Adam Connell, whose novel Lay Saints was ranked as one of Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2012, didn’t begin his writing career writing for the e-book market: His first novel, Counterfeit Kings, was traditionally published in 2004 (and is still in print, he proudly adds). In fact, he didn’t start out writing novels at all. “In high school and college I started getting ideas for short stories,” he says, “and kept myself on a strict regimen of one short story a month.” Soon, longer stories began germinating, and he chose a day job that “paid the rent but left me free at night to write my little novels.”
Lay Saints is a thrilling, character-driven sci-fi noir thriller about a young mind reader named Calder who comes to a Manhattan in which telepaths are guns for hire. He becomes embroiled in attempts to mentally (and sometimes physically) manipulate the city’s politicians on behalf of the ruthless head of a telepathic syndicate. Connell recalls writing the book as a joyful experience: “The story just erupted from my imagination. I wrote the book in a fever, my pen barely keeping pace with my mind.”
The starred Kirkus review of Lay Saints calls it “an ESP-themed mashup of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino.” But in the initial stages of trying to find a traditional publisher for it in 2010, the reports he got from his agent, Evan Gregory of the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, were anything but encouraging.
He and Gregory spent nine months waiting to hear back from a large number of publishing houses, big and small. But for all the book’s fast-paced thrills and gritty noir sensibilities, publishers weren’t biting. His agent eventually suggested he try the self-published e-book route. “I hadn’t considered e-books because I thought, as many erroneously did, that e-books are the haven for weak writers,” Connell admits. “I was completely wrong, of course.”
Connell says that the main thing he discovered was that “e-books are freedom.” Gone are the institutional delays, the complicated and sometimes frustrating dealings with editors, marketing departments, artists and book designers.
Of course, gone also is the support that mainstream publishing houses provide, including promotional budgets and long-standing relationships with the best-known review periodicals—not to mention design and editorial help. When you self-publish, Connell says, “the weight of all that is yours to carry.” There were times when, like any author, he asked himself whether it was all worth the effort. “If you’re dedicated to becoming a success, if you believe in your abilities and your stories, the answer is yes,” he says.
Sales of Lay Saints have been good, though not spectacular, as Connell readily admits. “Can I buy that mansion I’ve had my eye on? No, but considering the enthusiastic reviews I’ve received in the press, I’m encouraged.” Barnes & Noble’s Explorations: The BN SciFi and Fantasy Blog listed Lay Saints as one of the top five science-fiction books of 2012. At one point, Connell says, it even reached Kindle’s Top 100. Users at influential websites like Goodreads and LibraryThing have had also good things to say.
Connell’s currently promoting his most recent novel, Total Secession, and has quit his day job to focus on writing his next, a sci-fi thriller called The High Hunt that will form the first part of a possible multivolume series called The Orion Guild. (Readers can find details on his website, www.adamconnell.net.) In the writer-driven world of self-publishing, he notes, “I could make it a 20-book series if I wanted, regardless of sales. Isn’t that beautiful?”
No matter what shape those books take, Connell is looking forward to them—and he doesn’t miss the strictures of the traditional publishing world. “The future is completely within my control,” he says, “and no one else’s.”