Why I’m Considering Self-Publishing over Trad

I’ve had a re-invigoration of writing recently, specifically in my WIP Unchosen and a decision to explore self-publishing. For those unaware, Unchosen is my fantasy novel about Kithra, a petty thief who accidentally kills a god. Between the rest of the Pantheon sending assassins her way, a sassy voice claiming to be a new god taking shape in her mind, and naive student of her former tutor following her around, she’s forced to decide whether to confront the ruling theocracy, or spend her probably-shortened life on the run. Also, the world may explode, so that’s a thing.

After I pulled myself of a course that pointed out some key issues in the manuscript, I’ve had the time to reflect and put in place a plan to fix it. It’s also given me time to plan a timeline to publication or submission. Previously I’ve always planned on seeking a traditional deal; however advice from a friend prompted me to consider other option. So, I’m taking twelve months to work self publishing and decide whether it’s viable for my WIP.

But why self-publishing?

For my writing journey so far, I’ve planned for tradition. Self-publishing was great for those that had the time, but all I wanted to do was write. Agents and bigger publishers did, in my head, make that a possibility. In reality though, there is still a lot of work for the writers to do in both circumstances. Perhaps more for self-published authors, but percentage-wise the payoff is larger too. Which gets to an awkward topic; money

Lets face it, I’ll use any excuse to include a Grogu meme

I know that writing isn’t a get-rich-quick (or for most of us, ever) scheme. But my measure of success isn’t measured in specific dollars; it’s about whether I can support my family. There are plenty of financial upsides to traditional, and even the lower royalties rate can quickly outperform a self-published author if a book sells well enough. But there are downsides too. If I don’t sell, my return on investment is tiny. A publisher won’t necessarily keep me on. I can’t control the deadlines.

BUT – as a self-published author, I would have much more control over the processes and have an unmatched interest in the success of my book. Key decisions and deadlines are mine to make. As part of a special needs family, I can move deadlines and efforts around our requirements. Also, even though I may not I have a lower sales threshold to meet what I need to succeed, and I can guarantee my publisher won’t dump me if I don’t sell. For me, that flexibility and control over the process makes self-publishing far more suited to my circumstances than I originally thought.

Look! A distraction!

Actual image of me trying to write

Still, there are plenty of challenges in self publishing. When I mentioned this to my writing group, one of them offered some sage advice about the number one thing every self-publisher needs:

A manuscript!

It might seem obvious, but for me it’s easy to get distracted. I see a shiny, I chase a shiny. I love learning new skills, so my friend was completely justified in asking if this was another distraction for me. I’ll admit, learning how to self-publish is hugely tempting for me, whether I use it or not. I love learning, and I’m not studying at the moment, so the temptation is real. Therefore, on the back of this advice, I’ve made a system; before I binge-listen to Joanna Penn’s 570+ episode back-catalogue of podcasts, or write a hundred page business plan based on Jane Friedman’s checklist for self-publishing (both fantastic resources), I need to have done my daily tasks. That is, I need to work on my manuscript.

I have a plan based on a weekly word count that over-delivers words, and if successful will have my latest draft done by mid November. If I’m on track, I can reward myself with learning about self-publishing. But if I’m not on track, I don’t get to publish at all, so I won’t let myself get distracted by the learning. Or rather, my learning won’t be counterproductive by coming at the expense of my writing

This Time Next Year. . .

If I’m going to be done by November though, then why 12 months? To be honest, the timeline is 100% based on subscriptions. In my day job, I always argue for setting the best support environment to enable the desired output. Getting the right programs and systems in place is the start for me, and quite frankly they’re expensive. But by getting them now, I get a solid chunk of time to evaluate and exploit the benefits of a professional website, editing software, and newsletter lists. By doing it now I’m able to use that future date as a solid go/nogo decision point.

If, in 12 months time, I decide I’m able to self publish and don’t have the support network, I’m going to need to set it up in the fly. I’ll be learning marketing, editing, and how to use new software while trying to manage a launch. This unnecessary division of my focus and time will likely disadvantage my book. In the case of a ‘go’ decision, having invested in the right support now means I can focus wholly on the launch and promotion. In the event of a ‘nogo’ decision, I’ve still optimised my understanding and environment. At the very least, it means I’ve supported my manuscript and platform to be the best they can be. Should I submit to agents and publishers, that can only work to my favour.

Really? 100% based on subscription?

Okay, I lied a little. It’s not just based on the subscription timelines. I needed a deadline though and it was a convenient reasoning. Because November will be the end of my current draft, not the end of my manuscript. I also need professional edits, covers, typesetting and all the other bits that go along with being your own publisher.

But wait, there’s more! I’m still learning, but I’ve consistently been told there are two necessities when self-publishing. First of all, having a mailing list before your book is published. Secondly, having a freebie to either entice signing up to the mailing list, and/or to accompany early sales. So even if November comes and I have the most complete and perfect manuscript ready to go, it won’t be enough. Before spending money on an unknown author, I’m always a little cautious. I wouldn’t blame others for taking the same approach. So offering a free novella or anthology de-risks the possibility of a regretful purchase – my writing becomes more a known quantity. Alternatively, you could just read some here, but I’d like to get something newer and more unique to offer as well.

