Interview with Author and Editor J. Richard Jacobs

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author J. Richard Jacobs today! jheadshot J. says he is a country boy turned scientist/engineer/naval architect turned author. He writes science fact, science fiction (usually hard), occasionally horror and fantasy. He’s also the editor of the successful “Twisted Tails” series, the most recent of which has just been released and features a story by Yours Truly. His web page is here.

So tell us about the “Twisted Tails” series!

J. RICHARD JACOBS: Well, first and foremost, The “Twisted Tails” series of anthologies is a demanding thing to get into. The reason for that is simple. I look for quality in every sense for these books. It’s a tough nut to crack for many. In one of them I received 480+ submissions—only twelve were included.

Next, they are eclectic. There is a theme for each, but no genre restrictions are set. As long as the story fits the idea of the theme, I don’t care if it’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror (the no gore kind), Paranormal or Mainstream. We’ve had a good run through seven books so far and this new one, TWISTED TAILS VII: IRREVERENCE (the eighth book in the series) is no exception.

VENTRELLA: Wait — it’s the eighth collection and it’s called TWISTED TAILS VII?

Is that a twist?

JACOBS: TWISTED TAILS II was released in two volumes and, though there is a complete edition available, TWISTED TAILS VII is actually the eighth book in the series…. Not a twist, just confusing….

Anyway, the stories have no set word count. There is one major element that must be met, and met well. TwistedTales All of them contain a twist ending (Twisted Tails). It may be subtle or a violent yank on the carpet, but it must be a logical and plausible part of the story line. Not many authors can do that.

All of them are aimed at fun and entertainment. Sometimes the fun is a mite on the dark side, but it’s still fun.

VENTRELLA: The “Twisted Tails” covers all feature dragons – because of Double Dragon Publishing, I assume. Do you think this may mislead people into thinking they’re all high fantasy stories?

JACOBS: Deron Douglas of Double Dragon Publishing and I discussed this in the very beginning as I wanted the books to become a part of the Double Dragon trademark, so to speak. We decided then and there that the way to do that would be for all the covers to feature one or more dragons. The first book, TWISTED TAILS: AN ANTHOLOGY TO PLEASE AND DELIGHT, had two dragons on the ground, a result of flying too close and getting their tails entangled. I think everyone who sees these covers will admit that Deron is quite an artist…!

As for people thinking they’re all High Fantasy, I don’t think that is necessarily true. They are listed with the genres indicated and the overleaf and inside flaps spell it out fairly well. The truth is, most of the books have had at least one Fantasy included in the collection.

VENTRELLA: What kinds of stories will we find in the new book?

JACOBS: Oh, my, now there’s a tough question to answer. Would saying that they’re all great be of any value? I guess not. This edition of the series includes examples of all genres. It drools humor and mystery and fantastic panoramas and shadows and sunshine and darkness and….

All of the authors in this one have gone several extra miles to fill the pages with delightful material that I guarantee will entertain.

VENTRELLA: How do you determine themes for the books?

JACOBS: Oh, boy, that’s a biggie. I have to think long and hard on that before I commit to a theme. Though the process is complicated, the reason is simple. I have developed what could be called a stable of authors, bless’em all, who are highly talented wordsmiths and story spinners. Without them there would be no “Twisted Tails.” TT2-510 You, by the way, are one of them. Oh, you knew that, didn’t you? Okay, so I just gave you a plug on your own blog. I’m not ashamed of that and I am proud to present you in this new one.

Anyway, I have to think about what my authors have produced in the past and how they may handle whatever little germ of a thought I have. After considering that carefully, I can then firm up the idea and name a theme. As an example; this next one in the works has as its theme: Para-Abnormal. I’ll let your imagination deal with that.

VENTRELLA: I also edit a short story collection, and it’s not as easy as it looks. What are the major problems you have had with editing?

JACOBS: Authors. There are a lot of writers in this world—there are very few authors. Now, authors are wonderful in all respects except following instruction about things like format. Also, most authors are atrocious spellers and typists. Typos and spelling errors are a large part of the job. Not so much with grammar, though it rears its ugly head on occasion. I am willing to work with any author to almost any level if they have given me a great story. I’ve even ghostwritten a couple of works for authors who have presented a compelling story.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with telling authors you have rejected their stories?

JACOBS: That’s simple. I’ve been in this business about 57 years and saying, “What the hell is this? Did you take special classes in school to become this stupid, or does it come naturally?” is easy for me. Okay, okay, I’m really not that cold, but close to it. If someone has presented me with something that shows promise, I will tell them. If they have sent me crap, I’ll tell them that, too, but I try to be diplomatic.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake made by authors who submit to you?

JACOBS: Hah! Format. Format. Format, and telling me their work is copyrighted and I’d better not do anything with it other than what has been agreed upon. Arrogant newbies.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you have for authors wanting to write short stories?

JACOBS: Short stories are harder to write than novels. You have few words to work with, yet you need to land on the run with fully developed characters and that ain’t easy. som510 Pacing a short is not an easy thing, either. The best advice I can offer for those who would dare write short is, write until your fingers hurt, the words on the screen look like they’re printed backwards and your legs are so numb that you can’t feel your feet. Then, do it some more. Read other short stories by great authors from the dim past to see how they made it work. Then, write some more. When you think you have it wired, begin submitting your work everywhere and see what happens. Oh, and do develop a really thick skin; this business is brutal.

VENTRELLA: Which of your novels have been most successful in your opinion?

JACOBS: That depends upon how you view success, doesn’t it? If you think about sales, you have missed the point, in my opinion. Sales are nice for the wallet and, perhaps, for the ego, but personal satisfaction in what you’ve done is far more important. I have written nothing I would not love to rewrite. After having rewritten it, I would like to rewrite the rewrite. Never satisfied with my work. It could always be better. Having said that, I think SEEDS OF MEMORY has been the most successful in my way of looking at things. It took ten years of writing, head scratching, rewriting, research, more head scratching, more rewriting, putting up with constant interruptions and free advice before it was finished. I just rewrote it…!

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the “Rain” trilogy.

JACOBS: We recently had a meteor come down in Russia. People saw the videos. In short order, they will forget what they have seen and return to an all-is-well-in-the-world life of complacency. The first two books of the Rain Trilogy, STORM CLOUD RISING and MAELSTORM, are aimed at shaking that complacency by the lapels—hard. The third one, still not completed, is more of an adventure dealing with what the world is like after the rain—the hard rain.

VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?

JACOBS: Hmm. Well…they’re not similar. At least I hope they’re not. xeno-version3_03 I bring a lot to the table in terms of knowledge of subject and experience in researching things. Believe it or not, you need to know how to look for things. Merely Googling is not the answer and accepting what you find on your first or fifteenth try without cross-referencing is a waste. In my Science Fiction I’m quite at home with details most of the time. I also have many friends who are experts in their fields who have saved me much embarrassment at times. I can tell you this; my work is complex because I know life is complex. I have had many high-powered mentors in the past (no name dropping here) who have seen me through my infancy and I really hope I have done well with what they taught me.

VENTRELLA: What is it about science fiction that attracts you?

JACOBS: Horizons beyond an arm’s length and an infinite playing field for conjecture and speculation. I also like to play with science (real science) and make things work. None of the worlds I create are impossible or improbable, though they may appear to be so sometimes.

VENTRELLA: Science Fiction doesn’t seem to be selling as much as fantasy these days, including urban fantasy and all the varieties. Why do you think that is?

JACOBS: I have no idea. Science Fiction has never been one of the mainstays of the written word. It has had a better following in the past, that’s true, but why it has hit a little slump is a mystery. I look forward to that changing. We’re getting a lot of imaginative authors in the field these days and I’m sure the Phoenix shall rise again.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written nonfiction (including something in INSIDE SCOOP which also features me!). What is different about writing nonfiction?

JACOBS: The difference is that it is not fiction.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?

