Supporting Indie Publishing

By necessity, big publishers can’t provide a platform for every writer whose voice is worth hearing. They simply have a limited number of books they can publish. Also, over time, big publishing has been reduced to five media companies with an obligation to their stock holders to maximize profits. This limits the number of risks they can and should take. These two facts limit the number of new and diverse voices that can share their creativity.

Indie publishing allows an outlet for those voices. The term “indie publishing” has evolved over the last few years to incorporate self-published authors, authors with boutique presses, and small press authors. It’s a little misleading because they’re not all the same. However, they all provide the opportunity for more voices to be heard.

Self-publishing literally allows anyone to publish a book in print or electronically. That said, it probably still favors voices of privilege since they’ll be the ones who have money for the best covers, editing, and advertising, plus potentially more free time to do the work of getting the word out. Small presses vary greatly but there are a lot of them out there. The best will provide editing, covers, and at least some marketing.

Indie publishing keeps authors from being forced to accept the publication terms of the big publishing houses. While it’s true the big publishing houses pay advances up front, and arguably pay more per book than small presses, the pay can still be surprisingly small. At least anecdotally, I know writers who stick with the big five and yet sometimes barely make ends meet. Indie publishing provides a possible alternative outlet for authors to supplement their pay. When authors do well with indie publishing, it provides some pressure for the big five to offer better pay to compete.

The limited number of publishing venues is a small problem compared to the tiny number of retail outlets for books. By far, most people discover books by visiting bookstores and we only have one major brick-and-mortar retailer in the United States, Barnes and Noble. Shelf space at Barnes and Nobles is limited. It’s not uncommon for me to go into Barnes and Noble and have difficulty finding even current, big name authors with big publishers.

The challenge is how can readers find and support good authors, working through small presses and who self-publish. The usual recommendation is to leave reviews in places like Goodreads and Amazon. This is good, and it’s incredibly helpful.

Some public libraries and local, indie bookstores will host events for authors. I have attended wonderful events at the Branigan Library in Las Cruces and at stores such as Bookmans in Tucson, COAS in Las Cruces, and Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. If your library or bookstore hosts such events, please go and meet the authors. Talk to them, find out if what they write is to your taste. If it is, give their work a try and then follow them online. If it’s not to your taste, please don’t write off small press or self-published authors because of one or two bad experiences. Go to the next event and meet different authors until you find someone you like.

In the genre world, there are science fiction, steampunk and comic conventions. Some of these provide venues for indie authors, either on panels or in the dealer’s room. If you like hearing from indie authors, make sure to send your feedback to the convention committees. If they hear that people like hearing from indie voices as well as the most popular authors, they will often make room for those indie authors.

Indie publishing provides a platform for new and diverse voices. I won’t try to convince you that all those voices will be ones you want to hear or even great voices, which is true of any media. But if you look, you will find the gems. I encourage you to seek out the gems. Leave reviews and visit authors at stores and events. There’s some great stuff out there, just waiting for you to find it.

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The Orville

Last week, I watched the first season of Seth MacFarlane’s new series, The Orville, with my daughter who’s home from college. Marketed as a science fiction comedy in the vein of Galaxy Quest, I find that the show is, in many ways, a true successor to Star Trek.

The premise of the show is that Captain Ed Mercer, played by MacFarlane, has just been given command of a mid-size exploratory vessel. To his chagrin, his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki serves as his first officer. Other members of the crew include Lt. Commander Bortus, the Klingon-like second officer from the Planet Moclan, Lt. Alara Kitan, the hyper-strong but young security chief from the planet Xelaya, and Lt. Gordon Malloy, Ed’s wisecracking friend who serves as the ship’s helmsman.

The first couple of episodes focused more on the humor, but as the show progressed it became decidedly more like classic Star Trek exploring themes of gender, religion, and the role of social media in society. It’s even taken on some interesting science fictional ideas such as what exploring other dimensions would mean, our interactions with life forms both more advanced and more primitive, and time travel.

