My Balticon 2012 Schedule

I’ll be a guest at the science fiction convention Balticon next weekend (May 25-28, 2012) in Baltimore. I’ll be talking about writing and editing and, of course, making a fool of myself at the “Eye of Argon” panel. The Guest of Honor is Jodi Lynn Nye, who (as you might know) wrote a great blurb for my TALES OF FORTANNIS book!

The nice people at Balticon scheduled me for a plethora of panels!

Friday 9:00 pm: Meet the Pros: Mix and mingle with the Guests of Honor and Balticon 46 Program Participants.

Friday 10:00 pm: The Role of Anthologies: As both a source of fiction and a means of promotion, what do anthologies have to offer? Fan and author panelists discuss. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Joshua Bilmes, C. J. Henderson, Bernie Mojzes, Pete Prellwitz, Jean Marie Ward, and Trisha J. Wooldridge

Friday 11:00 p.m.: Readings: Authors read from their works. With James Maxey and Jeff Young

Saturday 10:00 am: Editor’s Roundtable: Editors discuss the way they work with authors and how that differs when working on a single author project, a collaborative project, or an anthology project. With Carl Cipra, Joshua Bilmes, Barbara Friend Ish, Bill Fawcett, Joshua Palmatier, Ian Randal Strock, and Steven H. Wilson

Saturday Noon: Magical Systems in Fantasy Literature — A Round Table Discussion: Panelists look at what are some of the things we expect to see in magical systems and give examples of works that are missing those factors, but work just fine for the reader anyway. With Gail Z. Martin, Hildy Silverman, Trisha J. Wooldridge, Myke Cole, Jody Lynn Nye (Guest of Honor), David Wood, Barbara Friend Ish, Elektra Hammond, Bill Fawcett, and Jean Marie Ward

Sunday 10:00 am: Editors Looking For Submissions: Meet editors who are actively looking for writing and/or artwork for their publications. Get tips on what they like and dislike. Find out what kind of work they need right now. With Vonnie Winslow Crist, Bernie Mojzes, Brian Koscienski, Kate Kaynak, and Michael D. Pederson

Sunday 11:00 am: Liberty and Other Inalienable Rights: Will Basic Rights Change in the Future? In what ways? With Danny Birt, D. H. Aire, and Steven H. Wilson

Sunday 8:00 pm: Young Adult Fiction: Is YA Science Fiction Failing to Educate While It Entertains? Should it be aspiring to do so? With Peter Prellwitz, Jagi Lamplighter, Maria V. Snyder, and Janine K. Spendlove

Sunday Midnight: Eye of Argon — The Play “One of the genre’s most beloved pieces of appalling prose” read by some of the best narrators, presented in all its theatrical glory and critiqued by those who can’t keep a straight face. The history of this tome is discussed, and experts weigh in on why this book is so horrible. Sadly, due to hotel fire laws, we cannot burn anything. Not for people who have weak stomachs or suicidal tendencies. With Susan de Guardiola, Walter H. Hunt, Grig Larson, and Hildy Silverman

Monday Noon: The Role of Alcoholic Beverages in Fantasy: How are intoxicants treated in fantasy? Beers, hard liquor, absinthe, etc – where do the culture of obliteration and that of escapism intersect? What about that cliche about writers and drinking? Does it apply to writers of speculative fiction in the same way, and how does it effect the works they produce? With Jagi Lamplighter, Ruth Lampi, Maria V. Snyder, and Janine K. Spendlove

Interview with author Joshua Palmatier

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Joshua Palmatier. Josh and I have been on panels at various SF conventions together, and we’ve had some great discussions about writing and fantasy. Joshua is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy — THE SKEWED THRONE, THE CRACKED THRONE, and THE VACANT THRONE — under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series — WELL OF SORROWS and the just released LEAVES OF FLAME — by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE URBAN KIND (edited by Jennifer Brozek), BEAUTY HAS HER WAY (Jennifer Brozek), and RIER (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR and the upcoming THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY (March 2012). His web pages are www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).

Josh, your Tate books take place in the same fantasy world as the Palmatier books, although not at the same time or with the same characters. Why have two different authors? When new authors are trying to get that important name recognition, doesn’t this put you at a disadvantage?

JOSHUA PALMATIER: Well, the two names were actually a strategy brought up by the marketing department at my publisher. The idea was that we’d release the new books under the Ben Tate name and make it an open secret. Hopefully, the Joshua Palmatier fans would learn of the name switch and buy the new Tate books, while the Tate name would bypass the ordering structure of the bookstores so that they’d carry the new books on the shelves and pull in new readers. It was an attempt to increase the audience for my books. The sales for the Palmatier books were OK, but not as high as hoped, so the publisher was looking for ways to draw in additional readers. At this point, I would have to say that the ploy didn’t work, although I think there were numerous factors as to why it didn’t work.

VENTRELLA: Is the voice the same in the two series?

PALMATIER: That’s one of the reasons that I didn’t protest too much when the publisher suggested the name change for the new series —- the voice of the new series is significantly different than the original. So even though it’s set in the same world, it had different characters, was set at a different time period in the history of the world, on a completely different continent, and -— like the Palmatier books, which were focused on one character, written in first person, and were essentially “urban fantasies” set on an alternate world —- the new series was much more epic in nature. There are multiple POV characters and threads that the reader follows, and the action takes place over two different continents and over a much larger time span. So the feel of the books are different than from that original series. Both are dark in nature though, as the covers of THE VACANT THRONE and WELL OF SORROWS suggest.

VENTRELLA: How did you get your first “big break” in publishing? Did you have an agent first?

PALMATIER: My “big break” was sort of interesting actually. I wrote my first book (unpublished) and started sending it out to editors and agents at the same time (one editor at a time, but multiple agents). I spent the next ten years writing three additional novels, sending each out to editors and agents and getting rejections from all. But most of the rejections were good, meaning they said, “I’m not interested in this project, but the writing’s good and I’d like to see whatever you write next.” This was encouraging, and it allowed me to focus my attentions on those editors and agents who were interested. I basically kept a running list for each, in order of my preference and tweaked based on the responses I got.

So when it came time to send out THE SKEWED THRONE, I started at the top of my editor list (Sheila Gilbert at DAW) and the first seven agents on my list. I heard back from those first seven agents quickly (all rejections), so sent out the next batch of seven, all while DAW still had the book. I was also getting my PhD in mathematics at the same time, at the point where I was defending my dissertation. I got a call from one of the agents, Amy Stout, while prepping for that defense. After a lengthy discussion on the phone over representation, I signed on with her and told her that DAW currently had the book. Amy called up Sheila and started talking. Meanwhile, I continued my job search and defense.

I was away at a mathematics conference, doing interviews and such, when Amy called back to tell me that DAW wanted to buy THE SKEWED THRONE. I was thrilled! But they also wanted to talk about the sequels. So in the midst of finishing up my dissertation and job hunting, I worked up the proposals to THE CRACKED THRONE and THE VACANT THRONE and almost immediately had contracts for the entire trilogy. My first sale! I was on my way!

But keep in mind that it took me ten years and I wrote three other novels before THE SKEWED THRONE found a home. And I lost count of the number of rejections.