JACOBS: Aside from the new one for the Twisted Tails series, TWISTED TAILS VIII, I have three anthologies I’m considering that will not be an unending series. All will be based in pulp fiction style. One will be Science Fiction, another in Mystery, and the final will be on Heroes (super-hero stuff with a twist). StormCloudRising-510 I am working on another novel, MT PROMISE, and am desperately trying to complete the third book in the Rain Trilogy.

VENTRELLA: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the writing business?

JACOBS: Small checks….

VENTRELLA: I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing. What’s your take?

JACOBS: Frankly, I don’t like self-publishing. I know there is a bundle of good stuff written and self-published, but the majority is not worth the electrons and/or paper used to put it on the market. Self-publishing still has a stigma hanging on it (with good reason) that makes me not want to read anything offered. I am aware I’m missing a plethora of good, engaging and imaginative works that are well-written, but I’m avoiding an immense amount of disappointment and saving my bucks in the process.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

JACOBS: Everyone. No, I’m not kidding. I am selective in the things I’ll pick up, but I read across the board. All genres. Short. Medium. Long. Even Michener behemoths. My favorites remain Asimov, Sturgeon, Brin, Clarke, Brown, Dick, Shakespeare (really), Poe, Hemingway and so on. Those folks knew how to do it and do it right.

To order TWISTED TAILS, click on the “books” link above. As of this posting, the only versions available are the kindle and e-book versions. The paperback and the nook versions should be available shortly.

My Philcon 2012 Schedule

This weekend is the Philcon Science Fiction Convention, which is held every year in New Jersey. (Don’t ask).

The main guest this year is author Catherynne Valente. Artist Guest of Honor is Phil Foglio. I’ve been a fan of Phil’s for years (and I have an original piece of art I bought from him at an Arisia convention way back in 1986!) I keep trying to interview him for this blog, so maybe I can corner him at the convention for a few words.

Here is an incomplete list of guest panelists, which includes many people who have been interviewed on this blog: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Michael F. Flynn, Gregory Frost, Gail Z. Martin, Mike McPhail, Christine Norris, KT Pinto, Peter Prellwitz, Tony Ruggiero, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Hildy Silverman.

I’m a guest author too, of course. I’ll be there to participate in a few panels… so if you’re attending, be sure to say hi. You’ll probably find me hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the Dealer’s Room when things are slow. Look for the “Double Dragon” sign!

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Saturday 3:00 PM: The Reinvention of the Vampire (with fellow panelists KT Pinto, Brent Monahan, and Tony Ruggiero) What can be done in the post-Twilight era? Do we look forward to a time when vampires no longer sparkle? What new approaches can be taken with a monster that has haunted our imagination since the beginning of history?

Sunday 10:00 AM: God 2.0 (with fellow panelists Judith Moffett, Gary Frank, Ty Drago, and Wayne Zimmerman) If we were to design a Divinity deliberately rather than merely let it evolve naturally, what characteristics would we include and why?

Sun 11:00 AM: Reading (with just me!) That’s right, I’ll be reading from THE AXES OF EVIL and, depending on time and audience desires, my upcoming BLOODSUCKERS.

It’s a fairly short schedule for me … usually they keep me much busier, but I’ve been told Philcon has cut back on the number of guests and panels, so I suppose I can’t complain. I’ll have lot of fun talking about books and writing with everyone.

I’ll also be jealously watching my wife, who was assigned to be on two panels with Phil Foglio!

UPDATE: Pictures from the convention are here!

Tales of Fortannis: A Bard’s Eye View

The new collection of short stories taking place in the world of my two novels is here!

TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD’S EYE VIEW is the first in a planned series. I’m very pleased with the stories collected here. There is a wide variety of tales being told in a myriad of styles.

“A Bard’ Eye View is a wild and weird collection of fantasy stories that present some of the freshest writing around. Derring-do with a great sense of fun. Highly recommended.” – New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry, author of THE KING OF PLAGUES and DUST & DECAY

“Rollicking good fun perfect for a beach read, subway read, airplane read—heck, just buy it and read it! Mirth, mayhem and magic in an intriguing world.” – Gail Z. Martin, author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series

“A Bard’s Eye View is a varied collection of adventures, whimsies, variously grim, grand and comedic; this book will appeal to fans of gaming and fantasy alike.” – Jay Lake, Campbell Award-winning author of GREEN and MAINSPRING

“You don’t need to know the background material to enjoy the range of stories from the talespinners assembled here. It has plenty of adventures that end with a twist that leave you shaking your head in pleased surprise. I’ll be happy to look for many of these writers in days to come.” – Jody Lynn Nye, author of VIEW FROM THE IMPERIUM and DRAGON’S DEAL

Here’s a short summary of the stories you’ll find:

The Zombie King’s Plan by Michael A. Ventrella: Squire Terin and his friends from the novels ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL journey to retrieve the last magical ring for a biata girl whose memory was stolen. As they fight through zombies, they begin to discover that something isn’t right…

Stealing the Sky by Danny Birt: A brave admiral — who, as a youth, had his arm bitten off by a gryphon from the lands of Thessi — has been planning his revenge for a very long time. Determined that no one else should suffer his fate, he gathers his army and, with the help of the dwarves, moves against the gryphons with his plan.

Listen to a Tale, My Friends by Mike Strauss: A traveling minstrel fascinates the local townspeople with a horrifying tale of a necromancer — and and provides a surprise ending.

Bad Debts by Bernie Mojzes: A simple job turns out to be anything but simple. An evil ritual, a nameless monster, a dead patron — and a young woman must come to terms with her ex-lover and his new flame before she can defeat the threat.

Grip of Chaos by Laurel Anne Hill: When his squire brother does not return from his quest to fight the Ice Queen, an untrained young man has to face his fears and confront the necromantic creature himself.

The Great Green Kettle Pie Recipe Caper by Roy C. Booth and Brian Woods: A timid hobling decides the only way to obtain his favorite pie from the baker who refuses to share is to break in and steal the recipe — but things never go as planned.

Behind the Bar by Mark Mensch: Nigel the tavernkeeper has a successful business. And he has a secret panel in his back room and a secret retirement plan — a plan that not one of his satisfied patrons suspects.

A Rock is a Rock is a Rock … Or Is It? by J. Thomas Ross: When a group of goblin children sneak into the human’s cave to see what riches the humans are mining, they find no gold or gems … but discover a strange secret.

The Messenger’s Trap by Matthew C. Plourde: A mercenary is not sure who to trust when he is released from prison after promising to deliver a simple message.

Faith by Tera Fulbright: A biata bent on revenge learns his true mettle when faced with a life-threatening emergency.

A Child’s Tale by Davey Beauchamp: The kids love to hear stories of their heroes Oliver Songbringer and Aramis Llyrr, but will they act as bravely when they encounter danger in the woods?

Suffer the Liar by Ron. F. Leota: Two con men who spin fabricated tales of mighty adventures suddenly find themselves in an all-too-real situation fighting ice trolls. Can they discover a way to save their skins from both the monsters and the townspeople?

The Long Sleep by Nick Bond: The ancient forest has awakened its defender, who must seek out the necromancers who have stolen its heart.

The Otherside Alliance by Jon Cory: A lazy knight, whose king demands that he arrange an alliance with Duke Frost or die, comes up with a brilliant plan to obtain the Duke’s support — so long as no one sees through the ruse.

J. Thomas Ross was the copy editor and the cover is by Sheila Haswell.

Next week the authors themselves will introduce themselves and discuss their stories here!

Click here to order your copy!

Interview with Author Tee Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Tee Morris today. Tee grew up very near me in Richmond, Virginia yet we never met until a few years ago at a convention. His web page is

Let’s start by discussing your latest book, which will be first in a series –- PHOENIX RISING: A MINISTRY OF PECULIAR OCCURENCES NOVEL. How did you decide to collaborate with Pip Ballentine?

