Publishing Announcement: INVINCIBLE

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In an Empire beset by internal rebellion and ferocious yaomo, the elite Shenwujun stand ready to defend human civilization. Among the Shenwujun there is none finer than Ensign Zhang Tianyou, who earned the nickname Zhang the Invincible. During a mission to quash a nascent rebellion, a Shenwujun detachment discovers evidence that the Grand Union is supporting the rebels. Zhang is tasked to investigate and destroy this new threat.

But will Zhang the Invincible meet his match at the hands of the rebel called Han the Demon Sword?

I’m pleased to announce the publication of INVINCIBLE, a historical xianxia novella which won an Honorable Mention at the Q1 2017 Writers of the Future Contest. First published on Steemit, it has now been formatted into an ebook for easy reading.

INVINCIBLE can be purchased on Amazon, Smashwords and Payhip for just USD $2.99.

To enjoy a 30% discount, be sure to share my Payhip page on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Thanks for your support, and please look forward to my next story.

Chasing Literary Awards Won’t Promote Singlit

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Epigram Books, a Singaporean publisher, is aiming for the Man Booker Prize. As part of its goal, it has opened an imprint in the United Kingdom, so that its offerings will be eligible for the Prize. Founder Edmund Wee believes that the publicity generated from such an achievement “would be a turning point for people to see that Singaporean books aren’t that bad at all”.

I wish him the best of luck, but my experience suggests that it’s a long shot. I am Singapore’s first, and so far only, writer nominated for the Hugo and Dragon Awards. I can tell you that chasing awards means nothing.

Epigram Books is the creator of the Epigram Fiction Prize, Singapore’s richest literature award. Each winner receive $25,000 and a publication offer. Per the article:

Out of the 72 entries received in the first year, four were shortlisted and published. All four sold out their initial run of 1,000 copies within two or three months, a milestone that normally takes bestsellers a year to reach in Singapore, according to Wee.

Colour me impressed, but I should note that my own novel, which was not selected for an Epigram Fiction prize, did far better in the same time frame. I’m not sure if I can publicly disclose the actual sales figures, but I can say that neither my publisher nor I had to sink in $25,000 to bring it to the market. We both enjoyed healthy profits from that one book in three months.

And I won’t comment on Epigram’s UK imprint selling only 100 copies per title in its catalogue.

The key to understanding the TradPub mindset is that they don’t sell stories. They sell paper. It’s the traditional way of delivering stories to customers. But technology has significantly altered the publishing industry in the past decade.

Print on Demand technology has rendered storing mountains of paper books in bookstores and warehouses obsolete; if you want a paper book, just go on Amazon, and it will print and deliver the book to you. Ebooks are far cheaper than paper books, and far more convenient and accessible in an age of smartphones and tablets. Ereaders and ebook stores have opened the floodgates to new markets and new writers, and search engine algorithms and social media have made discovering and following writers easier than before. Self-publishing platforms allow anybody to write and publish stories from anywhere in the world without having to go through publishers.

Books themselves are facing stiff competition from elsewhere. YouTube, Crunchyroll, Steam, GOG, NetFlix, and other media are all competing with books for the readers’ entertainment dollar and time. If a customer has to choose between dropping $18 on a paperback that can be read in 8 hours, or $15 on an indie game that lasts for 50 hours, you can bet that he will choose the latter. Likewise, $18 on a single paperback versus $11.95 on a monthly Crunchyroll premium membership with complete access to all anime and drama in its catalogue is a no-brainer too.

We live in the sunset of traditional publishing. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing down, and Big Publishing is declining. Writers and publishers must adapt to changing times or be forgotten.

Encouraging Singaporeans to read Singaporeans may be an admirable goal, but publishers need to remain profitable to continue publishing stories. If they can’t make a profit, publishers will be force to close down. Becoming profitable is simple:

Give readers what they want.

Technology may have changed, but readers’ tastes have not. Romance readers want love and drama. Thriller readers want excitement and derring-do. SFF readers want awe and wonder. Produce books that meet their expectations, using technology to minimise costs and penetrate markets, and you’ll make money.

Publishers need to take a long, hard look at the industry and themselves, and see how they can best serve their readers’ needs. Wee’s words are instructive of his attitude:

“For many years, it has been in Singaporeans’ minds that foreign books are better and local books not so good,” he says. “I blame everybody. I blame the schools because literature is not compulsory. I blame the bookshops. I blame the press because they still want to interview famous international authors instead of local authors.”

Blaming everybody is not the solution. Courting people with awards will not work. If you don’t publish writers whose works people love, people aren’t going to love them back. It’s as simple as that. Of all the Singaporean-authored books and stories I’ve read over the years, none of them have left a lingering impression on me. None of them met my tastes — or my standards of craft.

Chasing a Man Booker Award is a snipe hunt. Writers who can win such an award are incredibly rare. Gambling everything on the hope that that such a talented writer signs on with you is the literary equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. After all, what are the odds that a writer capable of winning the Man Booker Award sign on with a small publishing house from tiny country?

Even if Epigram manages such a feat, it’s not likely to have a knock-on effect on all other Singaporean books. As I have seen first-hand with the Hugos and Dragons, should an author win an award, readers will flock to the award-winning book, then the rest of his backlist, and only then other authors of similar standards in the same field. Sharing the same nationality as a Man Booker Award-winning writer isn’t compelling enough to capture a reader’s heart. These other writers must be in the same league as the award winner to stand a chance.

Mickey Spillane once said that people eat more salted peanuts than caviar. Other writers mocked him for his writing style, but through hard work and appealing to the masses, he left his mark on the American crime thriller genre. I have a similar philosophy.

I don’t write stories to chase awards. I write stories to entertain my readers. Awards are pleasant, but profits are king. If you want to encourage readers to read more books, you have to sustain the ability to publish more books, and to publish books you need to be profitable. If I were a Singaporean publisher, this is what I would do:

  1. Focus on genre fiction. There is a dearth of genre fiction in Singapore; other than Young Adult and the odd romance and horror story there is a stunning lack of Singaporean genre fiction. Grab the first mover advantage in this field. Don’t limit yourself to submissions from Singaporeans, but do try to sign on as many Singaporean genre fiction writers as possible.
  2. Publish stories that meet and exceed genre conventions. Stories must be entertaining. Build a brand focused on quality entertainment and powerful story-telling. In a world where anyone can publish anything, publishers can differentiate themselves by creating a reputation for quality.
  3. Break into ebooks and Print on Demand technology, and target a global audience. The wider your potential market, the more money you make. Minimise cost, maximise distribution.
  4. If your goal is to promote ‘literary’ works, create another imprint dedicated to literary fiction. Channel profits from genre fiction into this imprint to keep it running. Follow steps 2 and 3, building a reputation for publishing quality work and delivering it to the world. You might not make much money out of the literary imprint, it might even be a loss leader, but hey, you’re promoting Singlit and your own brand.