VENTRELLA: Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

PALMATIER: *snort* Writing a book isn’t easy. I said before that I wrote three other novels before I sold one, but that isn’t quite true. I started writing while I was in high school and kept writing all the way through college. It wasn’t until grad school that I sat back and asked myself whether I was going to do this for fun, or if I was going to try to sell something. So it was ten years and four novels total from the moment I decided to get serious. There were ten years of “fun” writing before that.

And that “fun” writing was actually my entire set of writing experience. I took a few classes here and there in college as part of my other degrees (electives and such), but for the most part, those ten years of writing were me teaching myself how to write. I wrote my first true novel five different times, each time learning more about the craft and what was good writing and how much mine sucked. It wasn’t until the 5th draft that I finally thought I’d written something that could potentially be published. (And those first few drafts were bad. I mean bad. Indescribably bad.)

I also pretty much trained myself in how to send that manuscript out to find a publisher to call home. That simply amounted to a bunch of research and time on my part, reading up on what “manuscript format” meant and what publishers wanted in a “query” or “partial.” All of that’s even easier to research now with the internet, and I strongly suggest aspiring writers take the time to do the research and make a list of publisher and agents they want to submit to when they’re ready.

But of course, you have to have that stellar book first, and that part ain’t easy at all.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the books!

PALMATIER: I was waiting for you to ask. *grin* All of my novels are dark fantasy, the Tate books more epic in nature than the Palmatier books.

I’ll start with the “Throne of Amenkor” series, which begins with a young girl, Varis, barely surviving in the slums of the city of Amenkor. She’s on her way to becoming lost, like so many other souls in the slums, when she runs across a Seeker—an assassin sent by the Mistress of the city to mete out justice—named Erick. Erick trains her to protect herself and uses her to hunt his marks in the slums. Of course, these marks lead Varis beyond the slums into the heart of the Amenkor and deep into its politics. Eventually, she’s hired to kill the Mistress herself, protected by the magic of the Skewed Throne.

The series continues beyond that, with attacks from a race called the Chorl from the sea, and eventually leads to Amenkor’s sister city of Venitte. But I don’t want to spoil anything. Everyone will just have to read the books to find out what happens.

My Tate novels are a little different, set on a different continent and sort of combining the settling of a newly discovered continent with fantasy elements. Colin’s family has fled the coming war in their homeland to the new continent across the ocean, landing in one of the few settlements on the new coast. But the politics of the old world have followed them to the new. In order to escape, Colin’s father accepts responsibility for a wagon train heading into the unexplored plains to form a new settlement inland. They head out . . . only to discover entire new races of people, a beautiful new world, and unexpected and magical dangers. Attacked by one such race, the wagon train is driven into a dangerous and dark forest, where Colin’s life is changed forever when he is forced to drink for the Well of Sorrows in order to survive. But the waters of the Well transform him into something more than human. Struggling to maintain his grasp on humanity, he attempts to use his newfound powers to end the war between the three clashing races —- the humans from his homeland, the dwarren, and the Alvritshai.

VENTRELLA: You are the editor of a new anthology about fae coming out soon. How did that come about?

PALMATIER: Ah, the role as editor. That actually came about at a bar. You see, a bunch of my fellow friends and authors had gotten together for a signing and afterwards we, of course, hit the bar for a few drinks. While chatting, someone brought up the idea of doing an anthology centered around a bar, and thus AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR was born. I wrote up a proposal for that and sent it out. DAW liked the idea and thus my editing career (with Patricia Bray) was born. After the bar anthology, Patricia and I proposed a few other ideas and DAW bought THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY.

VENTRELLA: As someone who has edited a short story collection and is working on a second, I find that the hardest thing to do is reject stories, especially from friends. How have you handled this?

PALMATIER: Well, for the first anthology, AFTER HOURS, Patricia and I only invited around 17 authors to contribute. A few had to drop out because of their own schedules, so we ended up not needing to reject anyone for that anthology. However, for MODERN FAE we invited over 30 people to contribute stories, so of course we had to pick and choose from the selection there. Pretty much all of those invited were friends, of course, but we were up front with everyone and in the end we simply handled everything professionally. Both Patricia and I were able to separate the friendships from the editorial job, so while rejecting some of the friends (some of them friends for decades) was hard, we just . . . did it. Like ripping that band-aid off all in one go. Everyone knew that getting rejected was a possibility, and I think everyone understood why certain stories didn’t make the cut.

VENTRELLA: When editing an anthology, do you ever do any rewriting of the stories submitted yourself?

PALMATIER: All of the stories in the anthology were edited, of course. Neither Patricia nor I do what I would call “rewriting” though. Each of us reads the story and we compare notes on what we thought and how we think the story could be improved. One of us then sends out our notes about suggested revisions (we divide the authors up into two teams —- Team Patricia and Team Joshua). It’s up to the authors to revise the story, with the idea that at this stage there’s still a chance that the story will be cut if the revisions aren’t satisfactory. But all of our authors have reacted professionally to our suggestions, so we’ve never had any trouble. I think everyone realizes that we all want the best stories possible in the anthology and we’re all working toward that one goal. I think both anthologies are spectacular.

VENTRELLA: What resources do you use in creating your fantasy worlds?

PALMATIER: I use everything when creating my fantasy worlds. *grin* By this, I mean that I use bits and pieces of many different cultures all tweaked to fit the circumstances of the world where these characters and these stories are being told.

For example, in the “Well” series, I have three main cultures clashing on the plains. The human culture has aspects from the settlers who were setting out into the American West, but it’s obvious that they aren’t those settlers. For their homeland, I meshed numerous European cultures. The dwarren are reminiscent of some of the American Indian cultures, but various additions of my own, enough that I wouldn’t say they’re based on any one particular culture. What I’m trying to capture is a flavor, but I want that flavor to be unique —- familiar enough to be comfortable, but different enough to intrigue the reader.

Of course, you need to be familiar with numerous cultures in order to do this well. I wouldn’t say that I have any particular resources for this. I simply read and absorb as much about other cultures as I can.

VENTRELLA: With so many fantasy novels out these days, what have you done to make your series stand out from the rest? What’s different about them?

PALMATIER: Hmm . . . well, I’d like to think the writing. But, I also try to make the characters as interesting as possible and play around with the magic.

I think for a fantasy, you really need to pay attention to the magic and think about what makes your magic different from everyone other fantasy novel out there. In the “Throne” series, I have two main magical components that I focus on — the White Fire and the Skewed Throne. These two magics are obvious: the White Fire is a wall of white flame that passes through the city for a second time during Varis’ lifetime (it passed through once before 1000+ years ago). No one knows what this Fire is, but it touches and affects everyone in various ways. For Varis, a piece of the Fire appears to settle inside of her and she eventually learns how to use it. The Skewed Throne is designed to store all of the personalities of those who have touched it inside, so that the ruler has the ability to access this information and knowledge and, in theory, become a better ruler. The problem is that in Varis’ time, there are so many personalities stored inside the throne that it has essentially gone insane. For the “Well” series, I have the water inside the Well of Sorrows as the main magical component. This water gives the person who drinks it limited powers over time, but it also taints the drinker and eventually alters them into . . . something else.

