Tag Archives: The Consortium

2013

It’s been a busy year for me. I started 2013 as CEO of a charity that no longer exists, chasing a career as a publisher and fundraiser. I end the year as a part-time employee of an author-services company I helped start, with high hopes of becoming a full-time writer again in 2014.

It’s been a strange year.

The Consortium

I founded the Consortium in 2010. It was the cooperative of artists who helped me publish my first book, and over two and a half years we recruited 34 artists, hosted two major art shows, and published 30 titles.

Support the Artists to Support the Arts

Support the Artists to Support the Arts

And then, just like Al Capone, we were brought down by our accountant. We’d hired a discount guy in the early days (when we were dead broke), and we paid for it in the end. Despite his repeated assurances, he never delivered our application for charitable status to the IRS.

We finally fired him and switched to more reliable agents in 2012, but after reviewing all the papers, they told us we’d waited too long and missed too many opportunities. It was possible to carry on, but it would cost a fortune and probably involve years of legal uncertainty.

So, as much as we hated to, we folded the business. I’d been the first employee in April 2012, and I received my last paycheck in March 2013. We formally dissolved the company at the same time.

Of course, it’s never that easy. We’re still working on closing the books, managing paperwork from the state of Oklahoma, and wrangling with the IRS. With any luck, we’ll get it all settled in the early part of next year.

Legacy Publishing

I also spent most of 2013 experimenting with traditional publishing. That experiment started late in 2012, when I delivered the first Godlanders book to 47North in November.

Based on all my experience with indie publishing, I really mostly thought of the book as finished when I turned it in. Legacy publishing doesn’t work that way. I spent just as much time working on the book in December as I had in October.

We finally finished that book sometime in January, and in February I dove right into the sequel (which was due in May). I wasn’t anticipating any problem with that timeline, but between the pain of dissolving the Consortium and the challenge of expanding a brand new fantasy universe, it turned out to be the hardest book I’ve written since high school.

The Godlanders War, Book Two

The Godlanders War, Book Two

It was due in May, as I said before. I delivered it in June and, once again, kept right on working on it into late August.

Then book three was due in November. Yeesh.

We were also seeing the sales of book one by then. It had been released in May and, frankly, it bombed. It has limped along since then, but it clearly never caught the attention of all my Dragonprince fans.

So we started analyzing the problems with that book even as I was trying to focus on finishing out the later books. We came up with an aggressive plan to rebrand them all (new titles, covers, and product descriptions) to coincide with the release of book two in January.

So that’s looming large now. I’ve delivered book three (and next week I’ll start doing the follow-up work on it), but now all my attention is focused on the launch of the sequel in a few weeks here.

Most importantly, I’m done. I still have another month or two of clean-up, but I’ve completed my three-book contract with 47North. That series will definitely continue someday, but for now (and probably all of 2014), I’m really looking forward to turning my attention back to Hathor and the dragons.

Draft2Digital

And I cannot possibly discuss 2013 without talking about Draft2Digital. If you’re not already familiar with Draft2Digital, it’s an internet company built on the software that I used to format, publish, and monitor sales on all my books.

That software was originally developed as a favor just for me, but over the years I became increasingly convinced it would be a thing of real value to indie publishers everywhere.

Turn Your Story into an Ebook!

Turn Your Story into an Ebook!

Of course, it took a lot of work to convert it from a bunch of command-line code connected directly to my Google Docs account into something convenient, clean, and flexible enough for public use.I recruited the people to do just that early in 2012, and the four of us worked feverishly to get it done by the end of the year.

That was 2012. In August of that year, Draft2Digital hired its first employee. In December we launched a beta site and advertised it with a single post on a single writer’s forum.

So we started 2013 with one employee and maybe nine active users. We end it with six employees and 1,900 active users. We have nearly 20,000 titles in our catalog, in our first year we’ve seen over 2.4 million paid sales of our users’ books.

I mentioned in the introduction that I’m one of those employees. They hired me in July to help manage distributor relations, and recently promoted me to Director of User Experience. It’s my job to understand how authors and publishers use our website, to figure out how we can improve that experience, and to design the new features that will make our service even more valuable as we grow.

In Review

It’s been a wild year. I feel like I somehow crammed a decade’s worth of life into 2013. I’ve had some victories and some failures, but most of all, I’ve had experiences.

