I think there’s a temptation at the start of a blog to introduce myself, but that’s what the author bio is for, isn’t it? Instead of telling you about myself directly, I thought I’d talk a little about my decision to create this pen name.

I spent a lot of time editing both fiction and technical documents in my day job. At least, I did before the latest embolism. My backgrounds are in both computer science and creative writing, so editing was a natural use of my time, but I also write literary fiction that gets published in mid-tier markets. While I love literary fiction and fantasy equally, I tended to hide my fantasy writing and send out my literary writing to be published, and I wasn’t sure why.

It was only sitting in a hospital bed, recovering from yet another embolism, that I considered taking my fantasy writing seriously. I’d written a few novels that friends and loved ones had read. I used to lead a group of writers on Saturday morning who would get together, write a short story in under an hour, then share our stories with each other. I was having a lot of fun, I just wasn’t making my work available.

Publishing is a scary place. Not necessarily literary publishing, where the stakes are low and the contracts are often kinder, but writing commercial fiction comes with low advances, a slew of gatekeepers, a lot of scams, and a host of broken dreams.

If you go the traditional route, you’re signing away the copyright to your book for your life time plus 90 years. (It’s hard to claim a book is “out of print” in the world of ebooks and print-on-demand technology to try to get your rights back.) I seem to read a new story about top agents caught embezzling money or rights every week. And we’ve all started an amazing new series just to have the publisher cancel it before it wraps up. Could I do that to my readers?

If you go the indie route… actually, I didn’t know. Literary publishing isn’t entirely traditional—there are self-published books on the list contending for the top French literary awards as I type this—but in the US, most of the appeal of literary publishing comes from book deals by prestigious publishers and short story prizes like the Pushcart and O. Henry. I had no idea what independent publishing was like or about.

One of my friends issued a challenge for me: look over what I’d read for the previous year, guess which books had been indie published and which came from the Big 5 publishers, then see if I was right. I assumed the books I’d read that were poorly written or plotted were probably indie books. One story about a killer fish had the sun rising in the west, no idea of how commas worked, and a nonsensical ending. I also assumed that Wool by Hugh Howey was self-published, as he’s famous for sailing around the world in his yacht thanks to his selfpub money.

By contrast, I’d read and listened to some Harry Potter that year on my commute. I’d also read a lot of literary fiction as part of my creative writing degree, so I assumed that was traditional. I was incorrect about a surprising number.

It turned out that you can’t just look at the publisher on Amazon to see if a book was self-published or not. Some indies show up as “Amazon Digital Services, LLC,” and they’re easy to spot. Others show up as “Chris Fox Publishing,” which we can safely assume is Chris Fox’s imprint name when he self-publishes. Others show up as Five Elements Press. Is that just Jess Owen? Or is that a small or medium press? I had to dig deeper.

And what I found was that the books I assumed were self-published were all small and medium publishing companies. There are some small and medium presses that’re striking in how good they are, but at least for that year, that bracket had the lower quality books. What’s more, I was wrong about Hugh Howey. While he self-publishes a lot of his work, the paperback edition of Wool I read was put out by St. Martin’s Press. And it wasn’t just him.

J. K. Rowling has a self-publishing imprint called Pottermore. While the paperback was put out by Scholastic, the ebook and audiobook editions I’d experienced were both self-published books. Even Virginia Woolf was part of an older self-publishing movement.

I wasn’t convinced, but I was curious. I asked around about the state of publishing and what self-publishing was, but the literary fiction world isn’t the place to ask those questions. From working at a high tier literary magazine, we’d had a set of essays printed both in a book and in the magazine, so I looked up one of the authors who spoke about publishing and read more of her work (Jane Friedman). From there, I started reaching out to commercial authors of all sorts.

I was touched by how many were willing to answer some questions for me. What I found through resources like Passive Voice, Author Earnings, author interviews, blogs, and conventions was that the appeal of self-publishing was control and income. The downside was hard work and no promises.

What many commercial authors do now is they do a little of both. Brandon Sanderson, in his BYU course, suggests writing three novels a year—two for self-publishing, one to shop around to publishers. While David Farland is famously pro-traditional publishing, he suggests a hybrid approach and mentioned that his income from self-publishing was sometimes 3/4ths of his overall writing income. A lot of traditional authors decided to go purely indie: Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith.

But what really stuck in my brain was something Hugh Howey said. He said millionaires on yachts made for good headlines, but he started Author Earnings to show that most authors who were making a livable income were doing it as indies now.

I don’t know if that’s true. The promise of working hard, working smart, putting books out, and making a living from writing alone feels like it could be a dream. I could only think of one way to test and see if there was any truth to it.

I started a fantasy pen name.

I said earlier that independent publishing offers two advantages: control and income. I ran my plans through some smart independent authors making a living at it, so we’ll see if it becomes possible to write full time. That’s the income half of the equation.

For control, this is the fantasy series I want to exist in the world. These are the books where, if a publisher cancelled the series on book 3, I’d have been left devastated. I’ll probably still try out traditional publishing on this pen name, too, and take a hybrid approach. Here at the start, though, I’ve gathered my professional editors and cover artists and I’m going to give indie a try.

My promise is this: If you want a series of six creature fantasy books with beautiful gryphon covers, I’ll make that happen in ebook, paperback, and hardcover. They’ll be professionally edited. I’ll give you my best as a fantasy writer. I’ll do my best to follow the best practices. And after the end of the series, we’ll see where to go from there, shall we?