Kevin J. Anderson has published 165 books, more than 56 of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune universes, as well as steampunk fantasy novels, Clockwork Angels and Clockwork Lives, co-created with Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the legendary rock group Rush. Mark Lefebvre interviews Kevin about being a hybrid author, his method of writing by dictating, and much more.
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Mark Lefevbre 00:20
Hello, and welcome to D2D Spotlight. This is Mark Leslie Lefevbre from Draft2Digital and I'm honored to have with me Kevin J. Anderson. Kevin, welcome.
Kevin Anderson 00:30
Thank you. I was looking at that pre-Coronavirus photo of me and I actually still look the same, except my hair's a little bit greyer now, but … but we're here and I'm stuck at home. And you know what? Writers like to be stuck at home because we get to do more writing and stuff. So I'm keeping busy and I'm very glad to be—I can't believe I haven't been on the D2D podcast before so, we'll have to do it again.
Mark Lefevbre 00:56
For sure, for sure. Now speaking about being stuck in the home. A lot of writers sit behind a keyboard and they hammer out their magnum opus on keyboards, but you for the longest time have been dictating. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Kevin Anderson 01:11
Sure. I mean, most of my writing is done by—okay, we got it—we're live, we're in my office. Where's the camera? There we go. This is my little digital recorder. It's an Olympus DS9300. I go out and I carry that in my hand and … I live in Colorado, I'm real close to the mountains. I've got lots of bike paths and hiking trails and beautiful terrain. And I just like to go out walking by myself and, like, telling myself a bedtime story that gets recorded and then transcribed and turned into my chapters. I've been doing this since before 1993 or something like that. That's just always been my way. I don't like to be just stuck and trapped here at a keyboard because I find that creatively stifling. If I'm just sitting here and staring at the screen and trying to make my imagination go off into other worlds, you know, the cats will come in and want to be petted, and the phone will ring, and the doorbell will ring, and all this stuff. But if I'm out in the middle of the mountains somewhere and I'm miles from any other person, I can just completely sink into my story. And it's like, I'm reading the book that's in my head and I can get into the dialogue, I can do role playing with the characters, and get exercise at the same time. I find it inspirational when you're out around, you know, trees and mountains and streams and whatever, because then … Our creative writing teachers since the dawn of time have been telling us to do sensory details in our writing. To not just say what the characters are seeing, but also, you know, what they're smelling and what they're hearing and tactile things. And I find that, when I'm outside in the beautiful environment, that I'm reminded of what things smell like, I'm reminded of what things sound like, and I don't have to come up with that whole cloth. So I'll just go out and I'll dictate it. And in fact, I've been doing this, I've been kind of championing the method for a very long time, and I've got a whole little set of padawans that have gone out to do it themselves. I just love writing that way. And one of the—well, so the thing is, people keep asking me, "Well, how do you do this?" And, "I can't do this," and, "What are your techniques?" And so I got tired of answering those questions all the time. So one of my padawans, the guy that I've convinced to do it, is Martin Shoemaker, and he's gone whole hog into doing all of his writing by dictation. So the two of us put together a book called On Being a Dictator. And that sort of breaks down the whole process and gives everything, suggestions and techniques, because Martin does a few things differently than I do. In fact, Martin, here's what converted him. He has an hour drive to work every single day, back and forth. And so he'd be sitting in his car, and he would just be either listening to music or listening to the news or something. And he realized that that's two hours a day that he could have been writing. And once he set up an audio system in his car, so he's got like a voice-activated microphone, and he's got the recording system set there. He'll get in this car, get out of the driveway, and once he gets onto the freeway, he just turns on his recorder and he'll dictate. And he does, like, a short story every day on his commute back and forth to work. And that's just wonderful, productive time. Now, I can already preempt what people are already saying: "I tried it for 35 seconds and it doesn't work for me." Well, you know, it's a learned skill. You have to get used to dictating, just like you have to get used to typing. I mean, I would venture to say that every one of your listeners didn't sit down at a keyboard and type 100 words a minute the first time they