After the Draft: Episode X, M. Todd Gallowglas
Hello everyone. Continuing in my series of guest posts today is my good friend M. Todd Gallowglas. His story comes from a slightly different perspective than my previous guests, because Mr. Gallowglas is one of those self-publishing vandals. Enjoy!
M. Todd Gallowglas:
A couple of weeks ago, I put out the word that I was looking for stops on a blog tour to promote the release of the first installment of my serialized novel: DEAD WEIGHT. Patrick asked me if I’d stop by his little corner of the interwebz and talk about how I got my first book into print. He’s asked several writers to talk about this, just so people can get some other perspectives from different writers. With me, I think you’re going to get a very different perspective, as I’m the first self-published writer he’s asked to write about the experience of producing a first book. However, I’m going to talk about my entire career, because for me, each new project is kind of the same.
The overall theme of my self-published writing career has been experimentation. Everything I’ve done has started as me getting an idea and saying, “Huh, I wonder if this will work out. Lemme give it a try.”
Let’s head back to 2009. I had just received my BA in Creative Writing from SFSU.
I’ll say two things in defense of a creative writing degree. 1) You’ll generate a crapton of material that you can later go back and rework to make publishable. (The entire DEAD WEIGHT project came out of work I did for three or four classes.) 2) You’ll get over that whole writers block myth. You’d be amazed how few instructors accept “But I had writers block” as an excuse when you don’t complete your coursework.
Alright, so there I was, degree in hand, ready to work on being a high school English teacher while I wait for some publisher to realize my genius. We’ll ignore that I didn’t have anything ready to go. I was, however getting up at 5 am every morning and writing for two hours before schlepping the kids to school. Long and short of that teaching thing: it didn’t work out. Thankfully, I had my storytelling show and a gig moderating on-line games to fall back on. In fact, the storytelling show is responsible for my first foray into self-publishing.
I received my first paid writing gig from Fantasy Flight Games in December of 2010: a series of flash fiction pieces from their Call of Chthulu card game line. GO ME! I worked on the Chthulu stories during early 2011 (no pressure, you only have to pretend to be HP Lovecraft for your first writing gig) my wife and several close friends who knew I had aspirations of authorship sent me a series of articles about self-publishing success stories John Locke and Amanda Hocking. At the time, I thought it was cool, but I still bought into the stigma of self-publishing. It still had yet to make its big boom.
A buddy of mine from Renaissance Faires shared a story with me that he’d written titled, “Knight of the Living Dead.” In it, zombies invade the Yuma Renaissance Faire. He knew it had problems, and he asked if I would help clean it up. He’d originally posted it in episodic form to MySpace (remember that?). We talked about it, and decide to try publishing it to Kindle. I’d clean it up, and put it out, we’d split the money. That’s where I decided to go with the M Todd Gallowglas, rather than use my actual first name, just so I’d have a little buffer when I sent my manuscripts and queries out to really get published. So, May 1st 2011, my first ebook went live on Amazon. Due to the popularity of my “Bard’s Cloak of Tales” show, and Steve Moore’s “Myth and Magic” show at ren faires, “Knight of the Living Dead” hit the top #10,000 paid in its first week of publication.
Which made me think, “Huh. Maybe there’s something to this self-publishing thing after all.” Two weeks later, I published a novella I’ve been fiddling with for over a decade called, “The Dragon Bone Flute.” That did pretty well too, even though each was only $.99. “Huh,” I thought. “Maybe I should put out something a little longer…and charge a little more.” So a month after that, I put out First Chosen the first book in my Tears of Rage series.
Now, I’d originally intended Tears of Rage to be more of a serialized story. The first was about 60,000 words, pretty short for epic fantasy these days. I imagined that each volume would be between 50-60k words. Heh…riiiiiiight. Book two turned out to be 80K, book three 120K, and book four 140k. I’m really, really going to try and put book five at the 100K mark. Heh…riiiiiiiight.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In between book one and two of Tears of Rage I got this awesome idea of having a book to tie directly into my storytelling show. Thus Halloween Jack and the Devil’s Gate was born. It’s a steampunk historical fantasy that’s the continuation of an Irish legend about Halloween. Hit #4 in Amazon’s historical fantasy list in the first month of publication, it helped that I published it in October of 2011.
So…here’s the kicker kids. When people talk to me about self-publishing a book, I’ll say, “Just because you can self-publish a book doesn’t mean you should self-publish a book. Not only do you have to do the writer thing, you have to do the editor, artist, marketing, publisher thing too. I am extremely lucky that I had my storytelling show as a platform to launch my career, elsewise, I wouldn’t have made as much of an impact out of the gate as I did.
My initial readers were very forgiving of the amateurish errors I committed. I didn’t have a real editor, just a collection of beta readers. It showed in the typos in the early drafts I loaded to Amazon. It took me three tries to find an editor that not only catches my errors, but also seems to grok the artistic vision I have for all my various projects and is working to help me become a better writer over all. Thankfully, I seem to have enough talent and skill as a natural storyteller for my readers to stick with me long enough to find an editor I clicked with. Aside from Tears of Rage the covers for my first couple of books were pretty bad. They have been fixed. The Halloween Jack books have been through three iterations, and now I’m pretty happy with how they look and that finally, they hit the steampunk YA-ish fantasy thing I’m going for.
The self-publishing thing is a learn as you screw up thing and fix it before too many people notice. I never dreamed I’d get as big as I did as fast as I did. It was one experiment after another as a way to get a little extra money out of my storytelling show. Each new book is a new publishing experience. I experiment with new promotions, and new formats. Partially because I can, partially because it’s exciting, and mostly because the publishing industry (especially in self-publishing) is changing so rapidly, what worked last your, or even a few months ago, doesn’t work now. With my latest first publication, DEAD WEIGHT: The Tombs, I’m pushing all kinds of boundaries. I’m breaking it into serialized novellas, crossing all sorts of genres: It’s a meta-fiction, near-future, urban-fantasy, noir, war-thriller, with a dash of epic fantasy, and did a massive pre-launch release to generate reviews and buzz. Okay, so I’ll be honest…it’s mostly because it’s exciting.
Here’s the big thing though, no matter what crazy thing I experiment with, one thing holds true in self-publishing as in traditional publishing: I strive to make every single book I publish outshine everything I’ve done before. That’s the bottom line. No matter how you’re publishing, be better and be different. Strive for excellence at both.