Which means I need to write more than just my manuscript to boost my chances of success in self-publishing. There’s never a guarantee, but by setting myself up over the next 12 months, the best case scenario is I can self publish and move towards full time writing. The worst case, is I have a polished manuscript and a folder full of works ready to go. No matter which way I go from that point, it’s a solid base to give myself the best chance of success.

~Nathan

My ANZAC Day

This might seem a little late, but after putting up a post on my Facebook site (one that was meant to be about two lines long, but somehow kept going), I started to get some calls, emails, and messages from people who could relate. People whose emotions around ANZAC Day are as complex as mine, if not more so. People who really seemed to connect with what was written

In the end, I think it had a positive impact. And if I can get a bit more positivity out there, then why not? Plus, if it looks like a blog post, reads like a blog post etc. . .well, I figured I better put it up.

It might not be the greatest formatted or grammatically correct piece, but this is one that came from a very personal place. I always have trouble writing this time of year, but this is maybe what I can do. This is how I do therapy – getting the words out to express that which ironically, can’t really be expressed in words.

Here ’tis (link then words):

Most people who know me also know I spent the majority of my adult life in the military. In fact, I’m heading back into a uniformed role soon, which will be . . .interesting . . .after some time away.

It might seem strange then that I rarely feel comfortable sharing or writing about anything about ANZAC day. It’s not that I want to disrespect the day, or that I have anything against it. In fact, I hold out hope that the commemorations of wars, and the constant reminding of the cost they induce might make people think twice about the next time they want to start a conflict.

But I guess the main thing that makes me hesitate is that there are a bunch of complex issues, and bunch more complex emotions surrounding it.

The thing is, ANZAC Day brings a lot of emotions to the fore. I consider myself lucky to have served with some truly extraordinary people, and I’m proud of the achievements of some of them too.

It also reminds me of the time we had just finished an intense period of training, and just before we left the ship to go home for a break leading up to ANZAC Day, a colleague killed themselves on board the ship. Six months later, another followed suit.

It reminds me of the time I was on night shift, and a signal came through notifying us of death of an officer on leave. The name on the signal was a good friend of both mine and my wife’s.

It reminds me of launching helicopters and seaboats simultaneously while executing precision maneuvering, with a stupid grin on my face because I was having so much fun, and meeting all sorts of great people from other countries and other cultures, hearing their perspectives and widening my own view.

It reminds me of the intellect and compassion of some of the best leaders and people I’ve ever come across, and watching their careers soar.

It reminds me of ‘leadership’ personnel who simply allowed their subordinate to fade away and die due to a lack of the same attributes.

The contrasting emotions and experiences of my service seem to be heightened by days like this. And to be honest, I got away reasonably unscarred from my time in the military

I think that’s the bit that I find the most difficult. If this is a complex time for me, and I generally had a pretty good career, how hard must it be for those who still suffer for their time in uniform? How heightened are their emotions? What if I say the wrong thing, or they take something the wrong way? Should I be reaching out to someone? Who? Will my lack of participation be seen as a rejection? But what if I say the wrong thing? What impact will that have on people? Who will it trigger?

I know most of the worries are ridiculous, especially the last couple, but that’s how my brain works

I guess the point of all this is to point out, however; as conflicting as the day is for me, it’s a hundred times more difficult for others. Not only today, but potentially every day of the year, or for some, sporadically at unpredictable times.

Veterans are not the only people who suffer in silence, so maybe it’s a little selfish of me to limit the focus. But still, that is my area. It’s who and what I know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to lose anyone more friends if I can help it.

So this ANZAC Day, whether you are commemorating or not, I would ask of this; try to view veterans outside of personal views on war, or specific wars, outside of politics or election campaigns etc. Remember they are people first. Be kind, be compassionate, and if you come across someone suffering, remember that this is not the only day they suffer. It might just be the only day it’s so close to the surface that you see it.

~Nathan

 

Pitching!

Bit more of a personal update today, as I’ve neglected the blogging for a couple of weeks now.

Basically, I’ve been a bit quiet with the writing due to work picking up somewhat (as in, the other work. The one that enables many wonderful things like eating, but tends to put a halt on the writing at times), but yesterday was a bit exciting/terrifying.

I put in my first pitch for 2019.

What makes it terrifying? Well, first of all it happens to be a novella, aimed at about 20k words. Now, I tend to write quick and long – getting to 20k isn’t an issue. But containing a story withing 20k? Could be a challenge.

It’s also part of a series written by other authors. I know I shouldn’t stress over this, (especially since it’s just at the pitch stage) but if successful, I really want to make sure I write something that is up to the standard of the others. It’s that whole ‘not wanting to let the team down’ thing.

There are other concerns too, such as making sure the plot is fine, whether the worldbuilding will fit, etc, but these are all ‘if successful’ concerns.

In short, pretty sure that makes them good concerns to have. If they become real, then it means I have a book on the way, which would be an amazing opportunity to get my work out there and make a debut as a ‘real’ author.

