Witchfinder — shapeshifting diner and the free library

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(This is part three of a blog series on the discussion between Sarah A. Hoyt and the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club about Hoyt’s book Witchfinder, the art of writing, and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author.)

Sarah: Years ago when I was writing but hadn’t published yet, I thought I need a reward for myself for when I finish a book, so I have something physical, because I might never sell it. I need something tangible to say yes I did that, so I started buying these, These are glass globes. Because I am a magpie and I like sparkly things. I have one for each novel….This is a rolltop desk and this is the top of the desk and this leads to very interesting moments because the cats love to walk up there, and it leads to hah hah aiyee get off the glass wall.

When we move (to a new house) my goal is to have a wall that I can put a glass globe wall where they can’t get to.

Sandy: That is very cool, I love the glass balls.

Sarah: You should get something for yourself when you finish the work. I know some other people buy silver charms, have a bracelet, I just don’t like things around my wrists.

Mark: I noticed when I was reading on the cover, it mentioned Noah’s Boy, and I wondered is it related to this book, is it the same genre?

Sarah: It is the same genre, it is also not related. This is a convention, you put the last novel in the genre on the cover of the book. It is the third book in the series.

It is about a diner where shape shifters congregate. The diner’s owners are shape shifters and they have some responsibility when a shape shifter goes off the reservation and starts eating people. They have to deal with it, so the city won’t be affected.

I don’t read my books again unless I am working in my series again. Noah’s Boy, I read Draw into the Dark (book one of the series) and realized something really weird.  I learned British English first, and other dialects later, and that book mixes them up a lot, I used pavement instead of sidewalk, for example. That book goes in and out a lot. I called Toni, said I needed to fix it.  “We’ll let you do it for the second edition,” she said, and put the first edition up free on Amazon. As you know, the first taste is free.” (an allusion to the philosophy of the Baen Free Library https://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx).

Noah’s Boy completely shocked me because all of a sudden there was a space invasion, and I have no idea where it came from. It’s the book’s fault, and I’m sticking to that.

Jonathan: You have both dealt with self-published and traditional publishing houses, please compare and contrast.

Sarah: I am doing both. What Indie allowed me to do was drop the houses that were driving me crazy. So I kept the one. I had three publishing houses. Which is very difficult. It is like having three spouses. Each one wants to be exclusive. And they will actively sabotage each other. Which makes no sense because you think, if an author becomes a best seller it will lift all books. But what they think is … so no publicity or at one point, (then) I had them racing each other to be the first one to publish, so I ended up with three books coming out in a month.  This was insane. I couldn’t sleep, they were all crazy,

But I will still work for Baen because Baen is decent. They treat you like family. The other two houses I dropped because they were driving me several levels of insane, including Berkley, because they said “you have to change your name again” like why?

Now I work Indie and Baen.  I need Indie because there are things Baen doesn’t publish. But I write mystery also. I don’t think they want everything, so I like having the other option. With Baen I get a check up front, but won’t see royalties for maybe two years. So I can ask “how is it selling?” at at this stage even the publisher won’t know. Six months to a year to get the first report.

So with Indie, with the way I do it, I am also going to bring new books out under small press house. But this one, Goldport Press is all mine.  All controlled by me.

This book (Witchfinder) was my first attempt at typesetting. Inside it isn’t the type I like, but this is through CreateSpace and every other type I used ended up twice the size. And that meant the price was like $40, I couldn’t ask people to pay $40 for a book, so I had to use I think Sanscript Baskerville. For some reason it is condensed. I was afraid it would be hard to read, I think in a way it is, a little.

One of my writing friends, and the person I go to for question is (Terry) Anderson. He is now publishing his own stuff too, and what he said is “don’t sweat the hard copy. You will sell some, some people still prefer, them, but you will sell one for every hundred you sell in e-book. I don’t know why.  If you are still going traditional most of your sales are in paper, but everyone who goes Indie has this huge ratio. I have books that have sold thousands in E and one or two in hard copy. You ought to have the hard copy because people want it to exist, but people don’t buy it, they want the e-book. Tons of people will tell me ‘I need a hard copy’ and then they don’t buy it, they buy the e-book. It is cheaper and more convenient.”

Cover was a problem, because I contracted with the artist, and the cover looked like it was drawn by a three-year-old. Oh, this won’t do. So the cover is a compromise, it what I could (re)do with Photoshop and a period painting, the gentlemen is a picture I ran through filters and I bought the dragon. I needed something that says historical, I needed something that says fantasy, and I needed a central human figure.  Because the only place you get away with not having a human on the cover and still selling reasonably well is military science fiction.

The Cover Taught me a valuable lessons. One of the problems writers have in traditional publishing and that I have is that we have no control. I am now getting to the point at Baen that I am selling enough and they like me enough that I get to tell the artist “I don’t like this,” and if the publisher agrees I get it, which was the cover for Darkship Thieves — only I don’t remember saying naked.

The other houses I get covers and go – what were you smoking? But you have no say, the packaging is their decision, so I thought, Indie I get complete control – except you are still limited by what the artist delivers – and by the way, about artists. I know what I said about delivering books late, and I have delivered late a couple times, not all. Artists – it is not just me – other writers who have gone indie say it – these people will say – you will have it next week and then a year later it comes in and it is awful, and it is clear they did it in a morning and they were drunk.  I think it is the Bohemian archetype.

To Be Continued …

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