started it. You have to learn how to dictate, how to write by dictating, just the way you had to learn how to type on a keyboard. And one of the suggestions that I like to make is, don't—I mean, just try it. Go out with the recorder, and you can get really, really cheap, like memo dictating machines for 30 bucks or something like that. Or all of you on your smartphones probably have some kind of a memo recording utility. These aren't good for doing whole novels. I mean, you'll run out of space and utility really fast. But you can try it, and the thing that I like to do is tell people to just brainstorm with yourself. Like, there have been many studies that show that you, the creative juices and the creativity increases when you have bodily motion. Like if you're moving around, if you're walking, you get ideas better than when you're just sitting there staring at a screen. And so, if you are developing a plot for a novel you're working on, or you want to get some character background on your princess main character, or something like that, just go out, use your recorder, and just start telling yourself the life story of Princess Buttercup, or whatever you want to be doing. Just, it doesn't have to be for publication. It doesn't have to be perfect grammar. You just come up with ideas. And I used to, before I was dictating, I used to either try to remember them all and then run back home and type them up, and of course, forget most of them. Or I'd carry a little hand notepad with me. And it's just really hard to be jotting down detailed notes when you're walking along, especially if you're outside and it's raining. That's not a very good thing. And so just capture notes with your recorder. And I think you'll find that, once you get used to talking to yourself and not feeling like you need medical treatment or something like that, you go out and just, the ideas will be coming. And I like to … I mean, by now I've gotten to the point where my outlines are so detailed, I would go dictate my outlines. The book that I'm working on right now, it's called Gods and Dragons. It's the third book in a big fantasy trilogy of mine. The outline itself, there's 105 chapters, I think, and so I would go out and say chapter one, this happens. In chapter two, this happens. And kind of flesh it out so that I could outline it. My outline was 70 pages long. And then what I do afterward is, now that I'm doing the writing of the book instead of outlining it, I'll take my couple of paragraph description for chapter seven and chapter eight with me, I'll print them out and I'll take sort of like a cue card with me. And just review what happens in chapter seven. And then I'll go out and dictate the actual chapter. There's the, you know, first sentence and that goes on. In the book On Being a Dictator, there's an appendix there where, I have a novel called Stake. It's a vampire serial killer thriller that Audible just released. And the print version, I think the UK version's supposed to come out—well, it was supposed to come out this month in England, but I don't know if it's been delayed because of COVID or not, because bookstores are closed and everything else. Anyway, long story short—
Mark Lefevbre 08:43
I have to say, that's a fantastic novel. If anyone's looking to check it out, Stake is phenomenal.
Kevin Anderson 08:47
Stake. Not like a T-bone steak, like a stake you pound through somebody's heart. Well, I hope you're not pounding through somebody's heart, but …
Mark Lefevbre 08:53
Kevin Anderson 08:54
Yeah, just vampires. But anyway, the concept is, it's a serial killer who believes in vampires. And so he goes around and finds people that, like, work during the night and sleep during the day and he thinks they're vampires, so he'll break into their apartment or whatever, and pound a stake through their heart, and he thinks he's killing vampires. Well, is he crazy? Are vampires real? We don't … I mean, you'd have to read the whole book to find that out. But anyway, the first chapter is kind of like your opening in an X-Files episode where the guy breaks into somebody's apartment and he pounds a stake through a victim's heart. You don't know if it's an innocent person or a real vampire. So I wrote up the notes for that chapter. And then I dictated that chapter. That chapter came back from the typist exactly the way I dictated it, and then I edited it. So for an appendix in On Being a Dictator, I put the couple paragraphs, what the notes were. I put the first draft that came exactly from the typist, so you can see how my sentences are when they come out of my mouth. And then I put the final polished version in there. And also I've got a link, thanks to BookFunnel. BookFunnel now allows you to put audio clips up. So you can listen to my actual recording as I dictated the chapter, and you can compare it with what the final version is like. So it's sort of every step of the process. That might be helpful for you, I hope—
Mark Lefevbre 10:24
Do we hear you go "Ah! Snake!" and stuff like that while you're walking around?