These are the key elements that I think make my fantasy different than other fantasy novels out there. But again, that isn’t enough on its own. I think my books are darker and more realistic than other fantasies on the shelf at the moment, and I think that if you don’t have interesting, relatable characters, then all the cool magic in the world isn’t going to save you.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

PALMATIER: Wow, that couldn’t have been a better segue if I’d planned it. So, yeah, the characters are incredibly important. People won’t keep reading if they don’t care about the characters, no matter how interesting the magic or the plot. Everyone wants someone to root for. I don’t think there are too many tricks to creating believable characters though. The only real technique is to get inside of that character’s head and to seriously ask exactly what it is that the character would do in such a situation. It isn’t easy, and it takes practice to get yourself into that headspace (because it’s a slightly different headspace for each character), but you literally need to “become” that character for those scenes. You have to put yourself in that person’s world and feel them. At least, that’s how I do it. What would they think, what would they say, what would they do in this situation? Those are the key questions you have to ask in every scene.

VENTRELLA: What is your background? How did you decide to become a writer?

PALMATIER: Well, I decided to become a writer in the 8th grade, when an English teacher assigned us a “Twilight Zone” story and I wrote a rip-off of the Atlantis story with spaceships. But the teacher’s comment was, “This is good, you should write more.” I think that’s the first time it seriously crossed my mind that PEOPLE WROTE THE BOOKS I WAS READING! And that person could be me! It was a stunning revelation. I immediately began writing, doing short stories for Andre Norton’s MAGIC IN ITHKAR series (even though I never sent anything in) and eventually sitting down to write a typical “me and all my friends get transported to a fantasy world!” kind of story. It sucked of course, and I never finished it. But it was the first effort at writing something longer, and it taught me that writing wasn’t easy. I started my first SERIOUS effort at a novel shortly after that, and that one I finished (even though it sucked).

I never really had a “background” in writing. My degrees are in mathematics (something has to pay the bills) and I never really took any particular writing classes for the sole purpose of “learning” to write. I took a few creative writing classes in college, mostly for the elective credit. Everything else I taught myself.

VENTRELLA: You’re a math professor, right? Don’t those kinds of nerds usually end up writing hard science fiction?

PALMATIER: Ha! Yeah, science fiction. I think there are two reasons that I don’t write science fiction. The first is that, as a reader, I was never really drawn to science fiction. Everything I read when I was younger leaned more toward fantasy. I “discovered” fantasy and science fiction by accidentally checking out an Andre Norton book from the library. After that I was hooked. I read everything of Andre Norton’s I could get my hands on . . . but even then I gravitated toward her fantasy, not her SF. So I was a fantasy reader early on. It only made sense that I’d want to write fantasy on my own.

The other reason I write fantasy and not SF, I think, is because I needed something totally different from the mathematics to focus on while in grad school. The writing was, essentially, my “break” from all of the hardcore equations. In fact, it was such a break that Varis, my main character in the “Throne” books, hated mathematics. So when I got tired of the math, I’d switch gears and focus on the writing and the fantasy; and when the writing slowed down, I turned back to the fantasy. I think they complemented each other rather well.

In fact, I think the structure that’s the basis of mathematics helped me write better fantasy novels—keeping the plot in line and not scattered, keeping the magic realistic, with rules of its own, etc. And the fantasy helped the mathematics as well, since you need to be creative and think “out of the box” in order to come up with new ways to solve previously unsolved problems (which is what you do for your dissertation in math—solve something no one has solved before).

VENTRELLA: What was the biggest mistake you made in your career?

PALMATIER: I think the biggest mistake I made was writing the sequel to my first novel when it hasn’t sold yet. You see, I wrote that first novel and started sending it out to agents and editors. But it was the first book in a trilogy (of course), and I was so confident that it would sell that while it was out doing the rounds I worked on the sequel and got it finished. But of course, that first novel never sold. So I wasted a year of writing working on the sequel, when I should have been writing a different book completely in case that first book didn’t sell. Looking back on it, it’s obvious, but at the time I had no clue. I may have gotten published earlier if I hadn’t lost all of that time.

VENTRELLA: What do you see as the biggest mistakes starting authors make in their writing?

PALMATIER: Well, I still see people making that same mistake I made: writing that sequel when the first book hasn’t sold yet. You should work on something else, because then you have another novel to shop around, and if that first book sell you can still write the sequel. But the biggest mistake I see aspiring writers making is that they don’t take the time to do the research you need to do before you start sending manuscripts out there. Every writer needs to sit down and research the publishers and editors and get a good idea of who they’d like to publish their work. Make a list, with their top choice down. Do the same for agents, paying particular attention to make certain the publisher and agents are legitimate. Do a second list for top agent down. Research each one to see what they want from the writer (some want just a query letter, some want a partial, some will take the full manuscript, etc). Make certain the manuscript is in the proper format. Once all of this research is done, then send out the manuscript. All of this research won’t take up much time (in comparison to the time it took to write the manuscript in the first place) and it makes your submission professional. Publishers want good books first and foremost . . . but they’re also looking to work with someone who approaches them in a professional manner.

VENTRELLA: What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you first began writing?

PALMATIER: I think I was rather lucky in that I did get good advice pretty much right at the start, and that advice was, “Have patience.” You won’t get a contract immediately. You’re going to get rejections, and you have to realize that the rejections aren’t personal. So you have to accept the rejections (with perhaps some wine or chocolate and a few good writer friends for support) and persevere. Keep sending that manuscript out, submitting down your list, and keep writing that next project. Because by the time you get through your list, if you keep writing, you’ll have another novel ready to send out. By then you’ll have a revised list based on the rejections you’ve gotten, and that revised list gives you a better chance of success.

Joshua and I on a panel together at the 2012 Arisia convention

Leggo My Ego

I’ve found that the writers I’ve met fall into two categories:

First, there are the brooders who think they’re no good. “I can’t stand what I’ve written! I refuse to look at it again. No one will buy this book, because I’m such a terrible writer!”

Then there are the egotists who think they can do no wrong. “This is a masterpiece! It’s the best book ever written! It’s sure to be a best seller and be made into a movie!”

You know where I’m going with this, right? That the truth is that there are some absolutely terrible and amazingly talented writers in each group?

Still, the problem comes in recognizing yourself if you fall into one of these categories, and then learning to take a step back and trying to view your own work objectively. That’s not easy.8

It’s always difficult for any creative person to look at their own work and analyze it fairly. And that’s understandable. Your children are smarter, prettier, and more talented than everyone else’s children, right?

I, unfortunately, tend to fall into the second category too often. I finish a story and go “Wow! This is great! I can’t see any way to improve upon what I have just written!” I get all excited — and then I’m crushed when I receive rejection letters.

What has helped me is a good editor who can knock some sense into me from time to time and bring me back to earth. Usually the changes she suggests make me go “Now why didn’t I see that the first time?” (I’ve discussed how and why an editor is important before, by the way.)

It is important to have a healthy ego and be proud of your work. It’s what keeps you striving and happy, in my mind. I think many authors in that first group never get very far because they are not confident in their own work to promote it properly.

But at the same time, you have to know your limitations. I am perfectly aware that I am not a great writer — but I am very proud that I am a good writer! I can be proud of my characters and my plot twists and the way I keep my story moving while acknowledging that I am still learning the techniques to make it read even better.

Prologues: The Devil’s Work

Prologues: Do editors really hate them?

Recently, at a writer’s discussion, an aspiring author discussed his fantasy novel. It started with a prologue that explained something important that happened fifty years prior to the action that begins the first chapter.

I advised him to cut it and work that information into the book in other ways. I dislike prologues.

Too often, especially in science fiction and fantasy books, authors use a prologue to explain the world and set the scene. Instead of jumping into the story, we get a long history lesson, full of names and places we’ll instantly forget, many of which never appear again in the book.

