Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part I

One of my newsletter readers asked this question, so I obliged and answered it in a newsletter issue, but I thought some other folks might be curious about the inner workings of publishing … so I’ll answer it here, too.

We pause here for a word from our sponsor: Yes, you too can subscribe to my newsletter and get the latest news or whatnot I decide to send out, and even get to ask me questions like this one. And now, back to our story…

If you hadn’t heard, my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press, a small press in Colorado. A few weeks ago a reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? The question is even more appropriate now, since just last week I self-published a new edition of my first book, a nonfiction examination of education and how the system might be improved.

I came up with three reasons why I was happy to join forces with a small press instead of trying to self-publish my novel, and I’ll hit them one at a time in three separate posts. First,

I Think a Good Publisher Adds Value

The continuum of opinions on this is probably pretty wide, so let’s see if I can explain my position. Each time we read a book (or listen to a CD, or watch a movie, or whatever), we evaluate it, whether we write a review or not — this is where I might ask you to post a review of one of my CDs or of my book(s), except that I’m terrible at doing reviews myself — that is, we assess the book’s subjective value in terms of our reading experience against its objective value in terms of what we paid for it.


(Image: “Edit,” by Matt Hampel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


What goes into our subjective evaluation is different depending on our expectations and what adds to or detracts from the experience. A major factor in fiction is the story itself: does it flow well, does it transport us to a time and place we enjoy, do the characters and their situations resonate with us, etc. A good publisher can put a book through successive stages of editing to improve the story. For instance, my novel has gone through the “developmental” edit stage and will go through additional edits as the process continues.

One thing that can affect our enjoyment of the story is simply how easy the book is to read, not in terms of style but in terms of presentation. With respect to that, a book that is well-edited and laid out nicely so that it’s easy to read will probably score higher than one that is sloppy; a good publisher can therefore add value by making an average book better, and a good book beautiful. We may also factor in such things as cover art, and a good publisher can often retain better cover artists than a self-publisher can.

So, even before we consider that a good publisher has marketing and sales connections beyond what most self-publishers can muster, they can add value to the product, the book, itself.

And that’s the first reason I’m not self-publishing my novel.

I’ll cover the other two reasons in future posts. In the meantime, I need to get back to the day’s writing and editing.


P.S. Before I go, here’s where I ask you for your help: If you know a parent, teacher, or anyone interested in ways we might improve our educational system, point them to the new edition of Quality Education — completely restructured and updated from the original version — available now on Amazon in both electronic (Kindle) and trade paperback formats. When I released it last week, it reached as high as number 13 on Amazon’s “Education Policy and Reform” list.

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A Tale of Two Covers

Check out the stark difference between the covers of the old and new editions of Quality Education:

Left: The cover of the ASQC-Quality Press edition. Right: The cover of the new, self-published edition, designed by Christopher Rinehart. (Click to enlarge.)


I don’t think the original cover was all that bad, but the motif is a little dark.

The new edition, however, by virtue of its being completely overhauled — even though most of the content is the same, the new structure makes it feel to me like a completely different book — needed an updated, more interesting cover. I think the new cover works very well, and graphically represents that a lot of different elements go into making a sound educational cornerstone for society.

What do you think?


P.S. Obligatory shameless plug: If you or someone you know is a parent, teacher, or just an interested observer of the goings-on in our educational system, the new edition of Quality Education is available now on Amazon in both electronic (Kindle) and trade paperback formats. Earlier this week the Kindle version reached as high as 13th place on Amazon’s list of “Education Policy and Reform” bestsellers.

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Would You Like to See the Complete Cover?

For those who are interested, here’s the full wraparound cover for the new version of Quality Education:

Cover design by Christopher Rinehart. (Click to enlarge.)


Of course, the wraparound will only be available on the print version.

If you are (or someone you know is) a parent, student, teacher, or administrator interested in improving not just individual classes and schools but helping the entire system operate at a high level, then this updated and completely restructured edition of Quality Education might interest you. Stay tuned for more information — the release is imminent!

