Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tales Your Grandmother Never Told You: How I Became an Indie Writer

2055 A.D. A cozy townhouse near Madison, Wisconsin. A grandmother and her granddaughter sit in the living room, which is dominated not by a TV but by a holographic display on the far well. Currently it's showing a holo set in 1980. A teen confronts a man who could be an older version of himself. Although the grandmother watches, sometimes smiling, sometimes shaking her head, the girl is bored. She wanders over to a shelf filled with paper books. The covers are varied, but they all have the same author: Sandra Ulbrich Almazan.

Girl: Grandma, how did you manage to write so many books?

SUA: I started writing a long time ago, dear, long before the turn of the century.

The girl shakes her head. She knows her grandmother is old, but anything before the year 2000 is ancient to her.

Girl: But most of these books came out after them. Did you make them all by yourself?

SUA: No, I hired people to edit and make the covers. I even had your father help me with formatting when he was old enough for that. (smiles) But I never had a publisher, either. I take that back. I was part of an anthology once, but that was it.

Girl: What's a publisher?

SUA: A publisher or publishing company was the only way to make books when I first started writing. Back then, there were no such thing as eBooks or neuroBooks. They only came in paper, like those first editions there. And you couldn't make them on your own without a lot of money. So writers had to sell their work to publishers, who made the books. Once you sold them your story, they owned it--forever.

Girl: And they didn't make books from your stories?

SUA: No, I was still learning how to write back then, and even though I had the ideas for my stories (nods at holo), the publishers wouldn't buy them. Publishers were very picky about what they bought, and though they said they published only the best work, they also wanted to make money for themselves first. That's why they kept all the rights, only supported the best-sellers, and treated authors like interchangeable widgets.

Sandra falls silent, thinking of all the rejection letters she collected from agents and publishers. She always tried to be professional, but they didn't always treat her like one.

SUA: But when I was forty, I bought my first Kindle. That was a special device people used for only one thing: reading books, electronic ones. I loved it because I could read even more with it than I already did, and I was a big reader back then. Still am, of course. And the great thing about eBooks was that anyone could make them on their own, without a publisher. I learned more about eBooks and epublishing from people who were already doing it, like Zoe Winters, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith. I learned from them that publishing your own books gave you more control over your own work and the potential to make more money. My stories had been workshopped and professionally edited, and I'd gone over them so much I didn't know what to change anymore. That's when you know the story is ready for readers. So I became an indie writer, and I enjoyed it. I chose my editor and my cover artist, and I had control over what I wrote and what I did with it. It took longer than I thought to get my stories ready and find fans, but I was able to write full time before your dad graduated from high school.

Sandra looks over at her granddaughter, who, bored by all this history, has opened a book and started reading. 

SUA: (whispering) And we all lived happily ever after...except for climate change. But that's another story.


  1. That was a much more creative way of talking about this topic. Well done.

  2. It's like The Princess Bride only about self-publishing.

  3. My life as the Princess Bride? Inconceivable!

  4. Now that would be cool, to one day have to teach about what a publisher -was-.

  5. Stranger things have happened, Andrew!