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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Conversation with Indie Writer Saul Tanpepper

Today's blog post is a conversation with The Writer's RoadTrip's newest contributor, Saul Tanpepper, a recently self-published writer of speculative fiction. He'll be a regular presence here, offering insights and opinions on the indie writer's journey as a point-counter-point to my own journey to becoming a trade published writer.

KJHwrite: Welcome, Saul. And thanks for accepting my invitation to blog your journey here at The Writer's RoadTrip.

ST: Thank you, Ken. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk about my experiences.

KJHwrite: I think, to start off, it might be helpful to talk a little bit about yourself, give the readers an idea of what you can offer. Before you answer, though, I should give a brief intro to how we came to be here.

So, it's funny, how we reconnected. We grew up together in upstate New York, I in Fairport and you in Perinton, but after graduation we lost contact with each other. Then--What? Thirty years later--

ST: *laughs* Twenty six. Let's not make us older than we are.

KJHwrite: Twenty six years later, we happen to be in the same bookstore together three thousand miles from where we grew up.

ST: But not in the same section. You were in picture books and I was in the horror section. We might have missed each other entirely.

KJHwrite: But we both write for young adults. That's where we overlap in our writing. Actually, I think the bigger coincidence is in the paths our lives took between high school and when we chose to begin writing. We both studied biological sciences. I went into industry and you into teaching.

ST: Weenie.

KJHwrite: You know what they say: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

ST: *shifts uncomfortably in his chair* We're getting a bit off-topic here.

KJHwrite: I'm joking, of course. I have a lot of respect for teachers. My wife's one. Anyway, after we reconnected, I remember you telling me that you were working on some writing projects, not quite horror, but somewhat in that vein. You had published something a few years ago--

ST: "Breach." It was a horror short story about a place near where we grew up.

KJHwrite: Whatever happened to it? Can we read it?

ST: If you can find it, sure. But I don't have any rights to it and the publisher has been an--

KJHwrite: No swearing. Please. I'm trying to keep this blog clean for any kids who might visit.

ST: I hope your censors get paid well. But, okay. My publisher hasn't been very helpful in returning my rights to that piece. *shrugs* Not that it's a big deal. The story was...not my best work. It would be nice to be able to be able to rewrite it and republish it, though. Anyway, the difficulty I've been having with them is one reason why I chose to go indie.

KJHwrite: What are the other reasons?

ST: We're experiencing rapid, massive change in the publishing industry, equivalent to what the famous paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson referred to as Quantum Evolution, those very rare occasions when evolution proceeds very, very rapidly and in almost unfettered scope to yield entirely new classes of organisms. Publishing was, up until very recently--two, three years ago, maybe--in a highly static state. Very little was changing about how books were created, bought, sold, packaged, distributed, etcetera. But all that changed because of the democratization of publishing through the resurgence of ebook readers, primarily because of Amazon's Kindle.

KJHwrite: I almost forgot you're a geneticist.

ST: Putting it in simpler terms, once writers could fairly easily publish and effectively distribute their works to the masses, via a mechanism that readers (consumers) valued, it shifted the entire publishing model into a period of Darwinian selective pressure. The trade publishers are struggling because for decades they didn't have to change. There was no pressure on them, and so the ability to change and respond to change has been written out of their DNA.

KJHwrite: You're slipping back into sciency talk. It seems to me that there are aspects of publishing that don't fit well with the new model of publishing, most notably the idea that business success depends on the majority of your products never earning back their original investment.

ST: The publishing industry is built on the idea that the chance blockbuster will reap enough return to pay for all the other titles that don't sell so well. It's not a bad model; in fact, it's the only model that works simply because nobody can predict what makes a blockbuster. It's a model that also seems appropriate for the indie publisher: publish a lot and hopefully something will catch enough interest to pay for everything else. It's one of the basic principles of self-publishing, in fact.

KJHwrite: Okay, so what about the remainders system?

ST: Well, that's something the big guys are going to have to figure out how to live without. It's a huge expense that needs to be written off. I think the emergence of POD (print-on-demand) may help reduce their dependence on the remainders method of selling books. It also goes hand-in-hand with the extinction of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

KJHwrite: Don't you think that's sad? I mean, the rise of ebooks is directly responsible for places like Borders and B&N struggling, like indie bookstores going out of business, isn't it?

