Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Bitch Slap to the Experts: My Painful Initial Journey into the Realms of Publishing by James Mace

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Soldier of Rome Rebellion in JudeaTitle: Soldier of Rome: Rebellion in Judea
Author: James Mace
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 430
Genre: Historical
Format: Kindle/Paperback

 In the year 66 A.D. the Roman province of Judea exploded in rebellion. Far from being a revolution of unified peoples, the various Jewish factions of Sadducees, Zealots, Sicarii, and Edomites are in a state of civil war; as anxious to spill the blood of each other as they are to fight the Romans. The Judeans find hope when the Romans commit a serious tactical blunder and allow their forces to be ambushed and nearly destroyed in the mountain pass of Beth Horon. Following the disaster, Emperor Nero recalls to active service Flavius Vespasian, the legendary general who had been instrumental in the conquest of Britannia twenty-three years before. In the northern region of Galilee, a young Judean commander named Josephus ben Matthias readies his forces to face the coming onslaught. A social and political moderate, he fears the extremely violent Zealot fanatics, who threaten to overthrow the newly-established government in Jerusalem, as much as he does the Romans. Soon Vespasian, a tactical and strategic genius who had never been defeated in battle, unleashes his huge army upon Galilee. His orders are to crush the rebellion and exact the harshest of punishments upon those who would violate the Peace of Rome. Lacking the manpower and resources to face the legions in open battle, Josephus knows he will need plenty of cunning, ingenuity, and, perhaps, even the intervention of God Himself, lest the once proud Kingdoms of Judah and Israel should become a kingdom of the damned.

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  • Soldier of Rome: Rebellion in Judea is available at Amazon.
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A Bitch Slap to the Experts
My Painful Initial Journey into the Realms of Publishing

My publishing journey began in February 2006, at a time when the world was changing (seriously, I can hear Galadriel’s voice in my head as I write this). The first generation of Amazon Kindle and other eBook devices were still a year or so away, and the big publishing houses still ruled the literary empire. I had recently finished my first book, Soldier of Rome: The Legionary, and was about halfway done with the sequel. I figured now was the time to find a publisher.

Since there is no ‘Publishing for Dumbasses’ guidebook, I was completely clueless where to even begin. All I knew was that I had written a pretty decent story about the Roman Legions that people seemed to like. Deciding I needed help from the experts, I joined several online forums for authors and freelance writers. Every last one of them emphasized that in order to succeed as an author, you must get a literary agent, and you must get picked up by one of the big publishing houses. Otherwise you were nothing but a wannabe and a failure. I figured, “fair enough”. After all, these were the experts, I was the clueless rookie.

As I started to put together my letters to literary agents, every source I researched stated that you needed to mass-blast queries out, because for every hundred you send, you might get two responses (kind of like internet dating). First giant red flag that popped up while going through the various lists of agents, was that over half of them did not use email, but instead required you to send your query, and sometimes a portion or all of your manuscript, via snail mail. Seriously? I mean, this was 2006, not 1906! Did these Guardians of the Literary Gates also use vintage typewriters for their correspondence, and an abacus to calculate their royalty payments? Alright, whatever, these people are the professionals, I am the amateur, so I’ll play their game. A hundred query letters, along with envelopes of my manuscript (some of them wanted the whole bloody thing, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, so they could mail it back), a hundred dollars or so in postage, and lo and behold, I actually got about twenty responses back. A number of literary specialists told me this was quite impressive; however, given that every last agent who bothered to reply told me to sod off, that means I was still selling just as many books as the poor shmuck who got zero replies.

What I found interesting was that none of the agents, who actually read some of my work, said they didn’t like it. What every last one of them did say is, “There is no market for this”. Either they were just being nice, or (and here’s where Red Flag #2 went up) they were utterly clueless. Really? No market for novels about the legions of Rome, eh? I guess they had never heard of this little-known Russell Crowe film called Gladiator, or the highly-acclaimed HBO series, Rome, which had come out just the year before.

Disillusionment began to set in, and I started looking into the possibility of self-publishing. Oh wait, “You can’t do that!” the experts warned. Every last forum post from the sages all stated explicitly that, unless you got an agent and published with one of the big houses, you were an abject failure as a writer. And yes, I was called a ‘failed author’ by a number of these self-professed savants. I then had an epiphany, and decided to research these demagogues, and see just how successful they were as writers. After all, they were either the owners of these websites, or the top posters, as well as being about twice my age, so I’m sure their actual experience was immense.

