Monday, November 17, 2014

AiIP: New Books!

One of the concepts I had when I was first approached to write this post/column/piece/whatever was to promote new, good self-published works.

That plan, to paraphrase a dark lord, has been altered. Partially because this space has been a fun outlet for my own adventure in self-publishing, but mostly because (and I phrase this as diplomatically as possible) there is a dearth of good self-published works. This is not to say they do not exist, and a couple have been highlighted here, but as I pointed out early on (ed. Note: Jeez, things have changed) (can I put an editors note in my own column? I just did)... no editorial control means, well, just that. Suffice it to say, the quality of self-published works could stand to be improved.

If you are neither a self-published author, or are, and are still with me despite sufficiently bruised ego (yes I have seen your comments), here are two books you should check out:

Mechalarum, by Emma Larkins

and

Green Zulu Five One: and other stories from the Vyptellian War,  by Scott Whitmore.

Instead of doing the same ol' review (mostly because I know Scott personally), I thought I would pick the respective minds of the authors as to why they took the path of self-publishing and their thoughts thereon. To the Interview-mobile!

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Emma:
Emma Larkins
No contest on this one. There are an infinite number of reasons for newbie authors to self-publish. In the interest of saving space, I've kept it to five reasons here. Feel free to hit me up if you want an ongoing feed of the entire list!

1. It's fast.

Never before in history have humans been so frustrated with slowness. A 50 millisecond delay on a mobile website page load? Kill the process, and move on to the next thing. A New York City Starbucks patron glancing up at the menu boards instead of spouting out a well-rehearsed order spiel? Reason enough for a riot.

Despite all our advances in technology, traditional publishing still moves at a snail's pace. Expect it to take six months to three years minimum to find an agent - if you're lucky and work your butt off. The agent then shops your book for two or more years before finding a publisher (again, if you're extremely lucky). In the three to five (or more) it would take me to get picked up, I could easily self-publish a whole series.

2. I don't care about approval by gatekeepers.

Speaking about agents, who decided that a small group of people would be the tastemakers for entire generations of readers? Sounds pretty aristocratic and backwards to me, and if I remember my history correctly, we made a whole bunch of salty tea during an emphatic declaration that we weren't going to put up with that anymore. It baffles me to no end when I attend self-publishing Meetups only to hear the same refrain - "Okay, self-publishing, fine, whatever. What I really want is tips on how to get picked up by those famous companies that will make all my dreams come true." First off, no, they won't - as a first-time author, they'll midlist you, give you no marketing resources, and throw you in a dogpile of other newbies to see who comes out on top. Secondly, who cares what they think? I care what the readers think. They're the ones who will make or break my career. Agents and publishers have a very narrow set of criteria to meet. They need to find the books that are most likely to fit their formulas for making the most amount of money with the least amount of effort. Your epic genderbent cyberfi might thrill your niche and make you a comfortable living, but if it won't pay for your editor's Manhattan penthouse, you're not getting signed.

3. I want control.

So you've made it through the whole find-a-publisher rigamarole. You've won the coveted traditional contract prize. Congratulations!

The publishing house, most likely, now has full rights to your work. Sure, your contract gives you a little control, but they're the ones paying the bills, so they have most of the power. They can choose to illustrate your heroine half-naked and clinging to a minor male character on the cover. They can choose to re-label your genre and force you to take out that great alien romance scene. They can even decide to write your name on the spine in Comic Sans, if they want to (shudder).

I chose my fonts. I chose my artist. I chose my editor. I changed my mind, when it felt right. Sure, it was a ton of work, but in the end, I'm proud of the sum of my decisions.

4. I have the skills.

Self-publishing means taking on dozens of roles that people spend their whole careers perfecting. Including, but not limited to: editor, publicist, graphic designer, producer, marketing specialist, salesperson, event coordinator, social media manager, accountant, and fundraiser. I've been lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) to have many different jobs that allowed me to dabble in the skills required.

5. Self-publishing (well) makes traditional publishing more likely.

Simply put, successfully self-publishing your book makes it much, much more likely that you'll be able to get a traditional contract. As much as the process worked for me, I could see at some point in the future handing off publication in return for getting to focus my attention on other projects. Just look up Hugh Howey's story for an example of how it can happen.

Scott:


Scott Whitmore
In many ways it was a continuation of the challenge I gave myself to write a novel. After finishing Carpathia, I tried the traditional route by sending queries to agents and publishers. Many queries. Many, many queries. The only positive replies I received back were from vanity presses. So, I started looking into self-publishing, what it would take, and found out it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to do myself.