I am leery of ‘literary’ stories. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two kinds of books: books worth reading, and books not worth reading. To stay competitive, publishers must do the former and avoid the latter. Qualities like ‘literariness’ or subversiveness or other avant-garde properties take a back seat to market demand. To remain in the publishing game, publishers have to turn a profit. Ignore the market at your peril.

At the end of the day, trad publishers would do well to study the history of publishing. The literati may elevate the heavy, ponderous tomes of great literature — but it was the cheap pulp magazines, filled with energy and excitement, that instilled the joy of reading in the common people.

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To get a taste of my writing, check out my Steemit serial NIGHT DEMONS and my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

A Deeper Silence

On Wednesday my computer broke down without warning. I suspect it’s a hard disk drive failure, but time will tell the true cause. The digital silence that followed gave me the time I needed to coalesce some thoughts that were floating about in my mind, specifically pertaining to silence and speech.

As an introvert, silence comes naturally to me, and in prolonged silence I find the space and concentration necessary for deep thought and creativity. As a professional communicator, silence is a potential harbinger for disaster and long periods of it means you will be ignored and forgotten. I’m coming to understand this fundamental tension between my inclinations and my profession. Now I’m trying to put this into practice, discussing very recent events and making some updates.

Firstly, I’m pleased to report that the third entry of the American Heirs series, I, Eschaton, has completed the first round of proofreading and is entering the final stage of edits. I also managed to back up the last round of changes before my computer’s untimely demise. Work is on hold for the moment: I’m working on a loaner at the moment, and I would rather not keep sensitive information on it if I can avoid it. I am, however, planning for publication within the next couple of months, and am doing what preparatory work I can.

Secondly, I have also begun planning my next set of stories. It is not necessarily the fourth installment of the American Heirs series. It is not necessarily the same mishmash of science fiction and military tropes either. In the early days of the creative process I’ve noticed ideas come and go very often. I don’t think it’s prudent to raise expectations by talking about a product that may be dramatically transformed between conceptualization and publication.

Thirdly, I regret to say that my video game project, Odyssey: Remnants of Terra, is on hold indefinitely. The problem was mechanics: Odyssey was originally conceptualised as a shooter, and despite my best efforts I could not find a way to fit it into our chosen game engine, RPG Maker. After some intense discussion we concluded that the only way for Odyssey to work is if we choose another game engine, learn it from the inside out, and maybe expand the team. This takes time, money and contacts. Not to say we have given up on it completely, but we need to line up our ducks in a row before we can execute.

With that in mind, we are still going to create a game. Odyssey was a learning journey, and we came to better understand the ins and outs of the RPG Maker engine. As it transpires, I have an (as-yet) unpublished story that would, with some reworking, fit RPG Maker’s mechanics far better than Odyssey. Time will tell, but with this new pivot I hope we can finally create a product.

Finally, in spite of my quasi-weekly update schedule I noticed that readership has significantly tapered off. Part of this can be attributed to the shift in URL. In hindsight I should simply have maintained the old wordpress site and redirected visitors here, but it’s a bit too late to cry over spilled milk. All I can do is keep on keeping on.

Beyond that, though, sometimes it just feels like there’s nothing to say. That I’m either too busy working or else too preoccupied with other matters to blog. With a personality like mine, I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the need for quiet time, to process and analyze before acting. I don’t like to fill my pages with empty talk, and usually if I only have a few lines or paragraphs to talk about something they go on Facebook instead of my blog.

Content is king, as the saying goes. Now the question is what kind of content goes here, and how much. I have a headful of ideas. Some will stick true to the core Benjamin Cheah brand of deep analysis of politics and other issues. Others will take it into different directions. With a very small readership I’m effectively rebooting my brand. The question is where it will go from here.

That, I think, is something I need to answer first in a deeper silence.

Lessons from Failure

In the technology field, a popular mantra goes, Fail early and fail often. The idea being to try out new ideas while the company is still new, understand your mistakes, then incorporate these lessons into future products. I’ve been applying this to my writing, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Along the way I learned that this idea is incomplete.  The full mantra should be: Fail early, fail fast, fail often, fail smart, fail forward.

Fail early

A writer’s career doesn’t start with publication. It begins when he puts pen to paper, when he commits to writing. It doesn’t matter how famous that person is; when he’s got nothing to his name he’s writing on a blank slate. At that point, with no writing brand to his name, he can afford to make mistakes. The kind of mistakes needed to grow. Mistakes like telling too much, using overly fanciful writing, switching points of view too many times. He needs to finish his stories and send them out, and learn what he can from the inevitable wave of negative feedback. In my case, I learned these mistakes with the first series of Michael Chang stories, and all the other stories I wrote along the way that never saw the light of day.

Later in the writer’s career, when he has an established brand, failing early takes on a new light. ‘Early’ no longer means finishing a story and publishing it or sending it out. ‘Early’ means the space between writing the first word and before publication. If a pro’s story has to fail, let it fail before people see it. This minimises the risk to a writer’s professional brand, and maximises the space, time and resources available to fix the mistakes that led to the failure. This skill can be thought of as internal quality checking, and it’s a skill that can only be learned by failing early in one’s career.

Fail fast

Writing is work. Writing is an investment of time and energy. As an indie writer, it is also an investment in money — to cover the cost of publication. Failing fast in this context means reaching the point of failure fast enough to minimise sunk costs. For instance, when a short story reaches a point of failure, the writer would have spent between a week to a month working on it. A 300000 word doorstopper, on the other hand, requires much more time to write, and to pick out points of failure. And in that time, that story is not generating any return on investment — only costs. By failing fast, one minimises costs and the time needed to incorporate new lessons. It also enables the writer to produce even more stories, eventually leading to success.

