Mango Publishing Interview – Starting an Independent Book Publisher

Mango Publishing has been listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers in the U.S. by NY Book Editors.

In their sixth year of existence, Mango Publishing is one of the fastest-growing publishers in the country, and was a finalist for Publisher of the Year at Digital Book World 2019.

So I am very grateful that they were willing to talk with me in my continuing series of articles on independent publishing. The interview below was held with Mango’s Director of Logistics, Hugo. He has been with the company since the very beginning. I would also like to give a shout out to Geena El-Haj (Mango’s Marketing Communications Coordinator) for helping me to facilitate the interview.

JBJ: Why was Mango Publishing created?

Hugo: I don’t know if we had a very intentional start. Mango Media, the original incarnation, and parent company, was formed with the idea of being a modern, data-driven media company that explored the intersection of books and smartphone apps. Through that journey of mistakes, we stumbled upon a consistent theme: Gut. “My gut tells me,” “I have a gut feeling,” “I think I should listen to my gut…”

Nearly every project we created in the media days revolved around a lot of gut instinct. Something that was diametrically opposed to the mission of being data-driven. So we reevaluated our process of creating content and identified a hole in the market: books published for consumers, ignoring the “gut” of buyers, agents and traditional public relations, and instead focusing on the analytics on consumer trends.

JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps your publishing company took starting out?

Hugo: It’ll sound repetitive, but the data was our focal point. Once we understood how outdated the publishing landscape was, we began to reinvent it by following the success of content creators. Bloggers, journalists, podcasters, YouTubers, chefs and artists who were creating content for a specific audience. We didn’t (and still don’t) care how large their audience was or even how engaged they were. We were more interested in their expertise in the field and their authentic relationship with their audience.

JBJ: What are the important services you have to pay for when running an independent publisher?

Hugo: Everything. Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books loves to tell people, “If you want to make one million dollars selling books, start with two million dollars.” You won’t find many people in publishing that are in it for the money, regardless of how Hollywood likes to present it. Publishing, indie publishing, is a world filled with constant minor expenses, thin margins and incredible people. You can’t skimp on design, or editing, or printing or sustainability and expect to have a book that delivers on the promise their author made when announcing the book.

JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?

Hugo: It’s too vague to give a number because, at least for us, we build our list on every title carrying its weight. So they all get their financial support in the same capacity (in direct marketing, advertising, design costs, editing, etc.). P&Ls play a role in our commissioning process, but more than that, it’s the mission of the book, the authenticity of the author and the potential of the data.

JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing?

Hugo: No. Everyone’s purpose for those services is different, so there’s no way to outright recommend people or services in a general sense.

JBJ: What is Mango Publishing’s greatest challenge?

Hugo: Pre-pandemic I would have said time. Mainly time for commissioning. We have endless data helping us identify authors, categories, trends and more. Yet the time that goes into building the trust and relationship with your authors is incalculable and not something that can be skipped or ignored. In a post-covid world, print production is probably our biggest hurdle. Supply chain issues, paper shortages, sustainability limitations and limited warehouse workers all add chaos to a highly delicate system.

JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what Mango Publishing does?

Hugo: Publishing under-represented voices from marginalized or ignored communities.

JBJ: You guys are listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers by NY Book Editors. What is the secret to your success?

Hugo: Getting unimaginably lucky with our hiring. Having the mission of reinventing publishing and publishing underrepresented authors is nice and all, but without the insane luck of the people we’ve been able to hire and work with buying into it, we would have folded up years ago.

JBJ: What steps would you recommend to an author who is submitting a query to you? What is the best way for a prospective author to get published at your publishing house?

Hugo: Know your audience. I don’t care if you have a massive platform with eight million subscribers or a new podcast with 3,000 downloads a month. Those are both fantastic and reaches we can work with, but in order for them to work, we need the author to understand their audience: who they are, why they follow them, what they’re looking for, and more.

JBJ: What are your plans for the future?

Hugo: Partner with incredible authors, design and print beautiful books and continue to push forward with the idea of borderless publishing.

For more information, check out Mango Publishing here.

Interview with Tannhauser Press – How to Start an Independent Book Publisher?

Recently I have been exploring the independent publishing world. In my last article, I talked with Space Squid about what is needed to start a fiction magazine. In this article, I have a discussion with Martin Wilsey, the founder of the Independent Book publisher, Tannhauser Press.

JBJ: Why was Tannhauser Press created?

MW: After self-publishing my first three novels, I learned a lot about publishing. I learned that books that used the free ISBNs were not likely to find their way into bookstores. This is combined with the fact that—to my great surprise—I had two #1 best sellers on Amazon. Soon I had an accountant, a lawyer, and an LLC taxed as an S-Corp. I started buying ISBNs 100 at a time, and all my books began to be published under the imprint Tannhauser Press with the associated ISBNs. I also began publishing ALL my books in Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, and Audio editions.

JBJ: What inspired the name Tannhauser?

MW: Several things led to the name. There was a character in one of my novels named Tannhauser. It’s one of my favorite operas. And then there is the Blade Runner reference to the Tannhauser Gate. An LLC in Virginia requires a unique name as well. It was available. My Trademarked logo is a subtle nod to the opera.

JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps your publishing company took starting out?

MW: Pick a unique name. It will forever be associated with the ISBN of the books. Register the name so it can’t be used by others.

In Virginia, you can register names with the State Corporation Clerk’s Information System.

After registering a name, buy a pile of ISBNs under that name, then build a website.

JBJ: What are the important services you have to pay for when running an independent publisher?

MW: ISBNs if you are in the US. Get them via bowker.com
Web hosting.

JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?