TEE MORRIS: It was a bit of arm-twisting on Pip’s part. I had a bad experience with co-writing, and my co-author really put me in a precarious position that completely ruined our friendship and professional relationship. So I was quite gun-shy. Pip eventually talked me into a compromise: we would write a podcast-for-pay idea. Unexpectedly, someone contacted Pip’s agent on this “steampunk idea” she was working on, I was then picked up by Pip’s agent, we changed focus and then we got to work on what would become PHOENIX RISING.

I still can’t believe we put this puppy together and are now, presently, closing in on the sequel’s climax.

VENTRELLA: Was there a conscious decision to write a steampunk novel because of current interests in steampunk for business reasons?

MORRIS: Actually, no. Steampunk was a conscious choice, but it was because we wanted to write it.

I first discovered “steampunk” back in 2006 and found it fascinating. I wanted to write something in it, but I didn’t want it to be a knock-off of what I had already read and seen. There’s a lot of cool things to explore in steampunk, and the more I delve into it the cooler it gets. There are authors who are riding the steampunk train to capitalize on its rapidly-growing popularity, but Pip and I wanted to do something we were sincerely drawn to, and steampunk really appealed to us.

VENTRELLA: How much should a writer consider the market when deciding what to write?

MORRIS: The writer should look at what is selling when they want to begin pitching to agents and editors. However, you really should consider how good of a product you are going to produce if you simply write to what’s hot. I’ve seen authors do that, and the writing comes across as trite. If your heart isn’t into it, the reader will assuredly pick up on that. At present, I won’t write a werewolf-vampire-Buffe-Blake urban fantasy because I have nothing new to offer to that market. If I tried, it would probably insult readers of the genre and do a lot of damage to my career.

Sure, look at the market, but don’t try to force a story to happen. That can backfire and really damage a career.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration work?

MORRIS: Believe it or not, writing across hemispheres was very productive. Whenever I slept, Pip wrote; and when Pip was asleep, I was writing. Literally we got in 24 hours of non-stop writing. This is one reason why, with Pip working on relocating to the Americas, our word count has taken a hit.

The downside was that we had small windows of time when we could discuss the book. We couldn’t bounce off ideas when we had them, and discussing problematic moments were…well, problematic as we could only do that for a small window of time between hemispheres. Still we managed, and we now have a pretty solid workflow at home.

VENTRELLA: How did you interest Harper? Did you have an agent first? Was the novel completed and then submitted or did they accept a proposal?

MORRIS: The Harper Voyage deal is all due to Laurie McLean, our Super-Agent. What happened was Pip’s write-up in Locus Magazine took an interested party to her website. When they saw she was working on this steampunk property with me, they immediately asked “When could we see it?” So I signed on with Larsen-Pomeda Agency and then we got cracking. The “interest” didn’t really kick in until someone made an offer. Literally, within 24 hours, there was a bidding war (from people who had initially passed on it), and then the wildcard — Harper Voyager — stepped in and said “We want it. Badly.”

The rest is future-history.

VENTRELLA: How are you promoting this book?

MORRIS: Pip learned a lot of new promotion tactics when working with ACE and GEIST. Between our previous experiences with Dragon Moon Press, we’re simply incorporating years of what has (and hasn’t) worked, and creating a plan:

1. The “Tales from the Archives” Podcast. This is the first volume in what could be a continuing series of short stories set in the world of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. We’ve been having a blast with this, watching really talented authors like Valerie Griswold-Ford, Nathan Lowell, O.M. Grey, P.C. Haring, and many others produce original steampunk of various moods. We’re only a few episodes in, and people are really enjoying these works.

2. The Book Trailer.

People have really mixed opinions about book trailers and whether or not they sell books, but I argue that it really does depend on the book trailer. This one was particularly ambitious as we were creating original footage as opposed to working with stock footage as I did with Pip’s Geist trailer (which I edited together). We have been getting a terrific response from it with over 1000 views on YouTube and over 500 shares on Facebook in just over a week. It’s also a great way to get the word out about the book. How will it equate in sales? We don’t know, but it is helping in letting people know what the book is, or at least what the mood of our book is.

3. The Ministry Blog and Podcast Tour. As you see here with your blog, Michael, and others online, Pip and I started writing guest columns and interviews not only with podcasts (which really worked well for us back in August 2008 when we hosted “Double Trouble” online) but with blogs as well. Pip found that work with bloggers — book reviewers, authors, and others — cast our net a little wider than the podosphere. We’re reaching new people who show a little more faith and trust in their book blogs than they do in the mainstream media book critics. (Something we find very telling.)

4. Ministry May-hem. The month of May is when we start with the push of live appearances. It begins on April 30 (Not quite May, but close enough) with a stop at Borderlands in San Francisco. Then on May 7th we return to Staunton, VA (where we filmed the Ministry trailer) at BookWorks, and we will be wearing our steampunk best. May 11 we head up to Harrisburg, PA for a Watch the Skies meeting. Again, we’ll be in our steampunk best. Then May 20-22 is the Steampunk World’s Fair in Sommerset, NJ. We close the May-hem with Balticon May 27-30.

June … we’re going to have a wee rest.

5. Buttons, stickers, bookmarks, and postcards. You can never go wrong with freebies.

Pip and I have learned over the years that the key months of promotion should be the month before a release (keeping it fresh in people’s minds), and then two months after the book’s release (as it has that “new book” smell). If after June the book hasn’t “caught on” it probably won’t. You can still promote and still pimp, but it’s “old news” after that.

For Pip, though, she’s got SPECTYR (the sequel to GEIST) coming at the end of June, so there will be some serious gear shifting during the May-hem. Rather appropriate, now that I think about it.

VENTRELLA: This is your first novel with a major publisher (if I am not mistaken). What differences have you found between Harper and Dragon Moon? (And why do so many small publishers have “Dragon” in their name? My publisher is Double Dragon. Maybe they should merge and become Double Dragon Moon.)

MORRIS: Apart from the advance (which is a mixed blessing in itself), the distribution (which is a blessing no matter how you look at it) and the layout of the book (which I did for myself quite often because I liked that), there is still a “team” feel about working indie and working corporate. I have noticed with Harper Voyager that our publicist is also working hard to get our names and book out there to critics and media outlets, both traditional and new. Having that kind of support in publicity has been very nice! Dragon Moon and I did a lot of great things together, but distribution was always a challenge. I grew as a writer, and they gave me my first opportunity. A lot of terrific things happened to me because of it.

Harper Voyager is not my first orbit around the Moon, but it is definitely my “small step” and “giant leap” into what I hope will be my writing career.

VENTRELLA: You travel to many conventions to promote your books. Do you advise aspiring authors to attend these things? What do you get out of these conventions yourself?

MORRIS: Something else that I have learned in my years as a writer is really, really listen to what other authors have to say. (Both good and bad, when it comes to advice.) Perhaps one of the most important nuggets of know-how I got was from Hugo/Nebula/Aurora/insert-SF-writing-award-here winning author Robert J Sawyer:

“When you get an advance, don’t spend it. That advance is your marketing and advertising budget.”

I was traveling without an advance as my budget, and pushed myself several of thousands of dollars into debt. Even when I was writing books like PODCASTING FOR DUMMIES and ALL A TWITTER, I was already so deep in the red. People across the country had my books in hand, sure, but I was broke. Part of the problem was poor financial planning. When I got out of that debt, I plan events very differently now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to these conventions. I love talking shop, meeting other authors, and talking to other fans, not just about what I write, but about other geeky things like Firefly, Eureka, and steampunk. I dig that. But as I mentioned on my blog, these conventions are not cheap. I get invited to a lot of cons, but unless some of these costs are offset, I can’t go. In my early days/years, I would never make claims to have cons offset my costs. However, I have to make it a point of asking now as it’s just not that easy for me financially. I think cons are great for authors, provided you are smart about which cons you are going to attend; and more importantly, what you can afford.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing industry changed since you entered it?

