Lessons Learned: Self Publishing – Part One

Originally Published March 5th, 2012

Taking a break from reviewing, I thought maybe I could (or should?) share some information that’s in my head. It may be of benefit to some. It may be stone useless. As always, the reader decides what’s useful. (I hope eternally, at any rate. Please don’t let anyone tell you what information is useful to you! If they try to do so, at the very least be skeptical.)

See, I’ve been doing a lot of panels lately, at Farpoint and Mysticon. Some of them were just entertaining at best, some imparted useful information, and at a few it was clear that the audience came wanting to learn something, came with questions they needed answered. Since con panels tend to be, more than anything else, a collection of people with very healthy egos, talking about themselves (I am no exception as a panelist), sometimes those questions don’t get answered. That fact, to paraphrase the great Ricardo Montalban, tasks me.

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Out on the Long Tail – Advice and Encouragement for New Media Creators

So, you created something original and put it out there for the world. You probably tried selling it to New York or Los Angeles. You probably collected more than your share of rejection notices. Maybe you were once a successful, paid creator, and your prospects have noticeably faded. Or maybe you still are a successful, paid creator, but you don’t like the limitations placed on you by commercial publishing and distribution.

Well, you live in a good time. There are podcasts. There are eBooks. There’s Libsyn, Smashwords, Amazon, Kindle, Nook, B&N.com, Audible ACX, OverDrive…

OMG, who needs an editor or an agent, right? You can publish a short story, a novel, a book, a radio show, a TV show or a movie, all on your own! And, as soon as the public sees your wonderful product, they’re going to beat a path to your door to demand more and more content from you. And those smug acquisition and story editor types who turned down your comic book, your short story, your novel or your screenplay, they’re going to see the error of their ways and sign you to a multi-book or multi-picture deal.


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I Don’t Publish Literature. I Publish People.

demelloI’m reading a very strange little book called Awareness by Anthony De Mello. It’s apparently a transcript of all the talking he did at a retreat many years ago, and was published after his death. And, boy, did he do a lot of talking at that retreat! I both love and hate the style. It’s filled with bold statements that make you want to read more to figure out what the hell he’s really saying: “You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person.”

Wait, huh? That kind of thing grabs you.

Unfortunately, like a lot of spiritual / religious texts, it’s repetitive. I know repetition is a technique often used to emphasize a point and make sure the reader / listener doesn’t forget something, but it’s my least favorite rhetorical device. It annoys the hell out of me:

“Call 1-800-GET-LOST. That’s 1-800-GET-LOST. Call 1-800-GET-LOST. 1-800-GET-LOST. Today!”

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REALLY Taken Liberty

I imagine pretty much everyone here knows that I published my first novel, Taken Liberty – A Tale from the Arbiter Chronicles, in 2006. It’s based on my audio series, The Arbiter Chronicles, which has earned the Mark Time Silver Award and the Parsec Award. The novel was recommended by Library Journal and is on shelves in hundreds of libraries around the country. It’s not a New York Times bestseller, but, in hard copy, eBook and audio, it’s been purchased or downloaded to the tune of something like 20,000 copies. Pretty good for a first novel from a tiny little local press.

Fewer of you may know that I wrote the original outline for the story that became Taken Liberty twenty years ago. I submitted it to an editor who liked it and wanted to purchase it. Then that editor was transferred, and the new editor hated the story. In 1998 I drafted it into a novel. Then I set the novel aside and created a radio show set in its universe. When I revisited the novel, I was, I suppose, something of an approximation of a “mature” and “experienced” writer, and my novel was well-received, even if it didn’t make me rich.

My overall point here is that Taken Liberty is a story that I conceived a long time ago. I can prove ownership in it. I have documentation. I have witnesses. Lots of them.

So I was a bit surprised, last Winter, to come across a (pseudo) published work whose storyline bears what I consider to be a striking resemblance to the plot of Taken Liberty. I was at a loss to know what to do about that. I consulted with some trusted friends, most of whom have advised me that my preferred direct approach (contacting the authors of the newer work and politely saying, “I’ve noticed some similarities…”) would merely put those authors on the defensive, accomplishing nothing. So I decided to take two steps:

1 – I consulted a copyright attorney, and filed what documents are necessary to protect my rights to my work. I was very concerned that letting the unauthorized adaptation stand unchallenged would give the other creator some claim to my intellectual property should I ever decide to, say, sell film rights in Taken Liberty. I am assured that the steps my attorney has taken will prevent that. They have harmed this other creator not at all.