Kevin Anderson 10:26
I think I was driving through part of that one. So you'll probably hear people honking at me when I swerve off the road or something like that. But it's exactly the way it comes out. But you got to remember, I've been doing this for many years. So I'm a lot more practiced at it than somebody who's going to be stumbling a little bit more. And I have a typing service, I upload the audio file every day and the typist transcribes it and sends me a Word file back. Usually in a day or two. Other people might want to transcribe it themselves. It's, I don't think it's that expensive, but then I'm at a point where somebody's already bought the book before I'm writing it. It takes a lot of time if you want to transcribe your own thing, but if you're a fast typist, you can transcribe a 15-minute recording in 20, 25 minutes if you want. So I just find it, it's liberating to do it that way. And to circle around back to the original start of this conversation, even though we are here at shelter in place, and we're not supposed to go anywhere, we are still allowed to go outside and go down the bike path and stay far enough away from people. And that's the way I like it anyway, when I'm writing, is to stay far away from people. And so I get to go out hiking, I've got these obscure mountain trails nearby, and I can still do my writing. I get out of the house, and the weather's turning into nicer spring weather right now and it just helps me go out, gets my exercise, I get my writing done, and then I come back and barricade the doors and seal it up against any sort of zombie apocalypse going outside.
Mark Lefevbre 12:05
Very cool. Thank you. I'm gonna share a comment from one of the people watching live. Brian says, "Hi, Kevin! Love your Dune collaborations." And that leads me to want to explore, you've done so many different media things, right? There's a comment about my Darth Vader shirt, although it's a Darth Vader Rush shirt, which I'll explain later. "I find your lack of Rush disturbing."
Kevin Anderson 12:28
Hey, if you have to explain that, your audience just isn't the right kind of audience.
Mark Lefevbre 12:34
But what about, you've done media stuff, you've done Star Wars stuff, Dune collaborations. There was some breaking media just before we went live actually.
Kevin Anderson 12:42
Well, Mark was trying to get me to come on here like 5, 10 minutes earlier so we could test out anything. And what just happened, like five minutes before this show is, Vanity Fair, the magazine, released like the first public images of the new Dune film and a little interview with Timothy Chalamet. Because I'm a creative consultant, I'm working on the film with Brian Herbert. But we have a gag order, we can't talk about anything. So we can point when something else gets released, and so quite literally five minutes before we're going on for this thing, this news broke so I'm frantically tried to repost it all over the place on my social media. So if you go to my Twitter feed, it's the word "the" and my initials KJA, or look my name up on Facebook. I've got it on my Facebook page. There's a link and you get to see Timothy Chalamet and the images from the new Dune movie. So we're very excited we can talk about that. I think there'll be some more releases rolling out soon. So anyway, so that's exciting. We've been working on this for a very long time and just, I hate having all this news that I can't share with people. And believe me, there's more and more coming out. I wish I could tell you everything now.
Mark Lefevbre 14:01
But people can go to wordfirepress.com, which is your website, you and Rebecca.
Kevin Anderson 14:06
Well, wordfirepress.com is for my publishing house, which we'll probably talk about in a little bit. Wordfire.com is our personal page with our bios and everything. My Facebook page is kind of where I post most of my news, just because it's easier to update than the website is all the time. But anyway, you could just, "official Kevin J. Anderson page," if you go onto Facebook, and you'll find it.
Mark Lefevbre 14:34
You'll find it, pretty easy to find. So you, because you write with big publishers, traditionally published stuff. You do media tie-ins, you've done your own stuff through Word Fire Press. How do you decide, because you've got so many different projects that you do in a year. How do you decide how to invest your days?
Kevin Anderson 14:54
You assume there's some kind of a filtering process. You do everything, is what you kind of do, and that's even more important than it used to be. I mean, back—I think I'm getting old, because half of my conversation is, "it used to be." But it really did used to be that you could actually make a living as a writer, you could like, write books and get paid for them and then write another book and get paid for it and you could pay your bills. All of that kind of changed as the publishing world changed, kind of around 2009, 2010, when, you know, Amazon introduced the Kindle and ebooks came out, and then the Borders bookstore chain, which was like 60% of the science fiction bookshelves in the United States, they all went away. Publishers started consolidating everything. So it was, I mean, that was our publishing apocalypse that happened. And I don't say that lightly. It really, really was a sea change in the entire industry. A lot of authors were just left on the side of the road, and they didn't know what to do, and they had to change careers. Unfortunately, I'm unemployable. I've been a writer for decades, and I don't know what else is going on out there. I'm a writer. But I also then became an indie publisher, releasing my own books, because I had my own backlist. And then those started to be successful. Back in the early days, you could just put up anything. And there were so few titles available that people would run and grab it. And that was back in the days when, sorry to say the word, but we were all doing Smashwords. I mean, we all put our stuff up on Smashwords. And then we taught ourselves how to do our own uploads to iBooks and uploads to Nook and uploads to Kobo. And it's a learning process at a point where I thought I was going to be sitting back and resting on my laurels and just writing. I mean, I had dozens of New York Times bestsellers and all of a sudden, like, wait, now I got to scramble for work because the publishers went away. And you talk a lot about the media tie-in books and I see somebody's got a question. I never thought that I would see in a comics field somebody gushing about my novelization for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Mark Lefevbre 17:21
Oh, yeah. Here, let me pop that one up. It's from Jamie.
