Why I Love Independent Writing

I’m a music nut, as most of my family and friends know. I love music in all its forms (with the exception of country music; sorry!) and I listen to it constantly. My iPod is filled with an eclectic brew of sounds from different genres from around the world and I am constantly seeking new music and artists to add to my collection. And it doesn’t matter to me what the source of this music is, be it the latest artist of the major companies or a street musician I happen to come across at a local festival. If I like it, I’ll buy it. It’s simple as that.

I also love to read, which is why I love independent writing. Up until very recently my only source for books was the local bookstore and my only choice was books by writers supported by the major publishers. That wasn’t a bad thing; I’ve read some great, good and terrible books over the years. Up until recently a family tradition was to go to the local Barnes and Noble on Fridays to peruse the shelves and purchase books. Our local B&N has since closed and I miss it terribly, but that’s fuel for another discussion.

As a long time science fiction and fantasy fan I’ve noticed the homogenization of the genres over the years. It was hard to select a book because, quite frankly, they all looked and read the same. There was also a growing sense of dissatisfaction as well. I wanted to see books with people of African descent as the main characters, and in science fiction and fantasy that was nearly non-existent on the shelves. I became so disillusioned that I abandoned both genres, restricting my reading to non-fiction, mainly history.

It wasn’t until I decided to self publish my own books that I discovered independent writers in the science fiction and fantasy genre. These writers not only pulled me back into reading fiction, they also drew me back to reading mainstream science fiction and fantasy as well. I was now presented with a situation that resembled my search and enjoyment of music. Not only was I exposed to thousands of new writers, I also discovered writers who focused on characters of African descent as well as offered fresh and exciting perspectives to the genre I love so much.

Now I’ve heard all the arguments against the independent market and here’s what I think. I appreciate the gatekeepers protecting me from bad writing and inferior product, but I must remind them that I’ve bought some well edited and beautiful books that sucked. Quality is an issue with many independent books but it hasn’t devolved my reading experience. Then there’s the argument about how will the poor reader sift through this mass of independent product.  I purchase independent books the same way I purchase mainstream books; through word of mouth, reviews and instinct.  And as much as major publishers are proud of their status, I’m just a reader and like my music it doesn’t matter to me what the source is, as long as it’s good.

So writers, keep writing and I’ll keep reading. It doesn’t matter to me how your books get to me as long as they get to me. If it’s good, then I’m good. It’s really that simple.

The State of Sword and Soul – 2012

Another year has passed so it’s time to take a look back at 2011 for Sword and Soul. We started the year with the release of Changa’s Safari, my third Sword and Soul novel. As you may know by now, Changa’s Safari centers on the adventures of Changa Diop, a deposed Kongo prince whose path has led him to the Swahili city of Mombasa. From their begins his world ranging adventures with an eclectic crew; a Yoruba priestess, a mysterious Tuareg swordsman, a cranky but uncanny Ethiopian navigator and a callow Yemeni amir.  Changa’s world ranging adventures take place in the late 15th century in places familiar and long forgotten. The initial release was good, but Changa’s momentum was stalled by the anticipation and release of another book that had been in the works since the middle of 2010 and finally saw release at Onyx Con III(http://www.onyxcon.com/) in August of 2011.

That book was Griots. A short time after Charles Saunders and I met I came up with the idea of a Sword and Soul anthology. My idea was that for the genre to expand and grow we needed to seek out other writers and authors who had a passion for African-based heroic fiction. So that’s what we did. The call was made and answered. As I mentioned earlier, Griots debuted at Onyx Con III and the response was excellent. It was the best release of my books thus far, a large portion of that due to the number of people involved in its creation. With 14 writers and artists contributing it definitely got a lot of buzz. Add to that very favorable reviews and you have a book that has become the go to source for people wanting to know what exactly is Sword and Soul.

2011 was also the year I made a move toward ‘mainstream’ venues. Up until that year I concentrated on local book signings and Onyx Con. Last year I ventured out and tested the waters at a couple of other events. I participated in Atlanta Sci Fi Summer Con(http://sfscon.tripod.com/), a small con but a good one for making contacts. I also attended Dragoncon for the first time. I was a guest of Terminus Media (http://www.terminusmedia.com/) so I got to see the lay of the land and sell a few books, too. Results were encouraging; I’m seriously considering a booth in 2013.

