Author-in-Training- The Self Publishing Route

Last week, I talked about why I decided to trunk my young adult fantasy trilogy. During that post, I mentioned that I had intended to publish that series through traditional means. This is not something that I will be doing with Red and Black, my forthcoming superhero novel.

This wasn’t an easy decision. As someone who grew up wanting to become a writer, I had always assumed that I would go traditional, and that’s even after self publishing became a viable option. But once Red and Black got to a point where I was ready to start submitting, I began to realize that traditionally publishing just wasn’t the right option.

And here are the reasons why:

I really hate the submission process
Writing the perfect query letter. Carefully researching agents and trying to find a good match. Going over submissions policies with a fine tooth comb. Does this agent want a synopsis that’s a page long? Two pages? More? What about a synopsis for the whole series? Should the query letter ruin the ending of the book, or keep it a secret? Should I expect a response within a month? Longer? Not at all? Is it better to try a small press? A contest?


Don’t get me wrong, most people who are traditionally published seem to think that every hour spent on the submission process is worth it, and I respect that. But the truth of the matter is, while I was trying to find a home for my young adult fantasy work, I was pretty miserable. So when it came time to start shopping around Red and Black, I found myself dragging my feet. And once I did start looking, I started to come up against another roadblock.

The genre problem
Trying to find agents looking for young adult fantasy books? There are plenty of them out there. Superhero books on the other hand?

Not so much.

Sure, there are successful superhero books, even if you remove those associated with Marvel or DC comics: Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, or Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex, for example. But the impression that I’ve gotten from listening to agents is that superheroes just aren’t that successful in books. Now this may sound strange considering how well they do comics, movies and television, bit it actually makes sense. When it comes to superheroes, most people show up because they’ve fallen in love with a certain character or team, and want to follow their journey. They may not feel the same for some rando created by an author that they’ve never heard of.

This left me with a much smaller pool of agents to chose from. I tried more urban fantasy-focused folks, but that’s a genre that’s not nearly as popular as it used to be. Some people might call Red and Black new adult, but that term tends to imply… erm steamier circumstances then occur in my superhero book.

The one thing I’ve seen emphasized over and over again by blog posts and podcasts related to finding an agent is the importance of finding someone that’s going to be a good fit for you. And I wasn’t really finding that, at least not when it came to people who were currently available.

A higher degree of control
As I’ve been working on Red and Black, I’ve come up with a lot of ideas of how I’d like to release the series, as far as supplementary short fiction and such. But if I were traditionally published, a lot of those decisions wouldn’t be up to me. Many traditionally published authors say they have very limited control over how their books are released, including picking cover art, or even the titles of the books. The more I’ve looked into self publishing, the more having a higher level control over my own content has appealed to me.

High quality self published works
I’ll admit it. For a long time, I was one of those people, viewing self published works as little more than poorly written vanity projects with clunky cover art, and typos galore. And I had read one low quality indie book several years back, so that meant that they were all trash, right?

Then I read Rachel Aaron’s Nice Dragon’s Finish Last Back in 2014, and my mind was blown

Nice Dragons Finish Last (and the Heartstriker series as a whole) was like a breath of fresh air. A book that melded multiple genres (urban fantasy! science fiction! romance!) in really exciting ways. And it wasn’t published by a traditional publisher, but self published. Reading this book made me realize that I was being too judgmental when it came to indie books. In the years since, I’ve watched authors I respect (Gail Carriger, for example), happily go hybrid, causing me to more carefully examine indie publishing and the benefits that come along with it.

Being able to start small
As much as people like to complain about gatekeepers, there’s a good reason why getting traditionally published involves jumping through a lot of hoops. After all, they’re going to invest a lot of time and money into your work, and want to make sure that it’s worth it. And authors who don’t make a significant return on that investment are going to be penalized for it. Maybe that publisher won’t want to sign a new contract with them. Or maybe they’ll do it, but for a much smaller paycheck. This is something that Mur Lafferty has talked about recently on the Ditch Diggers Podcast in regards to selling her sci-fi murder mystery Six Wakes. Given that the book has since been nominated for a Philip K. Dick award and a Nebula, it’s clear that smaller advance had nothing to do with the quality of the book.

But when it comes to self publishing, the higher degree of control you have means that you can decide how much of an investment you want to make into that final product, and what you consider a financial success to be. In self publishing, the game is all about building an audience over time, rather then making a big splash with a debut, which I find very appealing.

Which brings us to our last point.

This is going to sound awful, but do you want to know the real reason I decided to go head with self publishing Red and Black? I finally had the money to do so.

At the end of 2017, I ended up switching jobs. Previously, I had been working two part time jobs. This added up to full time work, but from multiple locations. When I quit these positions for a more traditional 9-5 job, each place paid me out for my unused vacation time, and a portion of my sick time.

And let me tell you, I do NOT take a lot of sick days so those fuckers had built up.

