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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Revelations from a successful hybrid author

"Odd as it seems, it's coming to the point where I do Indie publishing to support my family and publish with the major New York publishing houses for the fun of it!"

James L. Nelson, prize-winning author of many books of maritime fiction and non-fiction, has just self-published the sequel to his  bestselling Indie historical, Fin-gall. He talks to me about the pleasures and puzzles of being a hybrid author.

Obviously, you have found Indie publishing worthwhile. Apart from the fact that it is fun, what advantages have you found? Any downside? 

Okay, now you’re getting me going on publishing, a subject I think a lot about. But I’ll assume your readers have an interest in this, so here I go. There are so many pros and cons here. On the con side is the breakdown of the traditional gatekeepers, the agents, editors, etc.. Some would call that a “pro” but I think there is something to be said for gatekeepers. With everyone able to publish it gets much harder for any one author to be seen through the crowd, and let's face it there’s a lot of junk being tossed out out there, obscuring everything. What’s more, reviewers still look to the old gatekeepers, so its very difficult to get a self-published book reviewed in a traditional venue. I’m more lucky than most, having something of a name to rely on, but I still find it very difficult.

What’s more, and this may seem odd, but I also worry about what happens in the macro economic picture. I wonder what happens when we don’t need publishing companies and printers and truck drivers and bookstore employees. Do we end up in a place where the executives at make a fortune, some writers make a little money and everyone else is unemployed? One need only look at what’s happening in the music industry to see there will be some major shake-out.

That said, Indie publishing has some real advantages to writers. Publishing as an industry is a dinosaur and it moves about as quickly as a brontosaurus. With all the pressure on publishing and the economy in general, publishers are getting tighter and tighter (as far as advances, I have heard from a number of writers that $20,000 is the new $50,000). With Indie publishing I can publish as frequently as I like and I have compete control. It’s also a better deal financially. Publishers tend to pay for a book in two big chunks more than a year apart, but with I get paid every month, a real consideration when you’re trying to make a living doing this. So, yes, it’s a mixed bag, but for the most part I have really enjoyed the experience and plan to continue. Which leads us to...

An Indie author who also publishes with a traditional press is known as a “hybrid.” Has being a hybrid posed any difficulties for you?

I really sort of fell into this Indie thing. I wrote my first Viking book, Fin Gall, about five years ago and it never found a traditional publisher. Five years ago Indie publishing was not as common or easy or cheap as it is now, so I didn’t think about going that route. But the more I read about this new trend, the more curious I became. I had Fin Gall already written so I didn’t have to gamble the time to write a new book, so just for fun I published it. Turned out to be such a success that I decided to write a sequel specifically to self publish. Right now I’m also starting a new series for St. Martin’s Press about a young ship captain set in 1795. The book will be called The French Prize and should be out in a year. There’s been no conflict between that and the Indie publishing, but if St. Martins wants to do another, there could be. But frankly at this point I don’t think I can afford to not do the Indie publishing, so we’ll see what happens. Odd as it seems, its coming to the point where I do Indie publishing to support my family and publish with the major New York publishing houses for the fun of it!

Writing sequels can be tricky, because you have to keep the reader who is new to the series in mind. What, for you, were the pleasures and problems of continuing the saga of Thorgrim and his men?

There were a number of plot lines left dangling in Fin Gall (which was pointed out by a number of readers!) so it was fun to got back and tie those up. And of course when you create characters who interest you its nice to revisit them. There is certainly a balancing act in this. You have to bear in mind that a reader might not have read the first book, or if they are like me they can’t remember a damned thing, so you have to give enough of a recap of the first book to let the reader know what’s going on without being tedious about it. Also, as an editor once said to me, in a series each book has to be different but not too different. Readers want a fresh book but they also want the elements that made them like the first book. We’re all like that. We read series because we like to visit folks we know. So that balance can be tricky.

Had Thorgrim’s character developed in the interval? Did he threaten to take over the plot?

Thorgrim has certainly developed, but I don’t think he’s threatening a take-over. To some degree the lesser characters can be more fun to write because they don’t have to carry as much weight and can be more outrageous. I have a new character in the series, Starri Deathless, whom I like very much. And Thorgrim’s son, Harald, is more fleshed out and takes a bigger part. He even gets a cool Viking nickname – Harald Broadarm.

What is your funniest experience as a traditional author?  At a book signing or book festival, for instance. 

I have no funny experiences, I am deadly serious about all aspects of publishing, as you know. Naw, just kidding. That’s a hard one, though. I do like the time I was in the bookstore at the Mariner’s Museum in Virginia, not doing a signing, just there as a tourist. The store carried my book Reign of Iron and as authors are wont to do I offered to sign their stock. I showed the manager the book and my picture and she laughed and said, “Hey, that does sort of look like you!” I had to show her my driver's license to get her to believe me!

And finally, give my readers one excellent reason why they should buy Dubh-linn!

Well, I can give you a few reasons. Dubh-linn is a fast paced, exciting and historically accurate historical adventure set in a fascinating time, Ireland in the 800’s where the native Irish and invading Norsemen were contending for domination. Great beach reading (its getting to be summer here on this side of the world). And if people don’t buy it I’ll have to send my poor children out in the snow, barefoot, to sell matches to feed our family. Again.

In case you have made the terrible oversight of having not read Fin Gall (of which Dubh-linn is a sequel) and are suffering the consequences, I'll be offering it as a free Kindle download May 24 - 28. So rush out in a downloading frenzy!

852 A.D. For centuries, the Vikings have swept out of the Norse countries and fallen on England, Ireland, whatever lands they could reach aboard their longships. Few could resist the power of their violent onslaught. They came at first to plunder, and...

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