Indie Author Experience: Mark Wandrey
[Charlie here: Today we have a guest post by Mark Wandrey, who we often plug on BPF. ]
Sixteen years ago while watching an episode of Stargate SG-1, I thought they were seriously under-utilizing their universe. Here was a galaxy-spanning transportation network and the galaxy is populated by… humans. Sure, from the production standpoint of a TV show, having an alien a week was simply far beyond what could be afforded. Even Trek handled this mostly with a prosthetic head application here and there, and skin paint. Lots, and lots of skin paint.
Anyway that thought was filed away for later consideration. As any writer quickly learns, there is a big difference between an observation and an idea. But some time later I was re-reading a favorite of mine, Ender’s Game. The protagonist is a young child, plucked from his environment, who grows even at a young age to be a powerful war leader. Then in later books, the writer proceeds to spend untold thousands of words trying to apologize for what Ender does in the first book.
Such is the decision of a writer. Rather like a role playing GM; your game, your call. But it got me thinking. What if there was no apology? What if that kid became a legendary leader, and didn’t look back? Now I had something, and then I remembered the Stargate theme. It’s not like portals to the stars are anything new. Everyone from Carl Sagan to Robert A. Heinlein have used them. They’re not as common in hard/military sci-fi as space ships, but if you want to go to other planets you have to have a way to get there, and dimensional portals are a damned fast way of getting there!
Up until a short time before these ideas occurred I’d only really written short stories. Tons of short stories. They’re generally easier in execution than a novel. Oh, not easy! Shorts have their own issues, and they can drive a writer nuts in short order. You have to do a lot in only a few thousand words. But when you get into novels, you commit to a vast canvas. And the bigger the canvas, the easier to miss things.
The first novel I wrote front-to-back was a book about the colonization of Mars. Also motivated by what others did (wrong in my opinion), I was tired of every trip-to-Mars book being filled with aliens, and endless disasters. So I wrote about a guy running a project to both travel to Mars, and colonize it. That novel still sits in a hard drive, and may well forever (it's horribly out of date now among other problems) but it was about 100k words of work that I hadn’t thought I could do, so this new idea wasn’t impossible.
Armed with a setting (galaxy full of aliens and intergalactic portals), and a basic plot (young person becomes warrior leader), I set out to put electrons in order. And that was the beginning of the Earth Song series. But it didn’t start as Earth Song, or even a series!
I wrote the original book, The Avatar’s Overture, in less than a year at lunch each day while working nights. With the basics of an idea, it came out fast. As often happens with a writer, it wasn’t what I’d originally thought. There was a galaxy of aliens out there, there were portals, and a protagonist. But she wasn’t young, and not a war leader. And I up and destroyed the whole planet. It was a good stand alone story, but that was it.
I knew the chances for a publisher to buy an unknowns book, especially a rather large one (160k). But I fished around, with the expected results. So, I figured WTF, and went self pub. But this was before the days of POD (print on demand) changed the world. I went with a company that’s still around, called Authorhouse. Pay them, and they make it available. I did, they did, and sold a few books. The internet wasn’t what it is now too, so without stacks of cash I was very limited in my ability to promote. It went nowhere, and I move on.
Then about 6 years ago, I revisited the world of the ‘Avatars’. Because a guy named Cameron was coming out with a movie called Avatar. Crap. If it couldn’t get worse, it was also sci-fi (albeit badly written sci-fi). But again, it got me thinking about that book, and the original idea. The thought struck one night. “What if that was just the prologue to a vast saga?”
As is often my style, I started writing before I’d fully formed an idea. But within a few chapters, I knew I’d hit on something. The descendant of that first heroine, many centuries later, earth long dead, and now they meet the aliens. Lots of aliens. Lots of aliens that don’t like us. Lots of aliens with better technology. But the galaxy is also in decay, decadent, falling apart.
As I wrote more and more pieces came into focus. This is a trilogy, I realized. But by the time I finished the book (2nd in the series), I knew it was a lot more than three books. Probably five. As I’ve written it went to six, and now seven. The galaxy got more and more crowded. Plots began to evolve, and motivations (both hidden and obvious) materialized. There was stuff going on I had no idea what I would do with later, just wrote it anyway.
With the 2nd book done, I went back and fixed the 1st. It had to be a clear series now, so I repaired some bad writing and some glaring plot holes, and brought it into the modern realm of a series launching book. I actually almost trashed it entirely, just leaving it as an unmentioned prologue of sorts, but friends convinced me otherwise. They said; “Overture is a good book by itself”. Overture. Well, that was the basis of the name. Dump the Avatar crap. More editing. But a series needs a title. "Overture" is a musical term for the beginning of a much larger movement. The second book takes place in humanities new home, Gamma Orionis. The title would be Sonata in Orionis. Another musical term. And now I had a series title, Earth Song.
As the second book launched and the first book relaunched, this time on Amazon’s Createspace, I set to work doing what I didn’t do nearly as well last time, and what wasn’t really that possible. I started building a web presence online. I use Facebook almost exclusively (to my detriment maybe). But even an indie has to have time to write, so if I’m on Facebook, twitter, G+, etc. all the time, when can I write?