MORRIS: Well, there’s the e-book market for starters. The whole e-book movement has really been fascinating to watch. I think with the development of the ePub format, the elegance of iBook and the Kindle, and the affordability of digital books in comparison to hardbounds, the e-book is coming into its own. The publishing industry is now being forced to adapt, and I think many publishers are on top of it.

I’m also noticing over the year a growing animosity between writers and publishers, more of it coming from writer. There’s a mentality of “Us vs. Them” which rings hollow when I hear writers say “We understand it’s a business.” I’ve always regarded my career as a business, and I can only hope that I’m still writing when my child is in college. Harper Voyager have asked a lot from Pip and myself, but we are all working together to make the best book possible. If the book is a hit, it’s a win from everyone involved. That’s why I’m a little put off by that argument.

Something I have noticed, too, is that misconception of “writers just writing and letting someone else handle promotion as that is someone else’s job” is finally dying out. Even older authors have recognized the power and potential in podcasting, blogging, and social networking. Writers have needed to become Swiss Army Knives, wearing many hats and building up neck muscles in order to support them all. We have to look beyond “the end” and work with our publisher and the public to make our upcoming titles meet their potential.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about the craft?

MORRIS: The biggest misconception (apart from the one mentioned in the previous question) is the editor is out to “ruin” your work. Only bad editors tell you something like “Change it, or else.” An editor’s job is to make your good book a great book, and in this process help you become a better writer. Again, it’s a team effort. And when you do have a point of contention, you have to defend your choice with facts and resources backing up your facts. Simply saying “because it is cool” doesn’t cut it. I am thankful for every editor I’ve had, and I am a better, smarter writer because of them.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see beginning writers make?

MORRIS: Superiority complexes. I’ve seen this in both writers with big and indie houses and it sickens me. A byline doesn’t make you any better a person. You just come across to people as a right jerk …with a byline. Maybe fans would “look away” once upon a time, but that kind of behavior can affect your sales. It can also make you a real leper amongst your peers. And even with books, awards, and movie deals (if you are really blessed) behind you, try and keep your head on straight. This ride can end at the drop of a bowler hat. I know that. So, I do what I can to be the best person (who just happens to have a byline) I can be.

VENTRELLA: What’s your next project?

MORRIS: My next project is a steampunk reboot of MOREVI. I love the story and I love the characters of MOREVI; but as it is, MOREVI is not ready for the mainstream press. It needs a rewrite. It needs a new direction. And it needs, for the love of God, to lose the elves. Those were my co-author’s touch, and I’ve hated them since the original printing.

I don’t have a problem with elves. They’re like Vulcans with better tailors. I just felt like they were not a good fit with MOREVI, and I think a complete reboot with Rafe taking to the skies and the region be China. (Still kicking around ideas, you know.) It would be something like Battlestar Galactica, only without so much gender bending.


Interview with Publisher Deron Douglas

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m interviewing Deron Douglas, publisher of Double Dragon Press, the largest science fiction and fantasy e-publisher in the world (and, I might add, the publisher of my books). Deron, is that claim based on the number of books you have available, the most sold, or what?

DERON DOUGLAS: Hi Mike, it’s based on both numbers… sales and number of editions available for purchase from DDP and all our retailer sites worldwide. However, it is a fluctuating number as well.

VENTRELLA: What is in your background that made you want to start Double Dragon?

DOUGLAS: I’ve been involved in the publishing industry, in various aspects for about 25 years. I’m also an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader from when I was a kid. About 10 years back I purchased one of the first ebook devices on the market called the Rocket eBook (I still own 3) and found that there weren’t very many titles that I would enjoy reading myself. After further investigation into the technology it “clicked” that I had the personal experience and technical ability to pull it off.

VENTRELLA: Have your standards changed over the years? Now that DD is doing better, are you being pickier with which manuscripts you accept?

DOUGLAS: We’ve always had high standards, but like everyone else are restricted by our submissions pool. But generally I like to select titles that I find interesting and diverse; something that I would want to read myself.

Yes, as the submissions pool gets larger we find that we can select more carefully based on market trends and an author’s current readership base.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake that aspiring authors make when they submit their work?

DOUGLAS: In a lot of cases they do not bother to read the guidelines or take the time to find out what we publish. Double Dragon Publishing is essentially a Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher, but I still have people sending me relationship books, autobiographies etc. If an author does happen to read the guidelines and are submitting within the right genre, they neglect to send their best possible “polished” work. We edit all titles before they are published, but we won’t accept a title that is still in the development stages and requires massive rewrites.

VENTRELLA: What do you personally like to read?

DOUGLAS: I like science fiction with a time-travel, time paradox sort of twist, as well as “steampunk”, alternate reality, divergent societies sort of stuff.

VENTRELLA: You’ve recently begun to expand a bit and publish other genres. Tell us about that!

DOUGLAS: Actually, from the start we accepted everything in all genres, over time we found what sells and what doesn’t. But occasionally I’ll accept something that is “out there” because it’s well written and I’m curious as to how it will be responded to by our readers. But maybe you are referring to our sister imprints, Carnal Desires Publishing and Blood Moon Publishing? Each is dedicated to a genre that we felt was growing to a degree that it deserved its own identity and staff.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been able to lure some fairly famous authors to DD for their e-books. How has that worked out?

DOUGLAS: It’s worked out very well for us. The things take seem to be common to all is that they’ve heard our reputation for a very expansive eBook distribution network, fair methods of working with authors and our “professionalism”.

VENTRELLA: Most of the paperbacks you publish are print on demand. Do you see a future where you would have regular print runs?

DOUGLAS: No, not at all. In fact I can see a near future where we will be phasing out paper book completely. Last fall (2010) is was reported by Amazon that eBooks were outselling “hardback” books on Amazon. This year in Feb It was reported by Jeff Bezos (CEO and Chairman of Amazon), that eBooks are now outselingl paperbacks. People tend to forget that Double Dragon Publishing is an eBook publisher and has always been, and as a result we are well positioned to take advantage of this huge market. After all, we are one of the pioneering ePublishers and have been involved for more than 10 years.

VENTRELLA: How do you publicize your books?

DOUGLAS: Currently we release between 100-120 titles per year, as such we are unable to publicize every title ourselves. We depend upon the author to promote themselves and build a base of readership. After all, if they leave DDP they will take this base with them. But we also provide venues of promotion such as out blog at, Facebook, etc. We also provide a forum where new authors can discuss methods of publicizing themselves with other seasoned veterans.

VENTRELLA: Do you see e-books as the future? Is this good for the industry?

DOUGLAS: Ebook have taken off from where they began 10 years ago, it seems every major manufacturer is now building an affordable ebook device that allows the seamless purchasing of titles almost anywhere in the world. Yes, I think ebooks have a future and think they are also good for the industry. But the industry will change, portions such as paper book production services will die off. But eBook conversion services will sprout, are sprouting in fact.

The Axes of Evil

One barbarian prophecy says the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another tribe has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third tribe, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians sit wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid assassins, werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes. Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

I am so pleased to announce that my second novel THE AXES OF EVIL is now available.

I’m quite proud of it and think it’s a great improvement over the first. Partially this is due to experience (the more you write the better you should get), a good editor (as discussed in a previous blog entry) and paying attention to good advice from professional writers.

Fantasy author Gregory Frost likens it to Christopher Stasheff’s work. I read THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF about 30 years ago and remember only that it was a fun adventure about a reluctant hero, and I am pleased with the comparison! (I hope I don’t go to re-read it and find plot parallels, because then I’ll be quite upset.)

“Humor, danger and a twisted tangle of unlikely prophecies make for a page-turning adventure,” said Gail Z. Martin, author of THE CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER series. Award winning author Jonathan Maberry (THE DRAGON FACTORY) said it’s “a taut nail-biter of a thriller. Edgy, funny and dark.”

Readers of THE AXES OF EVIL should have an exciting ride, with non-stop action, humor, and unexpected plot twists. (And no, you don’t have to have read ARCH ENEMIES to enjoy this one.)

