My, How Time has Flown!

Alma T. C. Boykin

No, not the year 2022, although I’ve got mixed emotions about seeing it leave. It wasn’t the best of years for me personally, but it was much, much better than several that come to mind.

I was thinking about the ten years since I released my first fiction book, A Cat Among Dragons. It began life as fan-fiction, then became a way to vent frustration and “oh-woe-is-me” at grad school and other things, then took on a life of its own. Especially when a walk-on character in a single story became a major character. That required re-doing the main character’s entire back-story, almost. I knew when I wrote the stories that they would never sell, even to Baen, because they were too strange. Mil-sci-fi was David Drake, Jerry Pournelle, Heinlein, and those guys. But I’d read so much military history that I knew what not to do, and read enough mil-sci-fi that I could sort of bluff.

And then somehow, through LawDog, then Peter Grant, then I don’t really remember, I found Mad Genius Club, The Passive Voice, According to Hoyt*, and a few other sites now shuttered. I’d finished grad school and had written a sequel to my dissertation, as well as lots of stories in my fictional world. Amanda, Sarah, Kate, Dave, and Chris M. all talked about how to do it yourself, as did Celia Hayes. Amazon had just started doing the indie book “thing,” and anyone who had five books uploaded and selling could make a living. Well, now . . . And it happened that the owners of IndieBookLauncher commented at Sarah’s place, and I looked up their services.

After a lot of work, re-working things, polishing, sorting out formatting and cover art and what have you, A Cat Among Dragons launched with no fanfare in October of 2012. I had no blog, no PR, nothing. But it only took five books, so I pocketed what little came in and went to work on the second book. And the third, and sales increased.

Six books in, I had more sales, but the magic number to fame, fortune, or at least a steady income was now 10 books. (You can see where this is going, right?) Guess what? People liked my stuff, as strange as it was. I’d built both a world and a fan base. I switched to history-flavored mil-sci-fi as a mental break, a one-off short story. (You know how that went**.) Some fans followed and new fans joined the ranks.

Looking back, what were the most important things I learned from MGC and others?

  1. Write. If you don’t have a story written, there’s no point in fretting over cover art and formatting and marketing. You can’t sell blank pages (OK, unless it is satire, but that doesn’t work for most of us. Or you sell it as a notebook.)
  2. Don’t worry about a traditional path to publishing. Contracts today have so many pitfalls and problems that unless you are someone like Hugh Howey, or Stephenie Meyer, it’s probably not worth the pain and legal fees required. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options today for cover design, formatting help, free-lance editing if you need that, marketing . . .
  3. You DO need to learn the basics of all those other bits, though, so you can get good people and learn the language.
  4. Write your story. Learn genre cues, and general market trends, but write your story. Don’t worry about “will this fit the current market?” If it doesn’t readers will still find you, it just takes a while. If you can write to market, then may your deities bless you, go forth and make lots of money!
  5. Read about how to do the nuts and bolts of plotting, dialogue, characterization and Point-of-view. There are good books out there, starting with Dwight Swain. Yes, his book (Techniques of a Selling Writer) is old. But what he talks about still fits, and his examples still get the idea across. I found Orson Scott Card’s books very helpful as well, along with Amanda and Sarah and others talking about dialogue, pacing, and so on.
  6. KEEP WRITING. Every bit helps. If you can go back, look at early stuff, and say, “Ugh, this is terrible, but you know, the characters worked even if the writing is stilted and cliches are a dime a dozen,” you have learned. You have an eye now, you can see where the problems are/were.
  7. Read, read, read. Read in your genre, read outside your genre. See what works and how, see what goes “thud” and why.
  8. Keep Writing. Writers write.

*Several years later, Sarah and I discovered that we’d crossed on-line paths many years before, at a blog that at the time was anti-jihad, pro free-speech. We both used different screen names at the time.

**Ten book short story. Sort of like a Douglas Adams trilogy.

Photo: When Tay and Wendell met. Author photo.

8 thoughts on “My, How Time has Flown!

  1. Good gracious, already?
    What a wild ride it’s been so far, and no signs of slowing down!

    It’s been awesome, though – and I still giggle at your “How NOT to market a book.”

  2. It is absolutely true that you must not worry about covers till you have a book but … it is also true that if you have the inside of a book but no cover and no title then … you don’t have a book. And that’s where I was in August when a lovely person I “met” on this blog pointed this out to me. Thanks to her encouragement I did put together a book with a title and a cover!

  3. You’re so right. Keep writing and don’t quit.

    The only think I’d add is to do as much self-editing as you can so you don’t pay an editor to fix a 5 cent mistake.

    Best wishes to you and yours in the new year.

    1. It depends on what you mean by self-editing. If you mean letting the manuscript rest for a while, perhaps changing fonts, and re-reading for typos, homophones, and awkward usages, then yes.

      1. Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

        I let the manuscript rest, I print it out, double-spaced, in an odd font like Comic Sans so I’m forced to read every word, I run spell-check and grammar-check (despite how wrong it can be about words like seamstress), I read it aloud to myself (if dialog sounds clunky read aloud it will sound clunky to a reader), I ask my beta readers to note any errors.

        That sort of thing.

  4. I’m enjoying the picture with the lemur on the mantle. I have enjoyed watching them in their original habitat. Thank you.

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