had decided many months ago that if I could not land a traditional book publishing contract by July 1, I would self-publish the whole series. I picked that date partly to get the book into the marketplace by the Christmas buying season, and partly because I don’t have enough years left in my life to wait for the publishing industry to say Yes to me.

I admit I’m worried about the investment I have to make in time and money. I’m a full-time, career-change student, and I’ll likely dip into my retirement savings to make this indie publishing project happen. If I don’t do this, however, Carbon Run and the other novels may never see the light of day.

So today I signed a four-book publishing deal with myself: Carbon Run, City of Ice and Dreams, Restoration, and a book of short stories I’ve been pitching to magazines. (At least I got some good news on the shorts front; Bards and Sages Quarterly will publish one of my shorts early next year.)

Congratulations. To me.

Reading: Living In Infamy, a Carbon Run story

skullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote two Carbon Run short stories, Zillah Harmonia, and Living in Infamy. I’ve recorded the second story and posted it on SoundCloud. In a future when fossil fuels are banned, the captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative.

Let me know what you think.

Reading: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run Story

RoseThis spring, I took a short story writing class through Hugo House, a Seattle non-profit dedicated to teaching and promoting poetry and literature. I wrote two stories during the eight-week class, and I’ve produced an audio version of one of them, “Zillah Harmonia“. In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home. The story is told in the Carbon Run world, which I’ve created in three yet-to-be-published novels. Let me know what you think.

BTW, I’ll publish an audio version of the second story, titled “Living in Infamy,” later this summer.

Poll: What genre does my current novel project belong in?

meme

Genres? Genres? We don’t need no stinkin’ genres!

Writers of a certain stripe hate fiction genres. Committed writers focus on character and plot, and the fact that a story takes place in space or another historical era is secondary. Writers can live with basic genres, such as science fiction or mystery, but when things get fine-grained, such as paranormal romance (the Twilight series, for example), they have a tendency to go ape-shit. The labels are too constraining, too arbitrary, they complain. And when you bring up the newest sub-genres, such as “solarpunk” or “climate fiction,” you get strange looks or outright hostility, pure and simple.

I once thought I wrote science fiction, but my editor on Carbon Run convinced me that it’s a dystopian thriller, more in line with Hunger Games than Star Trek. In truth, only booksellers care about genre, apart from the readers they’ve trained. Genres are simply conveniences that writers have to live with. Put another way, genres are the old solution to the discoverability problem: How do writers find readers and vice versa? You want sci-fi, you look on the sci-fi shelf, or enter “sci-fi” in the Amazon search box. Continue reading

What is the role of a writer as climate change creeps up on us?

Conference

People in suits gather in Paris to decide the fate of a climate-change world.

It’s a ripe scene for satire. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats and another 25,000 hangers-on are gathered in Paris at COP21 to exchange climate change jargon over sustainable wine and cheese. It’s hard, however, to ignore the seriousness of their effort, especially as a pall lingers over the city three weeks after the November 13 terror attacks. The spectacle of so many people in sensible shoes working as one reminds me that most problems are solvable with elbow grease and cooperation. Best to leave them alone to do their jobs.

Maybe I’m a little jealous. It must be exciting to be part of an effort that could save the planet while exchanging tips on the best places in France for glamping. Instead, my head is buried in my laptop as I try to tell stories about survival in a future that no one can predict with any certainty. Even if COP21 is wildly successful, the planet will still warm by a couple of degrees, and millions of mostly poor people will have to cope with the changes. Continue reading

Carbon Run II: Does Antarctica rise?

Antarctica without ice

Antarctica without ice as envisioned by the British Antarctic Survey

I’m planning a second novel with a climate change theme under the Carbon Run title. The new project doesn’t have a working title yet, although it’s definitely a Carbon Run II. Let’s call it CRII for short. It’s not a sequel, in that I’m not interested in following most of the character’s lives after Carbon Run ends. I’d rather start with a fresh set of characters. I’m not averse, however, to having a Carbon Run character show up in CRII.