Bor – ring.

Let us find out about that background when it’s needed. Introduce it through dialogue instead of in some “info dump.” Trust your readers.

You’ll probably find that most of the information you created isn’t really needed for the story.

Writing a background history is important — I encourage all authors writing to develop their worlds fully. It will aid you greatly in developing your characters’ personalities. However, your reader doesn’t need all that information.

ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL take place in a fantasy world with a detailed history. The magic in this world works in a specific way. Terin, the teenager who gets pulled into the adventure against his will, learns what history and magic he needs to know as he progresses through the story. Amazingly enough, that’s exactly the amount the reader needs in order to follow the story and get excited about its plot.

None of the rest of that grand world history is in the book other than through passing comments. It’s not needed to tell the story.

Not all prologues are evil. Just unnecessary ones. For instance, in a tale about a haunted house, a short prologue describing the murder that took place there a hundred years ago might work just fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a prologue that sets the story. But then, why not just name that “Chapter One”?

Here’s my entire first chapter for my upcoming novel BLOODSUCKERS, about a vampire who runs for President (disclaimer: This could change by the time of publication):

Norman Mark was a politician with skeletons in his closet.

Literally.

I could have called that the prologue, because it sets up the feel of the book in a concise way while not actually starting the plot at all. In fact, Norman Mark is not even the main character.

I have no problem with an introductory opening like that — and neither do editors. There are plenty of examples of books that begin this way.

Really, what I hate (and what editors hate) are info dumps — where the author needs the reader to understand certain things and gives a lesson instead of tells a story.

I’m against those at any point in the book, but especially in the beginning. Your opening words need to grab the reader, and a history lesson doesn’t do it.

Interview with author A. C. Crispin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing A.C. Crispin, whose new novel is PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM. She’s best known for the novelization of the 1984 V TV series, but also for her bestselling Star Wars novels THE PARADISE SNARE, THE HUTT GAMBIT, and REBEL DAWN — although I first discovered her through her Star Trek novels: YESTERDAY’S SON, TIME FOR YESTERDAY, THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDERS, and SAREK.

Ann, You’ve been able to write novels in some of fandom’s favorite stories. How did you manage that?

A.C. CRISPIN: After I wrote YESTERDAY’S SON and V, publishers with franchises approached my agent when they had projects they thought would be a good match for my skills.

If your readers want to read about how to get an agent, soup to nuts, they should read “Notes on Finding a (Real) Literary Agent” on my website.

VENTRELLA: Do you make proposals or do the studios come to you directly now?

CRISPIN: For original novels I write book proposals. For tie-in work, they pretty much come to me.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss THE PRICE OF FREEDOM. How much freedom were you given to develop Jack Sparrow’s background?

CRISPIN: After a considerable amount of back and forth on the part of the Disney studio liaison, during which several detailed outlines were not approved, the studio liaison decided that instead of writing the project I had been originally hired to write (the story of the Isla de Muerta mutiny re: the Aztec gold) I should instead write the story of how Jack Sparrow worked for the EITC and wound up making that bargain with Davy Jones. So I knew where the story had to end up. How I got there was left pretty much up to me.

I did consult with both my editors on the book, the acquiring editor and the editor who completed the project. For example, they both agreed that there should be a “Lady Pirate” as a character, so that’s how Doña Pirata was born. The Legend of Zerzura plotline was my creation, but my editors suggested having talismans as a way to get into the Sacred Labyrinth and reach the treasure. So I then came up with the bracelets.

By the time I finished with my outline, it was over 70 single spaced pages long. Of course, THE PRICE OF FREEDOM is a long novel, some 235,000 words.

VENTRELLA: Did Disney censor any of your ideas or tell you to make major changes?

CRISPIN: My Disney editor (somewhat regretfully, because she really liked them) bowdlerized my hottest sex scene. I’m not sure you’d call that a major change. After all, we are talking Disney, here. (The scene was hot, but not graphic — she felt that it was a bit too hot.)

VENTRELLA: What were your main goals in trying to develop his character?

CRISPIN: To create the character of “Jack becoming” so that people would recognize Jack Sparrow, but also know this wasn’t quite the Jack they see in the films … this was a younger, more vulnerable, more trusting and less cynical Jack. He gets more cynical and “savvy” during the course of the book. He’s not the same Jack at the end as he was at the beginning. Of course that’s the goal of good fiction, right?

VENTRELLA: What adventures in your novel help shape Jack into the character we all know?

CRISPIN: Oh, Jack experiences betrayal, disappointment, fear of imminent death, hatred, and as a result learns to be much more wary and cunning, and to trust almost no one. Readers who want teasers can read the excerpts on my website. There are six there.

VENTRELLA: Do any other characters from the film appear in the novel?

CRISPIN: Edward Teague, Cutler Beckett, Hector Barbossa, Pintel and Ragetti, and a certain squid-faced Captain.

VENTRELLA: Were you given a peek at the script for the most recent film in order to work in some foreshadowing?

CRISPIN: No. I was given the script for “At World’s End” before the film released, but my book was finished before the script for “On Stranger Tides” was written.

VENTRELLA: The most recent movie is loosely based on Tim Powers’ novel ON STRANGER TIDES. Did you use that novel at all for reference?

CRISPIN: I’ve read ON STRANGER TIDES a couple of times, but aside from the fact that it’s an excellent pirate yarn, no.

VENTRELLA: Will there be more books in the series?

CRISPIN: That will be Disney’s call. I imagine they’ll base that decision on how well THE PRICE OF FREEDOM sells.

VENTRELLA: What’s your favorite of the Pirates movies?

CRISPIN: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

VENTRELLA: Do you find using established characters in your media novels to be a limitation?

CRISPIN: Nope. I find it a challenge to have them grow and change in ways so subtle that the studio doesn’t realize I’ve done it.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written your own series: Starbridge. Tell us about this!

CRISPIN: Funny you should ask about that. There’s a good chance that the seven StarBridge novels will soon be re-released as e-books. There have been quite a few requests for them from readers, over the years. The series is about a school for young people from the Fifteen Known Worlds who come to an asteroid in deep space to learn to be diplomats, planetary advocates (known as “interrelators”) and explorers. The books focus on First Contact, and explore what it would be like in a galactic society.

VENTRELLA: Do you find writing books based on your own work easier?

CRISPIN: Not really. I put my full efforts into both my media tie-ins and my original novels. With the original novels, it’s generally a bit more work, because I have to create the world, the technology, the history, the geography, the society, etc. World-building and universe-building have to be done well if you want to create the illusion of reality –- something that’s essential to writing s.f. and fantasy.

VENTRELLA: We met at Balticon this year. Do you enjoy conventions and do you advise authors to attend them?

CRISPIN: You can learn a lot at conventions, and once you’ve gone pro, you can do a fair amount of networking and business at gatherings such as the Nebulas, Worldcon, etc. I enjoy conventions, still, even after all these years.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about Writer Beware. How did the idea for this come about?

CRISPIN: Back in 1998, Victoria Strauss and I both realized, independently of each other, that writing scams were proliferating on the internet. At some point our investigations brought us into contact with each other, and we decided to do something about it. SFWA gave us its blessing and sponsorship, and that’s how Writer Beware was born.

