Welcome to the increasingly inaccurately named Book Plug Friday. (What the hell, it’s a week with Friday in it.) We lead off today with an interview with a successful indie author, Mackey Chandler.
PJM: Tell us a little about yourself.
MC: I’m 71 years old and have only been published for seven years. I don’t come from a professional or academic background. I worked as a plumber and mechanic and various sorts of specialized machinist most of my life. Between those sorts of jobs, I sold cars and motorcycles and real estate. I’ve done janitorial at night and had my own window washing business. My first company was at 11 years old. I posted signs on telephone poles and sold worms for bait to fishermen.
If you told any of my teachers I’d ever be published they’d probably laugh or faint dead away, especially the ones who wouldn’t accept trashy science fiction books for reports. Oh, did I say that out loud? I’m not a big fan of public schools. Don’t ask why if you don’t have some time to listen. I’ve always read and enjoyed science fiction over westerns or mysteries or whatever, so it was natural to write in the genre. I am neither Democrat nor Republican, Libertarian or any flavor of politics. I’m anti-stupid so that pretty well eliminates joining any political gangs. I totally agree it’s pointless to put your faith in princes or princesses, ward bosses or Tsars. They all take more than they can give. I just try to stay out of their way. I’ve had people of all political persuasions inform me my vision of the future is flawed and won’t happen, Well Duhhh, it’s fiction. I know it isn’t going to happen. I lie about the future and people send me money for it. I’m surprised nobody has made it a crime yet. I’ve never been to a con except to visit Nathan Balyeat’s party room once at Penguicon. I drove once five hours to Cleveland to have dinner with author Sarah Hoyt and family, so I’m not anti-social. I am however profoundly hard of hearing which makes communication difficult. Of course, you can just shut up and let me talk as an option…
In the meanwhile, I’d written another book and published it on Amazon rather than have two books in the pipe waiting for approval, so I just went ahead and published “April” on Amazon too. That has grown to a nine book series and I’m working on number ten.
PJM: Tell us how you came to publish indie? Was it a choice? Did you ever do it traditionally? Do you also traditionally publish?
MC: From what people tell me I’m a bit of an anomaly. I wrote a novella, “Common Ground”, and submitted it shortly after Jim Baen started his Universe webzine. I never had to suffer through endless rejections. The very first thing I ever wrote sold at pro rates. I believe I got $706 dollars for it and have retained other rights so it has made many times that.
I suppose I was then spoiled because I submitted a novel to Baen right after Jim died. It was bad timing and they weren’t buying anything new, so after about a year I grew impatient and yanked it. In the meanwhile, I’d written another book and published it on Amazon rather than have two books in the pipe waiting for approval, so I just went ahead and published “April” on Amazon too. That has grown to a nine book series and I’m working on number ten. There is a related group of four books starting with “Family Law” that is set later in the same ‘universe. I also have shorts, collections of shorts and a couple stand-alone books. None of these sell anywhere near as well as the series. I have been solemnly assured by professionals I simply lucked out. If so I’ll take it shamelessly. My dear mother used to say I was the sort who could have the outhouse collapse when he sat down and manage to come up with a string of pearls in my teeth. There are worse things to be than inexplicably lucky.
PJM: Tell us about your latest book?
MC: The tenth book in the “April” series continues the adventures of three partners who pushed the rebellion of their orbital home from the United States of North America in the first book. A lot of the characters are from previous books, and it is, of course, richer if you know their backgrounds. I write about people and human nature more than technology or seriously trying to predict history. Reality is going to astonish the people who seriously think they can predict things. They are just starting star travel in the current book that is commonplace in the “Family Law” series. I don’t have a title or a cover yet. It’ll be out in late summer one hopes.
PJM: How did you start writing? What did you envision as your career in writing (if you did)?
MC: I started because somebody made an off-hand remark in Baen’s Bar that nobody ever writes common everyday scenes into science fiction, such as going to the grocery store. That prompted me to write “Paper or Plastic?” Early in the book one of the main characters takes his new alien friend through the local grocery. She tends to take everything very literally, and the ‘Do you want paper or plastic?’ namesake scene at the checkout is supposed to be funny at the expense of the humorless clerk. It’s my oldest book and a bit rough because I’m learned a lot more about grammar and book formatting, but I think the story itself stands up just fine.
I’d have a hard time going traditional since I’d make maybe a quarter or a third as much for each sale, and for what? I don’t really care if a bunch of self-important New York editors give their stamp of approval to my writing.
PJM: What are the good and bad points of being an indie author? Would you like to be traditionally published someday, or do you have absolutely no interest in doing it?
MC: Well the money is nice. I don’t really need a dime of it to eat, since I have other sources of income, but it has let me indulge myself on a few things. Last year I bought myself a nice new GMC Canyon pickup cash and didn’t fret about losing the massive depreciation the first year.
It gives me something to socialize about online since my bad hearing leaves me rather socially isolated. I’d have a hard time going traditional since I’d make maybe a quarter or a third as much for each sale, and for what? I don’t really care if a bunch of self-important New York editors give their stamp of approval to my writing. If the readers don’t like it they can stop buying it. I don’t really need anybody else’s approval. I’ve never been swamped with massive public approval and praise before in life to suddenly crave it now. I can log on and see what I sold real time with Amazon. I know nothing is forever, Amazon may screw up and go down the tubes in the future just like Sears or Enron, but I’ll ride it as long as it works, and it’s working very well indeed.
The traditional houses have cut way back on both art and editing. Even as grammar impaired as I am I find errors now in traditionally published books.
PJM: A lot of people point to things like getting editing, covers and such things that the houses used to do. Is this very difficult for you?
MC: Yes, it’s hard, but at least I have control of it. I’ve changed covers several times. Sarah Hoyt saw some of my old covers I did myself and shrieked, ‘Oh my God…NO! That cover just shouts Lit*er*a*ture, not Science Fiction! So she’s redone several, to my great advantage I suspect.
I got a number of images from an Italian fellow, Luca Oleastri, and used them with some framing and manipulation to good effect. He has offered, and I may have him do some custom cover art in the future.
The traditional houses have cut way back on both art and editing. Even as grammar impaired as I am I find errors now in traditionally published books. I swear I must have a completely different set of errors than better-educated writers because nobody I have tried as an editor catches anywhere near all of them. If somebody is thrown completely out of a story and their joy destroyed in horror over a typo – well – Princess and the pea, you know?
PJM: Where do you want to go with your career. Pie in the sky – where would you like to be in your writing career in ten years.
MC: It’s still fun. It’s still more a hobby to me than a career. It’s not like I studied or planned any of this. At 71 I’d like to be ALIVE in ten years. If I’m still alert and sharp enough to still be writing that will be a bonus. It looks like I’ll make six figures next year so that gives me a little security my blue collar jobs never provided. Assuming the *&*^$(* politicians don’t steal everybody’s 401(k)s and savings accounts I’ll be a little ahead when they do a ten to one devaluation. I may have some brown sugar on my oatmeal instead of plain. And if nobody wants to buy “Family Law” number six or seven I’d probably write it just to see for myself what happens. It would still beat the hell out of daytime TV for something to do.
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