PJM: So, you’re one of the new independent writer/publishers, making it out there, in the new world of selling stories directly to the public. Tell us a little about yourself.
There really isn’t that much to tell (and I can’t imagine it being of much interest to people). I was born in Edinburgh, studied in Manchester (I wanted to be a librarian) and took to writing when I thought I could do better than a particularly poor book I’d been forced to read. My first novel was rejected, of course, but by then I had the writing bug. I’d also realized that writing was hard work.
PJM: Tell us how you came to publish indie? Was it a choice? Did you ever do it traditionally? Do you also traditionally publish?
It was born of frustration, I think. I was doing well, I was getting good comments … but nary a sniff of a contract. It was growing harder and harder to submit, knowing that it would be a long time before I was rejected … eventually, I uploaded Patriotic Treason to kindle and everything went on from there. A few years later, I uploaded The Empire’s Corps – my first big success – and never looked back. Quite a few rejected novels found success on kindle.
Shortly afterwards, I signed a contract with Elsewhen Press to produce a handful of books; later, I signed similar agreements with Twilight Times Books and 47 North. I guess I’m more of a hybrid author than a purely kindle author. No interest from any of the big traditional publishers, of course. Grin
PJM: Tell us about your latest book?
My latest, The Family Shame, follows Isabella from The Zero Blessing. It actually struck me by accident, as I was midway through The Zero Equation when I realised I could hang a whole story on Isabella, who was pretty much the bully character in The Zero Blessing and then an outright traitor in The Zero Equation. The story opens with her being sent into exile and … well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.
It’s definitely more of a character-based story than an event-based story, in my opinion. It was a challenge; I’ve only ever seen one author – Bruce Corville – take a bully-character and make him sympathetic. Perhaps it’s just the result of my schooling, but I have very little patience with the sort of excuses people make for … well, Draco Malfoy and his ilk. On the other hand, I am all too aware of the sort of pressures that can be brought to bear on such people and how poorly they can cope with it.
I saw a bad book and thought I could do better.
PJM: How did you start writing? What did you envision as your career in writing (if you did)?
Well, like I said, I saw a bad book and thought I could do better.
It wasn’t that bad, to be honest, but the author basically came up with a practically invincible enemy and then cheated badly to let the good guys win. I thought it would have been more interesting if the good guys had lost, at least in the first book, thus leading to an interesting situation in the second. And so my first book basically started with the bad guys launching a massive coup.
Back then, I had the delusion – a fairly common delusion – that success would come quickly. I was wrong. (I may have been lucky; I’ve noticed authors who basically upload unready manuscripts to kindle and then complain when the plaudits are distinctly lacking.) I kept writing for years, always feeling that I was on the cusp of success, until I finally broke thought. Being indie is not what I expected, I think, but it is better in many ways. There are fewer people trying to control what you write.
Writing is hard work. I think that’s the point that surprises a lot of people.
There are fewer people trying to control what you write.
PJM: What are the good and bad points of being an indie author? Would you like to be traditionally published someday, or do you have absolutely no interest in doing it?
There are a lot of good points. You get pretty much complete editorial control, you don’t have contracts nagging at you, you get plenty of input into cover design and suchlike … and you get to keep most of the money. Traditional publishing seems to like keeping the author hungry, which has driven quite a few people out of business over the years; it also has started to develop a nasty habit of picking authors for diversity, rather than talent. Indie publishing doesn’t have that problem.
That said, there are some bad points. Discoverability is much lower for indie – your book is competing with thousands (or more) of other books. And, like it or not, indie still lacks the credibility of traditional publishing; there is a strong perception, still, that being published professionally means that your work is generally better. That’s changing, as traditional publishing is no longer the only game in town, but it’s still an issue. And, of course, you have to do everything yourself. You can’t let the editor handle the task of choosing a cover if you’re the editor.
The big selling point, the one thing indie can’t do (yet), is putting out paperbacks and hardbacks at reasonable prices. (Shame they haven’t grasped that overcharging for eBooks is a mug’s game.) I suppose that’s the only reason I’d consider such a contract, although there would be some pretty intensive haggling. I’ve seen enough bad contracts – and heard enough horror stories – to know that there are times when you should simply walk away.
And, like it or not, indie still lacks the credibility of traditional publishing; there is a strong perception, still, that being published professionally means that your work is generally better. That’s changing, as traditional publishing is no longer the only game in town, but it’s still an issue.
PJM: A lot of people point to things like getting editing, covers and such things that the houses used to do. Is this very difficult for you?
There are a lot of people out there who will do that for you, now. I have a list of people I’ve hired on my site, people I can vouch for. Some of the covers can be pricy – the most expensive cover I’ve purchased was around $800 – and editors can be something of a mixed bag, but word of mouth will lead you to people willing to do everything from conceptual and line editing to formatting your book for POD publishing. Generally, just make sure you know what you’re getting and you’ll be fine. If your editor prefers romance, and you’re writing SF, find another editor.
That said, you do have to pay for it and yes, that is an upfront expense. The old saw about money flowing down from the publisher to the author doesn’t apply to indie publishing. I heard someone complaining about a very common cover for indie books – honesty compels me to admit I used it myself – but most authors cannot afford to pay out $800 for a unique cover until they are established enough that they can be reasonably sure that the money will be recouped in sales. Most of my early covers are poor because they were all I could afford at the time.
If your editor prefers romance, and you’re writing SF, find another editor.
PJM: Where do you want to go with your career. Pie in the sky – where would you like to be in your writing career in ten years.
Umm … I’d like to be JK Rowling. No, maybe I shouldn’t be greedy. I’d like to be George RR Martin. Although … I’m not sure I’d like to have millions of people emailing me and demanding to know when The Winds of Winter is finally coming out. But the money would make up for it, I suppose.
More seriously, I have a lot of story ideas that I will probably never get around to writing. I have a big one – Game of Thrones sized – but endless serial novels is a personal pet hate, so I’ll probably try to find a way to turn it into something like Schooled In Magic (small novels, each advancing the larger plot.) And I have a dozen spinoffs from that series that I need to turn into novellas; the first novella was a success, so there’s room for a few more.
I would like to see one of my novels turned into a TV show one day grin. I’m sure the money would definitely make up for a lot.
First, don’t give up.
PJM: What Advice Would You Give a Newbie Writer?
First, don’t give up.
Second, don’t get ahead of yourself.
Everyone – well, pretty much everyone – needs to write a lot before they become any good at it. (The standard rule of thumb is that you need to write a million words). Don’t expect your first book to be a hit, because the chances are good it will sink without trace. Write three or four manuscripts, then hire a conceptual editor to tell you what’s wrong with them. Learn from what she tells you, then write the next few manuscripts. Then you can start uploading them to kindle.
Third, don’t let your ego destroy you.
I’m serious. The poor guy who wrote Empress Theresa will never live it down, even though that novel isn’t as bad as some first-time novels I’ve read. Having a healthy faith in your own skills is a good attitude for a writer, but assuming that everyone who disagrees is nothing more than a jealous troll is a very poor attitude. (It isn’t helped by the fact there are some jealous trolls out there.) Learn to take criticism, even if it means grinding your teeth to keep from saying something stupid. A bad review may feel like a punch to the gut, but – believe me – there are worse things out there.
The blunt truth of writing is this. There is no book that doesn’t have someone who is prepared to swear that it is the greatest work in history … and someone else who won’t lower themselves to use it for toilet paper. There’s nothing to be gained by driving away good readers – and critics – by making an ass of yourself. The internet never forgets.
And fourth, try to have fun. I think that one speaks for itself.
And fourth, try to have fun.