Thursday, 1 September 2011

Self Publishing Spotlight: Changers' Summer by Mike Lewis

Welcome to my Self Publishing Spotlight!

This month I'm very pleased to say my spotlight has landed on author Mike Lewis and his brilliant book Changers' Summer, the first book in The Changers Trilogy.

Tom is twelve and all he's ever known is a world with acid rain and constant cloud. His world is a place where people try to scratch out a living; surrounded by the wreckage of the past.

One hundred years ago a group of mysterious scientists took charge of the Earth's weather in order to control climate change. They burned the planet and in the ensuing chaos they disappeared.

When one of the "Changers" appears on Tom’s farm, his life changes and he is forced into an adventure where he must choose between his family and helping the Changers repair the damage they have done.

But can the Changers be trusted this time?

Sound good? Well, author Mike Lewis has very kindly written a guest post to give you some insight into how Changers' Summer came about, the highs and lows of the self publishing journey and to let us know what we can expect in 2012.

I have always been writing and creating something since I was a teenager. At first it was roleplaying game adventures, later writing articles for RPG magazines. Then I moved into writing comics, computer games and then general computer software.

It was only while working in New Zealand for 18 months back in 1997 that I first considered writing fiction again with the aim of having it published. I attended a creative writing evening class and enjoyed the experience; wrote a couple of stories and, to my surprise, sold both of them.

I have since found it harder to sell everything I write but I started writing regularly and sending out short stories to magazines and anthologies with small successes here and there. I attended a week long SF writing workshop in 1998 which opened my eyes to writing professionally and also introduced me to some other new writers who are still with me in a writing group 13 years later.

It was as a result of “homework” from one of these writing group sessions that Changers’ Summer came about. In order to stimulate some writing, we had to write down the three “clich├ęs” about our writing that we returned to again and again. We put these into a hat and whatever you drew out you had to write a story on in time for the next group meeting.

My selection was from Tony, who should have been writing in the 1960s, as he loved stories about people wandering around the landscape and discussing things. The only way I could see to write a “Tony” story was to start with an idea and write my way into it. So I started one story with two people in a car on a road trip – that story foundered and I put it aside for a while (it was later finished and published as Cooper’s Creek in The Mammoth Book of the Road).

My second attempt at a Tony story started with an idea I had of a man appearing from the past through a gate. He would appear slowly though, over a number of days, and the story was to be about the other characters’ reactions to him.

Like all the best stories, it didn’t work out like that at all. I sat down and started on Changers’ Summer and the characters took over and defined their world, the situation and why the man was appearing. After I had written 5000 words I realised that I had the start of a young adult novel and wrote the next 50k very quickly.

Changers’ Summer was completed after four drafts in 2001 and was sent to a number of agents and publishers. In 2002 I attended the Clarion East SF writing workshop in East Michigan for 6 weeks. This is an intense course that shows you what it is like to write for a living and has some of the very best SF and Fantasy writers as teachers. I worked hard and wrote 13 short stories in 6 weeks.

When I came back, I rewrote the unsold Changers’ Summer again and sent it to an editor who had been on the course. Unfortunately, he sat on it for a year before I withdrew it. I wrote a second unconnected YA fantasy novel and waited.

Changers’ Summer went out to more agents and had a couple of requests for the whole manuscript but no one liked it enough to take me on, YA was a hard sell. I shelved it and started to revise the other novel and started on a mainstream SF thriller.

Then, in February 2004, I came down with M.E. / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Seven years on I still have CFS and it flares up from time to time but the main effect it had was that I stopped writing almost completely. From being someone who wrote 5k a week, I wrote occasional short stories, still went to writers groups but I never managed to finish anything and I stopped submitting my stories.

Fast forward to May 2011. I have downsized my work and taken redundancy from my IT job and I am now running a small wargaming business Black Hat Miniatures. When a contract for IT work that I have been doing one day a week stopped I looked around to see what else I could do to make some additional money. I have licensed the computer games I wrote in the mid-80s to appear on the Ipad, which was one step and then I came across the Kindle Direct Publishing platform.

