Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meet Rick Daley, Author of The Man in the Cinder Clouds

On Monday, I recommended a great new middle grade book, The Man in the Cinder Clouds, and today we have author Rick Daley as a guest to talk about the path that The Man in the Cinder Clouds took to publication.

In previous Notes from the E-Revolution, we talked about how authors these days were mixing it up, combining self and traditional publishing, carving a path for themselves in the changing landscape of the industry. I love Rick’s path as well as his novel, so I’m glad he’s here to share with us today.

First, give us the short blurb on The Man in the Cinder Clouds and tell us what inspired you to write it?

First off, thanks Sue for inviting me to share my story with your readers!  Here’s a teaser blurb:

The freezing temperature is the only thing cool about Jason’s trip to the North Pole, but things heat up when his father discovers a book buried deep in the ice.  This is no ordinary book, mind you. For starters, it was written by an Elf. And if that’s not enough, the book proves the existence of Kris Kringle—you know, Santa Claus.  It’s a story you have to read to believe, and once you do Christmas will never be the same. 

The idea first came to me in 2003, when my first son was two years old and I was explaining to him the magic of Christmas.  “You’d better be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents,” was the way I put it.  The spell worked, by the way, he was (and still is) a good boy.  I wrote a short blog post about the incident, and in it I mentioned that Santa’s capacity was low because he lost two toy factories when the ice under them gave way as a result of global warming.  What can I say, I have a warped outlook on many things.

I didn’t let go of the thought, though.  It evolved into the basic premise: a book telling the origins of Santa is found in an ice core.  My first thought was to write is as a screenplay, and include every Christmas cliché as a joke, similar to how the fairy tales made appearances in “Shrek” and the classic toys had their roles in “Toy Story.”  The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized Hollywood would really screw up the story, and if I wanted my vision to make its way to the big screen, writing it as a novel was the way to go.

As I wrote it, it evolved from a farce to a more realistic story, it took on more of a gritty-and-real edge, like “Batman Begins” but with Santa.  Not that it’s without warmth and humor, but there is action and peril, too.  The clichés are there, but not as jokes, they all play into the characters and stem from the story.

How interesting that it evolved from a farce! It's certainly a full-on adventure story now! 

At one point, you were agented and pursuing publication with another novel (that I also had the pleasure of reading). Can you share the journey The Man in the Cinder Clouds took to publication?  Was there a singular moment when you decided “Yes, I’m going to self-publish this story”?

Like anything in publishing, it was long, filled with as much waiting as hard work.  While I had my chapter book, RUDY TOOT-TOOT on submission, and while I was between jobs, I cranked out the first draft in about 6 weeks.  (This was in spring 2010…seven years after the premise first popped into my head.  Thankfully I kept thinking about the story so when I finally wrote it I had a pretty clear picture of what was going to happen.)

I submitted it to my agent, and she stopped all communications for six months.  Naturally, as a writer, I am totally self-conscious and quickly determined that she hated the book and was so upset I sent it to her in rough form she never wanted to talk to me again.  In reality, her parents took ill and she had taken on too many clients too quickly and was simply overwhelmed and had never read it.  When she finally explained this to me, she promised to read it.  She didn’t.  She asked for more time.  I gave it to her.  Twice.  Eventually I realized she was not the agent for me and we both agreed to move on.
I continued revising the book for many more months considering my options.  In May of this year I realized that to find a new agent and go the traditional publishing route, this story would not meet its audience until Christmas 2013 (maybe 2012 if I was really lucky, but probably 2013).  I’ve been watching friends self-publish in print and ebook formats, and realized I could go that route and have a quality book out before Christmas 2011. 

Worm Burner and I have already read it, and I look forward to reading it again at Christmas time as a read-aloud! What other novels do you have in the works? Do you think you’ll stick with middle grade? 

I have RUDY TOOT-TOOT, a 17,000-word chapter book.  I may self-publish that one too, the hurdle to clear is the budget for illustrations.  I have stories outlined for two additional Rudy books, and I’m outlining a sequel to THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS.  I’m not going to give up too much about that right now, but I will say that there is one very famous Christmas character that didn’t make an appearance in the first book because he wasn’t born yet.  And I have a couple surprise twists to throw in. 

[Editorial note: Ok, I can't wait for that one!]

Some day I’m going to finish re-writing my first novel, a paranormal thriller titled FATE’S GUARDIAN.  It has a good story behind it, but as all first novels go (that I am aware of) it is deeply flawed in its current state.

I’m also working on a satire about the end of the world titled EARTH’S END, which is the one I’ll probably finish next because that’s the one my wife wants me to write, and when she’s happy, we’re all happy ;-)  Plus it’s a fun one to write, but definitely not a kids’ book.

[Editor's note: I really want to read that one too!]

The Man in the Cinder Clouds just came out recently, but what do you think of the self-publishing experience so far? Is it meeting your expectations?

I think it’s great.  I’ve learned a lot about formatting, copy editing, and interior design.  And I am also very lucky to have a diverse group of critique partners who helped me to see the strengths and weaknesses in the story so I could revise it and make it shine. 