This allowed me a small cushion that I used to pay off a few hundred dollars in medical debt, and invest in a professional editor. Self publication, for all of it’s benefits, is incredibly difficult to do when you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your budget, but still want to put out a high quality product.

The decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish can be really tricky. Hopefully, in explaining why I decided to self-publish Red and Black can help someone who’s currently waffling back and for between the two options. Because there really are benefits to each. Despite my decision to go indie, I still strongly believe that traditional publishing is the best way to reach a larger audience, faster, if just based on the fact that people are more likely to trust a work that has already been vetted by a team of professionals. Regardless, I think that self publishing is the best decision to make with my little superhero book Red and Black, and I’m really excited to see what the results will be.


This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts. There’s not much yet, but more will be arriving in the future.


Everything I Read in January, 2017

January was a really good month for reading, so I thought I’d chat about it for a bit. I’ve broken down what I’ve read into three categories: books and audioboks. graphic novels, and single issue comics. First off, books~

1. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
2. The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty
3. The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
4. The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin
5. Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

Clearly, my book reading in January was all about knocking a few books off of my 2017 TBR, and that seemed to work out well. Calamity was the third and final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series. I liked it quite a bit, even if I feel like the book didn’t quite live up to the (admitted sky high) level of quality I came to expect from the first two books- Steelheart, and Firefight. Ghost Train to New Orleans is the second (and so far, last) urban fantasy novel in Laffery’s Shambling Guide series. I felt like the book did a nice job expanding the mythology of the series, even if the overall plot line wasn’t quite as interesting as the first book’s- which focused on Zoe becoming an editor for travel guides for the supernatural community. The Spirit Thief was the first book in Rachel Aaron’e Eli Monpress series, and it was a really fun read, albeit not as strongly written as some of Aaron’s later works. I’ve heard the author describe the series as a fighting anime in book form, and The Spirit Thief totally nails that motif. So if you’re a fan or Naruto or Bleach, make sure you check this one out.

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in The Broken Earth Trilogy, and delivered the same high quality writing and characterization that I’ve come to expect from NK Jemisin after seven novels. It was a pretty dark book though, so I took a mental break by delving into the latest book in the DC Superhero Girls series (Batgirl at Superhero High). This was another charming installment to this fun middle grade series, although I didn’t like it nearly as much as I did the first two. I’m somewhat concerned that the books (all which have focused on a new student finding their place at Superhero High) are becoming a little formulaic.

Graphic Novels
1. Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead by Greg Rucka
2. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers by Various
3. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North/Erica Henderson
4. Wonder Woman, vol 9: Resurrection by Meredith Finch/David Finch
5. Wonder Woman: Missions End by Greg Rucka

For graphic novels this month, it was all about Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. The two works by Greg Rucka (Land of the Dad and Mission’s End) finished off Rucka’s fabulous run on Wonder Woman from about 10 years back. Mission’s End was a bit of a step down, as Rucka needed to weave in larger crossover elements into his own storylines, but, all things considered, I thought he handled that challenge better than most. I also read the final volume in Meredith Finch’s run (Resurrection), and through it was the strongest volume of her run yet. Unfortunately, the Finch run on Wonder Woman was plagued by problems from the beginning to the end, and I can’t honestly say how many of these issues were due to decisions by the creative team, and how many were due to those by DC at large. As a result, I’m quite glad to see them pass the torch to another team (which includes Greg Rucka again, ironically).

The Squirrel Girl graphic novels, on the other hand, were like friggen night and day. Volume 4 of the Ryan North/Erica Henerson run (I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It) was just as clever and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect from this creative team. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers collection on the other hand was um… not. Don’t get me wrong, this volume, which collects Doreen’s pre-North/Henderson adventures has some good stuff, but those good comics have already been collected in OTHER Squirrel Girl trade paperbacks, as bonus comics. The remaining comics would have been better left forgotten. It’s also contains content that’s pretty adult (lots of violence, gore, and humor with a real cruel streak) which made me wonder why the hell they gave the collection such a kid-friendly cover. Very glad I went the library route with this one.

Comic Books
Black Widow #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #30
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 11 #1
Lazarus #24
Lazarus #25
Paper Girls #8
Paper Girls #9
Paper Girls #10
Saga #37
Saga #38
Saga #39
Serenity: No Power in the Verse #1

January comic book reading was all about catching up on my single issues. And well… we’re not there yet. Maybe someday!

Top 10 of 2016: Books

With movies and television taken care of, it’s time to tackle the category that is probably the nearest and dearest to my heart- books!

This list includes my favorite books of 2016. To simplify things, I’m only including books I experienced for the first time in the past year (as much as I enjoyed rereading the Glamourist Histories). Not all of these books are 2016 releases, but some of them are. Interestingly, I couldn’t help but noticing that as I was compiling this list, I ended up picking quite a few nonfiction titles. And while I certainly read more nonfiction this year then I have in the past, it didn’t make up THAT much of my reading, proportionally. Perhaps I just ended up choosing really good nonfiction titles!