Overall, the show’s exploration of science fiction themes works. This is perhaps no surprise since there’s a strong overlap of production staff not only with some of the Star Trek series, but with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. Although the show keeps its humor low-key, it’s still an integral part of the presentation. It keeps the show light and avoids it taking itself too seriously. That said, my most serious complaint about the show is that its humor is tied very strongly to 21st century pop-culture references. In a show set in the 24th century that is pretty decent at its science fiction, it feels a little jarring. It’s as though me and all my friends were experts in the 1600s and only read books and watched plays from that era. Okay, as an avowed Steampunk there is, perhaps, some feeling of truth in this portrayal, but I think you get what I mean!

I find I don’t always agree with the positions Seth MacFarlane and the producers present in the show, but that’s fine. He presents them in a thoughtful way that doesn’t put me off, which allows me to evaluate my own positions. In fact, he doesn’t always give us easy answers at the end of an episode or imply that what the crew did was the best choice. In this way, The Orville really does what science fiction does best: help us look at our own time with a critical eye.

As it turns out, I don’t have cable. I gave it up as an unneeded luxury back in 2001. I decided to buy the first season of The Orville on iTunes after watching those episodes that were available for free on Fox’s website. I will note that I still haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery. Here’s the key difference: Fox allowed me to sample some episodes for free (albeit with commercials), and then gave me a means to subscribe to the series for a reasonable cost. CBS All Access, where Discovery runs will only allow me to subscribe to the channel and won’t even let me sample the series without a subscription that includes a whole lot of content I really don’t want. That’s why I gave up cable back in 2001!

I’m currently on Patreon raising funds for my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. Like The Orville, I endeavor to mix some light-hearted humor with good science fiction to provide an entertaining mix. You can read the first story in the collection with absolutely no commitment right here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/chapter-one-for-14391922. If you like what you read, you can subscribe for any amount you like at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. In exchange for your patronage, you get to see each story in the collection as it’s written or reedited. I share behind the scenes information about the stories, and I’ll give you a “thank you” in the finished book.

A Look Ahead at 2018

Happy New Year! I hope your 2018 is off to a terrific start.

In my last post, I looked back at some of the highlights of my writing and publishing life from 2017. However, one of the truths of the publishing world is that books take time to write, edit, and publish. The upshot is that many of 2017’s books don’t actually represent work done in 2017. It’s this post, where I look ahead to 2018 that actually represents a lot of the actual work I’ve been doing the past few months.

I spent the last days of 2018 revising book four of my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, Owl Riders. Just a couple of days ago, my editor wrote to tell me he was happy with the latest draft and would give the book a copy edit and then turn it in to Sky Warrior Publishing. While I don’t have a formal release date, the tentative plan is for the novel to come out this spring. Set in 1885, Ramon Morales leaves his home and job in New Orleans to broker peace between the Apaches and white settlers in Southern Arizona. While he’s away, Fatemeh Morales’s past catches up with her and and her one-time betrothed kidnaps her to take her back to Persia.

Now that Owl Riders is moving into the final stages of production, I have my sights set on a couple of science fiction projects. One of those is finishing my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. For now, the project is live on Patreon where you can read the first story for free. For just $1.00 per month, you can see each story as they’re edited into their final form for the book. I say “for now” because Patreon recently announced a change to their fee structure and I know many authors and artists who have expressed their concerns about it. I’m also concerned, but have decided to wait and see how it actually impacts me and those who support me before taking action.

That said, we do have some exciting things planned for this project. Actor Eric Schumacher in Tucson is helping me produce a full-cast audiobook edition of the first Firebrandt’s Legacy story, “For a Job Well Done.” I can’t say much about the audiobook yet, but I’m really excited about some of the talent involved. Once this is finished, we’ll move on to the rest of the book and there will be opportunities for you to help and get some great rewards, so stay tuned!

In addition to Firebrandt’s Legacy, I’ll be releasing a new edition of my novel, The Solar Sea, which tells the story of humanity’s first voyage through the solar system in a solar sail spacecraft. I already have a fantastic cover by Laura Givens and will show that off soon as I finalize plans for the re-release.

If all goes according to plan, these projects will be released, or at least in their final stages, by the middle of the year. What about the second half of the year, you ask? Well, I would like to move on to the second book in my Wilderness of the Dead series, and I’m considering reading for another anthology.

I also have several events planned. I’ll be at Arizona’s Wild Wild West Con and the Tucson Festival of Books this March. I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in April. In May, I plan to do a signing at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans.

