The Fifth Imperium’s Baen CD repository has posted another CD. This one is bound into the release of the Mercedes Lackey superhero “braided world” book Invasion: The Secret World, an outgrowth of a podcast audiobook project inspired by playing and writing fanfic about the MMO City of Heroes. As with past CDs, the contents are DRM-free and free to distribute non-commercially. More than any other Baen CD, this one has personal meaning for me.
I was playing City of Heroes at the same time and in the same role-playing/writing guild as Misty and all our friends, many of whom collaborated on some aspect of the project. (Misty and many of our guildmates of old still play there, in fact, though I don’t have the time right now.) Some of our guildmates kicked in stories, and one (who also happened to be a professional announcer) also recorded many of the podcasts.
I actually teamed with a number of the characters played by Misty and others who, after having the proprietary City of Heroes serial numbers filed off, comprised some of the characters in the Secret World Chronicle series. (For that matter, I co-wrote collaborative CoH fanfic with them on the guild forum involving the CoH versions of some of those characters, though I never could get my head around the Secret World Chronicle setting enough to come up with working stories there.)
But Secret World Chronicle is interesting from an e-publishing perspective as well. Back in 2006, when Lackey et al had the idea, Lackey couldn’t interest any publishers in the project. I suppose they thought it was too far outside her usual fantasy/SF milieu, so they couldn’t be sure whether her existing readership would translate to such a series. This was also before most of the recent spate of comic book movies that have brought superheroes back to prominence.
Then they had the idea of raising interest by releasing it as a podcast series. (On my podcast interview with Lackey and co-writer Steve Libbey, they actually credited me with giving them the idea, though I still think they’re giving me a little too much credit there.) And it would seem that the idea worked, because Baen picked up the books for a print release. (Some of the stories had to be cut for space, but they are available on Smashwords for 99 cents each.)
In the years that have passed since then, of course, other options have arisen for attracting publisher attention. Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, and Diane Duane have used the Storyteller’s Bowl model to finance the creation of manuscripts with varying degrees of success, and Lee & Miller’s books were also picked up by Baen. And, of course, authors such as J.A. Konrath who have the reputation to attract fans even without a traditional publishing book deal are self-publishing new titles or backlist via Amazon, or backlist via Barnes & Noble (which does not as yet accept completely self-published works).
I’m not sure whether the podcast by itself would have been sufficient to land a contract without Misty’s name recognition as well (though from the quality of the production, I would like to think that it would have). But regardless, the setting is quite exciting and the stories are freely available for listening as well as reading, so there’s no risk to readers trying it out!