So far my expectations have been met.  I tried to be realistic, and while I dream big for the future, my plan was for a soft summer launch to gain support of a core group of readers and get some reviews logged on  I’m planning a more formal marketing push as we get closer to the Christmas season, so we’ll have to wait and see how that goes…

Good luck! I can just see all those Christmas shoppers...Any tips for others considering self-publishing in the near future?

Consider your goals.  If you hope to sell a ton of books and you want to self-publish, it’s possible, but you must be prepared to take on the role of publisher and promoter, not just writer.  You are the sales and marketing department, the administration and finance department…basically the CEO of a start-up company.  You will need to set aside a budget for cover art, promotional copies, and marketing.  It will take time and money.  If you try to self-publish just because it’s fast and cheap the end result will reflect that. 

If you just want to see your book in print and make it available for your family and friends, please take the time to make it a quality product.  The worst book I’ve ever read was a self-published ebook (I read it several months back.  I won’t reveal the title, but it was an adult murder-mystery that was so bad it was almost, but not really, funny).  There is a stigma about self-published books being slushpile vanity projects, but the tides are turning, and there is opportunity for those who are willing to take it seriously and put the time and money into it.

Very wise words! Thanks so much for sharing your path and your story with us today! 

Thanks for giving me the opportunity!  I’ll be watching the comments today in case anyone has any additional questions.

Lastly, we have two winners of Rick's Man in the Cinder Clouds! They are ...

I know your little ones will enjoy The Man in the Cinder Clouds!


  1. Thanks again, Sue, for inviting me to your blog to share my story and my experiences!

    And LTM and Bryan, I hope you and your kids enjoy the story, thanks so much for commenting. You don't have to wait until Christmas, the books will be in the mail today and I hereby authorize you to open this gift early!

    For those who commented and didn't get the free copy, I hope you have the opportunity to read my book. If you do, and you'd like to share any feedback, I can be reached at rjdaley101071 (at) gmail (dot) com

  2. Thanks for sharing, y'all. Interesting to see the evolution... I don't think I've ever had the patience to stick out a story idea for so long. Glad you did. Also, youh now you have me wondering (in typical comic book rival style):

    Who wins the Batman vs. Santa battle? I mean, Santa's got elves and some reindeer who've got a hint of badassery to them, but Batman - to paraphrase Jack Nicholson - has all those toys (which are probably not elfshop approved). I am conflicted.

  3. Wow. I was not expecting to have to ponder the Batman vs. Santa debate until after the weekend. I'll need to formulate an argument and get back to you.

    I can weigh in on Superman vs. Bugs Bunny, though. Bugs Bunny is the victor, hands down. He reaches off-screen and grabs a Kryptonite anvil. Game over, thank you for playing, Superman.

  4. Funny how self-doubt creeps in with that story regarding your agent.

  5. Micahel- That's the problem with a vivid imagination. I have grand dreams, but also nightmares. The important thing is that I didn't let it stop me...

  6. @Rick and Bane You guys crack me up.

    @Michael Every writer battles self-doubt. One of the most heartening things to me is when accomplished authors talk openly about how they still struggle - with the craft, with doubt, with "imposter syndrome." Makes me realize how similar we are, everyone on this journey. :)

  7. Way to go! I love hearing about author's decision in this crazy publishing world!

  8. What an amazing journey, Rick. I will definitely be grabbing a copy of The Man in the Cinder Clouds. Thanks for being here! :-)

  9. Sue- We crack ourselves up more ;-) I am my own best audience.

    Laura- Glad to have the opportunity to share my journey with you. I posted a longer version on my blog this week, if you are interested in the finer details: My Path to Publication

    Shannon- Thanks for your support, I'm honored to be able to participate in Sue's blog in this manner!

  10. woo!!! I am SUPER excited to read this--my daughters and I have a Christmas book tradition.

    And what an interesting/rough road to publication! But it's good that we still get to have a wonderful book like this without all the road blocks.

    Thanks, guys! :o)

  11. LTM- Your copy went out yesterday, you should have it in another day or two. Let me know what you and your daughters think once you've had the opportunity to read it!

    Patience + Professionalism + Persistence = Publishing

    Or something along those lines...

  12. Patience + Professionalism + Persistence = Publishing

    I love this.

    Also, from Joe Konrath's blog a while ago, but it just popped up again today: If I can live my dream and make a buck doing so, I have no right to be anything other than happy. - Writers Serenity Prayer

  13. I like that serenity prayer!

    Here's another mantra for my writing:

    "I will find success if it does not find me first."

    Goes in line with persistence.

  14. Really interesting route to self-publishing! Best of luck to Rick on his book. :D

  15. Thanks Lisa, it's been a fun ride so far, I'm interested to see where it takes me ;-)

  16. This is awesome. Thanks so much for hosting this interview and introducing us to Rick!

  17. Ali- Thanks for stopping by and reading about my book, I really appreciate it.


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers