First off, sorry for the hiatus. I have been really busy with a bunch of projects. Liberty Con is coming up, so I will continue to be busy. And in mid-July I will be going back out to Nevada, traveling through Death Valley, then over into Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, visiting a bunch of National and State Parks. I’ll have a bunch of blogs out after that. But first, this short history of my career in self-publishing, and the opportunity in traditional publishing it has opened up.
Last week I received an email from my editor, who has been working with me on the outline of my traditionally published series, which now also has a name, The Kinship War. Not to talk too much about the series, or the significance of the name, which took many weeks of brainstorming to come up with. I have permission from the publisher, Shahid Mahmud of Arc Manor, to talk up the series, but I still don’t want to give away too much at this time. But back to the editor, who wants me to start writing the series, so we can go over it chapter by chapter as I finish each. Hooray. And let’s bring on the anxiety. This is it. I have to produce, I have to live up to the expectations of so many people that are placing their faith in my being able to produce a possible best selling novel, followed by another. I have a contract for two books, and hopefully the series will go from there, with many other writers contributing to a shared universe. But it all starts with me. I develop the background, build the world, and establish the ground rules. What an opportunity, and a responsibility. Not that I haven’t built very detailed worlds before. Exodus: Empires at War, Refuge and others were very detailed, with hundreds of thousands of words and hundreds of drawings that have never made their way into the novels. But this is different. It has to pass muster. And if this opportunity isn’t enough, I have also had a manuscript requested by the senior agent at a top agency, which is in the process of being proof read before I send it off. The manuscript was also requested by a senior editor at a major science fiction publisher, but it will go to the agent first. And both agent and editor have asked what else I am working on, which hopefully means that they will be interested in something else if they don’t like this fantasy.
How did I get here? Good question, and I’m glad you asked (though you didn’t, but it makes me feel better to play that game.) I have been writing since 1996, when I wrote first a non-fiction book, then an alternate history, The Convoy, which was extremely well researched and very poorly written. I sent The Convoy to St. Martin’s Press, expecting to hear back from them with a $100,000 check. A year later I got a rejection slip. I had a lot to learn. More novels followed, and a lot of short stories, followed by a string of rejection letters, or in most cases, small form slips that they could easily place in the self-addressed stamped envelopes I sent along with the submissions. The rejection letters started getting better for the most part. It showed that I was improving, but they were still rejections.
On December 31st of 2011 I placed two novels that had been rejected by publishers and agents years before. The Deep Dark Well, far future space opera, and The Hunger, a vampire horror/urban fantasy novel. I released more books, since I had a backlog. Daemon, Aura, Diamonds in the Sand. And then I had months of seeing a couple of books sell, and getting royalty payments of $10 to $20 a month. Not exactly living the dream. In September of 2012 I tried something and things began to change. I did a giveaway of The Deep Dark Well, and followed the instructions I had read online about how to do one properly. I contacted about twenty sites that promoted giveaways and requested that they do my book, which included putting the book on their websites, and in some cases tweeting them. I also blogged and tweeted, and sent out tweets with about forty twitter addresses of sites that would retweet. I gave away over 4,100 books in five days, and cracked the top 20 free books on Amazon. In October I published Exodus: Empires at War: Book 1, with Book 2 already written and ready to go. I wish I had done some different things with those first two books, but I was still learning. The great thing about self-publishing is you have control of everything. The worst thing about self-publishing is you have control of everything. When I first started self-publishing I was really broke, barely making it each month, so I had no money for cover design, editing, all the things the in the know people tell you are must haves. So I made my own covers, and some were awful (see my first effort for The Hunger, which was one of the worst thirty ever on Amazon according to one blog). There were a lot of typos, and I did my own thing without any feedback. I also released the first two books of the Refuge series, written in 2010, the same year I wrote the two Exodus books and three others, while working full time. Like I said, I really wanted out of that job.
Still, when Exodus, one of the first books I had ever written right from the start for self-publishing, came out, it sold almost a thousand books in October. September had seen about four hundred and fifty books, ten times what I had sold in the previous eight months. October saw almost a thousand, November two thousand, December five thousand, and January of 2013 saw almost nine thousand books leave the Amazon and other booksellers’ harddrives. In January I was selling up to two hundred books a day between Exodus: Empires at War: Books 1 and 2. In February I sold over five thousand books, and was thinking about quitting my day job at the State of Florida. I hated that job, and wanted out. At first I figured that I could quit by the Fall, then I moved it up to the end of March. Then, after the first day of March, I decided to turn in my two week notice. They were surprised. A lot of people had talked about moving on to something better, and some had while I was there, but it was rare. It was an anxiety provoking decision. The job guaranteed me a steady paycheck, able to pay rent, pay for my car and buy food. It also came with benefits, health insurance and a pension. But, because of laws passed by the State on the pension, I was actually making less than I had five years before, and there was no sign of a raise in sight. They were also talking about raising the employee contribution to health care, which meant still less money.