VENTRELLA: I meet many authors who have gone the vanity press or self publishing route and then wonder why no one takes them seriously. Other than “don’t do that” do you have any specific pieces of advice for these authors?

CRISPIN: I advise them to go to Writer Beware and read our articles about POD, vanity publishing, etc., so they’ll go into self publishing with a clear vision of what it can and can’t do for an author. E-publishing has taken off in the past six months, and it can now be a realistic way (provided the author has the sales numbers) to break into commercial publishing (advance and royalty paying publishing with a major press, that is). This is generally not true for POD and hardcopy “self publishing.” But there are exceptions.

The main problem with “self-publishing” is when authors confuse it with commercial publishing and expect their books to be on the shelves in bookstores nationwide, plus have other unrealistic expectations. It is really not a shortcut into a successful writing career for the vast majority of those who do it. I believe it’s still true that most POD and self published novels still sell fewer than 100 copies.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

CRISPIN: Here are my top two picks for that:

(1) I’d go back in time and eliminate the Thor Power Tools Supreme Court ruling. That had a terrible effect on a publisher’s ability to keep books in stock. Look it up.

(2) I’d get rid of the Internet for two reasons (A) the internet has given aspiring writers the idea that they’re entitled to be published, no matter how well or poorly they write, and (B) because of the internet, writers are getting scammed at an appalling rate.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

CRISPIN: Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Peters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mahy, Ursula K. LeGuin, George R.R. Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Charlotte Bronte, and too many others to name.

VENTRELLA: Of what work are you most proud?

CRISPIN: I do my level best on all my books. I’m pretty proud of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM, because I had to do so much research. It took me three years to write, and the whole time I was writing it, I was doing research on the historical period and the nautical stuff.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?

CRISPIN: For tie-in work I HAVE to produce detailed outlines, so I’ve gotten used to working that way. I don’t like writing myself into corners, and a good outline usually prevents that.

VENTRELLA: Fantasy has grown tremendously in popularity over the past twenty or thirty years and now outsells science fiction. Why do you think this is? What is it about fantasy that appeals to readers that they can’t get from science fiction?

CRISPIN: I have no idea. Personally, I prefer science fiction, though I read both.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting author that you wish someone had given you?

CRISPIN: Learn to read and analyze publishing contracts. Agents aren’t perfect, and you really need to be able to read a proposed contract and spot pitfalls.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

CRISPIN: Here’s my top five list:

1. They spend years writing a Star Wars or other tie-in novel without ever researching whether they can actually submit the thing and have a chance of having it published. (With Star Wars, for example, they won’t even read the book; all Star Wars novels are contracted for in advance.)

2. They look for shortcuts, such as “self publishing” or POD publishing, often with a scammy publisher like PublishAmerica or Strategic, because it’s the easy thing to do.

3. They develop “golden words syndrome” and can’t see any flaws in their writing, and if someone points them out, they get mad. This is death to any aspiration to ever be a pro.

4. They submit first drafts.

5. They want to write fiction, but they don’t read it. I’ve never yet encountered a single writer, in the dozens, maybe hundreds of workshops I’ve taught, who wrote fiction well but wasn’t a reader. In order to write well, especially fiction, you must be an inveterate reader. No exceptions.

VENTRELLA: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never do?

CRISPIN: Where readers can buy my books. There are links to purchase all my books on my website.

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 TeeMorris.com.

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.

me&tee

Short Stories

Short stories are hard. Harder than novels.

That’s what I and many other writers think, as you can see from some of the interviews here. A novel gives you time to develop characters, control the action, and create a full world. A short story has to do as much of that as possible in a very limited space.

At the same time, a short story can be completed in much less time.

I had a short story published in the anthology RUM AND RUNESTONES last year called “X Spots the Mark” in which pirate Captain Irad the Fair follows a fake treasure map. Of course, being one of my stories, things are never as they seem and you can expect a twist at the end.rum3

The sequel will soon be published in another anthology called CUTLASS AND MUSKET: TALES OF PIRATICAL SKULLDUGGERY. And then my story “The Zombie King’s Plan” will be in the collection TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD’S EYE VIEW due out in June (and edited by me!)

I am doing more short stories in anthologies these days for exposure. When someone buys an anthology, they probably have never heard of me or read anything by me. They’re getting it because they like the subject or because there is another author whose story in the anthology they wish to read. But once they have the book, they may take a chance and read my story as well. And then I might have another reader who will want my novels.

Plus I get paid. I mean, come on, that’s nice too.

So if you’re a starting writer, consider short stories as a way to get noticed. In the TALES OF FORTANNIS series I am editing, I am more than happy to read stories from unpublished writers, and in fact, about half of the stories in this first collection are from first time authors. I am already planning the next edition and have set a deadline for August 1, 2011. More information is available here.

Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am honored to be interviewing Hugo-nominated author Lawrence M. Schoen. Lawrence holds a PhD in cognitive psychology and spent ten years as a college professor. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language. A few years back he started Paper Golem, a speculative fiction small press aimed at serving the niche of up-and-coming new authors as well as providing a market for novellas. In 2007 he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer and in 2010 received a Hugo nomination for best short story. He’s the author Guest of Honor at Lunacon next weekend (March 18-20, 2011), where he’ll have a book launch for his second novel, BUFFALITO CONTINGENCY. (I’m just a regular guest, but I am on at least one panel with him!).

Lawrence, Do you enjoy conventions and do you advise authors to attend them?

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN: I love conventions! Most of my friends are either authors or fans (or both) and they’re scattered all over. Conventions are often my only opportunity to see them and catch up. It’s become trite to talk about how writing is such a solitary experience and how only other authors can really relate to the tribulations of the life, but the reason it’s trite is because there’s so much truth in it. It’s incredibly comforting to settle in with other writers and listen as they share their own joys and complaints and be reminded that it’s actually a kind of club.

Back in my psychology days, I attended research conferences for much the same set of reasons. One of my graduate professors, a brilliant scholar named Thaddeus Cowan — the only person I know to have invented a new impossible figure! — told me that that when it comes to conferences and conventions you’re looking for three things: 1) meet up with an old friend, 2) make a new friend, and 3) come away with a fresh idea. If you do any two, it’s a good event, and if you manage all three, it’s great. Most conventions I’ve been to, I’ve been lucky enough to hit all three, over and over again.

Having said that, I don’t think every author should attend conventions. Conventions aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I’m an extravert, a big guy with a loud voice. Having been a professor for ten years, I’m very comfortable standing in front of a room full of people and telling everyone what I think about something, at length. I’m completely at home in that kind of setting, but I know people who can’t abide crowds, let alone being trapped in a room with a bunch of loud people with big egos. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be an either/or kind of thing. I think you can be very successful as a writer without stepping into the spotlight and bloviating. A shyer author can attend a convention, hang out in the background and chat quietly with other authors and fans, attend functions and make connections. There’s plenty of room for variety, and even people like me get tired and calm down eventually and welcome a quiet conversation before the day’s out.

VENTRELLA: You are known in large part for your promotion and publication of Klingon translations of Shakespeare and other works. What led you to the interest in the language?

SCHOEN: I’ve always been fascinated with languages. I’m not necessarily particularly talented at them — it’s not like I have a great ear for languages, or learn them quickly, I just enjoy them. My academic expertise is in psycholinguistics. I stumbled into Klingon with the right set of skills at the beginning of the internet explosion. So I was in the right place at the right time. Traditionally, the two things that hinder any language, natural or constructed, are 1) time, and 2) distance. I became immersed in Klingon at the precise moment when these factors ceased to be an issue, when the technology and expertise allowed real time communication with people almost anywhere in the world, something that other constructed languages hadn’t previously enjoyed. It was like being on a linguistic rollercoaster, and the ride’s been going nonstop for twenty years!

