Friend Friday: Lessons From Self Publishing

Share this post

Good morning everyone. It’s been a couple of weeks but today we return to our Friend Friday content, where I give other authors a voice on this wonderful platform. His new book is a science horror, and looks really intriguing. A.K. Preston is a good Christian man who from all I’ve seen has a wonderful work ethic and drive. Someone to watch for in the future. Here’s what he learned from self-publishing, and maybe it can help you: 

Lessons from a Self-Publishing Newbie: The Case of The Gevaudan Project

You’ve probably all heard the story of the naive author who just wants to write and thinks publishing will take care of itself. When I first began work on my sci-fi thriller novel The Gevaudan Project four years ago, that was me. The experience that followed has made me a much more sober – and hopefully wiser – man.

My original manuscript was approximately 150,000 words and took about a year and a half to write. After finishing the final draft around 2015, I finally began looking at the different options for publishing. Being blindly prejudiced at the time, I dismissed self-publishing right off the bat (it wasn’t “real” publishing in my mind) and began sending out queries for a literary agent.

Most new authors are simply not prepared for the long-drawn out wait and frequent rejections involved in the query process, and I was one of them. I sent around 30 before giving up. In retrospect, I should have done 80 or more.

At this point, I gave self-publishing a second look and discovered CreateSpace. It’s a truly wonderful and cost-effective tool if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to use it properly. In my case… not so much. The idea of print-on-demand had me hypnotized – I was looking for a quick, easy way to monetize my book. With no marketing or promotion. At all (you can all stop laughing now).

I ultimately self-published the book on Amazon under the title Harvest of Prey. My thought was that I could leave it there for the time being, move on to my next project and have it re-published at some time in the future. The model I had in mind was Daniel Suarez’s novel Daemon, which had been self-published in 2006 and then reprinted in 2009 by Dutton Press.

As it turned out, however, there was one big difference between Daniel Suarez and myself – he had sold a truly significant number of books while self-published. With no marketing except to family and friends, I barely managed 30 sales over the course of nine months. The significance of this only became apparent in 2017, when I sent one final query to the Steve Laube Agency.

Steve read my first three chapters, recommended some revisions, and ultimately requested the full manuscript. Several months later, he contacted me again and said he really liked my story. This was farther than I had gotten than on any of my previous queries, and I thought I had finally made it. I had an agent! I was going to be published!

Then the follow-up questions came. When seeking a traditional publisher, it is required that all previous sales histories be reported to them. Many of them only take on one first-time author per year and the competition for that slot is extremely fierce. Every publisher is essentially a venture capitalist looking for a return on their investment. They go through hundreds of thousands of candidates annually and they have to make snap decisions as to who they’ll accept. It’s a big enough risk for them to take on an unknown author with no prior record of book sales. But if they see someone who has sold books before but with limpid sales figures…

I had shot myself in the foot. Steve had to tell me “not yet” – given my decision to self-publish beforehand, he’d be better able to bring me on board if I could point to sales in the thousands.

You can all probably imagine what I was thinking and feeling after that kind of a setback – so close, yet so far! But I picked myself up and decided on a new approach. My contact with Steve had still proved extremely helpful – his recommended revisions resulted in a more taut, readable narrative of 137,000 words as opposed to the original 150,000. If I took the time to do things properly, I could still go somewhere with this.

So I sat down, did some final revisions, retired Harvest of Prey from Amazon, and starting truly
developing my Author Platform for the first time as I prepared to launch The Gevaudan Project. In the end, this experience finally opened my eyes to the true opportunities for an Indie author. Ironically for a sci-fi writer, my view of publishing was decades out of date. Why was I a seeking a publishing contract that would likely involve sacrificing at least 90 percent of the profits from my book sales while I would still be responsible for virtually all of my own marketing?

My advice to other new writers: don’t be a snob. Embrace your identity as a self-publisher from the very beginning. Start a blog, build a website when you have the means, and grow a mailing list with free content for subscribers – short stories don’t take all that long to write and an awesome way to introduce your full-length books. Build connections whenever possible – reach out to fellow authors and podcasters. Promote their content – it costs you nothing to participate in a blog tour every now and then, and many authors will gladly send you free copies of their work in exchange for reviews. In fact, make a habit of reviewing every book you read – it makes great blog content and can be easily shared.

And most important of all, remember this: every experience is valuable – even the setbacks. It all depends on how you use them.

