Science fiction novelist Patricia Gilliam’s childhood fascination with the NASA space program and The Twilight Zone television series has served her well. “When I was 13 years old, The Twilight Zone amazed me because it presented a short story that always had an interesting twist at the end.” After graduating college, Gilliam began writing science fiction short stories as a hobby. When she began winning a few contests on writing.com, new fans began contacting her. She says, “Several people said ‘if you ever write a book, let me know, and I’ll buy it.'”
Today she is busy writing the 6th book in The Hannaria Series, a story that alternates perspectives between a human family and a powerful alien family. Her clear prose, transitions, pacing, and suspense building are spot on. Gilliam says, “There’s not any symbolism. I want to keep it entertaining and keep it fun. I don’t want to hit anyone over the head with any personal philosophy. ” Happily, her books, available in paperback and the Amazon Kindle Store, are inexpensive, so keeping up with this saga is affordable.
Throughout this journey, Gilliam has generously shared some of what she has learned on Writers Helping Writers and in her e-book Series Craft 101. If you are hesitant to write a novel or to independently publish a book, Gilliam’s tips should help calm your fears and point you in the right direction.
Writing – Getting Started
After several failed attempts at writing a novel, Gilliam was able to successfully complete her first official novel: The Hannarian Series: Out of the Gray. What made the difference? “I decided to put in a lot of time on the front end – the book’s outline. I spent six months preparing a rough history of plot and character development. I began by using online templates, and I eventually created my own template to accommodate my needs. After this initial preparation, I spent a year writing and independently publishing Out of the Gray.
“I used online critique groups at writing.com and gather.com to get feedback from strangers during the early stages of writing this book. Terry Shaw with the Knoxville Writers’ Guild completed the final edit of the book.”
“I knew at the beginning of writing Out of the Gray that this would be a series.” While writing the second and third books in the series, Gilliam says she knew how the series would end. “I do have an ending, and I think it’s a good ending. I’m presently working on the sixth book in the series. Book 7 is probably going to be the last in this arc. There is going to be a resolution, but I’m going to leave it open and move on with it in a new arc with other characters from this series.” For more information on series writing, see Gilliam’s free article 5 Tips for Developing a Novel Series.
Science Fiction Prediction
Part of the fun of reading science fiction is observing predictions that have since come true in modern times. Like Ray Bradbury’s short story The Pedestrian (1951), wherein a man’s innocent evening walks are viewed with suspicion, and he is eventually arrested for being a pedestrian.
The Hannarian Series: Out of the Gray was published in 2009. At that time, no one had heard of Obamacare, yet one of the plot lines in this novel involves a heated debate about whether Congress should accept technically advanced alien-created healthcare technology. Gilliam says she created this story thread after thinking about desperate people who fall through the cracks. “What would drive someone to illegally seek help from an alien population? Desperate parents would be willing to do anything to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child.” In the book, there is fear and suspicion that the aliens, the Hannarians, would use their healthcare technology for devious purposes.
Independent Publishing Tips
Gilliam says, “People wonder, ‘if I don’t have everything together, can I still begin the independent publishing process?’ Yes, you can.” Gilliam suggests writing as much as you can and chipping away at self publishing over an extended period of time.
She says, “Some places don’t charge for self publishing. I use lulu.com. The writer is in charge of her own formatting, editing, and cover art. The pattern I see now is for writers to begin publishing on their own, and then hire out the parts they don’t want to do, or don’t know how to do.
“Most of my sales come from Amazon.com’s kindle store. To publish with Amazon, scroll to the bottom of the Amazon.com page and look for “Independently Publish with Us.” Follow the Amazon guidelines. Create Space handles paperback editions and it provides a template. Amazon and lulu.com usually allows you to create the book with a Microsoft Word document.
“I direct everybody to Amazon because they handle the financial side and the shipping. It takes a lot of pressure off of me,” she says.
Gilliam also notes, “I used photoshop to make my cover art. All of the books in The Hannaria Series have similar covers so you can tell they are part of a series. In the future I would like to upgrade the covers. If a writer is not interested in making her own cover art, she can hire someone else to do it. Cover art is quickly becoming a side business. Some companies do nothing but cover art. These companies may grant you the rights to the art, so you can use it however you want to, and they won’t give another writer the same art.”
Gilliam advises, “Let people have some free access to your work. Some people are afraid to offer a free sample, but the samples can lead to online book reviews and sales of future books. All the rough drafts of my books were available online. When the final versions were published, people still bought them If your book is exclusively available in Amazon’s kindle store, you will be given 5 days a month to promote your book for free. I used Storycartel.com for a giveaway. You provide them with your files and they will distribute it for a month.”
Gilliam says giving away swag is another good marketing tool. “I had bookmarks made at printplace.com. They give you the template and you are responsible for the art.” Gilliam has left a stack of bookmarks on the community shelf McKay’s Used Books. She also attended the Knoxville 2012 Fan Boy expo and gave away bookmarks and copies of her book. “It was really fun. I liked talking to people and the other authors who were there. I want to do it again,” she says. See Gilliam’s free article 5 Ways to Market Your Books for additional information about marketing with social media, blogging, and events.
Quit Your Day Job?
Gilliam still works full-time, but once she began writing The Hannaria Series, she made a drastic career change. She says, “In the beginning, writing was a hobby and I didn’t seriously consider it as a career option. I was always just working to become a better writer.”
She used to work more than 40 hours a week at a professional job. “The was no time leftover to spend with my husband or to write.” Five years ago she left that job to work in retail. “My books wouldn’t exist without making a change. Taking a pay cut and regaining more of my time and myself was the best decision I ever made. I’m so glad I did it. The people I have met – that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten back into writing. I love the experience of it. This kind of decision isn’t for everyone, but for some people, it works.”
Gilliam says, “Writing, independent publishing, and other creative endeavors don’t happen overnight. Just have fun with it and try to relax. There will be times when it’s not fun. You need to remember the big picture of what you are trying to do, and that’s not going to happen if you stop. It’s one thing to feel like quitting but it’s another thing to give up.”
You can follow Patricia Gilliam and The Hannaria Series on Facebook.
© Debra Dylan, 2013.