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.

Five Questions: D.F. Lovett, author of The Moonborn

The Moonborn cover

The Moonborn is the debut novel by D.F. Lovett.

I’m excited to welcome to Five Questions Minneapolis-based author D.F. Lovett, who released his debut sci-fi novel, The Moonborn, in 2016. David the head editor and writer for the blog What Would Bale Do, and he writes the acclaimed Reddit novelty account /u/DiscussionQuestions. He has also collaborated on several film projects with the production studio Corridor Digital.

The Moonborn is the story of Ishmael, who lands on the Moon to ghostwrite the autobiography of Adam Moonborn, first man born on the Moon. Ishmael soon learns the job is not as straightforward as it seems. In an adventure tale inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they embark on a mission to destroy all of the Moon’s rogue robots, whom Adam Moonborn holds responsible for the death of his family and the impending downfall of civilization.

Here are the author’s answers to my Five Questions.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it. Not specifically, but it would probably be the personality assigned to one of my action figures. For most of my childhood, a lot of the writing I did was inspired by stories that my brother and I first invented with Star Wars and G. I. Joe action figures. I know this isn’t very specific, but a lot of those characters blended together or would evolve over time.

D.F. Lovett

D.F. Lovett

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? The same way I feel now: a mixture of pride, excitement, and self-consciousness. I wrote for the junior high newspaper in seventh grade, which was the first time I encountered the frustration of an editor changing my words. I remember specifically some negative criticism I got from a classmate over a review I wrote of The Phantom Menace where I referred to Jar Jar Binks as an “alien.” My classmate told me that was incorrect, as most of the movie takes place on his home planet, so he’s not an alien. I guess that got me started early at learning how to respond to criticism, although it frustrated me at the time. I think I have a thicker skin now because of it. Continue reading

Meeting Don McQuinn and the sound of indie publishing

Don McQuinn

Don McQuinn

Author Don McQuinn is a perfect example of a sci-fi and fantasy writer who made it into the big time and then took control of his own destiny. Don and I met earlier this month at a Greek restaurant in suburban Seattle, not far from his home and mine. The vigorous former Marine and octogenarian has been a published writer since 1980, and he found fame with his Moondark Saga (Warrior, Wanderer, Witch) and his Captain Lannat series (With Full Honors, The Prisoner Within). But the world of books is cruel, and after a few bestsellers, his work fell out of print, and income dried up. A heart attack in 1998 took its toll, as well as other family-related health crises.

Once a writer, always a writer, and Don applied a Marine’s “gung ho” attitude to the emerging opportunities of digital media. With the help of supportive family, Don dived into electronic publishing, acquiring the rights from his former publisher and issuing ebook versions of his Moondark Saga, including a repackaging of the books into bundles. He’s also written well-regarded women’s fiction focused on post-traumatic stress disorder. Though he describes the income from these efforts as modest, he’s living proof of an established author’s ability to rescue himself/herself from midlist hell and out-of-print perdition through independent publishing. Continue reading

Should you hire a sensitivity reader to scrutinize your novel?

meme

When you write about things outside your experience, do you know what you’re talking about?

You’ve just finished a novel certain to win a Pulitzer Prize, and you’re particularly proud of one character, an individual not of your race, sexual orientation, and gender. You’ve struck a blow for diversity in literature, one of your core values. Blogger and consultant Mikki Kendall has a suggestion: If you think you’ve done a good job, get a second opinion. Hire a “sensitivity reader.”

Her idea is timely, given the national debate over transgender issues, racism in the justice system, and the possibility of a woman getting elected as president. And publishers want fiction with non-traditional characters, judging by literary agents’ Twitter postings with the #MSWL (manuscript wish list) hashtag.

A self-described “diversity consultant for fiction,” Kendall is a black woman in Chicago who identifies with the gender she was born with, that is, “cisgender.” In her post, she thunders against writers who perpetuate gender, racial, and other stereotypes and refuse to recognize what she believes is the harm they do to individuals and communities represented in those characters. “Art” is not an excuse to hurt people, deliberately or accidentally, “[b]ecause your bigoted depiction of them is a key component of the kind of gatekeeping that locks marginalized communities out.”

Kendall does not cite examples, but the point is on target: Writers, like all humans, have blind spots, and even well-intentioned writers can screw things up for people they may be trying to help. To mitigate the danger, she advises hiring or at least showing the work to someone from the community you attempt to portray to ensure you haven’t encouraged the thing you’re combating.

On the surface, it’s a fine idea, but on reflection, I find it troubling.

Full disclosure: I’m a white, middle-aged male from lower middle-class background living in a privileged, rich, two-thirds-white city. I fit the stereotype of The Man pretty well. While I have libertarian sensibilities, I also vote almost exclusively Democratic, caucused for Bernie Sanders, and I’ve served on two non-profit boards, one of them as president. Maybe I don’t fit the stereotype as well as I thought.

Kendall’s first advice is Fiction 101: Do your research. If you don’t come from a perspective you hope to portray, or at least have significant experience with it, then read, talk, learn. Failure to conduct due diligence is simply lazy. However, a writer doesn’t have to hire a diversity specialist to check their work. In the modern publishing world, writers, particularly new writers, should hire a trained, experienced editor before self-publishing or submitting the work to agents or legacy publishers. I’m always amazed at the crap my editor finds, beyond stereotyped, one-dimensional, hackneyed characters, though you can’t assume an editor is automatically sensitive to these things. Again, due diligence is the key.