Kevin Anderson 17:27
So I mean, the funny thing is, that was that was a lot of our work, for people like me. I mean, there used to be—there we go again—there used to be a paperback movie novelization of just about every movie that got released. And that was great work. I mean, it took you a few weeks. They'd send you the movie script, and you would pretty much just convert it to "he said, she said" and then you'd fill in your descriptions and … But it wasn't that easy because they wouldn't send you any stills and a lot of times the movie scripts don't make any sense, and—boy, do I have stories about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There are a lot of scenes that I added in there to connect things that didn't connect in the movie. But that was good work. I mean, you got paid decent money for it, and I was able to write my own books, my original fiction. And then I was able to do movie novelizations, I mean, even the media tie-in things. There was a spin off line of, you know, science fiction TV shows. And there were Star Trek books, like four or five of them every month. And that all went away because they were paperback market, mass-market driven. And most of those went away. And, you know, I guess what I'm trying to say is, you've got to be nimble, you've got to be flexible. You've got to adapt and learn different things. And we'll be talking later, I got my MFA so that I could be a college professor, because I'm teaching a graduate degree in publishing now, which is something I know how to do. And that's a good thing for us. I mean, you're in Canada, but here in the U.S., we don't have, you might have heard something called health care. Canadians maybe take that for granted. But in America, if you're a writer and you got to pay for your own healthcare, well, let's not go off on that tangent because it's too horrific to contemplate. And that was before Coronavirus. So anyway, so I started publishing Word Fire Press as my publishing house. And we started putting up our own, my books, and they did well enough that a bunch of my author friends gave me their books because they could see the potential in ebooks, but they didn't want to learn how to do all of it. Let's see, I've got … just trying to count how many that we had up beforehand but … Back in the early days, like I started to say, it was the Wild West, it's still kind of the Wild West, but you would put them up and they would sell really well. But before that—again, I'm sounding old because back even before that—but I was really skeptical about ebooks. Because if you remember, people were talking about video phones as a science fiction idea since like the 60s and 70s. We were going to have video telephones in every house. And it just never happened, never happened, never happened. It was kind of this, it was like finding Bigfoot, that nobody used video telephones. And they kept talking about ebooks, and Stephen King had one of the first ebooks by putting, I think his story was called "Riding the Bullet," was one of the first electronic stories, that you bought the computer diskettes and you put them in your disk drive and the text came up on your IBM PC peanut screen or something like that, or your Atari screen, and you could read the green phosphor letters and that's what you read. That's what an ebook was. And it was sort of a novelty, but nobody wanted it. I mean, they, it was kind of cute. I remember there was an interactive version of Jurassic Park that you could put. And these were the little flippy diskettes, because I had a Macintosh Plus at the time, and you could have Jurassic Park on like 10 diskettes. And you'd put the little plastic flippy diskettes in, and you'd call up the words. And the unique aspect of it was that when it said "velociraptor," you could click on the word velociraptor and it would pop up a definition of it on the side. And everybody just, this was a groundbreaking thing. And it was kind of okay, interesting, and it just never took off. But I guess the point that I keep talking about here is that, we were told that ebooks were going to be the huge thing for years and years and years and years, and it just never happened. So I was kind of losing faith, like, yeah, yeah right, I don't believe that. In fact, we had, one of my books with Brian Herbert called Dune: the Butlerian Jihad. And I don't recall off the top of my head when that came out. 2004 something like that. No, no, no. What year did 9/11 happen? Because it was about that …
Mark Lefevbre 22:33
Kevin Anderson 22:34
2001. So it was around then. Because here, right after 9/11, I'm running around doing a book tour for something that has the giant word "jihad" in it. So that's why I remember that. But anyway, I got a call from the electronic books person at Tor Books, the publisher. And he was ecstatic because Dune: The Butlerian Jihad was the best-selling ebook in the country for three months running. I was thrilled about that. And he was thrilled, and he was celebrating. I said, yeah, so how many sales does that mean? And he said, "Oh, man, we've sold 300 copies." And I went, okay, fine. Let's not give up print books just yet. But that was 2001. And that was kind of the story that we kept being told over and over again, that ebooks were going to take over and we just said, you know, it's like waiting for the bus. It never happened and never happened. And then finally, when it did happen, boom, it really happened. Same thing with video telephone. It's like what we're doing right now, I mean, it took enough people having Skype or something, and enough people having FaceTime chats on their smartphones, that everybody finally did it. So once you get to this critical mass, it finally took off. I'm very happy that we started Word Fire Press around 2010. We'd just started doing it. So we were able to catch on at about the right opening time.