I haven’t even mentioned passing 200,000 sales of my own books. Or the car that caught on fire in the middle of a road trip. Or the bitterly cold Bedlam game I watched with my dad in Stillwater. Or my lawsuit. Or the writer’s conference I attended in Manhattan. Or spending an afternoon with Patrick Rothfuss.

It’s been amazing. Exhausting, true, but amazing. And as I look toward 2014, I realize the most amazing thing of all:

It’s only getting better.

Working for the Man

I’ve mentioned more than once that I’ve been working on a book for 47North, a science fiction and fantasy publisher owned by Amazon. I even wrote an article for Unstressed Syllables explaining how to submit a book to an Amazon imprint. That has been one of my most popular posts there.

But I don’t think I’ve ever shared the story of how I ended up with a traditional publishing contract. There are some restrictions in the contract as to what details I can share, but the story’s mine to tell. So here we go.

Submission guidelines

I told the story in the aforementioned article, but last January I decided that I wanted to get something published by 47North. I’ve really loved the control (and profit) available through self-publishing, but the one big thing I lack is advertising. I’m making enough revenue now that I could afford to pay for some promotion, but I wouldn’t really know what is worthwhile. And I don’t want to spend the time on trial and error.

Meanwhile, several of the standouts in the self-pub community were crowing about their deals with Amazon imprints. Amazon is far more responsive to author needs than New York publishers. They offer much fairer contracts (in a lot of ways) and pay approximately twice the royalties you’d get from anyone out of Manhattan.That’s not sharing secrets from my contract, that was the buzz about Amazon publishing before I ever heard from them.

So I decided to do a deal. As I said, I’ve been most satisfied with self-publishing, and I had no intention of quitting. Instead, I hoped to sell a book or two to Amazon, experience the traditional publishing process for the sake of my bucket list, and then watch while their promotion spilled over into new loyal readers (and more profit) for all my other books.

As it happens, nothing came of my carefully-crafted submission. It got lost in the slush pile. Instead, someone from Amazon contacted me spontaneously in May because they’d noticed how well Taming Fire was selling. He was clearly surprised to hear that I had contacted them way back in January.

Still, everything worked out. We had a phone call to discuss what they could offer and what I was looking for. I took care to stress my commitment to Consortium Books, and they had no problem with that. None at all. Obviously they’d hoped I would want to republish my proven series through them, but when I said that was impossible, they were still just as interested in hearing what else I had to offer.

And that was…nothing. Between Consortium Books and Draft2Digital, we’ve gotten really good at publishing, so everything that I had ready to publish was already published. I did mention a new property in a new universe that I had started for a class last spring.

It was 15,000 words (which would qualify as a short story) and an outline, but that was enough to interest them. They didn’t even ask to see the pages. They signed me to a three-book deal on an outline.

That’s a big deal. It happens all the time for big-name authors–guys like Stephen King and James Patterson–and sometimes for midlist writers who’ve been working with the same publisher for a long time. But mostly publishers won’t even start to talk about a contract until they’ve seen a complete manuscript.

And here I got a three-book contract on an outline. I’m still a little bit in shock at that. I’m big time.

Deadlines

Of course, that meant I still had to write the book. And I had to write it good enough to justify the advance they paid me back in June. I had no doubt that I could do it, but that was still a stressful pressure hanging over my summer.

My busy summer. See, in June I hired my first (paid) employees at Consortium Books. We have an Acquisitions Editor and a Senior Editor, plus a Marketing Director hired in September. So I spent my summer on such inescapable chores as payroll taxes, group health insurance, and pursuing our nonprofit status.

I planned to get that stuff hammered out quickly, then set my employees to work while I turned my attention to the book. I figured if I took two months on chores, I’d still have two months to write the draft (August and September), and all of October for revisions before I mailed the book off for my November 1st deadline.

That…didn’t quite work out. I started June with 15,000 words of story written, and when October rolled around, I still had 15,000 words.

Even then, I was slow to start. Day after day slipped by when I had no more than a couple hundred words to show for all my effort, and I needed to be doing about 2,000 a day for all of October.

