Joe Siple is a television sports reporter turned novelist. Learn more about him at www.joesiple.com
The last ten months have been quite an adventure for me. In that time, I’ve gone from “unpublished author” to “Amazon Bestseller” and “Award-Winning Author.” But the road has hardly been smooth and my path led to an unexpected place. So for any struggling authors out there wondering what the road to “Bestseller” and “Award-Winning” looks like, here’s one view…
I started writing fiction in 2001. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was terrible. Fortunately, no one offered to represent me or publish my books (other than vanity presses and scams) so I don’t have to live with the knowledge that my worst writing is out there for people to see. It’s shut tightly away on a floppy disk that can’t even be accessed without specialized, “old school” equipment. Thank God.
But I realized I liked writing, so I kept at it. I wrote one manuscript a year, on average, and each had the same abject failure as the prior one for several years running. It wasn’t until 2013 that I finally landed an agent. Oh, happy day!!! All my dreams were about to come true!!!
Except they didn’t.
After roller-coaster ups and downs, near-misses and deals that fell through, I found four more years had gone by and I still didn’t even have a published book. At that point, I realized something had to change. So I broke things off with my agent to query independent publishers…only to find out most independent publishers these days often don’t accept un-agented submissions. That was a disappointing change from when I’d started writing over a decade earlier. So that left only three options: self-publish, go with a vanity press, or find a “micro-publisher” who would take me on.
For those of you not familiar with the term, micro-publishers are usually a small team of people (and often just one person) who agrees to basically pay the costs of self-publishing in exchange for about 75% of the royalties, with the author getting roughly 25%. They make money if the book does even reasonably well, and the writer gets to feel special because he has a publisher.
They use Print on Demand technology (which makes it really hard to place in bookstores) and usually don’t have much of a marketing budget. The Big Boys they are not. But I was desperate, so I queried.
I was able to get a couple offers from micro-publishers, picked the one that would put the most into promotions, and signed on the dotted line.
My expectations were, appropriately, low. And early in the process, they were met right where I set them. I ordered 25 books, and the box arrived looking every bit the part of a rushed, self-published novel. I choked back the tears, disposed of the box in my basement storage area, and forgot about them. I decided this writing thing just wasn’t going to work out.
So I moved on with my life. I put the dream of writing behind me and began searching for other things that could replace it. And that’s the path my life would have taken, if it hadn’t been for the Maxy Awards.
Let me be clear: the Maxy Awards are not going to be confused with the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s a tiny contest whose winners were primarily from my micro-publisher. Still, my book was named “2018 Book of the Year.” And that changed everything.
We were able to put a gold medal seal on the cover. We got blurbs. The reviews started piling up on Amazon and Goodreads. Somehow, the book began to gain momentum. So I entered it into the American Fiction Awards, and it won first place. Then it was named Finalist in two additional awards and is currently in the semi-final round of two more. Now I had a list of awards won and began approaching bookstores, some of which bought copies. My publisher noticed, put more money into Amazon ads (I pitched in, too) and before we knew it, the book was landing on Amazon’s bestseller list for two different categories of fiction.
And yet, there’s still so far to go. The book has won awards, but very small awards. It has landed on bestseller lists, but only for very specific genres. What hasn’t happened yet is sufficient financial success to make writing feel less like a productive hobby and more like an actual career.
Will that ever happen? I have no idea. But I do know that I’m closer now than ever before. And that, surprisingly enough, is thanks to my decision to sign with a micro-publisher. It certainly isn’t the only way to go—and it’s not for everyone. But if you find yourself in a similar place as I was in, it’s definitely worth considering.
The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
With all his family and friends gone, one-hundred-year-old Murray McBride is looking for a reason to live. He finds it in Jason Cashman, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal heart defect and a list of five things he wants to do before he dies. Together, they race against the limited time each has left, ticking off wishes one by one. But when tragedy strikes, their worlds are turned upside-down, and an unexpected gift is the only thing that can make Jason's final wish come true.
Where to Buy The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
Alan Felyk is a critically acclaimed novelist who spent 40 years working as a newspaper journalist and space industry editor. A University of Colorado graduate, he published a humorous, sometimes wistful memoir, Damaged Right Out Of The Box, in 2012. Six years later he published Damaged Beyond All Recognition, a novel that blends science fiction, romance, and humor. It was nominated for Underground Book Reviews' Novel of the Year Award and won the Literary Titan Book Award. In addition, it received a five-star award from the Readers' Favorite Book Reviews and Awards Contest as well as plaudits from Kirkus Reviews, OnlineBookClub.org, and Bookpleasures.com. He is now working on a sequel to the novel—Damaged And No Longer Under Warranty. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado.