I’m fairly computer literate and like learning new things. When I hit stumbling blocks I found a lot of great resources online, especially people who had already solved whatever problem I was facing. 

I’ve never considered myself the next Great American Novelist so it wasn’t like I was saying “I’ll show those traditional publishers and agents for ignoring me!” I wrote something that I liked a lot and wanted to see in print. For me, the way to make that happen was self-publishing.

How has the self-publishing experience been? Better/worse/about what you expected?

Also Scott Whitmore
Scott: I really had no expectations going in but throughout I’ve enjoyed self-publishing tremendously. I like being able to do things for myself and as I said above, learning new things. The Indie author/publisher community has been, with very few exceptions, great to get to know. Very supportive and generous. I’m proud to be a part of it.



Scott, You review a lot of books as well- what are common mistakes you see from self-published authors? What solutions do you see to these problems?

Editing, editing, editing.

When I say that the first thing most people think of are typos, but I like to point out that I find typos in traditionally published books all the time. I don’t mind a few typos as much as some people seem to. For me they’re a “glass houses” situation because I know my books still have some ever after the copy has been scrubbed sooo many times. It’s like they’re breeding or something. Anyway, when I’m reading for a review I usually highlight the typos I find — I was a newspaper copy editor for a couple years so it’s second nature — and I give the list to the author.  Of course there is more to editing than just fixing misspelled words or bad grammar. Continuity mistakes and plot holes bug me more than a few typos. A lot more, actually.

The obvious solution is finding a good editor, but for a lot of Indie authors money is an issue. I know it is for me. I’d love to have my books professionally edited but my silly wife also insists we not default on our car loan or mortgage. I’ve also run into more than a few self-published authors who went ahead and spent a lot for editing services from people who were hardly professional. So even if your budget supports it, you still have to find someone who knows what they’re doing. (Here’s a hint: the better ones usually have long waiting lists because word gets around.)

One work-around is the barter system, which can be an informal or formal arrangement. On the informal side, can ask fellow Indie authors to help you by either beta reading or proofreading/editing your book and in exchange you’ll do the same for them. Good, honest feedback from beta readers may not find all your typos but you’ll learn about issues with pacing, tone, continuity and in general whether or not the story “works.” If you’re planning on writing a lot, consider formalizing this process by starting an Indie Author Co-Op in which each member pledges to help the others with editing, covers, etc. If the co-op works the way it should, there will never be a case of someone being too busy to help another member. Either way, be prepared to work as hard helping someone else as you want them to work for you.


What would you tell someone looking to self-publish?

Emma: As much as you need to have a range of skills to self-publish, you also need to have a very strong sense of what you're good (and terrible at). Most people can not entirely self-edit their own work. Every author I've ever met has (or would) benefit from content editors, copy editors, and beta readers. And of course, covers sell books. Unless you've received compliments or awards for your design work - and not just from family and friends - get help.

Also, every self-published author needs to embrace sales and marketing to some extent. But that doesn't mean that you must do what everyone else does, if something just really isn't your style. Do marketing your way. Knit and give away book cozies. Dance in Times Square. Compose songs about your books, and put them on YouTube. Have your cat be your online persona. If you market in your own way, people will respond to your authenticity.


Self-Promotion time! What is your book about?


Emma: "Strong heroine Kiellen risks slow death for the power of biomechanical flight."


That's my elevator pitch. (You have one for your book, right?)

It's a science fiction story that's easy to dig into - many readers who don't normally go for scifi have been swept up in the plot and well-defined characters. Aliens, intrigue, flying suits, robots, drama - it's got it all.



Scott: My latest is Green Zulu Five One and other stories from the Vyptellian War, a military/sci-fi novella inspired in large part by your 3024AD: Short Stories Series One (More Ed. Notes: Flattery gets you everywhere on this blog) (Also go buy it). It is set in a distant part of the galaxy during a war between humans and the alien Vyptellians that has been going on for sixteen years. Each chapter is essentially a short story about some event or aspect of the war; some characters appear in more than one chapter and some are one-offs. The stories of Tyko, a teenage space fighter pilot, and Siengha, a battle-hardened platoon sergeant, are told over several chapters and represent space and ground operations of the war