Unlike many fantasy heroes, Terin is not “the chosen one” or someone with super powers or special skills. Instead, he constantly finds himself thrown into terrible situations and finds solutions by being brave, honest, and resourceful. I always found myself identifying with average people performing extraordinary feats — to me, those are the real heroes.

The purpose of this blog is not only to allow me to interview professionals and learn from them, but also to promote my own work. (Any similar writer who says otherwise is probably not being very honest with himself or herself.) If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy THE AXES OF EVIL. As an aspiring writer, I very much appreciate (and need) your support. I hope you will give it a try and post your comments to Amazon and other booksellers. I am always anxious to receive constructive feedback, positive or negative — I can always improve, after all, so your comments are valuable.

You can order the paperback here.

You can download the ebook here.

You can download the kindle version here.

And you can join my Facebook fan group here.

Thanks for the indulgence. Next week, back to interviews!

Interview with Christopher Hoare

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am interviewing Christopher Hoare, whose books can be found with my publisher Double Dragon. Chris was born in London, England in 1939, immigrated to Canada in 1967, and became a Canadian Citizen in 1974 but we won’t hold that against him. He led an interesting life, studying around the world, serving in the Royal Artillery and then worked in oil exploration in Libya among other things. He now writes full time, living in Alberta at the eastern edge of the Rockies with his wife of almost 40 years, Shirley, and two shelter dogs.

Chris, there are so many new authors out there. What do you say to readers to get them to check out your books?

CHRISTOPHER HOARE: Gisel Matah, the protagonist of my Iskander series, is a woman who excels in a man’s world of action and danger, driving stories that women may find a refreshing change from being treated as sidekicks or helpless targets. She becomes the top security agent for her people when the small group of moderns are stranded in a 17th century world.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide to make the main protagonist a female?

HOARE: I picked my strong and reckless female protagonist to oppose the relegating of women into accidental and amateur roles in action adventure fiction. I felt that women readers would enjoy one of their own who could stand with all the James Bonds and Rambos out there. I have heard skepticism about parts of the early stories where the young Gisel becomes the only person in the situation with the skills to take the lead, but partly because of her age. They query her action because they relate it to our society, that keeps the young in immaturity far longer than earlier societies did. I write such scenes with the age justification for her position carefully buttressed. For example, at 16 in ARRIVAL, she is picked to be Colonel M’Tov’s assistant in training a small group of parachutists because of her gymnastic experience; she then becomes the only person with the technical understanding to lead them on the operational jump when M’Tov breaks an ankle in a training exercise.

My next release is due to come out very shortly. THE WILDCAT’S BURDEN is a plunge into a dangerous writing minefield – I have Gisel both pregnant and moderately active as the governor of a rebellious city. The mothers in my writing group felt I’d mostly succeeded in depicting her in the conflicting roles, but also added their expert advice into the states of mind she should experience. The final crisis naturally takes place during her confinement and so the novel ends with attacks on her and on the city, while the plans she has prepared for the situation must unfold unattended. Another writer admitted she had a character in a fantasy give birth on a battlefield, but wouldn’t risk it again. We’ll see if readers accept this story.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on next?

HOARE: The novel I should be writing now instead of these answers. I have long wanted to write SF where the power of the mind is more important than the gadgetry. I think Lucas, in “Star Wars”, approaches this with the abilities of the Jedi, and I believe the ’50’s classics did as well in such stories as Alfred Bester’s jaunting in STARS MY DESTINATION (Tiger Tiger) and Asimov’s telepathic “Mule” in SECOND FOUNDATION.

The protagonist I introduce in MINDSTREAM is a retired professor of systems theory who has become abbot of a quasi-Buddhist monastery. He is able to access other beings – on this world, in deep space, and on other worlds – and, mentally, participate in or direct the action there. I blend a lot of the fascinating Tibetan Buddhist esotericism with String Theory in the background scenario. In the novel, Crumthorne and his assistant attend a NASA spaceflight convention to protect it against similar alien intrusion from adepts on other worlds, but it turns out that one of the Earth ‘attendees’ becomes a greater threat to all of them.

VENTRELLA: What’s the hardest part about writing?

HOARE: That’s easy – getting one’s work noticed among the cacophony of other media out there.

VENTRELLA: Have you had any formal writing training? Do you think that is necessary?

HOARE: You should have competence in the language you write in as a prerequisite. I’m appalled at the number of people who write although they have little knowledge of grammar and cannot spell; and even more appalled at those who self publish their writing without rectifying these inadequacies.

As to formal writing programs, I’m always skeptical about over-academicism because it can lead to rigidity and a failure to accept ideas that do not lend themselves to clever analysis. However, I attended a couple of university extensions that contributed greatly to my early development. A writers’ conference at NAU at Flagstaff in the late ’60s had an invited writer whose depth of analysis of fiction really opened my eyes.

VENTRELLA: How did you end up with your current publisher?

HOARE: I’m lucky to have landed with Double Dragon. Deron is supportive of ideas I sometimes spring on him, even when they turn out to be of less value than his own; he allows a writer to amass a growing body of available work without the fear of losing earlier writing to the deadly ‘shelf life’ demon of mainstream publication. Of course, that is also a function of e-publishing, where one is safe from being destroyed by the dreaded ‘returns’ policy.

I have been able to investigate the sales and distribution of POD vs e-books in my own way and learn from my mistakes (the only way I ever learn anything).

VENTRELLA: Do you have other long term goals to grab a more “mainstream” publisher?

HOARE: I would like to have a more mainstream publisher at some point, but I doubt I would find working with them (and they with me) completely successful. Really, the only thing they have that I covet is the greater exposure.”

VENTRELLA: Your short stories have also appeared in various collections, including TWISTED TALES. Do you find short story writing easier?

HOARE: Actually, I don’t like writing short fiction. The two stories accepted in TWISTED TALES II and III are the first short stories I produced since my early writing days. I doubt I will write more as I feel I was not able to get across the intentions I had in writing the stories. Possibly a fault of my lack of experience with the medium, but I really detest the literary genre that most short story writers write in.

VENTRELLA: Do you advise starting writers to concentrate first on short stories?

HOARE: Conventional wisdom when I started writing seriously said that one should always attempt to develop one’s idea first as a poem, then as a short story, and only later consider turning it into a novel. What rot. I do advise a developing writer that the shorter medium is a necessary foil when one is learning the essences of the craft of theme, tone, and plot. In a first novel one can easily lose all control over what one is writing – it certainly happened to my early attempts.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

HOARE: Would you recommend taking your first transatlantic flight in the captain’s seat rather than the passenger cabin? It requires an inordinate amount of hard work and luck for one’s self pub not to ditch in the ocean.

I do know a few good self published novels (other than Tolstoy’s and Dickens’) but they are exceptions. The writers were not first-time novelists and had some experience and craft knowledge to back their efforts. For a year or two I tried my hand at reviewing fiction and tried to give equal time to self-published works, but after receiving more than one that was actually painful to read I gave up on the exercise.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to rely on outlines first or do you just plow right in?

HOARE: I much prefer to start with the characters and the opening question and write a first draft as an exploration. By the time the novel reaches the halfway point the ending should have made itself inevitable if one remains true to what has gone before.

There are times, when I’m not sure what should happen in a necessary scene or what comes next, that I will explore ahead with an outline or even an unorganized scattering of issues to determine the logical order which develops the story. I have never sat down and written a detailed outline of a story before starting to write as I feel that would destroy all the life – the illusion of real life happenings – that make the story flow.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about NovelPro.

HOARE: I learned almost all I know about writing during the five or six years I belonged. The partnership with some really brilliant authors and the hard work of extended whole novel critiques was more valuable than a conventional MFA. Not just my opinion, as I saw it expressed by other members who had MFAs.