MW: Setting up the LLC was $250 (My lawyer did it. $50 annually). You can do it yourself for $50. 100 ISBNs = $575. Domain name (tannhauserpress.com) varies depending on where you get it and for how long. $100 Web Hosting is $80 annually. (There are free options like wordpress.com). Accounting software for expense tracking (I use QuickBooks $250). Please note: I also use an accountant to keep the books (optional $1200 annually).

JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing?

MW: I am reluctant to make these kinds of recommendations in general because everyone’s needs and budgets are very different.

JBJ: What is Tannhauser Press’s greatest challenge?

MW: Time. As an author primarily, it distracts from my own writing. As owner/operator I could easily do the publishing side full time.

JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

MW: Helping other new authors. I had to figure out everything myself. I stepped on every landmine and made many mistakes that I can help new authors avoid.

JBJ: Are you able to get print books into bookstores? If so, how do you do that? Do you have other ways of selling your print books?

MW: Tannhauser press IS able to get books into bookstores. However, that is a big complicated topic, including returns, delayed payment terms, accepting purchase orders, and pricing. Tannhauser Press makes most bookstore and library sales via IngramSpark.com. Please note that bookstore sales have the LOWEST profit margin unless the order volume is huge. I sell direct to readers signed copies, in person and via the web.

JBJ: What steps would you recommend to an author who is submitting a query to you? What is the best way for a prospective author to get published at your publisher?

MW: The best way is to write a book that doesn’t suck. Include Tannhauser in the developmental phases.

JBJ: What are your plans for the future?

MW: Continue at the present pace. Ten books or less annually. Expand to other genres beyond Sci-fi and Fantasy. Expand the audio edition practice.

Check out more from Tannhauser at their website: Click Here.

Related Article: Interview With Successful Self-Published Author – Martin Wilsey

Interview with Space Squid – How to Start a Fiction Magazine

Image Source

About ten years ago, there were six big publishers for books. Now there are five. And soon there may only be four. Combined with the competition introduced by self-publishing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for authors to get traditionally published. This is on top of the supply problems introduced by Covid, and the fact that there was a massive exodus from the publishing industry back in March of 2022. About 1% of people in the publishing industry quit.

With all of these factors in play, some people are now more interested in creating their own independent platforms, or at least are interested in learning how they work.

I decided to interview some of the staff on various speculative fiction magazines along with indie publishers to see how that works. The first people I interviewed were the staff of the humor sci-fi magazine, Space Squid.

JBJ: Thank you so much for your help. Let’s say I started a free online blog—which I could hopefully to turn into a literary magazine or publisher later. Would I need to make a contract with the people submitting to the blog?

SS: I wouldn’t bother for blog entries. You might want to keep the email thread in which they agree to write for you; we’re a little more formal since we’re publishing stories.

JBJ: What inspired you to create an online magazine?

SS: We’re frustrated writers. Also there’s not a lot of spaces for funny scifi/speculative.

JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps you took starting out?

SS: Hmm… well we published on paper first, using some old photocopiers. That was more work than it was worth. Today we’d either go digital right away or send it to a printer for better quality and less hassle. We do publish one paper issue per year for Armadillocon.org.

As frustrated writers, we know a lot of other frustrated or semi-successful writers, and some of them were willing to send us material for our first issues. We reached out to some local bookstores and got some shelf space that way. But really, we’re marginally successful and we just kept doing it and publishing stuff we liked.

JBJ: What kind of services do you have to pay for to run a literary magazine?

SS: When publishing digitally, not much. We run our own WordPress site on a shared server. So the main costs are 1) the server and domain, 2) payments to writers, 3) the annual paper issue, and 4) time. 3 and 4 are the most expensive.

JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?

SS: Hmmm… maybe $200/yr for a digital-only publication?

JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing.

SS: I think we wrote our own writer contract. It’s clear enough to stand up in court, and that’s all we care about. Editing is our responsibility and kind of the core competency we bring to the table. For webhosting, we like hawkhost.com; shared hosting is less than $3/month. Use our referral code, https://my.hawkhost.com/aff.php?aff=1430!

JBJ: What was your greatest challenge?

SS: Just keeping it going. It’s a tough time for writers and publishers. There’s a lot of apathy and we don’t get the kind of readership we’d like. Reading submissions and editing stories takes a lot of time and love.

JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

SS: We do have a few dedicated fans who love our stories and style, and some writers like yourself who understand what we like. Occasionally we get a bit of acclaim or press. And of course we get energy from great stories and publishing first-time or enthusiastic writers.

JBJ: Is there anything else you would recommend for those who are just starting out?

SS: It’s good to have a clear niche picked out — some angle that you can cover better than anyone else because of your skills or POV or because it’s under served. It also helps a ton to have at least one other person onboard who’s as motivated as you are.

JBJ: What are your plans for the future?

SS: We’ve got plans for a premium membership plan that will deliver a lot of fun, useful services to our dedicated readers and writers. It’s called Squid Plus and we’ve got high hopes for it.

JBJ: Great. Thanks for the interview. Have a great day.

STORIES ON SPACE SQUID:

Bob and Beastman’s Honeymoon

Downloading Brunch

Historical Fiction on Argentina’s Dirty War

One of the things I love about historical fiction is the genre’s capacity to teleport you back to a particular era of history. Mark Whittle’s The Jacarandas does precisely that with Argentina’s Dirty War, which took place between 1976-1983. This was a time when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship and right-wing death squads hunted down political dissidents believed to be associated with socialist, communist or anti government thought. 9,000-30,000 People were killed or “disappeared.”

Mark Whittle does a great job of depicting the confusion and moral ambiguity of this time. The story follows Daniel, a university student who joined the federal police force in order to serve his country and stop left-wing terrorism in Buenos Aires. Yet Daniel soon discovers that the moral boundaries of this conflict are much murkier than he originally thought. And that besides fitness and hate, the military regime requires loyalty, batons, and electric prods.

