Come one, come all! Science fiction and fantasy writers from all over who have a computer and a story that is just awaiting the day to see the world as a published book, listen up! Sword & Laser and Inkshares are teaming up once more to host another publishing contest!
During the spring of this year, Inkshares, a blossoming online book publisher where readers decide what books to publish, hosted their first ever contest with Sword & Laser, the award-winning science fiction/ fantasy book club and podcast. Three winners were chosen by Sword & Laser when the first contest was over and were the first three to be added to the Sword & Laser book collection. These titles (all to be released in the spring of 2016) include The Life Engineered by JF Dubeau, An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel, and Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams. Now, with the release of the contest’s “sequel,” Sword & Laser is looking for more books to add to their collection.
The Sword & Laser Collection Contest: The Sequel is already underway, having started on December 1st, and goes until January 15th of 2016. As aforementioned, Inkshares publishes books based on readers’ decisions, so the readers are the ones who chose which stories will win the contest. How do the readers decide what stories to vote for? If readers want to help one of the contestants and vote for his or her book, all they have to do is preorder that contestant’s story. The more preorders a story receives, the higher up the scoreboard the story will go. The top three science fiction and fantasy stories with the most preorders by the end of the contest will be published by Inkshares. Sword & Laser will then choose new books from the winning three to add to their collection.
It is a wonderful and challenging contest that any writer will benefit from. Whether he or she wins or loses, there is so much to take away from just the experience of what The Sword & Laser Collection Contest: The Sequel will offer. The winners of the first Sword & Laser contest spoke about their experiences and had much to share with new writers for the new contest.
JF Dubeau’s The Life Engineered is a science fiction story about a race of sentient robots who are actual descendants of humanity. When an important robot is murdered, a newly created robot must discover the truth before there is an all-out war that could destroy the galaxy. Dubeau learned about the first Sword and Laser contest through an acquaintance who was also a participant in the previous contest and was intrigued for he already had an idea to share. “The Life Engineered was already self-published when the contest started,” Dubeau said. “It had been on Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace for almost six months and had sold perhaps three hundred copies and had been downloaded roughly two thousand times during giveaway days on Kindle. It had received generally good reviews on Amazon which helped me feel emboldened enough to throw it into the ring. I went through the contest rules and got in touch with Jeremy Thomas, CEO at Inkshares to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules with my entry and to get a better idea of what Inkshares’ mission was. I liked what I heard from Jeremy and entered my book immediately.”
Submitting the story is always the easy part, but Dubeau said there was an enormous amount of stress during the contest; however, for Dubeau, he admits most of the stress was self-inflicted. “A contest like this really takes some of the worst part of competition, putting your art on the line and crowdfunding and mixes them into a sauce of awful that you then have to sip slowly over the course of a month and a half. It’s already difficult enough to put your work in a public forum, then ask people for support and have to do it while you can see sale numbers and positions fluctuate, but to make matters worse, the opportunity to get published, for an aspiring author, is too good not to participate,” Dubeau said. “There was also not as much of a community back then. Authors were isolated and doing their promotion in a silo. That made it easy, for me at least, to get paranoid and suspicious of my fellow authors. I’ve been through the contest process twice now and I realize that a lot of the stress is self-imposed and has to do with how I approached the contest. When and if I do this again, it will be with a much more relaxed approach.”
It is always fascinating to hear why writers write what they write and when asked, Dubeau said that he has always been fascinated with speculation about the future of the human race. “Robotics and trans-humanism are two of the directions that seem the more interesting. I also don’t believe the current paranoia about artificial intelligence,” Dubeau said. “It’s too easy to come up with ways that sentient machines would be the enemy and lazy to imagine that they would turn against their creators. I’d much rather look at the future and see what kind of obstacles can be overcome by a robotic race or working alongside one and The Life Engineered, along with the sequels, explore that general theme along with more specific ones about what parts of humanity crosses over to our descendants and why.”
Since the end of the previous Sword & Laser contest, Dubeau has been working with Inkshares and Girl Friday Production and has nothing but wonderful things to say about each. “One of my biggest worries with Inkshares was that the experience would be like a vanity press: you get your funding and then they rush your book out without asking too many questions. However, working with Inkshares has felt more like collaborating with coworkers on a project. They have a vest interest in the success of the books they publish and one of the things that Jeremy told me on our first Skype call was quickly confirmed: they see themselves as a traditional publisher with a different approach to selecting which books they publish,” Dubeau said.