If you can get in, I’d advise any writer to shelve their own writing ego long enough to submit to the group for awhile. Not everyone can do it. Some quit even before completing their very first novel crit – the be all, end all, of the NPro system – while others get kicked out because they become obstructive. I was cautioned a couple of times, and my posts put on ‘review’. I’m still in contact with some members and past members and have accepted that there will come a time when the writer has to accept that their own needs and the group’s no longer coincide. I still wish them all well, and wait for the time when a work from the group becomes a bigger success than THE DaVINCI CODE – as well as better written.”

In line with others in the NovelPro group I spent an inordinate length of time trying to perfect the query letter and the bit by bit perfection of the opening attention grabber to gain a top NY agent. Then I slowly began to realize that my writer profile ruled me out of their consideration. I’m a grouchy and opinionated senior who lives as far away from New York, and the New York mentality, as it’s possible to get without traveling through space. I tried to bend in the appropriate ways – I became a Toastmaster to hone my public speaking skills for those career building moments on camera, but by the time I became a CTM I realized I hated making speeches. I tried to convince myself that I could turn myself into a saleable ‘brand’ under the tutelage of a wise old literary agent, before I realized that I’m too much of a loner to fit the profile. I’ll go on writing my way and being me – and if that doesn’t fit with the NY concept – to Hell with them.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any specific advice you would give a writer trying to make it in the publishing business that they may not have heard before?

HOARE: I hope a few of the answers I’ve given above have pointed others to useful insights of their own. If there is anything I believe that I’d like to prove true it’s that in order to be a lasting writer – one who produces something that lasts – one has to be a contrarian. Not pretend to be one but to actually feel offended when life tries to squeeze you into a conventional slot.

My old physics prof at engineering college used to say, “If you want to have a brainwave, you have to have a brain, and you have to wave it.” I have absolutely no proof that these qualities will allow you to ‘make it’ in the conventional publishing business, but I assure you they will lead you to a more worthwhile life.

The Curse of Self-Publishing

These days many authors see an easy way to get published. Hook up with Lulu or Publish America and you too can have your own book! And look, it even gets listed on! It must be legit!

Well, if all you care about is having your novel available for your friends and family to buy, that’s a fine way to go. But if you really want anyone else to consider you a real writer, avoid these things completely.

Here’s a true example: Last year I went to a writer’s conference. It was the first I had ever attended and was not sure what to expect, but knew I could learn something. The conference had a number of guests who had published novels and more than a hundred participants who were, like me, there to learn and receive critiques. Quite a few of these people, I discovered, had already published their own books. One fellow was very proud of his Publish America novel.

On Sunday, they set up a question and answer period where the published authors would sit in front and discuss whatever the participants wished. I was honored when the organizers came to me and asked me to join in. The people with the Lulu books and the Publish America books were ignored completely. Even though my novel is with a relatively minor publishing house, the editors and writers who organized the conference considered it worthy.

After all, unlike these self-published books, mine had gone through the process and had been accepted. It had then been edited by a professional editor and I had worked with them to make changes. It showed a level of professionalism that the others did not.

And that’s the image you want, after all. Your work could be great, but if you publish it yourself, the message professionals get is that it was so bad that no one would publish it and that you were forced to put it out yourself.

Of course there are exceptions, which the self-publishing industry will point out as they try to get your business. There’s always that one-in-a-million time when a self-published book grabs the attention of the public and does well. Then there are the other 999,999 books that didn’t. You want to play the odds?

There are times when self-publishing works just fine. The books I edit for my live action role-playing game, for instance, are all self-published. However, I didn’t use a vanity press, because I wanted it to look more professional than that. I set up my own publishing company, paid for a bunch of ISBN numbers I could assign my books, and had them listed in Books in Print. Amazon sends me orders every now and then and Double Dragon (my publisher for the novels) has been distributing the e-book versions of them. But those are non-fiction rule books geared to a small but significant audience. They’re not the kind of thing you’d necessarily find in your local book store. If you’re pushing a novel, that’s not the way to go.

So don’t give up. There are publishers out there who might just love your book, but you may have to take a very long time to find them. And if you get absolutely nothing but rejection letters, maybe your book needs some more work. Maybe it shouldn’t be published yet.

Even by you.

Interview with Gail Z. Martin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Gail Z. Martin today. Gail is the author of The Chronicles of The Necromancer series. The books are available in your favorite bookstore, as ebooks from my publisher Double Dragon, and will be released as audiobooks by soon. 0061-eWomenNetwork She is also host of the Ghost in the Machine Fantasy Podcast, and you can find her on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites. Her web page is here.

Gail, tell me about your fantasy series The Chronicles of the Necromancer.

GAIL MARTIN: The Chronicles of the Necromancer series includes four books so far: THE SUMMONER, THE BLOOD KING, DARK HAVEN and DARK LADY’S CHOSEN. The story begins when a young man’s family is murdered, and he discovers that he is heir to a very rare type of magic, the ability to intercede between the living and the dead. He needs to learn to control that magic before it destroys him in order to avenge his family. I’ve really written two two-book sets. The Summoner and The Blood King are one story arc, and then a new story arc with the characters picks up in Dark Haven and Dark Lady’s Chosen.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a set number of books planned for this series?

MARTIN: Well, I’ve given my publisher abstracts for about 20 books I’d like to write, so we’ll see! There are two exciting pieces of news about the series. First, DARK LADY’S CHOSEN comes out December 29, and it will launch as a paperback, an ebook and an audiobook. And second, Orbit Books has picked up the next four books. The Fallen Kings Cycle is the name of the new series, and it will pick up after DARK LADY’S CHOSEN. I’m already working on Book One: THE SWORN.

VENTRELLA: Do you plan the entire series in detail or do you do one book at a time?

MARTIN: A little of both. I have a pretty clear idea of the full story arc and the arc for each major character. And I’ve given my publisher abstracts for quite a few other books set in the world of the Winter Kingdoms. And my publisher asks me to turn in a chapter-by-chapter outline before each book. That said, things do arise as I’m writing that often changes the way I saw things unfolding. Usually not a change to the ultimate outcome, but changes in how things go along the way. So the overview and outlines help, but the story develops on its own as we go along.

VENTRELLA: How did you become published? Did you obtain an agent first?

MARTIN: Yes, I did get an agent first. I really didn’t have time to work, write and shop my manuscript, and I knew that fewer and fewer large publishing houses accept unagented submissions. Having an agent has been very important, especially when it comes to negotiating contracts and understanding what options exist. A good agent is also valuable for negotiating translation sales and other contracts, such as ebooks and audiobooks.

VENTRELLA: Do you think you will ever write in another genre?

MARTIN: Well, I have the first book in a new nonfiction series for writers coming out in January, THE THRIFTY AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND. Dark HavenIt’s a book on book marketing for authors who want to make sure readers find out about their books! And as far as fiction goes, I do have some ideas I’m developing, but they’re not ready for prime time yet!

VENTRELLA: I keep hearing that publishers are not that interested any more in traditional high fantasy. As a writer in that genre myself, I am worried. Do you find this to be the case?

MARTIN: I think the more important question to ask is, “Are readers interested in traditional high fantasy?” From my experience, I would say yes. So long as there are readers who want a certain genre, there will either be publishers who will supply it or authors will meet the demand directly by self-publishing. My bet is that so long as publishers sense there is money to be made in a genre, they will keep publishing it.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing? Do you advise new authors to go this route, or is it better to not publish at all than to be self-published?

MARTIN: I think it’s easier to succeed with nonfiction in self-publishing than fiction because most nonfiction authors have the opportunity to sell from the “back of the room” at workshops, speaking engagements, etc. Also, if nonfiction meets a need and creates a benefit, people buy it, regardless of who publishes it. Fiction is a little harder, because it doesn’t have that clear need/benefit link. With fiction, distribution through bookstores and online booksellers is still crucial, and that can be more difficult if you’re self-published.