The novel is also based off a true story!

Below I have included an interview with Mark Whittle about his process for writing this book. I also have asked him about the self publishing process, for anyone who may be interested in pursuing that road.

JBJ: I see that The Jacarandas is a true story. How did you learn of this story?

MW: I met the real “Daniel” over 10 years ago when he was a guest speaker at a charity event focused on marginalized and underserved communities. Daniel works with prisoners and their families in Argentina. He told his story of joining the federal police as a young man during the Dirty War, and how he became extremely violent and just this whole awful experience he went through. His story haunted me for years. We became friends and have been so ever since. I had once lived in Argentina and knew quite well all about Argentina’s tragic history in the 1970s.

JBJ: Did the real Daniel get to read the book? What did he think?

MW: Great question! Well, the real Daniel speaks very poor English, but I wanted him to read a draft. So I knew it would be way too much work to translate the draft myself so I tried various automated translators and, in the end, selected Google Translate. I painfully entered page by page, copied it out and formatted it to send to him. He did read it. Even today, almost 50 years later, there are still some sensitive issues so he was looking out for that. But he enjoyed it a lot. It’s worth noting that The Jacarandas is not a biography but rather historical fiction where the real Daniel is the protagonist, but I wanted to include some other historical events and themes that were not part of his experience, but absolutely part of the Dirty War.

JBJ: Do you think Argentina today is still affected by the events of the Dirty War?

MW: Yes, it is. It’s a black stain on their past that they just never seem able to get away from. Argentina has had difficulty recovering and seems almost condemned to lurch from crisis to crisis. It’s the political class has failed Argentina. It’s such a rich nation in culture, intellect, education, and natural resources but politics have been ruinous. They just can’t find a good healthy balance.

JBJ: Tell me about your experience in Self-Publishing:

MW: Well, I don’t know any other kind, so I don’t know if it’s good or bad. The Jacarandas is the first novel I’ve written. I thought I would try to traditional route but after querying about 100 agents and getting little traction, I started exploring other options. I read about writers like Andy Weir (The Martian) who published on Amazon KDP. My writers’ critique group had a guest speaker who has made a living publishing on Amazon KDP. And then hearing the experience of some writers who have had less-than-optimal experiences with agents, I decided to give it a try. I found Amazon KDP extremely easy to use. I’ve been super happy with the process and the control I have.

JBJ: What have been your greatest challenges?

MW: Probably the whole marketing of my book. I don’t do a good job of social media presence. My advertising has been limited to trying KDP’s advertising, which I am still trying to learn and perfect. There’s been good word-of-mouth spreading of The Jacarandas, for sure, but getting it to the next level is a challenge with self-publishing. I’ve been told that the best marketing of your book is to write another book. Get that read-through rate. I would say a second challenge is getting those initial reviews on Amazon. Don’t underestimate the work involved with getting a core group of readers to read your book and post a review.

JBJ: What was the most rewarding about this experience?

MW: Definitely it’s having people tell you they loved your book – either through an email or social media or in person, or simply seeing a new review pop up on Amazon. Having people say how they’ve been impacted by what you wrote, and how they liked this scene or character or how I handled x or y. Very satisfying, to be honest.

JBJ: What would you tell other people who are looking to self publish?

MW: Read everything you can about it before deciding. And if you are going to do it, do it the best you possibly can. For example hire an editor. Hire a professional cover design artist. Polish and polish and polish your manuscript so it’s perfect.

Thank you, Mark Whittle!

For those interested in checking out his novel, buy it on Amazon at the link below.

The Jacarandas – Mark Whittle (Amazon)

Some Trans and Non-Binary Perspectives on Representation in Fiction

In writing this article, I went out and asked for the perspectives of a few trans and non-binary people I know on how trans or non-binary people are represented in fiction. I understand that the opinions of a few people don’t represent everyone in a vast group. But I think for me, as a cisgender person who writes fiction and wants to represent people in a respectful way, I think it’s important to ask and consider the opinions of trans and non-binary people I know.

I became interested in looking into this issue after the J.K. Rowling controversy. 

Of course, getting opinions from a few people I know is no match for researching and reading up on the subject matter (as one of my sensitivity readers quite reasonably pointed out), and in terms of writing outside my demographic, nobody is going to give me permission for the entire community.

One of the transgender people I shared this article with made a great point. “One ought not write trans characters to get a pat on the back, one writes trans characters because trans people exist and are people in the same way as nearsighted people and left-handed people.”

In doing this, I got asked a very important question by one of the people I interviewed. They asked me why I was writing this and not a trans person. This is a very good question!

I suppose in writing this, I (as a cis person) was trying to learn about the opinions of non-cis gender and non-binary people and let them explain this issue to me. And in writing this article, I’m simply sharing what they said—their perspectives, not mine. I hope it can be helpful for those wanting to learn more about this issue.

I am going to use anonymous initials and names for everyone I interviewed who requested to be anonymous. I got permission from everyone I interviewed to share their answers. There were only minor edits for clarity, consistency and to preserve anonymity.


MY INTERVIEW WITH JOHN:

John: I’ve been on testosterone for several years, had top surgery and a hysterectomy. I’ve got my name legally changed and all my documents changed.

JBJ: How has that been going for you?

John: Pretty good, actually. I “pass” very well, so most people just assume I’m a normal male.

JBJ: I know that’s been your dream for a long time.

John: Thanks. I didn’t think I was ever going to come back out of the closet, but in my mid 20’s I met some trans people that seemed to be getting by just fine, and I thought, hey, maybe things will be ok if I transition. Also, it seemed like trans rights were gaining traction at the time.

JBJ: Yeah, things are much different now than they were even 10 years ago. I’m just curious, what are your opinions on the whole thing of what J.K. Rowling said about trans people?

