Indie writer - Tom Lichtenberg

4 June 2014 / Leave a Comment
Tom Lichtenberg is a prolific writer who decided five years ago to make his stories available for free online. He writes short novels that could be classified as absurdist comedy, speculative fiction and more traditional fiction. He is a great supporter of indie writers and writes a blog http://pigeonweather.wordpress.com/. Here I ask him about self-publishing, writing in different genres and styles and what motivates him to write. He has some fascinating ideas about the free sharing of technology and different art forms and his comment about storytelling for money being a relatively new thing is going to stick with me ...


You make your stories available for free and have had over a million downloads, tell us why you chose to do this and what motivates you to write?
There are a number of reasons I made this choice. I worked in bookstores for nearly twenty years and developed a pretty good sense of what sells and what doesn’t. I understood that my own books would fall in the latter category pretty much, but I’m also the son of a librarian and recognize that sales are far from the only measure of a book’s value. Storytelling is an old tradition. Storytelling for money is rather new. We live in a strange bubble these days - far from the normal, ancient customs of human culture. In my community there are a lot of excellent musicians who perform for free (or tips) a lot, and they’ve been an inspiration. Also I’ve been working as a computer programmer for a while now, and have come to appreciate the worth of free and open-source software. We use these things all the time - Google and Facebook and Twitter and Linux and Firefox etc - and technology has also brought a lot of art into my life for free with music sites like Soundcloud and artists on Tumblr and so on. The introduction of free ebooks from places like Smashwords and Feedbooks was decisive for me.  Most of all I’ve wanted to give my stories the best opportunity to find the most possible readers. My writing is well out of the mainstream and I think of my 'audience' as being few and far between. In order to get to them I feel I need to reach the most possible readers. I wanted to cast the widest net, in the hopes that at least some of those readers would be the kind who would enjoy them. I think the results have confirmed it. A lot of my books have received ratings all across the board. For example, ‘The Part-Time People’ has as many 5 as 4 as 3 as 2 as 1 star ratings on Amazon. To me this means the book has found all sorts of readers, including both the 'right' and the 'wrong' ones, where 'wrong' simply means that the reader and the book were not meant for each other. Books can give their readers ratings too -  one-star rater is often a one-star reader!


For me, writing began as daydreaming, an activity which largely dominated a childhood full of boredom at school and at home. I still write mainly in my mind, while walking or biking or commuting. I’ve written a lot - far too much probably - but it’s just something I do. I don’t consider myself “a writer”. It’s not a profession or a calling or a mission or anything like that. It’s just something I like to do.


I think it's a great idea that you have a reader's guide on your website to help readers choose your stories because you write in a number of different genres and styles. Tell us a little about this and whether you have a preferred group of stories?
I was raised on folk tales and mythology, especially stories of ordinary people who find themselves in unusual or at least unfamiliar situations and try to make the best of it. Those are my favorite kind of stories to write and are, in some ways, the story of my own life. I've always felt a sort of fish out of water, and many of my protagonists reflect that, no matter the style or genre.


As for the reader’s guide, I’ve got a lot of books out there online, and if someone likes one they found at random, they might easily not pick another one they would also enjoy, so I try to give a hint. A lot of readers found me through ‘Zombie Nights’ and if they're expecting other zombie or horror stories, I’m afraid they're not going to find them. Likewise, ‘Snapdragon Alley’ and ‘Raisinheart’ are my only 'young adult' stories, and 'Tiddlywink the Mouse' is my only children's book. I'd much rather people not read any story of mine than read one they're not going to enjoy. On the other hand, for those readers who found me through ‘Death Ray Butterfly’ or ‘Ledman Pickup’ then there are several others they might well like.


My own personal favorites change over time. I sometimes think that online ratings should have timeline options: a book you gave 2 stars to when you were 20 might earn 5 stars when you're 40, or vice versa. I've been writing for more than 30 years, so my older books, such as ‘The Part-Time People’ are no longer 'mine' in the sense that I'm now not much like the person I was when I wrote them. These days my favorites are my comedies (such as 'Missy Tonight') and my homemade mythologies, like ‘Secret Sidewalk’.


What's your best advice for writers looking at self-publishing their work?
My best advice is to publish everywhere you can, and there are more and more venues all the time. I started with Smashwords, Feedbooks and Amazon, but I've also published through Liibooks of Argentina, XinXii in Europe, Obooko in England, PressBooks and other newer ventures as well. I'm always on the lookout for sites offering to publish free ebooks. 


I've tried a variety of promotional efforts, from Goodreads giveaways to MobileRead forum posts, Twitter repeats and Facebook pages, but I don't think any of those things have made much of a difference for me. I still do them sometimes. I think of the whole self-publishing/promotional process as like placing little paper boats on a stream, then tossing some rocks in behind them to help push them along. You hope they catch the current and make their way down river, instead of getting stuck behind a twig or in some backwater eddy. You do what you can but essentially the books are on their own, and have to live up to their own promise.


Visit: http://pigeonweather.wordpress.com/


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