The key to failing fast is producing what is termed the minimal viable product. This is the smallest possible package that encapsulates the functions and ideas of the overall concept. In a computer game, this would be a single sequence that showcases the core mechanics. In the manga industry, publishers test the market by publishing a lengthy one-shot piece, and if the audience is receptive the author is given a contract to extend the one-shot into a series. When seen in the context of writing, this means short stories and novellas. American Sons, for instance, was a proof-of-concept story that opened the way to a wider series. I’ve also been working on a fresh set of short stories, banging out the ideas in my head, and modifying or rejecting them accordingly.

Fail often

One failure is not going to be enough. The craft of writing encompasses a staggering array of fields, some relevant to a given writer, some not. Some writers (like myself) have a huge array of interests, and the only way to tell what works and what doesn’t is to write stories and see which work the best. When a writer goes pro, he has to decide what price points and distribution channels work for him, because everybody’s situation is different. The only way to learn these lessons is to see what does not work and adapt accordingly.

This ties back to the earlier principles. Failing fast and often is practically a necessity in fast-paced fields, and the indie publishing revolution is transforming the industry into one. To fail often, one needs time, energy and resources; to minimise expenditure of these assets on failures, one has to fail fast and fail early. I have a portfolio of about two dozen short stories, written in the past two years; a number of them are too poor to be published, but they served as lessons for the road. By failing often, a writer learns that much more often.

Fail smart

Failing is easy. One simply refuses to experiment, refuses to think, refuses to plan, refuses to do. But that’s not the point of the failure mantra. To fail smart is to look back on one’s failures, to understand what worked and what did not. This is the point of failing so many times. By not picking up these lessons, there is little point in failing to begin with.

Failing smart requires a great deal of honesty and professionalism. Creators need large egos to stand true to their work during the process of creation, but when it is done they need to be able to stand apart and understand what went wrong. This means knowing when to stand fast and when to adapt, when to defend yourself and when to acquiesce. This means being so well acquainted with the bitter taste of failure and criticism that it is no longer repulsive. At that point, the writer can look back on his work with a critical eye, and learn what needs to be learned.

Fail forward

The final edition of Keepers of the Flame was nowhere close to the first draft. The novel went through five major revisions and multiple minor ones before taking its final form. And yet it only took a little over two years of total writing and editing time to complete. That was because I made a point to apply the lessons I had learned and quickly turn things around, revising over and over and over again until I could not improve on the manuscript any further. I failed early and fast enough that mistakes could be corrected, often enough that I picked out the major flaws of the story, and set myself up to fail with an eye towards learning.

The principle of failing forward is to apply the lessons you have learned. If you must fail, do so with an eye towards self-improvement. Do it consciously, so that it becomes a learning process. Failure is something to be acknowledged, to be embraced, and to build upon. Otherwise, failure simply becomes the equivalent of mindlessly bashing one’s head against a concrete wall over and over and over again.

Embracing failure

Singapore is a risk-averse culture. Singapore is a place where failure is verboten, a sign of weakness and lack of capability. I suspect this is true for every culture and institution that seeks to create people who to perpetuate the system instead of creating new things. Yet failure is precisely what is needed to grow and to create. The school of hard knocks endures because sometimes it is the only way to truly learn something.

Embrace failure. The road to success is pitted and rocky, and those who walk the way of the pen will trip and fall many, many times. But each failure contains the seed of success, showing how to avoid future pitfalls and how to find smoother roads. This is the philosophy I choose for my work, and maybe, just maybe, it will pay off soon.

Sidestepping #VATMESS: My new approach to ebook pricing

Books are my life. I spent my childhood in and out of libraries and bookstores, exploring the worlds and ideas of countless thinkers and writers. Today, books are my lifelihood, serving simultaneously as research material, entertainment, study guides, teachers and companions. Books made me who I am today, showing me worlds beyond this one, pointing to futures yet born and ill-lit histories, whispering hints to build bridges between today and tomorrow.

I believe in a world where books are cheaply and readily available. I believe in a world that values literacy and education, where the sum of human knowledge can be found at one’s fingertips. I believe in a world where technology can synergise with business and art. I believe in a world where artists can be paid fairly for their work, where readers can access high quality books at reasonable prices, where entrepreneurs need not pay unreasonable tax burden to enjoy the fruit of their labour. I believe that in this lifetime humanity has the power to make the first steps towards this new information revolution.

I believe.

The new Value Added Tax threatens to undo all this. Previously, the European Union charges Value Added Tax based on the location of the seller. Now, VAT is charged according to the location of the buyer, and sellers are required to harvest the buyer’s data for VAT compliance. As TechCrunch notes, these rules present an onerous burden on small busineses–like virtually all indie writers–who now have to handle even more paperwork and reconsider pricing strategy.

As BuzzIndie points out, the new VAT rulings would crush indie writers, entrench major companies thanks to their ability to handle VAT, and open a whole host of legal ambiguities. The result is a #VATMESS that will not go away. Already, Amazon is taking advantage of its position by automatically raising prices for ebooks sold in Europe, and threatening to price-match ebooks should their bots find that an author charges lower prices elsewhere. Mark Coker from Smashwords predicts that the new VAT ruling will place a dampener on sales from Europe.

Yet I believe.

Independent writers like me face a dilemma: absorb the tax burden or pass on VAT to our European clients. From my perspective, it is incredibly tempting to just raise prices to meet the new VAT rulings, since I’m already slammed with a 30% withholding tax from the IRS.

Currently, I make far fewer royalties than my foreign peers. When I sell a book on Amazon or Smashwords, the distributor takes 30% of the proceeds. Of the 70% that remains, the IRS takes another 30%. This leaves me with a royalty rate of roughly 45%. With the new VAT ruling, VAT is subtracted first before all the other subtractions. Going with a European average of 20%, that means my royalties from European sales will hover at around 39.2%.

And I’m not talking about my own tax liabilities yet.

Still I believe.

This #VATMESS is going to take a long time to sort out. But I believe in a world where people do not have to choose between dinner and a book. I’ve had to make that choice too many times to wish it on anybody. And I believe in a world where a man should not have to put up with excessive demands for data and exorbitant taxes from foreign bureaucrats for the ‘privilege’ of doing business. The Internet and the indie publishing revolution promised an end to such nonsense, and I will keep to this.

I believe. And this is why I will be absorbing VAT.