ST: We should all lament what's happening, but lamenting won't change strong social change. Plus, I think a lot of people are confusing the issue. Amazon can be directly attributed to bookstores failing, and, less directly, ebooks. A lot of people say it's the end of literacy. I don't subscribe to that belief.

KJHwrite: But on the subject of literacy and ebooks and self-publishing, isn't the fact that so much crap is getting published now--because it's so easy--degrading literacy?

ST: I don't believe that either. Yes, there's a lot of crap being published, but there's a lot of really great stuff, too. And, to be honest, I find the whole literacy and decline of civilization argument tiresome.

KJHwrite: So, what are some other reasons you chose to go indie?

ST: More freedom: over the story I want to tell, over the cover I want to depict the story, over when my story gets published, over where I sell it. Granted, I don't have as great access to readers as the trade publishers, but I think in a couple years we'll see that shift, too, become almost a non-issue. But the most compelling argument is money. Trade pubbed writers see such a small fraction from the sale of their books--it's another problem with the old publishing model: too many middlemen, too much interdependence. The indie author stands or falls on his or her own efforts.

KJHwrite: But what about all the services a trade publisher offers: editing, design, marketing, distribution, promotion...

ST: Author do so much promotion already. And the rest can be done without having to pay through the nose through royalties.

KJHwrite: You don't any advances, though, when you self-publish.

ST: Advances are a means for the publisher to hold you and your book hostage.

KJHwrite: Okaaay. So, you've decided to self-publish, and you keep trying to convince me. I'm hearing you, but I'm not convinced self-publishing is right for everyone.

ST: It's not. In fact, for someone who writes your kind of stories, realistic, contemporary fiction for young adults and stories for younger children, a trade publisher is still your best option. But, again, times are changing. Keep an open mind.

KJHwrite: Tell me a little about what you've experienced already as a new self-published writer.

ST: Glad to. I'll talk in more detail about my business plan in a separate post, so for now I'll just say what I've done and what my immediately short-term plans are. Two weeks ago, I published "The Headhunter," the first short story in an anthology I plan to release around Christmas--

KJHwrite: Taking advantage of the expected rise in eReader gifts?

ST: Exactly. Hey, strategy is key. Self-publisher NEED to treat this as a business, not a hobby, which is what i see a lot. But that's for another day. The anthology is called "Shorting the Undead, a Menagerie of Macabre Mini-Fiction," and it's the first of two. The second, to be released in January, is called "Zombies in Bermuda Shorts, a Collection of Horror and Humor for Young Adults." I've just released the first in that second anthology this week, a title called "A Thing for Zombies."

KJHwrite: What are your shorts about?

ST: "The Headhunter" is a psychological thriller/horror story about headhunter Bill Hawkins who is determined to avenge his wife's death a year after the Zombie Uprising. He teams up with another headhunter, a former preacher who is convinced the Uprising is really God's Rapture. The second short is about a teen boy who has fallen in love with his life-long friend, but she's obsessed with the undead. As he desperately tries to get her to go out with him, she makes a fateful decision that will alter the course of both of their lives. It's a dark comedy with a couple neat twists at the end. Actually, both have twists. And they're both availabale for just 99-cents each.

KJHwrite: The cover for "A Thing for Zombies" is a bit risque, don't you think?

ST: It's a dark comedy. It's meant not to be taken seriously.

KJHwrite: And don't you have a novel coming out next May?

ST: That's the plan. It's still in very rough form. In the mean time, I'll be releasing a couple more shorts as stand-alone titles in the next couple of months. These will also be included in the short story anthologies.

KJHwrite: Okay, I think that's enough chit-chat for now. You've given us a good sense of who you are as a writer, what your goals are. We'll find out more in future posts.

ST: Don't forget to check out my books on Amazon and Smashwords (I keep wanting to say Smashmouth *laughs*). Both books are in the Premium Catalog and will soon be available through Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple, and elsewhere.

KJHwrite: *laughs, too* I guess as a indie writer, it's 100% promotion 100% of the time. Thanks, Saul, and again, welcome to the RoadTrip.

You can find out more about Saul Tanpepper and his brand of speculative fiction at his website: tanpepperwrites. If you're interested in horror and dark comedy, check out his available titles at Amazon and Smashwords.

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