John: Well, I don’t agree with her views. Personally, I feel like if she kept her mouth shut, she could just live out the rest of her days resting on her laurels as a beloved children’s fiction writer.

JBJ: How do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

John: I honestly haven’t seen a lot of trans/non-binary characters in any recent movies or shows, so I’m not sure.

JBJ: Are there things that you would like to see more of?

John: This is just specific to movies/TV, but I think it’d be great if they chose trans actors to play trans roles. Recently, Halle Berry accepted a role to play a trans man, and I think that kind of representation is very damaging because I think it makes trans men look like “girls playing dress-up that want to be boys.” Shortly after announcing it, there was a huge uproar and she stepped down.

JBJ: What are your favorite trans or non-binary characters you’ve seen in a book or show?

John: I liked Krem a lot from Dragon Age: Inquisition. There’s even a conversation you can have with one of the characters (Iron Bull) that’s very trans positive and he just treats him like one of the guys. I also really liked Damien from Dream Daddy (the gay dad dating simulator, lol), because it’s refreshing to see a trans man that’s somewhat effeminate. I’m not the model of masculinity myself, and not all trans guys are hypermasculine lumberjacks.

I guess what I really worry about the most is society viewing trans men as just butch lesbians that want to play dress up.

Like I just want to be seen as male, not as some oddity. I don’t tell any new people I meet that I’m trans and I just want to live a normal life.

Oh, one other thing I liked about Damien from Dream Daddy is being trans wasn’t the sole focus of that character. Some people claim that since it’s briefly mentioned and not explored in-depth, that it was “empty tokenism,” but I disagree. I like that it’s mentioned, but it’s not like the whole character’s personality and storyline revolved around it.

JBJ: Is it okay for cisgender people to write non-cisgender characters?

John: I think it’s alright, but it might be a good idea to have someone non-cis look it over. This is a small example, but Mass Effect: Andromeda had a trans NPC and, during your conversation with them, your character asks what their old name was. Generally speaking, asking a trans/non-binary person’s old name, or “dead name”, as many call it, is a very, very personal question. And honestly, I wouldn’t answer that question if someone I just met asked me. So, there was a bit of an uproar about it because it’s rude to ask and it seems to normalize the question, making it seem ok to ask some trans person you just met something like that. Anyway, they patched it and got rid of that dialog. Little things like that seem pretty innocuous and I know that their intentions weren’t bad, but I think all of that could have been avoided if the scriptwriters just asked a trans person to just look it over or something.

JBJ: Great point!


MY INTERVIEW WITH HM:

JBJ: I’m currently writing an article about the representation of trans and non-binary characters in fiction and decided to ask my trans and non-binary friends about their views.

HM: So, you’re asking about my views on that as a broad topic or…?

JBJ: Yeah, whatever you’re comfortable with.

HM: Okay well… trans characters played by trans actors are unfortunately fewer than I’d like.

HM: I think that, while trans women get more exposure than trans men or non-binary people, the rep we get is often very very bad.

JBJ: I’m sorry to hear that. That sounds very frustrating.

HM: You have no idea.

JBJ: What is an example of representation you saw that bothered you…if you don’t mind my asking?

HM: Often, what I see is a character for whom being trans is a major plot point and/or character trait. I mean any example where a trans woman was played by a cis guy or a trans man was played by a cis woman or a non-binary person played by a binary actor.

Honestly? Laverne Cox has had two roles that bothered me which sucks because I like her as an actress

JBJ: Yeah, I’m familiar with her role in Orange is the New Black.

HM: One is Orange is the New Black, where her entire plotline was about her being trans, having no access to hormones, and just generally lacking in agency in that regard. The other is Rocky Horror because I am deeply uncomfortable with any narrative that pegs the trans or gnc [gender non-conforming] character as evil

JBJ: Yeah, that makes sense.

HM: I really prefer more casual rep.

She-Ra sorta did that, but it was very much the sort of “If you’re not in the know you don’t know” kinda rep which im kinda on the fence about.

Jessica Jones had a trans woman in the cast for the second season and nothing was ever made of it. I liked that.

Unfortunately, my next example is goddamn Warrior Nun because there’s a trans character who has a really great moment without ever saying she’s trans outright, though it still suffers from the fact that said moment still relates to that.

JBJ: How did you feel about J.K. Rowling’s comments?

HM: The trans community has known Rowling was a TERF for years now. It’s on y’all for ignoring or dismissing us.

So yeah for that reason her comments don’t surprise me.

Why are YOU writing this? Why not a trans person?

JBJ: That’s a very good question to ask. I’m basically just asking all the trans/non-binary people willing to talk to me, and putting their opinions out there, without showcasing my own.

HM: While it is nice to see trans characters in media, it would be really really really good if they were written by trans writers.

Ahhhhh I forgot to mention something else, and that’s the concept of a character’s transness being used to cause grief or pain or character growth or whatever for a cis character. I hate that shit.

JBJ: That’s a good point. I think they did that in Orange is the New Black too.

HM: Yeah and I think it might be a plot point in like The Crying Game or whatever (which also includes a lack of agency for the trans character when it comes to the “reveal.” There’s an article somewhere about that iirc)

JBJ: Do you watch Supergirl?

HM: Yes

JBJ: Do you like the character Dreamer?

HM: Fuckin love Dreamer

HM: They gave a good reason for her character to be trans without making it her whole character (admittedly I’m not caught up) AND they had the universe support it.

Like, in-universe her powers confirmed her identity

JBJ: Yeah, it was cool the way they did it.

HM: I do also wish we included more trans women who don’t necessarily get read as women (I hate the term “passing” for a variety of reasons) because it sucks that we have to exactly appear a certain way and I’d very much appreciate it if we saw more TWOC [Trans Women of Color] in roles like that.