I will not be adjusting the prices of my ebooks on Smashwords to account for a policy I’ve had no say in. Amazon has automatically raised the prices of my ebooks on Europe; when their bots find the lower prices on Smashwords I fully expect them to lower my prices on Amazon automatically. I don’t see a point in investing the time  needed to manually set lower prices on Amazon for each European country to meet different VAT regimes and periodically update them to account for fluctuating exchange rates (I have to think in three currencies when setting prices!) when my European sales via Kindle are practically nil. I’d rather focus my energies on directing European customers to places where they won’t have to pay elevated taxes, such as Payhip.

Previously, I sold ebooks through Gumroad, Sellfy and CoinLock. Neither Coinlock nor Gumroad would help me sort out the #VATMESS, effectively forcing me to maintain huge customer databases, capture addresses and determine how much tax should go to which country in Europe. I do not have the time or ability to do this, so I have closed these avenues of sale. As for Sellfy, I wasn’t too impressed with the marketplace and (lack of) categorisation for ebooks.

Therefore, I have consolidated direct purchases through Payhip. Payhip charges a flat 5% fee of the gross sale price for each transaction through Paypal. It also promises to handle VAT paperwork. It’s a godsend for writers like me, allowing me to focus on writing instead of paperwork, while still earning much higher royalties than the major distributors. My Payhip prices will be inclusive of VAT, so all my customers should see the same price regardless of where they are.

Payhip also allows me to do neat things like social discounts. If you share my Payhip ebook links on Facebook or Twitter, you will enjoy a 30% discount. Here are the links to At All CostsAmerican Sons and Keepers of the Flame.

I hope you will enjoy these stories. Together, I believe we can build a better world, a world where the politicians regret the #VATMESS they have created and small businesses can get on with delivering content instead of paperwork.

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is cleared hot!

Merry Christmas!

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME is (finally!) live at every major retail outlet.

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Here’s the blurb:

In the wake of a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia promises peace, prosperity and security. But these promises ring hollow in the shanties and slums of the Yellow Zone. The Sons of America, once driven underground, have returned to spark a revolution. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller, team leader in Cascadia’s elite Combat Studies Unit, stands at the front line, ready to seek out and destroy the SOA wherever they appear.

But the SOA is not the only threat Cascadia faces. On the other side of the continent, a new American empire marshals its forces and marches west. Its mission: to restore the old United States, by any means necessary. Cascadia has no place in this grand vision, and there is only enough room in North America for one great power.

As the body count grows and strategems unfold, Miller must confront enemies as cunning as they are ruthless, at home and abroad. Yet while mere humans struggle for supremacy, in the unseen spaces of Cascadia’s digital networks, a machine god awakes.

The ebook version can be purchased at Smashwords and Amazon‘s Kindle store. It retails for USD$5.99.

You can also buy it directly from me through Sellfy (PayPal), Gumroad (credit card), and CoinLock (Bitcoin).

The print version can be found on Amazon and the CreateSpace estore for USD$15.99.

And because this is the season for giving, here’re some discounts!

-If you buy the paperback from Amazon, you get 10% off the list price. In addition, if you buy the paperback you can also get the Kindle version for just USD$2.99.

-If you purchase any of my ebooks from Sellfy (Including Keepers of the Flame), you can get a 30% discount if you share it on social media.

-If you choose Gumroad for ebooks instead, you’ll also get a 30% discount if you use these links for At All Costs, American Sons, and Keepers of the Flame.

These discounts expire on 1st January 2015, so get your copy today!

Keepers of The Flame Excerpt 4

In Keepers of the Flame, the Sons of America rely heavily on the Cascadian information communication networks. The Cascadian Defense Force may be stomping the terrorists on the battlefields of tomorrow — but war is won and lost in the hearts and minds of the people.

The man cleared his throat, drank down a cold glass of ice water, clicked the record button and spoke into the mic. “Test, test, one, two.”

Green bars danced across his laptop screen. He hit the playback button. His voice scrambler app copied his speech into four different tracks, radically modifying octaves and pitch. The overall effect made it sound as if four different people were speaking in an electric monotone.

He adjusted the settings just so, and tried again. Satisfied, he called up his script.

“We are the Sons of America. We are the inheritors of the old United States of America, the keepers of the flame of civilization. For too long, the illegitimate Republic of Cascadia, calling itself the successor state to the North American Union, has oppressed the people, using bread and circuses to distract the masses while the elite live in the lap of luxury.”

He needed an image for this. The SOA insignia, naturally. A coiled rattlesnake against a solid gold background. Above the snake were the words ‘Liberty or Death’; below it, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’. He uploaded it into his composer program and continued with his speech.

“We speak for the disenfranchised. We speak for the forgotten. We speak for the ones forsaken by the uncaring Federal government. We represent the last percent, the people who live in the Yellow Zone. For decades, one administration after another promised to improve the lot of the Yellow Zone, to rebuild from the ashes and fulfil the dream of the Restoration. For decades, they have lied. This is the reality.”

He called up a collage of photographs, cribbed from open source images of CDF operations in the Yellow Zone. Infantrymen rolling out of armored vehicles. Spec Ops personnel blasting down doors and bursting through windows. Bullet-ridden corpses. Women and children cuffed and led away at gunpoint.

“This is reality for the people of the Yellow Zone. They live in the shadow of the guns of Cascadia. The Yellow Zoners merely wish to live in peace. But the one percent can’t abide that. They see it as a threat to their power and their profits. And so they send the Army to crack down on what they call ‘raiders’ and ‘terrorists’.”

The next image was a photo of tall black man, mugging for the camera, surrounded by a bunch of disheveled but smiling kids. Behind them was an omniprinter.

“This is Jason Green. He opened a print shop in the Yellow Zone, helping Yellow Zoners produce the things they need at low prices. He hired Yellow Zoners, giving them work skills and a means of income. But the Green Zoners called him a terrorist. Why? Because his shop wasn’t registered with the Federal government. For that ‘crime’, they sent the Combat Studies Unit to raid his shop, and killed him and two of his employees.”

Another slide show, slower this time. He had to scour the Internet for this segment. First, a shot of the entrance to Camp Archer. He zoomed in on the motto: IN DEFENSE OF FREEDOM. Then a line of men in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, kneeling to face a concrete wall, their hands cuffed behind their back. A woman in a black hood and jumpsuit crammed into a cage half her size. Dogs barking aggressively at detainees strapped to boards. A half-naked man, his face covered with a towel, struggling against anonymous hands while a stream of water splashed against his face.