The presence building has been a careful combination of cultivating fans I gathered from new sales (not a lot, but they started coming in), people I came across from wandering other writers pages (avoid plugging your stuff on other writers walls, it tends to piss them off), and building writers pages on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. I also never pass up an opportunity to write a bit for someone else (like this) and to self promote.
Next came conventions. And THAT can be a double edge sword. They’re expensive (even if you do them on the cheap), and as an indie you have to buy boxes of your own books to sell. I invested in some advertising, cards, flyers, and a nice banner that came from the cover to my third book (getting good cover art as an indie is a must). These are things you just have to do. If you show up at a con, buy a table, and just sit a couple books there, no one will even slow down. Put a nice looking book there, at a 6 foot banner with nice graphics, and they’ll slow down. If they slow down, they might look at a book. If they look at a book, they might buy it. And you get a sale! Indies make it one sale at a time.
And this is where I advise against eBook only. Yes, it’s easier. Yes, it’s cheaper. Yes, it’s also often a lot faster. But dead trees will be popular for a long time to come. I sell almost as many hard copies as eBooks.
So here I am now, 15 years after the adventure began, and the 3rd book in the series (The Lost Aria) is about to come out. I’ve been done with the 4th book for over a year (Etude to War), and am about ¼ of the way through the 5th book (Nocturne’s Reckoning). Promotion has become a lot of my online time, but when the eBook of Aria went live this week, I instantly saw sales. It came up a few days early (by mistake), and I looked at their tracking information and was surprised to see a bunch of sales. And this one was priced at $5.99. Remember, if you have a series, resist the urge to go for the money and reduce the older ones in steps. My first book is now only $0.99 (I barely make anything on each sale), the 2nd is $2.99, and the third $5.99. You’ve got to make that first taste cheap. Almost anyone will pop $0.99 for an eBook. I have fans that buy a half dozen a week just looking for that one good one.
I’ve been ordering paper copies of Aria for weeks, slowly building up inventory in prep of the 6/28 official launch (at Libertycon in Chattanooga). In the course of that, I put up on my blog a paypal button to preorder autographed copies. Sold quite a few of those as well. It’s beginning to develop momentum. Will I sell thousands? I really don’t know yet. Readers love a good long series with engaging characters and a dynamic story. That is my goal. So I will continue onward.
Oh, book 6 is titled Oblivions Waltz and book 7 Requiem, just in case it was eating you alive.
Remember, tell all your writer friends to send the AUTHOR, TITLE, a SHORT BLURB, and an AMAZON LINK AMAZON LINK AMAZON LINK to email@example.com to be plugged here on PJ Media.
It really helps if you don't bother with HTML magic at all, because we just have to parse it apart to put it into the template. The ideal submission is like
My name as it's on the book cover.
no more than about 100 words.
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Bri races back to Charlie's side to find he's more than her next boyfriend. He's the man she's meant to be with. But before she can marry Charlie, she needs to confront Saul. The only problem is--he's dead, too. Coincidence, or are Bri and Charlie headed for more than a simple Key West honeymoon?
[Note: This is an erotic thriller. If you don't like erotica, it's not for you.]
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This is bourgeois, legal science fiction with a hearty helping of space policy wonkery.
[I love the blurb. --C]
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The Collapse of 2015 left parts of Denver in ashes, the US economy in a mess, and the Salazar family with little besides their pride and honor. Now Alicia Salazar must repay her father's debt by working in Illif House. She discovers a recluse, a wonder, too many tomatoes, and freedom. When Cousin Ernesto threatens to drag her away, Alicia must choose between freedom and honor. Will love and a Power prove stronger than lead and fury?
Novella includes bonus teaser.
Many humans know there is a mountain at the end of the universe to which a bird flies every thousand years to sharpen its beak, until the end of the mountain comes, and thus the end of eternity. What few of them know is that of the mountain only a few small grains of sand remain. And the bird that is to end eternity is alive and ready to fly. At half past noon at the end of the universe, the last great hopes of everything that exists, ever existed or has yet to exist, rests with a stray cat with alcohol issues, a Siamese cat with gender issues, and a Persian cat with pregnancy issues. Things are just about to get fun.
[Yes, those Hoyts. --C]
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Pride, Prejudice, werewolves and dragons, oh, my.
The Inari's Children Series: Once magic was plentiful and the world was dominated by a singular empire whose name has long been lost to history. In its time, the great wizard Inari developed his greatest creation: The kitsune. His enemies were quick to copy him, and soon the world was populated with many different types of this remarkable creature. Two thousand years later and these different breeds of kitsune are fighting amongst themselves, and the rest of the human world joins them.
Book I: The Kitsune Stratagem: To avoid being used as a political pawn against her father, a young kitsune vixen named Kieras must leave her homeland. She soon gets caught up in the fortunes of Mathis, a vagabond hunter from Ekholm, a once sleepy little town on the verge of becoming a small city. To find a way to return home, Kieras must first help Mathis save Ekholm from threats both inside and out.