VENTRELLA: You also established a small press company called “Paper Golem” a few years ago. What led you to that decision?

SCHOEN: I’m extraordinarily lucky. I have a good job that pays me a decent wage for part time work. That leaves me free to do things like write. A few years ago some members of Codex (an online community of writers) were kicking around ideas for generating more group identity, and I offered to edit a reprint anthology for them. When I looked at the numbers, I realized it wasn’t that much more time and money to set myself up to do additional books as it was to do just that one book. Basically, I was in a position to commit an act of “paying it forward” and that’s how Paper Golem came about. It’s not intended to make a lot of money. The goals of the press are much more modest. I’m very happy to have a book break even, and anything extra gets folded into the next project. We’ve put out four books to date, with another one due in May. And the last book, ALEMBICAL 2, has an original novella that’s up for a Nebula Award. As you can imagine I’m feeling pretty chuffed about that.

VENTRELLA: What works have you released through Paper Golem that have impressed you?

SCHOEN: We have two “series” that we do. First, I’m committed to providing a venue for novellas, because there aren’t a lot of places where you can sell a story that’s in the 20K – 40K word range, particularly if you’re not a Big Name Author. That’s what ALEMBICAL is for. Second, I like the idea of doing single author collections for writers who are producing incredible stories but haven’t yet written and sold a novel. These are authors who deserve to be read, who deserve to have their work gathered in one place so that potential readers can find them and be delighted. Our first single author collection was for Cat Rambo, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The next one, which I’m finishing up even now, is by Eric James Stone, and contains a novelette that’s also just been nominated for a Nebula Award. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with such talented authors who are going to transform this field as they progress through their careers.

VENTRELLA: Has Paper Golem been the success you hoped?

SCHOEN: Absolutely, particularly because (and this may be the same mindset that originally set me on the road of being an academician) I don’t measure success in terms of how much money is produced. Paper Golem is bringing quality fiction to print, and if you love reading good science fiction and fantasy then there really isn’t a higher mark to hit.

VENTRELLA: What does a small press offer than the larger publishing houses cannot?

SCHOEN: The ability to take chances. The opportunity to work with authors as a labor of love without having to justify it to the accountant. There are tradeoffs, of course. Would I love to publish a best seller? Sure. More sales would mean more money to do more books, but it would also mean reaching more people and introducing them to authors they might not have otherwise found. Don’t get me wrong, I love big presses, and I love what they do. But small presses serve a different niche. Small presses are all about the long tail, the specialized market. For Paper Golem that’s novella-length fiction and newer authors, and seriously, that’s not all that specialized. Somewhere I’m sure there’s a small press that is specialized to serve the reading desires of people who want nothing but humorous SF stories about talking, vampire cats solving computer crime in space. Hmm… I wonder if anyone has a novella about that…

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

SCHOEN: Lately I’ve become more and more upset about the economics and how that drives what publishing does. I’ve seen author friends who are working on series get dropped by their publishers because while the series is profitable, it’s not as profitable as hoped, so the author has to change publishers, and in effect end their series (the big exception to this being Carrie Vaugh) because what new publisher would want to pick up a series with book #5 when the rights to books #1 through #4 are tied up elsewhere? I understand that publishing is a business, and it would be criminally naive to imagine otherwise, but I don’t read because doing so puts money in some editor’s pocket or employs a proof reader or marketing department; I read because I enjoy what a given author creates.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

SCHOEN: I read anything by Walter Jon Williams, Karl Schroeder, Daniel Abraham, China Mieville. I go on binges where I’ll read everything I can get by a particular author that I’ve stumbled over or rediscovered in my library, and I’ll keep tearing through all of that author’s work for a while until I’m sated and have to come up for air. Last year I devoured books by the late Kage Baker. Right now I’m in the middle of Michael Chabon.

VENTRELLA: How has your background as a psychologist influenced your work?

SCHOEN: I trained as a researcher, and so everything comes back to a question. Everything gets turned into a testable hypothesis. Why does the character do X. What happens if the bad guy is thwarted by removing Y from his path. What are the systematic variables that can affect the outcome? This kind of worldview permeates not just my fiction, but also my daily wife. It drives my wife nuts!

VENTRELLA: How did you come up with the concept of The Amazing Conroy?

SCHOEN: Some years back I was enrolled in the two week workshop that James Gunn offers out of the University of Kansas. It was the last night; we were done. Everyone had gathered and in a celebratory mood, and this line of dialogue just popped into my head and right out of my mouth without any control. It was “Put down the buffalo dog and step away from the bar!”

As soon as I said the room went quiet and everyone was staring at me. I had no idea what it meant or where it had come from, but I vowed to one day write a story with that line. It took years, but then, one day, I found myself writing “Buffalo Dogs.” At the time, I had no idea it was going to lead to another quarter million words and a branded identity.

VENTRELLA: There seems to be a theme in much of speculative fiction about super-humans – the “chosen one” who has special powers no one else has who is the subject of a prophecy to save the world blah blah blah. Of course, that’s an old theme going back forever. The main characters in my books are just normal guys who do their best, make mistakes, yet win in the end, and you have the same attitude in your work. So why do these kinds of characters appeal to you?

SCHOEN: I blame Thornton Wilder. I had to read a lot of his stuff back in high school, and he spent a fair amount of time championing the “every man.” Ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances are much easier for a reader to relate to than someone who is superhuman in extraordinary circumstances. Most of us are never going to be James Bond, but we very well could be the guy who lives in the apartment next door to him (of course it’s not his real apartment, just one he keeps as a cover). I like protagonists who aren’t jaded by the chaos and adventure of their lives, but rather are dragged into it by surprise, kicking all the way.

VENTRELLA: Of what work are you most proud?

SCHOEN: The answer to that is constantly changing, because I’m constantly changing as a writer. I’m very happy with the new novel, and I think it represents a new high point in my ability to craft a complex story and tell an entertaining tale. There’s a short story I wrote a while back that came out in January of last year and that I secretly (well, not so secretly now) harbor an unlikely hope that it will make the Hugo ballot. It’s called “The Wrestler and the Spearfisher” and it’s one of my infrequent jaunts into Fantasy.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?

SCHOEN: I’m constantly changing how I work, trying new things. Nowadays, I’m trying to get better at blocking out the scenes in a story or novel before I do too much of the writing. I’m somewhat transitioning from being a seat-of-the-pants writer (what some like to call a “discovery writer”) to an outliner, but I suspect I’m going to stop far short of the end. I’m enjoying knowing more about a work before I sit down to write it though. It’s very different from the way I used to work. But will it last? We’ll just have to see.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting author that you wish someone had given you? What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

SCHOEN: Problems in Perspective. There are always going to be bigger fish, and if you constantly compare your attainments to them, you’re always going to make yourself miserable. Keep a perspective on things and don’t view this business as a zero-sum game. Instead, if you have to be competitive, compete with yourself. Are you further along now than you were at this time last year? Is your prose improving? Are your plots more involved? Work on improving yourself, rather than trying to be as good as someone else. You’ll get there sooner, and you’ll be happier along the way.

