**In keeping with my efforts to help new voices in publishing be heard, I’ve turned over the blog today to my friend Lucas Bale. Take it away, Lucas!**
Publishing ain’t always fun. Kameron Hurley wrote, in We Have Always Fought, of the long con of being a successful writer; how important persistence was. She even pasted the word ‘persistence’ to her monitor, where it still sits today. As rejection letters built up, hope dwindled – writing was one long road of rejection and disappointment. Yet, she learned, after she received her first book offer, that writing is a business, and expectations are often crushed. The chances of breaking out are pretty grim. You write because you love writing, not because you want to be the next Howey or Scalzi. “There are no happy endings, Nyxnissa,” Hurley’s main protagonist in God’s War is told. “I know. Life keeps going,” she responds. Persistence.
I can’t remember what the spark was which lit the touch-paper of my decision to self-publish. It’s too far in the distant past now, almost a whirlwind year ago. I recall weighing the options: the emotionally tortuous and time-consuming process of writing letters to agents and papering my toilet with the rejections as Stephen King suggested in On Writing. Followed by the wait for my agent to pitch to publishers who would themselves need to pitch it up the line to the various departments within their own company who need to sign off on a new book. Then find a distributor, and sell well enough to be kept on the shelves and not pulped. No say in the cover design or marketing. A much smaller proportion of the royalties (if my book earned enough to even pay back the advance, if I got one). Ouch.
Now, I am responsible for the quality of my book, in every single sense: from cover, to copyright, to dedication, to story, to character, to plot, to structure, to grammar, to spelling. All of it. Me. There’s a rewarding challenge to that. But if Hurley’s persistence relates to pitching agents and publishers, and writing your way through the rejections, mine relates to finding some way to make my books discoverable – in allowing potential readers to see them. It’s the same up and down, bottom-of-the-whiskey-glass emotional roller coaster.
Some self-published authors revel in the fact there are no gatekeepers – no barriers to publishing. But Hugh Howey had it right. There are gatekeepers – they’re called readers. And now they have choice, more than they can handle I suspect, they have become even more demanding. The only way to keep them reading your work is to keep producing work they love.
There was a time I researched voraciously. I dropped in on the extremely valuable Kindle Boards, in particular the Writers Cafe and signed up. I read as many blogs on the area as I could – Joanna Penn, Chuck Wendig, David Gaughran, Michael Bunker, Hugh Howey, Patricia de Hemricourt, to name a few. How had they done it? What pitfalls had they found? What did I need to think about in order to get myself ready for the release of my own series?
It’s not an easy process. Traditional publishing companies have experience I don’t. They have contacts I might never have. They know the business of publishing. Successful self-published authors must consider themselves both authors and publishers, so I needed to learn the process too. Potential readers must somehow find my books. Every self-published author had an opinion – they sold 250,000 books in two years, and were living the dream, and they knew exactly how I should do it. Most of them were romance or erotica authors for whom the process is very different – they can release short books quickly and they have a high-turnover audience. Not every tactic fits every genre. What I found most was that there was a wealth of material which was overwhelming.
And so many self-published authors seem to think that teaching others how to write was the best way to get readers – that blog posts or tweets on writing are what their readers are interested in – through their blog, their newsletter or through tips on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever social media platform is working for them. There seems to be a sea of information to drown in. Some of these authors are reasonably successful in selling books. Some are fabulously so. What has worked for them may well work for me. Also, it might not. Anecdotes are usually statistically insignificant and basing any sort of major decision on anecdotes is suicide. The landscape keeps changing and of course it’s important to adapt, but every strategy comes back to the same thing – writing better books. After a while, I realised that the only selfpub information overload hangover cure was writing more, and only dipping back into the barrel in moderation. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos.
So I ensure my marketing is as close to perfect as it can be, and then I head back to writing. It relaxes me. It’s where I want to spend my time, and where my readers tell me I should be. The Heretic has sold a little better than I expected and the extremely positive reviews it has received on Goodreads and Amazon have been hugely rewarding. I have fans emailing me directly, and when I ask for ARC readers, I get tremendous and enthusiastic responses. But there are authors out there getting far more exposure and selling far more books so I need to do something about that. The only thing I can do is write more and learn more about the process as I go. The three months I have spent planning, writing and editing Defiance has taught me how to write an even better book. I was improving all the time and enjoying the process: learning about the story, the characters and the setting, and how to craft all of them so the reader’s experience was the best it could be.
To me, the best way to reach readers is to produce a great story. Eventually, readers will find it. I can help that discoverability process – aside from producing an excellent product (a well-edited, intelligent, gripping story with a great blurb and an eye-catching cover), I can promote it, and even engage in the dark arts and the skulduggery that people associate with selling. However, the default position will always be to produce great stories. The rest is just persistence.
Some very good authors have found themselves self-publishing and then being snapped up by traditional publishers. Andy Weir (The Martian) and Jason Gurley (Eleanor), for example. Good luck to them, they both richly deserve it. I have no idea what my own future holds – maybe I’ll pitch some agents when I feel the time is right – but, right now, I’m enjoying writing. Continuing down that path will ensure I achieve what I really want to, which is to keep writing.
Defiance is Lucas Bale’s second novel, and is the next book in his well-received Beyond the Wall series. Beyond the Wall is an epic, hard-science fiction space opera. Earth is gone. Centuries have passed since the First Cataclysm ended life on the blue planet. Humanity’s survivors are now dispersed among distant colonies, thousands of light years from the barren, frozen rock that was once their home. A new Republic has formed – one in which freedom no longer exists.
Some reviewers have said that fans of Firefly will love it, and Firefly inspired him to write it. It is a series which looks at what it takes to keep humanity alive following our near destruction – how far a government should go to protect an entire species’ future. What it means to be human.
This is the blurb for Defiance:
The darkness in the human heart is infinite.
At a time when power means everything, the ultimate power, the imperium, rests with the Consulate Magistratus. The murder of a man in the lowest caste may be inconsequential, but one man, one of the Caesteri lawmen who still believes in justice, refuses to ignore it.
The woman he hunts is violent and unstable, and haunted by her own callous ghosts. She will drag him to the furthest reaches of space, where the abyss which awaits them hides an unspeakable truth.
When faced with their own mortality, there is no limit to what human beings will do to protect themselves, their family, their property. The human mind changes when exposed to relentless horror. It becomes dehumanised. The grotesque becomes mundane.There is no pity, no remorse – only instinct. An instinct which cannot be controlled.
The imperium belongs only to those who are strong enough to wield it.
The war to control humanity’s future is about to begin…
Thanks for reading!