Catch 22: Tony Frazier – Writing to publish vs. writing to sell

There’s a mantra you read all the time on sites like Writer Beware (and while I will be taking minor issue with this one thing they say, I don’t take issue with them–they are a great resource with a lot of valuable advice): “money always flows to the writer.”

The mantra is used in the context of publishing through vanity presses. Basically, if anyone asks you to pay money to publish your book, run away. They are ripping you off. The “real” publishing industry always pays you.

That model is starting to break down a little with the spreading practice of self-pubbed ebooks. But before I published my latest e-book, Hero Go Home, I published a novel titled Blue Falcon through vanity publisher iUniverse. It didn’t make me any money, and it’s far from my best work now, but I don’t regret it a bit.

Blue Falcon was the first book I ever finished, a sprawling, complex novel about a modern Korean war with several viewpoint characters on both sides of the conflict. When it was done, I queried several agencies and almost immediately got a request for a full manuscript from a major one. I sent it and waited. Several months later, I got a reply saying no thanks with no other real feedback.

I tried other queries and also joined up with a program through Penguin Putnam which would get you an “in-depth critique” from an editor at the company, with a shot at a publishing deal. After over a year of waiting, my in-depth critique consisted of “it’s too long and the foreign characters’ names are hard to keep straight.”

So after years of futile effort, unable to bring myself to write anything else until I had this book out of my system, I decided to go with iUniverse. At the time, their prices were very reasonable (they’ve increased considerably since then), they were Print on Demand so I didn’t have to buy a ton of copies, and they offered several other valuable services. I sat down to prepare my manuscript for publishing with them and ran into a problem.

The POD model trades the convenience of only publishing a few copies of a book at a time with the inconvenience of a higher cover price. My manuscript was so long that the book would cost $25.00 as a trade paperback. In order to get it down to a reasonable price I thought people would pay, I would have to cut at least 10% out of the manuscript.

That was the single most valuable lesson I think I ever received in writing. When I was writing the book, I was afraid to cut things out, because I had no idea what worked and what didn’t. I hoped I would have an editor or agent who could nudge me through a rewrite and help me get it more focused. But now I was my own publisher, and thinking like a publisher rather than a writer enabled me to cut out a lot of needless material. Blue Falcon as published was a much better book than the one I originally wrote, and I owe it all to the decision to self-publish. For me, the experience was worth the money I paid.

I had a similar experience with Hero Go Home. Early drafts wandered and waffled. It wasn’t until I decided to put it out on the web and started reworking it as a publisher with an audience in mind that I really got the story working the way it was supposed to. I’m pretty happy with the final result.

We’ve all heard horror stories about authors so successful that publishers were afraid or perhaps contractually unable to edit their work anymore. The result was flabby, overwritten stories that weren’t nearly as good as they should have been. For me, self-publishing and thinking in terms of the experience of the final product on the audience has greatly improved my storytelling. And with modern self-publishing services, you don’t even have to risk your own money upfront. All money flows to the writer again, so I can even stay on Writer Beware’s good side.

Tony Frazier’s short stories have been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons and the anthology, Daikaiju! 3: Giant Monsters vs. the World. He is currently serializing a new story 5 days a week at Enjoy your daily dose of super-adventure with Hero Go Home: Run Digger Run! starting October 3!


Catch-22: Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes

Today, I give the microphone to Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series, and the yWriter software. Simon talks about publishing and self-publishing, which he has done since before the ebook existed.

I’ve always been fascinated by the publishing business. An endless stream of books are launched onto the ocean of hopes, where most sink with barely a ripple. It all seems so ethereal. Ironically, it’s the ethereal ebook which is proving more permanent: Launch an ebook and it’s available forever. Every time an author releases a new novel, short story or novella on Amazon or Smashwords they create a bigger net for readers to flutter into.

Problem is, when you sign a print contract with a major publisher you also hand over the ebook rights, and that’s not in the author’s best interest. Nothing says ‘gotcha’ like earning $1 royalty on a $9.99 ebook, when self-pubbed authors are getting $2.80 on a title selling for $3.99.

Five years ago, when ebooks were just a spec of grit in Big Publishing’s all-seeing eye, I happily signed over the ebook rights to my Hal Spacejock series. With Hal Junior I was determined to keep them.

I don’t believe ebooks and junior fiction are a good fit yet, but who’s to say what the market will be like five years from now? We used to joke about ebook readers being given away in cereal packets, but in five years the back of the cereal box might be e-paper. If they can get the manufacturing cost down, what would advertisers pay to put moving colour images on breakfast tables worldwide? And then there’s the imminent release of the Harry Potter ebooks, which could easily cause a spike in the spread of reading devices amongst younger readers.