16

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 blog.double-dragon-ebooks.com, 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.

Interview with Author Tracy S. Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing author Tracy S. Morris. She is the author of the Tranquility series of urban fantasy mysteries. The most recent, BRIDE OF TRANQUILITY, is a murder mystery set in a haunted hotel during a Renaissance wedding. She’s also published a number of short stories. Her web page is here.

Hi Tracy! Tell me a little bit about yourself!

TRACY S. MORRIS: I’m a professional writer, so I spend most of my days in front of my home computer in my pajamas. My specialty is service journalism in the gardening industry. Which is a fancy way of saying that I write “how to” articles that deal with topics like compost, animal manure and growing the perfect tomato. I like to call that “living the dream.” Although it probably means that I’ve got no life.

I’m also a retired newspaper photographer/reporter. On my best day, I got to shoot the president (with a camera) which probably put me in the crosshairs of a secret service sniper. On my worst day, I was suspended off of the back of a speedboat in freezing weather and driving sleet to get a picture for a news story.

I got to do some very interesting things in that job. I had a ride in a hot air balloon. I had the best seats in the house for every major sporting event. But I also had no life, no predictable schedule. And after the day with the speedboat in the sleet, I realized that there has to be a better way to make a living. Which is why I now work at home in my bathrobe.

When I do leave the house, I’m a shooting enthusiast, a martial arts black belt and a former fencer. I’m a history buff and I’ve spent some time in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a group that recreates history from Roman times through the late-renaissance (the boundaries are nebulous and basically cover anything that other history groups don’t cover.)

VENTRELLA: What’s something unusual or different about you that your readers probably don’t know?

MORRIS: That’s a tough one to answer. I’m pretty transparent about my life, so there isn’t a lot that my readers don’t know about me.

I like to collect antique cameras. The collection is mostly thanks to my dad, who likes to go to garage sales. I asked him to be on the lookout for antique cameras for me. So he used to pick up any old camera he saw at an auction. I have several antique bellows cameras, a couple of twin lens reflex, some very nice medium format box cameras and two or three Brownie Hawkeye still in the box. He even bought me a couple of necklaces with camera charms. Eventually I hit a point where I had no more room for them and I had to ask him to stop buying them for me.

The one camera I want most that I don’t have yet is an old Speed Graphic press camera. One of these days I’m just going to cave in and buy one on E-Bay or something.

VENTRELLA: Your “Tranquility” series seems to combine a number of different genres. How did this come about?

MORRIS: Tranquility really grew out of something I was writing for fun. Because of that, I didn’t try to stick with a formula or say “I’m going to make this just a mystery. Or just an urban fantasy. Or just a horror. I was writing for me, so I made it about the things that interested me.

I grew up on a family farm out on the border of the Ozark mountains. My family lived in that region for four generations. When I was a kid, I read a few too many bigfoot stories. So the things that scared me weren’t the monster under the bed. It was whether there was something out in the dark woods out past the barn. That’s where the horror element from Tranquility came from.

I wanted to write the book as a pure horror, but I also have a skewed sense of humor which kept slithering in. One of the major themes that appeared in the book grew out of my reaction to moving home and really seeing the oddities in my small town for the first time. This made the book feel much more like the TV series Northern Exposure, or possibly the Disney Cartoon Cars with that ‘city slicker comes to the country and discovers that it’s a pretty great place’ theme.

By the time that I finished writing the book, I finally embraced the notion that my natural writing voice is humor instead of horror.

TRANQUILITY was nominated for a Darrell award, and placed runner up in 2006. At the awards ceremony my publisher asked when I was going to give her the second book. When I sat down to write it, I decided to make it as fun and absurd as possible. So I threw in everything but the kitchen sink.

The second book in the series, BRIDE OF TRANQUILITY, came after I had been through the process of helping to plan and put on four weddings (Two of them the same year.) I had dabbled in wedding photography by that point, and I had some sarcastic, slightly cynical views about the business side of the wedding industry.

So I thought ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen at a wedding? How about a murder? What’s the worst thing that can happen in a murder investigation? Why not a killer who can move around the hotel through secret passageways – phantom of the opera style? What about if all of the hotel guests mistrusted the investigator and wouldn’t talk to him? Why would they do that? What if they were conspiracy theorists?

VENTRELLA: Do you think that not fitting into one genre made it a harder sell to editors (and the public)?

MORRIS: I didn’t actually have to sell the series. Which is almost embarrassing to admit, since so many other authors have tales of sending a novel out to 45 agents and 20 publishers before gaining acceptance. I sold TRANQUILITY to Yard Dog Press because I was friends with the publisher. When I was outlining the novel, I told Selina Rosen, the editor about this new project that I was excited about. She asked me to send it to her when it was done.

BRIDE has been easier to sell to the fans, because I have a catchy summary that makes the book sound fun. Where else would you be able to read a murder mystery set in a haunted hotel during a Renaissance wedding?

VENTRELLA: I note that they are from Baen Books in e-format but Yard Dog in paper. How does that arrangement work?

MORRIS: Yard Dog Press does not deal in e-books, so they did not contract those rights. But the publisher has a working relationship with Baen. (Baen bought the e-rights to Selina Rosen’s Misha Merlin titles as well as the Sword Masters series from Dragon Moon Press.)

Additionally, Baen had just bought the E-Rights to another popular Yard Dog Press series, The Four Redheads of the Apocalypse.

Since I already had a working relationship with Baen, Selina suggested that I offer the E-rights to them. I could have put out the E-books myself through Amazon. Authors such as Jim Hines have done that with great success. Another Yard Dog author, Margaret Bonham has put her Yard Dog Press epic fantasy novel Prophecy of Swords out that way. Since then her title has reached the top 10 in epic fantasy e-book category for Kindle.

But Baen brings with them a new audience of readers that I might not reach otherwise. That is very exciting to me.

(By the way, through the month of December 2010, if you purchase either TRANQUILITY or BRIDE OF TRANQUILITY in trade paperback from Yard Dog Press (Direct from the publisher, not from Amazon), I’ll send you a free preview of the first two chapters of the next Tranquility book that is now in progress, which is tentatively titled IT CAME TO TRANQUILITY.

The links to these books on Yard Dog Press are: TRANQUILITY and BRIDE OF TRANQUILITY.

Baen is also running a special on the E-Books. Until January 1, 2011, you can order both TRANQUILITY and BRIDE OF TRANQUILITY along with the books in the “Four Redheads of the Apocalypse” series as a Yard Dog Press bundle for $20.

You can order the E-Books at: http://www.webscription.net/m-9-yard-dog-press.aspx)

VENTRELLA: How did you make your first sale? Did you have an agent?

MORRIS: I still don’t have an agent. Instead I’ve made every sale I have the old fashioned way — by researching markets and sending manuscripts out.

My first sale was to an anthology called OCTOBERLAND that was put out by Flesh and Blood Press. It was a story entitled “Frost King” that I had basically written and rewritten multiple times.

I sold the story exactly the wrong way. It had been the first short story that I ever wrote, I made revisions with the help of an English teacher and then put it in a drawer through my college years. Once I decided to pursue writing again I started sending it out. Every time It was rejected I rewrote it using suggestions that the rejecting editor provided me. Eventually after 12 rewrites over 4 years, I sold the story.