Same as my last two lists, this is a countdown! So the number one book IS my number one book of the year.

10. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin– Clearly, the world agrees with my on The Fifth Season‘s awesomeness, as it won the Hugo Award this year! The Fifth Season works for me for three reasons. The characters are complex, the world building is fascinating, and the way the book is structured is fascinating for me as a writer. I have no excuse for having not read the sequel (The Obelisk Gate) yet. Don’t worry, I feel the shame.

9. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan– One of the things I tried to do this year is catch up on Rick Riordan’s Mythology books. And I did great, until The Hammer of Thor was published, and now I’m behind again (d’oh!). My favorite of them all was The House of Hades, which brought our characters into new and interesting directions, my favorite being Percy and Annabeth’s journey through Tartarus, where they must face their slain enemies. Really good stuff.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer– I actually read all four books in The Lunar Chronicles this year (plus the spin off novella Fairest. The short story collection, Stars Above, is still in my TBR). I felt like the strongest was the first book Cinder. It’s not that the later books were bad. I just prefer the smaller, more personal focus of the earlier books. Cinder does a fantastic job of retelling the Cinderella story in a sci-fi setting. I’m impressed at how well Meyer took a fairytale lead particularly lacking in agency and crafted a really satisfying protagonist out of her. The romance was also top notch.

7. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard- The Story of Stuff is a fascinating look into the lifespan of the things we own, from how the raw materials are gathered, up until after it’s been thrown away. Throughout this process, The Story of Stuff takes a close look on its impact on the environment, and the people who live it. The Story of Stuff will dramatically change how you look at the stuff in you life, from the cotton t-shirt on your back, to the cellphone in your pocket, and it manages to deliver an immense amount of information in a way that both informative and highly entertaining. This book should be required reading in high schools.

6. Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold– I read a few of the Vorkosigan books during 2016 but my favorite- by far- was Borders of Infinity. This collection of three very different novellas tells three satisfying Miles Vorkosigan stories, tied together by unrelated framing story. This is a wonderful addition to an already wonderful series. I suspect it will be satisfying to both new and existing fans of the series. I fangirled about this one over at Speculative Chic this fall. 

5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah– I’ve read my fair share of comedic memoirs, but Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime completely changed how I view the genre as a whole. On top of being funny, Born a Crime is also chock full of information about horrors of apartheid and its aftermath. The level of poverty the now cheerful host of The Daily Show experienced in his youth will be unfathomable to the vast majority of the book’s western audience. We talk a lot about checking your privilege nowadays, and that’s so important, especially when it comes to realizing what privilege really means in the context of the wider world. Born a Crime is a book that often left me in tears, which doesn’t happen all that often. I highly recommend reading this, even if you don’t watch The Daily Show.

4. The Supergirls by Mike Madrid- I write a lot about superheroes over at Speculative Chic. In preparation for that, I decided to brush up on my background reading. I started off with The Supergirls, by Mike Madrid, which is all about the history of female characters in comics. I had no idea that on top of being informative, that it would be such a page turner as well. Madrid clearly cares about the women he writes about here, and his enthusiasm comes through on every page. This is 100% recommended to anyone with any kind of interest in the role that female characters have played in comics from the Golden Age to the early 2000s.

3. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong– I’ve been a big fan of Kelley Armstrong since I first picked up Bitten when I was in college, so the fact that she continues to wow me with great material, ten years later, really says a lot. City of the Lost is a fantastic thriller/murder mystery that takes things the next level thanks to its unique setting (focusing on a small community of people who live off the grid), tough-as-nails lead (have I mentioned recently that I have a weakness for awesome lady cops in my fiction?), and steamy romance (I thought I was going to hate it, but I was so on board by the end). I am chomping at the bit for the second Casey Duncan book A Darkness Absolute, which is supposed to be released this February. 

2. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda– A behind the scenes look at Hamilton, this tome-sized book chronicles the evolution of the musical from its initial inception up and through its runaway Broadway success. To fans of Hamilton, I could not recommend this book more. It’s like someone has handed you all of the hidden secrets of the musical. The fact that it contains the entire script (with footnotes from LMM!), and gorgeous photos is a wonderful bonus. If you’re a Hamilton fan and haven’t read Hamilton: The Revolution, do yourself a favor and hit up your local library.

1. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron– And now we get to my favorite book of the year, the newest book in my favorite series, The Heartstrikers. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished continues the story of Julian Heartstriker, the one nice dragon of a clan of greedy dragons, trying to get by in a post apocalyptic world. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished has a distinctly political air, and the fact that I found is so enjoyable during a year when real-life politics thoroughly depressed me, says a lot about the quality of Rachel Aaron’s writing. I know that she’s currently hard at work at the fourth book, and I can’t wait to dig into it. 

Honorable Mentions: Imago by Octavia Butler, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

So those were my favorite reads of 2016. I’d love to hear how everyone else’s reading year went.

Next up, comics and graphic novels!