And that would awesome.

As a side note, this is why I love perspective. It changes everything if you let it.

Why Speculative Fiction Matters

You know that person who once they start talking about a topic, they don’t shut up? That’s me when it comes to speculative fiction. I love it. New worlds, situations impossible in our current existence, imaginative exploitations of tech – it’s fantastic (no pun intended).

But it is essentially a lie.

That’s not to say it’s inherently dishonest, but as fiction authors we are telling a story that never really happened. Tyrion Lannister, the Halfman, is not a real person, Isengard doesn’t exist, and kids that run into train station columns don’t get transported to a magical platform – they get a concussion.

As writers of the genre, we tell of things that never happened. We tell lies, and that’s ok.

Now a bit about me.

deadpool

As a history grad, a published author in the field of intelligence and ethics, and formally employed as a fraud investigator and military officer, my tolerance for such lies might seem counter-intuitive.

However one of the other things I love about speculative fiction is that good spec fic uses those lies to distil and examine a single truth. By framing it in a world of lies – creative, imaginative, and wonderful lies – works of fiction can focus themselves on a distinct and simple truth, and if done well, can show the debate leading to such a truth from both sides.

 

artists use lies
Image: http://www.picturequotes.com/

 

Take Tracy M. Joyce’s Altaica and Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor for example. Both imagined worlds, imagined threats, and imagined cultures. How then, using characters that still are not real people, can such novels connect with its audience?

The only way it can do this is by representing something that resonates with readers. In this case, the experience of the outsider, of the refugee, of defining their uniqueness, and how they are treated even in the most dire of situations.

That, along with a few other thematic concepts, are the truths that Joyce and Townsend begin with. By framing it all in fictional worlds, the authors can mould theme places and situations to emphasise these truths. In the end, it is not the fictional components of the characters, or a mysteries of a newly created world that hook us as readers, though they certainly help. To get a reader hooked properly, there needs to be a connection that the reader relates to. That can only be done is through a concept from our own world, through a thematic truth.

Plenty of readers would have experienced what it’s like to be seen as different, and known something of the effort and journey to be accepted or to get to the point at which acceptance no longer matters. That journey towards finding your tribe, so to speak.

Had these stories been set in Sydney, and about a similar struggle brought on by the Global Financial Crisis, aside from being a very different story.

Don’t get me wrong, these stories have their place and in the end many readers will prefer such stories. After all, reader enjoyment trumps all. But for me, the ability to manipulate an entire universe to inform and focus on the thematic truth is an amazing and powerful way to shine a light on something that may otherwise get glossed over. For me, it makes that truth more powerful and makes the novel far more meaningful. When the protagonists’ worlds – relationships, culture, and magics – are all geared to make them an outsider, this is what I connect with.

I think part of this comes from my own worldview as well. We are in a highly politicised era at the moment. This means that no matter what side people are on, there is often a focus on not being wrong, rather than being right. That means pointing out the other person’s mistake rather than admitting our own, reconciling our position with the facts, and moving on.

We are also in a time in which the media, our public fact presentation and checking engine, are focussed on being first rather than being accurate.  This is not an attack on the media either, as they are under immense pressures to produce articles and content with fewer resources and tighter time frames. There are some very good journalists out there, but a simple check of the spelling in news articles these days will show that pressure. The ‘need it now’ push means less fact-checking and editing. Mistakes are made, not just in spelling (which really doesn’t matter as much as the story), but also in the very ‘facts’ presented.

Add to this the information glut we live in, where there is so much information available to us, there is usually enough ‘evidence’ to support multiple, contradictory options.

 

abe lincoln
Image: http://www.dontgetcaught.biz/

 

To use the needle in a haystack metaphor, if digging to the truth a few decades ago used to be just like that – finding a needle in a haystack – then now it is searching a thousand haystacks for a thousand needles. Except it isn’t a matter of one needle per haystack. And there are located in a thousand different locations. And there are fake needles among them too. And the haystacks are on fire.

What fiction does, particularly speculative fiction, is basically cut out the crap. When the plot, characters, and setting are all fake, the only thing left to connect to the readers is to get some sort of truth in the themes. Even better, by knowing that most of it is a lie, the only question the reader really gets to ponder at the deeper philosophical level is that truth. Get rid of the haystacks, essentially, and instead of looking for the needle, have it presented to you.

It might be pushing the metaphor a little to discuss it any further as a needle, but the beauty of great fiction, be it speculative or otherwise, is that it will present the truth to you. Not as an absolute believe-or-you-burn kind of way, but as a debate, consistently showing the virtues and weaknesses of all sides, and leaving it up to the reader to decide which is the best interpretation.

Plenty of people will still enjoy non-fiction and other forms of fiction, and in the entertainment industry of which we are a part, this is paramount. But for me, I enjoy the exploration of concepts and distilling of truth that is critical to the spec fic world. It challenges us by throwing a truth directly in your face and creating a world and story specifically designed to challenge the reader. I have a passion for learning, and for distilling truth. So these ‘lies’ used to emphasise a truth? That is why I love spec fic. That is why it matters to me.

~ Nathan