It was now possible to publish your own work for almost no cost and the more I looked into it, the more intrigued I became about the possibilities of putting out a collection of my published short stories to earn some money. I also realised that I could dust off Changers’ Summer and publish it and finally have some people reading it.

So, I have been self-publishing for just 3 months and seem to have, typically, chosen the poorest sales months of the year in which to do it. I did a lot of reading around the subject before jumping in (but probably, in hindsight should have asked some more questions as well). I hired cover designers to produce my covers and did the formatting of books myself.

The best thing about the experience so far has been that although I started out with the idea of making some money from my already published work, the process has made me write again. The reactions and reviews for Changers’ Summer have been very favourable and people are already asking about the next book in the series. I am working on The Rat King – the Changers Trilogy book 2 – now and I have written more words in August than in the previous 6 months and I have started to have ideas for other books and short stories.

I am still learning about marketing and promoting, which is tough and the various things you can do to get your work in front of people (such as free stories) and starting to make contact with book bloggers. I would heavily recommend that anyone interested in self-publishing read the forums. There are writers on there who have been doing this since KDP started and they have 2 years of experience under their belt and they are willing to share it.

Sales of Changers’ Summer have been gradually increasing and I realise that it is probably going to take the publication of book 2 and maybe even book 3 before some people will commit to read a trilogy but I am intending to have the next two books out by this time next year. So now I just have to stop checking sales and get on with writing...

Thanks for this Mike, I'm so glad that you chose to publish Changers' Summer as not only is it a great story but it seems to have brought you a lot of positivity and has inspired you to write again. I have everything crossed and wish you all the best for the future. Now here's my review of Changers' Summer.

It is books like these that support my belief that in the realms of self publishing you will find stories that are just as good, if not better, than the fancy, hyped books you’ll find on the shelves of your local bookshop.

In Changers’ Summer, Mike Lewis has created an intriguing post-apocalyptic world that merely hints at what went on to bring it to this point: rats that can build ladders, dogs that can talk, rain that falls in different colours. Although many of their changes are evident, there is a great mystery surrounding the Changers and your imagination gets a great work out as the reader to try to construct what happened. There’s a real sense of the reader being ignorant and a tantalising mystery that makes the story engaging. Clearly there has been a period where genetic modification and fiddling with nature has gone mad to create this dystopia but what I really like is that the reader is left to make up their own mind about this. There are no worthy opinions and no definite sense of whether the Changers were benevolent or evil, it all adds to the mystery and the chaos in your mind as you try to work out who is a good guy and who is a bad guy.

The story develops at a perfect pace, with developments in each chapter and no lengthy periods of hanging around. What I really like is the way the adults in the story gradually drop out for one reason or another and it is then left up to the two children to take the lead and make the decisions about what they are going to do. Changers’ Summer really encapsulates what I love about teen fiction and that is an innate distrust of adults. They may think they are making the right decisions but adults are too full of the world to truly know what is the right thing to do. I think all world-saving ventures should be conducted by children because they have courage first above all things and they instinctively know what is good and what is evil. This may not be true in real life but it certainly is in teen fiction and it certainly is the case in Changers’ Summer.

This is definitely a book for those who love post-apocalyptic/dystopian reads with a dollop of time travel, plenty of mystery and an accessible sci-fi edge. As for the ending… AMAZING! But I’m not going to spoil that, you’ll have to read it to find out. All I’m going to say is my favourite books are always the ones that end with a beginning…

And there you have it! Thanks to Mike Lewis for participating in the Self Publishing Spotlight, I honestly can't recommend Changers' Summer enough so here's how you can get your hands on a copy.

You can also enter a giveaway for a copy at Goodreads (closes 15th Sep 2011).

Also, be sure to check out Mike Lewis' links for more:

Blog      Twitter      Facebook

Mike has also compiled an anthology of 8 sci-fi and fantasy short stories, The Smell of Magic and Other Stories Anthology, which is available at:

To find out more about the Self Publishing Spotlight feature or to submit a book, click here. I'm especially interested to hear from authors planning to publish in the new year.

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