As I fell further and further behind, I kept trying to jump start my process. I would dedicate more and more hours to writing (or, as it so often turned out, not writing). I rebuilt my outline repeatedly. I spent a lot of time psycho-analyzing myself and tried a dozen different solutions.

My wife just kept reminding me, with more faith in me than I’ve ever had in myself, “You’ll get it done at the last minute. You always get it done at the last minute, and it’s always wonderful.”

And, of course, she was right. Look for Oberon’s Dreams on bookstore shelves in May. And watch for updates here in the meantime; I’d love to do a cover reveal once we have final art, if they’ll let me.

As for me, I’m going to keep putting in the long hours, now that I’ve found a schedule that works for me. I’m really hoping I can write and publish at least two new books in the time it takes Amazon to publish the one I just delivered.

Any votes on which two new books I should write?

Works in Progress

I’ve spent most of July being a businessman. I’ve been shopping group insurance coverage for my editors and me, trying to find someone reliable to handle payroll and corporate taxes, and running board meetings.

Most of the writing I’ve done recently has been on a formal business plan. Fun.

But it’s all to the good. You might remember how glad I was to stop working out of Starbucks and start working out of an office. That office was a tiny, temporary space just to get me a desk. Now that we have editors on staff and are working to hire a whole handful of new folks, we need more space.

And we’ve found the perfect space. It’s a two-story open retail space in the midtown/arts district. We’ve drawn up plans that include a public art gallery, a little bookstore for our products, a wide open work area for our Writers and Programmers, a raised studio with direct sunlight for our Painters and Photographers, and (eventually) a dedicated recording studio for our Musicians.

It’s gorgeous. It’s also a huge financial commitment. So I’ve been very busy crunching numbers and making best guesses (and worst-case scenarios) and planning for the future. I had to convince my board of directors that we could (and should) afford the place, and now I have to convince the building owners to take us on as tenants.

It was an interesting board meeting. Once we’d finished the agenda items, it settled into more of a casual discussion as one of the directors asked me how I planned to handle the conflicting job responsibilities of producing new novels and running the company.

I smiled sweetly and explained that I’m still producing new novels in my free time. I’m a full-time CEO, and it’s everything I can do to manage that job.

This experience is so far from anything I ever expected for my life. It’s incredible. It’s stressful and tedious at times and often incredibly uncreative, but it’s also big. It’s important. I’m not just telling stories; I’m building a new media empire.

That’s not to say I’m done telling stories. Hah! I am still producing new novels in my free time. I’ve been hard at work on a short story in the World of Auric, a dragonrider novella featuring Daven, and a brand new epic novel (which I hope to get written this fall) featuring Daven’s son Damion.

I’m also hard at work as publisher and coach. In just the last week I’ve helped workshop Courtney’s sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, Joshua’s epic viking fantasy Myth Reaver: Downfall, and Jessie’s adventure fantasy, The City of Orphans. And then there are the dragonrider collaborations. But that’s a story for another time.

Contribute to Our KickStarter Campaign and Secure Your ARC of Dragonprince #3!

I’ve been talking a lot about this KickStarter campaign lately, and I’ll probably keep on doing it for the next two or three weeks. We’ve got a lot hanging on this campaign.

For one, it’s the only way I get paid for The Dragonprince’s Heir. I’ve already donated the proceeds of the book to the Consortium, so a successful KickStarter campaign is the only way this book is going to help me pay off my newest student loans.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I made the decision to donate those proceeds, and I’m doing just fine financially. Still, I wouldn’t pass up the chance to roll around in a pile of money.

The real reason this campaign is so important to me, is that it offers the opportunity to get a lot of public attention on what we’re doing here. If we can actually raise $30,000 in patronage funding for a book project, we’ll end up with a story in USA Today. Maybe I’ll get to talk to Jon Stewart. Could be fun.

Anyway! I’ve been getting a lot of requests for details about the promised Advance Reading Copy of The Dragonprince’s Heir. For those of you still wondering, no, I haven’t yet announced the requirements (or schedule) for it here. I wanted to do that this week, but it looks like it’ll be early next week instead.

However, as part of the KickStarter campaign, we’ve promised to give ARCs to everyone who makes a pledge (starting as low as $1) by the end of the day today. It’s also a handy way to pre-order a signed copy of the paperback, which isn’t something we usually offer.