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Cover Reveal for the New Edition of ‘Quality Education’

I shared this with my newsletter subscribers a couple of weeks ago,* but here’s the cover to the completely revised and updated edition of Quality Education, which will be available as soon as we work out a few last details.

Cover design by Christopher Rinehart. (Click for larger image.)


The full title of the book is Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It, and it’s updated and completely restructured from the original edition. That version was published in the early 1990s by the American Society for Quality Control, and was one of the first books to apply the organizational and operational principles of continual improvement to the educational system.

The book presents education as a transformative process and covers expectations, roles, and inhibiting factors for parents, students, teachers, and administrators. With special emphasis on the quality philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the text adapts Deming’s systems flowchart, Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, and “14 Points” to the problems and processes of education.

The book also examines education’s customers, differing definitions of quality with respect to education, and the failure of well-intentioned reform efforts such as the “National Education Goals” (also known as “Goals 2000”) of the late 1980s. It includes chapters on programs for gifted and talented students, values education, and curriculum and other standards, and presents strategy ideas and discusses leadership required to develop and sustain quality education.

As we get closer to releasing the final version into the world, I’ll post updates!

*Yes, if you subscribe to my newsletter you will get news like this before anyone else, too.

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Two Friends on Patreon: Lee and Mikey

Would you like to be a patron of the arts for as little as a dollar a month? You can!

Several friends of mine have a presence on “Patreon,” an online resource that connects you with creative people doing their artistic things. Usually they promise to produce certain things on a regular basis — maybe a drawing or painting, maybe a song or a music video, it’s all up to them depending on their art — and you as their patron get first access to what they do and often “insider” specials as well!

Dollar Heart

(Image: “Dollar Heart,” by Chris Palmer, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Anyway, two of my friends you might want to support are Alethea Kontis and Mikey Mason.

Alethea Kontis is primarily known as an author of fantasy novels and two well-received children’s books in which the letters of the alphabet rearrange themselves. “Princess Alethea” often produces humorous “Fairy Tale Rants” on video, and her latest novel is Trix and the Faerie Queen. Alethea’s Patreon is set up for monthly donations as low as $1 per month, though higher levels earn additional bonus videos and such.

Mikey Mason is primarily known as the “Comedy Rock Star,” or on the science fiction and fantasy circuit as the “Comedy Rock Geek.” Perhaps his most famous song is “She Don’t Like Firefly,” though his more recent “The Secret Origins of the Robot Holidays” has been played frequently on The Dr. Demento Show. Mikey’s Patreon is set up a little differently, as his patrons pledge per song or music video; however, you can become Mikey’s patron for as little as $1 for each new song or video he produces.

Both Lee and Mikey have had some unexpected expenses recently, so your patronage — either recurring, through Patreon, or on a one-time basis by buying a book or CD — would mean a lot to their being able to continue writing their stories and songs.

For more information:
– You can find Alethea online at http://aletheakontis.com/
– You can find Mikey online at http://www.mikeymason.com/

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The Slush Formula

Writers, can you estimate the chances that your story will make it through the slush pile?

I’ve come up with a formula.

Some background: A couple of years ago, I saw a post on a forum somewhere by a writer who said their story had “zero chance” of being passed on to the Publisher.

They may have been right, unfortunately. But why?

The chance that I will recommend a story to the Publisher is directly related to the quality of the story, the clarity of the storytelling, and the appropriateness of the subject matter. Each of those is a subjective measure, yes — what I think is a great story you might think is mediocre; what’s crystal clear to you might be indecipherable to me; etc. — but all three must be present in sufficient measure for a story to make it through.

Factoring & Expansion Formulas

It’s really not as complicated as all that. (Image: “Factoring & Expansion Formulas,” by CMLorenz16, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Thus I express the probability of any given story being passed on to the Publisher as

P ≈ Q * C * A

So if a story really has a “zero chance” of being passed on, it is only because one or more of those factors approaches zero.

