Tom Lichtenberg has written a “bunch of books” which he’s giving away for free as e-books via Smashwords and Feedbooks. He’s been writing for twenty years, but only recently self-published and put his books out there.
Zombie Nights spent the summer as the #1 most downloaded book from Smashwords. It’s currently #2, behind Smashwords own required reading – their style guide.
The books have garnered a wide range of reactions from the public, with over 100,000 copies downloaded in this period. Reviews have been varied from “probably the worst book ever” to “work of genius”. All in all the books tend to be viewed as odd, and if you like your reading material “odd” than we’ve certainly found the author for you!
|Author, Tom Lichtenberg
Hi Tom, tell me, all in all just how many books have you written?
I’ve written more than sixty books over the past thirty years or so. Following my all-time favorite advice for writers, from Henry Miller, I’ve thrown away the first half of those books. I remember reading where he once said something like ‘you’ve got to write a million words, perhaps more before you get down your first true word’. I’m not a big Henry Miller fan, or anything, but it did seem to make sense to me. You have to find your voice and there’s only one way to do that. Write, write write.
In my late teens and early twenties I wrote pretty much non-stop, always in long-hand, always in blank books and notebooks. I developed a heck of a blister on my right middle finger and I wrote some really weird stuff. Actually I still have those books but can’t decipher the handwriting, but it’s no great loss, I’m sure. I’d get to the point where I would have to decide if the book was “typewriter-worthy”, and then in later years whether it was ‘computer-keyboard-worthy’. A handful of earlier works did survive those filters. I stopped writing entirely for more than a decade, and when I started up again, in my late thirties, it was as if I was a completely different writer. Where formerly I wrote longish novels, I began to write shorter ones. Where previously I did a lot of planning, now I just make it all up as I go along. I’m having a lot more fun than I used to.
Most of my books are novellas, running typically between 15,000 and 30,000 words. I have written longer ones, but the way I work now, it just seems to turn out this way. I think I begin a book with a certain amount of energy – voltage potential, you might say – and it lasts only so long. The result is too long to be called a short story but too short to be called a novel. I don’t really think of them as novellas, just as stories which happen to be of a certain length.
And the genre is mixed?
Almost all of my stories bleed across genres, incorporating elements of science fiction, mystery, paranormal, magical realism and comedy. I like to think of them as belonging to the ancient tradition of “tall tales”.
All your books are listed on Smash Words and Feedbooks, do you have any in paper form ie paperbacks?
All of my books that are on Smashwords and Feedbooks are also available in paperback, from Amazon, through Lulu.com. There are also Kindle editions on the Amazon site as well. Some people want them in the book form, and it does cost to produce such things, but I try to keep the prices as http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B002ACYAUC&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrlow as they will let me. Lulu’s pretty good. I’ve found them easy to work with, the end result is all right, if not gorgeous, and the cost is reasonable. I like the whole print-on-demand concept too. I don’t feel like my words are wasting any excess trees. Lulu also does offer some marketing and promotional services but I haven’t used any of those, so I can’t comment on them. With Kindle, the lowest I can price the ebooks is 99 cents, so that’s what I’ve done. Sales of my books and ebooks through these places are miniscule, while through Smashwords and Feedbooks I’ve had well over a hundred thousand downloads this year alone.
Are you looking for an agent?
No. I feel like I’ve been putting my books out there like paper boats on a stream and just watching to see where they go.
Have you approached an agent?
No. I’m not really looking to get my stories into the traditional book world.
Do you have any rejection letters?
No. The last time I sent something to a publisher was back in 1983. It was a terrible book and I sent it to a very small press. They very kindly told me how very awful it was. I decided that I would just focus http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B003QHZ5ZE&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifron the writing for its own sake, and put off venturing them into the great big world until some later date.
That time came around only recently, with the advent of the free ebook distribution systems, so it didn’t seem necessary to go the old submission route any longer. I get plenty of rejection from readers, though, so I don’t suffer from any shortage!
My stories tend to get really extreme reactions. On sites like Barnes and Noble and Goodreads, I’ve seen as many one-star ratings as three, four and five stars put together. I understand that my stories often defy reader expectations, and that they are not at all conventional or mainstream, so it’s not surprising if many readers are disappointed or frustrated with them. I’m a pretty picky and eclectic reader, so I do my share of rejecting too – only I do it in the privacy of my own home and don’t feel the need to trash someone or their books in public.
No. I have a regular career as a software test engineer, working for high-tech startups in California’s Silicon Valley. I make a good living and work pretty hard. I also have a young child at home, so most of my writing occurs very late at night, and much of my thinking about writing happens during commute time or when I get out to walk the dog.
Many writers have unpublished short stories, novellas tucked away but wouldn’t dream of publishing because they are so dire, are you the same?
Oh yes! I used to write these big old dystopias, all very political and serious. My favorite title was ‘The Magic of Failure’, which I may re-use someday, but the book itself was dreadful, set in and around massive tent cities in a mess of a 21st century America. I also wrote a novel about the unhappy marriage of a cashier and a psychic. I’ve always wanted to go back and rewrite that one. I’ve always thought it would be such a drag to actually be psychic. You’d be pretty depressed all the time, I think.
I’ve been promoting my books through the internet; blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Indie book websites, and so on. It’s been kind of sporadic. I’m not really comfortable with tooting my own horn too much. I try to make my books sound interesting and intriguing enough that people will want to read them, so I focus more on the stories themselves than on myself as a brand. I’ve always been wary of Bob Marley’s admonition, “Don’t be just a stock on the shelf”. Of course, he was talking about prostitutes, but still, I feel that my stories have a life of their own, and it’s my job to get them down and put them out there and do just enough hand-waving to get them some attention. In the end, it’ll be up to them to garner readers who like them enough to want to tell their friends, and so on. No amount of marketing is ever going to sail a sinking ship, but you’ve got to send up some flares in the first place. No one can ever see a thing they are never shown.
You say you’re not in it for the money (I can understand that), so why do you write? What is your drive?
I recently posted a little essay about this topic on selfpublishingreview.com called “Why I Am Not An Author'”. To summarize, everywhere I turn, I find this connection between writing and money, and I don’t like it. I understand it, but I don’t need it. I do a lot of work with open source software. I love the free apps on my Android phone. I’ve been inspired by the very talented musicians in my town who get together on all sorts of occasions and play for free, and now, with the advent of distributors like Smashwords and Feedbooks, it’s become possible for me to do the same thing with my writing that others do with software and music. I write for the same reason my musician friends play – I love it! It’s my hobby and my passion. I have a lot of ideas and I get to live with them for the weeks or months it takes me to follow them through to their conclusions. Writing for me is an adventure, an living improvisation, a way of life. It’s like exercise for my soul.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B002ACVUZA&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrI have nothing against the traditional book world. My grandfather was a New York publisher who began with Horace Liveright in the 1920’s. My mother was a librarian, and I worked in independent bookstores for nearly twenty years. I love books, but I’ve never made a fetish of them as objects. It’s always been the content for me, and ebooks give me the same satisfaction as printed books. I also love the freedom and control that’s available to writers now, In traditional publishing, you wait a long time for your book to come out (if you’re lucky enough to get that far), and then it’s not out for very long, it goes out of print, you don’t have the rights to it anymore, and there’s a lot of waste of resources involved. With ebooks, you now have the freedom and control to do what you want with your writing. It’s all up to you.