Actually, I should widen that out. It sucks that trans people in media are often either “binary and appears cis” or “non-binary vaguely androgynous AFAB person.”

And there should be more trans POC in general

JBJ: Yes, they should have more roles.

HM: Not just roles, they need to have important ones like Dreamer or what’s the girl’s name from Sense8?

JBJ: Oh shoot, now I forgot her name. But yes, Sense8 was also an interesting show. Nomi!

HM: Yes, but she falls into one or two of those concerns. She’s white and she reads as a cis woman if you aren’t told she’s trans. Those aren’t BAD things, but they don’t represent our entire community. I rarely if ever get gendered correctly by people I don’t know so when I see these characters it’s like hey that’s neat but also that’s not necessarily my experience.

JBJ: That’s a really good point.

HM: I don’t wear makeup often, I’m not hyper-feminine (which, if you get a chance, I think Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl goes into the idea of the double bind for trans women as it pertains to displays of femininity). I like dresses, sure, but I don’t wear them often. Often what movies and TV do is like… they’ll have main characters who only have at most two oppressed identities. Dreamer is both trans and a woman.

Is she ND? disabled? POC? gay? (Okay so sometimes they choose three but I sometimes have mixed feelings about every other trans woman in media being gay because it’s like yo a guy can date us without that “making him gay” but also a LOT of trans women are gay or bi soooooo)


MY INTERVIEW WITH TOVA:

JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

Tova: Hey there, of course!

JBJ: Thank you so much!

I’m a science fiction author who is trying to learn more about the representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction and how to do this representation in a respectful, informed manner. I hope this question isn’t too personal and out of nowhere, but do you identify as non-binary?

Tova: That is so wonderful!! Yes, I do.  I use They/Them/Their pronouns. 

JBJ: Do you see yourself as cisgender or not cisgender?

Tova: Well, being that non-binary is a spectrum of trans, I don’t see myself as cisgender.

JBJ: Gotcha, that makes sense.

Tova: I see myself more in the middle of the gender spectrum 

Sometimes more femme, sometimes more masc, sometimes a mix of both but without a name for it.

It’s interesting being a non-binary hijabi because most days, unless I wear a more “masculine” style of hijab, people will address me as “Ma’am” or refer to me as a “lady.”

JBJ: Ah gotcha, is that ever frustrating?

Tova: Sometimes but I know it’s not their fault, which makes me less frustrated.

We’re conditioned to associate certain looks to certain genders and unless I have a VERY big button with my pronouns, they won’t know. I have a cute They/Them pin but I realized after I got it that it’s hard to see I try to wear my queer pins on my hijab.

The top pin is my They/Them one, it’s too shiny to read sometimes 

But I have the non-binary flag pin, now.

My parents still refer to me as She/Her, but I give them more time to process it.

And my partner knew me before I transitioned, so I give him more time as well.

JBJ: I was curious, what were your thoughts on the whole J.K. Rowling controversy on her comments about trans people?

Tova: I think she’s a disgrace and a hypocrite. Why have queer-themes in your book but then sh*t on a huge part of the LGBTQ+ community!? I am so ashamed of her and will not purchase any more of her items from here on out. I want my money to go to authors and companies that support my people and social justice causes. I love Harry Potter itself but won’t add to my HP collection anymore, lol.

JBJ: Also, how do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

Tova: I think there’s a move to make more inclusive and diverse characters, which is great! I hope to see more of a push for that, especially in romance novels. I want to see a romance novel with queer/trans, poly, interracial, interfaith characters with complex backgrounds. I have to look VERY hard to find gay/bi romance novels that aren’t in sex shops, jeje. I know the move for these characters are slow right now, but I hope within the next 10 years, especially with our generation and Gen Z, more inclusive and diverse characters will be the protagonists and not just side-characters.

I know that was a mouth full, jeje.

JBJ: No prob, I appreciate the well thought out answer.

Do you ever see something done in fiction about trans/non-binary people in a way that is offensive? Or that you would have done differently?

Tova: I haven’t seen many because there aren’t too many trans or non-binary folks in fiction, but the little I have seen haven’t been really diverse.

JBJ: Anything you’d like to add?

Tova: I want to add a show that has a non-binary theme that I just remembered. 

In Sailor Moon Stars, the new Sailor Guardians (Sailor Starlights) are teenage boys in their human form and girls in their Sailor Guardian form. This was never aired in the US because of the gender blurring (along with the fact that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Mercury are lovers and were always open about it) and it was never dubbed in English until recently. The fact that these characters experience both binaries, yet are not binary, and that they’re both male and female, shows how progressive the creator Naoko Takeuchi was. She was ahead of her time and if this final arc of Sailor Moon was able to be on tv during the early 2000’s in the US, I know many of us “Moonies” would’ve been able to come out earlier and see more representation on screen. Anime is usually known for blurring the gender normative and I love it for that

JBJ: Thanks.

Tova: Of course. 


MY INTERVIEW WITH DG:

JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

DG: Certainly!

JBJ: Cool. Thanks.

I’m currently writing something about the representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction…whether books or shows or movies.

I know you were starting to identify with the non-binary label?

DG: Yup! Thought it was trans but this seems like a better fit

JBJ: Cool. Glad you found something that fits.

DG: So inside the nb umbrella I think genderfluid is where I stand specifically

JBJ: Cool.

I was curious, what were your feelings on the comments J.K. Rowling made about the trans community?

DG: Honestly, I had too many other things to give it much thought, so I’ve been reading up on it now…but from what I’m reading, I can at least kinda see where her brain is coming from. Maybe. At least in regards to physiological sex. Gender is a different story, and I definitely see why she’s been eating a lot of shit for it. It kinda looks like she was speaking as though they’re the same and didn’t bother to learn the difference despite the backlash.

