Interview with Susan May

Susan May

Susan May


Not only has author Susan May written a very compelling contribution to the FROM THE INDIE SIDE anthology this collection is largely her brain child. The story of how this came to be is told well in this interview of Suspense Magazine and it too is compelling, much because it underscores the idea that all a writer needs is one part good idea, one part determination, and one part words in a manuscript to find success in publishing.

Susan May is a mom and a author who has turned out some excellent writing. I got the opportunity to talk shop with her recently and if you’re looking for some excellent advice than I recommend that you read on.


MT THE WAR VETERAN was a difficult story for me to read. Your descriptions of Jack Baker’s life long guilt and PTSD induced anxiety, while not the same as my experience, provoked me in a way I found simultaneously uncomfortable and familiar. Excellent writing from start to finish. Even while I suspected what you might be doing with the story I felt compelled to read on, knowing that there must be some resolution, wondering how Baker would end. All the while feeling some kinship with this survivor of a different conflict. What about the horrors of war and the example from Salinger compelled you to write this story? Without giving too much away, was there an idea, beyond the carnage of battle, that you wanted to explore with this piece?

SM Thank you for your wonderful compliment. I guess Jack Baker puts paid to the idea that writers cannibalize their our own experiences. I’m a mom in Perth, Western Australia and I’ve no experience of war except what I’ve seen in films and read in books. I’m a long way from being an octogenarian, too. So Jack’s about as far from my experience as you can get.

While watching the Salinger documentary I was simply struck by something said by one of Salinger’s war buddies. He talked of still seeing armaments explode in his living room and bedroom fifty years after he experienced them. He didn’t preface it with “visions” or “imagined,” he saw these things as if they were real. I couldn’t stop imagining how terrible the original event must be to create that.

I don’t plot my stories, so all I had was that image. The battle scene, Jack’s guilt, all came from Jack. In fact, the scene on Omaha Beach came as a surprise to me. When I realized Jack was taking me there, I was forced to do some research. So I listened to recordings of surviving soldiers and read transcripts. What I wanted to explore was the aftermath, not the battle. What happened on that beach to create Jack’s guilt was all Jack behaving instinctively as a character. I wanted him to be a hero because that’s what happens in the movies, right? But he couldn’t be. He was just a normal person faced with an extraordinary situation.

MT Michael Bunker has mentioned that you were the originator and primary orchestrator of the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project. Bringing together this many independents authors must have been a challenge at times. Were there low points, when you thought the project might not ever make it to press, that you were able to overcome? Were there learning experiences that you might share with writers who might be interested in following your lead?

SM I’m an eternal optimist, so I never thought we wouldn’t get the book published. What I didn’t realize at the onset was what a huge job it was to manage an anthology project, especially with three of us conferring with each other.

I’m twelve hours in time difference from David Gatewood and Brian Spangler who live on the east coast of the USA, and that was the thing that was most challenging. A few times I’d wake up to a dozen emails, in which I was copied in, of them discussing something that I missed because I was asleep.

When it came to bringing together the authors, that was easy. Hugh Howey had enthusiastically agreed to participate back in May 2013 after I interviewed him and reviewed WOOL for Suspense Magazine. He was the first author. I knew with him on board we’d be turning writers away. Brian wrangled a few of other authors and then some of them suggested others, and I had already a few I’d rounded up, so the group assembled pretty quickly.

My advice if you are crazy enough to want to manage an anthology to publication, is to set up a plan first that includes everything you need to decide on like price, costs, launch date, even how you want the chapters laid out—what side you want the numbers, etc., and then work back from there. Allow time before the launch for things to go wrong. We spent a week on formatting problems that sneaked in from a glitch in some coding that we hadn’t factored in.

I calculate I spent at least seventy to hundred hours on this. To me that’s a book I could have written that I will never get to write. So be certain that it’s worth it to you. It’s a great exercise in building your brand and connections and possibly there is a small amount of money in there. Of course, you are splitting it between thirteen people so there’s not a lot.

My other advice is to be firm on quality. You need to ensure the stories are good, put in a proviso to your offer that it’s only an invite to participate, not a given. We were just lucky. It was thrilling reading the stories as they came in. By the time we had Peter Cawdron’s in as the last story, we knew we had something special in our hands.