Mark Lefevbre 24:06
Okay, excellent. Now the other thing, so you and Rebecca and a bunch of contemporary authors who had been in the industry for decades started to get together and say, "Okay, things are changing, what are we going to do?" And that kind of turned into something where you're actually helping other writers.
Kevin Anderson 24:27
Well, we—actually it was, we're talking about Superstars Writing Seminar. That's a big thing that I've done with Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, my wife Rebecca Mesta, and Eric Flint. We started that 12 years ago, but it was not so much about ebooks, because this was 12 years ago. It was at a time where none of us really believed ebooks were going to take off. But we were all very successful writers. And we found that once you get to a certain level of success, there's not a whole lot of people you can get advice from. So we sort of formed our own, like, inner circle to talk about bestseller lists and book tours and promotion and the stuff that nobody teaches you. And we realized, in a broader sense, that there are hundreds of writing craft seminars all over the place. That there are, you know, how to write a character description, or how to plot a novel, and all that kind of stuff. But there just wasn't anything out there that covered the business aspect. How to read a contract, how to understand copyright, how to develop your intellectual property, how to market subrights and things. And that's what I wanted to know. And so, we had this meeting, me and Brandon Sanderson and Eric Flint and David Farland and Rebecca, here at our house. We had sort of like this secret summit, where we just spent a couple of days covering topics about, Brandon, how do you do this ,and Kevin, how do you do that? And at the time, Eric Flint, who is published by Bane Books, he was the only one that even had an ebook out of some of his things. Because Bane Books was a very early adopter. And he was telling us this stuff that just was insane, that nobody would believe. That you'd give away the first in series? That costs you sales, that doesn't make any sense! And, you mean people buy the ebook and then they still buy the print book, and you're giving pre-release things and then … this is insane, it doesn't make any sense. Well, you know, from a traditional publishing business perspective, that was a really hard thing for us to get our heads around, but obviously it was right. So, we found that to be so useful among ourselves that we decided to open it up to the public. We did the very first Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena, it was 12 years ago. And that really just worked. We had, I think, 65 people there, that we covered all the business aspects of it. And then we did it the next year. And we thought we just kind of had this cash cow because we would just, we'd written our presentations and we were just going to present the same business presentations year after year after year, right, because the publishing world never changes. Well, that went out the window really fast too. We found that we have to rewrite our stuff every single year. And we get new speakers. Mark, you yourself have been there wearing several different hats. You were there as our Kobo representative for quite a while. And now you're there as our Draft2Digital representative for several years. And you're also just a pretty decent guy. So that's why we have you there. And this year, Dan Wood came, the head of Draft2Digital, or whatever his title is. Anyway, so we've got people from Audible, we get people from all the major traditional publishing houses. We've had editors from Tor and Harper Collins and Bane and Simon and Schuster. We have literary agents. So it's a whole, the traditional publishing end. But we also have a bunch of the people from 20 Books to 50K, we've got some of the biggest, most successful indie writers there. We've got graphic designers, we've got marketing experts. And it's every year in Colorado Springs, the first or second week in February. And that's, like I said, we're in our 12th year now. We got, probably going to forget a bunch of them, but other guest speakers are going to be, Jim Butcher will be there, Jonathan Mayberry will be there. Last year, we had somebody from Blizzard games. We've got some Hollywood people coming. We've got a literary agent coming. Let's see, other authors …
Mark Lefevbre 28:59
Hugh Howie is coming this year?