JBJ: What is your opinion about the representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

DG: We’re getting more now, and that’s awesome. There’s a new wrestling league (All Elite Wrestling) and their first women’s champion was a trans woman from DC.

There was some backlash against her as you might imagine, she handled it well and the company is very straight up about being super inclusive, both the wrestlers and the fans.

Different shows have been getting more open about that stuff too. Bojack Horseman, Steven Universe in particular. It’s a slow creep into more mainstream media, but it’s there.

I’m sure Riverdale has some, too.

Of course there needs to be more, but these things are becoming a lot more commonplace, at least in Florida being very queer friendly. We went to target yesterday and found pride stuff, that even had different price hearts. IN TARGET! No ace stuff though, sadly.

There were aro, nb, trans, bi, gay, don’t remember if lesbian but I’m sure there was

JBJ: That’s pretty cool.

DG: It was a validating feeling

Disney has embraced pride

JBJ: Oh cool.

DG: Not specifically anything, but they love their rainbow shit. And it’s definitely not just for the sake of having a rainbow.

JBJ: Are there things that you would like to see more of in fiction?

DG: Absolutely. When we see another ace or nb or whatever character, it’s nice to feel acknowledged. I’m sure it’s not that different than passing a Bechdel test

Simple but gives more weight to the piece I suppose.

JBJ: Do you ever see something done in a way that is offensive? Or that you would have done differently?

DG: A lot of works don’t outright say these things. It might be a little forced sometimes and I get it, but sometimes it’s good to use the platform of whichever media to educate. Bojack Horseman does that, Steven Universe, despite being a “kid’s show,” just treated everything like it was all perfectly normal in such a healthy way. I don’t really see much else about it often, and when I do it is sometimes insulting or derogatory. I think internet culture is normalizing things more. It’s being discussed more. BLM has been helping queer communities as well both being marginalized by bringing difficult topics up, and I’m sure that is getting reflected in new media.

People need to learn somehow, so giving peeps the courage to include more Black characters or queer or Native American or whatever is important rn.

JBJ: Absolutely.

What are your favorite trans or non-binary characters you’ve seen in a book or show?

DG: I think stuff that’s coming out (lol) soon will show a lot more than what’s been out.

Omg, like everybody from steven universe

Have you seen it?

JBJ: I have not. But I’ve had three people now recommend it! So I guess I have to now.

DG: I like Futurama for rewatching stuff, but Steven Universe is my favorite show overall.

The writing is just ugh, so good.

It’s so freaking apparent that they have queer people in creative.

JBJ: Yeah, that’s important. Queer people writing about queer people.


MY INTERVIEW WITH RM:

JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

RM: Sure! I am happy to answer any questions as more Danica Roem or Wendy Carlos than the average bloke!

JBJ: I don’t know if this is too personal, but I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d prefer to identify as a woman. So, would you see yourself as trans, or at least not cisgender? I’m asking because I’m thinking about writing something on this topic.

RM: My opinion, as you can clearly see as identify with Roan and Carlos is I am a woman so trapped but my opinion is more along the lines of my friend [name removed for anonymity], in so far I like being per se fertile even if I’ll never reproduce. When, as I closely approach the average age of menopause, I will consider this less of an issue. And, with a different significant other who accepts and appreciates my male bits, I would be less inclined to physically align. The pressure isn’t as great on me as other women who were once cismen. But I clearly identify as cisman but also non-binary in the gender sense which is my preferred grey area. Non-binary is an interesting notion as it’s usually used by ciswomen to indicate some tomboyish tendencies. I’m using it the reverse sense as a bit effeminate and sissy in the pejorative sense. I’m not ashamed that I have feminine tendencies, that I prefer consensus and cooperation over aggression and superlatives. So I’m happy with who I am and accept things as they are. I’m, at core, a pragmatist. So, I’m a cisman but non-binary. Is that clear?

JBJ: Yes! And thanks for sharing that for me!

In light of the whole J.K. Rowling situation, I was interested in getting the opinions on non-binary people about non-binary representation in literature.

Like, I was curious, how did you feel about her comments?

RM: JK has opinions that would be the norm 50 years ago when Walter Carlos became Wendy (Wendy composes the haunting music to A Clockwork Orange, if you didn’t know). I look at her comments as foolish, uninformed, and lacking empathy. But I think it no more diminishes how I enjoy Harry Potter than to enjoy Hemingway despite his view, suicide, and thirst for Iberian war. I don’t believe in shutting down or boycotting Rowling. I don’t think ostracizing helps, it only shrinks a social circle into diehards that agree and re-enforce her. I don’t mind she doesn’t recognize transgender and non-binary because I’m not going to her for advice on those topics. When I want to talk about Non-Binary, I listen to folks like Rebecca Sugar, who created Steven Universe, and who identified as Non-Binary yet has a wonderful Cismale husband. I know that’s nuanced but does it make sense?

JBJ: Yes. How do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction?

RM: I have written about it before, but I feel I’m wiser now with more trans colleagues and even a very close friend who is a trans man. But, I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction involving transgender folks recently.

JBJ: In terms of non-binary characters, do you ever see something done in a way that offends you?

RM: Non-binary comes up very rarely in literature. It’s also a very recent concept. In the 1990s, probably even the ‘aughts, people would look at you funny if you said that.

JBJ: Should binary people write non-binary characters?

RM: Yes! Can women write gay men? Yes! Can men write gay women? He can as long as he does it with research. One of my best friends is also a gay male so I can observe and get his perspective. This is just an expansion of many other isa arguments, not African American can write an African American character? Yes, with research and talking with African American friends. American Indian, same thing. Men can write women, women can write men. It’s all relative to the time and research you put into it. If you don’t take the time to learn about some other way of life, you’re going to bugger it!

JBJ: Thanks.