Apart from technology, what about e-rights? I’ve seen reports of publishers bringing out new contracts with clauses securing print & ebook rights in perpetuity. With the Hal Spacejock series I was caught out by the march of technology, and that’s why I’m determined to keep the Hal Junior e-rights.

So there I was, poised to shop my new junior science fiction novel around. On the one tentacle I wanted the safety and marketing reach of a large publisher. On the other tentacle, I wasn’t going to give up the ebook rights. And on the third tentacle it turns out I’d written another niche title. You see, according to the experts, junior science fiction only appeals to a small segment of the market, and that means science fiction authors don’t have a row of dollar signs jiggling above their heads.

The way I saw it, I could spend years trying to find a decent-sized publisher willing to give Hal Junior a go, only for the deal to fall through when I refused to give up the e-rights.

So, I decided to self-publish. Originally my plan was to upload an ebook version to Amazon and Smashwords, release a print version through Createspace (US), then find a POD publisher in the UK and Australia. Those plans changed after Tehani (FableCroft) mentioned that Lightning Source had just opened up in Australia. With their awesome printing facilities, worldwide distribution and keen pricing, your title is available through every bookstore on the planet. Order from and the book is printed in England and shipped locally. Order in Italy and it’s printed and shipped from France. Fantastic!

Lightning Source also pushes your title onto the catalogues of dozens of major distributors, including several majors who service every bookstore, school and public library in Australia. I contacted a local school libraries supplier who knows me from the Hal Spacejock books, and they’re showing a copy of Hal Junior to their sales reps next week. They can order it from their regular suppliers at their regular discount, and to them it’s just another professionally produced title. Except it’s self-published!

By the way, I can’t speak highly enough of the printing quality – cream pages, sharp text and illustrations, lovely silky cover … truly excellent.

One thing to note: Lightning Source deals with publishers, not authors. You need the same technical and business skills as a publisher, and they won’t take a word file and turn it into a book. You supply finished files in the required format, just like a publisher would. (My background is small business and computers, so it’s a perfect match as far as I’m concerned.)

To summarise: with ebooks available through, Smashwords and my own site, and with print books available … well, everywhere … I believe I’m giving Hal Junior every chance of success. I’m working on book two now, and my goal is to publish two junior titles a year. If the first takes a while to get going, who cares? It’s never going out of print!

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is available now through amazon (print and ebook) and via Barnes & Noble (Print now, Nook soon.)
Ebooks and signed copies can also be ordered via the author’s website.
The paperback is currently being added to Australian distributor catalogues.

Simon Haynes was born in England and grew up in Spain, where he enjoyed an amazing childhood of camping, motorbikes, mateship, air rifles and paper planes. His family moved to Australia when he was 16.
From 1986 to 1988 Simon studied at Curtin University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, Creative Writing and Literature.
Simon returned to Curtin in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.

Simon has four Hal Spacejock novels and several short stories in print. Sleight of Hand won the Aurealis Award (short fiction) in 2001, and Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch was a finalist in both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards for 2008.
Simon divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with frequent bike rides to blow away the cobwebs.
His goal is to write fifteen Hal books (Spacejock OR Junior!) before someone takes his keyboard away.

Catch-22: Never Never Stories by Jason Sanford

Here’s the dirty secret of the publishing world: Most editors and agents would rather have their private parts bitten by a rabid rattlesnake than accept a short story collection.

At least, that’s what a well-known author once told me when I mentioned my love of short stories. The author was trying to be helpful by steering me onto a useful fiction path, i.e., that of writing full-length novels. That’s where the readers are, he said, and publishers follow the readers. The simple truth is short story collections rarely sell.

Hence his memorable rattlesnake imagery.

Unfortunately, since that conversation I’ve flung myself full force into crotch-biting rattlesnake land. I’ve also had a good bit of success, publishing my stories in well-known magazines and books like Interzone, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show and Year’s Best SF, along with receiving a number of honors including being nominated for the Nebula Award. Last December Interzone even devoted a special issue to my fiction.

But despite this success, I’ve had no success enticing a publisher to accept a collection of my stories. So I finally decided to self-publish my collection as an ebook.

Take that, you rattlesnake-fearing freaks!