MT Beyond them all being speculative fiction and short stories the tales in FROM THE INDIE SIDE don’t seem to share much in common. They are not all set in the same place or time and they don’t have any common reference or theme. Was this freedom a conscious decision?

SM We’re indies and this book was to show the quality of work we indies are capable of, so the only limitation we had was that there was a limit of 10,000 words. Then Peter Cawdron and I ignored that. So there you go, indies can’t help but break rules. So freedom was in our blood before we even started. All the authors, except Sara Foster and Mel Hearse (who’d never written any fiction before—crazy, talented writer that she is) were already writing in the speculative fiction genre, so we knew they would all fit together but be varied enough to offer something for everyone.

MT Have you thought about organizing additional anthologies in the future? Is there anything in the works currently?

SM Absolutely it’s going to happen again. I love the opportunity of meeting and working with other authors. And I love the short story form, and I believe it is enjoying a resurgence with eBook publishing. I want to contribute to that. Watch this space for later in the year.

MT I share your belief that “when it comes to writing you know what needs doing; you just need to make yourself do it,” but I disagree that the first steps are not the most daunting. Rejection, regardless of its source, is a cruel instructor and obscurity is perhaps the most merciless judge. What advice can you offer writers, especially independents, who find themselves wallowed deep down on the best seller’s lists?

SM I stick by my original comment with reference to me, but that is my opinion and probably due to my life experience and personality. We all come to this business with different experience, lifestyles, skill, and expectations. So what I find difficult or easy will be different to you or another writer. When I first hopped back into writing seriously in 2010, I began by writing a lot of short stories and entering them in competitions. That is a quick way to accumulate rejections, but the positive is you build a body of work as you learn to handle the ego bashing. That first eighteen months I cried a lot—a lot, but slowly I started placing in competitions and eventually having stories published in anthologies. It built my confidence. The whole time I kept writing novels. I’ve got 1000 pages of two novels on a thumb drive—work that will probably never be published. Since then I’ve written a lot and when I jumped into indie publishing mid-2013 I’ve keep up a constant pace.

My advice is to keep writing and do it for the love. You must get better if you keep at it. It’s a natural progression like building muscles. Now with self-publishing you can build a body of work quickly. Put up your short stories, your novellas, essays and books. It’s all buying an extra ticket in the lottery of success and another product in your book store.

I love writing. It is part of my day now and if I miss a day, I feel itchy. If you can get to the point where you don’t have to tell yourself to do it, where the call of writing is the master, then I think you are on your way. Eventually, I believe, the walls of the dam must burst from the weight of your passion. So obstacles and wallowing seem to disappear.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced and the success of FROM THE INDIE SIDE is compelling and enviable. But there remains a lot of fuzziness between “I have a manuscript” and the publish button which results in plenty of amateur and unpolished books. In an ideal world, what might indies do to help each other plan and polish their work more completely?

SM I’m not big on workshopping my work. I don’t really believe in working with other indies on that level. I don’t have beta readers except for my husband, who is brilliant on pointing out pacing issues and confusing sentences. The minute I have to explain something to him, I know I’m going to have to rewrite that passage. He’s my average reader.

Then my next step is sending it off to my editor. Finding an editor with whom you work well and who is also available when you need them is a challenge. If you have niggling doubts about your editor’s work or even whether you are the right fit personality-wise listen to your gut. It’s been a search to find my current editor. I’ve tried a few, but the one I have now works really well with me, they don’t cost a fortune, and I’m learning from them as well.

So that’s my system and from that I believe I put out stories that are as polished and as entertaining as any traditional press. I review books directly for all the big publishers and, believe me, a lot of their releases definitely need more work. Everyone is trying to rush their work out there, including them. I believe you should do the best you can, use an editor, run it by a person or a few people you trust, and then put it out there and forget it. Don’t keep fiddling with improving it. That typo that you think you missed isn’t going to make a lot of difference to sales or fans. So in a nutshell, keep going and you will work out your own system and pace and if that includes other indie authors—great. If it doesn’t, then that’s okay as well.