IF YOU’D LIKE TO LEARN MORE, CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING LINKS

Disclosure Documentary on Netflix

In this documentary, leading trans creatives and thinkers share perspectives and analyses about Hollywood’s impact on the trans community.

Paris is Burning Film on YouTube

Paris Is Burning is a 1990 American documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Hispanic, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the “Golden Age” of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.

Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television 

Pre-WWII Accounts of LGBT+ Individuals: Books and Documents

Reddit thread on this topic

Interview With Successful Self-Published Author – Martin Wilsey

(Shadows of the Sentinel. Just published today. Check it out on Amazon!)

Martin Wilsey is living the dream. He is a self-published author who was able to sell enough of his books to quit his day job and focus exclusively on writing. But I will warn people that this path isn’t easy. Not everyone who throws a kindle book on Amazon can make a living off of it. Most won’t. The average self-published book sells under 250 copies and 25% of all authors surveyed earned $0 in book-related income. (Medium)

So how to make it work? I decided to find that out by interviewing Martin Wilsey himself.

JBJ: How did you get into writing science fiction? 

MW: It is an odd path. I always loved reading SciFi and Fantasy. I read about a hundred books a year and always wanted to write one myself. Over the decades, starting in the early 80s, I tried several times. I was not trained in writing. I took a couple of creative writing courses from teachers that hated SciFi. I always sucked at spelling and grammar, so in the early days, I was discouraged at every turn. I sucked at spelling, but was I was great at computers.

I started blogging in 1994. That got me writing every day. I was enjoying it. And as computers got smarter, tools for spelling and grammar got better. I got better. I still didn’t know what I was doing yet. I’d start one thing and get distracted by another idea and never finished anything. I was in a classic cycle of writer self-sabotage.

They out of the blue, my brother suddenly died at age 52.

There were six siblings in my family, and my brother Eric was 4 of 6. I was 5 of 6. It was a complete kick in the gut. He was the first of us. It really made me assess my entire life. It made me realize that I could go at any time. It made me look at what I wanted to get done before I shed my mortal coil.

The same month Eric died, I managed to get a severe spine injury. It left me unable to do much of anything. I went through Prime and Netflix faster than I thought possible, and to stay sane, I started writing every day.

I was lucky that I had gotten to know a couple of authors that gave me excellent advice. Next thing I knew, I had a novel. STILL FALLING. To my great surprise, it hit number 1 in the Hard Science Fiction category.

I never stopped writing. I have published projects about every six months since then.

JBJ: Why did you choose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?

MW: My decision to go the self-publishing route was easy.  I submitted my novel to several agents, and their suggestions for changes were horrible. Deals offered were worse. I wanted to retain full rights to my stories. Createspace was already running, and it looked like a far better option for me. 70% royalty sounded way better than the 13% offered by traditional routes. I also had the power of not caring about the money. I had a great career and an even better salary as a research scientist. So on March 31, 2015, I self-published STILL FALLING.

Less than three years later, I was able to quit my day job and write full time. I got to retire eight years ahead of schedule at 57 years old.

JBJ: What is the most difficult thing about self-publishing?

MW: As an Indie-Author, it’s all on you. There are hundreds of things to learn that have nothing to do with writing. It’s a lot of work. All the jobs are your job. I think the hardest job, the farthest from writing, is Marketing. The Marketing aspect still evades me. It turns out the best marketing is to keep writing.

JBJ: What is the best thing about self-publishing? 

MW: You are the Boss. Everyone works for you. You get to decide EVERYTHING. This is awesome if you are a control freak like me.

There are lots of people that work for me now: Accounts, Lawyers, Editors, Illustrators, Cover Designers, Web Designers, PR People, Audio Producers, Narrators, Interns, Translators, Beta Readers, and more.

Managing it all is a lot of work, but I love it. I get to keep my Intellectual Property, and I receive the maximum percentage of the royalties.

JBJ: What is your advice for other authors who want to self-publish? 

MW: Finish things. Don’t work on more than one thing at a time. Finish all the way before moving to the next project. Otherwise, you will never finish anything. It’s the most common sort of self-sabotage.

Pay for an Editor. It’s an investment, not an expense. The best story in the world will not sell and get bad reviews if the editing is not up to par.

Pay for a great cover. People DO judge books by their cover. A cover must be professional, genre-appropriate, and easy to read as a thumbnail in Amazon.

JBJ: What books have been the most inspirational to you in your work? 

MW: I have been profoundly inspired by Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Simon Hawke, JRR Tolkien, and other classic SciFi.

The books I like the most about the craft are ON WRITING by Stephen King and SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody.

JBJ: Would you like to share anything about your most recently published work, Shadows of the Sentinel? 

MW: SHADOWS OF THE SENTINEL is a stand-alone novel that takes place in the Solstice 31 universe. It’s a companion book to VIRTUES OF THE VICIOUS. The novel is available now in Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, and on October 1, the Audio edition is scheduled for release. For more information, check out the links below. 

JBJ: By the way, how is your cat? 

MW: Great! Excellent!


SHADOWS OF THE SENTINEL

However did it come to this? Cobb wanted a simple life. He wanted excellent steaks, great coffee, friends, and a quiet place to restore his favorite ship. Working for a recovery operation turned out to be the best place to find parts cheap. She had other plans for him. He wanted the staff of the deep space salvage ship, OXCART, to treat him just like another member of the crew. Not the man he really was.  Light-years from Earth, he thought his secrets, his past, wouldn’t matter. Especially not to her. When that past leads them to the SENTINEL, like it or not, the biggest single salvage of all time will change everything. Some secrets are so big, they can start a war. Or stop one. Or remain too big to explain when the timing could not be worse. And it was all the damn cat’s fault.

Buy it off Amazon.


