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Find more Author Perspectives on Self-Publishing, Part 3
Robin Bradford is a collection-development librarian for Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, Washington. One of the things she finds most exciting about collection development is the wide range of books and authors, and her current interest in self-published authors stems from an initial attraction to small-press books. In this new Corner Shelf exclusive series, Bradford talks to authors who are taking the self-publishing route.
Many people think that “self-published” is synonymous with the romance genre, but that isn’t true. Many of the biggest names waving the self-publishing flag come from the science-fiction and mystery genres. And, if you’ve had contact with self-published authors in your communities, you know they run the gamut from fiction to nonfiction, from cookbooks to poetry, from juvenile titles to adult. (To see this diversity in action, check out Booklist’s new “Self-Published Books Showcase,” which features curated lists, selected from BlueInk Review, of outstanding self-published titles across genres and audiences.)
In part 3 of Robin’s series, she chats with science-fiction author Elliott Kay. Like many Seattleites, Elliott is a refugee from Los Angeles. He is a former Coast Guardsman with a bachelor’s in history, and he’s a self-described lifelong nerd. Elliott has survived a motorcycle crash; serious electric shocks; chronic, severe seasickness; summers in Phoenix; and winters in Seattle. Visit him at www.elliottkay.com.
Robin: Tell us about your books.
Elliott: I have four novels split between two series and a (mostly) stand-alone novella. My most recent novel is Rich Man’s War, the sequel to my first YA military science-fiction novel, Poor Man’s Fight. I like to describe it as “student debt and space pirates.”
The series is set in humanity’s space-faring future, where privatized education and high-stakes testing start most people off on a slide into lifelong debt. The protagonist, Tanner Malone, does so poorly on The Test (which determines how much money you owe for your K–12 education) that he has to join his planet’s space navy in the hopes of salvaging his future plans for college and a career. Tanner’s government is on a collision course with pirates, hostile neighbors, and the powerful interstellar corporations that control the debt scheme. He naturally winds up in all sorts of action while he already has more than enough trouble just dealing with bullying shipmates and the transition into adulthood.
My other work is much steamier and more comedic urban fantasy. It’s definitely not for YA audiences.
Robin: How long have you been writing?
Elliott: I put my first self-published book out in 2011 (Good Intentions, an urban fantasy). For years before that, I had written stuff about characters from role-playing games I’d been in with friends, so my audience was limited to people I knew.
Robin: Where can your books be found, and in what formats?
They are all available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook (via Audible.com). Good Intentions is available on Smashwords and Axis 360, and print copies of the Poor Man’s Fight series are available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, as well as Amazon. The Poor Man’s Fight series has been picked up by Skyscape, Amazon’s YA/New Adult imprint, so it’s now exclusive to them. It may turn up in some independent bookstores.
Robin: How do you get the word out about your books?
Elliott: I use a lot of the same methods as everyone else: Facebook, Twitter, encouraging word-of-mouth, etc. Those reader reviews on Amazon are priceless. Once you get enough of them so that readers can see it’s not just your supportive friends and family leaving them, you’re off and running.
My terrible secret is that I built up something of a following on an adult stories website before putting out Good Intentions. Those readers were happy to support the book when it came out as a self-pub, and later they were just as happy to give Poor Man’s Fight a read and support it with their reviews even though it was such a departure from what I’d written before. That initial support translated into more visibility. Poor Man’s Fight did extremely well in its first few months. At one point, it was the top-selling book in science fiction on Amazon, for three brief, glorious hours!
Robin: Why self-publishing? If you’ve done traditional and self-publishing, what’s the main difference?
Elliott: Many reasons. You don’t have to jump through the hoops of traditional publishers: the readers are the gatekeepers. With traditional publishers, even if you make it through to being signed, you’re still looking at maybe a two-year wait before your book goes to print. I didn’t have aspirations of fame and fortune; I just wanted to put out my stories, and as it turns out, I was very fortunate to be found by readers.
Additionally, I’ve learned that self-publishing gives you a lot more control over things such as image and cover art. A lot of published authors really don’t get to see what they want on their covers. As an indie self-publisher, I’m involved in that process from the beginning, and I have final authority.
Since being picked up by Skyscape, I’m finding that the main difference is the simple presence of a professional support structure, which is hugely validating. My editors at Skyscape didn’t want to change anything at all from how my book was initially published beyond giving it a professional copy-edit job, and while my original editing was good (I had many beta-readers), that was a very nice benefit. Traditional publishing also brought audiobook production with it, and I had little familiarity with that until now.
Robin: Cover design: DIY or contract it out to someone else?
Elliott: I get help! I’m a visual-arts dummy. My first cover was actually a photo of an angel from a graveyard that a friend took. Poor Man’s Fight originally had a nice illustration done in colored pencils by a professional artist, but when the book took off, I decided I wanted to get a single regular artist for each line. I went looking for an industry pro and found one in Lee Moyer, who has done all my covers since then (including replacing the originals), and he brings a ton of experience and inspiration to the table. To be honest, I think seeing the covers in progress is always the most exciting part for me.
Robin: What do you wish librarians knew about self-published books and authors?
Elliott: I hope they recognize the growing legitimacy of the field. One can find fanfic online that is often written better than its original inspirations. Self-publishing is no different. Yes, there are bombs, but the same can be said of traditionally published books. The field is worth a shot, and anything that comes through the indie market with a track record of success is definitely worth a look!
Robin: What do you wish librarians knew about your books?
Elliott: I wrote Poor Man’s Fight because as a teen, I never once heard the story of the kid who enlisted and didn’t make friends for life or find his true calling, and once I enlisted, I really wished I had. The series is largely inspired by the disillusionment that happens when one joins the military. It’s fun and adventurous, but it also has a deep reflective side to it. I had grown up on a steady diet of stories about military and post-military camaraderie, loyalty, and righteousness, and I found the real thing to be dramatically different.
Robin: What’s the myth about self-publishing that won’t die? How would you like to kill it?
The notion that self-publishing is for quitters or people who couldn’t hack it in the traditional field is an awful, wretched lie. The publishing industry is much like the music industry—we all know that many great bands and acts don’t make it big because they aren’t pretty or easily packaged, but they’re more talented than the same old stuff the industry keeps cranking out. Books are much the same way. The way to kill it is to keep promoting indie books as a viable alternative. People follow authors and series and genres. Do readers honestly care who the publisher is?
Robin: After we’ve read your book, what should we pick up?
Elliott: I’m going to get a little unconventional here and recommend two comic books available in trade paperback: Rat Queens, by Kurtis Wiebe, and Ms. Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson. If you have ever enjoyed comics and you aren’t reading those books, you’re hurting yourself and you should fix that immediately.
Robin: What’s up next for you?
Elliott: My current project is book 3 in the Poor Man’s Fight series. Sadly, I don’t have a title for it yet. When that moves on, I’m going to shift back to my urban-fantasy stuff for at least a little while. Given that my fantasy books are still self-pubbed and my science fiction has found an imprint, I may well have the next fantasy book out first even though it isn’t written yet. We’ll see!
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