Don’t forget to check out his new book, the Gevaudan Project, available now on Amazon. 

Share this post

Friend Friday: Steampunk Lives! By Vaughn Treude

Share this post

Folk who frequent here know I’m a big Steampunk fan. I think some of the best work in the genre is happening right now — as it’s settled in from its 2012 craze that saw a big public interest in Steampunk, but literature failing as it reskinned horror and romance novels into what should have been some fun adventuring. But Steampunk still lives, as Vaugn Treude says, including in his  book, Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. Read his thoughts on the genre: 

Some people say that steampunk is a dead genre. It’s true that mainstream publishers and media companies appear to have lost interest in iy. Despite this unfortunate circumstance, the genre’s fans abound. Its art and fashion are ubiquitous on-line. Dozens of independent authors are writing steampunk novels, and (hopefully) many thousands of fans are reading them. Therefore I maintain that steampunk is very much alive, both as a movement in the visual arts as well as its fictional counterpart.

I will admit that the unstoppable steampunk train of the late two-thousand aughts seems to have run into a stretch of bad track. Of three popular steampunk authors of the time – Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger – only the third has recent titles in the genre. Sadder still, some notable media projects like the Lantern City television series and the movie adaptation of The Night Circus have been put on indefinite hold. Yet, when I recently surveyed Amazon for steampunk titles, I found a long list of them. Clearly, the genre remains popular. Only the traditional publishing houses that have moved on.

And why did these mainstream publishers lose interest? I got a clue when I noticed that my fellow steampunks, writers and enthusiasts alike, sometimes feel obliged to apologize for our passion for things Victorian. We realize that this era was racist and imperialistic, they say. But our characters can struggle against these problems, or we can rewrite history to be more egalitarian. I disagree with this perceived obligation for us to explain ourselves. Those who don’t appreciate our romanticizing of the 1890’s need not read our books.

It is no doubt politically incorrect to view any historical period before the 1960’s in a positive light. Yet I believe that much of the appeal of steampunk, acknowledged or not, is the culture and morals of that bygone era. In those days, people took ideals such as courtesy, integrity, and industriousness seriously. Women’s fashions were feminine and elegant, proving that ladies could be alluring without their outfits being revealing. Yes, the British Empire sometimes exploited its subjects, but it also brought railroads, sanitation, and education to the colonies it ruled. Western culture isn’t perfect but neither is any other. One example is the way the British colonial overlords outlawed and eliminated the longstanding Indian practice of suttee, or burning widows alive. Only the most unhinged multiculturalist could argue that this change was not for the better.

Another issue I’d like to address is the notion that most of today’s steampunk novels are simply period romances. Though this may be true in some cases, I don’t see the two genres as being mutually exclusive. It’s also true that some of these works may be inaccurate regarding the sexual mores of the time, but we must keep in mind that steampunk represents the fictional bending of history. My wife and coauthor Arlys has written several articles about Victorian culture, including its courtship traditions, and these were indeed quite restrictive by our standards. Yet there was also a steamy underside to Victorian mores, with widespread fetishes for bondage and discipline. This may have been a consequence of the use of corporal punishment in schools – not entirely a bad thing, if one compares the rates of delinquency then and now. In any case, I maintain that steampunk erotica is not necessarily a contradiction in terms, though it is also just a fraction of what’s currently being written. Now, as in the movement’s heyday, the greater emphasis is toward young adult works.

Steampunk is not dead, it is very much alive. The many excellent new works being released, such as Jon Delarroz’ For Steam and Country, prove that it’s doing well. As the traditional publishing industry continues to decline, the contributions of independent authors and small publishers will become more and more significant. I look forward to seeing a large selection of well-written steampunk fiction in the future.

Check out Vaughn Treude’s steampunk book here! 

Share this post

Friend Friday: “Goof Off” By Russ Meyer

Share this post

R.D. Meyer, author of Salvation Day, stops by the blog today to tell us about the importance of goofing off and daydreaming in terms of creativity. Read what he has to say:

Goofing off has long been maligned. We’re told as kids that we need to knuckle down
and concentrate. Goofing off and daydreaming are things that got us scolded.
“Pay attention!’ our teachers would say.

“Get your head out of the clouds!’ our parents would yell.

“Focus!” our coaches would scream.

This is all fabulous advice for learning a subject or trying to hit a baseball. However, as
a writer, I’ve found that such curtailments of our thoughts can be counterproductive.