So what about sales? Well, book sales are still not where I would like them to be but they are increasing. I sold 336 books total last year, a modest increase from the year before. Two items are worth noting; last year was the first year I sold books every month and it was also the year I began selling e-books and e-stories. Since beginning with e-books in August 2011 they have become a significant portion of my monthly sales. That trend has continue this year as well.

So what’s in store for 2012? A lot if all goes according to plan. This year will be the year I become a true publisher. I plan to publish two books by other authors. The first book will be Once Upon A Time In Afrika by Balogun.  I met Balogun recently and we have immediately become Sword and Soul brothers. His writing talents and deep knowledge of Afrikan, particularly Yoruba, culture and history make Afrika a rich and exciting read. Afrika is due for release this May. The other book I hope to release this year is by my other Sword and Soul brother and mentor Charles R. Saunders. Abengoni: First Calling is the first book of a brand new trilogy by Charles and I am proud and humbled that he has allowed me to present these novels to the world.  I hope I can debut Abengoni for Onyx Con 4, but realistically if will probably be end of the year. I’m also anticipating the release of Blood of Titans by C. Michael Forsyth.  Michael has written an exciting book that will definitely add to the library of Sword and Soul books.  As for me, I’m working on Woman of the Woods, my first Sword and Soul novel with a female main character, Sadatina. I’m also working with Balogun and artists Eugene Peterson, Wayne Parker, Kris Mosby and Stan Weaver on a Sword and Soul RPG titled Ki-Khanga. And then there’s the anthologies. Right now I’m working on three; Griots II: Sisters of the Spear, Dark Universe, and Steamfunk! I’m too early in the process to say when these will release, but they are all in different stages of development. Where do I find the time? I have no idea.

That being said, I hope you all continue to follow us. I’m still having a ball and I hope you are too. Thanks for your continued support and your patience. Sword and Soul Forever!

What Street Lit teaches us

Many years ago in another lifetime I sat in the office of a friend and mentor. I was complaining about my employer at the time, reciting a long list of things I felt was wrong with the company. My friend sat patiently and listened to my diatribe, nodding his head thoughtfully as I went on to exhaustion. Once I was done, he leaned back in his chair and said, ‘Milton, I’m sure there are a lot of things your company could do to improve. But on the other hand, you work for a $400 million dollar company. Instead of concentrating on what they’re doing wrong, you should take the time to find out what they’re doing right.”

This explains my attitude toward Street Lit. After bursting onto the literary scene from the streets of New York years ago, Street Lit had become the dominant form of African American literature on the market today, for better or worse. As a black science fiction and fantasy writer, I constantly listen to my fellow writers complain about the genre, how it is lowering the standards of black readers and stealing shelf space from not only our works but those of ‘more literary writers’ like Terry McMillian and Tony Morrison.  While there are complex reasons why this is happening, the obvious reason to me is simple: hustle.

Street Lit wasn’t created by mainstream publishers. It wasn’t nurtured by small press publishers. The Street Lit market was created by self publishing writers who wrote their stories, printed their books and took to the streets to sell them. They called on beauty shops, barbershops, street corners, any place where they thought they could sell their books. They didn’t pursue the traditional outlets because they either didn’t know how to or didn’t want to. They pursued the readers. In the process they founds readers who responded to their words and who overlooked details such as editing, spelling and grammar.  In the end these entrepreneurial wordsmiths created a lucrative market that mainstream publishers couldn’t ignore. And as much as book store managers complain about the content, these books still fill the shelves. Why? Because they sell.

So what has Street Lit taught us? That’s it as much or more about hard work as it is about skill. The lesson should resonate more among independent writers such as myself than my mainstream published kin, although they too should take note.  Like my mentor taught me long ago, don’t concentrate on what you feel the Street Lit writer is doing wrong, focus on what they’re doing right then apply it to your efforts. And as far as converting the millions of Street Lit fans to science fiction and fantasy? Don’t waste your time. There may be a few that would warm up to a Sword and Soul epic or lose themselves in a YA post apocalyptic yarn, but they are already reading what they prefer. Get out there and find your own audience. The process has been created; all you have to do is adapt it to your needs.

So get out there and get your hustle on.