“And his workers? Here’s where they sent them: Camp Archer in Alaska. There they are beyond the reach of international law. They are given just one hour of exercise a day; the rest of the day they are locked up in tiny cells. The Red Cross cannot contact them, they have no access to legal aid, and they have no contact with the outside world. There, they will be tortured into producing false confessions for kangaroo courts and tried under so-called terrorism laws.

“Jason’s story is just one of many. Too many.”

A line of famous ex-Presidents giving speeches at podia, culminating with the sitting President, Carlos Martinez.

“The Gray House and their cronies have grown drunk with power. Today they target the Yellow Zone. Tomorrow they will come for you, for anyone who dares to question their authority. We will not let this happen. We will be at the frontlines, fighting for you, for your future, for America.

“We are the Sons of America. Expect us.”

The last photo was an obvious choice. An American flag.

He spent the next few hours fine-tuning the video. When it was ready, he uploaded it on Cascadia’s favorite social media websites. He had several dozen dummy accounts, coordinated by a control program he coded himself, and he knew there were others in the SOA with hundreds, even thousands, of sock puppet accounts. The dummies would boost the videos, posting links to them across the Net. Another program would produce automated comments, both positive and negative—more positive than negative, of course, but all publicity is good publicity.

The mainstream media ran the full video after just twenty hours.

The government issued its own press release a day later.

But the Feds were already behind the curve.

 

Keepers of the Flame: Excerpt 3

In Keepers of the Flame, counterterrorism missions in the Yellow Zone fall to the men and women of the Combat Studies Unit. Here’s a taste of how they operate…and of the war to come.

Men would die tonight. Master Sergeant Christopher Miller felt it in his blood. With a little over a decade and a half in the military, half that in the Combat Studies Unit, Miller developed a sense for times like this.

The only question was who was going to do the dying, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be his brothers.

He and his partner, Staff Sergeant Frank Goh, slouched their way to the end of the street, wrapped in ragged gray coats older than themselves, older than the Apocalypse. They plodded with the gait of broken men, marking off time until their battered, abused bodies died with the rest of their souls. Their faces were streaked with dirt and stage makeup, and before the mission they had applied liberal doses of eau de drunk that smelled like a cross of toxic mushroom booze and human waste.

All of which would soon go down the drain.

A flash shower broke the overcast sky. The weather was becoming increasingly unpredictable these days; the Met Service had called clear skies for the whole week. Miller clutched his scavenged coat more tightly around himself. Cold rain splashed through holes in the coat, soaking him through. More importantly, the rain was washing off his makeup and tamping down his smell. And no drunkards would willingly wander through the rain, not in this part of town, not when shelter was plentiful here in the Yellow Zone, in the empty husks once called homes and shops. Not many people willingly lived in this part of Kelowna, not any more.

Nevertheless, the two men meandered their way down the street. At a T-junction, warm yellow light spilled from the windows of a squat two-story building. Electric light, by the Lord, backed by the faint, alien hum of a generator. Atop the front door, a sign read ‘MA RE DY BR W R’, the missing letters long gone. Two hard young men stood at the door, carrying slung rifles and wearing tactical vests. Miller guessed they were sixteen, maybe eighteen, but their deep-lined faces and empty eyes made it hard to tell.

The official census said this part of the Yellow Zone was abandoned. All that meant was that while the area was officially claimed by the Federal government, they hadn’t gotten down to restoring power and essential supplies yet.

Nature abhorred a vacuum. It was the way of things. With the government having all but left the Yellow Zone alone, someone else moved in instead.

They called themselves the Sons of America. The Unit learned of them over a year ago. Almost smashed them, too. But they didn’t get all of them, and intelligence kept pointing to SOA offshoots sprouting in the forgotten nooks of the Yellow Zone.

And wherever the SOA appeared, Miller and his men followed.

The guards keyed in on the approaching operators. The one on the left, the shorter one, nudged his partner and whispered in his ear.

To Miller’s right, Goh slurred something incomprehensible and put a bottle to his lips. Miller laughed too loudly. Wiping off with a shredded sleeve, Goh passed his bottle to Miller. Both men weaved their way onto the road. The commotion caught the guards’ attention.

“Hey you!” Shorter shouted. “You two! Stop!”

They ignored him, crossing the street.

The guards weren’t completely stupid. The shorter one approached them while the taller one stayed put. Miller noticed both men were wearing earpieces with wires that trailed down their necks and the backs of their vests. They had radios.

The Unit had expected radios. Didn’t make things less tricky.

Shorter held up a hand. “That’s far enough.”

Goh staggered forward, spewing liquid all over Shorter’s vest. “What the fuck?” Shorter said, taking a step back.

Goh’s callsign was ‘Sportsman’. Before joining the Unit, he was an official Army athlete. His last post was the karate team.

Sportsman slipped right up and slammed his right palm into the guard’s chin and his knee into his groin, while simultaneously grabbing his shoulder with his left. Latching on to the target’s head, Goh swept out his right leg and spun him counterclockwise, smashing his skull against the road.

Which cleared Miller to act. Tossing the bottle aside, his left hand dove under his coat and to his right shoulder, touching a hard plastic grip. Shuffling to the left, he snapped out his weapon. It was an M92 Personal Defense Weapon, not much bigger than an oversized pistol, fitted with a suppressor. He snicked the safety down a notch and raised the gun one-handed. Through its reflex sight, he saw Taller’s mouth dropping, his arms scrambling to raise his weapon, the red crosshair framed against his chest.

Miller fired twice, so quickly they almost sounded like a single shot, like a prolonged cough. The M92 was loaded with 7.92mm subsonic ammo. Coupled with the suppressor screwed on the muzzle, the rain dampening sound even further, and all Miller heard was the M92’s bolt clacking back and forth.

As Taller slumped against the wall, Miller brought his right hand up, hooking his thumb and index fingers around the foregrip just forward of the trigger guard, and put a third bullet into the target’s brain.

Miller glanced at the other guard. Goh had slapped on two pairs of snap-cuffs on him, one for the wrists and one for the ankles. Maybe he’ll live, maybe he won’t, but no sense leaving things to chance.

“Front entrance clear,” Goh said, activating his in-head communications implant. The report wasn’t just for Miller. It was for the rest of the Unit operators on the scene.