Daydreaming is not only something vital to the process of writing, but it’s something that
must be encouraged.

So why did I entitle this post “Goof Off” if I’m talking about daydreaming? Because to
the layman, daydreaming looks a lot like goofing off. I have several ways to do it. I
might sit in my chair and simply gaze into the unknown haze of whatever crosses my
mind. Similarly, I’ll go on long walks with my dogs and just let my mind drift. My wife,
my boss, or my children may say that there are better things I could be doing in such a
moment, but it’s hard to impart to others just how much I’m working by goofing off.
Stories don’t just come to writers. TV shows and movies often portray the creative
process as if it’s angels singing in grand chorus while a light shines down on our faces,
but that’s not how most of us work. I have to let my mind wander and try to work stuff
out. Sometimes a good story comes out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I can’t find out if
I’m “focused” on another task.

Here’s what I mean – my latest novel, Salvation Day, came about as a result of long
walks with my dogs. My oldest daughter had just been born, and she had a myriad of
health issues. Anyone who is a parent knows that children can be equal parts joy,
pride, frustration, and worry, and I was caught in the worry stage for most of her early
life. I’m a person of faith, but nothing tests faith like potentially horrible things
happening to your children. While walking my dogs, I used the time to sort through
what I was feeling.

I began to wonder why God would allow such misery, as well as how I would react if my
daughter died. My mind then worked its way over to my wife and how she would react.
As a naturally paranoid person, my thoughts strayed towards the worst case
scenario(that happens as a defense mechanism so that I can prepare for the worst,
even if the worst rarely comes). To me, the worst would’ve been not only my child
dying, but my wife being so consumed with grief that she ends her own life.

Once sanity returned – my wife is far stronger than I am, so she would never do such a
thing – I began playing further with the idea. Suppose something like that happened but
a man had the power to confront God Himself with the anger such a situation would
create? What would that look like? How could that come about? Would Hell be involved? Could someone actually do something about such vengeful thoughts towards

God? What kind of anger would a person have to lose himself in to make him want to
confront the Almighty? All of this speculation led to Salvation Day.

Even with all of that, there was a lot to work out, which meant more goofing off. And
that’s how I’ve found the inspiration and details for all of my novels(I’ve published two,
and I have three more ready to be published in the next year or so). It’s like playing out
a movie in your head, only you get to have influence over the direction(I say influence
rather than control because most writers know that they’re merely transcribing the
movie they see in their heads onto paper rather than making something up out of whole

Without goofing off, we’d miss out on some of the better books of history. Can anyone
honestly say that HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds was little but a daydream put on paper?
Or that A Christmas Carol could be thought up while someone was focused on doing
taxes? Goofing off was the key component to bringing those from the mind to the

What’s more, daydreaming has to be more than just the idea. Any idiot can come up
with the basic premise to a story. However, to make it something worthwhile to an
audience beyond family, detail needs to be added, and goofing off helps fill in those
holes too. For example, in Salvation Day, I knew from the first moment I had the idea
what the beginning and end of my story would be, but I had no idea how to get from the
start to the finish. Daydreaming was the primary way I filled in the blanks. I found
myself giving my wife all the excuses I could to walk my dogs or be out on the back
porch staring at the mountains near our house. These sessions allowed my mind to
wander and took my idea from just something kind of cool to a story I could put on
paper and which other people might enjoy.

Don’t let killjoys drag you too far back to reality and tell you that you aren’t doing
anything useful, for as a writer, goofing off is incredibly useful. It’s the canvass on which
we paint our universes, but we must be allowed to do so. Without it, we’d be denied so
many fun stories.

Goof off. Daydream. Let your mind wander. I promise that the real world will be
waiting for you when you’re finished.

Share this post

Friend Friday: RPGs vs. Fiction by Clara Storm

Share this post

It’s the return of friends Friday, a new feature for 2018  on the blog where the platform here is used to give some other great voices in fiction some attention they deserve. Today, we have Clara Storm, who you can follow on Twitter @TanukiHanabi and she’s also on Steemit here. Clara dives into the differences between RPG storytelling and fiction, a topic I’m supremely interested in as someone who contributes to both. 