The good news is that’s rarely the case. (For us, “zero chance” is only when someone submits a memoir or children’s book or something else we don’t publish; then, appropriateness = 0.) So writers who have an accurate assessment of the strength of their story, how well it’s written, and if it’s appropriate should be able to estimate their chances pretty well.

But the thing to realize is that for the probability to be high (we’re talking percentages here, so it will almost never be 100%) each of those factors — story quality, writing clarity, and subject matter appropriateness — must rate very high indeed.

That’s the challenge.

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Monday Morning Insight: Failure and Greatness

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


Today is Herman Melville’s birthday (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891), so let’s unpack a Melville quote:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Most of us fail at something or other before we find something we do well, and most of us will not achieve “greatness” no matter how often we fail and try again.

And “better” in this case is definitely a value judgment.

Since Melville was a writer let’s examine this quote as it relates to the literary world, where it is plainly possible to “succeed in imitation.” We have plenty of writers who have found great success presenting essentially the same stories as someone else, and no shortage of others who continue to do so in search of their own success. The authors bring something of their own viewpoints and voices to the stories, but the common term is “filing off the serial numbers” to make it a bit less obvious that our fantasy story is essentially a repackaging of Tolkien or Rowling, or our science fiction story is a direct descendent of Heinlein or Bujold or Niven or some other famous author.

It’s not too surprising that this is the case. Authors continue to produce Tolkien-esque fantasy stories because the audience has yet to tire of them. From military science fiction to urban fantasy, space adventure to steampunk, the audience yearns for more — so much that authors who have not been able to break in with publishing companies have found their own fans through self-publishing. And if their fans feel they receive good value for their entertainment dollars, then that’s all that matters; after all, if being original means starving, then succeeding by being imitative isn’t all that bad. (We might even disagree with Melville and say that really is better.)

Yet success is not guaranteed, even when imitating examples of success.

Authors and publishers often do not know what story will resonate with a large audience, but that is especially true when it comes to more original stories — ones that are difficult to categorize into existing genre niches. Some works are so original that they define entire new subgenres, but they still have to be good enough (for whatever the audience considers “good”) beyond just being original in order to attract an audience.

But Melville refers to greatness, and I like to work backward from there. The authors we consider “great,” even if they were not pathfinders of their genres, produced work that hums with originality in some respect: depth of detail that puts us firmly in the setting and the story; emotional power that elicits deep sympathy for the characters; pacing and action that set our hearts to racing; all these and more elevate their work from entertaining to spectacular. Did the authors we consider “great” risk failure, or even endure failure, on the way to creating their monumental stories? I think they did, particularly when those stories were fresh and original compared to other things being produced at the time.


Are you striving for anything great? (Image: “Failure” by Andrea Small, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)


It may be, however, that they were not trying for greatness. Indeed, it may not be wise to strive for greatness when striving for success is hard enough. Greatness will be determined by history, by whether our stories continue to resonate down through time — but that doesn’t help us very much in the here and now.

Here and now, every writer risks failure with every story they start. It seems safe to say that writing a story that lasts, that impacts generations, involves taking more risk than writing a story very much like another. And even when taking only moderate risks some writers will fail more often, or more spectacularly, than others — but that’s true of every human endeavor.

What about you? How have you failed, and what have you learned from your failures? Don’t let it hinder you too much; remember, Melville considered failure the true test of greatness.

Keep striving!

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Five-and-a-half is Still Less than Nine, Isn’t It?

Authors: Here’s a lesson in how not to respond to rejection.

As the “Slushmaster General” for Baen Books, I have the unenviable task of sending out rejection letters. I don’t particularly like it — I know well how it feels to be on the receiving end — but I do it. And because we get a lot of submissions, I send out a lot of rejections.


This applies to more than just publishing! (Image: “rejection,” by Topher McCulloch, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Now, Baen Books could go the route some publishers and literary agents have gone and simply not respond at all if we’re not interested. We haven’t done that, though, and I don’t believe we ever will. As I tell people at convention panels and workshops, as an author myself I like to make sure that we treat every submission the way I hope other publishers are treating my submissions.

