Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meet fantasy and sci fi author T.C. Southwell

Visit T.C. Southwell's website
to access all of her books.
The rise of independent publishing and worldwide digital distribution of ebooks are really starting to show readers what they've been missing all these years. Not too long ago I never would have had the pleasure of coming across T.C. Southwell, a prolific fantasy and sci fi author living in South Africa.

Southwell has 21 novels published at Smashwords right now and she has dozens of other works written as well. I recently read and reviewed Demon Lord, which I very much enjoyed. I have the next book Dark God on my reading list.

Impressed with Southwell's work, I asked her for an interview. She graciously explained her life as a writer, her challenges getting published in South Africa, and her choice to go into business for herself.

Are some or all of your novels in print in South Africa?

Only Demon Lord, which was published as a paperback in 2006. Unfortunately, in SA anything local is considered inferior, for some reason, and the publisher was unable to generate enough publicity to ensure good sales. Copies were sent to all the major magazines and newspapers for review, but not a single one would even read it. Some local bookshops did not want to stock it, either, even on a ‘sale or return’ basis. As a consequence, sales were dismal and the sequel, Dark God, was never published.

2. You've written over 40 novels. Which one was your first?

Slave Empire is the first book I wrote, in 1989, although it had a different title initially and the first draught was abysmal. My agent sent it to several publishers but it was rejected, not surprisingly. Since then I’ve rewritten it about three times, and currently the second book, The Crystal Ship, is my bestseller.

3. You've stated that your mother helped you financially during a 10 year period so you could dedicate yourself to writing. When was this period and did this effort lead to publication?

That was from about 1993 to 2003, and, although I wrote pretty much all my books during that period – except Slave Empire and the Queen’s Blade prequels – I didn’t actually try to find a publisher at that stage. I wrote the books for my own enjoyment, and had no plans to have them published. Basically I was an unemployed bum living in my mum’s garage – which she converted into a flat for me – and I borrowed an ancient PC (which actually belonged in a museum) from some friends and spent my nights writing stories. Then I decided it was time to do something with my life, so I moved to Cape Town in 2003 and started my IT business. I got another agent in 2005 or thereabouts, who found the local publisher for Demon Lord.

4. At your main website, you explain how publishers and other middlemen gain most of the profit from books while authors are undercompensated and readers pay high prices. When did you realize you wanted to produce your own work and become an independent creative entrepreneur?

After my agent retired in 2009, I tried to find an overseas agent and discovered how high their fees are – up to 20%. By that time I was becoming fed up with the whole rigmarole and the amount of waiting involved – it can take several months to get a reply from an agent or a publisher – and they don’t want you to send your work to any others at the same time. I looked at a number of e-book publishers, and submitted Demon Lord to one, but it’s 112,000 words and very few e-book publishers will publish books longer than 80,000 words. They wanted me to cut 20,000 words out of it, and I wasn’t prepared to do that. They’d have had even more fun with Dark God, which is 128,000 words! All my books are quite long, and I didn’t want to have to re-write them all to make them fit e-book publishers’ specs. I started looking at self-publishing options, and in particular e-books. I heard good and bad things about the e-book market, the most negative aspect of which is that it’s rather small compared to the paperback market, but it’s growing in leaps and bounds and most people in the industry say it’s the way of the future. So it was only just before Christmas last year that I finally decided to change tack and take the self-published e-book route, and I have no regrets.

5. Judging from feedback from your readers, what do you think people like the most about your stories?

Mostly, people seem to like my heroes and heroines, which I’m very happy about since they’re my favourite aspects, too, and all my books are character driven. I let my heroes do what they want and merely follow their stories.

6. Any additional comments?

I would encourage new authors who are struggling to find an agent or publisher to go the e-book route. I was constantly assured by my agents that all the best authors were rejected many, many times before they found an editor who liked their work, but why put yourself through that when you don’t have to anymore? Getting published with a mainstream publisher is a long-drawn-out process that can take up to two years. While there’s nothing quite as satisfying as holding an actual paperback copy of your ‘baby’ in your hands, e-books are almost as good, and there’s also POD publishing, which I plan to explore, too.

Thank you T.C. Southwell for sharing your experiences. Readers can find out about all her novels at T.C. Southwell Books.