On the other hand, a good book will find a market. THE SHACK was a self-published book that couldn’t get a publisher until it sold a gazillion copies and then was picked up by a big publishing house. If you decide to self-publish, you’ll have to work twice as hard on distribution, personal appearances, being a vendor at conventions and basic selling. But if you believe in your book, then you do what you have to do to bring it to life. I would probably advise authors to exhaust their options for traditional publishing with large and small publishers before self-publishing fiction, but I’m sure there are other authors who feel differently and that’s OK. Even when you’re traditionally published, there is a lot of work that goes into promoting the book.

VENTRELLA: Gail, you are one of the most active authors when it comes to publicity and promotion, because of your background. While it is clear that published authors must promote themselves, do you think it is appropriate for unpublished authors to maintain a web presence and otherwise promote themselves, and if so, how can that be done tastefully and effectively?

MARTIN: I think part of that depends on your definition of “unpublished.” If you post your short stories on your web site, that is a form of publishing. If you release your book as a podiobook, that’s a form of publishing.

I think you always have to be clear about what it is you’re promoting. thesummonerSome authors, like J.C. Hutchins, started out by releasing free podiobook versions of their stories and gathered so many readers/listeners that they ended up getting a book contract with a traditional publisher. So think first about what your goal is in promotion yourself and what you have to promote. If you write an entertaining blog, host a good podcast or even create an online serial that gets good buzz, you may attract a publisher.

VENTRELLA: You and I run across each other at conventions often and you attend many more than I do. Please tell us why you think attending these is important, and whether you think they are important even for unpublished authors.

MARTIN: Cons are important because they’re a great way for authors to meet other authors and of course, to meet readers. Today’s readers like to meet the authors of the books they read, just like they enjoy connecting online and on social media. It’s also a great way to attract new readers who may decide to try your books because they liked what you said on a panel, had a good chat with you in the lounge or came to a reading and liked what they heard.

For unpublished authors, cons can be great places to meet published authors and get advice. Lots of cons have writing and publishing tracks where there are panels with editors, agents and publishers, or with authors talking about the business and mechanics of writing. It’s a great free education. I definitely think it’s worth it.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first began trying to break into the business?

MARTIN: Expect to spend twice as much effort promoting the book as it took to write it. blood_king_med_coverRealize that if you don’t promote the book and you don’t sell well, you don’t get invited to write a second book.

VENTRELLA: Can you think of a personal anecdote about the writing life you’d like to share?

MARTIN: Going on book tour really does require you to check your ego at the door. You spend a lot of time driving around, setting up table displays and schlepping your stuff from store to store. No matter how many big signs in the store have your photo on them, inevitably more than one person will ask you where the bathroom is or where somebody else’s book is shelved because they just assume you work there. Smile. It’s all part of being an author, and it’s worth every moment. But just to be safe, make sure you really can direct people to the bathrooms!

VENTRELLA: You’ve got audio and excerpts from DARK LADY’S CHOSEN online, plus there are other sites participating in your Days of the Dead blog tour. Where can we find all the goodies?

MARTIN: Check out my site at, for all the downloads and more Days of the Dead stuff. Also, please find me on as GailZMartin and on Facebook and MySpace as well.

Me and Gail Z. Martin on a convention panel

Interview with Author Peter Prellwitz

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Peter Prellwitz, one of the most successful writers at my publishing house, Double Dragon. His web page is . Peter, what made you sign up with Double Dragon, and do you regret going with a smaller press?

PETER PRELLWITZ: Double Dragon Publishing (DDP) was pointed out to me by a friend who was looking to start up his own publishing company. He’d read my novel Shards back when it first appeared in serial form on the CompuServe Writers Forum and became a supporter to see it published. (I’d originally written the novel just for my own enjoyment, with no intention of publishing it.) At the time, Double Dragon was conducting its first – and sadly, only – Draco Writing Contest, so I entered four of my finished novels, Horizons, Promise Tide, The Science of Magic, and The Angel of St. Thomas. I didn’t enter Shards because the four books making up the novel totalled three hundred thousand words and I knew better than to submit something of that size, having never been published. All four books fared well in the judging, with Horizons selected by finalist judge Mike Resnick as the Winner for Best Science Fiction.

I have never regretted going with a smaller press, primarily because that smaller press was Double Dragon Publishing. I have always been treated cheerfully, professionally and politely. This can be tempting to think, “Sure, they treat me that way because my sales are pretty good.” But the undisputed truth is the company treats all its contributors that way.

VENTRELLA: Given the cutbacks at the big publishing houses, would you advise other starting writers to “build a portfolio” by having success with a small publisher or is it better to keep holding off for that big potential deal?

PRELLWITZ: Having just crowed over the joy of being with Double Dragon doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges and downsides to being signed by an ebook publisher. One of the biggest is the “stigma” that comes with it. The sad truth is that there are a LOT of ebook/small publishing houses out there that have poor business practices, very low standards for accepting materials, and are about as real as faster-than-light travel. The mainstream publishers and associated agents, editors and such have maintained for years that ebook/small press publishing was no better than vanity press, and not to be taken seriously. Sadly, more often than not, they’re absolutely right. There’s an overabundance of – forgive me – poor quality writing that is being published by ebook/small press publishers that has little or no merit to it and is seeing print only because of their publishers’ inexperience, vanity or outright greed. That means that real publishers like DDP, who have high submission standards, a winnowing process, and sustainable business/publishing models, are unfairly lumped into the same group as so-called publishers. Because of this, while the idea of “building a portfolio” with a small publisher sounds good, it can actually hurt you in the respect of building a reputation among the larger, more conventional publishing companies. And literary agents won’t even look at work you’ve published with ebook/small press publishers.

But there a many positives to going with the right small publisher. One is the self-realization that you’re a serious writer; you’ve tried to get your work published. Another is that your chances of getting read and signed are greater with an ebook or small publisher. Just be sure you go with a reputable publisher. I do believe the time is coming when there will be a blending of some elements in the ebook publishing and mainstream publishers. The ebook and small publishing companies are far more efficient; not wasting paper but rather using print on demand (POD) or electrons to put out books, as opposed to the tried and true but increasingly expensive and wasteful mass publishing model that the larger houses use. Being a known, respected author with a known, respected publishing house, be it ebook, POD or mass, is a good thing.

VENTRELLA: What’s your writing process? Do you use extensive outlines? And do you plan out the series or just work one book at a time?

PRELLWITZ: I’m afraid I’m a nightmare of an example when it comes to the writing process. I’m what you would call a “seat of the pants” writer. I no idea how a novel is going to end, nor even what’s going to happen in the next chapter or even the next page. Oh, I’ve tried to do the outlines, plot summaries, character direction, and etc. For ten novels now, though, it hasn’t worked. I introduce my characters to the initial conflict that needs to be resolved, then just write down what happens. If I ever try to step in and direct things, they either smack me down for meddling in their lives or they stand around and go on strike like a bunch of prima donna actors. In one novel, TAU (which stands for Those Above Us), I set up one character to be the penultimate bad guy; then traitor everybody wants dead. I built this massive case of evidence against him and then, one chapter before the end of the book, he dies a noble death. He’s NOT the villain I was certain he was. Which left me completely in the dark as to who WAS the traitor. Took me a couple weeks to figure it out, and when I did, I couldn’t believe it. But when I read through the novel, there it was. I’d laid out – rather, recorded what I saw – everything that was needed to prove the guilt of the traitor and I’d missed it all.

As for planning out series, I do and I don’t. Oftentimes when I’m working on one novel I’ll write a reference to an event or person that has only tangent relevence at that moment but promises to have a good story on its own. Several novels and a couple dozen short stories have come about that way. I will start and work on more than one book at a time, however. Generally, I don’t recommend it. In my opinion, it’s far better to focus on one novel. Right now I’m writing a Shards Universe novel and a Martian Western novel and a fantasy novel. They’re all moving forward, but slowly. They’ll probably all be finished about the same time, which will be cool because I’ll have three completed novels. But until they’re finished, I don’t have anything to offer my readers. That’s okay before you get published, but once you establish a fan base, you owe them more than vague progress updates.