Which brings me to today’s lesson: keep your expectations realistic, and think twice before complaining.

Our guidelines note that we typically respond to new submissions within nine to twelve months, though we’ve gotten to the point that it’s usually six to nine. Why so long? Because in any given month we receive upwards of 120 submissions, and while there are always a few I can respond to quickly — e.g., short stories instead of novels; memoirs or poetry or children’s books or other things we just don’t publish — it takes time to look at each submission and judge it on the merits.

Anyway, last week I sent an author a rejection and the author e-mailed back,

This book has been published for months! You should try and better manage your time with submissions.


Published, you say? Meaning … not available anymore? Meaning you could have told us that, and saved us the trouble of considering it, but didn’t? Or meaning that you expected us to respond in a few weeks instead of the several months it usually takes?

And published “for months,” you say? (With an exclamation point, no less.) Publication cycles usually take many months to over a year, depending on the publisher’s editorial, art, and production schedules … so was your book already accepted somewhere else before you submitted it?

I decided this response warranted a little investigation. I know when the book was submitted to us and when I responded, and since I have this fancy tool called the “Internet” — maybe you have it, too — I could find out exactly when that book was published. Let’s check the record, shall we?

  • Submitted 3 February 2016
  • Rejected 23 July 2016 (elapsed time, 171 days — c. 5.6 months)
  • Published 1 April 2016 (58 days after submission)


So, you published (self-published, if I read the Amazon listing correctly) your book less than two months after submitting it but didn’t withdraw it from our consideration? And then when we respond in a little over half the time we advertise you decide to berate us for not responding sooner?

Oh, aspiring author out in Internetland, I trust that you, and most other people reading this post, would know not to do this. But, just in case, let me be clear: don’t do this.

Know what to expect when you submit something; specifically, bear in mind that your submission is one of many. (We will get to it. If you’re worried that we might have lost it, just ask.) Be professional and courteous enough to withdraw your submission if you decide to publish elsewhere. And when we respond, if you think it took longer than it should have, be sure your expectation was realistic before you start complaining about our time management.

Otherwise, your complaint might end up as a prompt for a blog post.

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Novel News!

Given that “novel” can mean “new,” that title may seem a bit redundant — but in this case it refers to the literary type of novel.

Here’s the news: I’m pleased to announce that I’ve contracted with WordFire Press of Monument, Colorado, to publish my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds!

(Image from NASA-Goddard and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.)


As you might gather from the image above, Walking on the Sea of Clouds has something to do with the Moon. Specifically, it’s about the early days of the first commercial lunar colony.

We already have lots of stories that depict successful, thriving lunar bases and colonies either as primary locations or as jumping-off places; two of the most famous, of course, are Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But before there can ever be large, sprawling bases on the Moon there first have to be small encampments with only a few people living somewhat precariously — and that’s what my novel is about. It’s a story of the struggle to survive in a harsh environment, the drive to succeed in a dangerous endeavor, and the sacrifices that we may have to make to achieve our dreams.

I’m very pleased to be working with WordFire Press, which was started by bestselling authors Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. WordFire is a small and relatively new press with an impressive list of books in its catalog, ranging from reissued midlist titles of established authors like David Farland, Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye, and Mike Resnick, to new titles from up-and-coming authors including my friends Cat Rambo, Ken Scholes, and Brad Torgersen.

So, these are exciting times for the Gray Man! As we go through the editing and production process, I’ll post occasional updates, and of course as we get closer to completion I’ll post plans for the novel’s release and any “book launch”-type events we pursue.

And I hope we can interest you in going Walking on the Sea of Clouds!

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Does This Book Make My Head Look Big?

A few days ago, I got my contributor’s copies of the new edition of Shattered Shields — my first time in mass market paperback!

I’m in good company in this book. (Click for larger image.)

As you might surmise from the terrific Todd Lockwood cover art, it’s an anthology of military fantasy stories. If you don’t already have a copy, you can order one here.

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