Dubeau is excited for The Life Engineered to be published, but he also admitted that it has been a weird process. “It’s less about the project as a whole, but rather the small things that happen and the milestones we cross. When I first got the illustration for the cover or read the first positive comment from the developmental editor. That moment you go through the interior of the book and it’s laid out as it will be in print. I got some comments from someone about a cover blurb a few days ago and had to take a moment to catch my breath about how trip that experience was,” Dubeau said. “The Life Engineered is the fifth book I’ve written, but almost everything before has been practice. Learning about the craft and getting better at it. My first three books will never see publication because they’re sketches. The Life Engineered and A God in the Shed, the book I’m currently funding on Inkshares, are the only novels I’ve written that I think are worth putting out to the public. I’ll soon be done with the sequel to The Life Engineered (sample chapter of that in the first book) and I’m working on a couple of projects for The Ed Greenwood Group.”
For future contestants for the second Sword & Laser contest, Dubeau encourages everyone to not give up and to not isolate themselves from other writers. “Crowdfunding a book and participating in a crowdfunding contest are two very different beasts. Not winning the later doesn’t mean you can’t reach your goal in the former. There are so many promising books that were pulled from their campaign after they failed to be in the top five of either the Nerdist or Sword & Laser contests. Some of it was because of exhaustion, some because of bitterness. The overall feeling was one of failure and that’s simply not right,” Dubeau said, “The contest is an exhilarating time of great opportunity to learn, meet your contemporaries and maybe win your publishing contracts with Inkshares, but it is not an accurate representation of a crowdfunding campaign. Don’t aim for the top three spots, aim for your funding goal and don’t look at the end of the contest as the end of your campaign, but rather as a milestone on the way there. Don’t give up. Also, join the Inkshares Writers Goodreads group. Don’t stay isolated.”
Jim McDoniel’s An Unattractive Vampire is a fantasy story about a vampire named Yulric Bile who has finally emerged from being trapped underground for three centuries. What he emerges into, however, is a modern world that has turned vampires into beautiful and good creatures. Yulric sets out to find who is responsible for this abomination and to prove what it truly means to be a vampire. McDoniel was wary to submit An Unattractive Vampire to the first Sword and Laser contest, considering he had had many rejections of his manuscript prior. “I’ve actually been working on An Unattractive Vampire for years now. I think I had the idea around 2007 or 2008, worked on little bits of it for about a year not amounting to much because I didn’t think I had the patience to write a whole book. Then, five years ago this December, I decided to focus entirely on writing with this book,” McDoniel said. “At the time of the Sword & Laser contest, I was on draft six or eight, I forget, and was getting ready to shelve the manuscript. I had done two bouts of agent submissions, with major draft revisions in between, totaling somewhere around fifty rejections. Then, I was at work listening to the Sword & Laser podcast and they announced their contest. I was a little wary because at first it sounded like self-publishing. But it was the Sword & Laser and a few of the writing conferences I’d attended had mentioned getting books published through contests which I had never considered. I asked my coworker if I should enter and she said, “Yes, absolutely.” I went home and asked my best friend and she agreed. The next day, I created my campaign page.”
Like Dubeau, the contest proved stressful for McDoniel because of the original guidelines. “It was stressful, more so when I started considering that I could actually make it into the top five. The contest was different back then. Inkshares allowed bulk book purchases, which meant you could make a hundred book jump into a safe fourth place one day and wake up the next in sixth or seventh. Also, there wasn’t the light publishing option that Inkshares has now (the Quill Collection) or the lower goal of 750 preorders. To get published, you either had to make it to a thousand or win the contest and I was certain I couldn’t sell a thousand books. It made it hard to be supportive of the other writers, buying someone else’s book could bump you from your dream. I think we all spent that last day with our eyes glued to the website waiting for midnight,” McDoniel said. “The Nerdist contest was so much better. Instead of bulk purchases, winners were based on individual readers. Everyone tried to pull everyone else up, promoting and buying each other’s books, creating a Goodreads page for all Inkshares writers. People like JF Dubeau, Paul Inman, and Joe Terzieva (who are also being published because of the Sword & Laser contest) and A.C. Weston really have gone out of their way to create a whole community. I think the coming Sword and Laser contest will be much more, as the kids say, chill.”