Timing was everything now. Miller extended the PDW’s stock, bringing it to the shoulder, and shucked off his coat. Under it was a low-profile chest rig. Goh did the same, drawing his own M92. Keeping low, both men stacked on the front door. From a pouch on his rig, Goh extracted a door knocker, a small explosive charge designed to blow out locks and doorknobs. He hooked it on the door knob and both men stepped clear.

Two black vans quietly drove up on either end of the street. Behind Goh, Miller saw the doors open, revealing three operators. The rest of Miller’s team, Sergeant First Class Charles Jackson, SFC Bill O’Neil and Staff Sergeant Nick Ng, dressed head to toe in black assault gear and carrying suppressed M146A4 assault rifles. Miller felt distinctly underarmed and underprotected, but only for a moment. The operators stacked up at the window, preparing sledgehammers and nine-bangers. Another four-man team formed up on another window behind Miller.

An operator grabbed Miller’s thigh, deliberately squeezing twice. Miller nodded. O’Neil squeezed Goh’s leg, and Goh nodded too.

“Stand by, stand by,” Goh said, holding up the charge’s clacker in his left hand. Miller and Goh looked away from the door.

“Three, two, one—MARK!

Goh squeezed the clacker. The door blew inwards with a puff of smoke. At the same time, the other operators smashed the windows and tossed in nine-bangers. As one, they poured in through a riot of noise and light.

In another life, the building was a microbrewery. Tonight’s targets had repurposed it to their uses. They had knocked down most of the interior walls on the first floor, leaving a large empty space. A giant omniprinter churned away at the far end of the room, powered by a nearby biofuel generator and controlled by a tablet on a nearby table.

There were six targets. One guy watched the tablet, one kept an eye on the printer, and the other four were packing crates and stacking them along the walls. As the stun grenades erupted, they flinched away.

“CDF! CDF!” Miller yelled. “GET DOWN! GET DOWN! DO IT NOW!”

Two targets were manhandling a large crate before the operators came in. One of them dropped his end, and it smashed into his feet. He yelped, falling on his ass. Two operators raced in, securing the duo.

The rest of the team took up the slack, racing to dominate the room. One guy caught the message and got on his knees. Another, a little slow on the uptake, stood around gaping. An operator spun him around, shoved him against a wall and cuffed him. A third man tried to resist. Jackson punched the muzzle of his weapon into his sternum and butt-stroked him to the ground, leaving him for Ng to search and cuff.

Miller tracked the last one through his sights. The right hand dove for the tablet. The other was hidden by the rest of his body, but reaching for the waistband. Miller raised his sights, took the pressure off the trigger, and with a sharp metallic BHIM the man’s head vanished in a red cloud.

Miller indexed his finger on the frame of the PDW.

“Clear!” Jackson called.

“Clear!” Miller replied.

Moments later, the prisoners were trussed up and consolidated in the middle of the room. While an operator watched them, the others circulated around the building, tearing everything apart and gathering anything that seemed remotely of intelligence value. The term of art was Sensitive Site Exploitation.

Miller examined the corpse. No signs of life, but no sign of a weapon either. Miller patted him down. Nope, no weapon. He was reaching for a plain flash stick.

“Shit,” Miller muttered. After a final, fruitless check, he looked up and yelled, “Hey, who shot this one?”

An operator ambled up to him. It was one of the newbies, a Sergeant Gary Powell. “I did, Pagan. What’s up?”

“He wasn’t armed.”

Powell paled. “No shit?”

Miller held up the stick. “He was going for this.”

“Damn. God damn.”

Miller handed the stick to him. “Write it up. Take photos. You thought he was reaching for a weapon, correct?”

The young operator nodded, speechless.

“Make it clear. You have a shit ton of paperwork to do now.”

“He was an enemy combatant—”

“You and I both know he’s SOA, but his buddies will say we killed unarmed civilians. We have to be able to call bullshit on their propaganda.”

“I, I—”

“You pull the trigger, you carry the weight. Shit, if I’d shot him I’d be doing it right now.” Miller lightly patted his shoulder. “Look, this is not a fuck-up, okay? Shit happens, and we can talk about it later. Right now, I’m saying, we’ve got to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Top.”

Miller nodded. “Good man.”

Powell pulled out a small digital camera and started taking photos. Miller got out of his way. At that point, the omniprinter beeped. Miller walked over and popped the lid. Inside was an odd collection of polymer and metal parts. Miller recognized them immediately.

“What’s baking?” Jackson asked.

“Everything you need to assemble an M38A1 assault rifle,” Miller replied. “Just like what the guards outside were carrying.”

“I saw M38s in the crates too. Seems our friends are looking to standardize their weapons.”

“You’d think guerillas like that would be trying to print M146s. They’re the most common rifle in Cascadia.”

“M38s are pretty common too.”

Miller frowned, putting his hands on his hips. “Yeah, but that’s the baseline model. This is the A1 version. See that? Folding trigger guard, redesigned folding telescoping stock, modified bayonet mount, improved trigger and pistol grip design. And the M38A1 was developed by and for the New American Armed Forces, especially their Enhanced Mobility Infantry.”

Jackson gestured at the rifle parts. “Cyberpunks broke into the NAAF databases and open-sourced the M38A1 design specs three years ago. This isn’t proof of American support.”

“Not yet.”

Keepers of the Flame: Excerpt 2

Here’s a second excerpt from my upcoming novel, Keepers of the Flame. Here, an emperor sets the events of the novel into motion.

—-

First Citizen Richard Gabriel Charles had seen much evil in his sixty-odd years on Earth. But there was still a special kind of horror in seeing a child butchered like so much meat, her flesh harvested, her bones scraped clean.

And humans did this.

Humans.

Shaking his head, Charles stood up and forced himself to look away. The air smelled of greasy smoke and sweet roasted flesh. A nearby photographer was turning a sickly shade of green, though to his credit he continued to document the scene. The Secret Security detail remained as impassive as ever, more concerned with his personal security than bearing witness to barbarism they had, no doubt, seen before.

Charles surveyed the blackened earth. This used to be a farming community. Bandits had swept through the area, robbing, raping and pillaging everything in their path. They herded animals into barns and butchered them and set the remains alight. They locked families in buildings and brutalized them and set them alight. They emptied granaries and trampled growing crops and set them alight.

The village was widely scattered. Most of the farmers had kept to themselves, keeping miles and miles of empty land between them. The bandits had taken the farmers one by one, overwhelming each through sheer weight of numbers.