Indies can help each other by sharing blog posts like what you are doing, Matthew, and highlighting other great authors they’ve read—spreading the word. So many authors write to me asking can I review their book, but the first thing an author should do is build a relationship and help other authors. Eventually, the goodwill will come back to you.

MT Do believe that there are any specific or unique challenges for Australian independent authors that citizens of other countries might not encounter?

SM Well Australians are lucky because we start the day before almost anyone else in the world. The only problem with that is that the biggest English speaking markets don’t wake up until our day is almost over and they are on the other side of the planet. In saying that, what a boon ePublishing has been for us because we can sell to anyone in the world.

The USA is the biggest English speaking market, so I write in American vernacular and have an American editor so they can pick up any Australian words that slip in. We think we speak the same language, but not quite. Certainly we spell many things differently. My spell checker is set to US, so even my emails are in American because I can’t be bothered changing the auto-correct. My friends must think I can’t spell.

As I mentioned earlier, if you’re collaborating, the time difference can get annoying in a slight way. It’s very expensive to ship from CreateSpace to here as well. The postage and time wait is a killer.

But these are minor niggles, and as everybody knows Australia is one of the best countries in the world in which to live, so I’m not going to complain about the tyranny of distance. There’s so much amazing talent coming out of Australia that clearly whatever challenges there are, the Aussie contingent has pushed through.

MT Is there anything you would like to say to your readers before we sign off?

SM I would like to thank you, Matthew, for having me on and being such a great supporter of FROM THE INDIE SIDE. I’m humbled. To the readers: I thank you for using your precious time to read anything that I write or another professional indie writes. I always know that readers have a choice how they spend their time, and reading is only one choice.

If readers take the time to read my book, that is just wonderful, and I hope that I repay them by ensuring they enjoy their time with my work. I write what I call commercial “everyman” fiction that most people should be able to get into quickly and enjoy an escape, with a satisfying ending. Changing people’s view on life or putting in some deep and meaningful message on purpose is not my thing.

In my mind, I’m welcoming readers to a great little party, providing some well-prepared food, introducing them to some fascinating people, and doing my best to ensure they have a good time. If I’ve done my job right, they’ll hopefully want to visit with me again. That is my only goal. My books won’t win any literary awards, but my goal is to win readers. They’re more important in my world.

Interview with Author Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker at WorkMichael Bunker‘s biography only grants the reader a momentary glimpse of a truly innovative and unique mind. He has been grinding out an amazing list of stories which include dystopian sci-fi, the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, The Last Pilgrims, and the Amish/Sci-Fi novella Pennsylvania.  His latest short, the excellent REDOUBT, is part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE and is a bit of a prequel to some of his longer form fiction. It is also an excellent example of short fiction done well.

I sat down and talked with Michael about REDOUBT, the FROM THE INDIE PROJECT and his writing. I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy his thoughtful answers as well as his formative storytelling.


MT An anthology takes a lot of outside editorial effort. Finding all the authors, ensuring that all the different works make it into the collection on time and with requisite polish, and then there are the on going business aspect of publishing and imprint that must be managed. It is a difficult proposition for traditional publishers to undertake. How were these things managed by a bunch of independents spread all the way around the Earth? Were there hurdles along the way?

MB Susan May has written a wonderful article for Suspense Magazine that outlines how the whole thing came together. But basically it was a serendipitous conflagration of events and how I ended up involved I’ll probably never really know. From my perspective, it came as a total surprise, because – you have to understand – things have changed a lot for me since I first was invited into the project. When my friend Jason Gurley first asked me if I’d be interested, I was probably by far the most unknown author of the twelve. At least that is the way I saw it. I jumped at the opportunity to be connected to these other eleven authors, and I’d do it again. But my overall footprint in the Sci-Fi world was almost non-existent when this first came together. Since then, I’ve become slightly better known, but I’m still awed to be mentioned in the same breath with any of these other professionals. As for hurdles, I was surprised that there weren’t any that I knew about, because out of all the authors in the world, we ended up with 12 that worked really well together, and who were all willing to sacrifice, if necessary, to make this thing happen.