I vividly remember watching the first television episode of the Twilight Zone on October 2, 1959. Starring Earl Holliman, it was titled “Where Is Everybody?” and written by Rod Serling. The episode was about a man wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform who inexplicably finds himself in a town occupied only by mannequins. The story ended with an unexpected twist, and I became hooked on the series. It wasn’t long before I started writing short stories that tried to mimic Serling’s imagination. The stories, written by a grade schooler and unworthy of publication, remained unread by others—they were deservedly thrown into the trash went I left home for college.
During my senior year in high school, I became hooked on another television show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. So, when my English teacher, Miss Bronson, asked us to write something creative, I wrote a parody of the show, substituting the show’s characters with school teachers and administrators. I had cast Miss Bronson as the character that Goldie Hawn portrayed on the show—a ditsy, giggling blonde. My teacher loved what I had written—so much so that she read my script aloud to the class. Within short order, the classroom’s atmosphere turned uproarious. As I wrote in my memoir, it was a pivotal moment for me:
“… I learned that, with some keystrokes on the typewriter, I could make someone laugh.”
In my early twenties, I wrote a short story that drew the attention of the fiction editor at Omni, a science and science fiction magazine. He said he loved my work, but that I was competing for space with authors who were named Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. Instead of focusing on the positive, I focused on the negative. My desire to write yielded to the stress of raising a family and working jobs that often required much more than forty hours per week.
At the age of thirty-four, I accepted a job in the space industry, and I ran into a college girlfriend, Sam, who was working at the company as well. I had unceremoniously dumped Sam thirteen years earlier in favor of a previous girlfriend who returned to me. Although I didn’t regret what had happened, I always regretted how it happened. Still, I could bring myself to apologize to Sam, and we worked on several projects together before her untimely death in 2010.
Guilty about my failure to make amends to Sam, I decided to make good on a promise I had made to her in college: that I would write a book. So, I decided to write a memoir, and the first section I wrote was my relationship with her. It sparked a piece of advice that I continue to provide to memoir writers:
“If you ever consider writing an honest personal experiences book, start with the things that you're not proud of. Then write about the things that hurt the most. If you get past those two things, you'll finish the book—if it isn't already finished.”
Despite the story about Sam, the memoir was largely humorous. And after I published the book, I was lost as to what I should write next. I thought about jotting down my satirical observations about an ever-changing world, but the project never gained traction. I still toyed with the idea of writing science fiction short stories, and I dusted off the story I had sent to Omni many years ago. At that time, I had started reading The Sirens of Titan, a comic science fiction novel by Kurt Vonnegut. Not only was his book brilliant, but it seemed to be written in the very style that I had developed over the years. Suddenly, it all made sense. Why not combine the two genres I loved so much?
Unconvinced that I could write a full-length novel, I was determined to simply rewrite my short story by adding satire to it. But as I delved back into it, the original storyline began to expand. It was almost as if Vonnegut’s spirit was suggesting plot elements. And, before I realized what had occurred, I was in the middle of a book. Now, I’m writing a sequel to the novel, and I expect a third book in the Infinity’s Trinity Series.
If there is a lesson from all this, it’s that aspiring (and perhaps struggling) writers should never call it quits. No one knows when an unexpected spark might ignite the next literary triumph. My biggest regret is that I didn’t find that catalyst decades ago. But my biggest joy is that it did, in fact, manifest itself.
I have mulled the possibility of writing a humorous self-help book entitled How To Write A Novel In 50 Years Or More. It would cover the dozens upon dozens of reasons that prevent authors from sitting at a keyboard and sharing their imaginations with the world.
Who knows? Perhaps another catalyst for that project will emerge.
Hey, Kurt, are you still out there?
Damaged Beyond All Recognition
Paul Tomenko is no stranger to the improbable. He became a magazine sweepstakes winner and celebrated counterculture writer by age nineteen. Now, after reaching for a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee spaghetti and meatballs, he’s traveling to and from God’s library somewhere outside the Universe to prevent the end of eternity.
Because of a DNA flaw, humanity no longer can ascend through the Planes of Existence after they die. That means no one will have the needed expertise to replace God when He dies. And, to complicate matters, Paul realizes he must enlist the help of his two lovers: Maggie Mae Monahan, a brilliant geneticist who has the uncanny ability to “connect the dots,” and Allie Briarsworth, a novelist who inexplicably senses past and future events in the cosmos. But the trio discovers the preservation of forevermore can turn someone’s soul inside out. Literally.
Find Alan on Facebook and Twitter
Where to Buy Damaged Beyond All Recognition
Kamakshi P. Murti is originally from India. She draws inspiration for her story-telling from her background in cultural and gender studies, and even more importantly from the younger members of her family who have empowered her to hone her skills as a story-teller.