So I walked out and never looked back. I had a lot of friends there, some of whom had written reviews for my first couple of books. I returned for one retirement party, and that was it. So now I was a full-time author, and started to work on Exodus 3. The mistake I made with that book was listening to a fan who said I needed to make my books longer, or it would take forever to finish the series. I wrote two hundred and twenty thousand words, and covered about two weeks of time. But it was a learning experience. You can’t write twice the book and charge twice the price. Maybe when I get some traditional series where writing very long books pays off I’ll try again. The book hit number one in space opera on Amazon UK and number two in the US, and eventually sold fifteen thousand copies.
I also started thinking about going to cons. I had never been to one, though I had been an avid reader and watcher of everything scifi and fantasy, and even a lot of horror. First, I went to Altcon, a small convention in Tallahassee that offered little above vendors. I went to one panel on self-publishing, raised my hand, and probably talked more than the poor woman who was running it. A friend at work had talked about Dragon Con, so I went online, bought a membership and booked a hotel, and was ready for my first con. I even got a costume, Indiana Jones, and registered for Jody Lynn Nye’s workshop. Dragon Con was amazing. The first day was the workshop, and Bill Fawcett, Jody’s husband, who I had never heard of before, said at the beginning of the workshop that one manuscript had really caught his attention. Cool. I hoped it was mine, but didn’t think about it again until the next day, when they gave our manuscripts back to us. Mine was the first chapter of Theocracy, written in 2012 and published in 2015. Bill handed me my manuscript and told me he was talking about mine the first day. I was invited to meet with him, and did the next day (and that is a story in itself). He brought me up to the VIP suite, where I met some big name writers, and went over what he thought were my strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the meeting he said he thought I had a bright future.
I also met Kevin J Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta, at the workshop. They were impressed by my sales (I had sold 48,000 books in the year since September of 2012). I asked him later at the con if he would consider me for his next military scifi anthology. I also went to a panel where five big time authors all got off topic and started talking about how they made it big in the business. All mentioned Bill Fawcett as being one of the major influences of pushing them to the next level. I talked with Todd McCaffrey, who I also met at the workshop, and asked him if it was a big deal being asked by Bill to talk. He thought so. And I got to talk with Robert Sawyer before a panel.
The next year, 2013, went well. I sold almost another 50,000 books, Exodus: Empires at War: Books 4 through 6 were released that year, and all hit number one in one or more subgenres of science fiction in the UK, top five in the US. I released some other books, some did fairly well, some not. My space opera was doing much better than my fantasy, and if I was only about the money I would have totally concentrated on the space opera. But I wasn’t. I figured I needed to put out three money makers a year, and the rest could be things I just wanted to write. One of my fans, Larry Southard, talked me into going to Liberty Con in Chattanooga. I did a panel at Altcon that year, and met author Ian Malone, who used to live in Tallahassee. I went to Liberty Con as an attendee, and enjoyed the con, meeting Les Johnson, Chuck Gannon and Mark Wandrey, and Peter and Dorothy Grant, all of whom became friends. I tried to talk my way onto panels at Dragon Con with no luck. I wrote a story for Kevin J Anderson and was published in Five By Five 3. It didn’t sell as well as hoped, but it was still a good experience. That was my first experience with an editor, though Kevin had already bought the story and told me I didn’t have to do anything the editor asked. So it was an easy process. My second Dragon Con was a lot of fun. In the fall I went to Honor Con in Raleigh, North Carolina, and met David Weber and Chris Kennedy. That’s another story.
I had gone to two Superstars Writing Seminars, 2013 and 2014. Met a lot of interesting people there, including my friends James Artimus Owen and Dave Wolverton (also known as David Farland). I attended a workshop put on by Dave in Atlanta later that year. Superstars was an interesting experience. I met Kevin Ikenberry, Sarah Hoyt, Ramon Terrell, Raphyel Jordan, Travis Heermann, Quincy Allen, Scott Boone and many others. I did a panel at the first Superstars and got an ovation when I announced who I was and my claim to fame (75,000 sales at that point). I also met with Eric Flint at the VIP dinner. In 2014 I was again on a panel, and ate with Toni Weisskopf. I loved Superstars, and there are many people who go every year. But I thought I had gotten what I could out of it in two years and decided to try other things. Hopefully someday I will go back, maybe as a speaker. Who knows.
Continued in part 2.