Self Publishing VS. Traditional Publishing: Interview with Scott Appleton
Today please welcome Scott Appleton, author of The Sword of the Dragon series and owner of Flaming Pen Press. Scott, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview!
NW: First and foremost, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SA: I was homeschooled by my parents. They chose to do that for religious reasons, wanting to keep me out of the secular public school system and the peer pressure that inhibits so many young peoples’ chances of success. I always loved to read and write. I told stories and wrote them down for my siblings. The wilder the tale, the more imaginative—or crazy—the more they loved it. I read a lot of history books, more than fiction, and never fantasy. When I was 18, I started putting together a fantasy story. I found it was the greatest outlet for my creativity. Since then I have spent six years pursuing a contract with a large Christian publishing house. I ended up self-publishing my first novel, but I built my own publishing company to do so. I hired a pro fiction editor, cover designer, artists, etc. and produced a product that sold 3,000-copies in one year. My wife and I traveled to 13 states, I spoke to thousands of students, and attracted the attention of AMG Publishers. Last year I signed a three-book-contract with AMG for my series The Sword of the Dragon. Book one is coming out mid-February, book two will release on July 15, 2011.
NW: How did reading effect your childhood and then your life on into adulthood?
SA: I read, and always have read, a large number of books. But the vast majority are non-fiction. I find non-fiction roots me in reality and makes me aspire to follow the heroes and successes down through history. I’m a collector of antique books, particularly volumes from the mid-1800’s. It is amazing how history has been muddled by the modern author trying to be politically correct. The old history books are untainted and provide me with hours of reading pleasure and education on facts that have been lost to modern society.
NW: Did you always love to write, or was that something that you grew to love over the course of time?
SA: I always loved both. I filled pages with stories, followed my mother to every library sale… I owned over a thousand of my own books by my twelfth birthday.
NW: Wow... that's a really impressive amount of books! So what is the writing process like for you? I guess what I’m really asking here is, how do you get into that writing “groove”?
SA: I generally sit at my laptop, put on my headphones, and listen to some epic soundtracks. The music helps me focus, zone out, and generally keeps my attention on the story so that if someone walks into the room I can work on, undistracted.
NW: Tell us a little bit about your book Swords of the Six, and the new one coming out this year, Offspring.
SA: Swords of the Six is a prelude novel, setting the stage for the big events in the Sword of the Dragon series. The story begins when a dragon prophet is betrayed by his choice warriors. He takes the traitors’ swords and gives them to human daughters, whom he hatches from eggs. The sisters set out to find the first traitor who escaped justice, with an offer of pardon from the dragon.
In Offspring The offspring of the dragon, born out of ultimate sacrifice, grows into a young woman. Unknown to those around her, the beloved warrior, Specter, keeps guard over her. But the enemy has grown strong and draws near to destroy the hope she symbolizes.
NW: I know that Specter was my favorite character in SOTS. I'll look forward to reading more about him in Offspring. So what is the main story behind your entire book series, Sword of the Dragon? I mean, SOTS is really good, and I’m sure Offspring will be even better… but what really ties all of the books together?
SA: That is a tricky question, not because the story thread isn’t apparent to me, but because there are elements in each book that gradually reveal the mystery as it unfolds. The series’ story arc is the dragon’s plan to bring Letrias to justice for his betrayal and his crimes. Letrias has grown powerful as a wizard unto himself, and among those who work to deliver his downfall is the captain he once thought dead. The dragon prophet has been prohibited by God from directly dealing with Letrias, so he sets events in motion to accomplish that end by means of his agents.
NW: I’m excited to hear that your book Sword of the Six will now be published through AMG. You must be totally stoked! As an author, how do you feel about this big step in publishing?
SA: I am totally stoked! This is a dream come true, quite fully and literally. Signing with AMG gives my books greater clout in the publishing world, including more opportunities to sell in venues previously unavailable to me, such as wholesale stores. It also means that I can focus on selling, doing the leg work, while someone else deals with the tedious financial end of things.
NW: Scott, you are a writer in a very unique position; not many people can rise up to take their book and themselves from relatively “unknown” to “known” by publishing the book themselves. Still fewer dare make the decision to create their own company in the process. Can you tell us what that process was like for you? How did you make that decision?