But as the bandits neared the village, someone—a citizen, armed with a service rifle—had gotten off a warning and engaged the bandits. Other citizens stirred, grabbing their weapons and mounting an impromptu defense. They’d held the bandits in place long enough for the Army to arrive in force.

The outlaws tried to flee. Some hid, most died, but none had escaped.

A uniformed Army colonel approached, staying at a respectful distance. Charles nodded at him, and Charles’ Secret Service detail let him pass. The officer moved to salute, then snapped his hand down before Charles could berate him about field procedures.

“Sir, I think we’ve rounded up the last of the bandits.”

Charles nodded. “Good. How many did you find?”

“We killed thirty and wounded eighteen. Five prisoners.”

Charles sneered. “Prisoners. Really.”

“Sir, they surrendered to us.”

“You can prove the survivors committed this atrocity?”

“They were with the main body of bandits, right before they broke off. If they didn’t participate, they sure as hell didn’t try to stop it.”

“Interrogate them. Find out what they know. Then hang them.”

“I thought there’d be a court-martial. Sir.”

“Naturally. And, naturally, the court-martial will find them guilty of murder, arson and banditry. The sentence will be death by hanging.”

The soldier opened his mouth, as though to say something, then nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Very good. Now, what can you tell me about the bandits?”

“Disorganized bunch of riff-raff, sir. They had spears, clubs and muskets. Typical wasteland shi—er, wasteland equipment. Not much training. When I sent planes overhead they got frightened and bunched up. Made them easy targets for the air strikes.”

“Typical bandits, then.”

“Yes sir.” He frowned thoughtfully. “They aren’t local.”

“Oh?”

“My men and I, we’ve been tracking this bunch of bandits for a while now. They used to hit isolated caravans and homesteads out in the country. They were first reported near Kenkakee and were moving steadily eastwards. The Kenkakee survivors said they came from the west.”

Charles stroked his chin. “From Illinois.”

“Yes sir.”

“Interesting. Thank you, colonel. That will be all.”

The Secret Service team escorted Charles to his car. He’d seen enough. It was time to return to Washington and prepare a policy response. As the vehicle bounced and jiggled down the broken trail to the designated airfield, Charles leaned into his hard seat and accessed his ebrain.

By Cascadian—modern—standards, it was practically an antique. But it was the finest American technology could yet manufacture, and more importantly linked in via satellite to New America’s National Information Network and nowhere else.

The first thing he did was to check his secure email, projected directly into his retina. Much of it was routine stuff. A request for increased stationery budget in the Executive Building (this was the third such request of the year, and if they couldn’t get it right the first time why would the third make a difference?). The latest report on trade with Africa (Cape Town was clamoring for more American military technologies to keep out the North African hordes; their asking price was a bit more than what the tech was worth, so American diplomats should keep squeezing for every last cent). A memo from Department of Science and Technology explaining their latest failure to reproduce Old World nanotechnology-based implants (the Cascadians had already cracked that puzzle; DS&T ought to be talking to the Central Intelligence Agency)…

And speaking of the CIA, they sent him another report too. Concerning special activities to the west. Two minutes into it he sighed heavily. That one needed his undivided attention, when he returned to Washington. He filed that mail away and turned his attention to other things.

A blank window opened. Thought by thought, word by word, he composed an email for his inner cabinet.

Have discovered casus belli for Operation Western Dawn. Make all administrative preparations and organize a meeting at the Executive Office Building by the end of the week.

Browsing half-mindedly through the other emails, he smiled slightly to himself. It was time for civilization to reclaim an abandoned America.

Notes from a Singaporean independent writer

Channel NewsAsia interviewed me today on the topic of trends in self-publishing. You can find the full clip here.

In this post, I’ll expand on the key talking points in the interview, addressing the big debate between independent and traditional publishing from a Singaporean perspective.

What is an independent writer?

I defined an independent writer as a writer who is not compelled by contract to write for a publisher. With the advent of self-publishing and print on demand technologies, every writer is also potentially a publisher. Writers are no longer beholden to publishing houses to publish and sell their works. This means that writers are free to pursue self-publishing or fairer contracts with publishing houses — or both. Regardless of the path to publication, the writer gets paid higher royalties and the reader gets more books, leading to a win-win situation.

Previously, I called myself a self-published writer because that was the path I took. Now, having adopted a hybrid publishing path, I define myself as an independent writer. I self-published my stories American Sons and At All Costs, and I will be self-publishing my next novel Keepers of the Flame. In addition, I sold a short story, War Crimes, to Castalia House for its upcoming anthology Riding the Red Horse. This hybrid approach suits me best, because through self-publishing I can build up my core brand, and Castalia House lets me tap markets I could not have reached otherwise.

Self-publishing: With great responsibility comes great rewards

Self-publishing offers many benefits over traditional publishing, and very few of the disadvantages. Through self-publishing, the writer retains total control over intellectual property rights, the publication process, distribution, promotion and sales. This is the pitfall and the promise of this approach.

Writers who take the self-publishing route have to think of themselves as writers and publishers. The work does not stop when the writing is done. After writing comes editing, cover art and formatting. These have to done to a professional standard to attract and retain customers. Following publication, the self-published writer needs to think about distribution, marketing, branding, pricing, legal regulations, and accounting. If the writer cannot handle these, the writer has to hire someone to do it, which drives up overheads.

Yet this responsibility comes with opportunities. Publishing houses want to make money, and they will focus their efforts, resources and energies on their bestsellers and the best-selling genres of the day. Newcomers are left to fend for themselves. A self-published author chooses which editor to work with, instead of an editor who might not understand the genre he writes in. A self-published author decides what the cover art looks like, instead of relying on a graphic designer he may not be able to communicate with and may not know what the book is about. A self-published author can choose when, where and how a book would be sold and at what price, responding directly to the state of the market, instead of relying on a marketing team that is likely too focused on promoting established bestsellers. A self-published author gets to define their brand instead of letting a marketing team do it. A self-published author cannot be locked into unfair contracts by unscrupulous publishers, allowing them to retain full rights to their work, to use as they wish.