My in-progress novel started as flavor text for a Savage World setting book, which was (is) ready for play testing.  A paragraph spawned an idea that morphed into 42,000 and counting words. What if instead of the standard bestiary with a brief description and a stat block, it was presented as the magnum opus of the most famous onmyoji of all time, Abe no Seimei?
Who was Abe no Seimei?  How did he end up traveling around Japan recording all the yokai he discovered? Should he have his own NPC stat block? That thought derailed the setting book and a novel was born. While the novel follows the magic rule mechanics of the RPG, and Seimei is an onmyoji (an Edge from the setting), RPGs and fiction are two different styles of storytelling. Here are some of the differences I’ve learned so far:
1) A reader won’t understand the setting right away. In fiction, info dumps are jarring.  In RPG’s they are called a “player’s handbook”. This novel is meant to be a stand-alone story, not a tie in to the RPG setting. The reader journeys along with Seimei’s daily life in The Capital. Readers learn magic at Imperial University and dust rooms of the library with him. 
The setting was inspired by Heian Era Japan, right before the rise of samurai.  Many people are not familiar with this era in Japanese history.  Rather than a 20 page setting explanation, Seimei goes about his daily life. What he thinks about other characters and how he interacts with them develop his character and paints The Capital in reader’s minds. 
2) Powerful characters are fun to play, weak characters are fun to read about. The novel version of Seimei is too weak to be a playable character.  Not only does his increasing power over the novel allow the audience to learn about the magic rules in an organic way, it also provides character development. Learning magic is not his only character arc, however; he’s got more growing to do.
3) Some conventions work in both fiction and RPG’s.  In the novel, the Head of the Ministry of Onmyodo gives Seimei a quest that he must prepare for.  Seimei gathers a party of two and they go off on an adventure.
4) There are different types of stories to tell.  Is it action driven, character driven, or a combination of the two? Which are you telling?  For RPGs, it depends on who sits at the table, and who runs the game.  What types of games does the GM prefer?  What is their comfort level with the game going off the rails?  How important is character interaction to the players around the table?  
The same questions happen in fiction, but the writer makes all of these decisions.  There is more space to have character driven action stories, develop side characters, and explore the world the characters inhabit. This brings me to number 5.
5) Race creation has different emphases in an RPG vs. fiction.  In an RPG, a new race must be described enough to build a character while leaving space for gamers to put their own spin on it.  This is generally a brief overview of game mechanics, characteristics, history, names, and stat block.  
When I was developing player races for the Heian-kyo Dreams setting, I use several sources: a book of translated Heian era folk stories, the books by Matthew Meyer, and a bit of pop culture.  Developing Kitsune was fairly straightforward because there were several Heian era folk stories for inspiration.  My version of Kitsune is pretty true to those folktales: illusionist tricksters.
In fiction, the writer must know much more half a page of racial information, even if it’s not all explicitly explained in the book. Where did they come from? How do they interact with other races? For example,  Kitsune create illusions.  Why haven’t Kitsune taken over the capital?  Why haven’t humans killed them all?  Why are Kitsune a small minority? I know these answers. Writing with this knowledge helped develop The Capital into a living city, not just a map with various locations marked. 
Tanuki had no Heian era folk stories, since their lore comes from a later time.  However, my setting has Tanuki, just for the cute factor alone!  Since they didn’t appear in the old folktales, I decided Tanuki live in the mountains. Only now do they travel to The Capital.
Tanuki had to be a family-friendly race. Instead of creating things with their scrotums, they use paper.  In the setting rules each Tanuki character has five pieces of magic paper at the start of the game to build whatever they need.  I can’t wait to see what ingenious uses players come up with!
The novel takes place in The Capital where Tanuki are rare, just like the RPG.  Tanuki are so rare in fact, that  they introduce themselves as their name for themselves: Papermasters.  Their entire lifestyle is based around paper.  Their houses and almost everything in them is made with their magic paper. Young Papermasters help make paper before they learn to walk. They will eventually get the moniker Tanuki, but only when it makes sense in the story.   
Developing Tanuki like this was one of the serendipitous acts of writing.  
6)I approach fiction and RPG design differently. When I write fiction, I’m a pantser.  I only have the vaguest notion of where the story is headed and delighted when it changes more often than not.  After I read the first draft, I figure out what sort of story I’m telling.  Subsequent editing moves parts, cuts parts out the didn’t go anywhere, and adds parts where needed.  All this produces a coherent story.
An RPG is pure world building.  There is no plot to derail, no characters to flesh out.  It is a beautiful backdrop for others to tell their own stories.  If I’ve done my job, players and GM’s eagerly await their own adventures in Heian-kyo Dreams.
If you enjoy the blog content, make sure to check out the Jon Del Arroz fashion line. We have awesome shirts, hats and posters that tie into a lot of the books and things we talk about on the blog. 
Share this post

Friday Friends: Book Signings as an Indie Author: The Case of The Thing in the Woods

Share this post

Today I’m starting a new feature on the blog in an effort to help promote more authors in the indie community. Friday Friends! Our first post is by Matthew W. Quinn, who tells of his experience with book signings as an indie author. Is it worth your time to pursue for your books? Find out and be sure to check out his book, The Thing In The Woods, linked below! 