SA: I was working back and forth with AMG a few years ago. At the time, Dan Penwell was their acquisitions editor. He believed in my book and in me. Although he pushed for them to publish it, things fell through. But during the entire process I had been reading up on all aspects of publishing. I learned that six out of ten novels never sell over a thousand copies, and that when a book does sell past a thousand it can catch a publisher’s eye. I was an experienced salesman and had worked in retail for several years. I felt confident publishing my book was what God wanted me to do and that if I worked hard and persevered, He would reward my efforts.
I don’t believe there are many chance successes. I believe if you want to be successful you have to step out and do it, and close yourself off from anyone who discourages you.
My wife and I toured 13 states, selling many books at schools. It was by hitting the road that I saw real success.
Failure in this was never an option for me, so I had to make it a success.
NW: It sounds like you really knew what you were doing; I mean, selling 3,000 copies is intimidating... even more so when you've sold that many books in one year!
So I know you’ve recently published through Flaming Pen Press an anthology of some of your short stories. I’m sure you have ideas for future novels too; novels that aren’t part of The Sword of the Dragon series. Looking at your past accomplishments, would you plan to publish such future novels through Flaming Pen Press first, or would you try to go straight to the bigger houses?
SA: There are many other projects on my table. I plan to do most of my books through other publishing houses, mostly because it would be a challenge and very satisfying. I am presently working on a science-fiction political thriller that I may or may not publish myself. One of the chief factors in this consideration is I want stellar artwork, which many publishers are unwilling to look into. But I also have a YA fantasy trilogy titled Earth Passage, and I will shop that to a larger publisher.
NW: How do you know when your writing is good enough for you to publish it on your own without a publisher’s help?
SA: I don’t. For Swords of the Six I relied on peer criticism (authors published by large houses) and the professional fiction editor, Rebecca Miller (she worked on Bryan Davis’s series Dragons In Our Midst). As to my anthology By Sword By Right, many of the stories contained in that collection had already been published by magazines, and the rest fit into the book’s intended purpose: to show the reader my progression as a writer.
NW: What do you consider the benefit of self publishing in a world where many people look down on such authors and consider them “half-baked” even when they are not?
SA: The benefit of self-publishing? If an author has truly studied the market, sought professional advice, and read up on the details of publishing, they can produce an effective product and market it to their target audience with greater profit on each book sold than they would by going with a large publishing house.
However, I know of no one else who has gone about publishing their book in the manner I did. Unfortunately most authors go into self-publishing blind, and as a last resort or desperate, frustrated move. And most authors get sucked into the Print-On-Demand service providers (believing those places to be publishers, even though they are not).
NW:How do you think Self Publishing and e-publishing effect the traditional market for Christian Speculative Fiction?
SA: That’s a hard and long question. I’m not sure how to answer this except to say that e-publishing is an exciting venue. It can be very lucrative for the author. The market is swamped with Print On Demand authors of this genre, however few of them stand out because they have not truly researched. Patience is the key to success in this career; patience and who you make connections with.
NW:Is there anything you did while publishing your books that you regret?
SA: No, not that I can think of. I am a very deliberate person. I researched my options and then made my selections. The product I produced is beautiful, even enviable.
NW:Is there anything you did while publishing your books that you ended up being proud of or surprised by?
SA: I was surprised by the audience I attracted. I had not expected so many middle schoolers to go crazy over my first novel. That age group is still my most loyal following.
And I was very proud of the re-written prelude to my novel. The editor suggestion I make alterations but instead I revamped it. It is the first piece of writing that people think of when they talk of Swords of the Six.
NW: Cool! I enjoyed reading your prelude the first time, but now I want to know how you rewrote it. The one I read was definitely exciting: it really makes the entire book.
Is there anything you feel able to talk about that you are planning to do in the future to further your books in the publishing market?
SA:I am going to push my books in the wholesale clubs and hopefully in Walmart and Target. I am good at selling my product. All I need is a line of customers and those stores offer that opportunity… but first I have to get the In with them.