MT Tell us about how you became involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

MB I was contacted by my friend Jason Gurley. He’d been approached to write a short story for the project, and I was fired up for him.  Secretly, I might have been a tad envious, but I really think that Jason is a great author and I want good things to happen for him, so my excitement for him squashed the envious part.  So then Jason said that they might be looking for a few more Indies and asked if I would mind if he mentioned my name to them. He said that I’d already been discussed, and he was pretty sure they’d be glad to have me, but he wanted to clear it with me first.  I jumped all over the opportunity.  To be included in this anthology was – and is – a great honor for me.

MT After FROM THE INDIE SIDE would you consider future anthology projects?

MB Absolutely. I’d love to do more of them. I’ve tried to make myself more valuable to the big guns involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE by working my reader base and turning out a bunch of reviews. Hopefully if anyone else out there is doing one they’ll ask, because I’m all for them.  I wrote a little piece on my blog about what I think about short stories and anthologies, because I’m a huge supporter of the form, and I always have been.

MT Your contribution REDOUBT parallels the world you’ve developed in your novels WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS in that it takes place at the beginning of an American collapse shared by those books and is the result of a series of attacks. Something that is unclear and never really answered in the short story is the question of who the aggressors are. Can you provide a little background about the conflict?

MB Yes. I wrote THE LAST PILGRIMS first, and it takes place 20 years after a worldwide collapse, the root of which I only hint about in that book. The next novel was the WICK Omnibus which details the events of that collapse.  In that book I started with some events that were really happening in the world. Economic problems, the sharp and acrimonious political divide in America, and then I added two very real natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy, followed by a Nor’easter that strikes the New York area leading up to the presidential election.  The fictional part comes in when my protagonist in WICK, lost in the snowstorm in the Catskill reserve, stumbles into a prison that turns out to be part of an actual top-secret town that turns out to be a Russianized village that is a privatized spy school – utilized to turn out authentically Russian intelligence operatives that can be sent into Russia to spy for America.  That part is based on some real events and locations that happened during the Cold War.

Through this bizarre landscape, we learn of a plot by hardliners in both America and Russia to destroy America and Russia as they are in the modern age. This leads to an EMP attack over America – carried out by corporate interests serving these hardliners – and eventually a full scale nuclear exchange.  Through all of this, my goal has been to show real people and how they deal with one another, and not so much to focus on huge events and the show that is going on.  WICK, THE LAST PIGLRIMS, and REDOUBT are essentially Russian style stories. They focus more on people, the real-world consequences of philosophies, and human interactions, with action only serving to move the story along.

MT Three of your main characters have a military background (SOF and SAS) and are currently survivalist militia members waiting for a collapse. Have you served previously? Are there other experiences that you draw on to create these characters?

MB I have not served in the military, although I was raised in a military family and as a student of history and human nature have spent a good part of my life studying the subject. I also, in my younger days, spent a lot of time around militia types and have many friends in lots of different political/social camps – including militia members, and people who are hostile to anything paramilitary.  The main background of THE LAST PILGRIMS, and therefore REDOUBT though was that TLP was written as a direct modernization of the story of the Ancient Waldenses. A religious community that lived in the Alps for centuries despite numerous genocidal attempts to destroy them as a people. So my military characters are almost all directly drawn from real life individuals in history who lived with and protected the Waldenses.

MT Near the end of REDOUBT there is an exchange between Phillip and Geoffrey in which the Taos artists says, “I don’t have any [politics] left. Except this place. This place is my politics.” Considering where and how he lives before the attacks, I found this sentiment a lot more believable than his earlier characterization. Why was it important to you or the story to make this Taos based artist a “socialist/communist” in the first place?

MB I wanted to have these wildly different characters who came from very different backgrounds. Goffrey Byrd who is the artist, is based on several real life people who I’ve known and befriended who have self-identified as socialists or communists, when in fact, once pressed really only adopted those labels as a way to be different and to shock some people while ingratiating themselves with others.  So I modeled Goffrey after some real artists.  My parents have a rental home in Angel Fire, New Mexico, only miles from the location I describe in the book, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Taos talking to people and drinking coffee. So many beatniks and hipsters and society dropouts who hang out in Taos identify themselves as socialists and communists, but I found that when I really got to know them, they had almost no political foundation at all. They were just like me, in fact. They just wanted to live life and be left alone.  That was their real politics.