1980 was a memorable year. “Publish or perish”? I was baffled by the phrase. I had just moved from India to the US to get a Ph.D. in German Studies. It took fifty-six letters of rejection from publishers for my first scholarly monograph, the work that would make or break me, that defined what ‘perish’ meant. Then Walter de Gruyter in Berlin, Germany, decided to risk it all, and to publish my book with the literally breath-taking title: “The reincarnation of the reader as author: a reception historical investigation of the influence of Indic literature on German writers.” (1990) Two more serious monographs, “India: the seductive and seduced ‘other’ of German Orientalism” (2001) and “To veil or not to veil: Europe’s shape-shifting ‘other’” (2013), and my reputation as a writer and scholar was established.
But … yes, there was an irrepressible ‘BUT’ … but what about the storyteller that was bursting at the seams to express herself? There she was, my paternal aunt, telling me “The Tale of the half-boy,” a boy missing an entire half of his body. Like any good storyteller, my aunt made sure the heroic triumphed at the end, and all was well and whole with the world! My aunt the engineer (yes, she was the first female electrical engineer in India, proudly and defiantly getting her degree a year after I was born) gave me the courage to weave my own stories. The non-academic side of me began entertaining nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews with possible and impossible tales.
2008 was once again memorable. It heralded the second phase of my life: retirement. And retirement brought with it a luxury of which I had only dreamt: the time to write down all those tales with which I had entertained many young people at various levels of growing-up. My archaeologist niece Shanti Pappu was decidedly the inspiration for and firmest critic of my debut novel “Veiled Murders: The Mound of the Dead.”
Why this book? The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt figure prominently in mystery fiction. However, the ancient Indus Valley Civilization - 3300–1300 BCE - has fallen by the wayside as a site of murder and mayhem! Strong women in history have always fascinated me, and I wondered if there was a counterpart of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut in the Indus Valley Civilization. I came across the 'Dancing Girl,' a bronze sculpture made approximately 2500 BCE, and displayed in a museum in New Delhi. I thought of her as a priestess queen and gave her the name Sai-an-ki. "Veiled Murders" follows this queen, her dreams and ambitions, her violent death, and the unearthing of her bones 4,500 years later that would bring to light the identity of her murderers.
The euphoria of creating my first fictional work evaporated quite quickly, as publisher after publisher returned the dreaded word “NO!” However, my aunt had taught me well. I wasn’t going to give up that easily. A woman who had entertained me through many a rainy day came to mind: Agatha Christie. I was going to create twin avatars of Christie’s ‘fluffy’ Jane Marple. And Leela and Meena Rao, two seventy-year-old cousins, came to life. “Murders Most Matronly” was soon followed by fourteen others in the series! Family and loyal friends praised the characters, avidly read the stories, and pushed me to contact publishers. US publishers continued to say ‘No.’ I turned to India and discovered Juggernaut Books. They published my “Murders Most Matronly” in 2017. It was a second lease on life, a truly exhilarating one!
What next? I pondered. Browsing through children’s literature in a local library, I found myself searching for a face, a South-Asian-American face like mine – brown skin and all. The absence of such a face led to “Lalli’s Window,” the story of Lalli, a ten-year old South-Asian-American girl whose parents are first-generation immigrants to the U.S. She loses a leg in a car accident. The story is set in 21st century Tucson, Arizona, and begins after Lalli returns home from the hospital. Great Britain came to my rescue this time. Austin Macauley published “Lalli’s Window” in 2017 – a veritable banner year for my writing! I have since written six more in this series, following Lalli year after year, sensing her many hopes and frustrations, her anger at being different, and her increasing awareness of the complex world surrounding her. These stories remain in my laptop, waiting to be released!
Once again: What next? I picked up a rather dog-eared copy of “Malgudi Tales,” simple and captivating stories about life in the fictitious Indian village of Malgudi. I had read and reread the stories in India. R. K. Narayan, the writer, had died in 2001. I wished I could just hop onto a time-machine to take me back a couple of decades, and meet the great writer, to have him entertain me with those precious tales. I picked up my laptop, and began to compose “Bandilanka’s Forgotten Lives,” short stories giving voice to those whose lives have fallen through the cracks: the washerman, the child widow, the sweeper woman, the prostitute’s daughter, the illegal immigrant, the abused wife.
It is heart-breaking at any age to lose a limb. But when it happens to a ten-year-old South-Asian-American girl who had never had to question her privileged life, heart-break leads to a painful confrontation with a variety of prejudices and hate speech. At its core, my story deals with the universal themes of family forgiveness, true friendship, and the power of neighborly love
Find Kamakashi on her website, Twitter and Instagram
Where to Buy Lalli's Window
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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