In the world of astronomy, the DESI spectrograph will be installed at the Mayall 4-meter telescope. This instrument will be used to map the dark energy distribution of the universe. The NEID spectrograph will be installed at the WIYN telescope and that will be used to support NASA’s extrasolar planetary research.

All in all, 2018 promises to be an exciting year. Of course, I hope it’s exciting in good ways. I hope the world at large finds a little more sanity and our leaders seek peace and work for a world that’s better for all, and not just a select few. As a mid-term election year, I hope the people of the United States will hold the leaders accountable for their actions. In short, I hope we leave this planet better at the end of 2018 than we find it at the beginning. All best wishes for the year ahead.

Owl Riders Edits

These last days of 2017 find me hard at work polishing Owl Riders, the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. My editor has given me his notes and my revisions are due this Wednesday, December 20. While I don’t have a final publication date yet, Larry Bonham at Sky Warrior Publishing indicated they were shooting for a spring release.

In the series, the alien called Legion has unleashed humanity’s potential in the nineteenth century. Now, Legion has gone. The United States Army with its ornithopters has reached a standoff with Apache warriors armed with mighty war machines. Ramon and Fatemeh’s exploits have been immortalized in a novel called Owl Riders. Now Ramon is called away to solve the dispute and Fatemeh’s one-time betrothed arrives on the scene. I hope you’re looking forward to this fourth installment in the series!

Because of staffing changes at Sky Warrior, I’m working with a new editor. This is always something of a nervous thing, especially given that I’m an introvert who doesn’t find it easy to open up to new people. I’m showing something I’ve worked on for much of the past year to a complete stranger and hoping they “get it.” Of course, I hope that’s true with any reader who buys one of my books, but I’m trusting the editor to help me find ways to make my narrative clearer and more palatable to readers.

In this case, my new editor has made very few suggestions about actual scenes. Instead, he’s suggested a rearrangement of scenes to provide a more clear narrative flow. He also suggested reducing the number of point of view characters. On one hand, I feel like having a small number of limited third-person points of view is largely genre fashion right now. However, I do have to admit that applying this advice has helped me tighten several of the story arcs without having to do much rewriting.

Will there be more novels in the series after Owl Riders. The most honest answer I can give is “I hope so, but it depends.” Owl Riders was written such that I endeavored to wrap up as many dangling plot threads as possible from the first three books. Also, I built a trilogy where an alien being significantly altered the flow of history. I wanted to explore what happened after this alien influence had moved on. In that sense, this book serves as a conclusion to the series. That said, I’ve attempted to set the world up such that I could continue to tell stories with these characters in new situations. One could see it as the first book of a new story arc, or possibly a transition from the old story arc to a new one. In fact, my story “Fountains of Blood” in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone is set about ten years after the events of Owl Riders, so new stories can definitely be told.

In the end, a lot will depend on how well all the books continue to sell. That will determine my publisher’s interest in acquiring more books in the series. If you’re already a fan of the series, please spread the word. If you’ve dropped by this post and I’ve piqued your curiosity about the books, you can explore more at the links below. You can read the first chapter of each book as well as find links to your favorite retailers.

Weredragons

One of the most awesome scenes in Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty is when the sorceress Maleficent turns into a dragon to do battle with Prince Phillip. It’s beautifully executed, frightening, and you realize that strange headpiece Maleficent wears is reminiscent of dragon horns and you wonder whether the dragon or the human is her “true” form. Ever since I saw that, I felt like the idea of a human who could transform into a dragon had a lot of story potential.

What’s more the idea of a humans who can become dragons and vice versa have some mythic basis. After all, Fafnir in Nordic legend is a dwarf who is turned into a dragon through the power of a cursed ring. In the Grimms’ story “The Dragon and His Grandmother”, we’re introduced to a dragon who has a human grandmother. Although it’s not part of the story, one gets the impression that either the grandmother is a dragon in human form or the dragon is her transformed grandson.

It’s because of this relatively untapped potential, that I was excited to see the novel Lost Sons by fellow Lachesis Publishing author Greg Ballan. Not only is there a beautiful dragon on the cover from artist Laura Givens, but the description tells us the story’s protagonist, Duncan Kord is a Viking Warrior who was saved at the moment of death by a race of advanced beings who “infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon.” I knew I had to read this book.