Just the synopsis of McDoniel’s book will catch the attention of anyone who detests what popular culture and teen fiction has done to the name of vampire. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is a prime example of this and McDoniel said that Twilight was exactly the reason why An Unattractive Vampire was written. “I remember the first time I heard about it. I was waiting in line for a show at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, reading a book [while also] eavesdropping on the conversation the two women next to me were having. One was a librarian and was explaining to her friend about this thing called Twilight where instead of dying in sunlight, the vampires sparkled. It wasn’t even the sparkling that bothered me; it was the sunlight. Up until then, that was the only weakness that had yet to be stripped from vampires,” McDoniel said. “Crosses and holy water had been gone for a while, and silver and garlic came and went. There was even John Carpenter’s Vampires where stakes really didn’t even work. And now sunlight. Vampires no longer had any vulnerabilities; they were beautiful and immortal and absolutely could not be beaten. Why even bother writing about them then? I went home that night and rage Googled everything I could find about this ‘Twilight.’ A few weeks later, I was out on a walk and began thinking up these sketch scenes where a classic Nosferatu vampire keeps getting misidentified as a werewolf or zombie by the people he runs into. Each one kind of built on the others. Then the title came to me and I decided these weren’t sketches, but the beginnings of a book.”
McDoniel also had nothing but wonderful things to say about Inkshares and their publishing process. “The publishing process has been great and going through it has made me happier than ever that I was able to receive the benefits of the Inkshares publishing process rather than just self-publishing. Again, I had already gone through a number of drafts of my book, but the editors at the production company Inkshares uses, Girl Friday, still pushed me to make it better than I could on my own,” McDoniel said. “Also, there’s all the cover design and marketing and everything. Hell, I just had a phone conversation where they talked about asking [famous vampire author] to blurb my book. She won’t, she is, after all, [famous vampire]-freaking-[author], but the fact that they can and are willing to ask just blows my mind.”
An Unattractive Vampire is McDoniel’s first novel and he is incredibly excited, going so far as to define his excitement with the word “Squee!” and saying he has achieved his current life goal and he is ready to achieve the next one. He also encourages anyone who wants to participate in the contest to definitely do it. “Throw your hat in the ring. Even I you don’t win, maybe you’ll reach 750 [preorders] and get published anyway. Or maybe you’ll reach 250 [preorders], the light publishing [or] Quill Collection goal. That’s still a step further down the road of writerdom that we are all on. And even if you can’t swing that, there’s such a community of writers growing up around Inkshares that you’ll find something worthwhile: encouragement, writing groups, readers, note-givers. And maybe they’ll help you make your manuscript better so you can send it off to agents or publishers,” McDoniel said. “Or just save it for the next contest. Andy Ainsworth, author of These Old Bones, didn’t win the Sword & Laser, but came back and rocked the Nerdist campaign. He ended up with more individual readers than any of us from the original competition and now is also getting published. So yes, please join. Also, keep those excerpts under fifteen minutes. Some of us need to sleep.”
G. Derek Adams’ Asteroid Made of Dragons is a fantasy story about an asteroid that is used to imprison dragons is headed straight for the planet. The only person who knows about the incoming doom is a goblin researcher who struggles to untangle the mystery and to find someone who can help save the planet. The heroes who can, however, have their own problems to deal with and may not be up to the task. Being an avid listener of the Sword & Laser podcast, Adams heard an interview at the beginning of the year with Gary Whitta about his new upcoming novel Abomination being published through Inkshares. “I had self-published my two previous novels, so the concept of crowdfunding into a real publishing deal was immediately attractive. I went over to the site, poked around a bit, even made a dummy campaign for Asteroid Made of Dragons using a random picture of a banana as my cover photo. I thought about the process and did the math on how many of my friends I would need to squeeze to hit the 1,000 preorder goal and was daunted! I dedicated some tub-time to it and decided I just wasn’t at a point in my writing career with a big enough following to really succeed at the campaign. I went back to working on the book, planning on self-publishing it when done as I had my previous two novels,” Adams said. “But then came the day. I was at my day job, I don’t remember if I got an email about it or I saw a random post on social media, but I saw the announcement of the Sword & Laser Contest. Just knowing that I didn’t have to hit 1,000 preorders, just had to stay in the top five tow in — plus the serendipity of Sword & Laser bringing me to the site in the first place, it seemed like too good a chance to pass up. So, in indecorous haste, I completed the basic fields on my campaign page and set it to LIVE, still with the banana cover. I essentially had made a very mature, adult decision that this venue of publishing was not the right choice for me at this point in my life, but immediately tossed that crap out the window and jumped into the fray with my pants barely zipped and no ammunition to speak of.”