NW: What is your outlook on social networking and blogging in furthering the market for your books? How does it affect your following? If you could start from the very beginning again, would you do anything differently than you are now?
SA: Online marketing is tricky for me. I have found it too easy to spend too much time online, and my writing suffers as a result. On the other hand, most of my fans keep in touch online and I love the interaction. If I started from the beginning again I probably would have started with a professional website. I have one now at www.theSwordoftheDragon.com and it has proved invaluable.
NW: I've looked at your site. It really is well done. I can't seem to get the hang of website-building myself... but maybe someday. It's one of those things that take practice. :)
Right now I feel like the publishing world is precariously teetering between digital and Pod publishing, and the traditional venues. Which way do you think the dice will fall? Why?
SA: All three will survive. Each serves a different purpose, meets a different need. POD answers the need for niche books, but the cost per unit is too high for selling thousands of copies. Traditional venues are shifting, but not going away. I think chain bookstores will gradually give way to the large retail stores that sell books. People will be going into Walmart and Target more often, where they can buy the books at a similar price to Amazon. Last year several hundred bookstores closed, nationwide. But folks still want to feel the book in their hand, not simply look at it online.
Digital publishing is a great opportunity to put books in the hands of more readers. But book lovers everywhere will continue to buy the print book as well as their Kindle copy (I have seen this evidenced in the sales of my books; never has the Kindle sales hurt the physical sales).
In closing, I don’t think the market is teetering. We are looking at a decade of new gizmos; gadgets that the consumer wants in order to keep up with the Jones’s. Some of these fads will fade, but physical books will remain. After all, I don’t think we can deny that if everything we did required batteries we would soon tire of it. The digital books are part of our fast-paced world; a hurried world that many readers are trying to escape when they pick up a book.
NW: I can agree with you there.
What are some of the biggest differences you can mark between Flaming Pen Press and other houses?
SA: We deal with YA fantasy fiction, primarily. The most similar house to ours would be Marcher Lord Press, but they don’t look at YA. But unlike Marcher Lord Press, we put some of our titles into stores. We are unique.
NW: What are some of the differences between self publishing through your own company and publishing through AMG that have affected you the most?
SA: I feel freed up to write, which is awesome. I’ve been too busy with the business side of publishing; writing is my passion.
NW: Flaming Pen Press released the book Kestrel’s Midnight Song last year which, if I understand correctly, was nominated for and awarded a Children’s Moonbeam award. I am personally in awe of Jacob Parker’s ability to write a novel and get it noticed at such a young age. And the story itself is amazing too. Can you tell us what made you, as a publisher, take a second look at this book and decide to publish it?
SA: I read the prelude on his blog and was impressed. He was web-savvy and understood the commitment needed to market the book. I found his manuscript spiritually compelling. The rest was history, as Jacob would say. He has now sold over 2,000 books, phenomenal!
NW: It is indeed!
Tell us a little bit about the story of Kestrel’s Midnight Song (as I’m sure many readers out there have not read it yet.)
SA: This would be better to direct at the author. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to do an interview here, too (-:
NW: I'll be sure to ask him!
As a Publisher, Editor, and Reader, what is your company looking for in a manuscript and author?
SA: Originality is the first and primary key to success with me. I don’t like knock-offs. Don’t send me anything with elves in it, or tell me it’s the next Harry Potter. I look for a teachable author, or one that has educated themselves on the industry. It is very important that they be inventive and aggressive in their marketing, as FPP is a small company.
NW:As an author who saw a literary need, and then created your own publishing company to fill said need, what would you tell others who might consider taking on such an endeavor as starting their own company to fill a niche market?
SA: Research, research, research. Don’t wing it, educate yourself so that you know what you’re getting into. There are plenty of surprises along the way without adding a lack of knowledge to your worries.
NW:What would you tell young authors out there who are considering self publishing?
SA: Don’t jump into it. Do your homework. And don’t publish your manuscript: get it professionally critiqued and edited by a known fiction editor. Spend the money required to get it done right; first impressions are everything.
NW:Is there anything else you would like to say to other readers and writers out there?
SA: Check out my books and my website!
NW: Will do!
Thank you so much Scott for talking with us! It really was an enlightening and enjoyable experience.