2 – I am sharing with a friendly audience that this has happened, and stating my reasons for believe that, intentionally or otherwise, someone else has adapted my novel.

I’ve no desire to grant this other work any publicity. I won’t, therefore, mention its name, or the name of its credited authors. But I’m listing (in what I hope is a factual and objective manner) the similarities I found between the two stories, my twenty-year-old one, and the new one.

In both stories:

– The moral problem is that it may be politically expedient for a government that condemns slavery to return an escaped slave to her owners.

– An escaped female slave petitions asylum aboard a military vessel.

– A male doctor and the senior surgeon is the first to reveal the slave’s pheromones as a problem.

– A woman doctor is the first member of that vessel’s crew to befriend the slave.

– The vessel’s Captain and his female doctor clash over the slave’s disposition.

– The slave radiates pheromones that make her attractive to males.

– The slave attempts to seduce the vessel’s captain in order to win her freedom. The Captain refuses her, but wants to help.

– The Captain’s superior orders him to turn the slave back over to her people, and informs him that a slaver vessel is already on its way to pick up the slave.

– The person who comes to collect the slave is not just any representative of her people, but with very slave trader who originally sold her and abused her.

– The slave is accused of murdering someone in the course of trying to escape.

– Telepathy is used on the slave to find out the truth of her story.

– The slave’s case is taken up by a young officer.

– The young officer helps the slave in an escape attempt, placing him in defiance of his Captain’s orders.

– The slave attempts suicide, and her death (faked, in my story) resolves the immediate diplomatic incident.

The creator of this other work has had the opportunity to comment on these similarities. He said he’s never heard of me or my work, and that these similarities are coincidences.


Reader, what do you believe?

If, like me, you’re angry and you feel that someone has taken unfair advantage of a guy he considers to be a little-known creator who is no credible threat, here’s how you can help: Help me get better-known. If you enjoy my work — be it my blogs, my plays, my podcasts, my quirky, idiotic jokes in staff meetings — share that joy with someone you know. Hell, with everyone you know. Let more and more people know that The Arbiter Chronicles exist, that there are two excellent novels available in trade paperback, eBook and audio formats. That there are eighteen podcast episodes of the series. That there are four eNovellas available. All of that is linked here:

The Audio Drama Podcasts

Free Audiobooks at Podiobooks.com

My Books and eBooks at:



Barnes & Noble (The guy who spells it “Stephen” is not me! Nor did I write the book on Science and Engineering.)


Kobo (Again, the search includes some books not mine.)

Help spread the word about my work. Mention it on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, at the water cooler. Review it, if you’re really feeling kind. Help me prove that living well is the best revenge. And it’s the only revenge I want. I don’t want to see the other guy fail. I don’t even want to make him stop distributing his adapted work. I would have preferred he give me the story credit I feel I deserve, but he doesn’t agree I deserve it; and I don’t want to mortgage my house (again) to take him to court. So I’ll settle for having more and more people know that my work is here, that I created it first, and that it’s deeper, richer and more imaginative than anything he’ll ever produce on his own.

Fair enough? More than fair, I think.

“My Fan… Lady?” – Reflections and Resignation

Photo by Neil Ottenstein

Steven H. Wilson as Higgins, Chris Carothers as “Fan,” Christian Wilson as Elijah and Ethan Wilson as Pickering in “My Fan… Lady?” Photo by Neil Ottenstein

And when I say resignation, I mean it both in the sense of “The acceptance of something inevitable” as well as in the sense of “I quit.” But more on that second piece later, and don’t get too excited in either direction.

I’ve been writing and producing plays for the convention stage since 1987. I started out performing with a group called “The Not Ready for Paramount Players.” It was absorbed into “Cheap Treks.” Later, we called ourselves “The Usual Suspects.” The total output of this group, writing, directing, performing, producing, costuming, video-editing, scene-building–you name it, we did it!–is about 60 plays. One of these days I’ll share a list with you. I’ve written or co-written a good third of those.