Kevin Anderson 29:00
Hugh Howie is coming. We've been trying to get him for a long time. And he just dropped me a note out of the blue and said, "Okay, Kevin, I want to come to Superstars. So he's going to be one of our speakers. Craig Martell from 20 Books to 50K will be there. Michael Anderle's been there for several years in a row now. You know, it's just, we have about 250 people, I think, signed up. And, you know, so if you want to make plans for next spring, assuming that the world hasn't completely ended, that you can go to that one. Um, at some point, I'd like to talk about my grad program because—
Mark Lefevbre 29:34
Yeah, yeah, let's find out a little bit more about that. Because, I mean, your grad program is something that's really, didn't have to change all that much from what you were doing to what you have to do now.
Kevin Anderson 29:47
Well, and teaching it. So I, it's at Western Colorado University. It's a college down in Gunnison, Colorado, it's in the Colorado mountains. And it's what they call a limited residency college program. So it's a Master of Arts degree that you get. It's a one year program, from July to July. And it's all online. Well, it's all online except for, there's a two-week in-person residency in the Colorado mountains in July. And, you know, twist my arm to have to go to stay in the Colorado mountains in July and get to go hiking on my days off.
Mark Lefevbre 30:25
You suffer for your art, right?
Kevin Anderson 30:26
Yeah, I suffer for my art. So that's the two weeks where we actually do things face to face with the students. I have nine grad students right now in the current cohort, I've already got four signed up for the next year coming up. But because of the pandemic, they've just announced that there's not going to be an in-person residency this July. So it's going to be all online. You'd still have to come back to graduate, July 2020, assuming everything is back to normal. But if the program is of interest to you and it was maybe problematic to get the two weeks to travel out there … You still have to devote the two weeks because we got classes and everything. But you don't have to travel. It's all online. So anyway, um, they had a publishing MA program at the college, but it had kind of gone dormant because they didn't have the right person to teach it. They didn't have anybody really spearheading it. And they came to me and asked if I would, like, restart the program, become the director of it, and teach it. And I made up the whole program from scratch. I developed everything that I think people need to know about publishing, to be a successful person in the publishing world. And I'm intentionally making it evenly balanced between traditional and indie publishing. It's evenly split. Because I've been successful in both. I have, I think my last count, 57 national or international bestsellers in trad publishing. I've got 23 million copies of my books in print in 31 languages. It just went up from 30 because I'm translated into Ukrainian right now. And next month, I was supposed to go to Ukraine on a book signing tour and receive an honorary doctorate in Kiev. But that changed. Anyway. So I put together its classes, the fall semester, spring semester, everything's online. It's classes about copyright, about developmental editing, and copy editing, and managing editors, and cover design, and interior book design, and fonts, and typography, and intellectual property, and everything about publishing. I mean, we go over the like, the history of traditional publishers and how it's all changed but we all … This week you, Mark, are our guest speaker to talk about aggregators and Draft2Digital. And we've had Damon Courtney from BookFunnel on, and we've got building your newsletter lists. And Brian Meeks wrote our lecture on Amazon ads, which is coming up in two weeks. And what else? This week in the traditional publishing side, we go over traditional, I mean physical print plant publishing. As right now, I'll get to that in a second, but like if you offset printing, and if you're going to do limited runs, instead of print on demand that you might want to get 500 copies of a hardcover book, if you think that you can hand sell it at library shows and whatever. And so we went over print costs. And, like right now I'm doing a limited 800 copy signed and numbered edition of something which, it's a book that I wrote with Neil Pure, we can talk about that in a second, but so I'm using an actual offset printer to do that, printing up 800, hardcovers that will show up at my doorstep. That's a different skill than just loading up something for print on demand like D2D does or KDP publishing or Ingram Spark. Let's see, long, going around in circles here. So for the project for the students, their main group project is, they have created and are editing an original anthology. And because of support from Draft2Digital, we got money to actually pay pro rates for the stories. They created something called Monsters, Movies and Mayhem. So it's like horror, fantasy, science fiction stories kind of around the movies. And they wrote up the call for submissions. We promoted it all over the place. They got 435 manuscripts sent to them, and as their class project, they had to read the slush pile. They had to go through all the submissions and weed out the bad ones. They wrote the rejections, they argued over the ones that they liked and narrowed it down. And they had a budget, because Draft2Digital gave us a certain amount of money that we could pay for. And they had to go over all the stories and they had to then make choices about, you know, you can't have them all be funny stories, and they can't all be werewolf stories, and they can't all be, you know, 20,000 word stories. And but it's, so they argued over that, and came down with what their choices were. Then they issued the contracts, they copyedited the stories, they worked with the authors, they proofread it. Because this was a group project, we hired an outside designer to design it and lay out the book. They designed or came up with the concepts for the cover. And so this, and this book is going to be released supposedly for their graduation in July—I mean, it will be released, but we were going to have a like a book signing event, and all the authors there. Well, we're gonna, we're trying to figure out some different ways to …
Mark Lefevbre 36:07
You're gonna teach them innovation and flexibility.