Here’s the basic premise of CRII: Around the year 2100, global warming has gotten so far out of control that only the lands above 60° north latitude and below 60° south latitude are friendly to humans. In the north, that leaves the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the extreme northern lands of North America and the Eurasian continent. In the south, the only land below 60° south is Antarctica. All the earth in between, where almost all the human population lives today, no longer supports humanity. It’s either too hot or the weather is too extreme for agriculture on a large scale, although the vagaries of the climate allow small pockets of people to survive. Continue reading

Carbon Run Goes to Beta Readers

tulip photo

The tulip is the symbol of the Bureau of Environmental Security in Carbon Run.

I’ve finished up a second draft of my manuscript for Carbon Run (Woohoo!!) and I’ve sent it out the first beta readers. I’m definitely relieved that I’ve finally completed a phase of the project that I started in 2008. If you don’t count a long hiatus between about one-third of the first draft and completing a second draft, the project has taken me about a year to get to this point. Sending out a draft to friends is a little bit like sending your child to his first day of kindergarten; He may survive the day or melt down in front of you. While I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll be updating my blog, querying agents and publishers, and taking a fresh look at the last draft of my other sci-fi novel-in-progress, The Vault of Perfection. Meanwhile, here’s the current blurb for Carbon Run (subject to updating):

In the 22nd century, a father and daughter run afoul of the feared Bureau of Environmental Security when an accidental fire at their ranch destroys an endangered species. The father, now a fugitive, is pursued by a BES inspector determined to bring him to justice. Carbon Run is a disturbing and absorbing dystopian science fiction adventure set in a post-global warming world in which all oil-based fuels are illegal, environmental criminals are “disidentified,” murderous pirates roam an Arctic Ocean devoid of ice year-round, and smugglers risk their lives to bring life-giving heat to refugees of the Warming. Carbon Run is scheduled for release in late 2014.

I’ve been posting excerpts of Carbon Run as a work-in-progress on these pages.

I’ve also been playing with some ideas on cover art. The symbol of the fictional Bureau of Environmental Security is the tulip. I’m imagining a golden tulip enclosed in a circle of gold, reminiscent of the mockingjay medallion of the Hunger Games, or the cover art of the Divergent series. What do you think?

Warming Up to Old Cli-Fi

Sunning in the Arctic

Image courtesy PhilanTopic

I spent much of the last week or so re-reading a partially completed science fiction novel with a working title of “Carbon Run” that apparently fits into the new sci-fi sub-genre known as “cli-fi,” short for “climate change fiction.” I wrote the work in 2008, then set it down after I lost my way in a narrative sense. I even wrote a few blog posts in 2008. Frankly, I didn’t know where the story was going. After reading the 12 chapters and notes again, some of it is drek, but some of it works pretty well, IMHO.

Though the named sub-genre is new (though some of the ideas go back to 1962), its authors speculate on the impact of human-caused climate change on the earth and human society. Here’s a few of my ideas in Carbon Run:

  • Governments have passed what are collectively called the “Carbon Laws” banning the production, distribution, and consumption of petroleum, natural gas, and their refined products.
  • A law enforcement agency enforces the Carbon Laws and other laws meant to protect biodiversity. It’s the EPA mated with the NKVD.
  • The polar caps have completely melted, as have all the earth’s glaciers and near-surface permafrost.
  • After a devastating war in the Arctic, a new commercial area called the Arctic Free Zone allows nations to share resources above the Arctic Circle.
  • Because fossil fuels are banned, a second Great Age of Sail has flowered; enormous sailing ships carry on trade across the top of the world.

Friends have suggested I pick up the old manuscript and rework it. I’m going to reorganize it, rewrite some of the crappy parts, rename and round out the characters, and so on. Watch this space for progress reports.

Do you have a favorite cli-fi story?

Bobcat

I finally had a chance to work on chapter three, and I introduced a new character named “Bobcat.” He appears to be a hermit, but he’s much more than that. I don’t want to give too much away. However, I based him on an individual I met while I was working as a reporter in Ashland, Ore. The fellow went by the name Bobcat and I never learned (or don’t remember) his real name. As I write in my chapter, he was a wiry man with a knee-length beard matted into a single dreadlock. He was an environmental activist, and I assume Bobcat was his nom de guerre. What’s your favorite nom de guerre?