Interview with Lindsay Buroker, Author of The Emperor’s Edge (Part I)

~ From Nelson Suit’s Wordcapering blog ~

I came across Lindsay Buroker’s book The Emperor’s Edge last December on Amazon as I was looking for new e-books to read on my Kindle.Emperors-Edge-Cover

The Emperor’s Edge is the first book in a series in which Amaranthe Lokdon, a curious and quick-thinking imperial enforcer stumbles upon a conspiracy against the emperor and in the midst of unraveling the mystery finds herself marked as an outlaw and assembling a team of outcasts to come to the aid of the empire.  Did I mention that the story is set in a world of steam technology, infiltrated at times by magic? 

It is difficult for me to describe the style – except to say that the Emperor’s Edge (or EE) books (four of the six planned books in the series and several short stories set in the same world are available) are difficult to put down.  They are fun, I love the characters and the plots unravel like mystery novels.

I learned later that Lindsay Buroker’s EE books have been independently published – not through a mainstream publisher – and the “indie” aspect of these works of course intrigued me.

I recently connected with Lindsay Buroker during her campaign on the crowd funding site Kickstarter where she was raising funds to have one of her EE books made into an audio book.  I was given the opportunity to ask her a few questions.  Here is Part One of a two-part interview with Lindsay Buroker conducted by email, posted here with her permission.

NS: Who is Lindsay Buroker?

LB: Are you sure you want to ask this one first? I’m not terribly fascinating. 😀

I grew up as an only child who had a lot of time to read in the back of the station wagon on the way to swim meets all over the West Coast. The interest in writing started young too. The first story that I have a record of was written when I was about seven and involved a boy, a horse, and a wolf being stranded on a desert island (it’s possible that it was ever-so-slightly derivative of The Black Stallion).

Though I always enjoyed writing, and always had stories running around in my head, it took me another twenty years to “get serious” about it. Writing, I was led to believe, wasn’t something one could make a very good living doing, so I studied computer science and business. I also spent four years in the army to pay for school. (Incidentally, I learned what it’s like to be the sole woman working with a group of men at that time. Among other things, I had my horizons broadened during the numerous conversations involving sex and alcohol. 😉 )

After leaving the army, I vowed never to work for someone else (and never to get up before 6 a.m. for physical training either), and I figured out how to make a living writing content for my own websites and blogs, something I did from 2003 to 2011. Last year, I put all that to the side to focus 100% on writing fiction (and to convince people to read my fiction!).

As of a few months ago, I’m able to make a living from my stories, and I hope that will continue to be the case. It’s a great time to be a writer, so long as you have an entrepreneurial streak and you’re willing to market a little and figure out ways to get your stuff out there where people can find it.

NS: How did you come to write The Emperor’s Edge?

LB: These characters and the first EE book were a long time in the making. I came up with the male characters in one swoop, a good ten years ago, and wrote several stories with them (most of them unfinished). There were even a couple of novels, though they never got past the rough-draft stage.

An early reader (I was a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Workshop off and on for several years) said I needed a female character to balance things out. I scoffed at the idea at first, mostly because I hadn’t come across many female fantasy characters that I enjoyed reading about. They all seemed to fall into two camps: weak, whiny, and annoying or uber powerful Xena types who could kick any man’s butt without messing up their hair. Neither were anything like the strong women I’ve known.

But, as they say, if you can’t find something you want to read then you should write it yourself. I didn’t want to make statements about what a woman should or shouldn’t be like, because the minute you’re out to prove something, that kind of shows up in the writing and it’s clear that you have an Agenda. I just knew I wanted Amaranthe to have heroic qualities but still feel like a woman, so I tried to model her after the female officers and sergeants I’d liked and respected when I was in the army. They were the calm, competent women who did their jobs and, if you deserved it, they’d have your back.You never felt like they were trying to prove that they were just as capable as their male counterparts. They just were. Of course, I had to give Amaranthe a few quirky personality traits, because people are more interesting that way…

In the early stories, I stuck Amaranthe into the middle of this already-existing group of men (Sicarius was leading things back then, if you can believe that). Things got more interesting when I decided she should be in charge. A lot of the first Emperor’s Edgebook involved figuring out how and why she put this team of men together.