Like the other contestants, Adams was not safe from the high stress level the contest had to offer. He even created his own survival guide for the contest. “I have a little bit of shielding because I work in sales at my day job, but we writer and creative types really, really hate setting ourselves up for endless judgement and rejection. Add to that a time limit, fierce competition, and a prize beyond imagination and things definitely got a bit tense. Especially toward the end of the contest when I was fairly sure I’d lost it. I had some serious days of depression because I felt like I’d foolishly wasted all of my supporters’ good will, time, and money only to fail. I’m not a person who enjoys asking for help, but I hit up everybody I knew for this contest, just pushed big spoonfuls of shame down my throat. And since I had received so much beyond belief support from so many people, I couldn’t imagine asking for more or asking for it again for a second campaign,” Adams said. “We are very, very vulnerable when we put our work out into the world and the contest became a Mad Max style chase scene of stamina, creativity, willpower, and plenty of blind luck. It was only with a last-minute rules addendum did I even make it into the final six and to then be selected as one of the books in the actual Sword & Laser Collection? That’s like Furiosa buying you a milkshake, my friend. Unlikely in the extreme, but impossible to calculate on any scale of grandiosity.”
When it came to deciding what he wanted to write about, Adams said that he has always loved Dungeons & Dragons trash and that he has always wanted to explore the concept of a “fantasy crisis.” “Every author is shaped by their worldview and when they want to tell a story or describe an idea, the shapes and forms they use tell you everything you need to know about them. When I want to write about friendship, death, futility, love, it just always has fireballs, wizards, minotaurs, noble knights, crafty archaeologists, awkward relationships, and needlessly pompous symbolism,” Adams said. “I’ve always wanted to explore and poke fun at the concept of the ‘fantasy crisis,’ they are a hallmark of the genre: Something Terrible is going to happen, the Heroes learn of the Terrible Something, the Terrible Something ALMOST happens, then our Heroes stop the Terrible Something! Roll credits. For me, there’s a lot of interesting tension in that form, a way to explore the concept of futility and how we can deal with problems and situations that are so far beyond any rational solution. It was also an excuse to drop a freaking asteroid on my fantasy world and watch as the characters desperately tried to figure out how to stop it.”
Third time’s the charm when Adams said that, like Dubeau and McDoniel, working with Inkshares through the publishing process was fantastic, especially after having self-published his first two novels. “Watching trained, professional, motivated people take care of all the things I had to do for myself is amazing. They’ve been extremely open to all of my input, far more than any traditional publisher ever could. My book takes some risks with the form and the execution and there were some very rational concerns about this. After some long conversations, Inkshares supported my decisions and are helping me execute my vision on a much higher level than before and making sure that the marketing for the book enhances the book’s off-kilter approach to the genre,” Adams said.
As far as excitement goes for the publication of Asteroid Made of Dragons, Adams feels so-so excited. “I’ve been writing seriously for about four years now and I know how much of a grind self-publishing can be, especially when it comes time to promote and get your book out there in front of people,” Adams said. “This opportunity to get my stuff in front of a much larger audience is startling, terrifying, [and] wonderful.” When it comes to encouraging contestants for this new contest, Adams had a simple, yet strong statement to share, “None of your books are as dumb as mind. And I won!”
Dubeau, McDoniel, and Adams are all nearing the final stages of the publishing process and will be seeing all of their hard work in physical form in the spring of 2016. Anyone in the arts, whether they be a writer, performer, or artist, understands that letting the world see one’s work is scary. Mustering up the courage to make one’s work public is difficult enough, receiving rejections and criticism, whether it is constructive or not, is just as difficult. However, one will never know what will happen until one puts one’s work out for the world to view. Dubeau, McDoniel, and Adams all took a chance, put their work out there through a contest, and won. Do not be afraid. The Sword & Laser Collection Contest: The Sequel is a wonderful experience for all writers, whether they win or not and all writers who have a science fiction or fantasy story idea they wish to share with the world are welcome to submit. Who knows what could happen upon the contest’s conclusion in 2016.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on December 7, 2015.