Kevin Anderson 36:10
Well, they have to. So that's what they got to learn. And then for their solo projects, that's the whole group project, everybody's doing it. But like, for their solo thesis, the thing that they have to do is, every person is doing their own. It's a public domain book, they have to find an old HG Wells book or Alexander Dumas book or Edgar Allan Poe or something that they, from start to finish, they find it, they ensure that it's in public domain, they acquire the text somehow, whether it's through Project Gutenberg or they scan it themselves and convert it. They have to proof it and they design their cover. They're using Vellum to layout the interiors. They're going to, we're setting up like a separate account in Draft2Digital that they will all upload their books through Draft2Digital. They'll get them printed and again they're going to—
Mark Lefevbre 37:05
And they even get to have amazing one on one direct work on Draft2Digital with a really good looking bald guy there too.
Kevin Anderson 37:10
Yeah, something like that. Somebody, I don't know who it is. So, I mean, I'm kind of pumped about it just because, this is all the stuff. There is no problem other program like this. I mean, all the established programs kind of still have the attitude of, "Oh, yeah, indie," that vanity press publishing, somebody can put up their own ebook. And it was really, really important for me to make sure that … I mean, we're a moving target. Just last week, their lecture was on bookstores in book selling. And I had written it basically all about, you know, Ingram and book distribution and bookstores. And then now in the pandemic everything's changing. Diamond has stopped distributing comic books to comic book stores. A bunch of the April and May book releases from major publishers are just, they're not being released because there's no bookstores for them. And so I basically had to write this whole prequel to it that well, this is what's happening right now. And their textbooks are basically, they're listening to podcasts every week. They're reading blogs. They're reading every week's issue of Publishers Weekly as one of their discussion time. So anyway, I don't know if you'll be able to put a link up there. But if you search Western Colorado University and then publishing, it should come up. And it's also right now …
Mark Lefevbre 38:42
There's probably a link from wordfire.com potentially, too?
Kevin Anderson 38:43
Um, probably? That's our site. I haven't looked at my own site for a while. I'll put it up there somewhere. You can find it through the Western Colorado University. We can find it. But right now they've also waived the application fee. So, we filled up the cohort last year with our nine students and we are still actively trying to get some other students and I would love to have D2D people to be some of my students. And I teach it, and our co-professor is Allison Lamira, who's the publisher at WMG, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rush's publishing house. So the two of us are kind of doing tag team teaching, the graduating cohort of students and the incoming cohort of students. So, kind of all circling around, this is yet another income stream. Because like I said, I would rather just write books all day and get paid for them. But I could write books all day and get paid something for them but it might not be enough to pay all my bills.
Mark Lefevbre 39:53
Well, I want to jump into some of your books because we've only got about five, six minutes left. I wanted to pop up the, because you've written so many different things. And Jamie says, "I highly recommend his Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series." That's another one I'll say.
Kevin Anderson 40:06
And that's indie published. I mean, it started out with Kensington Books. First four from them. But I just took it over from that point on. I got the rights back and I've released the following two books on my own at Word Fire Press. And I, now that we're in lockdown, I'm catching up on a lot of projects and I just may well come up with another Dan Shamble book.
Mark Lefevbre 40:32
Oh good. I'm so glad to hear that. And some of them have appeared in Pulp House magazine as well, right?
Kevin Anderson 40:36
Oh, a lot of the short stories. I mean, I just got one right now called, the book is called Fantastic Hope that Laurel K Hamilton edited for Berkeley Books, and it's a brand new Dan Shambles story that I wrote. Actually, it was the first thing I wrote. I had a lot of personal tragedies last year. My stepson died and my dad died, and this was the first thing that I wrote after a bunch of that happened, and I just needed something funny and stupid, so I did that. Before we run out of time. I also want to talk about the project I was mentioning. It's this thing called Drumbeats, it's a creepy dark fantasy.