My goal was to have Green Zulu Five One work on a couple levels. There’s action, battles and such, but also I hope to provoke some thoughts. What’s it like to grow up never knowing peace? How does a long war with no end in sight change a society? What does the way we portray our enemies say about us? There is some subtext in this book which comes from my experiences. I grew up with Vietnam on the TV at dinnertime and the Cold War and threat of nuclear annihilation in the background. I served in the U.S. Navy for twenty years, sat off the coast of Yugoslavia while those folks killed each other, tried to wrangle an assignment in Kuwait for Desert Storm (denied!), ran a naval station security detachment after 9/11, and retired just before we invaded Iraq (EVEN MOAR ED. NOTES: Did you know Scott is awesome? He totally is)

What's your favorite part?

Emma: Anything that has to do with Cerise. She's my favorite character to write. You'd think Kiellen would be my favorite, but the main character is often the hardest, as you have to strike that perfect balance of interesting and accessible (so readers can put themselves in her shoes). Cerise is a side character, so I can go a bit more crazy with her. She's sensual. She's disgusting. She's insane. She's the central processing unit for a hive mind of monosentient robots. She's sickly sweet. She's vicious and unpredictable. What could be more fun than that?

Scott: Oh, that’s like trying to pick your favorite child, isn’t it? J I like Tyko’s story a lot but honestly Sergeant Siengha is probably my favorite character. She was going to just be a one-off character, too, but after introducing her I realized there was more of her story I wanted to tell.

The people I asked to beta read the rough draft really liked the final chapter, “A Promise Kept,” which is good because it’s one of my favorite, too. “Three Minutes Out” is another chapter I like a lot; it was actually written after getting comments back from my awesome beta readers because I felt the book needed something with a little more action in the early chapters.
Oh, that’s like trying to pick your favorite child, isn’t it? J I like Tyko’s story a lot but honestly Sergeant Siengha is probably my favorite character. She was going to just be a one-off character, too, but after introducing her I realized there was more of her story I wanted to tell.

The people I asked to beta read the rough draft really liked the final chapter, “A Promise Kept,” which is good because it’s one of my favorite, too. “Three Minutes Out” is another chapter I like a lot; it was actually written after getting comments back from my awesome beta readers because I felt the book needed something with a little more action in the early chapters.



Oh, that’s like trying to pick your favorite child, isn’t it? J I like Tyko’s story a lot but honestly Sergeant Siengha is probably my favorite character. She was going to just be a one-off character, too, but after introducing her I realized there was more of her story I wanted to tell.

The people I asked to beta read the rough draft really liked the final chapter, “A Promise Kept,” which is good because it’s one of my favorite, too. “Three Minutes Out” is another chapter I like a lot; it was actually written after getting comments back from my awesome beta readers because I felt the book needed something with a little more action in the early chapters.




Why should we all rush out and buy it right this very instant?
Scott: I gave up telling people what to do a long time ago, so let me just say I think it’s a relatively quick read that can be enjoyed for the action and sci-fi elements or by exploring and considering the deeper issues. And all for less than a dollar.

Emma: Because you're dying to have your expectations subverted, to read something "different than anything [you] have ever read" (Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23208767-mechalarum). And not in a show-offy, manipulative way, but in a way that feels totally offhand. In my book, any person or non-person, of either (or no) gender, creed, species, orientation, etc., can be kind, cruel, passive, aggressive, sexual, needy, short-sighted, angry, supportive, weak, or strong. 

It's not realistic. Stereotypes are still rampant in the real world. But that's okay, because reading fiction is escapism. And maybe someone will read it and think, "So it's okay to subvert traditional roles." Or, "it's okay to embrace traditional roles." Or even, "I don't care. I do what I want!"



What's next for you?
Scott: I have a few ideas for stories so hopefully I won’t go nearly two years between books again as I did between my second novel and Green Zulu Five One. I also have a pile of books to read as I took a break from that while finishing up the novella.

Emma: Writing the sequel!

That's another thing about self-publishing - it's rarely a one and done deal. Every new book that's related in some way (written in the same universe, sequel, on a similar subject) is another chance to attract people to your personal brand. People like consistency. The more material you put out there, the better.


There you have it- a couple novels well worth checking out, plus some insights into a couple of individuals self-publishing process!

-DESR

Dean is the author of 3024AD and otherThe Venturess, an ongoing SciFi choose-your-own-adventure, engineer, and geek about many things. He lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. You can listen to him ramble on Twitter and muse on his blog.



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