That same week I also sold “Attack of the Godless Undead Zombies” to Yard Dog Press for one of their “Bubbas of the Apocalypse” anthologies. That story was written in the space of two days. I turned it in to Selina Rosen after my husband gave it a single editing pass.

Today I try to get a story to the point that I am happy with it before I send it out instead of changing it with every rejection. I feel much happier with the end result.

VENTRELLA: I have a short story that I can’t seem to sell, as it hardly fits into any specific genre. What advice do you have for me (and other writers reading this) for finding the right editor?

MORRIS: Before you do anything, consider your goals. Do you want to sell a story you are unhappy with for the sake of having a sale? Or do you want to have the best body of representative work you can possibly produce?

If you just want the sale, then rewrite the story along a formula so that it fits into a single genre. But if you are happy with the story as it stands, put it aside until the right editor comes along.

My personal choice would be the second option. I have been writing and reading speculative fiction for 20 years and I have seen genre conventions change drastically over the years. I never thought I would see the day that Jane Austen and Zombies were used in the same genre. I have ‘trunked’ perfectly good stories because they didn’t have the right market, only to have the perfect market for the story come along two years later.

If you change your work into something that you dislike just to make a sale, you may end up with a ‘representative body of work’ that you are unhappy with.

Also bear in mind that compared to novels, short stories are very quick to produce. You can have a short story written within a few days. So if you can’t find a home for one, you can set it aside and devote your attentions to creating and selling a new story.

VENTRELLA: You have two short stories in Baen’s online magazine “The Grantville Gazette”: “Still Life with Wolves and Canvasses” and “A Study in Redheads.” Do you think that online publications are the wave of the future?

MORRIS: Don’t forget about my co-writer for those stories, Brad Sinor.

A few months back Amazon began selling more electronic books than print books. This has a huge impact on magazines. Particularly since the publication business model is not the same as the book business model.

Most print publications don’t get their revenue from selling copies of their magazines. Instead they get revenue from ad sales. So a magazine like Fantasy Magazine once could leverage their sales numbers to attract advertisers. Fewer people are going into stores where these magazines used to sell. Instead, readership is online now.

You are already seeing more magazines online. There are several business models out there. Daily Science Fiction is delivering a story a day directly into my in box. The Grantville Gazettes require a subscription to access their online content. Fantasy Magazine has complete stories up for free with ads in the margins. Clarkesworld offers free content online, but sells their magazine with additional content through Kindle and has occasional donation drives.

When the dust settles, I think the most profitable business model will be the one we see copied.

The thing I admire about what Grantville Gazette is doing is that they are building a community around their 1632 franchise. There are the novels with the bigger name writers. But there are also message boards where fans can interact and have an impact on the storylines. Baen has an entire section devoted to the tech of the 1632 universe where experts (and there are plenty of qualified experts) can hammer out the science of the universe.

If someone wants to submit a story to the Grantville Gazettes, the story is put up on a closed message board where the Grantville fans can pick it over for conflicts with the universe timeline or the science. The author can make the changes and if the story is accepted, the same fans will buy the content.

Eventually, the ‘best of’ stories are the ones that get released in the print anthologies. Which also are bought by the community members.

Business-wise, this is smart. This is what made Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog such a success: Joss Whedon has an intensely loyal community that is willing to follow whatever he does.

This is also why celebrities such as Wil Wheaton, and internet celebrity Author Cleolinda Jones do so well with self publication. They’ve built a community of readers who are willing to follow what they do.

VENTRELLA: “Fish Story” is a short story you wrote which appeared in STRIP MAULED, an anthology edited by Esther Friesner. Tell me about that!

MORRIS: “Fish Story” involves a couple of characters that have been living in my mind for a while. Back when Laurel K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher first began publishing urban fantasy, I had a thought that it might be fun to write someone who would live in an urban fantasy world but eschewed magic. How would that person survive if they lived as a sort of magic conscientious objector?

The adventures I wrote were another example of a hard-to-sell genre mashup. I write funny third person. The urban fantasy of that type seems to take itself very seriously, and usually follows the noir detective novel conventions of first person point of view.

The characters are a good example of an idea that was trunked because of a lack of market, only to have the market return. I had an early story with the characters published in a magazine (now defunct) entitled “Whispers from the Shattered Forum”. After that, the Noir Detective novel in the Urban Fantasy market seemed to be dying.

Then TWILIGHT revived the interest in Urban Fantasy Vampires, which always seem to pull readers into the Noir Detective Urban Fantasy novels. And then along came a couple of great TV shows like “Supernatural.”

Prior to selling Fish Story, I sold a short story with these characters entitled Homo “Homini Lupis” to an anthology entitled WOLF SONGS, which was put out by Wolfsinger press. I recently finished a novel with the characters that is based on the plot to this short story.

Then Esther Friesner launched her monsters in suburbia series. The anthologies are open by invitation only. But through a mutual friend I was able to ask her if I could submit a story for consideration for her werewolf-themed anthology. I was very surprised when the story not only made it into the anthology, but was put up on Baen’s website as one of the free preview stories.

I also submitted a story to her for the vampire-themed anthology. But the competition for inclusion in that anthology was a bit stiffer, and I didn’t end up being selected.

VENTRELLA: Would you advise beginning authors to concentrate on getting short stories published first?

MORRIS: There is a huge difference between publishing a short story and publishing a novel. About 15 years ago the accepted career path was to build name recognition through short stories and leverage that to secure a novel contract. Today that wisdom doesn’t hold true. You can get a contract with an agent, or sell a manuscript to Tor or Baen if the novel is good regardless of what your name is. Conversely, you can have a big name in short stories and if your novel isn’t good enough, you won’t be able to sell it.

My advice is to concentrate on honing your craft in the medium that you want to be published in. If you want to write short stories, that’s the area you should focus in. If you want to write novels, start there.

VENTRELLA: What is your opinion on e-book publishers and Print On Demand?

MORRIS: Each publisher is different. Do your homework and contract with a respectable publisher. One good resource is SFWA’s Predators and Editors website.

VENTRELLA: How about self-publishing?

MORRIS: Rule #1 of Self-Publishing: Thou Shall Not Fooleth Thyselfeth.

First thing you must understand is that publishing a book yourself does not put you into the same league as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steele. You won’t be rolling in piles of money. Nor will you spend your days poolside with a laptop, eating bon bons while you compose deathless prose.

Writing is a business. Publishing is doubly so. You will be responsible for selling the books yourself, handling the details of distributorship and all promotional marketing (these things that publishers normally do).

Additionally, you must overcome the stigma attached to self publishing. Self publishing (from what I’ve observed) is like swimming upstream against a tide of professional ostracism. In the eyes of many professionals (authors, editors, publishers, book sellers) your book lacks the quality editing work that books published with an established house have.

Promotion will be more difficult because many reviewers will give your book less priority than a book sent by a professional house. Science fiction conventions will give preferential treatment to writers who have books with professional houses. If you do manage to get paneling, you may be treated with hostility or veiled contempt by authors with credits through traditional publishers.

There are a number of authors who have been successful with self publishing. Most of them know to treat the business of writing and publishing like a business. Many of them establish a fan following through other means, and dabble in self publishing. Others have an established fan following through traditional publishing that follows them into the self publishing realm.

VENTRELLA: I assume you have cats. (Don’t all writers?) Am I wrong?

MORRIS: No cats. I am owned by two very lazy dogs. When I’m not writing, my job is to cater to their every whim.

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