MT Was REDOUBT something you had sitting a drawer or did you write it for the anthology?

MB Busted! I wrote REDOUBT originally as an Epilogue for WICK. Something that would lead into a third novel (or series) that would tie WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS together. It was quite a bit longer, and it really ended with a cliffhanger.  When I talked to Brian Spangler and others about a story for the anthology, I was encouraged to use the story if it would introduce a whole new audience to my other works. So at first I submitted the longer REDOUBT story for FROM THE INDIE SIDE.  After thinking about it awhile, I realized that first – I shouldn’t end an anthology story with a cliffhanger, and also I didn’t want to introduce a whole bunch of ancillary conflicts that are not resolved in the story. So, I ended up pulling the submission and re-writing REDOUBT so that it became a shorter story, and one that had an ending that said what I wanted it to say, without it angering people by leaving the story with a cliffhanger. In the original story, there was a lot more about what was going on in Taos, which becomes “New Rome” in THE LAST PILGRIMS novel.

MT You live and work on a farm, take care of a family, and, without a doubt, you are a prolific writer. I often wonder how much time you put in on a day-to-day basis and where that time comes from given your other obligations and responsibilities.

MB I have a wonderful family, including four children – three of whom are either adults or teenagers. I’ve reached an age where my wife and family are really able to handle most of the farm requirements, which allows me to write full time.  I work at writing just like it is a full-time job. I am at my desk usually at 7:30 in the morning, and I work straight through until I’m done. Sometimes that is 5 p.m., sometimes it goes on until midnight.  I have a goal I try to hit every day, and I try to work until I’ve reached my goal.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

MB Well, I don’t think anyone has figured out the ins and outs of discoverability. There is a natural Catch-22 there, and I’ve talked about this in some of my blog posts. If ever the “way” is figured out and broadcast, everyone would do it, and it would instantaneously cease to work.

Discoverability is like Atlantis, or the Fountain of Youth. Maybe it is out there, but I don’t know where. I’m not sure anyone knows how it works or where they are. All we can do is increase the likelihood that IF someone finds us, they like us and want more of what we write.

There are three concrete things Indies can do to help themselves.

  • Write and publish. Build a backlist. It is possible for someone to have a hit book with their first title (and with nothing else out there,) but it is very, very unlikely. Too many authors go all-in to try to make their first novel a hit, without realizing that statistically your first novel sucks, and realistically – if there is nothing else out there for readers to buy, then they might be unwilling to take a shot on a debut title AND think that it is representative of what the author will continue to produce. There are some great debut titles, and some turn in to hits (people win the lottery)  – it just isn’t likely to happen to you or anyone you know. The answer is to work hard, and publish a lot.
  • Get better. Since in every field of endeavor people tend to improve as they practice and work at their chosen field, your next books is most likely going to be better than this one. Especially if you are studying to make your writing improve. So keep writing AND improve your skill at writing.
  • Be Nice. Say “yes” to opportunities, be a good member of the community, and try to help others.  All the marketing and promotion stuff – to me – is secondary. It is an afterthought after these three things. That way when the time to be “discovered” happens, you’ve increased the probability that what the discoverer finds, is worthwhile and can ignite into something much larger. There tends to be streams or paths of least resistance, which readers follow to find the things they might want to read. You usually cannot force your way into that stream. You have to grow into being a part of what people are looking for. Sometimes Indies get frustrated because there is no “Easy” button, or some system they can use that is guaranteed to work. And answers like mine only increase that frustration – but that is just because I don’t know how to be found, break out, or be successful at this.  I’m still trying to figure it out myself. All I know is that when I publish more, improve, and be nice, better things start happening for me.

MT I believe science fiction today is trending toward the dystopian. Many new stories are more survival epic than space opera. You write a great deal about what happens after the end of everything as we know it. Do you agree that this trend exists, and if so why?

MB I agree that it exists. Absolutely. I’m just against dystopia or post-apocalypticism being lumped in with Sci-Fi. I am not a Sci-Fi writer (Ok, with Amish/Sci-Fi I am, but still…). It is by accident of historical genre manipulation by companies that sell and categorize books that I am a sci-fi writer. I think there can be dystopianism or PA in Sci-Fi, but for the most part realistic dystopian and PA titles should not be considered Sci-Fi.

