Welcome back as we continue talking with Jonathan Burgess, author of Chasing the Lantern.
Part one can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: Looking at world building, what elements did you include so readers could feel and believe the Chasing the Lantern world and history?
Jonathan Burgess: Chasing the Lantern is fairly fantastic in many ways, with quite a bit of absurd humor. One realistic element I’m fairly proud of, though, was the history of the pirates themselves. Haventown didn’t just spring fully into being one day; the infrastructure they built on was left behind by a would-be international power seeking to colonize the Copper Isles. After resources were needed elsewhere, the colonists were left to fail on their own. So they turned to piracy, and found that they were good at it.
AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
JB: It is continuously said that every path to publishing is unique. There is certainly some truth in that. For a decent amount of time I devoted myself to what’s commonly seen as trying to break in via the “traditional” method—getting accepted by one of the big publishing houses. Yet after everything went south a few years ago, the responses I received were always the same; “due to current economic conditions, we are not taking on new clients at this time.”
That was vexing. It quickly became clear to me that if I wanted to get my story in front of readers, I’d have to do things a little differently. Fortunately, the eBook revolution was just taking off, with people like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey doing very well. After researching it a bit, I realized that there wasn’t anything stopping me from doing it myself, as well as continuing with query letters and slush pile submissions. I could have my cake and eat it too, if I so wanted.
Making an eBook isn’t hard. But making any kind of professional product has to be done properly, with care. I did some research and found an editing group, as well as an artist for a cover. A bit more effort turned up someone who could do layout and typesetting. All the marketing leg-work would have to be done by me, but that’s no different than if I were with a major house. There was just one problem with all of this, however. All of these services I’d need? They cost money.
Luckily, I was familiar with an online program called Kickstarter. Back in early 2010, I’d run a very small project in order to fund a prose internet comic. The end result wasn’t very good, in all honestly. But the project was successful, and the method of patronage seemed applicable to what I wanted to do now.
So I did it, simple as that. I did the math, wrote a clean proposal, and found a method of generating physical print-on-demand copies for those who wanted something more tangible than the eBook of the final product. The response was better than I could have hoped for. My project proved successful, I raised the necessary funds, finished the work and sent copies to readers in Asia, Europe, America, Australia, and even a tiny island in the south pacific.
I put myself directly before the readers, who are the only ones that really matter, and let them decide if my work should exist. They said yes.
Then this year I did it again.
AA: That’s pretty gratifying to hear, that you took control of your project and made it happen. Having a successful Kickstarter program should be encouraging to others who an idea that supporters want to see happen. For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
JB: I don’t have an agent! But my editor, Susan Defreitas, is amazing.
It’s a funny thing. You sweat blood and tears over a manuscript. You torture yourself. Yet no matter how much work you put into it, there are some things you’re just never going to catch. You’re too close to the work. So an objective pair of eyes is absolutely invaluable. My editor lets me know when I slip into modern dialogue too much, or my jokes are a little flat. She patiently reminds me, yet again, why I’m not supposed to use the semi-colon in the way that I do.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
AA: If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?
JB: Finding some other way to tell tales, probably. Game design, perhaps. Or simply boring my friends, yet again, with stories of what it was like to fish in Alaska.
AA: Fishing sounds relaxing! Maybe that will make it into the third book 🙂 What have conventions been like, and the fan reaction?
JB: I love conventions!
No, seriously. You see, I hadn’t actually been to any before a few years ago. My first, the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, was an adventure that could fill up an interview all on its own. I quickly fell in love with them, and found myself at Orycon, Gearcon, Wordstock, Comic-Con, and of course, Steamcon.
I’ve always maintained that the reader is the most important thing in writing. They’re the ones I want to reach. At conventions? I get to do that directly! And they never disappoint. They tell me when I’m boring, or awesome, or something else they want me to know. I’m always happy to listen to what they’re doing themselves.
You meet others at conventions as well. Artists and people in the industry, all with their own unique experiences and stories to tell. I love hearing them. I love seeing what other people are doing, how they’re changing things, moment by moment, just by talking and meeting each other.
I’m a little sick of hotel breakfasts, though.
We’ll take a break here in talking with Jonathan.
Join us next time we he talks about balance, writing, and motivation.
Until then, keep to date with Jonathan on his website.