My collection is titled Never Never Stories and contains 13 previously published stories along with one all-new tale. If you’ve ever wondered about SciFi Strange, those stories are here. If you’ve ever been frustrated because you couldn’t track down my stories, be frustrated no more. If you ever wanted to download almost 100,000 words of fiction by a quirky SF writer from Alabama, it’s your lucky day.

Among the stories in this collection are “The Ships Like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain,” where spaceships pass through the sky like endless clouds; “Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas,” about a woman whose skin reveals the names of sailors fated to die at sea; and “When Thorns Are The Tips Of Trees,” which won the Interzone Readers’ Poll and features a virus that causes people who touch each other to turn into crystalline trees. The collection also contains a brand-new introduction and an original essay on archeology and fantasy.

Yes, an essay on archeology and fantasy. I threw that in merely to confound the rattlesnake-fearing folk out there.

Maybe publishers are right and there’s no market for a short story collection by a writer who has yet to publish his first novel. Or maybe there are still readers who love top-notch short fiction. If you’re one of these people, I hope you’ll check out my collection.

And I promise–no rattlesnakes will be handed out with the stories.

Catch-22 post #2 Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter

Write The Fight Right

Guest post by Alan Baxter

I was first approached by a writer friend of mine in 2009 about running a workshop at Conflux, aimed at teaching writers more about fighting. The idea was that most writers don’t know anything about fighting, yet regularly need to include fight scenes in their fiction. My friend suggested, given that I’m a career martial artist with quite a few fights under my belt, that I might be the person to help. I’d gained a bit of a reputation for writing convincing fight scenes, so it all seemed like a good idea.

That first workshop was a great success and I’ve since run it in other places, most notably Worldcon in Melbourne in 2010. I’ll be running it again in Perth for Natcon 50 at the end of April. Every time I run the workshop, people ask me if there’s any further resource they can buy to help them remember the workshop content. I finally decided to make that resource available and wrote the Write The Fight Right ebook. It’s around 12,000 words and covers everything I talk about in the workshop. Of course, without the hands on demonstrations I’m able to do in workshops it may not be as effective, but it hopefully gives people a pretty solid rundown on what’s real and what’s not when it comes to fighting.

I wouldn’t presume to tell people how to write, but I do know a lot about fighting. I know when a fight scene is well written and when it isn’t. Even readers who know very little about fighting will recognise a realistic fight scene even if they can’t put their finger on why. Equally, they’ll be bored by an unrealistic fight scene, again not necessarily knowing why.

Probably my biggest complaint with written fight scenes is that they read just like movie fights. That’s all most authors have experienced with regard to fighting, after all. The truth is that movie fights are choreographed for a visual medium, with a very unrealistic turn by turn process that makes it easy for the viewing public to see what’s going on. Real fighting simply isn’t like that.

With a written fight scene we have the ability to tell the story from inside our characters’ heads. We can talk about how it feels, the emotional content, the adrenaline and what that does, the feel, smell, taste and everything else. None of those things can really be conveyed well in film, but a good writer can include any or all of them and write a truly visceral fighting experience for their readers – if they know what it’s like. I’ve had a career of fighting, so I do know what it’s like. I think reading my book is certainly preferable to going out and getting in a fight to improve your craft.

Write the Fight Right can be purchased on Smashwords or Amazon

Catch 22: announcing a new project

A new blog project!

Readers of speculative fiction like finding new authors and books. They may be looking for something a bit different, or something in a subgenre that’s not widely available. That’s why we read things online.

More and more authors are self-publishing their books. They either do this to keep out-of-contract material in circulation or they publish entirely new fiction. They like to let the world know, but a lot of conventional reviews sites are closed to them and it gets tiring to beat your own drum. They’re in a catch-22.

Readers may want to try out a few of these authors, but they don’t like the risk of buying something that is not up to scratch. Another catch-22.

This blog series will be about meeting the two in the middle.

For each post, I will give the stage to an author to talk about their self-published book. But, in order to be featured here:

– the author must have some publishing credentials or be seriously underway to getting them (published at least one story at pro level, be a member of SFWA, have attended intensive writing courses such as Clarion, or won awards).
– the book must have a cover
– it must be freely available on ebook sites such as Smashwords and the Kindle store
– it must be speculative fiction
– it must not be free

At this stage, I have no idea how many posts there will be, but I envisage posting no more frequently than once a week, and I’ll keep this open for as long as I think this is useful.

Want to write a 500-word post on your book? Reply below.

Because April is Aussie Author Month, I’ll giving first dibs on Aussie authors.