They are only considered Sci-Fi because there is world building, and usually it takes place in the future, and sometimes that imagined reality involves some technology that isn’t currently widespread.

Now, to answer your question. Why? Why is dystopianism popular today, and why is Sci-Fi really trending more dystopian? I think it is because we live in a world that is very troubling right now. There have always been pessimists, but I don’t think they’ve ever outnumbered the optimists. Not even close to doing so, probably. I think those numbers are probably growing closer together today. You know, I am a great pessimist, but I think I write optimistic fiction.  Whereas someone like my friend Hugh Howey, who is a great and evangelistic optimist, seems to me to write more pessimistic fiction. If that strange scenario is what is really happening, then maybe more Sci-Fi writers today are actually very optimistic about the future of the world! It’s just that I’m not. Because I’m a pessimist (mostly).

MT I am very interested in the tools other authors use to create their works. Give us a rundown of what your writing space looks like. What are the tools you keep in your tool box? Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? Is there anything you’re unhappy with or is there a feature request that you have for a particular tool?

MB I have a great work space.  I have an almost 600 square foot office that is a separate building on my property. It is almost solely used as my work space.  I have a huge library in my office, and I have a really ideal environment for creating.  I live off-grid, so my office is powered by alternative energy sources (solar power and a backup generator).  Ideally, I’d like to increase the amount of power I have available (for printers and perhaps some larger monitors) but I’m really happy with my space. I think I have all the tools I need, since I rely on some really talented people to do a lot of the graphic and formatting work.

MT Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we sign off?

MB I’m just glad to be asked to do this, and I appreciate the opportunity!

Good News! From the Indie Side is #2

FtIS2

Yes, you saw it here first (or not). I was checking rankings on a couple of books and just happened to notice that FROM THE INDIE SIDE is currently ranking second in Science Fiction & Fantasy > Anthologies & Short Stories. That’s great news for a lot of very cool Indie authors out there.

In other news, I’m going to be interviewing as many of the contributors to FROM THE INDIE SIDE as  I can. Michael Bunker is first on deck, expect his answers to appear magically on the Internets this Friday.

State of the Short: From the Indie Side – Sci-Fi Anthology

From The Indie Side

From The Indie Side

Let me make one thing clear before we being. I am not a professional book reviewer. I am not an editor, nor do I possess the critical eye necessary to be a very good one. That said, I like to read. And I know what I like when I read it. And, when I’m reading with my eyes and not my ears (thanks Audible), I usually spend a good deal of time deconstructing what I love, as well as what bothers me.

If you were to get your hands on my iPad you could open up my Kindle app and review pages and pages of notes and highlights in just about any novel resident in my library. I rarely if ever sit down with a paperback without a highlighter and a pencil. I’ve even been known to flow chart story lines, just so I can get the low orbital view of a book’s landscape. So while I’m not an editor or a reviewer, you might say that I enjoy understanding why one thing works while another may not.

I have been a long time fan of short-form fiction. Anthologies are even better because they bring so many yummy bite sized piece together. Paolo Bacigalupi won a devoted fan with Pump Six and Other Stories. What a roller coaster ride of dystopic fancy. And I’ve made it my mission to read, and re-read, anyone who ever contributed to METAtropolis largely because each and every one of those stories were just that good. And sometimes I open these books just to read one at a sitting, and it always feels like I’m plucking the best chocolate from the box.

Recently I picked up an advanced copy of From the Indie Side from Michael Bunker. He is one of a number of independent authors, some well established and some writing their way up through the ranks, who made a contribution to this anthology.

From the Indie Side does not fail to deliver. You will discover dark chocolates that require a nice glass of red to fully appreciate and lighter, sweeter morsels that will delight. It has a little something for everyone and since completing it cover to cover I’ve enjoyed going back and re-reading everything from Jason Gurley’s The Winter Lands and his dark, luxuriant pros to Hugh Howey’s well told coming of age tale Mouth Breathers.

