In the spring of 2018, I was deep into writing the second installment in the Walter Bailey Misadventures trilogy. It was late at night, and I had the television on for company. A commercial came on for an organization called “Honor Flight Network,” an outfit whose mission statement reads, “…celebrate America’s veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation's memorials.” They accomplish their mission by organizing all expenses paid trips for WWII – Vietnam veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials erected in their honor there. One of the photos in that commercial really struck me. It was a bunch of silver-haired warriors wearing identical crimson and gold silk jackets with USMC emblazoned on them. They looked like they were having the time of their lives, and it was easy to imagine them as the 18-year-old Marines they once were, headed off to war.
A hundred story ideas sprang from that picture, but none really stood out. Finally, it came to me.
I gave it some thought and decided to capture the heroism and devotion to duty in a story about a bunch of aged Space Marines on an honor flight who are called on to save humanity from an evil alien scourge, and “Honor Flight” was born. I created the characters of Abner Fortis and Petr Ystremski, built a world around them, and set their story in motion. It was a challenge, because every day was a new problem to solve, but it was great fun.
Finally, Honor Flight was finished. I “self-edited” it and decided to make my own cover. Here it is:
Pretty awesome, huh?
The first version was a bit short, so I called it a novella and hit “publish.” It landed with a thud. I got a couple readers, mostly friends who I begged and cajoled to give it a look, and the response was positive.
I decided it was time for another cover, so I contracted a friend of mine to make a cover that is a little more sci-fi, and she produced this:
I republished under the new cover and got some interest from people I didn’t know (i.e., the public). At the time, I didn’t know much about marketing except the horror stories of people who spent a lot of money advertising novels that didn’t sell, so I decided I needed to build a backlist before I took the advertising plunge. If one novel is good, five must be better, right?
The problem was, how to build on Honor Flight? If you’ve read it, you know there wasn’t much to work with at the end, and if you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it.
I’m a big fan of the storytelling style behind Aubrey, Hornblower, and Bolitho, so I decided I would rewind Abner Fortis’s career back to his first days as a second lieutenant in the International Space Marine Corps and work forward. I wrote Fortis as a conscientious young man who, on the eve of graduating university, decides he wants some adventure (and his student loans paid off when his service is complete). Cherry Drop was born.
I knew the title before I started writing the book. Every new Space Marine starts out as a cherry; raw and untested, and Fortis was no different. I wrote the novel, “self-edited” again, came up with a cover concept that I thought was very clever, and hit “publish.”
It’s exactly what I asked for, down to the cherry.
I followed up Cherry Drop with China Mike and had another awesome cover made.
Not as clever as Cherry Drop, eh?
By that point, it was late 2020, and I had published several novels in different genres, with similar results. I had Fresh Fruit & Ammo almost finished. I also had few sales and few readers, but I still hadn’t taken the plunge into advertising. When I was listing my writing goals for 2021, the first entry was, “Get marketing off its ass.”
I’m a member of 20Booksto50k, a group dedicated to sales, marketing, and all the other business aspects of the writing biz for indie authors. Twenty-five thousand members, give or take, and all of us trying to climb the mountain of success.
In January 2021, I saw an announcement from Craig Martelle, the 20Books big cheese, that there were a few internship opportunities coming open with some of the big names in indie publishing/20Books. I didn’t think I had a real chance, but I went through the application process anyway. On January 19th, 2021, at 3:59 p.m., I received a message on Facebook that read:
Chris Kennedy, of Chris Kennedy Publishing, read my application and decided that I had the potential to be a productive author in the CKP writer’s stable. The adventure began.
The first steps were painful. First, Chris held a cover intervention and told me that my covers weren’t great. My beautiful babies! Then he told me I had to rewrite Cherry Drop and China Mike to make them conform to CKP standards. That was a kick in the ego, but not nearly as bad as when I received Cherry Drop back after my first experience with a professional editor. That hurt! Still, I soldiered on, got the first two rewritten and submitted, and got to work fixing the third. DINLI, right?
I want to say my experience with a professional publisher, while personally painful, was tough love. It was one hundred percent necessary, and I’m grateful for it.
Fresh Fruit & Ammo followed, and then Gnamma, Diplomacy, and now, Tango Two Two. Number seven, Uncivil War, is in the editing process, and I’m working on number eight (with no idea what the title is). Abner Fortis is growing and maturing as a Space Marine officer, and his future looks bright.
I am extremely grateful to everyone who has been behind me on this journey, but especially to you, the readers. I can write the fanciest turn of phrase and the most riveting action ever put on paper, but without someone to read it, it doesn’t mean much.