Author Don McQuinn is a perfect example of a sci-fi and fantasy writer who made it into the big time and then took control of his own destiny. Don and I met earlier this month at a Greek restaurant in suburban Seattle, not far from his home and mine. The vigorous former Marine and octogenarian has been a published writer since 1980, and he found fame with his Moondark Saga (Warrior, Wanderer, Witch) and his Captain Lannat series (With Full Honors, The Prisoner Within). But the world of books is cruel, and after a few bestsellers, his work fell out of print, and income dried up. A heart attack in 1998 took its toll, as well as other family-related health crises.
Once a writer, always a writer, and Don applied a Marine’s “gung ho” attitude to the emerging opportunities of digital media. With the help of supportive family, Don dived into electronic publishing, acquiring the rights from his former publisher and issuing ebook versions of his Moondark Saga, including a repackaging of the books into bundles. He’s also written well-regarded women’s fiction focused on post-traumatic stress disorder. Though he describes the income from these efforts as modest, he’s living proof of an established author’s ability to rescue himself/herself from midlist hell and out-of-print perdition through independent publishing.
Don breaks the stereotype of the digital-phobic elder by publishing a blog and showing a keen interest in the growing world of independent audiobook publishing. During our lunch, we discussed an experiment by my friend Ramona Ridgewell, who publishes chapters of her Tishta the Crystal Orb fantasy series on SoundCloud, an online audio distribution platform better known to musicians and podcasters than authors. Ramona tells me she has more subscribers to her SoundCloud posts than her standard blog. (see embedded audio below)
Ramona’s technique is a hybrid of standard internet-distributed audiobook publishing and Wattpad-like text publishing, allowing her to build an audience for both media with similar content at low cost. I’ve toyed with the idea of publishing my work as audiobooks. My time in radio taught me a little bit about voice work, and I’m comfortable with audio editing, meaning I wouldn’t have to hire out this work, saving several thousand dollars in production costs. There’s lots of sweat equity, though. I estimate 75 hours of production time for a 300-page manuscript. Fortunately, Amazon can distribute an audiobook with the same ease as an ebook through its Audible service.
For the moment, however, I’m sticking with a plan to publish my own books through legacy publishers, because they still have advantages over self-publishing. Don McQuinn has nearly exhausted his options on that path, and it makes perfect sense for him at this point to take charge of his own creative destiny. Every writer, publishing or not, should take his example to heart.