NS: Readers have generally come across your work in e-book form, and I think a lot of aspiring writers look up to you as an example of what an indie writer can do with new digital technologies.  Can you tell us a little of what the process of e-publishing is like?

LB: It’s been a learning curve, for sure. I’ve switched cover artists and editors a number of times, and have gone back and forth on what I should do myself and what it’s worth paying people to do (i.e. formatting the ebooks, creating business cards and flyers, adding features to the website, etc.).

Now the process goes like this:

  • Finish the rough draft of the manuscript
  • Reserve a week with my editor (a freelancer), so she’ll be able to start work on it when I’m ready
  • Go back and edit the manuscript, chapter by chapter, and then, as I go, send off chunks to beta readers, folks I originally met in that online Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop
  • Order cover art, so it’ll be ready when the novel is done
  • Incorporate my beta readers’ comments and make edits until the story is in a place where I’m happy with it.
  • Send the manuscript off to the editor and start working on the first draft of the next project
  • Get the manuscript back, make final edits, and send it and the cover art to the fellow who does my formatting (this is something that a lot of indies learn how to do themselves, but I hate that kind of repetitive busy-work, so it’s worth it for me to pay)
  • Write up a blurb for the bookstores (have editor take a peep so there won’t—I hope!—be any typos)
  • Receive mobi and epub files back and upload them to B&N’s PubIt, Amazon’s KDP, and Smashwords. Smashwords is a distributor that can get self-published ebooks into Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc., though it’s not nearly as instantaneous as I’d like.
  • Hope people enjoy the story! 

NS: What are some of the positives and negatives of e-publishing as an indie author?

LB: On the plus side, you have full control and can choose your cover artist, editor, publishing schedule, etc. You don’t have to worry about impressing agents or publishers (the only thing that matters is what the readers think). You also earn a higher percentage of the sales price (35-70%), so you don’t need to sell nearly as many books to make a living (though it’s still a long road for most of us to get to that point).

On the flip side, you have to learn how to think like a publisher (I’m still working on that) and do a lot of book promotion if you want sales. There’s nobody to coach you or share some of the marketing burden, so you really do have to be “independent.” You also miss out on having an experienced niche/genre editor go over your work and advise on how to improve it.

A year ago, I probably would have mentioned the stigma of self-publishing on the negatives side, but more readers are open to trying books by unknowns and Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. don’t make it terribly obvious that books are self-published anyway (if you do a good job with your cover art, blurb, story, editing, etc., a lot of people might never know!).

NS: The reviews for your books on Goodreads and Amazon are uniformly enthusiastic.  You have a legion of loyal fans.  There is a common theme – which is that your storytelling is suspenseful, addictive.  One reader said in a review something to the effect that reading your books is a good way to lose a day.  Or I suspect a few days or much-needed sleep or miss a bus, etc.  The books are difficult to put down.  Well, how do you do it?  Mental sciences?

LB: Hah, thank you for the kind words. I just try to keep things fun. I figure if something is boring me when I’m writing it, then it’ll bore readers, so that’s a sign to cut or trim a scene, add conflict (whether an external threat or interpersonal angst), or—always popular—blow something up. I’m definitely not one to get bogged down with paragraphs and paragraphs of description or pages of setup. I like to jump right into the adventure and squeeze in the details as we go.

I also try to leave out the scenes where nothing much happens. When you have characters who love to talk (as my guys certainly do), it’s tempting to write those scenes where they’re just sitting around a campfire on the road or enjoying an ale (or, in my world, hard cider) at a tavern, but I think you’re more likely to keep people’s attention if there’s something at stake in every scene and the plot continues to move forward on every page.

[This interview originally appeared in Nelson Suit’s Wordcapering blog. Part Two of this interview may be found here.  Thank you for visiting!]

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