It is a crazy time in the world! Are you staying safe at home? Have you read any good books lately?
Today I'm doing a follow up interview with Daniel Ottalini, author of the Steam Empire Chronicles. I met Daniel a few years ago at a publishing convention.
HA: When we met, you were being courted by a number of small publishers. You'd just won the EPIC award. I was definitely the new kid on the block. Why did you decide to go with Heart Ally?
DO: After winning an award for my first novel, I was indeed being courted by a number of small publishers. However, I found my desires to keep control over certain things - like cover art and picking my editor - interfering with my ability to link up with a publisher who was willing to give me that freedom. I liked the personal touch from Heart Ally, and I liked how you walked me through the entire process.
HA: We did a novella together (Antioch Burns!). What was it like being a Heart Ally customer?
DO: It was great - simple and straightforward. It was nice to be able to let someone else you trust work on your book. It can be hard, as an author, to let go sometimes, and I was glad that you walked me through the entire thing. You've done an excellent job keeping in contact with me, and making sure I’m aware of different sales opportunities. You also give feedback on other projects and help keep the boat ‘even-keeled’ so to speak.
HA: You still have most of your work completely independent of Heart Ally Books. Most people probably don't know that I encourage this. There are so many wonderful books waiting to be born, and I can only help a few authors at a time.
Can you give us some ideas of the pros/cons of running these books as an indie and why you feel this has been an excellent choice for you?
DO: I do! I really like my independence as far as my series goes. The biggest thing for me is the lack of a timetable - I don’t feel beholden to other people’s schedules or desires for book releases, so I take some of the pressure off myself. Writing is a side thing for me, and I teach full time. That means I don’t always have time to work on my projects. It’s definitely nice as an indie to work when you want. It also allows you some freedom to pursue things that don’t always “sell” but may be of interest to you as a writer.
Of course, that freedom comes at a price. It’s much harder to break into any market nowadays as an indie author. Amazon really corners the market in many ways and their algorithms tend to help the bigger companies. It’s also hard to build a following when there is so much ‘noise’ out there. You have to be consistently on the ball with promotion and contact, etc etc. You’re also responsible for everything - taxes to scheduling conferences and other events. Plus you have to find people to help you with editing, cover art, etc.
HA: With all of the pressure, it can be easy to lose the love of writing. I'm glad you've kept that freedom, and I love watching what you do with it!
What would you say is the best reason not to work with a publisher?
DO: Hmmm… I’d say if you’re really a control freak - you want that control over everything - and you have an idea that isn’t really a mass-market idea, that may be a good reason not to work with a publisher. The other big thing is time - If you really want to get your writing out there quickly, without attempting to contact a bunch of different publishers and agents, you can publish a book with the right support within a few months once it is written.
HA: What is the one thing you miss most about working with a publisher?
DO: It is really nice to talk to other people about your publishing challenges - coming up with keywords, deciding how to target a book, talking about blurbs. Often, when you’re indie, you rely a lot on the goodwill of beta readers, friends, significant others, etc. But with a publisher, they have a vested interest in you doing well, because then they do well.
HA: There's also that shared vocabulary. Friends are great, but they probably aren't as excited about high volume, low-competition keywords!
What has been your most exciting moment as an indie author?
DO: Honestly, publishing the first book and winning an award for it - the Best Action Adventure award from the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition - was really amazing. It definitely helped the sales of my first book. It also was a nice victory for me, and convinced me to continue to write!
HA: You're a skilled writer, and that award certainly validated your accomplishment. I think every publisher there was circling you after the ceremony!
What words would you give to a new author just starting out on the path of publication? What guidance in choosing a publisher or going completely indie?
DO: I think the best things I could say to a new author is to know what you’re getting into. If you’re putting a lot of time and effort into something, and you’re making sure it is getting reviewed and improved by beta readers, etc., then I’d say at least try and shop around for a publisher. Especially if it is in a major category - like mystery or romance - you’ll most likely be able to find someone willing to pick up your piece if it is polished. If you’re like me, and you’ve got a steampunk novel series or a more niche type of writing, it still may be worth looking. Going indie isn’t always an easy choice, but it can give you a lot of freedom!
HA: You've leveraged that freedom. The Steam Empire Chronicles take place in an alternate reality that you've created. You've combined steampunk and Roman to create a fascinating world.
Tell us a little about this next book and what has gone into it.
DO: The Last Gladiator is a prequel novella to my Steam Empire Chronicles. I really enjoy using the novella format to tell side stories that I don’t have the material, or desire, to create a full novel for. This novella tells the story of Lucia, one of the last Roman gladiators, as she trains in preparation for a battle against their replacements - the mechagladiators. This story takes place roughly 20 years before the events in the Steam Empire Chronicles, but has direct connections to several of the main characters. It has everything you’d want! Gladiator combat, giant mechanical walkers, love, and loss.
This book really tested my abilities to edit and revise the story myself. I had several excellent beta readers tear the book apart, and I essentially rewrote the entire beginning and ending after their feedback. I’m proud of the result, and I hope you all will enjoy it!
I can hardly wait to read Lucia's story!
And to keep you entertained until May 2nd, check out his Heart Ally Books offering: Antioch Burns!
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