For a change of pace, today I’m interviewing Aidan Moher, the Hugo Award-winning editor of A Dribble of Ink, about his new book, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories. Let’s get right to it:
HC. Let’s make the first question an easy one: What’s the pitch for your new book?
AM. Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is my first short fiction collection. There are five stories in the collection—from a military SF set on board a galaxy-faring starship, to a whimsical romp through the Kingdom of Copperkettle Valley—and accompanying story notes. The stories are all vastly different from one another, and I think there’s something to please every type of genre reader.
HC. I see you’re self-publishing this book, a choice many of us have made for a wide variety of reasons. What made you decide to publish yourself?
AM. I took the long way around to self-publishing. Like a lot of readers and writers, I used to have a fairly negative opinion of self-publishing—I thought of it as a literary dumping ground, a place where the rejected and down-trodden ended up after trying valiantly to get someone to publish their work. I didn’t see that changing. I was wrong. The past several years have proved that self-publishing is one of the most agile and innovative ways to get great fiction out into the world—alongside the traditional publishing model, which is great for its own reasons, readers now have an opportunity to get their hands on books that even a few years ago would have been stifled for being too risky, not marketable enough, or just lost in the slush.
As my opinion of self-publishing went, so did my desire to publish my own work. The stories in this collection all went out to the pro-paying short fiction markets to varying degrees of success. Like every new writer, I papered my walls with rejections, and did my best to find encouragement and strength in them. The first story I sold was rejected 14 times before I finally sold it. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that despite the stories not finding homes among the pro-paying markets, they were still worthwhile, still deserved an audience. I thought about doing the rounds at the semi-pro level, where they likely would have sold, but, after crunching some numbers, realized it made more sense to self-publish the stories as a collection.
I’m a writer, and writers want to be read. I want to set these stories free, so I can shift my energy towards writing new stories. My only financial goals for the project is to earn back what I’ve spent (about $300 USD) to create the collection—anything more than that is gravy.
In addition to this, I wanted to experiment with publishing—learning to build eBooks, edit stories, create marketing plans, get out and talk to people about fiction. Eventually, I’d love to publish short fiction anthologies through A Dribble of Ink, and self-publishing a collection of my own fiction was a risk-free way of dipping my toes into those waters.
HC. Your announcement states that each of the stories will come with story notes. Would you talk a little more about that? Will the notes be writing tutorials, or commentary on the genre, or…?
AM. Some of the stories in the collection are a few years old now, and, despite often thinking about them, it had been a while since I’d actually read them front-to-back. As I did so, to refamiliarize myself with the stories and choose the order that they’d appear in the collection, I started to reflect a lot about writing them—what was going on in my life at the time, how I’d write them differently now, my approach to storytelling or prose, etc.
I’d seen story notes in other short fiction collections, so I did an informal poll on Twitter, and, the unanimous consensus was that story notes are great…unless they’re not. What does that mean? Story notes should be short and engaging, they should offer new perspective on the story, the writer’s craft, but not give away anything that isn’t available in the text (don’t explain the ending!), and they should never (never, never, never) tell the reader how they’re supposed to read or interpret the story.
So, the notes I’ve included read like mini-essays about the story, analyzing some of the questions I had in mind while writing it, or digging into its origins. There’s some commentary on genre fiction, mostly as it relates to my history as a reader and interests as a writer—for instance, what it’s like to write a Military SF short story as someone who doesn’t read a lot of Military SF—and how I feel like my relationship with SF/F has changed since initially writing the stories. It’s all a bit inside baseball, but I hope there’s something useful there for other writers, and something that encourages readers to go back and enjoy the story a second time with a new perspective.
HC. Covers can be the bane of self-published work, but yours is gorgeous and sophisticated. Who’s the artist and how did you come to work with them?
AM. Despite the old adage, cover art sells books. However, a lot of self-published authors, as you point out, skimp when it comes to this important part of marketing their work, and damage not only their own chances of finding readers, but the reputation of self-published authors throughout the whole book world.
I think there are a few reasons why self-published writers struggle with book covers: a) they’re writers, not designers or illustrators; b) their budget doesn’t allow them to hire a professional; c) they’re generally clueless; d) they dismiss the importance of good cover art when you’re fighting for virtual shelf space rather than physical shelf space. I made an active effort to avoid all of these mistakes.
It was important to me to debut with a cover that helped to sell the book, (as readers of my blog know, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to cover art), and so I approached the cover design process the same way I would any other project: with a plan.
I set aside a certain amount of my budget for cover art. It wasn’t a lot, so I decided that instead of blowing it all on a unique commissioned piece, I’d license existing artwork (similar to what a lot of the online SFF magazines do for their covers). I found Kuldar Leement’s work on DeviantArt and knew immediately that he was the artist that I wanted for the cover. So, I created a few mockups based on the art I felt best illustrated the collection, and got in contact with him once I’d decided which piece I wanted to license. He was kind enough to negotiate a rate and terms that worked within my budget.
Next step was layout and design. I’m a writer by night, but a designer by day (web design, specifically), so, unique to my situation, I was able to handle all of the design work myself. I mocked up several versions of the cover using different fonts, layouts, etc. until I found something that worked for me. After that, I continued to tweak things basically until the day I announced the collection.
It was a huge learning experience for me, but reception of the cover has been very generous, and I owe a lot to Leement’s wonderful illustration.
HC. Finally, a question about you in particular: What’s your personal writing goal? At the end of your (hopefully long) life, what do you hope to have accomplished with your work?
AM. Leading up to the launch of the collection, I wrote an article about my decision to self-publish my stories, and discussed the realization I had that I wanted my stories to be read. At this stage of my career, that’s the most important thing. Get my stories in front of readers, build an excited audience.
To what end? I want to be a writer for the rest of my life. I want to explore interesting worlds, and be a microphone for all the voices rattling around in my head. I’d love to make enough money off of writing that I can devote more time to it on a day-to-day basis, but, for now, I’m enjoying it as a hobby, a part of my life that lives inside my head and isn’t tampered with by clients and budgets, timelines and bosses. One day, it might be a career and that will be a whole different ball game.
I want to write and be read, and to make the lives of my readers more interesting along the way.