What is, perhaps, even more interesting about this anthology is that it is all independent authors. Somehow, all of these people managed to set aside enough time to pen tales within a genre, that could then be collected together. It is a true collective artistic endeavor with the same quality and polish you might expect from a Big Ink publishing company. But there was no outside, organizing power, no invisible hand of the publisher moving money and time around to make this anthology possible.

That gives me a renewed sense of hope that this Indie business can be made to work. That people can overcome their inherent differences and the physical challenges of distance and time to produce such a fine anthology tells me that short form fiction still has a place.

Yo-ho, Yo-Ho, A Grinder’s Life for Me

Other things getting done

I’ve been reading a lot of opinions lately concerning the self-publishing and big-ink publishing businesses. There is a lot of focus on who is making money, how much money they might be making, and whether or not they are taking money from other parts of the print world. But much of this focus tends towards the extremes — the head and the feet — of these publishing segments.

I’m doing my best right now to aim for the middle, center-of-mass, of the markets I am beginning to inhabit. For a guy that has previously insisted that he has absolutely no desire to sell anything, this realization came as a bit of a shock. I actually find myself thinking about how I want my books to be situated, what I can do as a writer to cater to the tastes of my reading demographic, and what I am and am not willing to endure when it comes to selling anything to anyone.

From the beginning, the idea has always been to write stories and sell them. The stories were getting written before this, but when writing as a hobby, there was a lot less processing and refinement that happened. I certainly did not look for outside editorial input nor did I seek help with illustration or design. All that has been a new experience for me. I imagine that it was slower the for “The Big Red Buckle” than it will be for future projects.

But, from my current perspective as an independent author and publisher, end-to-end each story must still earn. And while I would certainly appreciate a golden egg to land in my lap, I have an ever growing pile of rejection letters essentially telling me that I’m not a good bet, because I have not published in big-ink previously. This pile of rejection is stifling.

Just as it is for most of you, time is a critical ingredient of this new career recipe I’m working on. As a professional author, independent or otherwise, I cannot afford months or even years of waiting for someone to buy a story idea that I’ve invested so much time and money into. There is too much at stake and too little to gain considering how unlikely the traditional publishing route appears.

I found this from Steven Zacharius CEO of Kensington Publishing on the Huff Book Club. In the article he worries that the glut of simple, free, immediate publishing tools available to indie authors might be watering down the market, and dragging down the price of books.

As a publisher, my biggest concern is the clutter of the books being put out by the major publishing houses along with those that are just put up directly by authors. The established publishers have to charge more money because they have paid the author an advance (for bestselling authors, a heck of a lot). Publishers couldn’t possibly afford to sell the book away for $ .99. If this were the business model and publishers were making greatly reduced revenue on the sales of these titles, the publishing industry would go belly-up. There would be no way for the publishing company to recoup their author advances and as a result, these advances would drop substantially. Free or reduced price books is not a viable business model for publishers.

And he is at least partially correct. If their going to amortize their investment costs over a short period of time they are stuck charging a higher rate.  Plus, there are a lot of hobbyists out there writing and publishing and pushing the average price of a book well below what you might expect if you walked into a store thirty years ago. But in my opinion, the business model has already changed.

Many indie authors see the long lists of stories in their genre selling for anything from pocket change to zero. So we do what is necessary to set ourselves apart. And that is not to give our work away. We write more, we write in series, we build compelling worlds, and we develop working, professional,  independent relationships with people who we can count on to keep that steady stream of fiction rolling off the on-demand press.

I forwarded this read a couple of days ago, but its worth mentioning here again because I think it will make sense to many of us and because Bunker hits the nail squarely on the head. Michael Bunker wrote in his post “Lets Hear from the Middle Class“.

I believe that the fastest growing block in all of writerdom is made up of people like me – writers who are making a good living (or on the verge of doing so) with their writing without an agent or a publisher in sight, and without having a single, outlying, breakout megahit in their whole catalog.

Bunker goes on to say something about not minding a megahit or even finding an editor and an agent, but he insists that any of this would have to be on terms that are suitable for him and to his readers. And, at least from this observer’s point of view, that is the direction my career and much of the market is going.

