As we approach the third anniversary of the Marcher Lord Select contest, I’ve been eager to catch up with other MLS-ers, especially those whose books have been published. When I saw an ad in a recent issue of ACFW Journal for Eric’s War: The Cougar and the Lamb, a main contest entrant, I grabbed the chance to sit down with a pot of tea and have a chat with the author, Kenneth Bliss.
Kristen Stieffel: Thanks for joining us, Kenneth.
Kenneth Bliss: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my experience with writing and publishing! Part of this will be what not to do to self-publish. I certainly made mistakes along the way.
KS: How long did it take you to write Eric’s War?
KB: That’s actually a trick question. The pre-Christian version, called Psylam, was written in the mid-90s. It took me about two years to write that original version. Not long after, I became Christian and realized Psylam was not appropriate for my new status, so it was shelved for many years. I picked it back up in 2007 with the intention of cleaning it up and making a trilogy out of it. It took me another 18 months for the rewrite and an additional year for edits.
KS: Are you a plot-first or character-first writer?
KB: I’m definitely plot-first.
KS: What character or element of Eric’s War came to you first?
KB: The concept of the main character, Eric D’Tra’val, has been with me since childhood. At first, he was the prototypical hero that could not do wrong. Over time, he became a bit flawed and the existing version has him questioning the reason for Jesus to come to Earth in the first place.
KS: Do you outline, or not?
KB: I have used outlines to get the basic flow of the plot points and story points. However, the draft usually doesn’t end up following the outline in the end. I’ve found as I write, the characters will want to do in a different direction at times. Sometimes it makes more sense than what I originally intended, so I keep it. If it doesn’t, or completely scrambles the rest of the story, I scrap it and return to the outline.
KS: If Eric’s War were made into a movie, whom would you cast in the main roles?
KB: Ooo, I love this question! Ignoring if they were Christian or not…
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Eric D’Tra’val; part action, part cerebral, good combo.
- Evangeline Lilly would play Michelle Johnson, Eric’s fiancée.
- If he were still alive, Peter Cushing would make a great Jacob Kash. He wouldn’t even need any special effects for the part. (You’d have to read his description to know what I mean.)
- Lastly, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Eric’s arch-enemy General Robert McAllistar. He can certainly pull off a great villain.
KS: What kinds of books do you usually read?
KB: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Action.
KS: How long did you pursue publication the old-fashioned way before deciding on self-publication?
KB: Not long enough. One of my failings is patience, or lack thereof. I worked with one publisher for about six months, making revisions more than once, only to be rejected. I thought this publisher was my only chance at being published, not knowing just how many smaller publishers there were looking for similar manuscripts to my own. I had given up on traditional publishing and decided self-publishing was the way to go.
KS: Did you use an assisted-self publishing house, or did you go it alone?
KB: I used an assisted-self-publishing house called Wasteland Press with their Christian Insight Publications imprint.
KS: Can you share the process with us?
KB: Oh, sure. Finding the right publisher for your book is actually harder than you think. I did extensive research, comparing different printing plans between companies. There were many variables to consider such as royalties, printing costs, artwork for the cover, formatting costs, availability on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, etc. If I spend X dollars for a package with Y books, what sort of return could I expect? Yep, all that math and accounting-type stuff. (I’m have a Math degree, so I actually had fun with this part.) I whittled the list down to four publishers and contacted each one to answer some questions. This gave me some insight as to the customer service I might receive. I was impressed with a couple of them, but not so much with the other two. OK, scratch them. The final decision came down to the numbers and Wasteland Press won.
I contacted them again and started the process. This involves receiving the contract from them to sign and return. (A note here: you’ll want to be able to review a company’s standard contract before you even consider them. They usually have it available on their site, or you can request it. Read it over thoroughly. One help I had with contracts was a book called The Fine Print of Self Publishing by Mark Levine. I found this extremely informative.) Wasteland let me know when they received the contract, and the mad dash to publication began.
Submitting the manuscript to them was a snap. Zip the file and e-mail it to them. Simple enough. Next is the cover for the book.
They suggested keeping the cover with a simple, yet powerful, image or two. Eric’s main power is the ability to generate electricity and charge a metal sphere he’s able to control telekinetically. I told this to my contact and he passed it along. The sample cover they sent back left my lower jaw hitting the desk top.
The cover now set, there’s the matter of back cover text, portrait photo and acknowledgements. In my case, I had a dedication to include. I had a friend at work who is an amateur photographer, so I paid him to take my portrait photo. I already had back cover text in mind and just had to come up with appropriate acknowledgements. E-mailed those.
Part of the plan I purchased included copyediting.
KS: I’m glad to hear that.
KB: The plan allotted only a set number of hours with a copyeditor. I was told it would not be sufficient to completely review my manuscript. Fortunately, I had already purchased copyediting, so it should have been redundant. It was. Other than some jargon the editor tried to correct, the manuscript was spotless. This took about two weeks to complete.
KS: Ah, overeager copyeditors…they give the rest of us a bad name.
KB: I received the “galley” copy to review for any corrections within a couple days. Normally, you’ll receive an electronic galley, but I also requested a physical copy.
KS: Good move. You will catch things in print than you miss onscreen.
KB: You’ll want to read through the entire book to make sure they didn’t mess something up. There were a couple items, but they were quickly corrected and another copy sent to me. The last item I needed to do was to sign off on the project via e-mail. My book was ready for publication! A week later, I received my copies of my book. Amazon and B&N showed my book up for sale immediately afterward.
KS: What advice to you have for those who are considering self-publishing?
KB: Do your research for the publisher. There was one mistake I made by choosing Wasteland Press. I am a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. They have a tool called Fiction Finder. It’s a free way to market your book to other Christian writers. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the fine print about self-publishing. You have to use one of their accredited companies in order to list your book on their site. I missed a great opportunity because I missed that one detail. If you are part of a writer’s organization, make sure your publisher will be accepted.
KS: What do you do when you’re not writing?
KB: I’m still a geek at heart, so I have my one online computer game I’ll play. I’ll get together with friends from work to play board games or card games. I have a burgeoning collection of DVDs and Blu-rays of various Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action movies and TV shows. And then there’s my three cats: Galahad, Ninja and Sammy. They keep me entertained.
KS: What lifestyle changes did you make to give yourself time for writing?
KB: I essentially gave up my lunch hours at work to write Eric’s War. Strangely, there were less distractions at work than there were at home. Three cats can definitely be distracting.
KS: What kind of music, if any, do you listen to when writing?
KB: Usually none. If I do, I listen to a variety of Christian Contemporary artists. Toby Mac and Chris August are my favorites right now.
KS: Any thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
KB: Give traditional publishing a good, long, hard try before going forward with self-publishing. If you decide self-publishing is for you, research thoroughly.
KS: What message do you hope readers get from Eric’s War?
KB: Secrets can come back to haunt you. Remember Luke 12:2—For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known (KJV).
KS: Do you have a publication schedule for further books in the series?
KB: At one point, I did, but not now. There were some other mistakes I made in regard to marketing which hampered sales. I was quite disappointed, so I decided to give it a break and rethink what I should do next. Rebecca Minor’s recent post Writing for More than the Fun of It has rekindled the desire to write again. Now to make the time to get it done.
KS: That’s great to hear, Ken. Press ahead!
Eric’s War is available from Ken’s website and the usual retailers.
If you were in the Marcher Lord Select contest, main or premise, published, self-published, or still looking, please e-mail Kristen. We’d love to catch up with everyone.