Most importantly, self-published writers are not beholden to the whims of publishers. Publishers want to make a profit, and this means publishing books they believe to be profitable, written by high-profile or connected writers. Without a network or reputation to rely on, or a manuscript that happens to fit the hot genre du jour, many writers are out of luck — unless they take the self-publishing route. Nate Granzow writes men’s adventure fiction, but traditional publishers do not think the genre is profitable (notice the dearth of books in that genre on bookshelves these days). By publishing on Amazon, he got his opportunity to shine — he was one of the 1000 finalists of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards 2012, and ranked first in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category in the IndieReader Discovery Awards 2012.

By shouldering the responsibilities of self-publishing, self-published writers get to reap much larger rewards than their peers. Smashwords offers 70% royalties, plus distribution to affiliates and marketing tools. Amazon also offers 70% royalties, plus extra promotional tools for Kindle exclusives, access to a global supply chain, and its brand name. (Note for Singaporeans: after the Internal Revenue Service takes its 30% withholding tax, the actual royalties are closer to 45%, and because Singapore does not have a tax treaty with the US at this time, there is no way around this.) By using online ecommerce tools, writers get to sell directly to consumers, earning royalties between 90% to 100%. I use Sellfy and Gumroad, which you can find on my website’s bibliography page.

In addition to creative control and royalties, there are three other ancillary benefits: dexterity, flexibility and economies of scale.

Using self-publishing tools, writers can update their works very quickly. If they want to upload a reworked cover or an corrected manuscript, all they have to do is upload them on their distribution or publication platforms, and the changes will be committed within 24 hours at no additional expense. Publishing houses cannot boast the same turnaround time, and for publishing houses that rely on traditional print-to-warehousing-to-retailer solutions, the cost of changing manuscripts can be prohibitive.

This low-cost dexterity also leads to story flexibility. Thriller writer Steven Hildreth Jr. began his publishing career with The First Bayonet. The story started off as a novella on the Kindle store. He received so much positive attention, he expanded it into a full-length novel. The novel-length version generated even more positive press, giving him an inroad to writing success. This is especially important since, compared to the former Special operations Forces or established writers on the market these days, it is extremely unlikely that he would ever be published. With very few exceptions — virtually all of whom are bestselling writers — publishing houses would not allow their writers to do what Hildreth did.

Self-publishing also grants writers economies of scale. For publishing houses to be profitable, they have to sell novels and novel-length books. It is too expensive for publishing houses to sell novellas, novelettes and short stories, except perhaps as ebooks, and even then they have to charge higher prices than self-published authors to cover overheads. The self-published writer, on the hand, can dash out shorter stories and monetise them from the get-go.  This allows the self-published writer an opportunity to make money off these works, promote their existing fiction and reach wider audiences.

Working with publishers: Lessons from Castalia House

I said in my interview that Castalia House ‘knows what they’re doing’. By that phrase I meant that Castalia House is keeping a very close eye on the publishing revolution, and they are doing the things traditional publishing should be doing to stay relevant.

Castalia House is committed to publishing quality works by talented writers. One of my fellow contributors, William S Lind, is Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller in military strategy. Another is Tom Kratman, bestselling author of the M Day and Legio del Cid series. Other writers in Castalia House’s stable include John C. Wright, considered to be the modern C. S. Lewis, and Vox Day, whose novelette ‘Opera Vita Aeterna’ was nominated for the Hugo Award. By attracting and retaining such an august collection of writers, Castalia House is able to tap into their fanbases, reach larger markets, and reassure writers and readers that the works they produce are worth every cent. I feel this is how traditional publishers can survive in the new world of publishing: by being synonymous with high-quality work.

Castalia House also offers fairer royalty rates. For Riding the Red Horse, Castalia buys first-time publication rights. With the exception of editors Tom Kratman and Vox Day, Castalia offers fiction contributors 25% of revenues, divided according to the proportion of words contributed to their section of the anthology. Non-fiction contributors also receive the same terms for the anthology’s non-fiction section, as the non-fiction pieces tend to run shorter than the fiction ones and Castalia wanted the non-fiction contributors to be compensated fairly too. Castalia House prices its stories comparable to market rates, which tends to attract plenty of customers. By comparison, professional rates for science fiction short stories are defined as at least USD 3 cents a word, but this is a one-off payment. Riding the Red Horse could potentially generate royalties that exceed professional rates, paid twice a year for as long the book is sold. While this in no way compares to the monthly payouts of 45/70% offered by self-publishing platforms or the immediate 90+% if you sell directly to customers, it is a far sight better than a one-off payment of USD 3 cents a word or royalties of 1% to 10% from traditional publishers. Personally, I could accept these terms, since this anthology allowed me to reach a far wider audience and monetise what began life as a literary experiment.

Castalia’s last major advantage is that they handle all the backend work: marketing, distribution, pricing, branding, etc. This meant that after I submitted my piece, I was free to pursue other projects. Castalia House uses promotional tools like blogs, newsletters, and free ebooks to market their products, which means I would not have to. Furthermore, by working with the editors I learned a few tricks of the trade, which I am applying to my other works. They also have an in-house ebook store on their website to sell directly to customers, which in turn can be paired with marketing campaigns and special promotions to generate sales and publicity. Their cover art is of a consistently high standard and so is their editing and formatting. I’m confident that Castalia would handle Red Horse Rising, and by extension War Crimes, the same way.

Do note that this is the best case scenario. Many publishers do not necessarily think the way Castalia House does, especially in the realm of marketing and royalties. Writers who want to go the mainstream publishing route must do their research and pay very careful attention to contracts and rights.

Picking the right path

With so many options at their disposal, writers need to decide which path suits them best. I see myself as a craftsman and a professional. Self-publishing allows me to express the totality of my vision and be paid fairly for my work, and by working with Castalia House I can reach out to a wider audience. This hybrid approach suits me best — but it’s not necessarily for everyone.

The choice between self-publishing, engaging a publishing house or a hybrid approach depends on entirely on the writer. Writers need to decide early on how much work they are willing to put into learning the industry. They need to ask themselves if they are willing to shoulder the burdens of running a business, or just want to focus on writing. They need to decide how much money they want to make from their stories, and how much time they can dedicate to writing and the post-writing process. Most of all, they must find out which path would actually get them published.

Whichever choices they choose, one thing is clear: a writer cannot be an author without publishing a story, and self-publishing virtually guarantees publication. But, only publication — actual success is dependent on the writer’s definition and efforts.

I hope you have enjoyed this article as much as I have writing it. If you find value in this post, please leave a donation on the way out using the options below. Thanks!

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