More important, however, is your motivation for hiring or recruiting a reader sensitive to portrayals of non-traditional characters. Are you doing it because you care about accuracy and moving society into a more tolerant future? Or are you afraid of defending your choices as a writer, and hope a reader can scrub your text of offense? Or perhaps you are crass enough to seek out an editor to squash text bugs because they might hurt sales?

Success at handling characters with backgrounds alien to your own starts with your inner voice. Is your choice for this character essential to the narrative? If I make this man Hispanic, or this individual trans-gender, what difference does it make in their lives and their relationships? If you do it just because you think its smart or popular, you’re pandering to the market. If you do it because it’s necessary to your ultimate storytelling goals, then go for it.

It’s too easy, I think, for writers to chase publishing trends or the issue of the day, instead of trusting their instincts about what they want to say. Employing a sensitivity reader might result in wise perspective, but it may be a reflection of a writer’s lack of self-confidence, or a fear that readers might reject controversial ideas, or trepidation at the prospect of swimming against the cultural tide. A writer should accept that he or she WILL offend somebody sometime. It’s the world you’ve chosen.

The new emerging hierarchy of publishing legitimacy

Unexpected still

A still from Kris Swanberg’s film Unexpected. Has she reached the top of a legitimacy pyramid?

A new hierarchy of legitimacy is emerging among independent writers and authors. It’s a direct consequence of the self-publishing revolution, and the growing realization that the most they can expect is satisfaction with seeing their dream in print without riches or fame. A similar hierarchy has already emerged among filmmakers, and I’d bet musicians as well. The facts crystallized for me in an interview of independent filmmaker Kris Swanberg, who premiered her film Unexpected at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

I made the movie to be seen in a theater. I would love for that to happen. It’s important to me. And I think it legitimizes the film, and I also think that it — it finds a new — a theater-going audience that doesn’t necessarily buy things on [video-on-demand].

In other words, the hierarchy for Swanberg is theaters in general, perhaps art houses in particular, followed by video-on-demand, e.g, Netflix or Amazon Prime, and then direct to DVD, which still exists. If given a choice between a traditional distribution deal and self-distribution via video-on-demand, Swanberg would pick the former, because it conveys the status and artistic validation that VOD cannot.

I’m hearing more and more writers–and I think I’m in this camp–that view traditional or legacy publishing, especially by the Big Five, as the top of a pyramid of legitimacy. This attitude is in part a function of how difficult it is to get a publishing contract. Agents and editors are pickier than ever as a 300-year-old business model is squeezed harder and the process of finding high-quality books that sell grows more difficult. In contrast, the ease of publishing a book on Amazon or Smashwords carries no long-lasting sense of accomplishment, that is, the feeling that you have arrived somewhere after a painful rite of passage. In traditional publishing, you find a world inhabited by Hemingway or Austen. In independent publishing, you enter a world populated by a million shmoes who’ve strung 90,000 words together into a Word document.

The truth is not quite so black and white. Many indie authors–among them Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe–have achieved artistic immortality, and failed authors published by the trads are legion. Neither am I making a moral or value judgment on either legacy or independent (self) publishing. Writers write for a variety of reasons, and for many, the main reason is public acceptance and recognition of their artistic vision. Traditional publishing offers this, while self-publishing does not, by and large.

In economic terms, the scarcity of traditional publishers and the limited distribution network (bookstores) increases of the social value of what they offer, certainly to writers and possibly to readers. Rational authors would choose self-publishing first because of the far higher royalty rates. Instead, they mail boxes of paper manuscripts to agents and editors on the 1% chance of avoiding the slush pile. As the traditional publishing industry shrinks (the Big Five was the Big Six not long ago), their value as artistic gatekeepers rises. Amazon, Smashwords, and a dozen other platforms are to Simon and Schuster or Penguin Random House as Wal-Mart is to Nieman-Marcus. In the best of all possible worlds, where would you rather your product be sold?

10 omens that auger self-publishing for your novel

Crystal ball

Look into my crystal ball and learn if self-publishing is for you.

Authors new and established face a question unthinkable a few years ago: Should I publish my book myself? Some writers finish a novel and go right to self-publishing. Others go the traditional route to see if an agent or publisher will take a chance on their work. For the latter group, here’s 10 omens that auger self-publishing your novel.

  • The volume of rejection emails from publishers and agents forces your email provider to suspend your account.
  • The pile of hard-copy unpublished manuscripts on your desk falls over and crushes your cat.
  • On your 54th birthday, your mother asks you if you’re ever going to make something of that masters in English you got in 1983.
  • You’re the only person in your writing group who hasn’t had his/her third novel published. Or second. Or first.
  • You measure success by the ratio of actual rejections by agents and publishers to no-response whatsoever.
  • Your royalty checks fail to cover your checking account’s overdraft fees.
  • You realize that three of your unpublished novels have the same ideas as A Time to Kill, Wool, and Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • The rejected manuscript the UPS guy delivered was typed on the IBM Selectric you owned before you bought the 1999 iMac you use now.
  • Your collection of rejection letters would paper the outside walls of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum combined.
  • A museum curator asks to use your early rejection letter for an exhibit on obsolete publishing models.

What signs and portents foretell self-publishing for you?