Today I have Ethan Coffee, author of Fables of the Flag, for a chat about publishing middle grade
indie novels. I’ve talked before about
how challenging it can be for indie authors to reach their middle grade
audience, but lately I’ve also been hearing whispers of some MG indie authors finding success.
This is a topic that keeps shifting with the times, so I thought we would
revisit. First, a little about Ethan’s new novel:
8th grade trip to Washington DC, finds himself mysteriously transported back in
time to 1720 Massachusetts. Finding a world without cars, phones and other
conveniences of modern life takes some getting used to, but he’s even more surprised
to meet a young Founding Father, Ben Franklin.
befriends the confused and tattered Jack and offers him a place to stay. When
Jack overhears a seedy plan that will most certainly ruin Ben’s brother’s
printing business, Jack vows to help find the culprit before it’s too late.
to the cargo hold of a huge galleon, Jack realizes he’s on the most bizarre,
but important, adventure of his life. As Jack is thrown into a whirlwind of
conspiracy, he realizes that much more than a printing company is at stake. An
adventure is one thing, but being stuck hundreds of years in the past is quite
Sounds like fun already. And I love the idea of exploring historical figures as
young people, especially when adventure is involved (History? Psh! Forget that
dry, boring stuff!). What inspired you to write historical MG fiction, and what
other figures from the past do you think you’ll write about in the future?
showing these larger than life historical figures, like the Founding Fathers,
as real, vulnerable people. So often, its easy to think of them as being born
as adults with some clear vision of their place in life, rather than actual
people who had real life problems. They may have gone on to do great things,
but many came from humble beginnings.
Fables of the Flag: The Surveyor’s Tale, features George Washington. Our first
President was quite an adventurer growing up, so the story is vastly different
from the first Fables, but still has the kind of intrigue that made it so much
fun. There’s actually a few different Founders in the third book, which I’m
working on right now, but I don’t want to give away the surprise quite yet.
young people, so that their young readers can picture themselves as growing up
to be a leader, like them! Bravo to you, sir. It will be very interesting to
see what you do with George W., who is so often portrayed as outsized heroic
(or demonized by those that wish to swing the other way). The greatest
challenge for me, with even thinking about writing historical fiction, is getting
the period details right, so that it has an authentic feel (and you don’t get
called out by the history buffs). Did you major in History or are you an
armchair historian? Or do you just do tons-o-research?
Literature classes in college where I was exposed to works like The
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin for the first time. That helped give me a
good basis for not only what was going on in (soon to be) America at that time
from a historical perspective, but some of the finer details of everyday life
as well. I’ve read quite bit of history and historical fiction since then, but
I still find myself needing to look up specific details like the weight of a
galleon or what trees would be in a certain area of the country.
historical fiction would be so difficult to research, but then the weight of a
galleon is probably something you can look up on the internet, just like any
other research! Still, I think I’ll keep my stories in the future … J Now
that you have a self-published MG novel out there, what are the lessons learned
that you would offer to other authors considering taking their MG novels the
indie route? It seems exceedingly difficult to reach MG readers directly – rather
authors are encouraged to market to the gatekeepers (parents, teachers,
librarians). Have you done this? Or do you think kids find your MG novel
through Amazon or other search engines?
that reason alone, its very important to determine a target audience and how to
reach them before writing. I don’t want to make the process sound manufactured,
the writing is still very much inspired, but authors should know what they are
trying to accomplish before they jump in. With Fables, I wanted to write a
compelling, fun set of stories that would also have historical relevance and
moral undertones. That way, there’s a hook for gatekeepers in terms of the
educational value, while still making it an exciting read for those who stumble
understanding your audience, and I think that can be a difficult concept for
writers new-in-the-journey to wrap their heads around. But especially for MG,
understanding that many of the books are gatekeeper recommended (teachers,
parents, librarians) is an important part of understanding the market. That
being said, have you tried submitting your novel to some of the review journals?
I know School Library Journal (in theory) does not take self-published books,
but Kirkus has an indie review section (that you can purchase). I stumbled on
this interesting take on submitting
self-published books to pre-publication review journals. Do you
think this is a worthwhile use of time/effort/money for MG indie authors?
My main focus at this point is getting more of the series out there and trying
to build a grassroots following before attempting larger-scale promotion.
As for that article, I think it brings up a lot of good points about the
current self-pub landscape in general, not just in regards to journals. Its
important that indie authors focus heavily on the quality of their work, the
cover, and overall professionalism. Standards don’t change just because a book
is indie rather than traditionally published, so authors need to make sure they
match up well to anyone before putting their work out there.
more! Thanks so much for joining us today and lending your insights into MG
indie publishing! Last question: what question did I forget to ask? (i.e. ask
the question you wish I had, then please answer it) J
reader, I devoured MG series like Goosebumps and the Hardy Boys growing up.
After that, I moved on to Michael Crichton and Stephen King. For Fables,
I wanted to put my own spin on an MG series that would have that same episodic
format that I loved, and also incorporate the historical accuracy and
supernatural elements of the adult fiction I’ve read. It’s been a challenge,
but one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
of fun! Great questions!
few years to study at Purdue University, but is now back in the Golden State.
His series, Fables of the Flag, chronicles Jack Preston’s journey through time
as he meets famous figures in American history. The second installment, Fables
of the Flag: The Surveyor’s Tale, was released July 1st. Check out
the Fables Facebook Page and follow him on Twitter.