From my current perspective (on the verge of making a good living), the indie publishing route seems like a much better deal for both my readers and myself. Waiting around for a publisher to chose my writing, a la Jack London style, would just be an exercise in misery and rejection. An unnecessary period of personal sacrifice demanded by a 19th century business model with too much institutional inertia to do anything but die.

The submissions I have out now will all likely die on the vine. They’ll come back rejected and that’s too bad. If I waited for someone to take a risk on me, a former engineer branching out into fiction, I might need to wait a very long time. I’m not willing to wait for someone to make that wagger on my work. Rather I’d rather go it alone and pull myself over that threshold all the while giving my readers first crack at what I produce. Ensuring that they have the means and desire to tell me when they like what I’ve done and when they don’t like it at all is a feedback loop traditional ink lacks.

Working at the bleeding edge of this new way of doing things makes me feel a bit like a pirate. The kind that operates in a grey area creating advantage, thriving when it innovates. I know I need to develop better process and improve my reach, but those are growing pains any independent author/business person must necessarily endure. I believe that the Do-It-Yourself ethic is exposing the once great traditional publishers as little more than an up-scale relative of the “vanity houses” that used to pollute the market.

Karma

Karma can be a Bitch

Some years ago I bought a Kindle book that I was less than happy with. It was, from a literary standpoint, well written. But the opinions expressed by the author were difficult for me to digest. It was an off grid survival book enriched with lots of Bible quotes.

I know I can sometimes get carried away by my own prejudice. Add a little anger to that cocktail and things quickly get out of hand. And in this case I felt like I had spent my money on something that was far less than my expectations. Angered, I clicked on out to Amazon and gave the book a pretty horrible review.

Worse, I argued with some of the author’s fan base about the book. The nerd rage was tossed around pretty thick for a while, and ultimately, I walked away from the experience felling both dissatisfied with my book purchase, but also somewhat deplorable. Just one more regrettable moment in my life to scratch at. It was not a productive debate, it never could have been. I’m an atheist, the author in question is a man of faith. We’ll never see eye to eye on this one issue. And, for each of us, our world is at least shaped in part by these closely held paradigms.

So, right now, I’m standing on the very edge of that same self-publication cliff. Jeffrey Witty and I had a brief conversation regarding his final treatment for the cover art for “The Big Red Buckle” and I know that we’re just days away from completing the copy-edited draft that will go to print and ebook.

I’m looking over the rim and the pucker-factor is creeping up my spine. Its a pretty scary prospect to put something like this out there on your own. You start to wonder if you did everything you could to make it as good as it could be. Maybe there’s some mystic right you have forgotten to chant over your manuscript or perhaps you have simply missed every third misspelled word in your text. I wonder about getting readers. I’m trying to generate interest. Either way, you worry. Or at least I do.

And then, after having a brief conversation with the author of the ebook you disrespected publicly years ago, you realize that you are the dude that did the wrong. You realize this, even as he send out a tweet to his fans that your book will soon be available.

I took down the review, I did not and probably never will like that book, but he has written other books that I have enjoyed., but writing in anger was not the right thing to do.

In an effort to make amends for my own nastiness and perhaps repair my karma just a little I’m reposting the following for Michael Bunker. I’ll note too, that Michael Bunker is selling signed copies of his work on his web site as well. These are all on my reading list.

You are definitely going to want to be on my email list for the next giveaway, which celebrates the release of OSAGE TWO DIAMONDS in just 8 days. Between now and then I will be giving away 7 full sets of the original 4 volume WICK books, signed with the original WICK covers! These will be impossible to get once the new covers are all uploaded and into the system. So if you aren’t on my email list, get on there and stay on there by clicking on this link: http://eepurl.com/enJeQ

If you just want to buy the four books signed by me and bypass the giveaway, just send $40 (this is the lower 48 contiguous United States price*) to: M. Bunker 1251 CR 132, Santa Anna, Texas 76878 and I’ll make sure to get you one out pronto. Great collectors item for gifts! PLEASE EMAIL ME at mbunker@michaelbunker.com if you want to order this set signed and I’ll make sure to get ahead of the curve in getting these sent out to you, especially if you want them for gifts.

*outside of the lower 48, please email me at mbunker@michaelbunker.com for additional shipping price.