Sometimes we need to get back to the oldies but goodies. For me, right now, the proximate cause of this is that this week someone sent me two articles by Lawrence Block.
Combined, these articles constitute such a close mimicking of my own experience as I became aware of indie and started publishing in it that it could have been written by me three years ago.
And I don’t think you can find two writers more different than Lawrence Block and me.
In “Are you sure Knopf started this way?” he chronicles the experience of self-publishing back in the eighties, when the world was new and self publishing was not only the worst possible of all alternatives but – at least by the time I came along in the nineties – often amounted to career suicide.
From the article: For many self-publishers, the alternative is no publication at all. Writers turn to self-publishing when they’ve been unable to interest commercial publishers in their work.
But do go and read the whole thing, including the unloading and storing of trucks-full of books from the publisher.
In “All changed, changed utterly,” he describes his experiences with self-publishing after Amazon and realizing the potential out there.
To me the salient section of it is this:
3. A few years ago I led a seminar at Listowel Writers Week, in Ireland’s County Kerry. There were ten or a dozen participants, but I’ve forgotten everything about all but one of them. She was a young Englishwoman whose stories just sprang off the page at you. And she was a demon for work, too, with a trunk full of unsold novels.
After class I took her aside and told her how much I liked her work, and that she’d probably have a hell of a time getting published. Her stories were a mix of genres, all the products of a wholly original imagination that defied categorization. But if she kept at it, I said, something would resonate with the right person, and it would all Work Out Fine.
We’ve stayed in touch. A few times I’ve suggested she try this editor or that agent, and nothing’s ever quite come of it. She got a gig writing a pair of biblical romance novels, and they’re better than they have any right to be, but her own work hasn’t made anyone stand up and salute.
She emailed me last week, and here’s what I found myself writing in reply:
“Have you thought about self-publishing? It seems to me you’re a great candidate for it, with a stack of unpublished books waiting to be shared with the world. I know that you know how much the publishing world has changed, and that self-publishing does not have the odium that once attached to it. And I know you know, through personal experience, how the gateway to commercial publication keeps narrowing—and what’s on the other side of it isn’t so great, anyway.
What strikes me as wonderful about self-publishing is that it allows material to find an audience. What struck me about your work way back in Listowel was the originality of your voice and vision; I think I said then that it might be a while before you found an agent and/or an editor who shared it. (It’s taken rather longer than I thought it would!)
In fact, self publishing or indie publishing with smaller presses removes the fetters from your imagination. If you can think it, you can publish it.
Even supposing that big publishers weren’t politically motivated in what they push and what they fail to push (hey, indulge me, okay, I write fantasy!) there would still be some blinkered decisions, because you see, publishers don’t view books the way you do. They tend to shove them in categories whether they belong there or not. Say you write regency romances, with little on-screen sex (or none). You are going to get compared to Heyer, even if your work is far more introspective and contains, say, a murder mystery. (Or a dragon – but I view being compared to Heyer as a compliment.) If you write Mil SF then Drake or Weber will come up, no matter how differently nuanced you are.
And the problem with this is that they’ll then decide that your book will sell or not based on how those do. Take a friend of mine who wrote a mystery with gay characters. He couldn’t get them published even though the house loved the book because “we published a book with a cross dresser before and it didn’t sell.” The differences between those, and the very different audiences they’d attract were completely non existent to publishers.
Or take my book Witchfinder. While it is nothing new to science fiction/fantasy readers, the book takes place mostly in a parallel world that is stuck at a regency level while the main female character was raised on our Earth and is a computer programmer. My agent (back when I had one) wouldn’t even send it out, because “we don’t know if it’s science fiction or fantasy. It involves machines and spells.” (No, really, mostly it involves spells and magic. The woman is a computer programmer, that’s the extent of the tech involved.)
So after years of the proposal sitting, I finished it on my blog in weekly installments and it’s doing quite well on Amazon. (Though not this month. Nothing is doing well for me this month. Really, guys, good escapist fun!)
Indie in fact, allows the renaissance (naissance?) of new literary movements that the publishers would stomp on pretty hard. You heard of Human Wave, right? It now has a sister movement called Superversive. Read about it here.
The difference from Human Wave is pretty obvious here.
I don’t want to give too much away about Winter’s Tale, part of the wonder of the story is that everything is so unexpected. But I think I can describe this scene without ruining too much of the joy.