VENTRELLA: What’s your writing background? Did you begin with fiction?
PRELLWITZ: I did. My first “published” work was a Thanksgiving play I wrote in 4th grade. My teacher was so impressed that I’d written completely on my own (it wasn’t an assignment or anything), that she produced it and it played to the entire school. It was an awful play. Elements of Gilligan’s Isle and F-Troop, poor dialogue, no logical progression to plot, and a cookie-cutter ending. My mom saved me a copy of the play, so I was able to refresh my memory about it. Yep, it was awful. But it was produced and it was my creation.

I was hooked.

I wrote another, much better Thanksgiving play in fifth grade, which was also produced, this time by my fifth grade teacher. After that I started writing short stories and started about six different novels that I never took more than a hundred pages. I co-wrote a melodrama in my senior year that was produced and played in nine libraries around Orange and Los Angeles counties in 1978. We got our fist official reviews from that; two thumbs up from both the Orange County Register and The Los Angeles Times. I continued writing fiction and non-fiction through the years, my break coming in 2003 with Horizons.

VENTRELLA: Is a web page important for a starting writer?


Hmm… let me rephrase that:


One trap an author can fall into is that his or her “job” is to write and only write. Indeed, in the past – say, the 19th Century – a well-known author need only send his completed manuscript to his publisher, then sit back while other people did the rest of the work. Marketing, publicity, etc. The author had only to keep writing and occasionally show up at lecture.

Not only are those days gone, I wonder how much they really ever existed. If you look at Samuel Clemons’ life, you’ll see it was nothing like that. Today, however, the author must also be the main source of publicity. Also, simply writing a novel isn’t the only option. There are so many opportunities to add to the novel’s audience and reach, that NOT taking advantage – especially when so many other authors are using the chances – that an author is really short-changing the novel’s life.

Web sites are a critical opportunity that should not be passed up. And I don’t mean a typical “Buy My Book!” vanity web site. Having a living, breathing web site that you update regularily, store plenty of free stuff on, and just generally increase a readers involvement in your writing, can be the difference between your book just sitting on the shelf and your book gaining a following.

For the starting writer, I would recommend having a web site up and running at the same time you’re writing your first novel. When I was writing Shards back in 1996, I started the site mostly for myself. I kept my research, connecting short stories, maps, and everything else there. I didn’t let anyone really know about it. When I’d finished Horizons in 1998, I did more of the same. It wasn’t until 2003, when Horizons was first published, that I began pushing my web site. By then, however, it was a wealth of information on my universe, with a free library of short stories, novel excerpts, research, and current news on conventions and the like. Since the majority of my novels occur in the same universe, the web site helped tie everything together.

A tip… I put up my first web site all by meself. I wish I hadn’t. Even though I’m a professional IT person, I’ve never been big on web design. If you have a couple hundred bucks, PAY a professional to set up your site if you’re seriously going into the writing world. I’m doing that now, but it’s an ugly, slow process since I have a lot of content to move over.

VENTRELLA: How does writing for comics differ from writing standard fiction?

PRELLWITZ: As you know, I’m currently working with Steve Bennett, the anime artist, in turning my young adult novel, The Angel of St. Thomas, into a web comic of the same name. It’s been challenging. Since the medium is so very different, illustrated as opposed to written, rewriting is an absolute must. Where I could use the reader’s imagination to help me tell the story in the novel, as a web comic I’m more compelled to provide visual story-telling. While this forces me to provide more detail in the form of instruction to the artist, the result is a universal representation of what I’d envisioned when I first wrote the story, as opposed to my letting the readers’ imagination fill in the blanks.

Pacing is also a huge challenge. The novel can be read in two or three hours. The web comic, which only posts one page twice a week, will need three years to tell the same story. Because of that, action scenes need to be enhanced while exposition and transition sequences need to be condensed. Taking three paragraphs of exposition in a novel is a one minute read, filled with useful information. But drawing three paragraphs of information might take four or five pages, which is two weeks worth of web comics in which nothing is happening. So adjustments are needed. Sometimes major adjustments. For instance, one chapter has the main character telling the origin of the “Angels” to another character over dinner. In the web comic, we’ll be having her showing the story; the reader will go back and watch things as they occurred from three centuries earlier.

The other primary difference is also the most exciting and, yes, at times challenging difference. The story is mine. The characters are mine. But the art is Steve’s, and he’s as much a creator of the web comic as I am. What I try to convey in a script isn’t necessarily what he’s going to draw. Not one single page has been exactly as I thought it would be. But at the same time, every page, while different, has been better. He’s the artist, after all. What he doodles in two minutes I couldn’t draw in two weeks; Steve is that good. So we always have an exciting and sometimes energetic exchange of ideas. That’s forced me to better see things as an artist does, which has helped me become a better writer when it comes to scripts. And being able to write scripts is always a useful skill.

VENTRELLA: You make regular appearances at science fiction conventions as a guest author; do you find these to be a useful process to promote yourself?

PRELLWITZ: Yes, and I think your question touched on the often overlooked main point. Conventions are a great place to promote MYSELF. Almost all other means of promotions, youtube, web sites, even book signings, are to promote the book. And my books are certainly the reason some people want to meet me. So when I’m at a convention, I’ll have a table in the Dealers Room and talk about/sell my books. But this is primarily the way my readers – and potential readers – get to meet the person behind the stories. To hear my opinions and my life experiences, as well as witness my reactions to and interactions with events as they occur at the convention.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. I also get to observe, interact, and learn from readers; those who’ve already read my novels as well as those who have not. Of all the genres that exist in fictional writing, science fiction is the fastest moving target. All other genres are limited by time, be it past or present. Even fantasy – which occurs in universes significantly different from ours – can’t go into the future, since it’s the future of a universe different from ours. But science fiction has no such limits. It can – and does – cover past, present and future. And it can cover multiple realities. And anyone who reads and enjoys science fiction is going to have a mind that has been stretched and exercised by a scope of endless possibilities. Those are people I want to know and with whom I want to interact

VENTRELLA: Here’s the question I’ve asked everyone so far: What’s the biggest mistake you have made?

PRELLWITZ: : In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve made it yet. I’ve had a very fortunate career as a writer to date. I continue to write, though not as much as I should, which is a common Biggest Mistake for authors. Though I do wish I hadn’t started playing World of Warcraft. That’s eaten up hundreds of hours I could have spent adding to my universe.

A lot of my readers often ask, “Why aren’t you in all the bookstores?” which is to say, “Why aren’t you with a mainstream publisher?” But I never for one moment think of my loyalty to Double Dragon as a mistake. Yes, I might have been able to get published with a big publishing house. But I DID get published with DDP. And now that I’ve proven myself to me and to a growing number of readers, I am trying to go mainstream with my next novel, Redeeming The Plumb. And I have DDP’s blessing and support. And if I have my way, DDP will always have my ebook contracts.

So, this is the only question I guess I’m dodging, because I really haven’t made my biggest mistake.


VENTRELLA: What is the best piece of advice you could give a starting writer?

PRELLWITZ: My advice is three-fold.

1.) Buy, read and KNOW “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White. This slim book is a must for any writer.

2.) Constantly improve your skill with your tools; namely grammar, vocabulary and style (see above). If you have the greatest novel up in your head, but cannot communicate it, the story has value only to you. Don’t cripple your imagination because of poor writing skills. Mark Twain said it best: “Use the right word, not its second cousin.”

3.) Write crap. If the aspiring writer accepts that he or she will be a better writer in ten years, then the writer must also accept they are a POORER writer now. Don’t wait until the perfect inspiration comes along. Flowers can grow alone and by themselves, but a truly beautiful flower requires fertilizer to grow from, as well as less beautiful flowers nearby with which to be compared. The same is true for writing. Start writing and keep at it. You will write junk. But you’ll learn. And you’ll get better.

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