As the novel begins, Duncan uses his superhuman strength to save an Amish village from a biker gang. He’s banished for his efforts because the elders don’t want the children to learn violent ways. Kord respects the elders enough to abide by their decision even there’s no requirement for him to do so. He goes across country and settles in Alaska, where he stumbles upon a corporate war between two oil companies which threatens to turn into a real shooting war. What’s more, the CEO of one of two oil companies is none other than the man who brought him to his moment of death back in the Viking days. The people who saved Kord also saved the man who nearly killed him almost 1500 years before. That man is now known as William Jefferson Sagahr.

Lost Sons is the first part of a bigger story. In this novel, Kord fights to bring peace to his newly adopted home of Caribou Point, Alaska and hopes to lure Sagahr into a confrontation. However, Sagahr refuses to be baited and remains focused on his feud with a rival oil company. In the process, we learn that Sagahr has also been infused with powers and that he and Kord have tangled at least one other time after the initial battle where they nearly took each other’s lives. While in Caribou Point, Kord begins to fall for a waitress. As a powerful immortal he knows the pain of watching comrades die over the centuries, but that doesn’t prevent him from being swept up by his emotions.

One of the challenges of writing a character who can transform into a dragon is to hint at the abilities without overusing them. Also, we need a good reason why he doesn’t turn into a dragon at every opportunity it could possibly be an advantage. Greg does a great job of this and roots it to Kord’s underlying humanity giving us a reason to care about him. Lost Sons kept me turning pages and I look forward to seeing what happens in the second installment of this series. As it stands, this book is a great new addition to the lore of people who can transform into dragons.

You can find the book at Amazon and Lachesis Publishing.

WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle

One of this year’s great pleasures has been getting to know Kevin J. Anderson better. Not only do we share a table of contents in the weird western anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, but he served as the publisher of the anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As we come to the end of year, I’m proud to learn that Kevin has selected Maximum Velocity to be part of a terrific story bundle that includes many titles from WordFire Press.

This Super Spotlight features 17 different WordFire Press titles that highlight an amazing range of titles and authors. You can get all 17 books for a minimum price of $15—but feel free to pay what you feel they’re worth. The bundle only runs Dec 6-28.

A part of the proceeds will go directly to the worthy Be a Santa nonprofit run by Patricia Tallman (from Babylon 5 and Night of the Living Dead). It’s a real honor to help support this great cause created by a person whose work I’ve long admired.

The bundle includes Kevin’s novel, Death Warmed Over, the first novel in his Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series. There’s also the fun and exciting Monsterland, by Michael Okon, the Goonies meets Jurassic Park with monsters. And JB Garner has Indomitable, the first in his entertaining superhero trilogy.

If you like unusual detectives who aren’t zombies, there’s Brooks Wachtel’s beautifully illustrated and innovative Lady Sherlock and David Boop’s noir She Murdered Me With Science. Or maybe you prefer werewolves with PTSD? Then try Julie Frost’s Pack Dynamics. In other Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, there’s Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans and First Chosen by Todd Gallowglas. Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto is a weird western horror novel, while Mike Baron’s Banshees proves that death doesn’t have to put an end to sex, drugs, and rock & roll.

In the edgier, dark thriller category, Jeff Mariotte’s Empty Rooms and Colum Sanson-Regan’s The Fly Guy will keep you awake at night better than espresso at midnight. Aaron Michael Ritchey’s post-apocalyptic adventure Dandelion Iron is about a strong young woman trying to lead a cattle drive in the West after the fall of civilization. And The Crown and the Dragon is a colorful epic fantasy with (as the title suggests) crowns and dragons, as well as a few swords and magic.

If you want a lot of short stories, the bundle includes three anthologies, A Fantastic Holiday Seasons, with everything from zombies for Thanksgiving to aliens at Christmas: perfect reading for this time of year. Award-winning Mike Resnick has Away Games, a collection of his stories about sports and science fiction. Last but not least, Maximum Velocity is a collection of science fiction adventure stories curated by Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and me.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Go check out the Story Bundle. There’s lots to enjoy. Thanks for your support of small press publishing and the wonderful Be a Santa organization. Remember, the WordFire Press Super Showcase RUNS ONLY THROUGH DEC 28.