One disheartening aspect of 21st Century publishing is the decline of book tours. Publishers are providing fewer and fewer of them, and when they do, to fewer places. Odds are increasing that if you’ve got print books and want signings, you’ll need to organize them yourself. Furthermore, many small presses are print on demand due to the high costs (tens of thousands of dollars) of stocking books in warehouses, making books returnable, etc.  Consequently, most bookstores won’t stock these books. And if your work is published by a small press that uses Amazon’s print-on-demand CreateSpace for print books or if you use CreateSpace for your own work, most bookstores won’t stock those either.

Though these two realities make book signings as an indie or small-press author a tighter proposition, that doesn’t mean you should eschew print distribution or abandon your dreams of having book signings. Many independent bookstores (I got a list of Georgia stores from Lenox Avenue Publishing as part of a publicity package) will host signings for print-on-demand books on consignment. You bring the books and they’ll ring up the copies bought for a percentage. When I held book signings for my Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods  at Tall Tales Books near Emory University in August 2017 and at Posman Books in Ponce City Market in October 2017, both bookstores took a 40% cut. This means that you have the initial expense of purchasing the book (although CreateSpace provides a hefty author discount), but after the processing fee, you keep all the profit.

And my experience has proven profitable. Although purchasing 30 Thing copies for Tall Tales signing cost $135.91, and my 60% of the day’s 18 sales only came out to $129.42, I made a profit later that afternoon by selling two copies to a friend at a party for $20 cash. The 35 Thing copies I ordered for the Posman Books signing cost $158.06, and the 24 copies I sold that day netted me $181.47. The remaining copies from both events I sold to friends, family members, and co-workers for $102 in additional revenue in August and $58 in additional revenue in October. Including hand sales, profit for August was $115.51 and total profit for October (parking at Ponce City Market ate into my margin a bit) was $70.41.

(An aside, if you want to hand-sell, get a Square reader and the app for your phone or tablet. Many people, particularly members of my own millennial generation, don’t carry lots of cash. The chip-reader costs $30, but you’ll pay it off quickly.)

Since there aren’t many independent bookstores, if you want to profit with print, you’ll need to branch out. Brian Keene, horror author and host of a fascinating horror podcast, recommended selling at arts and crafts fairs to give the husbands of the predominately-female clientele something to do. I tested that by getting a table at the Mistletoe Market in Griffin, GA in December 2017. The table cost me $50, 35 Thing copies cost $158.06, and the gas getting to Griffin and back was $6. Most sales were cash, although the Square reader came in handy for a few. I sold 18 copies at the signing and four more to friends later for around $250. Library donations and contest entries ate up a few, with six more hand sales for $73. Total profit from the December batch was around $105.

So three CreateSpace orders of print books netted me a profit of $305.18. Not bad for a few hours’ work on three Saturdays in the fall with only one book to sell. If I’d set the price point a dollar higher I’d probably have profited on the first book signing immediately and padded my margin a bit on the second and third. Going forward, I’ve been talking with the organizer about getting a table at a gun show in Marietta later this coming April — Thing is strongly pro-gun and has been well-received by family members and co-workers who have served in the military — and I’m on the lookout for festivals, flea markets, etc. throughout the Atlanta area in the meantime.

So if you’ve got print on demand books, don’t despair — you too can have book signings just like authors from the Big Six publishers. It’ll require a bit more work, including setting a price point that will cover your costs and not drive away potential customers, and you won’t make lots of money at first, but a sale is a sale and each step forward is a step forward. Good luck!

-Matthew W. Quinn is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer based in Atlanta, GA. His first short-story publication was in 2007 and his first novel premiered in 2017. If you’re interested in The Thing in the Woods or his other fiction, check out his Amazon page here. You can get exclusive content on his newsletter here and follow him on Twitter here.

Share this post