Crime boss Pearly Soames approaches another man in 1915 New York, reminding the second man that he owes Pearly a favor. He asks for help in his plan to kill Beverly Penn. The second man wants nothing to do with it, but Pearly calls the debt and insists.
Then, suddenly, in the midst of this intrigue scene, Pearly says:
I’ve been wondering.
With all these trying to go up…and you come down.
Was it worth it, becoming human? Or was it an impulse buy?
You must miss the wings, right?
Oh, come on. You must.
And in that instant, you suddenly realize that something very different is going on that you first thought, and it opens a glimpse into some greater working of the universe, a glimpse that makes you pause and think…about heaven and fallen angels and what it means to be human and whether it is a good thing or no.
And that, my friends, is Superversive.
Can you write superversive Human Wave? I don’t know. Why don’t you give it a try? There’s an indie for that.
Of course I still (also) publish traditional and so if you like my short stories be on the look out for the Baen Big Book of Monsters, in which I not only invented a very odd monster but returned to some of my favorite obsessions. Also, consider preordering Shattered Shields, in which I also return to one of my favorite obsessions: the Red Baron. (And no, this doesn’t make the story Word War Two, no matter what a reviewer thought.)
And now I’m going to go back to writing Through Fire which is proving more difficult than any book has the right to be. Catch you next week.
Free from Friday Oct 10 through Oct. 15
Two people who share a common plight… His magic holds the key to release both of them, but first, she has to steal it back. It’s a good thing she is a professional thief, but it’s a bad thing that her target is a witch.
“The Speedy Journey” adds a footnote to the history of both science fiction and astronomy by publishing the first English translation of what may be the first fictional account ever written about a trip to Mars, or at least one of its moons. A German astronomer thought he had made the discovery of a lifetime in 1744 — a previously unseen Martian moon over 130 years before any were officially discovered. Instead of announcing it the usual way, however, he wrote a pioneering science fiction story about it. This edition includes historical essays putting the story in the context of its times, including a possible solution to the mystery of what the astronomer actually did see, as well as both new and vintage artwork.
A generation has passed since asteroid scares led the United States to launch its first and only interstellar starship. The ship returns and announces the discovery of another Earth. People are star-struck, crowds form in Washington, DC, and a boy from Alaska and two lawyers fight for the chance for ordinary people to emigrate to the stars.
This is bourgeois, legal science fiction with a hearty helping of space policy wonkery.
Exiled to the far reaches of Empire, Brad Guthrie must take office as Superintendent of a backwater district to stake his last claim on a chance at redemption. He knows nothing of the oppressed natives, the failing economy or the plantation holders who cling desperately to power, willing to sell him cheap if it lets them hang on for just one more season. When the ancient past demands payment in the present, only Brad has a chance to answer for the sins of empire. Drawing strong parallels from our own history, Superintendent is science fiction, whodunit, and social commentary about the little people on whom history hinges.
William is just your typical engineer fresh out of college with a stressful job, a boring life, and not a lot of prospects of anything better in the future.
Until one weekend while hiking in the woods he stumbles across a portal to another time, or perhaps another place. The more he investigates this new world the more he realizes that it may just be able to offer him a lot more than the one he’s been living in.
However, there are forces at work beyond anything that Will has ever come across before and the local Goddess seems to have taken a liking to him. Will may soon find himself getting an offer he cannot afford to refuse.
Sci Phi is an online science fiction and philosophy magazine. In each issue you will find stories that explore questions of life, the universe and everything and articles that delve into the deep philosophical waters of science fiction universes.
A short story about two kinds of giants. One of stature and one of courage. Told in a steampunk setting a young boy is raised by a father with an indomitable spirit. Together they face the worst terror on the planet, a rampaging giant.
The Italian proverb says: “Hold your friends close, but your enemies even closer.” Sometimes you must hold family closest of all. Volume 2 of Coming of Age follows John Praxis and Antigone Wells as they benefit from regenerative medicine to enter that unknown space beyond the traditional three score and ten—only to discover that the endless conflicts of family, business, and politics still pursue them. They must cope with familial treachery, political reverberations from the Second Civil War, dislocations from a Bay Area earthquake, and societal collapse following a mid-continent volcanic eruption and foreign invasion.