The initial titles in the The WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Monsterland by Michael Okon
  • A Fantastic Holiday Season by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith J. Olexa
  • Empty Rooms by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
  • Maximum Velocity edited by David Lee Summers, Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • She Murdered Me with Science by David Boop

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus TWELVE more!

  • Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto
  • Away Games by Mike Resnick
  • Banshees by Mike Baron
  • First Chosen by M. Todd Gallowglas
  • Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Pack Dynamics by Julie Frost
  • The Crown and the Dragon by John D. Payne
  • Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans
  • Indomitable by J.B. Garner
  • The Fly Guy by Colum Sanson-Regan
  • Lady Sherlock by Brooks Arthur Wachtel
  • Dandelion Iron: The Juniper Wars Book 1 by Aaron Michael Ritchie

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com/wordfire. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

Art on Your Own Terms

In addition to Dexter Dogwood’s Fables from Elsewhere, which I wrote about on Saturday, Paul McComas sent me the fifteenth anniversary edition of his novel Unplugged. I have to admit, I looked at it with some skepticism. It’s the tale of a rock star named Dayna Clay who survived childhood sexual abuse and suffers from depression. On the last night of a big tour, she disappears off stage to go home and attempt suicide by asphyxiating herself with carbon monoxide fumes in her garage. Fortunately, a squirrel falls from the rafters and she feels she can’t take another life with her, even a small one, so she moves herself and the squirrel to safety.

After the suicide attempt, she gets in the car and retreats out west to the Badlands of South Dakota. Once there, she goes on a personal quest to discover who she is and whether or not she can continue with her music career. On the surface, it seems a lot more introspective and possibly even sad book than I would go in for. I will admit that I’ve had low points in my life and have even heard that frightening siren call from the back of my brain that made me think about suicide. Fortunately, between my amazing family and my own stubborn self-preservation instinct, I never got all that close to the brink, but I’ve glimpsed enough to know how scary it is and hesitated getting closer, even in fictional form. Despite that, I found myself captivated with Dayna’s story and how she becomes enchanted by the Badlands and the people she meets along her journey. Even though the novel opens with Dayna in a dark place, the novel proves hopeful and even fun at times as Dayna finds help for her depression and rebuilds her life.

One aspect of the novel that I particularly enjoyed was Dayna’s early decision that if she was going to return to the music world, she would return on her own terms. Dayna has a demanding agent, a full public appearance schedule, and pressure to get into the studio to record more songs. Dayna’s story actually parallels a lot of writers I know, who have numerous publishing obligations and travel to science fiction and comic conventions every available weekend. There are intense pressures to move the books already published and produce more books at a steady rate. In fact, I know some writers, editors, and agents who will insist that this kind of intense schedule is the only viable career path available. Anyone not on this path is a failure as a writer and should quit wasting their time.

I’m sorry. I just don’t accept that. All it takes to be a musician is to make music. All it takes to be a writer is to write. All it takes to be a painter is to paint. All it takes for something to be a career is that money from the occupation must flow to the person doing the job in some sustainable way. How an artist makes that happen is between the artist and those paying for the art. For any occupation to be sustainable, the person occupied must feel satisfied with their life as a whole. For me, right now, satisfaction with life includes spending time contributing to astronomy through my work at Kitt Peak, spending time with family, in addition to writing. I choose writing jobs and projects that both give me satisfaction and allow me to do the other things that give me satisfaction.

I’m glad I joined Dayna on her journey to the South Dakota Badlands and visiting the real Badlands is now something I must do. You can find the novel at: https://www.amazon.com/Unplugged-Anniversary-Novel-Paul-McComas/dp/1564746046. As I’ve mentioned, this is a novel about a musician. It turns out that Paul McComas has collaborated with Maya Kuper to create an album of Dayna’s music and it’s a pretty amazing listen. It’s also a great example of what can happen when you do art on your own terms. It frees you to explore and I was delighted to hear Dayna’s songs come to life. “Jack-o’-Lantern” and “Karma Bomb” will likely get frequent play from me, but all of the songs are great. You can listen and buy at: https://daynaclay.bandcamp.com/

Proceeds from both the novel and album go to benefit two causes. One is the Kennedy Forum, which works to improve the way mental health and addiction issues are treated in this country. You can learn more at kennedyforum.org. The other cause is the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. In addition to these two great causes, I want to share the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in case anyone reading this needs it: 1-800-273-8255