So even if all you want is more dragonswarm, this KickStarter has something to offer you. If you really like my work (and want to see more like it), please support the company that pays me to write. It’s a good cause.

But with that said, please don’t feel like a contribution is required to get an ARC. It’s just a perk the Consortium is offering. That’s something else altogether.

I’ll still have a post early next week, as promised, explaining when and where and how to get an ARC, no purchase necessary. I just need to do some really frantic revisions first. But that’s what Saturdays are for, right?

The Quest for a New Patronage

My Director of Marketing helped me come up with this tonight. He’s a useful man to know, I’ll say that much.

There are a few things you can count on in fantasy novels: The hero is brave and strong, he always beats the monster, every quest is an adventure, and magic is a useful tool for changing the world.

Unfortunately, reality isn’t always as reliable. The hero might just be an author. The monster might be a stupid and dangerous system propped up by the rich and powerful. The quest might be to get a master work of art into the hands of those who can enjoy it.

But magic…magic is always a useful tool for changing the world. And art is magic. It’s magic you can take part in whether you’re a lover of the arts or a creator yourself.

You may not be able to conjure living fire or will yourself halfway around the world, but you still have the power to battle an evil monster that devours the free expression of art. That monster is called copyright. Together we can beat it, and fill the world with a magic only art can bring.

Please visit this link to see how. Stand with us, hero.

That’s going in the back of Taming Fire and The Dragonswarm for the next couple weeks. Think it’ll spark some interest?

Self-Employed

Last July, I started selling a lot of books. Last December, I started making a lot of money. Not just enough money from the self-publishing that I could afford to quit my day job, but enough that it was costing me money to keep going to work every day.

Still, I kept going to work. There were lots of good reasons (not the least of them fear), but the biggest was this: After three years of working on one major project for the Federal Aviation Administration, I was almost done.

The documentation team for the long-range radar branch of the FAA is a pretty modest group. We had a brand-new manager and two editors with no formal documentation training, plus me. And we were just wrapping up a major overhaul of the vast majority of our radars.

So I sat down at the end of December, decided I could afford to quit tomorrow, and decided to stay on until the end of February, mainly so I could finish up that documentation project and leave the team in a survivable situation.

At 3:45 last Friday afternoon, I finished the project I’d been working on for three years. I sent an email to a handful of my coworkers with some contact info in case they wanted to stay in touch (or buy my future novels), then I dropped off my badge and parking decal and left forever.

(Father in Heaven, I hope it was forever.)

Anyway, Monday morning saw me self-employed. I’ll actually be working as a full-time employee (CEO and head publisher) for my non-profit, The Consortium, Inc., but that doesn’t start until April. In the meantime, I’m nothing but a writer.

I’ve had an awful lot of people asking me how it feels to be free. Some things worth taking into account before I answer that question:

  • It’s only been a week.
  • During that week, I’ve gotten hit with a couple huge unexpected expenses, and watched sales on all my books decline frighteningly.
  • I’ve had a cold. Monday someone asked, “How’s your first day being self-employed?” and I answered, “I should’ve called in sick.”
  • I’m frantically trying to catch up on an overloaded school schedule that I’d been severely neglecting for the last six weeks while I finished up at work.

And even with all of that, I’m loving it. Even with all of that, this week has been among the most productive in my entire adult life, and every bit of it has been worthwhile work that matters to me personally.

  • I published Camouflage (Ghost Targets, #4) this week.
  • I coordinated on cover art for a couple other books I hope to get published in March.
  • I dusted off an old short story that I hope to get rewritten and published in the next few weeks.
  • I read back through The Dragonprince’s Heir (The Dragonprince Trilogy, #3) and wrote several thousand new words on that one, for the first time since last fall.
  • I wrote several thousand words on Faith (Ghost Targets, #5).

That doesn’t cover any of the business-y stuff I took care of, and best of all, I did almost all of it during business hours. Sure, I spent my evenings laying around being worthless because of the cold, but I also watched TV with Trish and read a couple good books and tried out some lame videogames.

It’s been a really great week. And this is just the beginning. Trish started shopping for office space this week. I can only imagine what I’ll be able to get up to once I’ve got a dedicated space and a reasonable routine.

Everything is wonderful. Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.