Mark Lefevbre 41:10
Oh, yeah, of course. That's why I'm wearing my Rush shirt.
Kevin Anderson 41:12
Yes. I wrote it with Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush who passed away in January. He and I had written it and published it in several places. It's sort of a dark fantasy Twilight Zone-ish thing. But we always wanted to do a fine limited edition of that with illustrations. And we've got a Canadian artist, Steve Otis did a cover painting for us. He did five interior illustrations. I found a bunch of photos of Neil on his trips in Africa and some photos of us, and I wrote a new foreword and Neil had already written an afterword because we were going to publish this. And so we're doing an 800 copy full color, hardcover, signed and numbered limited edition, and that's at wordfireshop.com. So if anybody wants to preorder that we've got, we've sold about three quarters, pre-sold about three quarters of them. It's at the printer right now, we're getting the 800 copies printed up from an offset printer. They're showing up, and then I will have to autograph all of them, and number all of them. The artist has sent signed signature cards for one to go in each one. And that's just, it's a beautiful book. And it's something that I've wanted to do for a long time. And so it ties in here because it's an interesting, we don't really do our stuff just at POD, that you want a copy, order it, it gets printed. But this is a more traditional thing by getting an 800-copy press run. I'm going to have boxes and boxes show up at my doorstep at a time when I can't bring employees over to help me mail them out, which is going to be challenging, but I'm very pleased about that one. I'm writing a traditional published book right now. It's called Gods and Dragons, it's the third one in my Spine of the Dragon trilogy that Tor books will publish. I'm as publisher of Word Fire Press, we're going through about five different books a month that we're releasing from other authors. I'm doing a bunch of podcasts now that I'm at home instead of traveling all the time. And otherwise, just nothing much else going on here. So.
Mark Lefevbre 43:25
No, not much going on. I'm gonna take you back. There's a question about a book, a series you co-wrote with your wife, Rebecca. And the question was, "What was it like to create the young Jedi knights series?" Which I had the honor, I mean, I have signed copies, of course, but I had the honor of reading to my son.
Kevin Anderson 43:46
Well, and when we were writing them, we read them to our son too as each draft. Because he was about 8 or 10 years old at the time. Well, that was when I was doing so many projects for Lucasfilm and I was up at Skywalker Ranch pretty much every month and I, we were having lunch with one of the Lucasfilm licensing people. And she said that, you think there's a young adult interest in Star Wars? And should we maybe do a young adult series? And I said, well, sure, we can do that. And instead of doing like, young Luke Skywalker, because all of that time period was closed off because George, this was at a time when the prequel movies had not come out, and nobody quite knew what the time period was going to be. So we did the twin kids of Han and Leia and brought up a new generation of young Jedi Knights and we just had a blast with those. And there were 14 of them that we wrote. And they came out I think every three months without missing a deadline yet. That was at a time when writing a book every three months was considered very prolific. Now I see some of these guys with 15 books at a time, and I get exhausted looking at you guys. I'm so glad that that I'm considered a slowpoke now instead of a prolific hack.
Mark Lefevbre 44:59
Well, Kevin, I love the fact that you're writing so many different projects, you're so open to opportunities. I want to thank you so much for spending the last 45 minutes sharing all kinds of things about the industry, about your writing. Again, people can find you best at …?
Kevin Anderson 45:19
Well, Facebook if you look at the Kevin J Anderson page, just look for that. Twitter on @thekja, wordfire.com is more our main site for, you know, sign-ups. Best thing, sign up for my reading group, because you'll get a free collection of Dan Shamble stories. That's wordfire.com. And the sign up is there. And I regularly give out free books, and I'm kind of making plans now that we're all stuck in our houses that I might just record some audios of me reading some of my short stories and give them away from BookFunnel, but only to the people on the readers group. Gotta get an extra handful of people to do that. So.
Mark Lefevbre 46:00
Well, Kevin, thank you so much for hanging out with me today and good luck with the rest of your day being productive and writing and dictating.
Kevin Anderson 46:10
Well, I'm here. So, thanks. Thanks everybody, and Mark, thank you for everything too. You've been a great friend for a very long time.
Mark Lefevbre 46:17
Thanks. Bye, everyone.