As a “Plain” person who lives off-grid, I’m not usually willing to admit that there are many things in this modern world that I think are better than the way it used to be. There are some things… Febreze, plush toilet paper, and the Internet can sure be handy… but my point is that sometimes things are actually way better than they were before. What is happening right now with publishing, in my opinion, is one of those things.
I wrote my first novel in 1989–1990. I was working full time on the midnight shift in the Juvenile Probation Department of a youth lockup in the Texas Panhandle. My job was basically to just be there in case someone got arrested, so most of my eight-hour shift was spent sitting at an old Selectric typewriter working on my novel. If someone did get arrested and brought to my jail, then I’d in-process them and after that 30 minutes of work, I’d have most of my shift to write. I pounded out a first draft over about seven months, and then spent another few months editing and polishing it.
I was 23 years old. I’d had a short story published in the college arts magazine and people seemed to like my writing, but that was the extent of my publishing experience. I didn’t really know how to write a novel, so I just sat down and wrote a book that I liked.
When I was writing the novel, I never once thought about how (or if) I was going to publish it. Having it read was really not even on my mind at the time. I just wanted to accomplish it… to know that I could write a novel. And I did accomplish it. Many years later, it helped me to know that I could do it.
So when I was done with the book, I looked at it — all photocopied and looking pretty — and only then did it occur to me that maybe… just maybe… someone else might want to read it. So I decided to look into publishing it. Remember, there was no real widely available Internet then. So I went to the book store (remember those?) and bought a thick book entitled Publishers Marketplace. It listed agents and publishers and had all the information about how to send them query letters and stuff. Then I bought a few other books that gave advice on how to get published.
A Difficult System
The more I read, the more I lost heart. Listen, I know the stereotypical stories of how successful authors submitted to the slushpile for years and years before finally getting an agent. And how it took more years for them to finally get a book published. But as I was reading about it, I just shook my head. It sounded like a hassle, and being a famous novelist was not really on my radar at the time. It all seemed very dehumanizing to me. And publishing was so fundamentally different than every other art form. Artists could put their work out on the streets and sell directly to customers. They could rent space and have an exhibition. Musicians… same thing. They could play on the streets or get directly booked into bars and clubs. There were talent scouts out there looking for the next big thing. Some producer somewhere could stumble across a relative unknown and make them famous.
Not in publishing. Publishing started with the maxim that artists were going to need to crawl miles on their bellies just to get someone to agree to read a one-page query about their book. There weren’t any places for newbies to interact with readers directly.
And a lot of the advice in the books was either contradictory or seemed quite petty. I understood the need for rules and that agents were getting thousands of submissions (and they wanted to receive them in a certain way), but it still just put me off. So I shelved the book and eventually forgot all about it.
In 1993, I wrote another book. That one, too, I never tried to get published. Both novels went into a filing cabinet somewhere and I went on living my life, providing for my family, and raising my children.
Kindle Changes the Game
Then in 2010, I wrote a non-fiction book about living off-grid. It all happened really without a plan. I was putting up chapters for free on my blog and after a while so many people were demanding to have copies in print that I decided to publish it as a book. A reader friend told me he’d research how to self-publish and helped me do all the hard work. Together, we got the book edited. My friend made the cover and formatted it for me. Then he figured out what Kindle Direct Publishing was for publishing e-books and how to get print books published through CreateSpace. I had a pretty large following on my blog, and I began to build an email list. When we launched the book, it went all the way to #29 on Amazon.com, and I made some really good money from day one!
So I decided to try the novel writing thing again. I wrote my first novel in the modern publishing age in late 2010 and published it in 2011. The book did very well, and my career was off and running. It was the readers who decided to make the book successful and not the gatekeepers (aka, the decision makers in traditional publishing). Like in every other field of art, it was like I was standing on the street corner creating my art, and people were stopping by and dropping money into a hat. That doesn’t mean that I dislike traditional publishing or that I’m “anti” anything. I think traditional publishing is a great option for many people, and I applaud the people who find success in that venue. But for me, it was about writing and finding pleasure in more and more readers loving my work. I’d still like to experience having a book traditionally published… IF, it works well for everyone involved. IF everyone wins. IF the reader is considered and is happy. If it is a good deal for both the publisher and the author.
I didn’t know it at the time — back when I was writing my first self-published book and putting it out there in 2010 — but I was on the cutting edge of the new independent (Indie) publishing revolution. In fact, before long, I found myself at the tip of the spear!
Authors Take Charge
A year ago, some of us who were involved in the revolution (Nick Cole, Tim Grahl, and eventually Rob McClellan of Thirdscribe.com would join us) started talking about how we could take the things we’d learned about getting great books to readers, and use that information to help more authors while creating a fantastic world that readers would love. The product of those talks is the Apocalypse Weird Book Universe. And Apocalypse Weird IS changing the face of publishing.
AW is the first author created, author driven, reader supported Book Universe that uses all the benefits of modern independent publishing to get fantastic novels to readers in an affordable way.
AW capitalizes on the new publishing principles in ways that weren’t available to people who’d tried experiments like this before:
- We publish fast, but maintain the high quality of any traditionally published work. We launched with five books all published on the same day, and we’ve been publishing two books a month since then!
- We pay for the best editing money can buy. Readers know the quality will be great.
- We pay for the best cover art. Compelling original artwork that hearkens back to the golden age of pulp science fiction.
- We teach new and upcoming authors HOW to do things the right way. We realize that many readers were turned off by the poor quality and bad practices that stained some of the earliest days of the Indie revolution. So we’re putting out fantastic and engaging books that allow awesome and talented writers to play in a virtual sandbox and then share their art with hungry readers.
- We’ve created a dynamic and wonderful community of artists, who work together to conceive, produce, and sell their books. For the first time, publishing has experienced something akin to what every other field of art has had for… well, forever.
Authoring can now be a social experience, with encouragement and help from other authors who all have a vested interest in putting out the best work they can; and in helping their fellow Apocalypse Weird authors put out the best work they can. Sure, there were some great authors hanging around in Paris on the banks of the Seine back in the early 1920’s, but that was a brief window of time, and for the most part those authors were still competing with one another and working alone. They just managed to drink a lot together!
Apocalypse Weird is a whole new thing in publishing, but it is probably the biggest new thing, and there is no doubt that it is changing publishing for the better. Thirty authors (so far) writing awesome books in the same fictional universe… that’s something new and exciting! Readers, well… they just want great books at an affordable price from authors they can trust to give them a high-quality reading experience. We don’t think that readers want to pay $12.99 for the latest cookie-cutter novel. We think some people pay that much because they think they have to, and we think readers know they are being forced (in many ways against their will) to buy print books just because that is what the publisher wants to sell them.
All of these things convince me that now is better than then. I didn’t have an Apocalypse Weird world to contribute to when I finished my first novel back in 1990. I didn’t have a support structure of people who could help me and train me to get better and who would help me find my voice AND my audience. Now, we’re changing publishing for the better, and we’re excited that more and more readers are coming along for the ride.
Michael Bunker, USA Today Bestselling author of Pennsylvania and Brother, Frankenstein… AND, the Apocalypse Weird novel Texocalypse Now, co-written with Nick Cole.
P.S. Apocalypse Weird is trying to raise money using crowdfunding to take AW to the next level. We want to be able to continue the revolution by hiring more authors, artists, and technical people who make our books awesome. We only have about 16 days left to raise the money we need to take the next step. Every dollar helps, but we have some fantastic perks that you can buy and really help out. Perhaps you’d like to help?