On self-publishing, Patreon, and building believable worlds

An interview with Tyler McNamara

Time Machine

Tyler McNamara is the “head writer, creative director, design tank, and marketing rogue” behind Earwig Publishing, which seeks to produce “stories and games that stray from the path.” I edited his first novel, The Mother of Dark Space, which he self-published earlier this year. It tells the story of Rachael Dahlia and her professional and personal struggles as one of very few women scientists on Mars, leading a team of experimental scientists beyond the boundaries of the known universe in an attempt to discover faster-than-light travel.

Although he’s busy writing the sequel and being a new parent, Tyler graciously found some time while his baby was sleeping to talk to me about his work and his experience with the self-publishing process.

First, give us a little background about you and The Mother of Dark Space. Where did the story come from? How did it change throughout the writing process?
God, this is embarrassing… It all stemmed from a character that popped into my head listening to Bush’s “Mouth” in the ’90s. That line “All your metal armor drags me down” gave me an image of a young woman piloting a mechanical walker. I started thinking about her history, how she got to be so mean and cold.

When I went to school for outdoor education, the story morphed into one about overcoming generational trauma, and that version of the story encompassed three generations.

What were some of your most satisfying or most frustrating moments while writing?
The most frustrating was when I realized that my main character didn’t want to have a baby, even though she needed to have one for the plot to work. Figuring out how to deal with that was really frustrating and took me to places that were uncomfortable to write about. Solving it was satisfying, but what was more organically satisfying was in the editing process: after giving the piece a while to cool, I would go in to look at it with fresh eyes and occasionally I would just get sucked into scene and I would forget that I was editing. That’s fun.

Why did you decide to self-publish?
In my teens I wanted to be a published author, but I realized that I didn’t have the will to build up my portfolio or to keep submitting stories in the face of all the rejection letters. It was in business school that I was turned onto Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. That was my checklist of how to go about this huge undertaking of self-publishing. While I didn’t follow his process to the letter, it gave me a great idea of what the process looked like, and the confidence that I was “doing it right.”

I decided to publish with CreateSpace because I ordered samples from the top print-on-demand publishers and I liked the look, feel, and quality of their paperbacks the most. They also have the best distribution options.

What did you do yourself, and what did you hire others to do?
I always knew that I would need to hire an editor, both for content and copy. I bartered with a local artist for the cover art — he had an idea for a comic, and so in exchange for his art I helped coach him to refine his story so it was about something, and then work on the world-building process through that lens. I got local filmmaker to shoot and edit a video where I talk about the project. And beta readers — I didn’t pay them, but getting feedback outside my immediate family was really crucial for finding out if I had interesting and engaging characters and an intriguing plot, and if not, what was missing.

The things I did myself included laying out the cover and interior (I had to learn how to use InDesign), building my own website, and launching a Kickstarter-like site called Patreon for the project.

It seems like you’ve been pretty serious about the marketing side, including building a base of supporters through Patreon. How has that worked for you?
Patreon was great, even though my patrons are 99 percent people I already knew. The people who chose to support the project weren’t always the people I expected. And even though it was only a handful of folks paying two to ten bucks a month, the total I was earning allowed me to pay for the services I couldn’t do myself. The double edge was that then some of my writing time was siphoned off to create content for my supporters.

There was also an unexpected benefit in that once I had an audience, I stopped reading/editing the book with an “anybody” in mind, and found that I would wonder if Abbey would like this joke, or if Dave would be confused by that.

What other marketing strategies have served you well?
My plan to expand my readership was through Patreon, Twitter, my website, and a writer forum that I can’t even remember the name of at the moment. All of that was basically a bust. I’ve acquired the most new readers from people actually meeting me.

I think people get attached to books almost more for their authors than for the content of the book. Like, I feel like business-y, marketing savvy folks talk about their “brand” all the time, but the tendency is to become someone you’re not, and people have a nose for bullshit. So in marketing myself I’ve decided to, number one, be true to myself, and also to highlight what makes me unique and interesting. For example: I write about space but I’ve never been there. Ha haaaa! Seriously though, I’m someone who wears my heart on my sleeve, and my biggest reason for not using a pseudonym is as a reminder to bring my whole self to my writing and other creative works. Check out my Patreon video for an example of this (yes, I made 100 percent of that costume).

Overall, do you feel self-publishing has been a successful business venture?
It hasn’t been a financial success, if that’s what you mean. Not yet anyway, but the goal of my business was not to make a million dollars and become a full-time writer. That would be nice, but my goal — my definition of success for the first book — was to have someone who I don’t know and who has never met me read the book and leave a review. Also, I’ve heard that the second book sells the first, so my focus has always been on getting the first one out there, so I could start working on the second, and in that I’ve had great success.

What would you do differently next time?
I wasted a lot of time editing for spelling and grammar before hiring an editor. Part of this was thinking that it would therefore take them less time. Part of it was that I had a fantasy where they would say, “Wow, you don’t have a single misspelled word or grammatical error!” and it would help ease the fear of doing everything on my own. And part of it was that I wanted to appear more professional, and worth an editor’s time. But you were so great at helping me feel like a legitimate author, even as I stuttered and fumbled through our initial phone conversation. Next time I’ll leave the editing to the editor, and not worry about grammar until I know the content is where I want it to be.

Aw, that warms my heart! What’s next for you and Earwig Publishing?
I’m working on the second book in the Of Dark Space series — working title, The Children of Dark Space — but having a kid has totally ruined my writing (and sleeping) schedule. Additionally, I want to get into the consulting business as a world builder. I want to work with artists across narrative genres (prose, comics, video and board games, etc.) to help develop the background framework, or rule-set, of their made-up world so that it feels real, lived-in, and supports the thematic tone of their work.

What does that kind of world-building look like?
For example, in The Mother of Dark Space, many of the characters are trying to be something they’re not, either through makeup, stimulants, fake names, or fancy titles. I crafted the setting to echo that — the dome on Mars where most of the story takes place is made up of thousands of screens that are constantly projecting landscapes from back on Earth, giving the inhabitants the illusion that they are in the Swiss Alps, or the Sierra Nevadas.

Or on another level: the dome is a tiny spark of life on the face of Mars, the Roman god of war. The denizens of the dome are mostly men, and Rachael tries to emphasize her masculinity to survive, but she comes to carry a spark of life that must prevail.

 

CoverMoDSCheck out tylermcnamara.com to learn more about Tyler’s world-building adventures and The Mother of Dark Space.

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