So exactly how many published books had these literary authorities produced? Here’s a hint: It was somewhere between zero and nil. With a spark and a loud pop, the proverbial lightbulb came on in my brain. These so-called ‘experts’ were really nothing more than failed writers and bitter old wankers, who instead of following their art for its own sake, penned enough demeaning posts about aspiring authors on web forums to fill a ten-volume encyclopaedia. For once, I did decide to take the high road, rather than telling these old tossers to bugger off. My journey as a self-published author was an arduous one, full of painful lessons-learned, but that is a rant for another time. Suffice it to say, I decided that it was the fans and readers who would decide whether my works were any good, not some insufferable ‘experts’, or soon-to-be-extinct literary agents (seriously, do these even exist anymore?).

Mind you, I feel I must throw this caveat out there, and say that yes, a lot of what gets self-published these days is complete and utter crap. But then, so is a lot of mainstream garbage that passes for literature. Of course it all comes down to different preferences. Personally, I thought Fifty Shades of Grey was the most vapid, insufferably boring, and horrifically written piece of soft-core to ever be vomited onto the psyche of the reading public. Of course, I’m sure my assessment is bound to hurt the feelings of E.L. James, as she cashes here multi-million dollar / pound royalty cheques. And of course there have been plenty of readers who have written similar descriptions, regarding my own books. But hey, you can’t please everyone.

Had I listened to all the sages and self-proclaimed mentors of aspiring authors, I never would have produced a single book, and my dream of becoming a professional writer would be buried away, while I toiled along in the proverbial Rat Race. No one who had actually made it as an author wasted their time on the internet message boards. Personally, I avoid them like the clap now. Once people find out you’ve actually made it as a professional author, they want to know how many millions you’ve made, and what the ‘secret’ is. Here are the answers: I may be able to make a living as an author, but I am by no means rich. Granted, I’m certainly nowhere near the ‘starving artist’, but nor am I eating caviar on a yacht. And Newsflash: There is no bloody secret! So much of making it as an author amounts to nothing more than dumb luck.  Follow your passion for its own sake, and piss on what the ‘experts’ say.

Although, if I may be allowed a very brief moment to gloat, becoming successful is the most effective way of bitch-slapping the naysayers, far more so than if I had screamed at them all to bugger off. Thirteen books (#14 and #15 are both coming very soon), with five ancient history best-sellers, helps assuage my hurt feelings over being regarded as a ‘failed author’.

James Mace James Mace is the author of twelve books and the CEO and Founder of Legionary Books, which he started in 2006. He developed his passion for history at a young age and has made Ancient Rome a life's study. He penned the initial draft of his first novel, Soldier of Rome: The Legionary, as a cathartic means of escapism while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He spent a career as a Soldier, and in 2011 left his full-time position with the Army National Guard to devote himself to writing.

 His well received series, Soldier of Rome - The Artorian Chronicles, is a perennial best-seller in ancient history on Amazon. With his other favourite period in history being the British Empire, his writing has branched into the Napoleonic Wars. He is currently working on a new trilogy about the Roman-Jewish War of 66 to 73 A.D., along with a side project about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

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1 comment:

R.W. Peake said...

Not only can I echo James Mace's sentiments (and experiences) with the traditional publishing world, I applaud him for standing up and saying so.

Let me be clear; I'm not objective, because not only do I consider James a friend, I followed in his footsteps towards indie glory with my own Marching With Caesar series.

About the only thing I can say that's different is that, by the time I started to send out queries most agents would at least allow them to be sent in electronic format. Honestly, I can't say whether it was better or worse, since it takes much less time to be rejected via email than having to wait agonizing weeks for an answer that, if it came at all, was "No".

I also take pride in the fact that, in a genre that is almost completely dominated by authors from the U.K. or Commonwealth countries, James and I are the two most successful Americans, and we both have a dedicated following on both sides of the Atlantic. Both of us have experienced a level of success that not only enables us to justify continuing this existence, but to do so quite comfortably.

And yet, even now, as I approach the six figures of books sold (which I am sure James has already surpassed by now) we still run into vestiges of, "Oh, you're an INDIE author. Well..." Followed by a tilting of the nose (if you're at a party) or sudden silence if you're only speaking virtually.

In fact, one of the most memorable moments of this career, which just hit the three year mark a couple weeks ago, is when I attended a conference for an organization dedicated to historical fiction.

"How do you know your work is any good if you can't get an agent or publisher?"

Honestly, I was flummoxed, and while I'm sure it probably came off as snarky, it wasn't meant that way when I said, "Because I sell 100 books a day?"

Except this did not seem to appease my questioner, who waved a dismissive hand and insisted, "Yes, yes. Sales are fine, but if a publisher doesn't want your work, doesn't that mean you still need to improve, that your work isn't good enough?"

This is when I realized that there is still a sizable segment of people, like those who James mentions, for whom the title of "author" is for the purposes of ego gratification and little more. And, honestly, I no longer spend my time on places like bulletin boards for that very reason. If we're not speaking the same language, there's not much point in trying to communicate.

And it all started with James, and for that I will always be grateful.

Ron Peake
Author of Marching With Caesar series