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Character Development as World Building – Part Three

I continue from last week, where I was running through my own creative process in developing the characters, and along the way the worlds, which make up my series, The Arbiter Chronicles. As explain last week, I work by asking myself a lot of questions, and answering them allows me to develop my story.

Question: What kind of society makes it strange to have a relationship with your parents?

With this question, framed about the character Kaya, I move off earth and create the character that’s going to be both a romantic interest and a different kind of foil for my hero. This is a very smart, capable woman for whom Terry Metcalfe will fall hard. And, because I wanted that element of old, pulpy space-opera, she’s going to be the Captain’s daughter. But she has to be a misfit to be part of my team. She’s smart, she’s rich, she’s beautiful. What’s wrong with her? Her people think she’s weird because she has a man she recognizes as her father.

Wait, every human has a father and a mother. What kind of world is she from that it’s weird that she knows hers?

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Character Development as World Building – Part Two

Last time I talked about world-building, and how I think it’s properly accomplished by starting with your lead characters and building the world that they need to live in, the world that would have produced somebody like them. (Of course, it’s important to point out that the world we grow up in is only one factor in the person we actually become. “Nature or Nurture” is an old question, and I agree with L. Neill Smith’s answer–ultimately it is each one of us, not external factors, who determine who we are. But there’s no denying that place changes us.)

So this week, I want to start showing you how I used my own method to create worlds for my most successful series, a space opera called The Arbiter Chronicles.

My Example

The Arbiter Chronicles is a teen-angst story about outcasts. When I started, I knew I wanted a cast of five young characters, mostly from different worlds. I made them each different and therefore rejected by most of the people around them. Why did I do that? Because, above all, you’ve got to write what you know. You may be writing about worlds that don’t exist, where people have powers no human could ever have, but, at some level, you’ve got to write what you know. I started creating the Arbiters when I was a freshman in college. At that point, what I knew best was what it was like to be a high school geek. So I made my characters young misfits in space.

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Character Development as World Building – Part One

This is a distillation of a workshop I taught at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group conference, “The Write Stuff,” a couple of weeks ago. It’ll probably be a three-part series. Hope it’s of interest!

Frequently, when I talk to new writers, especially in the fantasy field, I hear things like, “Well, I’ve been working on a novel for ten years.”

“Oh,” I say, “what’s it about?”

“Well,” they say, “I’m still building the world.”

“Who are the characters?” I ask.

“Well, there are these guys who wear blue hats, and they’ve been fighting a war for 500 years with the guys who wear red hats.”

“So is your story about a red hat, a blue hat, or a couple of each?” “Well, I’m still building the world…”

Yeah. Like that.

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2014 – My Literary Year in Review

I wrote not one but two essays for the blog this week. Didn’t like either of them when they were done. That’s the kind of mood I’m in. Perhaps I’ll rework them and share them later. Perhaps I’ll file them away as pieces of journal therapy. At any rate, lacking substantive content, I thought it might be useful to review what I produced, and what I took in, literature wise, during this past year.

In addition to 59 blog posts, I shared the short stories “Call Me Sam” on Phil Giunta’s blog, and “Don’t Go in the Barn, Johnny” in the Firebringer anthology Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity. I did also write one radio play (first draft only), five short stories (one sold, yet to be published, two rejected, one pending, one slated for my podcast), a novella (thrice-rejected), a premise for a (non-SF) novel, a premise for a comic series, and a good deal of copy for work-related websites. Kind of a disappointing showing, all things considered. Let’s hope 2015 is better. I’ve already sold two essays sight-unseen to two books from a pretty prestigious publisher, so that’s good.

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Random Harvest – Sadness as a Story Device

38aI tend to watch Random Harvest every Christmas. Funny, as I don’t think it actually contains any Christmas scenes. It’s a story that’s probably considered trite today, with a plot device that seems contrived: a World War I Captain (Ronald Colman) gets amnesia after suffering a trauma in the trenches at Arras. He establishes a new identity as “John Smith,” falls in love, gets married, becomes a father… then slips in the mud in front of a taxi cab, gets bonked on the head, recovers his original identity… and forgets that he was John Smith, a man with a family. Now aware that he’s Charles Rainier, a wealthy industrialist, he spends years searching for his lost identity. Continue reading