The post-apocalyptic world Thomas Pryce so effectively renders in his debut novel Unnatural Selection may be rife with sun-seared cannibals and other assorted perils, but the former science teacher from Yonkers, N.Y., says, “There’s no more comfortable place for me to be than building a world in my own little room behind a computer.”
We caught up with the author in southwest Florida, where he runs a company that builds and manages high-end custom aquariums. Here, he talks about finally making the decision to self-publish his book, the evolution of the self-publishing industry and how rejection made him a better writer.
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Unnatural Selection is a story you began crafting in 1991 while still teaching public school. What compelled you to revive the tale?
Back then I got lucky and got an agent. Then life happened. I got sick for a little while and moved away. I put in on the backburner. But I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get it going again.
Then, in 2008, I saw an interesting article about a polyomavirus virus [linked to a rare skin cancer] that I could incorporate into the story when I got back at it. And almost right away, I got another agent. We shopped it around to all the big houses and, of course, we got the standard rejections. I don’t know if they even read it.
It was at that point that I started doing research into the self-publishing thing. I created my own publishing company with my brother, called Cenozoic Publishing, and began working with CreateSpace to produce the book. They were fantastic. It was a different time back in ’91—these options weren’t available. There were vanity presses, but I never wanted to do that.
How have your perceptions about self-publishing changed?
I grew up in an era when self-publishing was frowned upon. But then I started looking around and seeing other established authors like J.A. Konrath do it. I’ve worked with professional editors who have told me my book was as good as anything they’ve read. It just seemed time to make my statement and go the indie route.
Still, didn’t it take a long while for you to get to that point?
I got so many rejections—enough to wallpaper a small cathedral—and it hardened me as a writer. It forced me to go back, rework things and evolve. I write mostly by mimicry. I’ve never had any formal training. I’m just a persistent son of a gun. I go back in and look at things. I read prodigiously. I also spent a lot of time on writers’ forums and was able to turn a lens on myself. Eventually, I realized that my stuff is valid. It’s good. I reached a point where I thought it was professional. I didn’t want to just put out a piece of slop like, unfortunately, I think a lot of people these days are doing. It took me awhile to come over to the other side of self-publishing, but I’m so glad I did it.
Having had that experience, what’s your advice for other struggling authors?
I think a new writer probably should try to go the traditional route. I think it hardens a writer. It just takes experience and time. I think part of the problem is too many people are jumping in too early when they’re not ready. Just keep writing. Keep reading. Read some of the books about writing. I read Stephen King’s On Writing—that’s probably like the bible. Use the Internet. Don’t be afraid to use the writers’ forums. Believe it or not, Craigslist has a writers’ forum. I’ve been on there for four or five years. There are some smart people in there and they will really help you. I like to think that I put the work in to get the thing to a level where I could get a positive Kirkus review.
What impact has that review had on you?
It’s been huge. I mean, when I heard about it, I almost wanted to go out and get a T-shirt that said, “I survived a Kirkus review.” For me it’s just added to my confidence and reinforced my decision that I made the right move. It’s an ecosystem out there, and the good will be selected to some degree, and the others will go by the wayside.