peeps: Sylvia Engdahl
Highly-acclaimed for her Young Adult novels (also enjoyed by adults!), Sylvia Engdahl has received numerous awards, honors and recognition, including a 1971 Newbery Honor Book for Enchantress from the Stars, which also later won the Children Literature Association’s 1990 Phoenix Award and a finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year in the Rediscovery category.
Today, however, she writes fiction only for adults. Her work for that audience has started winning awards as well. Stewards of the Flame, the first in her adult Flame Trilogy, won the 2008 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards bronze medal. The third book, Defender of the Flame, was released just a few months ago.
Besides her writing, Sylvia works as a freelance editor of nonfiction anthologies for high schools, and most interestingly, she is a very strong advocate of space exploration who for years has maintained an active and popular section on her website full of content and links to resources on the subject.
How Sylvia Got Started Self-Publishing
Sylvia says her work didn’t quite fit the SF genre’s marketing requirements, prompting her decision to self-publish. “Although all my novels take place in the distant future on hypothetical worlds and are therefore categorized as science fiction, they are character-driven and are directed more to mainstream readers than to avid science fiction fans,” she explains.
With the Young Adult field not separated into genres, this wasn’t a problem for her there. Not so with Science Fiction. “[E]ditorial and sales departments are genre-specific for adult fiction, and I knew that mine would not appeal to readers with extensive SF background. Moreover, I wanted my adult novels to reach readers who don’t ordinarily look for science fiction, just as my YA novels did.”
Timing was also a factor. “I am not young and the process of getting a book accepted and published in the traditional way consumes years. I wanted my adult novels to appear and gain an audience while I’m still around to make contact with readers.” Moreover, she points out that by self-publishing, she could help ensure that her books would “remain available for download after I’m gone.”
It didn’t hurt at all that Sylvia enjoys the book production process. “Since I have had professional copyediting experience as well as some familiarity with desktop publishing software, I was able to do the work myself for the print editions as well as both Kindle and Smashwords editions.” With this combination of skills, interest and resources available for her to tap, she also managed to reissue a number of titles in her YA backlist, “all without cost except the licensing of images for cover art.”
Folks, Sylvia was born in 1933. Do the math. Makes any excuses we may have about not trying to do what she’s been able to at this stage in her life seem downright silly, doesn’t it?
“The chief problem I see with indie publication is that as yet there is no central, widely-respected venue for reviews. There are far more indie books being published any reader can be made aware of, and no way to distinguish them on the basis of quality. It’s virtually impossible to get them into libraries because most libraries will accept only books praised by a handful of major review media, none of which review indie books (and which wouldn’t have space to review them). There are many blogs that review indie books but no single one reaches a significant proportion of potential readers, and their backlogs are so long that comparatively few titles are even considered. Yet informal reader reviews don’t count as far as libraries are concerned and in any case aren’t seen except by people who are already looking at a book’s description.
As a result, indie books are being publicized on the basis of sales rank, with no weight given to literary quality. Thus those on topics with mass appeal are noticed, while those directed to niche audiences are overlooked even when the reviews they do get are enthusiastic. It’s ironic that while one of the main advantages of indie publishing is the ability to make books without mass-market potential available to readers whose preferences aren’t typical, there seems to be no way of letting more than a fraction of those readers know that they exist. Don’t expect to sell many copies of such a book — just be glad that it’s now possible to get it into the hands of at least some of the people who will enjoy it.”