MARTIN WILSEY’S LINKS

Amazon Books

Audible

Martin Wilsey Official Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Free Short Story on Audio

Fan Opinions on New Star Trek (Reddit Edition)

As a fan of the older Star Trek shows, I was curious to hear what fans thought about the newest stuff. I’m talking about Discovery (2017), Picard (2020), and Lower Decks (2020). So I went to r/scifi to investigate.

See the Reddit thread here!

I’m not saying Reddit is representative of what all people everywhere think. People on the internet tend to be more critical than people in person (as I know being a fan in random communities). But Reddit offers a good way to get the opinions of a sample size of random fans of a particular subject, especially when I’m stuck in quarantine and can’t exactly go interview a hundred random people in person and hope that they watch Star Trek. With Reddit’s system of upvoting, you get to see which comments resonated with people more than others. So I find it a more valuable medium for opinion gathering than Facebook (where I’m limited to people who are my friends) and Twitter (for the same reason).


So let’s get down to it! What did the hundred+ random Star Trek fans I interviewed on Reddit think about the new Star Trek? 

The top-voted comments on the Reddit thread disliked both Picard and Discovery overall. And the most downvoted comments were the ones that voiced approval.

I decided to take a tally of the comments and break it down into like, dislike and neutral (for people who had mixed reviews). This is my count as of now (8/11/20 11:03am), it doesn’t account for new comments added after this. I also only counted the parent comments. This does not follow the nested comments of those parent comments (because those are discussions that involve the OG commenter elaborating on their point).


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A general theme I noted is that people in r/scifi felt that the new Star Treks lacked continuity with the older Star Treks. They felt that the science in Discovery was not as robust as it was in previous generations (with the questionable Spore Drive). Some people said Discovery and Picard would have been good if they were a completely separate scifi series that wasn’t connected to the Star Trek universe (because of the consistency issues and departure from canon). Other people had issues with the writing and felt that these series focused on explosions and action while missing out on the deeper philosophical questions that originally made Star Trek great (so basically becoming Transformers?). A lot of people felt that the mood of Discovery didn’t match the optimism of Star Trek in general, that it was cynical and filled with betrayal.

There weren’t many comments on the animated series Lower Decks (2020), mainly because people either hadn’t watched it or were focused on discussing Discovery and Picard.


Here are some of the top comments on the thread: 

“They are very disappointing as a long term mega-fan since childhood. Seems the essence and spirit of the trek series is basically gone…I’ve lost complete interest in the franchise.”

“The problem with Picard, and all of nuTrek, is that it doesn’t seem to feel like it has to respect any of the rules that the existing canon created, and then on top of that it doesn’t even seem interesting in respecting the new rules they have created even within a season. That is just top to bottom bad writing.”

“They completely lack what made ST unique. Picard might as well be a gritty FX drama and Discovery some generic sci-fi show with Marvel elements thrown in. There’s no imagination, no wonder, no optimism for the future. Teamwork, bonding, shared experiences and friendships are almost non-existent. We’re left with betrayal, backstabbing, and general mean-spiritedness. The futuristic setting has been abandoned. The characters all wear what looks like 20th century clothing and have 20th century problems and use 20th century slang. Everyone’s bitter, depressed, addicted, cynical. I find it hard to watch just based on this.”


How about the people who liked it…or at least liked some of it?

“Just to be a contrarian against the one other post, I loved Picard and am very lukewarm on Discovery. Picard certainly deviated from canon and had a few story beats I didn’t agree with (I really dislike bitter, cynical starfleet), but the core of Picard’s optimism, his ability to inspire and get people to follow him loyally, and his core belief in the goodness of people is there. I enjoyed it a lot. Plus the fully HD re-render of the Galaxy-class was worth the price of admission. Discovery does not feel like Star Trek at all to me. It’s not optimistic. It’s bitter and combative, full of betrayal, horrible outcomes, fighting, insults. It’s also heavily serialized which makes one-off episode watching feel pretty pointless. That’s also true of Picard, to be fair.”

“They were enjoyable. Could have used more Star Trek flavor, but still good enough to watch.”

“I like them. I was actually growing tired of episodic format and prefer short seasons with one big story arc. Some of the best Trek episodes are two/three part episodes, so I’d rather see more of this. Sure, Discovery and Picard have flaws, but the production is so different, writers are squeezing so many easter eggs into every episode, I honestly don’t care if they make another movie based on Jar Jar Abrams universe, Simon Pegg can’t fuck right off.”


So some people liked it and some people didn’t. But a majority of the comments seemed to dislike the newer Star Treks, while those who did like them were downvoted into the basement.

On Rotten Tomatoes for Picard, critics gave it an 87% while the audience gave it a 57%.  If you add the Picard likes to the Picard neutral comments of the scifi reddit thread, you get a similar percentage, that 51% of the people who commented didn’t hate it.

On Rotten Tomatoes for Discovery, critics gave it an 81% while the audience gave it a 42%. If you add the Discovery likes to the Discovery neutral comments on the scifi reddit, you get a similar percentage, that 48% of the people who commented didn’t hate it.

On Rotten Tomatoes for Lower Decks, critics gave it a 63% while the audience gave it a 31%.

Now what’s interesting, is if you look up Orville (Seth MacFarlane’s parody of Star Trek) on Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics gave it a 65% while the audience gave it a whopping 94%!

One reddit comment stated: “The spirit of Star Trek is alive and well in The Orville.”

What’s interesting to me is that critic scores are completely different from audience scores. Are they right? Are they wrong? Art is subjective. So that’s not for me to decide. I simply set out to find out what a sample size of people on r/scifi thought about the newer Star Trek, and it seemed that their opinions were fairly consistent with the audience’s views on Rotten Tomatoes.

But of course, if you want to find out what you really think about the newer Star Trek, watch it yourself on CBS All Access.